editorial of The Commune
The message hammered home at the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat conferences was clear: ‘we’ have been living beyond our means and now have to accept slashed public spending to steady the ship of state.
While a few months ago even the mainstream press railed against the excesses of the City of London and corrupt MPs, today their fire is directed almost solely against working-class living standards. The only questions on the papers’ and pollsters’ agenda are ‘what should be cut?’ and ‘who do you trust most to make the right cuts?’.
After his conference speech, incoming Conservative chancellor George Osborne was congratulated by the media for his willingness to make ‘tough choices’ on welfare and public sector pay: perhaps they might have mentioned that his choices are not ‘tough’ on the likes of him and his party, but rather, tough on the victims of his plans.
The Labour Party has postured as opponents of ‘Tory cuts’ yet itself has introduced huge attacks on benefits such as in its Welfare Reform Bill. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg embarrassed his party by promising not only “savage cuts” but an era of “progressive austerity”.
Even at September’s Trades Union Congress the debate focused not on how the workers’ movement should organise against cuts and defend jobs and public services, but rather, what can be done to ensure it is Labour cuts rather than Tory cuts that we have to suffer. The TUC’s acceptance of the mainstream parties’ pro-austerity consensus – which owes much to its unwillingness to further destabilise the already-sinking Brown government – has left an open goal for the ideological proponents of cuts to burden the working class with the cost of the recession: and many in the movement accept the lie that there is no alternative.
But it is not the responsibility of the workers’ movement to tell the capitalist state machine how it can balance its books: that is their problem, not ours. The trade unions should at the very least fight to defend workers’ existing rights in the workplace and the provision of free public services. Yet the TUC bigwigs rest impassive in the face of a huge social crisis.
Several groups of workers have taken action despite their leaders’ inactivity. In this issue of The Commune we report on the struggle of teaching staff at Tower Hamlets College, an example of the now-rare practice of going on all-out strike until workers’ demands are satisfied. So too have refuse workers in three major cities taken such action, while postal workers are also fighting hard against cuts.
But as well as the industrial front, there is also a lack of any political alternative to the main three parties. Some on the left argue that we need the unions to create a Labour Party mark II before the election, or revive the inglorious ‘No2EU’ coalition, which abandoned so many internationalist principles and won so few votes in June’s European election.
But politics is not just, or even mainly, about elections. So many times before the left has rushed into last-minute electoral campaigns, each time scoring fewer votes and with increasingly tame politics. Such makeshift initiatives neither go beyond well-worn Labourite ideas, nor are they any substitute for creating real workplace and community organisation to resist the recession and build confidence that an alternative way of running society could be realised. This issue of The Commune looks at cases of how that work can be done.