editorial of The Commune
The General Election did not provide the ruling class with a mandate to slash public services. In the Prime Ministerial TV debates the party leaders shied away from outlining plans for cuts, knowing that doing so would risk electoral disaster. The result of the election was itself inconclusive.
Yet the new coalition government is confident in its offensive against the working class. As David Cameron arrived in Number 10 on 11th May, he announced that Tory-Lib Dem Britain would be one where “we do not just ask ‘what are my entitlements?’, but ‘what are my responsibilities?'”. This masks an ideological war against our living standards.
The coalition was agreed after days of backroom negotiations between parties, the farce of parliamentary democracy. Whether haggling over cabinet posts or electoral reform, the only question for the Tories, Lib Dem and Labour elites was how to share power among themselves. A handful of individuals are able to determine the whole political agenda for the next five years.
This horse-trading was dressed up in much rhetoric about “the national interest”: the capitalist parties agreeing to compromise in order to ensure a “strong and stable” government. The coalition government is a necessary weapon for the capitalist class, a weapon it can use to attack working-class living standards decisively and without hesitation.
Our rulers know there will be resistance to their attacks. Indeed, Gordon Brown stood in the election on a programme of gradual and partial cuts, knowing it would be easier to impose such attacks with little trade union response. Millions voted Labour believing this would help avert the cuts, which is why their heartlands vote held up so strongly.
Indeed in opposition Labour will protest against how the cuts are targeted and how quickly they are implemented, even though they would merely have organised a different timetable for the same attacks. We see this in the social democratic government imposing austerity measures in Greece.
Many in the workers’ movement will take a similar Labourite stand. They will complain that their jobs should not be the ones to be cut, defending their sectional interest while accepting that the cuts have to happen.
Already in the recent Royal Mail and British Airways disputes union leaders accepted the need for ‘modernisation’ but complained that they were not suitably consulted over where the cuts axe should fall. The Unite union even outlined ‘alternative’ plans for BA cuts, muddying the waters of what they were striking over and therefore losing any hope of public support.
There will be a deafening clamour from most trade unions to kick out the Tories – in favour of a renewed Labour administration.
They will say cuts, yes, but not in my back yard. Cuts, yes, but only for migrant and casual workers. They will cry “no to Tory cuts” when Labour would have done little different. This has its own logic: their bureaucratic and sectional means of organising reflect their end goal, electing a supposedly benign Labour government.
There will be those on the radical left who adopt similar positions, cheerleading union leaders whatever their failings and looking to use workplace disputes to build their party fronts and electoral campaigns. This approach also limits itself to short-termism, mere anti-Toryism and rigid separation between political and industrial struggles.
As against this, we must set our sights higher. Neither the fight against the new government, nor the wider and long-term interests of our class, will be solved by more of the same old Labourism. Instead we should work today on the basis of the communist social relations we want to create in the future. Some on the left may find it embarrassing to say they are for communism. But it is impossible to challenge the capitalist consensus that ‘there is no alternative’ without being prepared to say what that alternative might be.
In the coming battles we should uphold a set of principles of organisation which also point to the communist society we want to create. We should demand what we need, not what our rulers can afford to give us; our struggles should be organised in an open, inclusive and democratic manner, uniting workers and service users; we should not put our faith in leaders and benign bureaucrats, but in our collective strength; and we must place the most vulnerable workers, such as immigrants and casual staff, at the heart of our struggles.
Solidarity is not an optional extra, but the only means by which to avoid the ruling class picking off each group of workers one-by-one. They have built their coalition, it’s time to build ours.