opposition and the cuts

The Commune’s editorial

BBC presenters sat mouths-gaping on 26th September as City trader Alessio Rastani proudly boasted on live TV of the financial sector’s power and its disdain for the victims of the recession. He proclaimed that a crisis was a great opportunity to make a fast buck and that he dreamt of the next such meltdown. Reeking of arrogant class prejudice, here was the true face behind our rulers’ democratic and liberal mask.

That same week, Ed Miliband spoke to Labour conference, calling for a ‘new morality’ rewarding the ‘hard-working’. Yet asked by a member of the public whether he would endeavour to protect workers’ pensions, ‘Red Ed’ said he could promise nothing, since workers getting older is no longer ‘affordable’. Not only did he drive a wedge between the employed and the ‘undeserving poor’, championing harsh penalties for rioters and ‘scroungers’: he disavowed strike action as a means of standing up for workers’ living standards.

Whereas the slimy Rastani openly proclaimed his ‘fuck you’ attitude, Miliband couched his in pious laments about the effects of the cuts: while reassuring the ‘business community’ that he would also have carried out the cuts, aside from a few sops to the left like ‘only’ doubling tuition fees to £6,000 a year. His message was that it was all very sad that the crisis happened and services and pensions are under threat, but nothing is to be done about it so you’ll have to slave away until you drop. No wonder Blairite MP Andy Burnham said “Labour is the party of hard work”.

Labour want our votes in 2015, once the cuts are already in place. So for the anti-cuts movement, not only is Labour a ‘chocolate teapot’, but one which will take four years to come to the boil. If the capitalists stand up for their interests, who will stand up for ours? The answer is of course that we must take matters into our own hands.

In this sense the strikes planned for 30th November are a step forward. The day of action advocated at TUC conference will  build further on such actions as the 500,000 strong demo on 26th March and the 750,000 –strong strike over pensions on 30th June. Such an action has the potential of pulling wide layers of people into struggle, standing up for themselves and really confronting the Con-Dem government. This is only a beginning: one day of strike action will not be enough to defeat the Tories.

Indeed, the trade unions, like the Labour Party they support, are also prone to promising great things only to delay or call off action. For example, Dave Prentis, leader of the largest public sector union Unison, promised much before 30th June, only then to pull out, greatly reducing the number of strikers. This is a vicious circle, in that such retreats further damage confidence in the possibility of a fightback. Indeed, ballots for strike action on 30th November may not see particularly high turnouts or ‘yes’ votes, despite the anger at cuts.

Given the defeats of the 1980s most young workers will have little idea what a mass struggle looks like, and many doubt it is even possible. Unions barely exist outside the public sector. In this sense it is encouraging to see private sector struggles also linking up with 30th November: for instance, the electricians (page 4), organising themselves at a grassroots level, have announced they will support the strike.

Such struggles emerging from below can do far more to inspire workers’ confidence in our ability to fight than action turned on and off like a tap by union leaders. But this is not just a better way to fight the Tories. It is a whole different idea of how the world is run, where we make democratic decisions for ourselves rather than relying on leaders. We will be building in precisely this spirit as we organise for the 30th November strike.