Unite the Strikes

On the first of February, 2023, over 500,000 workers walked out in what was the biggest strike day for over a decade. On pickets and rallies across the country, teachers, university lecturers, civil servants, and train drivers all made the same calls for better pay, higher staffing, and an end to the looting of public services by the government. This is just the beginning of a strike wave which has been gaining pace over the course of last year as increases in energy price and inflation have destroyed the living standards of working people. This is a struggle which has extended to nurses, paramedics, ambulance drivers, firefighters and others. It is becoming rare for there to be a single day where there is not some strike or other action being taken by workers against the dire conditions they are being forced into. But, despite the popularity of these actions and the growing realisation by all working people of their necessity, official unions only offer limited co-operation with each other, drastically reducing the strength of these struggles and dooming them to failure. This is all despite the attempts by the government to impose anti-strike legislation, requiring ‘minimum service levels’ on strike days and criminalising any protest which they deem to be ‘disruptive'.

In response, the government maintains that a ‘wage-price spiral’ would be caused by any pay increase, thus deepening inflation, in spite of the fact that the inflation crisis has happened following decades of stagnating wages; conversely, the Bank of England points to energy price rises from the war in Ukraine and supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 as the predominant causes. The Office for National Statistics shows public sector pay is growing around 7% below the rate of inflation, meaning a huge real-terms pay cut for workers already beginning to rely on food banks and credit. Any worker who has seen their energy, food and housing costs skyrocket knows that the argument that this crisis is caused by their lavish lifestyles is rubbish. In response to this, the international capitalist class is striving to ensure this remains a crisis for the working class to endure alone. The situation is even worse here than in other G7 countries as every problem becomes compounded by our government’s staggering incompetence and corruption. This is the reality behind the ridiculous farce where prime ministers are changed every few months, policies are picked up and dropped with ease, and huge sums of public money disappear without trace yet prices still rise and wages still fall.

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that the UK will be the only major economy to shrink this year, even trailing behind a war-stricken and sanctioned Russia. UK workers will be paying more tax, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost, and overall household incomes are predicted, by the Office for Budget Responsibility, to fall by a further 7%, the biggest drop in living standards since their records began. Make no mistake, when the government asks you to be ‘realistic’ with your demands for a fair wage, they are asking you to take the entirety of the hit for the economic crisis; their first and last resort is always to extract as much wealth as they can from the working class. It is no coincidence that energy companies are sending thugs to break into houses and install prepayment meters while their profits last year doubled to just under $200bn. We live in a world where the richest 1% have taken two thirds of all new wealth created since 2020. This is not some temporary irrationality that we just need to wait out. It shows the most fundamental truth of the capitalist system: that it is simply a means of unceasingly generating as much revenue and profit as is possible and that in periods of crisis, when growth stalls and creditors panic, there is no human need or standard of life that cannot be sacrificed in the pursuit of capital.

Fortunately, the strikes show no sign of stopping. They are an expression of the immense power that working people have, that they are sole creators of value in society and through withdrawing their labour they demonstrate that nothing can function without them. Only by recognising that capitalist society offers them nothing but increasing exploitation and ruinous conditions of life on behalf of a parasitic class can workers direct their efforts to destroy this murderous system and build a new one in which they alone plan production for their collective needs and not individual profit. However, the current union framework offers no such perspective. By agitating nearly exclusively for wage increases and splintering the class amongst each industry and sector, allowing themselves to be constrained by anti-strike legislation, and making bureaucratic manoeuvres behind their members’ backs, they prevent the workers from becoming a genuinely revolutionary class for itself and discovering the necessary political forms it needs to fight back in this intensifying class war. When the experience of waiting in an A&E corridor for hours to receive help, sending your children to a run-down school where the supplies are bought by teachers out of their own pocket or having to choose between heating or food are becoming commonplace, it is time for us to reach out to workers in other industries, workers who share the same daily struggles that we do of low wages, high workloads and poor services. We need to form connections, that can be the basis of a united, autonomous fightback of the working class organised from below through independent strike committees and workers' councils, and forming the basis of a revolutionary party. This is the only way to resist and ultimately overthrow the system that deprives us not only for the majority of our lives to the drudgery of exploited labour but, for more and more people, even basic standards of life.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 62) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.