We’ve done one day strikes and token demonstrations What Now?

Lead article from Aurora 32 for the strikes and demonstration week ending October 18 2014

There’s no doubt workers need a pay rise. If the economic recovery meant change for the better, then the working class should at least be clawing back the losses of recent years. Pay deals are now supposedly above inflation, but in real terms most people’s earnings are falling. For public sector workers at the hard end of the government’s ‘deficit reduction’ programme this is no surprise. Overall public sector workers’ real pay has dropped by 15-20 per cent since 2010 and, like everyone else, this is as pensions are lowered whilst contributions are upped and people (like fire fighters) are being told they’ll just have to keep working for longer.

Already in July this year thousands joined a TUC sponsored day of action in London to protest against a 2 year pay freeze being followed by a derisory 1% pay ‘rise’. To add insult to injury, the government has since back-tracked on even the nominal 1% rise for many NHS workers, including some of the lowest paid. That makes for a lot of very angry people who are clearly not content with a Saturday march with their union banners in the streets of London, Glasgow or Belfast. In the week running up to the 18th October demo tens of thousands of workers in the public sector are set to show their anger and go on strike … on three different days. Council workers on 13th, a “day of industrial action” by civil servants (PCS) on 14th, followed by another “day of action” by thousands of NHS staff involving a four-hour walkout of workers from nine separate unions.

Why No All-Out Strike?

At once the strength and weakness of the modern union machine is apparent. On the one hand the professional organisers (salaries paid out of membership dues) have been able to impress on shop stewards and militant workers that ‘action days’ culminating in a national demo are the way towards regaining a better life. Angry and increasingly desperate workers who want to do more than pay their union dues by direct debit are engaged in these campaigns. Yet, we have not had even one all-out strike. We have to ask: Where is this sort of activity leading? What is the TUC’s strategy? Is it adequate or appropriate for the situation facing the working class?

On the evidence of the last four years ---– since Osborne first wielded his axe in October 2010 – the answer to the first question is that the TUC’s action days have led workers round in circles to no effect. Osborne originally announced that up to 500,000 public sector jobs were due to be cut by 2014-15. According to a study commissioned by the GMB union last year 631,000 public sector jobs had already been lost by the end of March 2013. Not only have the unions completely failed to halt the programme of job cuts, the government is now even more confident it can face down the occasional TUC day of action and has speeded up the cuts programme. According to the same GMB report the Office for Budget Responsibility is now aiming to have cut a further 400,000 jobs by the general election, some time in 2015.

As for the relentless attacks on social services and welfare rights over the past four years, it is now very clear that the aim of the game is to dismantle what’s left of the universal welfare system that was put in place after World War Two. Countless campaigns and local struggles have proved unable to stem the multi-pronged attack. It has brought widespread harassment and anxiety, misery and impoverishment, as well as premature and unnecessary deaths to a widening range of vulnerable people. Given the closures, cutbacks and job losses that hospitals and ambulance services are already enduring, nobody can seriously believe Labour or Tory assurances that the NHS is ‘ring-fenced’ from all this.

The Real Threat

This brings us to the wider situation which we have to face up to. This is not really about the budget deficit; it’s about the growing threat capitalism’s profitability crisis poses to working class chances of a civilised existence. As a matter of fact, in the 1950s UK national debt was a much higher percentage of GDP than it is today. The key difference between then and now is that the overall rate of profit was much higher and with it the rate of GDP growth. So gradually the debt to GDP ratio fell even as government borrowing went up and it was easy for the state to finance its interest payments. All that changed with the onset of capitalism’s world crisis way back in the 1970s. In the face of at least 17% inflation it was Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, who famously admitted:

We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists…

The bankrupt Labour government was obliged to beg for a loan from the IMF which in turn demanded government spending cuts and a reduction of the budget deficit. Unemployment rocketed. Keynesianism was out of the window. In came ‘Thatcherism’ and ‘Reaganism’ dedicated to cutting state spending and opening up national economies to monopoly capital under the banner of the ‘free market’. At the same time the industrial working class was devastated as industries were privatised. New technology replaced tens of thousands of workers and globalisation accelerated as capital moved to areas with cheaper labour power to boost falling profit rates. Decades on and several financial bubbles later, capitalism is still grappling with the same crisis only now its options have narrowed and the situation is much more dangerous. The world financial crash of 2007/8 was a game changer. It exposed the extent to which capitalism was relying on paper profits accruing from financial speculation. Central banks were forced to take on the financial sector’s losses, buying up worthless assets under ‘quantitative easing’ programmes in order to maintain confidence in otherwise totally devalued currencies. But even though central banks and monetary authorities have tried to sweep the debt under the carpet the threat of another crash remains, or rather is growing. In September a report for the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies observes “Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever [reduce debt] and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new highs.” In other words, it’s only a matter of time before the next global financial crash.

Meanwhile, the merciless competition to drive down wages and the general cost of labour power continues. Far from clawing back something of what we have lost, the present ‘recovery’ is based on the growth of low paid, insecure, increasingly part-time jobs often based on zero hour contracts. Unemployment is still well over 6 per cent of the workforce while this year “Britons’ wages have fallen in cash terms for the first time since 2009…” [Financial Times 13.8.14]

Capitalism’s Obscene Crisis

This is not only about workers in Britain. Ever since the crisis began in the 1970s workers in all the supposedly advanced states have been receiving a smaller and smaller share of the national pie as the prospect of finding a job and wages and conditions of work steadily deteriorate. Capitalism is losing its civilised veneer as the consequences of growing inequality impact on society. At one end we see 3.8 million children living in extreme poverty, a growing number of food banks, the resurgence of Victorian diseases stemming from malnutrition, including rickets, TB and scarlet fever. On the other we read that the rich continue to get richer. There is now a record number of 2,325 billionaires in the world with combined wealth of $7.3 trillion. This is 4.5 times the combined income of the 3.5 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population! [Report by UBS 18.9.14] Meanwhile – as a sign of the depth of capitalism’s profitability crisis -– more and more non-financial companies are holding on to their cash. This year the top thousand of them are sitting on $3.5 trillion because it is “unattractive to invest”. There are a few crumbs of comfort for some capitalist firms. Rising income inequality is proving a boost for those who can get in on the global luxury goods market. A Deloitte business survey “considers the more promising markets to include Colombia, Mexico, Philippines, and much of sub-Saharan Africa – where Ermenegildo Zegna, Hugo Boss, and MAC have been at the vanguard of opening stores.” [Financial Times survey on The Business of Luxury, 12.5.14] These are not isolated examples. They indicate the degenerate state of world capitalism today. As the UN appeals for $1bn to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, trillions of dollars are being hoarded by companies whilst others are more concerned about the threat to their luxury markets in places where most people are so poor that a deadly epidemic could be contained by simple measures such as buckets of bleach.

Once we see the wider context of our struggles it is obvious that we are facing much more than a cost-cutting government unfairly targeting the working class. Unfairness is intrinsic to capitalism. There is nothing more unfair than the profit capitalists make by selling the product of workers’ labour. The trade unions and Labour would have us believe that capitalism can be made to work in the interests of everybody. The fundamental absurdity of this was not so apparent during the boom years which followed the war. The rate of profit was high enough to allow a steady increase in workers’ direct wages as well as the indirect reward of a health and social welfare system. Today, despite the electronic and digital revolution, new technology has not offset the fall in the rate of profit and capitalism – -when it is investing in production at all – is resorting more and more to driving down wages to try and improve profitability. After decades of worsening crisis the capitalists’ room for manoeuvre has narrowed and they cannot afford to let up on their war against the working class. There is no longer any room for the illusion that our interests are best served by the union rep negotiating a deal behind closed doors. Instead we have to recognise that

Our Unity is Our Strength

The unions of course would say that they are the means for workers to unify. But when it comes to the workplace workers are divided up by various union allegiances, not to mention that many workers are not in unions at all. Any serious struggle must start from encouraging the participation of everyone in the whole workplace. But this is just the beginning. The aim must be to extend the struggle as widely as possible: beyond any single workplace, beyond industry and category boundaries, where possible to include local communities and with the perspective that each local struggle is part of a wider international struggle against the world capitalist class. At every step the key must be to hold regular mass assemblies run on the basis of direct democracy –-- i.e. where delegates have to explain their actions and if need be can be immediately recalled by the meeting as a whole. This perspective alone would ensure that even when workers are obliged to retreat in the immediate battle there are valuable lessons learned about how to fight next time. Beyond, this it is not our task to lay down a blueprint for how the working class must fight. What is essential however, once the working class struggle really gets going, is for an international political organisation of the working class with a programme which articulates the lessons from a long history of working class struggles and points the way towards our ultimate goal: A world that is rid of capitalism, wage slavery and wars and instead is based on the free association of the people who do the work, where “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. This is the real meaning of communism. It is a far more realistic goal than the utopian idea that rotten monopoly-finance capitalism can be directed to meet the needs of the world’s working class.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The article is totally clear on analysis and perspectives. Without bringing it all into question, its final paragraph calls for 'an international political organisaation of the working class with a programme...'(etc). So far it is not clear how, before or after that, mass workers' assemblies would be ORGANISED (my emphasis) into an ORGANISED network, to organisationally combine with the international political organisation. Wait and see ? That is not a positive way of ORGANISING the future. Where and when does actual organising start, as partially distinct from agitation and propaganda ?

We are a tiny political minority and we are organised. However, the working class as a whole must create its own fighting organisations, its own assemblies – we can’t do that for the class even if it’s true that as the revolutionary political organisation grows we will have more militants on the ground to encourage workers self-organisation outside of the unions.

Thank you CWOer for your reply of 2014-10-22, which was clear. What worries me is the apparent complete lack of any definite proposed structure. Workers assemblies might come from mass turmoil, but at them anyone could jump up and shout the odds, perhaps a very pronounced personality, but not necessarily one with enough knowledge and sense to provide a reasoned proposal to the workers present. Of course what the speaker says could be approved or rejected, but there seems to be no recognisable set of procedures for electing local and regional workers control organisations. Without them, how are workers to know which lot of decision-makers is to be regarded as decisive ?

T34 asked: how are workers to know which lot of decision-makers is to be regarded as decisive ?

Surely the workers are the decision makers in the new emerging society? If they're not, then it means we're still living in the old bourgeois set up.

And is it just a matter of being "decisive" that makes good governance? If it is then David Cameron is pretty good at it as there's nothing more decisive than his contradictory statements

It isn't decisiveness which the working class will need in its deliberations, but clarity of thought and class consciousness.

Yes, you’ve raised one of the key reasons for the absolute need for an organised political presence inside the class movement and the mass assemblies etc which are created. Party members who are inside the assemblies by virtue of their individual role in the movement will also have to aim to put forward the wider political goal as well as - if need be - remind the whole assembly of the nitty gritty of direct democracy. Clearly this won’t always be straightforward. As you say, a nuisance demagogue could hold sway and worse ­there are bound to be elements who are working consciously against the revolution. In any case, it is a mistake to suppose that once we have mass assemblies everything will be plain sailing....

Well, noting comments and responses so far, what about leaders and leadership? I guess one or more are needed to inspire and rally support and to tell workers where we are thought to need to go.

The "nuisance demagogue" always knows best so he thinks, is the bossy type too, and loves to tell everybody what to do because he knows better than everyone else. This is the danger contained in the idea of leadership, which is essentially a bourgeois concept. Workers are stupid and need to be told what to do. Under capitalism this is true. Why would workers put all their creative energy at the service of exploiting capitalists! They wouldn't! So workers wait to be told what to do. They wait for leadership. And the leaders, like foremen, get paid a tiny bit extra.

But, come the revolution, all will be different. The workers will awake and begin formulating and pursuing their own working class interests. They will thus start to emancipate humanity from the horrors of capitalism. It won't be plain sailing. Many folk are terrified of ideas, specially new ones, and will try to block and hold everything back. The party won't be telling comrades what to do though. It'll be inspiring us all, rallying support, and pointing out all the traps and pitfalls the bourgeoisie try to confuse us with, and disseminating a wider and ever growing consciousness of the task before us.

Charlie, the concept of leadership is a lot older than the bourgeoisie and certainly not its monopoly, whether you like the concept or not.

You are correct T 34. Leadership and it's ability to dominate, suppress ideas and enforce exploitation has always existed in class societies not just capitalism. Thank you for pointing that out.

Thank you, Charlie, but on the other hand there have been some positive results of leadership by and for workers, too, but hopefully enough said, so I won't wade into offering examples.

Honestly I think that dismissing leadership in general as a 'bourgeois concept' is rather what an anarchist would say (but who was Makhno or Durruti then?). There's nothing wrong with leaders as long as they are accountable to the whole class.

And what is a party if not an organic leadership of the working class, composed of its most advanced elements?

It all depends what you mean by "leadership" doesn't it? If you mean someone or some group telling, even instructing, some other group of people what to do, on the assumption that the instructors know best (which of course they might be thought to!) then I would see this as the bourgeois understanding of leadership in action. But there is another, working class concept of leadership, which isn't easy to explain!

In this understanding leadership is embodied in and expressed through what we may call an educative process involving the gradual maturing of ideas and consciousness. It is an educative process in which understandings, clarity of thought, and class consciousness, are gradually led out into the clear light of day. It takes place via discussion and debate not through instruction from above. This is perhaps Gepetto's "organic" leadership? The party will be of this kind of organic leadership.

The class produced Marx, Engels and the Communist Manifesto, not the other way round. The Manifesto theorized about the existence and practice of the class. This worked in turn to inform and clarify the thinking and consciousness of the class. But this doesn't make Marx, Engels and other revolutionary theorizers and activists into leaders in the bourgeois sense of the word.

On seizing power in Paris in 1871 the class began dismantling aspects of the bourgeois system as these didn't serve working class purposes. This was theorized by Marx to indicate that the working class cannot use bourgeois means to build proletarian society. But this doesn't mean that Marx was a leader bourgeois style. He learned from the class, who learned from him.

Is this a kind of dialectic between class and class-revolutionaries? A dialectical learning process? If it is then I suggest that this process serves to replace traditional leadership bourgeois style.

Charlie, in your comment of 2014-11-03 in your first paragraph you talked of (quote:-) .."the thinking and consciousness of the class". Well, of course, sets of views can be largely agreed by very many people, but I'm not sure that the class 'thinks' in a sort of discrete monolithic single entity way, as it were with a 'brain' of its own. Probably you didn't want to say that anyway. There is a danger of distorting 'democratic centralism' as being taken to mean that what 'the great leader' says goes, prior and leading up to formal decision taking.

Hi T 34. A late reply to yours above.

I don't believe that the class "thinks in a sort of discrete monolithic single entity way" either. But there is "solidarity". I have never experienced the class feeling itself as a class and expressing revolutionary fervor and togetherness. Those who did, and wrote about it, Luxemburg and Trotsky come to mind, do however appear to have seen something new and different in the sense of 'being ' and of self-awareness in the class, such that the individualistic bourgeois can never understand or be conscious of. And perhaps this is the point. CONSCIOUSNESS. First class consciousness and then revolutionary consciousness as the power for change the class contains within it, and for freeing humanity from enslavement for ever, grows and takes centre stage. If we all feel this together, in and through solidarity, this by no means makes of it a monolithic dumbness! On the contrary.

And we certainly won't need any great leaders, as you point out.

Charlie, responding to your comment of 2014-12-08 09:20, whilst I warned against what might occur withn a 'democrtic centralist' situation, that is not saying that great leaders are never needed.

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.