The chaos being wrought by this government – the latest in a line of destructive governments – has its roots in centuries of bitter hatred against the working class. Survival will require workers to develop their own strategy for Britain…
What is happening in Britain today is not some aberration or accidental combination of circumstances having an unfortunate conclusion – the deficit.
It is the culmination of a ruling class and employers’ offensive against workers – organised and disorganised – over nearly 40 years, though obviously with its roots in British history dating back through centuries of class struggle.
This is the historic context: in 1970 Edward Heath, Tory Prime Minister, free marketeer, collaborator, quisling and pro-European Union yes-man, was promoting industrial reform, welfare reform, and social reform, to all aspects of British society. The word “reform” means its opposite. Not reform but reaction, not progress but an attempt to turn the clock backwards, epitomised by Heath’s concept of the “corporate state” – which was the fascist Mussolini model. Heath was the man who boasted that Britain’s “lame duck” industries – effectively all nationalised industry, including rail, steel, coal, utilities, communications etc – had to stand or fall according to the rules of the market. No more state support but to live and die by the sword of the market.
Organised industrial workers rose to resist, primarily the engineering union but with factory occupations (e.g. Upper Clyde Shipbuilders) across the country. The miners struck over wages. It had taken them nearly 50 years to recover from the 1926 General Strike defeat. The Industrial Relations Act was destroyed; immense battles were fought around wages and the right to work. We met their challenge head on and scattered them. There is much more in that period 1970-74 but you need to read the history books.
Capitalism’s response to such a stunning defeat – though don’t forget our total failure as a class to then capitalise on that victory – gave us a Labour government from 1974 to 79. The prime role of that government was essentially to give capitalism a respite, a chance to recover and plan its next offensive.
That came in 1979 with Thatcher. Back to the original agenda of Heath – free market economics rampant. There was the Ridley plan, written in 1977, designed to break the industrial organisation of trade unionism in Britain by systematically fragmenting industry, permitting massive imports to undermine our manufacturing base, more integration with the EU, mass unemployment, back to the 1930s with a vengeance, introduce the most draconian anti-union legislation in Europe.
|Electronic share transactions move wealth around the globe at the flick of a switch. But even there most of the equipment is made outside Britain.|
That government aimed to divide, weaken and undermine the trade union base, and from 12 million+ strong we have plummeted to the 6.5 million of today. Throughout the Thatcher-Major years we saw ever-growing surveillance and the police state.
Again, that period 1979 to 1997 saw immense industrial battles, but by the end of it whole industries had been destroyed, truncated, emasculated into a mere shadow of themselves – coal shut, steel closed, textiles devastated, engineering gutted, printing almost non-existent, the Port of London docks closed. Over 1 million skilled industrial jobs were destroyed forever; privatisation became the watchword for the disposing of the nation’s family silver; destruction of social housing, greed and corruption unfettered, the list is endless.
The traditional industrial communities were destroyed, to be replaced with a ghetto-mentality, drugs and worklessness – a snide term meaning hopelessness.
Then the Blair–Brown years of 1997 to 2010, a government more committed to finance capital than any previous. The belief that wealth can be created not by making commodities for exchange and trade but on moving electronic share transactions and banking transfers around the globe is epitomised in that aberration of Canary Wharf in London. Having engineered the banking crisis, they still keep the bonuses of bankers in tens of billions.
Remember the first act of the Thatcher government was to abolish foreign exchange controls allowing capital to flood out of the country? Well, the first act of the Brown-Blair government was to separate the Bank of England from state control, ensuring that the banks were released to commit whatever havoc, wherever and whenever they liked anywhere in the world, finance capitalism effectively rampant without any nation-state root.
The result was that the government oversaw the greatest destruction of manufacturing jobs and industry since and including the Thatcher years. And during this period trade union density in the private sector plummeted to 15 per cent; trade union aspirations or ideas of social progress evaporated in supposed equalities agendas wrapped in litigation and do-gooding, in rubbing shoulders with government lobbyists and sponsoring endless think tanks delivering nothing.
In 2009 the CPBML held a meeting in London entitled “Stopping the Parliamentary Road to Fascism”. We were quite clear that the threat to Britain’s labour movement arose simply from the commonality of politics of all parliamentary parties, the indistinguishable policies, the deep institutionalised corruption. As Lenin described it, “a widely ramified, systematically managed, well-equipped system of flattery, lies, fraud, juggling with fashionable and popular catchwords…the more highly democracy is developed the more bourgeois parliaments are subjected to the stock exchange and the bankers“.
We warned that the assault on the working class would come through parliamentarian parties perverting and misusing power and language: they all speak of freedom; they all speak of democracy; they all speak of reform. This is the language and actions of thieves, murderers, charlatans and criminals.
And so we arrive at the Coalition, the Tory Party and the Liberal Democrats. And back we go to 1970 and the free market again. What are the rules of the game? They are quite simple: the market without any restriction or hindrance must be allowed full freedom of operation. Hence all these freedoms: freedom of choice, freedom of movement of capital, freedom of movement of labour, freedom of trade, etc – all really freedom to crucify workers.
We as a working class grew out of the first industrial revolution the world has seen. What we have taken for granted over several hundred years – our industries, our skills, our inventiveness, our creativity, our common language, territory, culture and unique character all face obliteration unless we stop these ideologues of the market.
How can we survive? What weapons do we have in this struggle?
We have over 250 years of organising and ingenuity in how we organise in the place of work. The guerrilla maxim: strategically one against ten but tactically 10 against one was never truer. We bring unity, organisation, self-discipline and clarity of understanding. But we have to understand the changed industrial landscape of Britain – see the article in the November 2010 issue of Workers on the need for a national plan. Start to plan accordingly.
We need to update and modernise our thinking about industry, about manufacturing, about real wealth creation, about what we want that wealth creation to provide and for whom. We have to set a different agenda from all that is around us.
We are dealing with a rapacious ruling class, an enemy with a road map and clear intent; Cameron and Clegg’s boast of changing Britain forever cannot be ignored. This is the part of the counter-revolution and is about destroying us as the working class in our entirety, about destroying us as an organised force of resistance.
We therefore need to identify what our strategic industries are and what we want. And what control we have over them. A nation which doesn’t own its own ports, or airports, or shipping, or steel industry etc, has no sovereignty and no future.
Everything the Coalition, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation, European Union etc, clamours for, we should oppose.
We want, we need a new industrial revolution –
- make it in Britain,
- grow it in Britain,
- educate in Britain,
- re-skill in Britain,
- rebuild Britain,
- invent it in Britain,
- plan it in Britain,
- plan it for Britain
– because these are all the things that make us strong, and the things they must therefore destroy, fragment, obliterate.
- We are for the accumulation of surplus value; profit in their terms, but not for them but us for the people of Britain.
- We are for every control that takes surplus value away from the capitalist and stops exploitation.
- We are for absolute control of all industry and public sector provision as we, the working class, see fit.
- We are a nation of workers not benefit recipients, a socialist Britain has to be a working Britain not welfare Britain.
- We are for import controls and sovereignty over these islands.
- We are for redefining the word freedom to mean freedom for workers.
We are for a planned economy to build Britain and the future – we are not for anarchy. Freedom for workers creates respect, wellbeing, education, housing, employment, health, sovereignty and peace.
So a new, second, industrial revolution and the debate on these plans has to commence, for a new Britain, our Britain:
- Define what we are, what we want, what we need.
- Reappraise our strategic industries.
- Reappraise our social and civil society requirements – health, education, housing, employment, national identity etc.
- Reappraise the European Union and work with all the peoples of Europe to shatter it.
- Survival – batten down the hatches to survive – for the class and for Britain in the face of the latest tidal wave of reaction.
- Recognise and capture the hopes and aspirations of workers that only through a new industrial revolution can workers in Britain survive.
- Recognise that survival means power.
- Remember the employers’ agenda: greed, exploitation, low wages, long hours, no regulation, degradation, no taxation, no employment rights, no trade unions, maximising of profit – anytime, anywhere, at every opportunity: nothing new then!
We need a different agenda. Industry provides the mechanism to deliver a future for workers and for Britain.
This article is a shortened version of a speech delivered at a public meeting in Conway Hall on 16 November 2010, organised by the CPBML