Capitalism’s institutions are in permanent decline – time for the working class to assert its ascendancy...
This article is a shortened and edited version of a speech given at this year’s CPBML May Day Rally, held in Conway Hall, London, on 1 May.
Parliament: subservient since 1660.
“Our country is under attack. All of its institutions, bar none, are in decline. Our economy is in decline, and the only growth anywhere is in unemployment, poverty and war. Apart, that is, from charity shops, pay day loans and food banks. In periods of crisis, leadership is necessary. This is a crisis. A crisis of thought, and of deed.”
This is how this Party’s recent political statement opens, agreed at our 16th Congress in November of last year and it makes challenging reading. Good. We need to be challenged, all of us. Are the things said here true though? And if they are what can we do about them?
Is our country under attack? Well, yes it is. You don’t have to be at war to be under attack, and anyway in a way we are at war. We said many years ago that unemployment represented war on workers. Unemployment is the biggest single weapon used by employers and the employing class against organised labour, that is, against workers in trade unions.
Why? Because it means that competition can be introduced between workers, which is far more important than competition between employers, driving down pay. It’s what lies behind the attempts to break up national pay bargaining, for example in the NHS.
Actually of course what employers really want is not local pay bargaining but no pay bargaining. Unemployment plus low levels of trade union membership equals lower pay. There’s a lesson there: low unemployment plus high levels of union membership means higher pay.
We might say too that migration has the same effect as unemployment. Imagine how much employers would have to pay refuse collectors if they couldn’t go to EU-sponsored employment agencies in Warsaw to pick and choose them, much like employers picked labourers outside dock gates in years gone by.
The same argument holds for Filipino nurses or Nigerian doctors. They are needed first and foremost in their own countries. From December Bulgarian and Romanian workers have direct access to the British labour market, adding to the strength of employers, and weakening workers still further.
Migration is one of the many forms of people trafficking, some legal, some not. Most of us see people trafficking as an unacceptable abuse of workers individually. We need to see economic migration as an unacceptable abuse of workers collectively.
Our country is also under attack in the sense that we can no longer make our own government policy, economy strategy or the law. The final word in all these areas is determined not by anyone we might elect, but by that corporate entity called the European Union.
Let’s be clear, when we talk about the European Union we are not expressing the views of reactionary politicians who oppose everything not redolent of the British Empire, Colonel Blimp and the Union Jack. If you believed the media they are the only kind of people who are opposed to EU membership. Those stereotypes oppose the EU because they think it’s too progressive an organisation, that it’s not reactionary enough. We oppose the EU because it is deeply reactionary, and not at all progressive.
Some oppose the EU because they say it’s too internationalist. We say that it’s not internationalist at all. We oppose it not because we don’t like the people of Europe, but because the EU is bad for all the peoples of Europe – including us!
Our country is under attack also because it is being broken up. The so-called historic so-called agreement between the Scottish so-called First Minister and the so-called Prime Minister of Britain has made provision for a referendum to take place in Scotland that completely excludes the people of Britain as a whole from that vote.
Except of course Scotland wouldn’t become independent even if a majority of people there voted for it. A so-called independent Scotland would reapply to join the EU, a condition of which would be to adopt the euro and abolish the pound. It would then become more dependent upon the EU and the European Central Bank – for which, read Germany – than it is as part of Britain.
Just about the only thing that’s less democratic than our being tied to the EU without a referendum is Britain being broken up without a referendum. It’s saying Britain can be eradicated as a country without the people of Britain being asked. The last time something like that happened in Europe was in Yugoslavia, and that ended in war.
What about that other bald statement, that all institutions in Britain are in decline? Name one major national institution that’s thriving!
Look at Parliament. Its high spot in history was cutting the head off the king in 1649. Except it didn’t even do that. It just lent its name to those who were brave enough to end the monarchy by executing the tyrant Charles Stuart. Parliament soon enough betrayed, and brought back his discredited son so he could cynically torture to death those he’d promised clemency to. And it’s been downhill for Parliament ever since.
Parliament has been endlessly subservient and has not spoken up for the people of Britain. It crawled to the US government in offering Britain as an offshore aircraft carrier used to threaten our war time allies in the Soviet Union, and then in outdoing even this level of grovelling in obeisance to the diktats of the EU.
What about the church? What with rows in the Church of England over who can marry whom, who can preach to whom – and just who comes to listen anyway? And the Catholic church, not that strictly speaking it’s a British institution – that’s struggling a bit too. Every pope since the 1920s has managed to tick the “pro-fascist” box, and this new one’s no different.
Perhaps we think the press, television, the media in general are not in decline? Technical improvements should not blind us to the role they play, and the decline is in their independence and their veracity. In the whole overblown Leveson hoo-ha did anyone raise the only relevant question? Why do all the media, without exception, support capitalism?
Membership of our own organisations, the trade unions, continues to slide. Unions huddle together in inappropriate mergers dictated by who’s going to get jobs at the top, rather than by the interests of members. The announced merger of Unite and TSSA is one step closer to there being only two unions in Britain, Unite and Unison. If this eventually happens it will be the end of the British trade union movement.
Many workers who are in unions are nervous in case someone spots them, anxious that they might not be able to escape taking responsibility. Those who have got the courage to take responsibility are to be applauded. All of us in unions should ask ourselves regularly, “What more can we do? How can we join new members into the union?” And then, all together, we must ask how we can fight our way out of this decline.
It is a lie to say that there is a pay freeze. It is a pay cut. Pay is cut every year it goes up less than the rate of inflation, which it has been doing for many years now. Since 2009, says the TUC, workers on the average salary of £25,000 a year have lost £4,000. By 2014 they will have lost £6,000. That’s if you’re on the average salary. This is not austerity. It is the transfer of wealth from those who produce it, workers, to those who own the means of production and control society as a result.
Britain’s richest 1,000 people, capitalists, 0.003 per cent of the population, have increased their wealth by a staggering £155 billion in the past three years. This is enough to pay off the entire budget deficit and still have £30 billion left over. There is no financial crisis. It’s just that finance, and the control of it, is in the wrong hands.
This is not a double- or even a triple-dip “recession”. It is the Second Great Depression. The first one began in 1929, in the same sort of way that this one started, with a massive transfer of assets from workers to capitalists. It then led to an over-inflated stock market which led in turn to a financial collapse, and it ended in war. In fact there already is war today. War in our name abroad.
So much for what’s bad. What can we do? First off we can make sure we join a trade union. Bad things in trade unions happen because not enough people join. We have always said that joining a union is the most political thing most workers ever do and that is as true now as it’s ever been. And we can become active in that union. Stand for election. Take responsibility in how it’s run. Run it better.
Leave the EU
We can as a country leave the EU – let’s have a referendum on that now! We must insist our unions become involved in this debate, and demand a referendum. Currently the TUC thinks a referendum on EU membership is a distraction; a distraction from what, for goodness sake? From all that class struggle the TUC is out there organising? What is more important than securing national sovereignty for us as a people, as a working class?
We should also leave the misnamed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Only by leaving the EU & NATO can we support the right of peoples around the world to self-determination. Self-determination of nations is what we fought the Second World War for.
Now Britain is joining in the wave of reaction aimed precisely at the eradication of self-determination in countries such as Iraq, Libya and now Syria, all peaceful countries which were not threatening Britain. Our government supports the destruction of all secular Arab countries. Britain, the EU & NATO prefer to have Al-Qaeda regimes than socialist ones. Forget the Arab Spring – history will come to call this the Arab Winter.
When we leave the EU & NATO we will have the resources to rebuild our industry, make our own boats and planes and trains. We can train the young to develop the industries of tomorrow by learning the skills of today. We can harness the experience of the old rather than have them fear for their futures.
We can assert control of our health and other public services, and stick two fingers up to those who say that there’s no alternative to the market. We could train our own doctors, nurses, and other health professionals rather than stealing them from countries which need them more than we do.
Anyway, to do all those positive things working people must become independent in the mind. The EU is not a boon companion. NATO is not a friendly giant. Parliament is not the place to go to get things sorted out.
Until we become collectively independent as working people, become a class-conscious working class, then we will not be able to control our own lives, to make the really big decisions which lie in our way. At the moment we are collectively enslaved in the mind. Too many think that no solution to the problems life throws up can be found outside of the profit motive.
Our Congress statement concludes with what might be called a call to action to the people of Britain. It’s a call to action we reiterate on this celebration of International Workers Day.
• Out of the European Union, enemy to our survival!
• No to the breakup of Britain, defend our national sovereignty!
• Rebuild workplace trade union organisation!
• Fight for pay, vital class battleground!
• Regenerate industry, key to an independent future!
So May Day greetings to you all – and to those of you who want to take hold of the future – join us in this Party! ■