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Back to Front - Who asked us?


We are told our system of government – "democracy" – is so good we must spread it across the world, by force of arms if necessary. Even the International Trade Union Confederation, to which our union movement is affiliated, declares that its mission is to spread democracy across the world. So what's so good about it that two-thirds of British workers chose not to participate in the recent council elections?

From the Greek, democracy means people, (demos), rule or strength, (kratis), or popular government. Not the sort of label you'd put on Brown's government that secured 24 per cent of the latest poll – 8.4 per cent of all those entitled to vote in those elections – with even some in Labour predicting support could slump as low as 17 per cent.

In Britain, workers get to vote in a general election once every five years and in council elections every three or so years. EU immigrants can vote while passing through. And that's it! Not only is there no possibility to get involved in debating and determining policies on important issues, there is no difference between those main parties.

Labour accuses the Tories of having no policies, and the Tories daren't announce policies because they are immediately stolen by Labour. Our unions dare not oppose a Labour government because they falsely believe they can influence its policies. This is not pluralism, it's a one-party state.

Very few key policies are determined now by our "elected" government because they are determined by the EU. Yet no amount of tinkering with proportional representation will change anything.

Take the new proposals for care of the elderly, an issue that will ultimately affect every worker. We have been used to the state providing at least a level of basic care to the frail elderly, but because of NHS reforms which have led to elderly patients discharged without local authority places or funding for them, this is coming to an end with the ultimate privatisation: frail elderly people will be given a lump of cash and abandoned to buy their own care. Never mind the lack of criminal record checks or the bureaucracy of employing someone. When were we ever asked about this? How did "Popular Government" consult the people affected?

And that's the same for everything. Labour promised not to introduce top-up fees for students, then introduced them. They promised a referendum on the EU Constitutional Treaty and then refused one. There is simply no mechanism under this system for working people to influence or control anything.

But this democracy does allow BP and Shell to make £7.5 billion profit in the first three months of 2008 while the rest of us pay £1.20 a litre of petrol, and more. It allows massive bonuses for bankers who gamble with their customers' money. It allows our industries to be moved overseas or simply closed. It allows private equity investors and "non doms" to pay less tax than their cleaners. It spends £100 million to bail out failing banks. It allows capitalism to flourish while denying workers any say in their future. That's why they want to spread it across the world.

Imagine as a worker, you genuinely decided who should run your industry, who should stand as a candidate for local councils or government, how the economy should be developed in the interest of the people, how the young, sick and old should be cared for. Imagine this process put workers in control of the direction of the nation and created a real democracy where the people truly exercised rule through strength, the true meaning of democracy. This would be the rule of the workers, or, as Karl Marx described it, the "dictatorship of the proletariat".