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Editorial: Building the movement must be our focus this International Workers' Day

INTERNATIONAL Workers’ Day this weekend comes after a month that has seen the biggest hit to working-class incomes in decades.

Across the country, socialists and trade unionists will march and speak from platforms on the need for a counter-attack — pay rises that match inflation, action to bring down fuel bills.

Some trade union organisers are sceptical of the value of these set-piece demonstrations that make up the left’s calendar, arguing that the labour movement is simply talking to itself — activists preaching to the converted rather than the millions of ordinary trade union members, let alone the tens of millions of workers in Britain who are not organised.

That’s clearly a danger every union and trades council needs to work to avoid, but there is a value at a time like this in making our movement as visible as possible in every community.

Demos don’t build the movement in the way industrial action does. Ultimately unions recruit when they demonstrate their ability to deliver better pay and conditions for members — as we are seeing in multiple workplaces, as bus workers, rail workers, bin workers, hospital porters, cleaners and many more engage in successful strike action, often winning significant pay awards.

These victories will resonate through workplaces and sectors, though the mass media’s default approach to trade union activity — to either ignore or demonise it — can hamper getting the message out more widely, one reason it remains important to keep independent left media outlets like the Morning Star going.

But that message can also be spread by actions like those taking place this weekend. The current cost-of-living crisis is hitting people across the board. 

Nearly everyone is hit hard by a 54 per cent hike in energy bills. Nearly everyone is going to notice inflation so severe that the price of a packet of pasta has risen 140 per cent in a single year.

The government will claim nothing can be done. It’s down to “market forces” or the consequence of events beyond our control, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This isn’t true — while war in Ukraine is undoubtedly accelerating inflation, runaway price rises were evident before it began. And it is happening when the rich are richer than ever — the oil barons raking in record profits, billionaires worldwide having seen a bigger increase in their wealth during Covid than over the previous 14 years. 

There are ways to address the cost-of-living crisis. Windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies. Wealth taxes on the plutocrats. Price controls on essentials — France has capped energy price rises at 4 per cent thanks to public ownership of energy. And proper pay rises. 

These demands need to be at the heart of a co-ordinated fightback, targeting big employers and politicians in local, national and Westminster government.

The approach described by the Scottish TUC leader Roz Foyer earlier this week — developing local links with People’s Assembly branches, disability groups, foodbanks, tenants’ associations and other community campaigns, to start taking action together — has real movement-building potential, as has already been demonstrated in pioneering cities like Sheffield.

And we need to build that movement, especially given the reversals suffered by the left since 2019, with Labour devoting more energy to persecuting its most committed members than to battling the Tories, indulging in feeble triangulation rather than backing workers’ pay demands, and with the reforming programmes of the 2017 and 2019 manifestos largely sidelined.

The government is trying to break us, to ban protest and hobble unions. We need to join hands with all forces mobilising community and workplace resistance to its agenda, as we use May Day platforms to build for the June 18 demonstration and the New Deal for Workers tour, to champion those workers taking on their employers for a better deal, and to proclaim the truth that another world is possible, necessary and on its way.

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