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A rising tide of united protest and struggle

Today’s mass demonstration can lay the foundations for a class-based people’s front to shift the balance of power in Britain, writes ROBERT GRIFFITHS

MANY thousands of demonstrators will march through central London today, despite the anaemic title given to the protest by the Trades Union Congress (“We Demand Better”).

It will — as most big demonstrations do — inspire and inform those who attend. The cynics who insist that marching changes nothing should be ignored. Marches mobilise, bring people together, enthuse, re-energise and send out wider messages.

Sometimes they even win publicity in the mainstream media, although only the Morning Star can be relied upon to give such events the coverage they deserve.

Nonetheless, it will be a fair question to ask on Saturday night and Sunday morning: great march, but where next?

Saturday’s event will have confirmed that many people are ready and willing to fight back against the Tory and big business offensive against our living standards, our rights and our future.

The signs were already there before today. After 12 years of austerity and two of Covid, workers are fighting back against real-terms pay and pension cuts, redundancies, “fire and rehire” and unsafe working conditions. 

Industrial action is breaking out all over. The TUC has recorded more than 300 disputes over the past 12 months.

So far this year, strikes have broken out across the spectrum from higher education and the ports in Southampton and the Shetlands to crown post offices and the Budweiser brewery in Samlesbury. 

Victories are being won when workers threaten or take action, whether on the bins in Wealden and Hastings or in the B&Q central warehouse in Nottinghamshire. 

Since March, the big unions such as Unite and the GMB between them have been engaged in more than 40 industrial battles. 

Smaller unions are also taking on some of Britain's biggest — and most profitable — companies in the retail, food and hospitality industries.

The Coventry refuse drivers are still out after almost five months, RMT is launching strikes across the railway industry and unions are balloting for action in BT and Royal Mail.  

Everyone can see that profits, dividends and fat-cat salaries and bonuses are racing still further ahead of wages. Even during the Covid crisis, while front-line workers in the healthcare, retail and transport sectors were dying in their hundreds and millions of others were losing incomes and jobs, corporate profits were protected with public money as the rich got richer. 

Now workers, the unemployed, pensioners and families are being hit with higher National Insurance contributions, increased council tax, a benefits freeze and huge price rises for household fuel, food and petrol.

But if employers thought that workers are too weak to resist, they are being proved wrong. Emboldened by labour shortages in some sectors, trade unionists have seized the time to demand a slice of the profit pie they bake for the bosses.

The People’s Assembly, too, is enjoying a resurgence, determined to campaign against a fresh round of cuts, outsourcing and privatisation. 

The Conservative government is determined to make working-class people and their communities pay for the latest bailout of big business made necessary by the Covid pandemic.

The peace movement is also back on the streets, protesting against the return of US nuclear weapons to Lakenheath and calling on the British government to act as a force for peace in Ukraine rather than stoking the flames of war.

Divisions are reopening in the Tory ranks. Chancellor Rishi Sunak wants a windfall tax and higher corporation tax on company super-profits to help pay down Britain’s debt and fund economic expansion. 

Johnson wants to retain the support of the “market force” fundamentalists of the Tory right, while also hanging on to “red wall” seats with loud but empty talk of “levelling up.” 

But both sides will unite against a resurgent labour movement. New legislation further restricts rights to protest and picket and Tory ministers are threatening to break strikes by imposing “minimum service levels” and legalising the deployment of agency scabs.

Picking a fight with the EU and its sacrosanct “single market” over the Northern Ireland Protocol, while beating the Ukraine war drum, could be seen by Boris Johnson as useful diversions from the challenges he faces from Tory rebels and — no thanks to Keir Starmer — from the labour movement. 

At the same time, we the people should not allow ourselves to be diverted by Guardianesque chatter about an electoral alliance with the pro-austerity, pro-big business Lib Dems. 

Together with born-again New Labourites in and around Starmer’s shadow cabinet, their underlying — and highly divisive — aim is to take Britain back into the orbit of the EU via a single market agreement or customs union.  

What is needed instead is a rising tide of united protest and struggle that can turn the labour movement and public opinion leftwards. 

Conditions are ripening for the creation of a powerful new alliance of left and progressive forces across England, Scotland and Wales. 

June 18 can lay the foundations, after which we need the unions and their allies to draw up an action programme of key policy demands and the steps needed to fight for them. 

The policies agreed at an action conference could cover the economy, employment, trade union rights, incomes and taxation, housing, the environment, democratic liberties and social equality.

The steps could include the formation of councils of action, bringing together unions, trades councils, Labour Party bodies, student unions, tenants’ associations, health and anti-racist campaigns and organisations such as the People’s Assembly, the National Assembly of Women and the National Pensioners Convention.

In short, a class-based people’s front against big business and the Tories. What’s not to like?

Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.

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