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An unprecedented opportunity for class unity and political change

We must make the most of the opportunity to weaken the Tories and reset the political agenda, argues ANDY BAIN

DESPITE the mainstream media minimising the reality of the cost-of-living crisis, we hear daily of stories of people having to choose to heat or eat. 

We know that a substantial percentage of people in work need to use foodbanks. Over the worst of the pandemic we clapped for workers who took the biggest risks. 

However, they have not been rewarded or recognised and many are leaving public service for less stressful and sometimes better-paid jobs.  

Other than the rich we will all suffer the impact of this, on top of the already high vacancy levels, in public services, health, education and other sectors, due to the lack of government investment in all our public services.  

Most people see the rich getting richer while the rest of us get poorer. We witness the systemic greed — the profit frenzy of the big energy companies and the “savings” made by water companies in dumping raw sewage in our rivers and on our beaches.

The rich and powerful, the ruling class, have used and will use any crisis to shift more power and profits their way.  

They have already taken back many of the gains made by postwar social democracy during the 1950s through to the ’80s. 

The NHS, comprehensive education and council housing are becoming history and the key utilities are privatised.  

The pandemic is being used to ramp up this transfer of wealth, with laws against the protests they see coming, laws to divide us including the creation of a hostile environment for immigrants and extending the most draconian trade union laws in Europe.

We are in unprecedented times, with low unemployment, rising inflation at over 12 per cent and a serious wages struggle, with the government trying to hold pay rises to not much more than 2 per cent.  

The Tories are divided, as the election and actions of Liz Truss demonstrated. These divisions, whether over EU or US allegiances or a one nation levelling up v escalated austerity which will make the working class pay for this latest and most severe crisis of capitalism, will get very much worse if, as is looking ever more likely, there is a massive and united working-class fightback. 

We must make the most of the opportunity to weaken the Tories and reset the political agenda.

The new level of militancy started with the threat to the rail unions to sack thousands and introduce “flexibilities” that would severely reduce the income and increase the workload of those left.  

It was effectively a trap, as the government would not allow the rail companies to negotiate settlements with the rail unions, and any loss the companies suffered due to strikes would be paid to them by government from public funds.  

The rail companies are therefore being incentivised to provoke strikes. The rail unions had no choice but to fight back, but saw in the distance an autumn, then winter, of disputes, ballots and strikes across many sectors over inflation-proof pay, threats to terms and conditions and even recognition.  

The CWU was next and faced employer intransigence over pay and conditions. Not long after the strikes started, Royal Mail threatened to withdraw from its long-established relationship with the CWU and impose zero-hours contracts across the company.  

The public appearances of rail and mail union leaders, two of the best organised sectors, won the hearts and minds of many, who do see that we are all in it together, turning on its head David Cameron’s fake slogan that was designed to get us to accept austerity.  

We have seen many cheering pickets with wide support, again turning the public mood in favour of the strikers.  

This is a serious worry for the ruling class, hence the threat of minimum service agreements for government defined “essential services” and other ways to prevent strikes.

Over the next few months hundreds of thousands of trade union members across the public sector in health, education, the Civil Service and transport are likely to be on strike nationally.  

The TUC in October overwhelmingly committed to the co-ordination of action where practicable. 

We have already had many victories, with Unite reporting that 80 per cent of disputes this year have ended in success and of course even the barristers won 15 per cent after a prolonged strike.

The existing anti-union laws have forced us to better organise and now we are seeing the fruits of that — the UCU winning a national mandate for strike action and the NEU’s 68 per cent participation in an indicative strike ballot.  

This improved organisation within the unions and the raised class consciousness in the population takes us to a stronger position and as the struggle continues we will need to work on both.

The New Deal for Workers, promoted by the CWU, is a core element of this struggle.  

It calls for unions to act together, cease recruitment battles and work closely with community campaigning organisations.  

The British left has an unfortunate history of splitting — if we allow this we will not be forgiven by future generations. We have an unprecedented opportunity for class unity and political change.

At the TUC We Demand Better rally on Wednesday, several general secretaries called for unity across the working class and for the building of a movement in communities, in workplaces and on the streets, one that is strong enough to win a government for the working class and then to hold this government to account. 

A more class-conscious population will then see through the smoke-and-mirrors narrative that “the market must be obeyed.” Pressure for a quick general election is a step towards this.

Andy Bain is Communist Party of Britain industrial organiser

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