Britain: workers under attack – the time for action is now!

With inflation soaring, the bankers and bosses are trying to shift their costs onto the working class. But it is the capitalists who should pay for this crisis. The trade unions must launch a united fightback. There is no time to lose.

The phrase ‘shock and awe’ was often used by the imperialist ruling class to describe their brutal military strategy in the Iraq war. More than a million victims were cynically described as ‘collateral damage’.

The British working class is now facing its own war, a war on its living standards, where they are regarded as ‘collateral damage’ in securing profits for the bosses.

Millions are living on the edge, facing the calamity of wage cuts and a ‘cost of living catastrophe’, as energy and food prices go through the roof.

Workers were recently lectured by the Bank of England chief, Andrew Bailey, who ordered them to accept lower wages “to keep inflation under control”.

This arrogance echoes Tory prime minister Stanley Baldwin’s statement just before the 1926 general strike that every worker needed to take a wage cut “to put British industry back on its feet”.

Workers are being asked to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of profit. As energy prices rocket, Shell has reported a 55% rise of profits in the last quarter of 2021 – an extra $6.4 billion. These fossil fuel tycoons are laughing all the way to the bank.

Logic of capitalism

But workers are not going to take this lying down. They are starting to fight back. ‘Enough is enough!’ is the cry.

“Workers didn’t cause inflation or the energy crisis,” stated Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, “so why should they pay for it?”

“Workers don’t need lectures from the governor of the Bank of England on exercising pay restraint,” Graham continued. “Why is it that every time there is a crisis, rich men ask ordinary people to pay for it?”

The answer is not difficult to understand. It is the logic of capitalism. In a system based on the maximisation of profit, the bosses are always trying to reduce their ‘costs’ and squeeze more unpaid labour out of the working class.

As one capitalist apologist, Fabrice Montagne, chief UK economist at Barclays, recently explained: “Businesses have half a gazillion reasons to push back against wage increases as much as they can because all their other costs are increasing.”

Bosses’ hypocrisy

This has nothing to do with inflation and everything to do with boosting the profits of big business.

Over the last decade, the bosses and billionaires have made an absolute bonanza, while real wages have suffered their biggest ten-year fall since the time of the Napoleonic wars.

The more the capitalists get in profits, the less workers get in wages.

In times of high inflation, like now, workers struggle just to keep up with prices. Nevertheless, they are blamed and told to show restraint.

“If the psychology of higher inflation is to take root, it will do so through wages and pay settlements,” states Neil Shearing, chief economist at consultancy Capital Economics.

Of course, there will be no ‘restraint’ for the governor of the Bank of England, who had to scrape by on a mere £575,538 last year, nor for any of his capitalist chums.

Year of discontent

Millions of workers are on the poverty line. A growing number face destitution. Tens of millions are struggling with sky-high bills. As a result, there is colossal pressure building in the trade unions to fight – from nurses to bin workers.

2022 is building up as a ‘year of discontent’. There is the potential for a massive fightback, involving unions across the board. It is time for the movement to get off its knees.

cost of living Image Socialist Appeal2022 is building up as a ‘year of discontent’. There is the potential for a massive fightback, involving unions across the board / Image: Socialist Appeal

In the past, the establishment could rely on the right-wing trade union leaders, such as in Unison, to hold back the working class. But in the two biggest unions, Unite and Unison, there have been shifts to the left.

Under Sharon Graham’s leadership, Unite has taken a more militant stance, especially towards taking strike action.

The election of a new left leadership in Unison under Paul Holmes, meanwhile, represents a dramatic shift away from the old Prentis regime. It is a historic victory for the whole trade union movement.

Which side are you on?

This has sent shivers down the back of the capitalist establishment. While they have regained control of the Labour Party under Starmer, the battle has now shifted to the industrial front.

Although the right wing has given up for the moment in overturning the left in Unite, they are concentrating all their efforts on sabotaging the left in Unison, the biggest union in Britain.

paul victimised Image Socialist AppealAlthough the right wing has given up for the moment in overturning the left in Unite, they are concentrating all their efforts on sabotaging the left in Unison, the biggest union in Britain / Image: Socialist Appeal

This explains the recent sacking of Paul Holmes, the left-wing Unison President, a clear case of victimisation. This is no ‘local’ problem, but part of a national strategy by the powers that be – an alliance of employers, bureaucrats, and the right wing in the labour movement – to destroy the left in this crucial union.

Unfortunately, this unholy alliance has been joined by the Socialist Party, in pursuit of their own sectarian ends. They have been spreading allegations against Paul of harassment and bullying, contained in a story in a local rag.

Paul absolutely denies these allegations, and is fighting for his reinstatement, with the full legal support of the union. In this fight, he deserves every activist’s whole-hearted support. An injury to one is an injury to all. This attack on Paul is political. It is a frame-up.

The real question is: In this battle between employers and bureaucrats out to destroy the left, whose side are you on?

In the great miners’ strike of 1984-5, the strikers were repeatedly accused of bullying, intimidation, and violence by Thatcher (and the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, a scab union) in an attempt to discredit them.

We, the Marxists, knew then whose side we were on. And we know whose side we are on now.

Unite and fight

The stakes in the class struggle are high. The ruling class is determined to make workers pay for the crisis and bail out their system.

They have thrown down the gauntlet. We must pick it up and throw it back in their face.

This means waging an all-out struggle, involving unions across the board.

The TUC general council should call an emergency congress to draw up battle plans to coordinate the fightback. Failing this, the left unions – including Unite, Unison, PCS, and others – should organise a united struggle.

There is no time to lose. The time for action is now!

Originally published on 11 February at |

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