Scottish Socialist Party: Defy and defeat crisis-stricken Tories
First published in Scottish Socialist Voice, Issue 585.
Workers’ livelihoods and rights are being assaulted by an unelected Prime Minister, at the head of an extremist, unelected Tory government.
Whereas 100,000 Royal Mail posties voted to strike in defence of their pay, their working conditions and the public service they provide, a mere 80,000 backwoods Tories elected Liz Truss to preside over the fate of 67 million people. That’s a lesser level of democracy than back in the 18th century!
Yet the same Tory junta lectures us on how trade union ballots should be conducted, poised to impose more vicious obstacles to workers defending themselves than even Truss’s obnoxious idol Maggie Thatcher dared to implement.
However, this is a Tory government ripping itself apart, with internal divisions, plots and crises swamping Tory party conference, and many of their own MPs bolting early to avoid the train strikes timed to hit their trips to and from Birmingham, thereby missing Truss’s address to the assembled reactionaries.
They’ve already been compelled into two screeching U-turns, because of the public fury at rocketing energy prices and their plans to axe the 45 per cent tax on income over £150,000. At time of writing, the Tories are likely to be forced into another humiliating U-turn on the question of capping benefit increases to the rate wages have risen, as opposed to the twice-as-high Retail Price Index inflation — which even a right-wing think tank predicts will drive a further 450,000 people into poverty.
Drive Tories back - drive Tories out!
This is a brutal regime which has launched shameless class war on the working class, but one which is ripe to be defied and defeated; not just driven back but potentially driven out, if only the national trade union leaderships harness the growing anger in the population into mass, united and decisive collective action.
The Tories’ mini-budget was a rude awakening to class politics for anyone lulled into swallowing the lie that we are all in this together, in an orgy of cross-class ‘national unity’ which the ruling powers systemically sought to whip up, in two relentless weeks of pomp, pageantry and parades of naked state power after the Queen died.
Kami Kwasi Kwarteng!
Public outrage forced ‘kami Kwasi’ Kwarteng into abandoning abolition of the top 45p tax rate, pleading with the population that this measure had been ‘a distraction’ from the rest of the Tories’ wondrous budget. From an opposite, working-class standpoint, this U-turn is itself something of a distraction; a mere tactical retreat in the war on the working class which the rest of the budget amounts to.
After all, the UK’s top rate of income tax before Maggie Thatcher won power in 1979 was not 45 per cent but 83 per cent. More contemporarily, the combined impact of freezing the lower income tax threshold and cutting the 20 per cent basic rate leaves everyone earning less than £40,000 worse off.
A millionaire will be £55,000 better off from the Tory budget, whereas the median workers’ wage is less than half that leap in wealth, at £26,000. Naked class-based generosity to the grotesquely rich.
The poorest 3 million of the population will gaìn the grandiose total of 63 pence — per month! — according to the viciously anti-socialist Times newspaper. Across the gaping class divide, £85billion has already been forked out in dividends to big shareholders in 2022.
Nationalise - don’t subsidise profit!
The Tories’ alleged restraints on household energy bills means they’ve more than doubled since August 2021, whilst giant energy companies were gifted £100billion in subsidies from taxpayers’ funds — which will further crucify spending on essential services.
Regressive tax cuts, plus subsidies to giant energy companies, will in part be paid for in an orgy of cuts to public services — on top of real-terms cuts to wages and benefits.
Workers in the UK have already suffered one of the steepest falls in real wages in any of the advanced OECD countries over the past year. If the Tories have their way, that mass transfusion of wealth to the rich from the rest of us — to profit from pay — will be greatly added to.
That’s where determined, well-prepared collective resistance by the organised workers’ movement is often literally a matter of life and death.
NHS in crisis
The NHS, widely regarded as the greatest reform ever won by the working class, is in a terrible state of collapse — after decades of underinvestment, accelerating privatisation to gouge profits, and collapsing morale amongst staff after years of being undervalued, understaffed and underpaid.
This crisis precedes Covid-19, which then exacerbated the problem. Many families are losing loved ones to avoidable deaths from cancer, due to horrendous delays in diagnosis and treatment, because the governments of both Westminster and Holyrood have failed to adequately invest, allowing austerity driven by profit maximisation to prevail over people’s health.
As the chair of the Royal College of Nursing, Julie Lamberth, declared — as they conduct a ballot for the first strike action in the 100-year history of the RCN: “Patient care is suffering, staffing levels are unsafe, and members are facing a daily battle on how to feed their family, heat their homes and travel to their work. None of this is new and as we head into another winter, we know it’s only going to get worse. This is our opportunity to take a stand for our patients and our profession, to show the Scottish government they must act now and that is why I am urging members to vote in favour of strike action.”
It’s an incredible indictment of the state of the NHS that the RCN — historically not even regarded as a real trade union by most of the movement — has now been sufficiently radicalised to step out on the road towards strike action, alongside members of UNISON, GMB and Unite who are also balloting for action, calling for a pay rise 5 per cent above inflation!
Strike wave rises
Simultaneously, 150,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services union, PCS, are being balloted for strikes by the biggest number of members in the union’s entire history.
They are demanding an inflation-proofed pay rise; £15-an-hour minimum wage; reversal of plans to slaughter 91,000 jobs — and their redundancy terms to boot; plus a 2 per cent reduction in workers’ pension contributions, after government figures prove they’ve been overpaying into the pension pot for several years.
Royal Mail workers — over 115,000 of them — are launching 19 days of further strike action against savage attempts to not only suppress their wages, but dismantle the entire Royal Mail, breaking up letters and parcels into separate businesses; scrapping the guaranteed 6-day delivery currently written into the Universal Service Obligation; on top of outrageous attacks on working conditions, whereby posties would have to work late into the evenings, and work longer hours in the winter months than during the summer.
Food bank Phil
Fellow members of the CWU in BT and Openreach are sustaining strikes of 45,000 workers against the pay cuts being imposed by what they’ve dubbed FoodBankPhil — Philip Jansen, the chief executive whose salary last year rocketed by 32 per cent to £3.5million, whilst several offices have set up food banks for their own staff, such is the crisis in their living standards.
As we report elsewhere in the Voice, 45,000 railway workers in Network Rail and 15 train operating companies have now been joined by over 2000 ScotRail members of the RMT in strike actions, not just on pay, but on safety for the travelling public as the ‘Railway Rich Listers’ try to slaughter at least one-third of maintenance workers’ jobs and cut maintenance services on our railways by half — a sure recipe for death and disaster.
Members of UNISON at several universities are already taking strike action and trade unionists at Dundee University have passed the incredible milestone of being engaged in strike actions for a full year. Meantime university lecturers, school teachers, firefighters and control staff are amongst the growing army of workers rising from their knees because everything is rising apart from their wages.
Build a 24-hour general strike
This welcome recovery of workers’ self-confidence needs to be harnessed by the STUC, TUC and each national union leadership in combined collective action around fighting demands that could transform the lives of millions.
Coordinated and united strikes — including a 24-hour general strike that brings every worker into action in a mighty display of workers’ power — could not only force concessions out of individual employers, but potentially topple the crisis-stricken, divided Tories. It’s an opportunity that has not been available to the same extent for several years and needs to be seized.
As an integral part of an expanded, escalating plan of collective action, a 24-hour general strike would not only embolden workers with their own power, and warn off governments, but would be a critical component part of defeating the new batch of anti-union laws being hatched by the Tories. The best way to defend the right to strike is to strike — together, across different sectors, in unity.
STUC: Scotland Demands Better
In a welcome move, the STUC has launched a ‘Scotland Demands Better’ campaign, around a series of nine quite modest demands on the Scottish government, including wages, benefits, rent controls and genuine implementation of fair work practises.
These demands would at least ameliorate some of the worst savagery against working people and their families. But unless the STUC seriously mobilise — with demonstrations and by spearheading a Scottish one-day general strike — there can be no guarantee of the SNP-Green Party Coalition changing course.
It took determined and courageous strike action by cleansing workers — and the imminent prospect of them being joined by thousands of school workers — to force the same Scottish government into conceding (in round figures) a 10 per cent pay rise, about £2,000 increase for most workers, after months of them insisting it wouldn’t break their 2.5 per cent public sector pay cap.
And hot on the heels of workers’ action forcing this Scottish government U-turn on pay cuts, John Swinney announced a ‘difficult choice’ of £500million in cuts to the public sector. In all likelihood deeper cuts still will be added as a consequence of Westminster’s escalated butchery.
Don’t buy petrol for an arsonist!
There is no need to elaborate on the fact that working-class people cannot rely on the Tories — the chief party of capitalist big business, bankers and warmongers.
But neither can we rely for salvation from the Scottish government, which has never once defied Westminster cuts, nor mobilised the Scottish people to win back some of the stolen £billions off Westminster, in order to protect jobs, wages, public services and workers’ conditions — which is precisely what a socialist government in Scotland would do.
But any worker who thinks Starmer’s Labour is a lifeboat from renewed austerity and class warfare is just as liable to volunteer wads of cash to an arsonist to burn down their own house.
Starmer instructed his Labour Shadow Cabinet members to go nowhere near a workers’ picket line and expelled from office the handful who defied him.
Whilst spurning even a hint of solidarity with workers, the same Starmer has mobilised his Treasury team in what has been christened ‘a smoked salmon offensive’ — holding at least 250 meetings with Chief Executives of major capitalist companies.
They are desperately trying to reassure the profiteering class that Labour is a safe alternative to the Tories, as the latter spook even the moneybags of finance capitalism with their recent mini-budget.
Whilst bending to the rising clamour for nationalisation of the railways — at least in words — Starmer’s right-wing Labour has tried to con people with talk of a publicly-owned Great British Energy, which would merely be yet another energy company (heavily dependent on nuclear power) competing with the existing capitalist Big Polluters — who are driving millions into fuel poverty whilst trashing our planet for profit.
So no doubt which side of the class war Starmer’s New Blairites stand, then!
SSP: the workers’ party
In stark contrast, the SSP has no interest in reassuring big business. We instead assure the working class we are on the side of workers and their communities, part of the working class, helping to organise and celebrate every penny extra pay, every minute off the working day, without loss of earnings — but never losing sight of the bigger fight to transform society into a socialist democracy, founded on public ownership of all forms of energy, construction, public transport, telecoms, banking.
We are quite clear: nationalise, don’t subsidise!
Instead of propping up the profits of big corporations — as has just been done for the energy giants — the power of the state needs to be deployed to organise publicly owned industries and services, with elected boards of management and a built-in majority for working-class representatives.
To achieve such a democratically planned economy, the full might of the one productive class in society, the working class, will need to be mobilised for socialist change in the years ahead.
Mobilisations for at least inflation-proofed wages; a £15-an-hour minimum wage; democratic public ownership, and defence of the right to strike in the immediate weeks and months ahead — including through a 24-hour general strike — would be a major advance down that road.
Richie Venton is SSP national workplace organiser