Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND, license linked at bottom of article

John Rees looks at the battles ahead

A short distance from the coastline, a huge tsunami of price rises is building. Everyone knows it. Indeed, the early tidal waves are already drowning many households. When the big wave hits many, many more will simply find they can’t afford to live.

But not everyone. As with the Covid crisis, as with the banking crash of 2008, while many suffer, a few will just get even richer than they are already.

During the pandemic the ten richest men on the planet all doubled their income, while globally 99% saw their incomes fall, according to Oxfam. After the 2008 banking crash, the number of billionaires in the world doubled by 2014.

These are the very people who, through the words of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, one of the richest men ever to sit in Parliament, are telling us we will have to get used to seeing our real pay levels hammered again.

But there is one problem for the rich in making the poor pay for this crisis. The government that has to see it through is in a terrible mess.

Boris Johnson has gone from Tory election-winning hero to party-going zero in record time. The establishment press has now realised what the rest of us always knew: the self-styled ‘big dog’ is a serial liar who is only too happy to throw his nearest advisors over the side if it preserves his political life. 

Johnson is in trouble because his party-going revealed the yawning class gap between those who make the rules, but don’t expect to keep them, and the rest of us who are expected to keep to the rules they make.

The Johnson coup in the Tory party marginalised the old patrician, one-nation Tories and empowered the populist right-wingers. Johnson is attempting to get out of the hole he is in by promising these backbench knuckle-draggers even more of the Nadine Dorris type libertarian right-wing nonsense that got him to power.

But this means that the populism that supposedly got him the Red Wall seats, the whole ‘levelling up’, Covid-welfarism strategy, will be even more exposed than it already has been … especially when the full effects of the price rises hit. No one is going to feel ‘levelled up’ then.

Even more dangerously for the Tories, the attempt to control wages comes as some sections of the trade-union movement have been able to exploit the tight, post-Covid labour market to claw back some of the wage loss of the last generation. 

Halting that is exactly what the Bank of England interest-rate rise and the price hikes are meant to do. But it will be a battle. The labour movement needs to get battle ready. 

How we fight back

And with the exception of the surviving Corbyn left, the Labour Party is unlikely to be of much help. Keir Starmer’s course is set. He is already as right wing as Tony Blair, unsurprisingly since he surrounds himself both with Blair’s old cronies like Peter Mandelson and also with wannabe Blairites, like new shadow-cabinet appointee Wes Streeting.

So while Labour will benefit from the Tory disarray, it will remain the reluctant choice for those who want to defeat the Tories at election time, but it is a dead end as a socialist project for the foreseeable future.

That means the parts of the battlefront where we can win are the extra-parliamentary struggles in the workplaces and on the streets.

Socialists need to support and amplify the voices of every striker, of every trade unionist struggling to sustain the livelihoods of working people. But we also need to connect those struggles with a wider political movement of protest that can challenge the government and force it from office.

The People’s Assembly has a proven track record of being able to do that. The largest anti-austerity demonstrations of the last decade have taken place under its banner, and so have the largest demonstrations in defence of the NHS. Year after year, the People’s Assembly has mounted the largest annual anti-Tory demonstrations outside the Tory Party’s own conferences.

We must support any action that the TUC or the unions take officially. But experience shows that really mass mobilisation only happens when grassroots and rank-and-file organisation is built to deliver on the calls for action that come from trade-union leaders.

That’s even more true now. We have to take the message of resistance into every working-class community we can reach. Our ability to protect our own livelihoods, to stop millions of us falling into poverty and debt, depends on it.

From Counterfire’s freesheet

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John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.