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Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss

Rishi Sunak. Photo: Andrew Parsons / Number 10 Downing St / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Liz Truss. Photo: Simon Dawson / Number 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked below article

The Tories are fighting a class war but they're divided and weak, a united movement of strikes and protests can break them

The employers are fighting a class war with the full support of the government. On the railways, the tubes and the buses, in the ports, at BT, in the public and in the private sector, up and down the country, bosses are trying to impose job cuts, restructuring and real-term pay cuts.

The Tories are backing this up with full frontal attacks on the right to strike.

All this at a time when inflation threatens the most serious attack on living standards in generations.

None of this is economically necessary. Inflation is being driven by labour shortages, by supply-chain breakdowns, and by the war in Ukraine so enthusiastically backed by our government.

It is being made much worse by record profit taking. BP and Centrica, which owns British Gas, have more than doubled profits in the last year. And it is not just the energy sector; UK corporate profits are soaring across the board. 

Wages, on the other hand, have been flatlining or falling since at least 2008.

All the same, the Tories want to make workers pay for the economic mess they have helped create. The main dispute between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss is about how quickly to cut taxes. Cutting taxes can only lead to more cuts in public services, and more attacks on wages.

Our response to this economic and political assault has to be ruthless and concerted.

The fightback has got off to an impressive start. After an excellent TUC demo in June, the rail workers’ solid strikes have won public support in a way that has shocked the media. Mick Lynch, Eddie Dempsey and other union leaders have become national heroes, not just for defending the strikes but for challenging the bosses’ agenda.

With BT workers taking action and with the boost of a win on the Coventry bins, the strikes have inspired massive votes for action by Felixstowe dockers, Glasgow metro workers, engineers in Southampton and riggers in the North Sea, to name just a few.   

Strike ballots are being organised in schools, in the NHS, in universities and in local councils up and down the country.

Meanwhile the rail strikes are continuing. Workers in warehouses and construction are taking unnoficial strike action.

This is a movement with the potential to win. The Tories are definitely nasty but they are also weak. Liz Truss may dress up like Thatcher, and Rishi Sunak may claim her economic legacy, but Thatcher was in a different league as a class warrior. When she came to office in 1979 she had a carefully worked out battle plan, backed by the bulk of the ruling class. After the failed Labour governments of 1944-79, her free-market economics could be presented as a new departure. And she implemented the planned attacks ruthlessly and systematically. 

Truss and Sunak are right wing, but whichever one of them wins will be presiding over a divided and unpopular party. Just like Johnson, they will be making up policy as they go along.

One problem on our side is that far from backing the resistance, Keir Starmer has effectively sided with the bosses by sacking Shadow Minister Sam Tarry for joining a picket line.

In this situation, everything depends on a co-ordinated, escalating programme of strikes and protests.

It is excellent that all three major rail unions are now taking action. But it would be even better if they were striking together rather than interspersing their action.

Given the nature of the attacks, separate one-day strikes are simply not going to be enough for decisive wins. The danger is that the government and employers can ride them out or pick off groups of workers one at a time. 

Sustained, united action by different groups of workers would terrify the government and electrify the trade-union movement. It would immediately generate all kinds of solidarity action and create links between rank-and-file workers.

We should be building solidarity and support for the strikes in every industry and trying to unionise every workplace. But we also need to be trying to organise rank-and-file organisation that can push for more co-ordination, and pressure our union leaders to escalate.

As well as escalating the strikes, the movement needs to link up with the many millions of unorganised working people who are being hit by the cost-of-living catastrophe. That means organising rallies, protests and direct action in every locality, and it means everyone backing the People’s Assembly national demonstration on 5 November. 

And we need to make sure socialist politics is at the very heart of the movement. Ultimately, the disasters we face are caused by a free-market system that is surging out of control.

It is a system that can no longer provide basic necessities for billions of people around the world. It is a system that has produced the greatest inequality in history. It is a system that is threatening more wars, and visibly destroying the environment on which it feeds. Our movement must take the lead in fighting for a different way of running society, one which puts human need before the super profits of a tiny handful. If ever there was a time for a socialist resurgence, it is now.

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Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!

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