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People's Assembly protest

People's Assembly protest. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Chris Neville on the cost of living crisis, the authoritarian attacks on trade unionists and why the 18 June TUC national demonstration is a focal point for resisting the Tories

Sunak's so-called 'rescue package' announced this week falls well short of offering any meaningful solution to tackling the rising cost of living in the UK.

The average household in the UK will be paying around £2,000 more for their annual energy bill come October. That the government thinks knocking £400 off that total will solve our problems partly shows how out of touch they are but also reinforces how little they are prepared to intervene to solve the problems that arise from an economic system they hold so dear. 

Most people see right through these measures, questioning the timing around Boris Johnson's Downing Street parties but more crucially, asking why our taxes and government borrowing is subsidising the scandalous profits the utility companies have been making, rather than fixing the broken system of privatisation.

It's not just our energy bills that are going up either. The latest RPI figure, a 40-year high at 11.1%, shows our basic necessities – food, clothing, and transport costs all skyrocketing too. This is a symptom of a broken system and one that neither the Tories nor Labour are willing to fix.

Workers can tackle the cost of living crisis themselves by taking action through their trade unions and winning better pay. Over the last couple of years, there has been an uptick in strikes, some resulting in great victories. Here in Manchester, we recently saw workers at Chep in Trafford Park lead Unite's longest-ever strike and win after 21 weeks. Just around the corner from me, in Whitefield, Polyflor factory workers went on strike last year after being offered a 1% pay rise despite having worked through the pandemic and seeing their employer's profits shoot up. Both were fuelled by the workers' anger at what they correctly saw as their highly profitable employers taking the piss.

Boris Johnson and his Tory MPs know full well that trade unions and left-wing activists are the biggest threat to the class he represents, which is why he and his cabinet have spent the last few years drafting up some of the most authoritarian parliamentary bills this country has seen. Last week, Grant Shapps announced plans to effectively ban strikes on the railways. On Friday, videos were circulating social media of police arresting trade unionists on picket lines. There will be much more of this to come but strikes, like the ones announced by the RMT, and mass mobilisation can defeat the Tories' plans.

It is very good and correct that the TUC has called for a national demonstration to address the above issues in London on 18 June and for that, we must give them credit. Rallies are now being held by the TUC in many towns and cities to build support. We can hope that this could be the start of a much needed, more radical approach to winning for workers from the TUC but history tells us that getting our hopes up is likely to end up proving a disappointment.

What this demonstration does is offer the whole trade union movement an opportunity to come together and flex our collective muscle in front of a Tory government that is very much in a crisis of its own making. With the Labour frontbench completely silent on the Tory plans to further restrict our rights as trade unionists, more workers are realising that real change will only come from their own hands.

The People's Assembly is mobilising in support of the demo which has the potential to steer the message in a better direction. Trade union branches should be working with their local People's Assembly groups to ensure that there is free transport for anyone who wishes to attend.

Let this be the beginning of a fightback against the Tories and their ruling class friends as they seek to entrench their position and protect their profits at our expense. I'll be marching with my union branch comrades in the Unite bloc. See you on 18 June!

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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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