There were two visions of British society on display last week. One was the solidarity and strength of the magnificent strikes and demonstrations of public sector workers.
The other was a nasty attempt to whip up racism.
Tory work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith attacked foreign workers in a speech reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s poisonous call for “British jobs for British workers”.
Desperate to push through his assault on the welfare state, Smith claimed that if immigration was tightened, and bosses employed British workers, unemployment would fall.
This is a lie.
When unemployment is high more people leave Britain than come here.
Britain’s worst level of unemployment was in the 1930s. Immigration was only a few tens of thousands a year.
And this week train maker Bombardier sacked 1,500 people—not because of foreign labour but because it puts profit before anything else.
The other part of Smith’s racist attack is to push the view that unemployed workers are lazy. That is ideal for the right wing media and bosses—and disastrous for ordinary people.
Any demand framed in terms of “putting British workers first” inevitably paints another set of workers—“foreign workers”—as the problem.
This divide means all workers lose out. Smith said, “We will risk losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness.”
But it’s the Tories’ policies, not immigration, that are risking this.
“Foreign workers” are not to blame for unemployment, cuts or the decimation of services.
The blame for these things lies with the bosses and the Tories.
The right have always cheered on attempts to divide workers by playing the race card.
But they have been opposed by a powerful counter tradition of unity across the labour movement.
And that is the other vision for Britain that we saw on the streets on Thursday of last week.
The collective unity of all workers can stop the Tory attacks and undercut their crude attempts at divide and rule.
Deepening and extending that unity in the coming months across more unions can provide the collective response on a scale that can bring down the government.