Socialist Worker

Rank and file holds the key to this fight

Issue No. 2295

This hasn’t been a good week for the working class. The Tories are set to pass their healthcare bill and have started on the road to privatising the NHS. They are stealing people’s pensions and cutting jobs and services.

Millions fear for the future under Tory austerity plans. More than 80 percent of the spending cuts are still to come.

Yet this week we saw the Tories pulling ahead in the polls—and union executives voting to call off a national strike on 28 March involving hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

Many people will rightly be asking what has happened to the fighting spirit we need if we are going to stop the Tories?

It’s not as if the potential isn’t there. The TUC anti-cuts demonstration on 26 March last year drew 700,000 people. It was a massive expression of anger, determination and resistance.

The demo was followed by strikes on 30 June and again on a greater scale on 30 November. This gave us a glimpse of the possibilities for militant working class action to defeat the cuts.

But workers have been let down—by leaders in the Labour Party and in the trade unions.

Labour’s hopeless leader Ed Miliband has been more concerned with denouncing strikes than taking up the fight of millions of workers defending their pensions. He is offering no opposition to any Tory attack.

Within the unions the situation is more complex. Last year’s strikes gave millions of workers a taste of their own power. Trade union leaders proved they could lead a fight if they set their minds to it.

But when the leaders of the largest unions pulled out of the action it put pressure on the other leaders to follow suit (see page 5). They eventually succumbed to the pressure to put off industrial action.

Unity is important in the working class because it is a source of strength when we are moving forwards. But it should not be used as an excuse to derail national action and weaken the momentum on our side.

This momentum is a vital aspect of the pensions dispute. Class confidence has to be built up through action. It cannot be conjured out of thin air, or bottled and shelved until needed.

Rank and file workers need to build confidence and organisation. That does not come overnight. But it is what we need if we are to stop union leaders from pulling the plug on action in the future.

The recent victory by electricians shows what is possible when that rank and file organisation is there.

The electricians had the confidence to strike independently of their union leaders—and thus force the unions into action.

Every activist now has to fight to keep any action in the pensions dispute going. The increased pensions contributions will start coming out of people’s wages next month.

Socialists have fought at every stage to build the strikes and build rank and file organisation.

We have to continue that fight in every union—and seize every chance we can get to lead the fight against the Tories.

They want to make us pay

The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin remarked that “capitalists can buy themselves out of any crisis, so long as they make the workers pay”.

Today we are in the midst of an economic crisis of unprecedented depth. No one in the ruling class has a serious strategy for fixing the system.

But we know the bosses will go to any length to save their profits. And they are happy to make working class people pay an enormous price for this.

We have seen what this means in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. And David Cameron is only too willing to impose that scale of austerity on Britain.

The sense of class bitterness in Britain is palpable.

Everywhere people see the rich living the high life while the poorest struggle.

This government faces opposition on many fronts. It can be beaten.

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