Millions of Londoners were left in no doubt about the power of workers this week, as Tube strikes plunged Europe’s biggest city into chaos.
Britain faces a wave of strikes in the next few weeks. And workers are set to ballot for action that could see more than a million walk out.
Nurses, firefighters, teachers, tax collectors, street sweepers, care workers, lecturers, cinema staff and many others are preparing for action.
But we can expect to hear a lot about why we shouldn’t bother.
Pundits and politicians will argue that strikes are “irresponsible” and “damaging” because of the huge impact they have. In the same breath they’ll say strikes have no impact whatsoever.
In every generation someone finds a new way of arguing that the working class has had its day. Today we hear that some workers are too “precarious” to collectively withdraw their labour, while others are too “gold-plated” to risk a real fight.
But however much capitalist society has changed since Karl Marx wrote in the 19th century—or even since the miners struck in the 1980s—one thing remains the same.
Everything boils down to the drive to accumulate ever-larger profits.
And that relies on bosses’ ability to cash in on the work done by other people.
Some workers make products or provide services. Others maintain the infrastructure and workforce that make production possible.
But all of us who have to work for a living are holding the weight of the system on our shoulders.
That puts us in a unique position to throw it off.
Marx called workers the “universal class” that could free all of humanity from capitalism.
He wrote, “They have a world to win and nothing to lose but their chains”.
Resistance can take many forms, from peaceful marches and protests to riots. All of these are important.
But struggle at work through walkouts or sit-ins goes right to the heart of the system.
Strikes hit bosses where it hurts the most—in their pockets.
And every strike makes starkly clear how much they need us and how little we need them.
When workers stand together to take control of our own labour, for however short a time, it raises the question of why we don’t do it permanently.
If we seize the opportunity to build these strikes we can beat the Tories. And just as importantly, we can help create the force that can one day finish their system off for good.