Socialist Worker

There’s no such thing as national interest

Theresa May's claims to represent rich and poor alike are a lie to cover up the class divide, writes Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2556

All in the same boat?

All in the same boat? (Pic: Number 10)


Theresa May has based her general election campaign on posing as the saviour of “Britain”. Her slogan is, “Strong and stable leadership in the national interest”.

She claims to have called the election to strengthen her position so she can better negotiate Brexit – and benefit us all.

But there is no national interest. The claim is a way to hide class interests.

It suggests that the fact we happen to have been born in Britain is more important than whether we are wealthy or sleeping on the streets.

So a Tory MP has the same “national interest” as the person on benefits who his policies thrust into poverty. The police chief has the same interests as the protesting worker whose picket line gets broken up.

The national interest really means the interests of the bosses and the rich.

For instance, May’s aim in Brexit is to get the best deal for Britain’s bosses. So the main focus is on what it will mean for trade.

The implication is that what helps the bosses will filter down to us. But this isn’t how capitalism works.

In Britain, the wealth of the richest rose by 14 percent in the last year to £658 billion. It hasn’t helped workers, whose wages are now falling in real terms.

Compromises

It can be tempting, especially when there is little struggle, to think that if we all made compromises we could work together.

Time after time workers have compromised, and accepted some attacks in return for protections on other things. But bosses, emboldened by the first attack, just come back for more.

In 2008 JCB workers voted to accept a cut in their hours and pay with a promise that this would save jobs. But the firm later cut jobs anyway.

A deal in 2012 saw unions agree to pay and holiday cuts for Vauxhall car workers. It gave bosses the power to send workers home if sales were slow.

Jobs weren’t saved—they were cut in Germany, and came under threat once again in Britain earlier this year.

We have been repeatedly told that if we just accept another round of austerity it will fix the economy for us all. All it has done is enrich the bosses and the bankers while workers get poorer.

May’s idea is that if everyone fulfils their designated role in society, society works for everyone. So bosses provide jobs, workers provide labour and everyone gets something in return.

But this is not some equal exchange. Workers create far more wealth than they get paid for. Bosses exploit them to cream off the difference as profit.

Opposed

The interests of bosses and workers are diametrically opposed.

If workers make gains, for instance winning a pay rise or nursery provision at work, it makes a dent in bosses’ profits. It also boosts workers’ confidence to fight for more and exposes the bosses’ weakness.

If bosses gain, by scrapping a pension scheme or increasing zero hours contracts, the reverse is true.

This class divide is at the heart of capitalist society, but the idea of the national interest hides it. And it’s used on a bigger scale than just in individual workplaces.

Following the Manchester attack on Monday, troops have been put on the streets and police have been given the green light to carry out raids.

Terror attacks always lead to attempts to increase the power of the state and undermine civil liberties.

We are told this is to keep us all safe. But it doesn’t stop terrorism. It gives the ruling class another excuse to clamp down on ordinary people.

Wars are waged in the name of the national interest. Everyone is expected to forget their differences and unite against a “common enemy”.

In reality wars are fought by imperialist powers who are battling their global competitors for more power and influence. Workers here aren’t enemies of workers elsewhere – they have a common interest against those at the top.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has rightly denounced the system as rigged in favour of the rich.

But Labour accepts the limits of that system. This is why Labour ultimately backs the bosses at workers’ expense—and why Labour politicians also use the idea of a national interest.

The national interest is a myth promoted by those who want to attack working class people and protect those at the top. We shouldn’t fall for it.


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