An exciting series of strikes have hit universities across Britain over the last couple of weeks. The strikes, involving around 40,000 workers, mark a serious escalation of struggle in Britain.
Socialists are for every bit of resistance to the Tories and the bosses. Protests, riots and marches can all win real changes. But strikes have a significance that other forms of action don’t.
Strikes see workers taking action in their most powerful capacity—collectively as workers. They hit at the very heart of the system and are a direct challenge to the authority of the bosses.
Capitalism is based on bosses competing with each other to make profits. But they can only make profits by exploiting workers. If workers strike, they stop the flow of profits.
Strikes are the most powerful weapon that workers have—and the bosses and the rich know it. That’s why they put so much effort into undermining or preventing them.
But strikes do more than stop profits for a short period. They can also start to lift the lid on things that the bosses would rather keep hidden.
For instance, those at the top often dismiss workers as stupid or say big decisions must be left to “experts”.
But strikes involve a huge level of organisation by workers. They expose the lie that workers are powerless and show that bosses need them to keep business going.
The experience of being on strike often changes people in other ways too. Many strikers describe doing things they never thought possible—such as giving public speeches or organising solidarity. And because they are a collective show of strength, strikes can undermine ideas that divide workers, such as racism or sexism.
All strikes involve political battles and arguments, and workers can learn from these too.
This isn’t to say that every strike transforms all of those who take part. Not all strikes are the same.
Some will be small-scale and tightly controlled by union leaders. Some workers may rely on union leaders’ direction as they feel they have little confidence.
Others will see more rank and file control over the strikes, such as through strike committees. These kind of strikes will have the most transformative impact on workers.
But all strikes open up the possibility for people to see the world, and themselves, in a radically different way.
They give workers the chance to take action for themselves, not look for others to act for them.
The revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg described this transformative potential as “the most precious thing” to come out of walkouts.
Strikes involve workers organising themselves at the point of production. They hint at a different way of running the world, one that sees ordinary people organising production and making decisions for themselves.
Socialism can only be built by the mass of working class people. It isn’t going to be imposed by a few revolutionaries acting on their behalf.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels identified the working class as the “gravedigger” of capitalism.
The class divide at the heart of capitalism will always generate resistance. Workers have the power and numbers to overthrow capitalism and create a new world.