Teachers must push for a new pay battle

Posted on: February 27th, 2024 by Isabel

Teachers’ marching in central London in July (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Teachers in the NEU union in England and Wales will start a consultative ballot this weekend, lasting until 28 March, on taking national industrial action over funding and pay. The NEU conference meets the next week from 3 April. If the ballot is successful it will decide on whether to move to a formal strike ballot.

Every activist in the NEU must throw themselves into ensuring the indicative ballot is won with the highest possible turn out. The union will also trigger a parallel indicative ballot of support staff members once the employers’ pay offer for local government is announced.

Support staff are covered by local government negotiations with Unison, GMB and Unite unions also at the table. Last week over 300 NEU activists met in an online organising meeting called by several local districts to discuss how best to win the ballots. And this Thursday the NEU is holding an official all members national Zoom meeting to push the arguments for a Yes vote.

The government’s autumn budget means that if educators do not fight then schools face an avalanche of funding cuts. This will damage already savaged educational provision, especially for the most vulnerable students. Current spending plans point to at best a 1 percent pay rise for teachers from September—another real terms pay cut.

This would claw back half the 6.5 percent teachers got last year after national strikes. Last year’s settlement was not good enough, which was why 15 percent of members rightly rejected the union leaders’ advice to accept. And it’s why hundreds got involved with the Educators Say Now grassroots network.

If the ballot is successful there will be a debate on how quickly to ballot for strikes and on the pattern and tempo of any action. Some will argue to hold off until we see the outcome of a general election later this year.

But with Labour offering nothing to schools a successful indicative should trigger a swift strike ballot and significant action this school year. Then we should announce dates quickly for hard-hitting action for new school year in September, regardless of the election.

Could AI fad signal another major crash?

Posted on: February 27th, 2024 by Sophie
AI ChatGPT economic markers economy

What does the scrabble for Al and ChatGPT mean for the global economy? (Picture: Mike MacKenzie

The political news continues to be bad. But you wouldn’t know it to judge by the state of the stock markets.  The major markets in the United States, Europe and Japan all reached record highs on Thursday last week.

There’s a broad mood of optimism because inflation is falling.  Central banks are, therefore, expected to start reversing the huge hike in interest rates they drove through in 2022-3.

But there are uncertainties about how quickly this will happen. The leap in share prices last week was centred on the technology sector that has proved so profitable in recent years.

But the star of the show wasn’t one of the big tech giants, but the previously obscure Silicon Valley company Nvidia. 

As the Financial Times put it, “Two years ago, Nvidia made most of its money selling graphics cards. It was a household name only to the most dedicated PC gamers.”

Yet last week Nvidia announced its after-tax profits had risen from £1.1 billion to more than £9.45 billion in the past year. 

In response its stock market valuation rose to £1.57 trillion, overtaking Amazon and Google to become the third most highly priced company in the world, after Microsoft and Apple. Why this transformation? Two letters— AI, artificial intelligence. 

The biggest recent tech sensation has come from the launch of forms of AI, such as ChatGPT, that use large language models.

Nvidia produces the bulk of the chips that are used to train and run these models. Here we find ourselves dealing with two levels of hype. The first is that ChatGPT and its like represent the moment at which machines begin to match and even to surpass human intelligence.

This is nonsense. What large language models do is to take and process vast amounts of information.  This then allows them to predict the best answers to questions put to them. 

Noam Chomsky—not just a great anti-imperialist but a theorist of language and mind—calls ChatGPT “sophisticated hi-tech plagiarism”.

He writes, “The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question.”  

This then takes us to the second level of hype about the economic implications of AI. Many commentators argue that the likes of ChatGPT will hugely boost productivity and profits by making redundant many white-collar workers who process information—for example, in law, healthcare, and finance. 

Indeed, as Matteo Pasquinelli shows in his fascinating new book The Eye of the Master, AI historically has always functioned as a means of appropriating workers’ knowledge and reinforcing the hierarchies of power in production that bosses dominate.

Investment in AI chips has increased massively. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang says that the total value of all the equipment in data centres will rise to £1.57 trillion in the next four or five years. 

Other self-interested voices, for example, Sam Altman, the controversial boss of OpenAI, which developed ChatGPT, are also talking up the scale of AI investment. Even if there proves to be some merit in these predictions, Nvidia may not continue to dominate the market.  

The tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and Google have started to produce their own chips and chipmaker AMD is already catching up with Nvidia. The whole scene is beginning to resemble the dotcom bubble at the end of the 1990s, which was driven by hype about the internet, then its early days. Enough fibre-optic cable was laid to span the earth several times. 

Then the crash came in 2000— an early warning of the much greater global financial crisis of 2007-9.

One tech strategist told the Financial Times, “There is a dislocation between valuations versus fundamentals in some areas. That happened in 2000. It’s a trading casino.”

Islamophobia, Palestine and a rotten system

Posted on: February 27th, 2024 by Sophie
Palestine Islamophobia racism Tories

Muslim women leading the movement for Palestine (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The British ruling class is pushing a torrent of Islamophobia. It isn’t what has become the grimly usual level of racism and scapegoating—it’s a qualitative shift linked to the movement over Palestine. The long-standing attacks on Muslims have crashed into the mass movement in support of the Palestinians and against Zionism and imperialism.

That movement has mobilised millions in Britain, including hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And Palestine has increasingly become the defining political issue — a test of whether you stand with the oppressor or the oppressed.

We didn’t know the result of the by-election in Rochdale when Socialist Worker went to press. But we can guarantee it will show deep anger with both Tories and Labour.  

Millions of people in Britain are standing with oppressed Palestinians. In response, politicians are weaponising Islamophobia to attack the Palestine movement, scapegoating Muslims as “incompatible with British values”.

Politicians are demonising Palestinian activists as terrorists and antisemites, scapegoating Muslims as if they are “an enemy within”.  Islamophobia is used to divide up those who accept “British values” and those who don’t, where “British values” mean obedience to the state. 

Vile bigots such as Lee Anderson and Suella Braverman are overt in seeing Muslims as backwards and yet sneakily capable of grasping control in society. 

But Islamophobia infects every element of the Tory party, including those who, for their own reasons, cannot yet heartily endorse what Anderson and Braverman say.

And remember that Anderson was made Conservative deputy chair to be the rough end of the big business party, the former miner designed to appeal to the Red Wall constituencies. 

But Starmer can’t challenge the root of the latest explosion of Islamophobia. He wants to say don’t be nasty to Muslims but, at the same time, cheer on Israel’s genocidal policies in Gaza. 

Labour says Anderson is wrong. But a video emerged this week of shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves saying in October that the police should do “everything within their powers” to crack down on anti-Zionists in Britain.

She told a Labour Friends of Israel event that she understood concerns about “the anti-Israeli feeling that is allowed to flourish in some communities in Britain”. 

Which “communities” do you think she meant? The audience included Keir Starmer, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy. They applauded Reeves.

The surge of Islamophobia is a real threat to the working class. It will encourage the far right and the fascists. 

We need to escalate solidarity with Palestine and to hit back against Islamophobia that flows from the attack on the Palestinian movement. And Starmer’s Labour won’t do that.

  • Stand up to Islamophobia, Protest outside Conservative Party Head Office, Thu 29 Feb,  6pm,
    4 Matthew Parker St, London SW1H 9HQ. Called by Stand Up to Racism

Will the West send more troops to Ukraine?

Posted on: February 27th, 2024 by Sophie

Volodymyr Zelensky and Emmanuel Macron (Picture: EU2023ES on Flickr)

France’s president Emmanuel Macron refused to rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine on Monday. “Nothing should be excluded,” he insisted after a European Union conference centred on the war with Russia.

France is not set to launch an open war with Russia. But Macron’s statement shows the dangerous escalation considered by Western powers two years after the Russian invasion. Before the summit, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico cited a “restricted document” listing topics to be discussed.

“These topics,” he said, “imply that a number of Nato and EU member states are considering sending troops to Ukraine.” The war is now a stalemate. Ukraine, whose frontline troops now have an average age of 43, is desperate for more forces to shovel into the bloodbath.

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky’s claim last week that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died so far is a gross underestimate. 

United States officials nine months ago put the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed at 70,000 and as many as 120,000 injured.

Zelensky and sections of the Ukrainian military have clashed over whether to call up another half million conscripts. But they all agreed they need more troops, shells, missiles, planes—and money.

And the Western countries, despite their own divisions, are devising new ways to provide most of what Ukraine wants. Nato is an alliance for continual wars for Western imperialist expansion. We need to oppose British, Nato and Russian imperialism even more.

Workers in Egypt strike and occupy for a pay rise

Posted on: February 26th, 2024 by Thomas Foster
Textile workers protest as Workers in Egypt strike

Textile workers out on strike

Thousands of women garment workers in Egypt’s biggest textile factory in Mahalla al-Kubra struck last week. They occupied the factory square and declared they would fight until bosses meet their demands for a pay rise. They were joined by men from the weaving and spinning sheds. All of these workers were still out at the beginning of this week.

Last Saturday around 7,000 strikers gathered in the factory square for a mass meeting. The huge factory in northern Egypt employs 14,000 people. It was the detonator of a major wave of strikes which fed into the eruption of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

It is struggles like this that can fuse with the agitation over Palestine and show the path to wider revolt across the Middle East. A supervisor at a clothing factory, told Mada Masr online newspaper that on Thursday of last week the workers in her building started chanting slogans. They then stopped work as the chants spread from one building to another.

Security personnel sealed off exits to prevent the women from spilling into the complex’s central square, known as Talaat Harb Square. But the scale of the revolt forced security personnel to unlock the factory gates as workers began to gather inside the plant and hold meetings.In an effort to hold down working class anger, Egypt’s repressive president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi recently announced a rise in the minimum wage for state workers. 

The figure he decreed is more than many Mahalla workers receive. Although the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla is owned by the state, the decision to raise the minimum wage does not apply to it as it is affiliated with business companies that are not included in the state’s budget. Workers marched out chanting, “We want our rights. What’s happened about the president’s decisions?”

A worker at the company said, “The workers are boiling over, and the salaries of a large number have not reached 4,000 pounds (£100) a month. This is despite the long years of service—and the president raised the minimum to 6,000 pounds (£150 a month).” They added, “We are now living in a daily nightmare to meet the needs of our families.” The strike is also a battle to save jobs. 

The worker said, “The company’s machines have been idle for a long time due to mismanagement. Recruitment has been halted for many years because they want to liquidate the assets and keep us at home. This happened at other textile companies. If our demands are not met, things will escalate.”

The Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists said many people will remember the role Mahalla workers played in the 2011 revolution. They said the battle now is in “a different context. The security grip adopted by al-Sisi’s regime has had a profound impact on the decline of the labour movement. 

“It opened the door wide to the crushing of workers’ wages. Hence the Mahalla workers’ strike comes as good news and a central event in light of these unbearable conditions.”

Mahalla workers are not the only ones fighting back. Around 2,500 workers at the Universal electrical appliances production company in 6 October city, part of the greater Cairo area, struck for two days last week. They returned after winning a rise of £12 a month. 

Bosses had threatened to withhold January’s wages if the strike continued. A big escalation in the struggles of workers and the poor in Egypt, Jordan and other parts of the Middle East would be the biggest challenge to imperialism and Zionism in the region.

The strikes come as Sisi—by closing the Rafah crossing—helped Israel to pen in the people of Gaza and starve them of basic supplies and other aid. Ruling classes everywhere will fear economic and political revolt against imperialism and the Arab regimes’ rulers.

Imperialist bombs continue to blast Houthis

Britain and the United States launched their fourth wave of military assaults against Yemen last weekend. Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand provided support for the operation. Apart from the joint action, the US has also been carrying out almost daily raids on Yemen.

The blasts hit 18 targets across eight locations in Yemen—revenge for Houthi attacks on Western shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthis are carrying out their action in solidarity with the Palestinians. After the latest blasts, the Houthis responded with defiance.

Yahya Saree, a spokesperson for the group, pledged that the Houthis would “confront the American-British escalation with more military operations against all hostile targets in the Red and Arab Seas”. The Houthis will “persist in upholding their religious, moral and humanitarian duties towards the Palestinian people. 

“Military operations will not stop unless the aggression stops and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted,” he added. According to a tally by The Associated Press news agency, the Houthis have launched at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since 19 November. And the pace of attacks has picked up in the last two weeks.

Humiliation for the British military as its Trident missiles fail

Posted on: February 26th, 2024 by Daire Cumiskey
HMS Astute off the coast on Scotland (Picture: Paul Halliwell)

HMS Astute off the coast on Scotland (Picture: Paul Halliwell)

A British nuclear missile test has failed in an embarrassing flop for British imperialism, as revealed last week. The Trident weapon boosters didn’t ignite during a test on 30 January—putting the wastefulness of the warmongering weapons on show.
A missile from Trident—Britain’s nuke-armed submarines—was intended to land in the Atlantic Ocean after flying thousands of miles. But it dropped into the ocean on the east coast of the United States near the submarine it was launched from.
Grant Shapps—Tory defence secretary—was on board the submarine to witness the failure. Yet Shapps said he has “absolute confidence” in Trident’s submarines, missiles and nukes. What happened was “an anomaly”. He said the failed “test reaffirmed the effectiveness of Britain’s nuclear deterrent”. Shapps has to keep up appearances—deterrents don’t deter when people know they aren’t working.
The Trident nuclear submarines were purchased from the United States in 1980 and began patrol in 1994, replacing the Polaris nuclear submarines that were active from 1968. Adding to the humiliation, the Trident submarines recently finished a £500 million refit in May 2023. 
And the yearly running cost of Trident is about £3 billion, with an estimated cost of £205 billion for renewing it by 2030. That £205 billion could be spent on hiring 1.2 million nurses in the NHS for five years. Or it could nearly double the British state pension for all pensioners for a year. Trident is a prime example of capitalist wastefulness. It is ridiculous that money is spent on arms that fuel our rulers’ imperialist aims, rather than things that actually benefit ordinary people.
The general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Kate Hudson slammed Trident, saying, “Voting for parties that support nuclear weapons means taking away money from healthcare, education, transport and energy security.”
Nuclear weapons—even when working—don’t protect us. They perpetuate the idea of using military methods to solve political problems, normalise warmongering and embolden states wanting to boost their interests.
But the test failure gave Labour an opportunity to varnish its own warmongering credentials. Shadow defence secretary John Healey demanded assurances that there was “no impact on the effectiveness of Britain’s deterrent operations” and stated that Labour’s support for Trident “is total”.
The test comes as our rulers are increasingly beating their war drums. Recently, the parliamentary defence committee called for a greater focus on Britain’s “war-readiness” and Shapps himself stated Britain is entering a “pre-war world”.
We need to take on the capitalist system that drives the world to war and nuclear weapons. Getting rid of all of Britain’s nukes is one place to start.

Fight against the system that produces nukes      
Nuclear weapons are created for the defence of profit—not to deter war. The way to prevent war isn’t more deadly nuclear weapons, it’s changing the system that spawns war. Atomic weapons are part of a capitalist society that encourages war. They are the endpoint of a system where economic competition spills over into military competition.
When ruling classes fight among themselves for a bigger slice of the capitalist cake, they arm themselves with the deadliest weapons they can get their hands on. The result is spiraling arms spending, the amassing of weapon arsenals and the devotion of huge amounts of money to developing means to destroy life, rather than improve it.
There currently are 12,512 nuclear warheads in the world. Use of these warheads in nuclear war would mean the total destruction of human life. Nuclear war has only been avoided so far because of rulers’ fear of their own death. But the failure of nuclear weapons to deter war can be seen just by looking at recent history.
This is because the world is dominated by rival ruling classes, who have economic and political power themselves, but are in relentless competition with each other.
And rival ruling classes become greedy for more wealth or become fearful of losing it. So ruling classes try to outdo each other’s military strength. There is no stopping this military competition as each ruling class imagines new weaponry that the others may have and then develops such weaponry itself.
The horrors of nuclear weapons don’t stem from the horrors of ideologies or individual rulers. Nuclear weapons exist because of the struggle between different rulers in a competitive capitalist system. To get rid of nuclear weapons, we need to get rid of the system that sustains them. That means mass resistance from below against imperialism and capitalism.

Failure built into process
The failures of arms systems is a product of the process of arms production. Using weapons means they need replacing. Not using them also means they eventually need replacing, as competition drives new technologies of death.
The built-in incompetence can be seen by the test failure being only the latest mishap for the British military.
Trident failed its last test in 2016, when the missile veered off course and to prevent disaster had to self-destruct. The last “successful” Trident missile test was in 2012. At the start of February, Britain’s only two aircraft carriers malfunctioned within a week of each other. 
HMS Queen Elizabeth’s propeller failed as it was due to take part in a Nato war drill. And then HMS Prince of Wales failed to set off after technical problems. Two British Royal Navy warships collided at a port in Bahrain last month. HMS Chiddingfold reversed into HMS Bangor off the coast in the Middle Eastern port.

Action has shamed firms complicit with Israeli genocide off Liverpool campus

Posted on: February 26th, 2024 by Daire Cumiskey
A demonstration for Palestine in Liverpool earlier this year (Picture: John Carr)

A demonstration for Palestine in Liverpool earlier this year (Picture: John Carr)

We are thrilled to announce a significant victory in our campaign for ethical engagement and accountability at Liverpool John Morres University (LJMU).
Following a campaign, BAE Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise decided to withdraw from the jobs fair last week. Both firms are linked to the slaughter in Gaza.
We achieved this small but important win with the unwavering solidarity of students, staff and the wider Liverpool community. 
This decision marks a moment of triumph in our continuous effort to align the university’s practices with its professed values of inclusivity, courage and making a positive difference. 
However, our struggle does not end here. While we celebrate this achievement, we acknowledge it as a single step in a much longer journey.
LJMU has indicated that it does not intend to exclude these companies from future events. 
This response underscores the challenge we face in holding institutions accountable and ensuring that our educational spaces do not become complicit in systems of oppression. 
This victory serves as a reminder of the power of collective action. 
Through solidarity among staff and students we mounted sufficient pressure to challenge the constraints of oppressive institutions. 
Our success is a testament to the strength of our united front, driven by a shared commitment to freedom for Palestinians from Israeli apartheid. 
Let us use this momentum to continue our advocacy, not just within LJMU but across all spaces where we see injustice.
Our fight goes beyond a single event. It is a continuous push for systemic change.  
We call on the entire university community to remain engaged, informed, and ready to stand together against any form of complicity with oppression. 
We must immediately act to end the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. We must take a stand in solidarity and escalate our actions for Palestine. 
Danny, Liverpool student

I backed Galloway in Rochdale
I have to take fraternal issue with Socialist Worker (21 February) not advocating a vote for George Galloway in the Rochdale by-election. 
I have no dispute about his reactionary political positions. However when we vote Labour we do not make our vote conditional on a candidates politics. 
Indeed we say we have no illusions in Labour, but others do, so we say we will “Vote Labour, but hold our noses”.  
A large number of prospective Labour candidates have worst reactionary viewpoints. I would only not vote Labour if the candidate was a racist or a socialist candidate was standing. 
The current movement has seen the back of the vile Suella Braverman as home secretary and a shift in the Labour leadership’s position on Palestine
This helps us when discussing with Labour Party members and suggest they would be more effective outside the party. 
To relate to Asians in Rochdale we have to be seen to be on the side of the Palestinians. And like it or not this by-election is a plebiscite on Palestine. 
The issue of the environmental disaster is vitally important to people. But I would politely suggest it is not a crucial issue in this particular by-election. 
Peter Marsden, Preston

Solidarity with trans kids
Nex Benedict, a 16-year- old Cherokee non-binary teen, was murdered in the girls’ bathroom by fellow students in Oklahoma, United States, recently. 
Nex initially survived the attack. The school failed to call an ambulance and Nex died the following day. 
The murder comes one month after the appointment of anti-trans bigot Chaya Raichik to a local advisory committee to “make schools safer”.
Raichik runs the infamous “Libs of TikTok” Twitter account, which whips up anti-trans hate, resulting in death threats against pro-trans education workers. 
In Britain, one year on from the murder of trans teen Brianna Ghey, the Tories are trying to introduce new guidelines for schools.
These will force schools to “out” trans kids and ban them from using their preferred facilities. Trans kids are under attack. We must organise with them. 
Liam Tuckwood, Newcastle

Stop university censorship of staff 
On Tuesday last week UCU union staff at Queen Mary (QM) university in London discovered their office had been broken into by maintenance.
Posters with “From the River to the Sea” written on them had been confiscated. Why physically censor staff’s speech? To protect free speech, of course.  
According to management, students might confuse staff’s posters for Queen Mary taking a principled stand against Israeli occupation.
Management has argued the free speech of staff somehow suppresses students’ free speech. This doesn’t surprise us. 
The 100 percent wage deductions against striking QM staff last year were justified as “protecting students’ education”. 
But QM students won’t be shields for management attacks. 
We continue to stand in solidarity with Palestine and our educators, as we did on the day of workplace and student action on 7 February.  
We recognise the same capitalist system that exploits staff is fleecing us with rising rents and fees. 
That system backs Israel—not to defend Jewish people but as a watchdog for imperialist profits and geopolitical interests.  
QM’s claims of free speech will be a joke until workers, students and the wider society—not highly paid senior mangement— democratically control our universities and society.
Sean, Queen Mary student 

Why I think it’s a mistake to back Galloway

Peter Marsden argues that “To relate to Asians in Rochdale we have to be seen to be on the side of the Palestinians. And like it or not this by-election is a plebiscite on Palestine”, and that therefore we should vote for George Galloway.

I was in Rochdale a couple of weeks ago for a Palestine rally where George Galloway was the main speaker.

While we were not calling for a vote for George Galloway. I can report that we had no problem at all relating to Palestinian supporters in Rochdale, whether they were Asian or not.

I am part of Bury Stop the War. Bury is close to Rochdale.

Many of the students in Bury Stop the War come from Rochdale and we have activists who attend pro-Palestine events.

A lot of the Bury activists are desperate to see an electoral alternative to Labour and therefore support Galloway, despite his reactionary politics on many issues apart from Palestine.

But when I explained why the SWP couldn’t support Galloway, it was seen as a perfectly reasonable point of view.

These comradely differences didn’t stop us all lobbying Bury council last week, asking questions from the gallery, and eventually getting thrown out for being too disruptive!

The problem with Galloway’s politics are not just about the environment.

He also has reactionary positions on the police, defence, immigration, LGBT+ issues and women’s rights.

At a time when the extreme right inside and outside the Tory party are on the offensive, Galloway’s politics do not provide the kind of alternative the movement needs.

Corbyn and the other left Labour MPs should have had the courage to resign from the Labour Party.

They could’ve announced they were standing in a number of constituencies and everyone would be going to their rallies and talking about their politics.

Frankly it’s a bit of a tragedy that the first pro-Palestinian candidate to win a by-election might be someone with such reactionary politics.

Adam Rose, Bury

Sudan on famine brink 
The ongoing war has destroyed Sudan’s agriculture and production, with the harvest declared a failure.
Around 18 million people have been pushed into famine —double the number last year. Sudan is on the brink of being the world’s largest hunger crisis for decades. 
The United Nations and the world’s governments have failed the Sudanese people. Urgent action is needed—global humanitarian support and solidarity. 
Khalid Taha, of the Alliance of Demand-Based Campaigns (TAM) 

Protesting, not policing  
Stop the War posted on Twitter that arrests made on the recent national Palestine demo represent just 0.006 percent of the protesters.
The tweet goes on to say, “Police on today’s march would have been better employed arresting shoplifters on Oxford Street.” 
Our movement is taking on the government and arms of the state. We shouldn’t scapegoat others suggesting the police should target them instead. 
Miriam Scharf, East London

Get rid of the house speaker
MPs calling for a vote of no confidence in the speaker of the House of Commons are absolutely right. 
If not to assist basic debate and more importantly convene MPs’ votes, what is the role of the speaker? 
Steven, Edinburgh

Rishi Sunak reassures rich 

Rishi Sunak told farmers at the annual National Farmers’ Union conference “I have your back”. 

This was from a millionaire who knows nothing about farming. Rishi was reassuring the rich that the Tories won’t squeeze their profits. 
Sara, Coventry

Why workers are the class that can change the system

Posted on: February 26th, 2024 by Isabel
London protest against the anti-strike bill to defend working class rights

Every picket line and strike can build working class people’s confidence

The working class has never been so massive or potentially powerful as it is today—it’s a fact those in power would like us to forget.  They don’t want workers to realise that their class can be, as Karl Marx put it, the “gravedigger of capitalism”.

Bosses may own the shops, call centres, factories, and machinery, but nothing runs without workers. Capitalism is a system reliant on profit. But profit-making is only possible because the capitalist class doesn’t pay workers what their labour is worth. Bosses keep what’s left over, the surplus value, for themselves.

They pay workers, in theory, just enough to feed and clothe themselves, and look after their families. Socialists call this type of robbery exploitation. But capitalist society is not only marked by exploitation—its other main feature is competition. Rival capitalists are in an endless battle to make the most profits.

The drive to compete has created a system that no one really has control of. It’s prone to crisis and instability. It’s a system where profit comes before people’s needs. And it’s the driving force behind all the interlocked crises facing working people today, including war, climate change and oppression.

Yet the conditions that create such massive suffering for workers also create the potential for a battle to topple the system that created them. For their own convenience capitalist bosses pushed workers to come together in towns and sprawling cities. And the bosses’ constant drive to develop new technology to grow their profits means workers have never been so well equipped to fight back.

Workers have been able to organise, develop trade unions and mount a fightback against the bosses. Never has an exploited class in history had such potential to take over and run society. But workers can only achieve this change through collective action.

Workers can’t dream of dividing up factories or supermarkets like peasants divide up landowners’ plots. If one worker went out on strike for pay, the boss could punish them. If the whole workplace walked out together, the strength of the workers would be much greater.

Exploitation forces workers together as a collective, giving them the potential to come together to fight. Workers are a collective class in exploitation as well as liberation. In the Socialist Workers Party we believe the working class is the only class that can crush capitalism and usher in a socialist society. Our vision of what this would be like is clear in two ways.

The first is that workers who actually run society will make decisions about how it is organised. The second is that it will be a society based on meeting humanity’s needs, not making a profit. To achieve this transformation we need an uprising of millions of workers across the world. 

As Marx put it, a worker’s revolution is the only way to rid workers of the “muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew”. We don’t believe that socialism can be imposed from above through parliament or guerrilla warfare—or even electing good left wing MPs.

State capitalism, seen in Russia under Josef Stalin, put the means of production in the hands of the hands of bureaucrats. He called that socialism, but workers were not in control. The authentic Marxist tradition shows that socialism can only come from below, from workers themselves.

Workers can throw off the horrors of the capitalist system when they act in their own interests as a class together. As Marx argued workers must become a “class for itself”. That’s why visiting every picket line and backing every strike is so critical. Only struggle can build worker’s confidence and offer them a glimpse of how they could seize control of their lives and destinies.

  • This is the second in a series of columns that discuss What We Stand For, the Socialist Workers Party statement of principles, printed every week in Socialist Worker. For the full series go to tinyurl.com/WWSF2024