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Big rail strikes show our side can fight and win 

Strikes can not only beat the bosses but raise the confidence of all workers. Now with rail worker leading the way, class struggle is back.
Issue 2810
strikes striking striker

More strikes, like on the rail and tube networks, can build the confidence of workers (pic: Guy Smallman)

Open class war is back. It was a joy on Tuesday to see the media awash with reports of workers’ fighting back and showing their power. We have waited years for a flowering of organised workers’ resistance, and now we have a much stronger vision of what it could be. 

Far too often our side gets pummelled by those at the top. But strikes show we can resist and win. Class is supposed to be outdated. But strikes underline that the main division is society is between those who do the work and those who own and control the levers of production.

Strikes reveal to everyone who actually does the work in society. The commands of managers and chief executives can’t make the trains run. The pompous denunciations from politicians and newspaper owners don’t stop the pickets.

There are many ways that working class people fight back. Demonstrations and occupations and campaigns matter. But strikes are special. They unlock workers’ greatest strength—the ability to turn off the source of profits. 

The shareholders and bosses of the train operating companies depend utterly on the sweat and the skill of workers. And using workers’ strength is the basis for an alternative way of running society where ordinary people collectively decide what happens. Often this basic truth is hidden. But sticking it to the bosses means clawing back power from those who rule above us.

And strikes can be a focus for all the different fights we need. It was noticeable that in several areas climate activists came to the rail picket lines. Too often trade unions seem remote or even hostile to a militant fight for the environment. But climate activists felt they could unite with the strikers.

Every successful strike has to have a sense of collective action. In that atmosphere it’s possible to begin undermining the divisions of race gender, religion or sexuality that are pumped out from the top.

But it’s not enough to celebrate what happened this week. We know this is a moment of opportunity, the Tories know it’s a moment of danger. For many years, despite occasional outbursts, they have been able to celebrate a very low level of strikes.

They don’t want that to change, especially when there is a political crisis and millions feel their living standards are on the line. The Tories bluster about using agency workers and passing new laws about minimum service levels. It shows their ruthlessness. But such measures mean nothing if our side mobilises.

This week we had a glimpse of workers’ power. We need a lot more of this. And instead of parliamentary games we need socialist politics that are based on the strength of strikes and protests.

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