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Build strikes and fight racism at the same time

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A record number of strikes is shadowed by a dangerous growth of racist protests
Issue 2842
Anti racists welcome refugees protest

Anti-racist activists rallied outside the Royal Courts of Justice to welcome refugees, not deport them, last year. (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Workers in Britain are involved in the most strikes for more than 30 years. But the Liverpool anti-refugee attack last week showed the dangers of the growth of toxic racism. 

Social turmoil and rising workers’ resistance don’t automatically sideline the far right and racism. They can grow at the same time.

Official figures released on Tuesday showed that between June and December 2022 there were 2,471,000 strike days—with 843,000 in December alone. That’s the highest number of strike days since 1989, and it’s a cause for celebration and determination to do more. 

One reason for the surge is clear. The figures show that real terms pay, after inflation is taken into account, fell by 3.6 percent in the three months to December. 

And these statistics use the bosses’ preferred CPI inflation rate. Using the more accurate RPI measure, the fall is more than 6 percent. Meanwhile, the Tory Party remains deeply unpopular and has no solutions except to ramp up repression and to try and demonise strikers.

They turn to racism, and scapegoating of groups such as refugees, to deflect attention from their own crimes and in an effort to split workers.

This gives a platform to the hard right and fascists who take matters into their own hands, as seen in the attack at the hotel housing refugees in Liverpool. Tories Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak provide the rhetoric and state clampdowns, other forces act on the streets.

A central part of the solution is the class unity that comes from strikes. They show that workers have an interest in coming together against the bosses and the Tories. But it has never been the case that the act of striking automatically does away with the divisions that capitalist society and the government push so strongly.

At the same time as building strikes, activists have to argue against racism, transphobia and everything that separates us off from one another. The defence of oppressed people has to go hand in hand with increasing workers’ struggle.

We should aim for workers to be able to act directly over wages and conditions, but also over racism. It would have been powerful if workers in Knowsley and Liverpool had stopped work, even for 15 minutes, as a sign of rejection of the anti-refugee attacks.

We need socialist politics over narrow trade union politics. Fighting to escalate the strikes and to build rank and file resistance has to go alongside active opposition to assaults on refugees.

Big strikes on 15 March must include anti-racist politics and workers should join the anti-racist demonstrations in London, Cardiff, and Glasgow on 18 March.

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