England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Mass struggle needed to fight the cost of living crisis

Here we publish the Editorial for the upcoming Issue 26 of Socialist Alternative’s monthly paper. To get your copy, contact us today!

As the cost of living crisis continues to intensify, there can be no doubt that the most pressing issue facing working class people today is how on earth they will manage to make ends meet. Inflation has risen to 9% – the highest it’s been for 40 years – and economists are predicting that a recession is on the cards with consumer confidence dropping to its lowest since records began in 1974.

Food and fuel prices are soaring, with the poorest households impacted the most – the lower your income the larger the proportion that is spent on heating and eating – and some are suffering double digit inflation. Average energy bills have risen by £700 and are now close to £2000 a year with another eye watering increase of £830 expected in October. 

The term “shelf shock” has been coined to describe the reaction to rising grocery prices, with some products having increased in cost by more than 20%. The Office for National Statistics has reported an average increase on food and drink prices of 6%, but many staples like pasta and milk have risen by more than 10%. It is therefore hardly surprising that food banks have seen a surge in demand for food packages with the number of people relying on them increasing exponentially.

Little to offer working class people

So what are the Tories doing to help the many people who are wondering how they will survive? In short, very little. Boris Johnson’s disingenuous handwringing during his Queen’s speech at not being able to shield everyone from the crisis was accompanied by the promise that helping people to cope is a priority. This has since been followed up by a new package to soften the blow of rising costs through payments to low income families, funded by a “windfall tax” on the profits of energy companies, which have soared in recent months. This measure has been taken primarily as an attempt to uphold spending and stave off the threat of a recession, rather than to genuinely support working class people struggling to make ends meet. Many households will continue to struggle to get by as costs continue to increase across the board. 

The real priorities of the Tories are highlighted in the 90% tax exemption on offer to companies that invest in British oil and gas extraction. Sunak especially, as a devout Thatcherite, would much rather leave the fortunes of big business, including oil and gas companies, untouched. At the same time, the perceived urgency of the need to invest in fossil fuels provides a neat cover to ignore previous environmental pledges.  

Some Tories are even blaming the poorest in society for their own predicament. MP Lee Anderson (a former Labour Party councillor) has been widely condemned for his assertion that food poverty is being caused by the lack of ability of poor people to cook or budget, claiming that anyone can produce a nutritious meal for 30p. Outrageously, receiving a food parcel from the bank where Anderson volunteers is conditional on signing up for courses to learn how to cook and manage your finances.

The policing minister, Kit Malthouse has also turned reality on its head by claiming that it is crime that causes poverty, not vice versa. This was in response to the suggestion of the chief inspector of constabulary that officers should use their “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute people who are desperate enough to steal in order to eat. Malthouse has told officers not to let shoplifters off if they are stealing food, and has said that ministers would ensure police do not turn a blind eye!

These openly callous attitudes towards ordinary people struggling to get by is compounding the anger that exists towards Boris Johnson and the Tories, as Partygate and other scandals continue to tarnish them. 

The Conservatives have been rocked by multiple scandals relating to rape, sexual abuse, misbehaviour and misconduct, most recently an unnamed MP having been arrested following allegations of rape and sexual assault taking place over a period of seven years. Another MP admitted to watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber whilst sitting next to a female MP.  And there are many other allegations of wrongdoing with 56 MPs, including three cabinet ministers, currently under investigation by the Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance scheme.

Local elections

So how is this anger finding an expression? To a small extent in the humiliating results for the Tories in the May 5 local elections, where they lost 487 seats including three key councils in London. Turnout was very low however, reflecting a lack of enthusiasm for any of the main parties with none offering a way out of the crisis. 

It’s clear at this stage that local elections are not widely viewed as an arena for those moving towards struggle. And people may well be disgusted with Johnson’s rule-breaking hypocrisy and Tory sleaze, but Keir Starmer is hardly an inspiring alternative. 

The results reflect a weakening of both Johnson and Starmer, although not decisive enough for either’s leadership to be in immediate jeopardy. Yet both leaders managed to put a deluded positive spin on the outcome with Boris Johnson describing “a mixed set of results, but in some parts of the country you’re seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains”. 

Keir Starmer, never one to miss an opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn rather than Boris Johnson, described  a “massive turning point for the Labour Party, from the depths of 2019, we’re back on track now for the general election.” He pointed to “absolutely brilliant” gains saying that it had “sent a message to the PM that Britain deserves better”. 

This is somewhat over-egging the outcome on Starmer’s part- In England Labour made very few gains outside of London.Clearly Starmer’s insipid brand of Tory lite, lukewarm Blairism has very little appeal.

As Owen Jones put it in the Guardian “The political conditions for Labour could hardly be more fortuitous. We have a Tory government enveloped in a scandal over systematically breaking its own laws during a national emergency, riddled with sleaze, led by a man whose own admirers acknowledge is a stranger to honesty, and overseeing the worst squeeze in living standards in modern history.”

And as Kay Burley put it to Labour’s National Campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood on Sky News “You are up against a Prime Minister who breaks the law – you should be doing better.”

Excuses were made, with Laura Keunssberg perpetuating the ridiculous notion that Starmer’s Labour is afflicted by “long Corbyn” – the idea that the party became so broken during Corbyn’s leadership, recovery under Starmer would inevitably take a long time!

Starmer will no doubt be stinging from the criticisms from his role model Tony Blair, whose take is that Labour needs to reject “woke” politics and present a programme for government that is “radical without being dangerous”. Blair has urged Labour to ensure it is on the centre ground on “culture war” issues such as trans rights. As an example of the kind of radical policy he would like to see, Blair suggested tackling concerns about illegal immigration by introducing biometric ID as a precondition for accessing work and public services!

Lack of an alternative

In actual fact, Starmer’s failure to galvanise a significant anti-Tory vote has more to do with his dishonesty in posing as a continuity candidate in the Labour leadership election, only to eagerly ditch Corbyn’s popular policies along with any socialist pretensions, as well as crushing the left wing of the party. 

Along with the Lib Dems the Greens also took seats from both Tories and Labour. Support for both parties can be explained in part by a rejection of Brexiteer Tories and Johnson’s right wing populism. But it also represents a thirst for a progressive alternative to the two main parties in the absence of anything better. The Lib Dems do not represent an alternative to mainstream pro-capitalist politics, but twelve years have passed since their betrayal of young people.

Despite having campaigned around an election promise to abolish tuition fees, then being complicit in tripling them, some younger voters may be unaware of their treacherous past. And whereas the Greens can seem left-leaning, and could be viewed as the best option for young people with concerns about climate catastrophe, they are also not a viable alternative. When in power they have a track record of failing to deliver in terms of both opposing austerity and in taking measures to tackle climate change. This is fundamentally a consequence of a commitment to act only within the framework of the capitalist system.

The lacklustre local election results have revealed the undeniable lack of a political voice for working class people, allowing Boris Johnson to continue to cling onto his job against all odds. It’s obvious that Johnson and the Tories must go, but a Starmer led Labour government is widely, and correctly, not seen as a much better option. 

Strike, coordinate, escalate to fight the cost of living crisis!

The national demonstration called by the Trade Union Congress for June 18th is a positive step, but it will need to be built upon. In more than 25 workplaces in the UK, ‘cost of living’ pay increases have recently been won  by workers in Unite the Union, either taking strike action or threatening to, revealing the willingness of workers to fight back. Workers need to exert pressure on leaders of all unions to take a combative approach and to fight for decent pay rises and an end to the scandalous practice of “fire and rehire”.

Britain is like a tinderbox, with anger building up under the surface on multiple issues from the ongoing healthcare crisis as a result of the pandemic, to the out of control living costs. 

We need to fight back on all fronts. The TUC demo needs to be an enormous mobilisation against the Tories and the cost of living crisis, as well as a launchpad for the trade union movement to launch a new wave of mass struggle to drive out this government. This should also mean a wide discussion on what kind of political representation we need, involving students and youth activists, renters organisations and other movements and campaigns. Socialist Alternative thinks that this struggle can be the basis that a new left party can be built out of. Such a party, equipped with a fighting, socialist programme with clear, bold demands would transform the current situation and provide an alternative to the misery, war and endless crises that capitalism presents us with. 


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