On Saturday 18 June, trade unionists, workers and young people from across Britain gathered in London to “Demand Better”. The national demonstration, called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) brought thousands onto the streets in the biggest such mobilisation for many months.
It is no wonder so many people turned out. With working class people facing the biggest cost of living squeeze in decades, millions of people are looking at a desperate situation especially as fuel and food prices continue to increase toward the end of the year.
Amid this desperation is also anger, not least at the Tory government which is presiding over this crisis. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson himself is staggering on in power under the blows of the #partygate scandal.
Given this context, it is clear that the demonstration could have been far bigger, had the TUC and the trade union leaderships seriously built for it with a campaign highlighting the need to organise for a real pay rise and demand public ownership of the energy companies.
Such a campaign would have drawn in young people and workers in unorganised workplaces, who likewise are looking for a way to fight back.
Socialists mobilise on the TUC demonstration
Socialist Alternative members spent the weeks in the run-up to June 18 on activity in cities around Britain to build support for the strike action being prepared by rail workers in the RMT, as well as CWU postal workers, and to build for the biggest demonstration possible on June 18.
We also encouraged people to join our socialist bloc on the demonstration where we called for a strategy of coordinated and escalating strike action to beat the cost of living crisis. But we also highlighted, including on our main banner (pictured) capitalism’s role at the root of this crisis and the need for a socialist alternative.
In our widely distributed leaflet we explained the need for a political alternative to Keir Starmer’s Tory-lite Labour, a new mass left party of struggle which would not only support demonstrations and strikes but be a political vehicle for movements like this to organise through.
It is positive to see Saturday’s protest being followed by a potential wave of workers’ struggle, starting with the three-day strike by rail-workers.
There is potential for further industrial action from workers in sectors such as Royal Mail, education, transport and care, the so-called ‘gig economy’, as well as even junior barristers building on this momentum, and numerous local disputes in the private and public sectors. Such action has the potential to act as an example for millions of other workers that if we fight, we can win.
The right wing press have already thrown up the spectre of a “summer of discontent”. The Tories intend to make effective strike action legally impossible revealing how worried they really are about industrial struggles over the coming months.
Solidarity at all levels is essential. As we argued for on the demonstration, echoed in part by some of the speakers at the end, strike action is at its most effective when it is coordinated to involve the maximum numbers of workers involved and when it escalates to put ever-increasing pressure on the employers and the government.
The RMT rail-workers dispute is likely to take more than three days’ strike action to win. The RMT leadership should announce a bold plan of escalating strike action, coordinated across the groups of RMT members involved in different companies.
CWU union members at Royal Mail could be the next to strike. At the top of both unions and on the ground between local workplaces, plans should be put in place for joint demonstrations, mass solidarity protests wherever picket lines are threatened with the law or with union-busting agency workers, and strike dates linked for maximum effect.
Locally, this can include all the numerous local strikes ongoing, often organised by Unite which is also planning campaigns among groups of private sector workers.
Unions preparing for action in the autumn should be lining up with the RMT and CWU now, and Unite and others, pledging full support and looking at how they can coordinate between themselves.
The TUC leadership should do this, but after the sell-out of 2011 and years of inaction then activists should have no faith that it will act with honest intentions if it acts at all. Union leaders who are prepared to fight and workplace activists on the ground will have to build solidarity directly themselves.
With a Tory leadership in crisis, there is huge potential to win victories on pay and conditions if we fight for them. But such a struggle can also be the first step in bringing down this hated government. Socialist Alternative will be active participants in all of these upcoming workers’ struggles
The nightmare of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last two years, the ongoing supply chain chaos, and the war in Ukraine have all highlighted that this system which only cares about profit has nothing to offer the vast majority of people.
To truly end the constant cost of living crisis that capitalism represents, we need to link these struggles to the fight to change the system as a whole.
- Strike, coordinate, escalate!
- Build solidarity from above and below
- For a 15% pay rise for all workers and a £15 minimum wage
- Re-nationalise rail, mail, and energy – under democratic working-class control and management
- For a new mass left party of struggle
- For an international socialist alternative to inflation, recession, oppression and war