Photo: Paul McGowan
It’s 1979. The inflation rate is above 10%. There’s a cost of living crisis. Stagflation means that the cost of everyday goods is increasing, but the economy is in decline leading to unemployment and closures. Workers are taking strike action to fight for pay rises to match or beat inflation. Fast forward 43 years and there’s something all a little too familiar to this situation…
Britain is forecast to have the highest inflation rate of any “advanced” Western economy. UK households are set to suffer more than any other Western European nation from the energy crisis. The poorest 10% in society spend almost three times the share of their household budgets on energy in comparison to the richest 10% in society, more than double the difference in neighbouring France.
This crisis has blatantly posed the question of who pays for the crises of capitalism – especially as Truss has ruled out any kind of “windfall tax” – which would only tax the energy giants based on “additional” profits they have made while the cost of gas to the consumer has skyrocketed. For example, Shell alone have made record profits of nearly £10 billion between April and June this year in the UK, whilst the ‘big four’ oil companies made £100 billion in profits in the first half of this year!
So while hard working families, pensioners, young workers and students all wonder how many meals they will have to miss this year to turn the heating on, perhaps they can stay warm in the thought of all those dividends being paid out to shareholders’ bank accounts.
Striking workers leading the way
However workers are fighting back – and winning. In the first year of Sharon Graham’s role as General Secretary of Unite, the unions’ members have fought for better pay in more than 450 disputes. According to Unite, eight out of ten have been won, securing £150 million in new wages and benefits for union members. 76,000 members took industrial action to secure these wins. Over 115,000 Royal Mail staff in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are currently taking strike action, alongside 40,000 BT and Openreach workers.
Another 40,000 rail workers in the RMT are taking strike action, now joined by rail workers in ASLEF and TSSA who are also taking strike action. Countless other strikes and ballots are also now underway in health, council services, schools, the civil and fire services.
This strike wave is now the dominant feature of British political life, and shows no sign of abating – even the death of the Queen will not stop the feeling of dread for workers as bills land on doormats (and inboxes). If anything, strikes will likely spread even further as the cost of living bites.
The trade union leaders have also realised that the working class is ready to fight for better pay, and despite the often lack of leadership, they have realised that if they do not help to lead this movement, they could be swept aside as the working class demands what it is entitled to.
But what is extremely important, is to not allow workers in trade unions to fight separately on their own. Socialist Alternative calls for these strikes to be brought together in a coordinated way, and escalated. This would be the first step toward building for general strike action with workers walking out on the same day. And this is where Enough is Enough can play a very important role.
1 October – potentially an historic date
Launched by leading figures in the RMT and CWU unions, as well as the Acorn ‘community union’, Enough is Enough (EiE) aims to bring together workers and communities who have had enough of us paying for the bosses’ crisis, and so far, they have had thousands flock to initial rallies around the country. Socialist Alternative members have attended these rallies, and have helped to build and organise local actions and groups, especially for the 1 October, which EiE called as a national day of action.
The support is there for what EiE proposes, a fightback against low wages, for the slashing of energy bills, against poor quality housing and food poverty, and for taxing the rich. Socialist Alternative supports these general aims. How will they be achieved? What do we do after 1 October?
Need for organisation
We propose getting EiE organised in every city, town, and union branch across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Local groups should be open to everyone who agrees with the aims and programme of the campaign and should be elected from the launch rallies. They should hold regular meetings to democratically discuss a plan to build the campaign in working class communities.
As well as continuing to mobilise support for strike picket lines, there should be discussion on how to defend people who can’t afford their soaring energy bills from disconnection and bailiffs. These local coordinating/steering committees could be linked up nationally to ensure that EiE is a broad and active campaign, a genuine movement which can fight the cost of living crisis.
Trade unions and campaigns should be able to affiliate locally – Socialist Alternative has been moving motions in union branches calling for that and for unions to affiliate at a national level. Union activists should be involved in the building of EiE protests and events, such as on 1 October, and any future coordinated strike rallies. Events should be built for in a democratic and serious way, with a focus on getting the maximum turnout of the most active layers of the workers’ movement.
Fighting against oppression and for student rights
EiE could potentially bring together everyone angry at and suffering from this colossal crisis, be they young people fighting back against climate change, women and LGBT+ people resisting oppression and violence, those fighting back against racism, and many more. EiE will need to add to its existing programme also broad demands around resisting oppression and division, and a trade union response to climate change, to show that it is the home for all these groups too. Groups campaigning on these issues should be able to affiliate and assist in developing the demands of EiE.
The cost of living crisis will have a massive impact on students. It is therefore vital that work should also be done on university campuses as well as sixth form colleges – students have in recent years been visiting picket lines of their striking lecturers in an act of solidarity, which can be built on this autumn, but students can also participate in strike action such as refusing to pay their sky-high rents and boycotting lectures.
For a socialist planned economy
Many of EiE’s policies can be won to some extent by a movement big enough to terrify the establishment politicians and their big business buddies into making significant concessions. That would take mass demonstrations, generalised strike action, and getting politically organised. Socialist Alternative argues for a new mass left-wing party of struggle, one that will be on every picket line and protest, and one that is of by and for the working class.
We would call for anyone who is an elected representative for a new party must only take the average wage of the workers that they are representing in their area – this will help ensure that they stay connected to the working class and understand the needs of their constituents. Kshama Sawant, member of Socialist Alternative in the United States, is an elected council member in Seattle, and takes home the average wage of the workers she represents, and donating the rest of her salary back into the workers’ movement such as strike funds.
EiE calls for the energy companies to be brought into public ownership. We agree, and say this should be taken further to include mail, rail, and the commanding heights of the economy, including the banks under democratic workers’ control and management – where the wealth that is created by the workers is used to benefit us all. Socialist Alternative stands for this – a democratically planned socialist economy – in the interests of all, rather than the anarchy of being beholden “to the market” under capitalism.
The response so far to EiE shows that hundreds of thousands agree that we need to make a change and these mobilisations need to be built on – the movement needs to be built from the ground up, involving the working class in struggle and communities facing the cost of living crisis. Enough is enough, we need to fight for change and a socialist future!
• We need a general strike! Fight to win every ballot and escalate and coordinate the strikes!
• Build Enough is Enough as a mass, unified, democratic and socialist mass movement. Build local groups with democratic structures at all levels
• Make the rich pay for the energy crisis! Cap bills at socially affordable levels and tax the super rich to pay for it! Nationalise the energy companies and invest in an accelerated green energy transition that defends all jobs
• For a sliding scale of wages! Permanently link all wages to the rate of inflation by law, alongside pay rises to compensate for real pay lost over the last decade of austerity
• For a £15 an hour minimum wage NOW, to rise with inflation at least annually!
• Raise Universal Credit, pensions and all other benefits to the level of a living wage
• Build millions of council houses to solve the housing crisis and bring privatised social housing back into the public sector! For strict rent caps to be determined by trade union and renters’ organisations and a ban on all evictions • To end economic robbery we need revolutionary socialist change! Nationalise transport, mail, energy, all utilities, the banks and major monopolies under democratic workers’ control, with compensation only for proven need. Build
a socialist economic plan to end poverty, climate destruction and all forms of oppression
• Build a new mass left party, based on the struggles of the working class, youth and oppressed