Striking for a better future for all

Editorial 320

A cartoon of Rishi Sunak sitting in the lap of a giant fat cat clutching a sack on which is printed

Enough is enough. That is the message coming from a huge range of striking trade unionists. Of course, strikes hurt. They serve to emphasise the importance of the jobs these workers do. All strikes mean loss of pay for those acting. In public services they also hurt users, be they patients, travellers, parents, pupils or students. They are a last resort when Government stops listening, stops engaging and doggedly pursues policies to suppress wages and erode working conditions. This class war government led by a billionaire is determined to make workers pay for their crisis. They have made it harder to strike, introduced higher ballot thresholds and plan to use the military to break action by Border Force staff, railway workers and others with more draconian anti-union laws – on top of banning ‘noisy’ protests. Polls show support for the strikers, particularly nurses (their first nationwide strike, excepting Scotland). They have seen their pay eroded over the last decade and work in a high-pressure environment, with 45,000 nursing vacancies and a similar number of other staff shortages. No wonder nurses leave. The profession is pandemic-exhausted and undervalued.This is after 12 years of real-terms spending cuts and privatisation. Now people face a further blow, with Tory-induced inflation running at almost 12%, doubling energy costs and rising interest rates hitting renters and mortgage payers alike. No wonder homelessness, food bank use and mental illness are mushrooming.

During the pandemic, over £200bn was found for the furlough scheme. The fabled magic money tree could easily fund inflation-proof pay rises for workers by borrowing and taxes on wealth. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates £18bn would cover settlements.

The Sunak/Hunt Government has launched Austerity Mk II. Leading experts in public finance calculate public services are going to need increases of about £43bn just to stand still. The NHS faces an immediate £7bn hole, which the Hunt plans of £2.5bn come nowhere near filling. While benefits and pensions have risen by RPI levels, Tory governments have slashed benefits for seven of the last ten years. Local government has endured over 40% cuts in real terms funding, as explained by Tom Miller. Ignacia Pinto shows clearly that women and children continue to be hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis. The wealth gap has grown enormously over the past 12 years while bankers’ bonus caps are lifted, shareholders receive bonanzas and big energy companies enjoy record profits – upon which a timid windfall tax will make little impression.

Schools have faced years of spending squeezes. Dave Lister gives two cheers to the Blunkett plan for financial support, improved staffing and ending the curriculum straitjacket. Gordon Brown presents another plan for constitutional change. Headline-grabbing abolition of the Lords and more power to the regions are clearly designed to bolster the United Kingdom as is, but fails the biggest democratic test: namely, support for electoral reform. Don Flynn explains why PR must be central to any democratic overhaul. Cat Smith MP outlines her bill to introduce PR for House of Commons elections in the face of Tory intentions to suppress voting rights, while Peter Kenyon calls on trade unions not to sacrifice Labour Conference-backed electoral system change for a new deal at work. The two go hand in hand.

Labour must come off the fence on trade union action. Backing strike action should be fundamental for a party forged in part by trade unions 120 years ago and whose members have helped fund and campaign for a Labour government over generations.

Another nettle Keir Starmer needs to grasp is that of taxation. Duncan Bowie advocates a fundamental rethink, urging Labour to back progressive taxation, a land value tax, a change in local government funding and other redistributive measures to make Britain less unequal and to pay for the services we need.

Starmer’s Labour must also pull back from its ill-informed campaigns to attack left voices in the party. Labour should be a broad church pluralist party. Mica Nava argues this particularly targets Jewish activists and downplays the problem of Islamophobia and other racism. The Forde report highlighted abuses, particularly from party staff, during the Corbyn period. It must not be swept under the carpet.

Planetary degradation continues as our government reneges on its stand at COP26 by approving more oil and coal production. If Labour’s green plan is to mean anything, it must involve more active campaigning for renewable energy, argues Dave Toke. Caitlin Barr urges support for direct action to cease investment in fossil fuels, the main driver of global heating. Victor Anderson questions the premise of the need for growth, exemplified by the short-lived Truss regime, calling for different measures for progress and development.

Democratic socialists can take some cheer from the defeat of the Amazon-stripping authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro by Lulu da Silva in Brazil, as reported by Fabian Hamilton MP. Elsewhere, the picture looks grimmer. In Iran, as Annabelle Sreberny reports, huge numbers calling for change, triggered by the murder of Mahsa Amini, continue to face brutal repression, with hundreds killed, shootings of women demonstrating and public executions. In Ukraine, the war continues against Putin’s aggression. Christopher Ford reports on the need for humanitarian and military aid to drive out the Russian imperialists.

In the Middle East, veteran journalist Tim Llewellyn uncovers a persistent reporting bias against Palestinians in both the mainstream broadcast and print media.

Brexit, the word neither Tory or Labour leaders seem willing to speak, lies behind much of the cost-of-living crisis, the Channel refugee crisis, the weakest pandemic recovery of any EU country and the loss of trade and migrant workers. It’s time to stand up for workers, for basic humanitarian principles and for the right to live and work wherever we choose.

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