2019 may have ended in a set back for the working class in Britain, but this is not a reflection – in Britain or internationally – of the super-rich capitalist class being in a strong position. As we go into 2020, the ruling class remains divided and rudderless. They are still reeling from the economic, social and political crises that started with the collapse of the banks in 2008-9, and are unable to resolve the fundamental contradictions which led to it. The 2020s will be a decade of opportunity for working class and young people around the globe to change the world.
Although a bad result for ordinary people, the general election was by no means a decisive victory for the Tories. They may have an 80-seat majority in parliament, but this ultimately serves only to paper over the cracks. Johnson’s election claim to have an ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal was a lie. He now faces difficult negotiations to secure a new trading arrangement with the EU, as well as with the US and other potential partners. While he is now likely to be able to push through some form of Brexit, this is will not be a deal that satisfies the whole of the ruling class, most of which would have preferred a Remain outcome, or even to meet the demands of all wings of the Tory party. But more importantly, any Johnson deal will fail to meet the aspirations of the working-class people who voted Leave. He will not deliver an end to austerity, the return of skilled jobs and industry to those areas devastated by decades of neoliberalism, or the funding needed to save our NHS. As such, the next five years will still not be plain sailing for Johnson.
What’s more, the government still faces the prospect of looming economic crisis. Many working class people will be angered when the promises Johnson has made on spending for schools, the NHS and so on fail to materialise.
Far from being a “One Nation conservative government” this will be a government for the richest 1% of the nation. During the election Johnson strenuously denied that the NHS was up for sale to American big pharma. In fact, he pledged £43 billion in extra funding – though this is well below what is needed to meet the growing costs of providing healthcare. Not even three weeks after the Tories’ election victory, the Mirror reported that “Cardiology, gynaecology, paediatrics and oncology are among the services being offered to companies. A new framework drawn up by NHS Shared Business Services will see hospital trusts buying clinical care from a list of suppliers. It could lead to deals worth up to £117 million being handed out over four years.” And this is before negotiations with the US over a post-Brexit trade deal have begun in earnest.
Johnson also plans a huge attack on trade unions. We have already seen Royal Mail bosses block strike action through the courts, leaning upon the most restrictive anti-union legislation in the Western world. The Tories now propose to introduce legislation banning transport workers from taking action unless a ‘minimum service’ is provided. This effectively blunts any action taken by those workers and gives the employer carte blanche to do as they please. Millions of union members who are prepared to fight attacks on their working conditions and pay will be furious at this. It is imperative that the unions start organising to resist such attacks on the right to organise – starting with organising ‘conferences of resistance’ in every area to discuss a strategy for action.
It’s not only at home that Johnson and his allies are a threat. Donald Trump’s drone strike on the Iranian general Souleimani – which threatens dangerous escalation and potential war – has already caused huge anger among people globally, including in Britain. Opposition to another disastrous military adventure in the Middle East is widespread. At this crucial time, Johnson was enjoying a pleasant winter break in the Caribbean. It was left to his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to state that the government was “on the same page” as Trump over the killing of Iran’s Republican Guard leader. Any march to war must be resisted. Fresh British military involvement in the Middle East would open up the possibility of a new anti-war movement, possibly on a similar scale to the one that took place in opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Predictably, rather than readying the party for the necessary battles against this Tory government, the right-wing within the Labour Party and their media mouthpieces are attempting to use the election defeat to enact a Blairite counter revolution. The cry going up from them now is that anti-austerity and socialist policies are not electable. At this stage it seems that Shadow Brexit Minister Keir Starmer is the anti-Corbyn candidate who appears to have the best chance of winning against the left.
Starmer is employing left rhetoric and promises not to “lurch to the right”. While it is unlikely he will enact an immediately overt rightward turn, it is clear that Starmer as leader would be a setback for the left within the party. Because of the big numbers drawn into the party by the popularity of Corbyn’s left policies, the right wing of the party is not confident to take on the left head-on by openly abandoning anti-austerity policies. Instead what we would likely see is ‘death by a thousand cuts’ in the form of stripping away the more radical aspects of the 2019 manifesto over time and a drift to the mythical ‘centre ground’ (ie the right).
The right’s desire to see Starmer in position was perfectly summed up in the Independent by John Rentoul, Tony Blair’s biographer, when he said “They [Labour Party members] do not, as Starmer put it in a telling phrase, want to “oversteer”. They do not want to abandon the idealism of the Corbyn years altogether. A souped-up Ed Milibandism will have to do…... boring normal politics is going to reassert itself and Keir Starmer is going to be a boring, normal and probably quite effective leader of the opposition.” By normal he of course means centrist.
During an interview with Andrew Marr, Starmer agreed that the case for rail nationalisation ‘made itself’. However, when asked about nationalisation of mail and water he fudged. It must also be remembered that Starmer, along with other candidates of the right (such as Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry), was among the most fervent in pushing the disastrous policy of a second Brexit referendum that was one of the key causes of Labour’s defeat. They must not now be allowed to be the ones to capitalise on that defeat by helping the right retake control of the leader’s office.
All of those within the Labour Party and trade unions who were energised by the radical anti-austerity policies in the 2019 manifesto, and the more radical conference decisions, must organise now. The next Labour leader must be someone who holds to those policies of ending austerity and for nationalisation.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, widely seen as the successor candidate to Corbyn, has, at the time of writing, just declared her intention to stand in the leadership election. It is welcome that she has said that the next leader “must be trusted with our socialist agenda”. But also important will be her approach to building the mass movement outside of parliament. Supporting campaigns and workers in struggle is a start but the next leader also needs to play an active role in mobilising people in the streets and their workplaces to resist this Tory government, by uniting all of the different struggles together and linking them to radical Labour policies . It is clear that with the Tories’ significant majority any effective opposition to them must be built outside of parliament.
But we won’t just wait for politicians and trade union leaders to build this opposition. Socialist Alternative is calling for conferences of resistance in local areas to bring together trade unionists, community campaigners and activists. It is urgent that our movement now discusses the immediate tasks of how to fight to prevent a right-wing counter attack in Labour and how we rebuild the trade union movement in our workplaces and communities.
If the last decade has shown anything, it’s that working class and young people are crying out for an alternative to crisis-ridden capitalism and are prepared to fight for it. The 2010s was a decade of revolution, but also counter revolution. We have seen mass movements erupt across the globe – from the Arab Spring, which swept away dictators, to the general strike movement now sweeping France. We have also seen the rise of new left alternatives at the ballot box, such as the Sanders movement in the US, Podemos in Spain, and Syriza in Greece. Workers and young people are currently fighting back on every continent – in Chile, Hong Kong, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, France. These movements are a taste of what is to come in the 2020s.
But the working class is yet to definitively make its stamp on events. These movements and new formations have lacked leadership and a coherent programme. In order to transform society then these movements must be based on the potential power of the organised working class. And to be ultimately successful they must put forward not only policies aimed at ending austerity, but also a clear socialist alternative.
Socialist ideas are more relevant than ever. The capitalist system remains mired in crisis and can only offer inequality, insecurity and poverty. The anger that we have seen erupt will only grow. Vital now is the building of a revolutionary force which can begin to organise working class and young people, to grow an understanding of the need for a break with that crisis-ridden system, and to build struggle for a society based on socialism, democracy and solidarity.
What we fight for:
No trust in Boris Johnson – the trade unions must fight to defend workers’ conditions and jobs
Stop Johnson selling off our NHS to Trump – oppose Tory trade deals that will benefit the rich
Co-ordinate working class resistance, linking up the climate strikers, trade unions and all of the oppressed in a mass movement to drive out Johnson and the Tories
Build working class solidarity across borders
For a voluntary socialist confederation of Europe, based on the solidarity and co-operation of working class people against the 1%.