Time for action: the cost of profits crisis and rising industrial militancy

"This ruling class offensive demands a working class counter attack, more determined, coordinated and effective than our generation has ever known", writes YCL General Secretary Johnnie Hunter
"This ruling class offensive demands a working class counter attack, more determined, coordinated and effective than our generation has ever known", writes YCL General Secretary Johnnie Hunter
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Working people and the youth are suffering under a concerted ruling class offensive on every front.

Front and centre are the attacks on jobs, pay, and conditions for millions of workers by bosses in both the public and private sectors. Accompanying this, we see price hikes and rank profiteering from the monopolies, the banks, and the landlords. To stifle resistance, the Tory government is carrying forward its attacks on civil liberties and the right to strike with renewed vigour. All of this is coupled with billions of dollars of tax increases on working people and cuts to already ravaged public services in the years to come.

What lies behind this ruling class offensive? How can it be resisted and defeated? And how can we turn the situation in favour of working people and the fight for Socialism?

It’s not a ‘cost of living’ crisis

Even the monopoly and state owned media grudgingly admit the economy is in a state of crisis. The billionaires and the financial interests in the City of London are getting richer, yes, but the situation is precarious and a recession is looming.

The rate of inflation continues to gallop away, with the CPI at over 10%, the highest level in more than 40 years, and double the average rate of wage growth. The much more accurate RPI rate of inflation is even higher still. As we enter 2023, this shows no signs of abating in the short to medium term, and instead appears to be intensifying, with investments down and a potential recession looming. Only heady 0.1% growth in November, ostensibly buoyed by the World Cup, staved off an official recession—llikely only a matter of time.

As Communists, we can’t lose sight of the real impact of spiralling inflation and stagnant wages for working people across Britain. Crippling poverty and indebtedness are clear to see in our communities across the length and breadth of the country, and they’re increasing. There is little need to elaborate on this reality for working people. We all know it and can witness it where we live, work, and study.

Even the bourgeois and state media reluctantly acknowledge the situation, with swathes of BBC news and the newspapers devoted to tokenistic cost cutting measures, encouraging a thrifty response from working people to deep poverty and economic inequality. This is having a disproportionate effect on women and black workers. As we continue into the particularly cold winter months, with vast sections of the population unable to heat their homes, this impact will be made clear, no doubt, through thousands of needless deaths, particularly of the elderly, the disabled, and the vulnerable.

Britain’s Communists reject the ruling class’ narrative that what we are living through is a ‘Cost of Living Crisis’, attributable solely or chiefly to the war unfolding in the Ukraine. We are clear on the economic and political forces and imperatives and the actual ruling class interests underlying spiralling inflation.

Profit rates are in decline in the United Kingdom and throughout the capitalist world. In the first instance, this was prompted by an increase in the price of oil and gas. For the ruling class, the war in Ukraine is the sole explanation for this situation. But this is a smokescreen.

Pre-war only 4% of Britain’s oil energy imports came from Russia. The price of gas has dropped in recent weeks, it’s now around half the price it was last October and almost five times lower than the record peak last August, yet inflation remains.

Prices are soaring as monopolies and big business attempt to retain and grow their profit margins, as well as profiting under the guise of the Ukraine war, notably by energy monopolies. This has had a marked knock-on effect down the supply chain. Another factor has been parasitic fictitious capital: traders in the oil and gas markets, playing no productive role in society, never intending to take possession of or use the resources, but speculating on oil and gas prices, profiteering and driving up prices in the process.

We see the energy monopolies posting 3, 4, 5 and 6, times increases in year on year profits. Some reports predict £170 billion in ‘excess profits’ for the gas and electricity industries over the next two years.

The major mechanism used by the ruling class to respond to the fall in the rate of profit is wage reduction in order to shore it up. The Tories are leading the charge and trying to set an example in the public sector, while backing private sector bosses to the hilt to do the same. We’re told workers need to take the hit and accept ‘wage restraint’. Wage increases would just drive further inflation, they say. This is demonstrably untrue. Wages have been decreasing in real terms for decades, and inflation is skyrocketing. Current wage rises remain stagnant, and inflation is still at historic highs.

At the same time, we see major employers, such as those in rail and mail, handing massive dividends to shareholders at the same time as they plead poverty in national disputes.

Inflation continues to spiral because of this refusal to see any reduction in the rate of profit and because of this profiteering. To even countenance this is anathema to the financial interests in the City of London and their political representatives. ‘Profit restraint‘ has not and will not be mooted, only ‘wage restraint’ and enforced wage restraint backed by the bourgeois state.

Working people and the labour movement must be won to an understanding of this attack on our wages and living standards as a Cost of Profits crisis. This is particularly important in the context of the current rising wave of industrial militancy. Achieving this would sharpen the class understanding of working people of the current industrial battles we’re seeing.

The labour movement must be clear that these attacks on pay and conditions are not caused by Russia or Putin, or by some unintelligible but potent force known only as ‘inflation’ but by the ruling class need to maintain the rate of profit by suppressing the value of pay – by the contradiction between the capitalist imperative to maximise profits and the working class interest in maximising wages. It is a class struggle.

The ruling class response to the labour movement fightback

The most important, exciting, and encouraging development for working people at present is the rising wave of industrial militancy we are experiencing across Britain.

Hundreds of thousands of workers, both public and private sector, engaged in strike action over December in both local and national disputes to defend jobs, pay and conditions, including rail and mail workers, nurses, civil servants, border force staff, ambulance drivers, teachers and many more. These actions have carried forward into the new year with new battles being fought and new strikes being planned, even in the face of some of the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe. We are seeing tentative signs of growing coordination and confidence between workers in different sectors. The scale of these disputes, the resolve demonstrated by workers, the increasing number of disputes and the scale of public support is clearly a cause of great concern for Britain’s ruling class.

Over the period, the Tories’ strategy has remained efforts to impose and support wage cuts in the public and private sectors, as well as massive cuts to public spending across the board (except for privatised services). In the face of further scandals, including the Michelle Mone PPE scandal, the Sunak government is scrabbling to reassert some order and confidence among its own MPs and popularity with the public, with polls still very much in Labour’s favour. Their main efforts have been diversionary—more threats against Russia, more stigmatisation and attacks on migrants, more culture wars, and, of course, more vociferous denunciations of strikers via the state and monopoly owned media.

The central pillar of the ruling class response are their efforts to crush and grind down workers currently on the frontline and cow other unions by frustrating negotiations, incessant propaganda and through the Tories “tough new laws” restricting the right to strikes.

The new anti-union laws current being pursued by the Tories build upon the decades of anti-union laws and measures already in place, some of the most restrictive in Europe, including the legalisation of the use of agency staff to scab just this summer. The so-called ‘minimum service levels’ legislation introduced in January are just the thin end of the wedge of this ruling class attack on the right to strike and other hard work democratic rights and civil liberties.

Further measures based on Grant Schapps’ 16 point plan could include an even higher strike ballot threshold in the public and private sectors, forcing unions to provide even more notice of strike action, even tighter rules on picketing, and allowing employers to bypass unions and put pay offers directly to staff.

The new attack on the right to strike and the other threats demonstrate how seriously the ruling class and their government are taking the current wave of strike action and increasing industrial militancy. We must ensure that this latest and even more brazen attempt to restrict the right to strike is a red line for the labour movement. Only a mass movement across Britain, including all major trade unions, can successfully resist this anti-democratic attack. We must fight to ensure that the current situation is developed into a proactive campaign for trade union freedom, fighting not just to defeat this latest attack but to roll back all existing anti-union laws.

Over the same period the Tories have announced the ‘Edinburgh Reforms’, a package of measures set to cut so-called “red tape” on activities in the City of London. The proposed reforms essentially appear to be the removal of many of the financial safeguards put in place in the face of the 2008 financial crisis, and even before, including removal of the cap on banker’s bonuses and many restrictions on risky investment.

The ruling class and Tories were never content with these restrictions and only imposed them under great duress. It represents an effort to encourage and shore up faltering investment and increase the rate of profit for financial interests in the City of London. The risks for working people from this move as we approach another recession was clearly demonstrated back in 2008. The rank hypocrisy of this move at a time when the Tories are calling for wage restraint among workers should be lost on no one.  

The Labour Party under Starmer

Through all this, the Labour Party under Starmer continues to advance to the right. In terms of Labour parliamentary selection battles, the crusade against the labour left and the labour movement appears to have resumed, and left and progressive forces remain marginalised. Starmer has made some lukewarm promises but broadly agrees with Tory policy domestically and rattles the sabre just as fanatically abroad. When asked about support for various strikes, the response of Labour shadow ministers has been Tory style evasiveness at best and outright condemnation at other times. Toward the end of 2022, in the echoes of New Labour, Starmer has launched a “Prawn Cocktail Offensive 2.0” to win over the city as the party nears power, holding meetings and dinners with FTSE 100 companies and global giants including Tesco, NatWest, and Amazon. Just as with Blair and Brown, we can expect Starmer to take his orders from these same individuals once inside Number 10. Corporate donations have continued to flow in since.

It is clear that a Labour government under his Starmer is highly unlikely to present a meaningful alternative for working people. Starmer has proven that there is no guarantee even his most tepid social democratic promises would make into a programme of government. Indeed, Starmer seems to promise Tory-lite policies at best. There has been no promise to meet wage demands or to repeal all anti-trade union legislation. Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary stated he would also reject nurses’ pay demands if in power and almost seems determined to advance privatisation of our NHS even more nakedly than the Tories. It should be remembered that there is a current Labour manifesto pledge to repeal all new Tory anti-union laws since 2010. As part of the current battle for trade union freedom, the Labour leadership must have its feet held firmly to the fire on this commitment by the labour movement.

We must combat any complacency creeping into the left and labour movement that a labour victory is merely a matter of time or that, under Starmer this would represent a meaningful victory for working people. This presents the potential threat of dampening the rising wave of industrial militancy and the tentative advances in class consciousness that we must fight to deepen and expand.

Imperialism drives humanity to the brink

While we see the Tories state time and again that there is simply no money to pay public sector workers, we receive the news that Sunak’s government is now flirting with sending tanks and more arms to pour oil on the fire of the tragic war taking place in Ukraine. This is in addition to the billions of dollars already spent on weapons and cash to prolong the human tragedy.

The Challenger 2 tanks earmarked for the conflict cost well over £4 million each when first manufactured. Just a few years ago, they were upgraded at a cost of over £800 million. Each shell must cost tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayer money.

What we have seen in the continuing escalation of the war in Ukraine is the increasing recklessness and readiness for open conflict and war from the major imperialist powers: the USA, Britain, and the European Union, organised in the NATO aggressive nuclear first strike cabal.

Putin’s brutal and inexcusable invasion of Ukraine, which was prompted by decades of NATO expansionism, has created a costly human tragedy. NATO powers, including Britain, flood the country with arms and cash, appearing determined to create a costly quagmire in Ukraine from which Russia will struggle to extricate itself.

As ever, the real victims are the working people of Ukraine and Russia, the civilian victims, and the conscripts on either side. Rather than calling for arms for the NATO proxy war and the puppet regime, which bans trade unions and communists and hails the legacy of Nazi collaborators, socialists and democrats in Britain should join the fight for an immediate ceasefire, constructive peace talks, and an end to NATO escalation.

Rather than battling climate change, the other major international priority for Britain’s ruling class is the drive to a new Cold War against China, at the behest and direction of the United States. Economic measures and military pressure are being intensified, as is a concerted state and monopoly media offensive against China, along with all the racist and anti-communist stereotypes and tropes that characterise it. This has significant implications for the struggle for socialism and the battle of ideas here in Britain. The left and the labour movement must strengthen our opposition to this new Cold War, as well as our efforts to win a better understanding of and support for China among working people and to combat anti-communist myths and propaganda.

The Communist response

Britain’s Communists are clear and concise on our demands and our strategy in the coming period:

  • The industrial battles taking place must be lauded, supported and broadened – the fight against stagnant wages offers the labour movement today restate its relevance to a new generation, build on rising trade union membership numbers and class consciousness across Britain.
  • We must redouble our efforts to win the labour movement to a class understanding of the cost of profits crisis and how this relates to the current industrial battles.
  • We must galvanise resistance to any further Tory anti-strike laws and develop this into movement for trade union freedom.
  • The fight for real measures to help working people battle spiralling costs for food, energy and essentials remains paramount – and the labour movement must place itself at the centre of this struggle.
  • The left and the labour movement must articulate an alternative economic strategy more directly, convincingly and forcefully in all spheres.
  • The current industrial battles and resistance to the Tory government can and must be the springboard for a fight to remove the Tories from power and win a progressive government that can roll back attacks on working people and the labour movement.
  • We cannot allow the prospect of a right-wing labour government to placate social democratic elements in the labour movement to undermine rising militancy. We must continue to call out the right wing nature of the current labour leadership.
  • We must redouble our efforts in the struggle for peace, international solidarity and disengagement from NATO efforts to protract the war in Ukraine and to combat the growing new Cold War against China.
  • All of this highlights the essential need for a stronger and more vigorous Communist Party and YCL. As we begin 2023, we must strengthen, rebuild and reinvigorate Britain’s Communist movement on every front.

This ruling class offensive demands a working class counter attack, more determined, coordinated and effective than our generation has ever known. Now is the time.

Johnnie Hunter
General Secretary
Young Communist League

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