National Sections of the L5I:

The fight of our lives

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This election comes at a crucial time. A quick glance at some facts and figures reveals why. We have just lived through the longest and deepest recession in history. Output did not reach the pre-recession peak of 2007 until 2014. Looking south to Europe, or east and west to China and the USA, you’d say we’re not out of the woods yet.

Wages have collapsed: the most sustained squeeze on pay since 1855, according to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility.
There were 203 academy schools in May 2010. Today there are 4,548 academies and free schools: 21.6 per cent of the total and the majority of all secondaries.

Seven per cent of the NHS budget now goes to profit-making contractors. Now this is set to explode. Since April 2013, a third of all contracts have gone to private providers, who have won 60 per cent of their bids against the NHS.

Britain has 2 million too few housing units. Last year just 141,000 houses were built in the UK, 60 per cent of pre-crisis levels and way below the 1969-70 peak of 378,000.

As a result 9 million people are now paying astronomical rents to private landlords, 5 million are waiting on housing lists and house prices are a record seven times the average annual wage.

The impact on those at the bottom of society has been the hardest. Women have suffered four-fifths of the cuts, black and Asian people and migrants confront mounting racism and discrimination, young people are denied benefits, a minimum wage and all but the meanest of jobs; the sick, the elderly and the vulnerable have had benefits slashed.

Labour’s dilemma…

If Labour is elected and forms the next government, it is promising some respite. It says it will raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour – it currently stands at £6.50 for over-21s.

It promises to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and recruit 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 3,000 more midwives and 5,000 new care workers. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham wants to make the NHS the “preferred bidder” for all contracts and to spend £2.5 billion a year more on healthcare.

Labour will protect the education budget and freeze the free schools programme. Along with more money to fund apprenticeships, it will cut university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year.
The party pledges to build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020, and tax houses worth more than £2 million.

These are the reasons why millions of working class voters will vote Labour. The problem is that Labour is also committed to the Tories’ eye-watering threat to cut spending by 5 per cent a year for the next two years, and to close the budget deficit by 2020. It cannot do both.

In fact it points to Labour’s historic dilemma: a party committed to the upkeep of the capitalist system, which means its reforms are dependent on keeping profits high. But it also rests on the trade unions for funding, its core working class support at the polls, and working class ideals of equality and fairness – even if it has ditched its socialist goal.

We know from previous Labour governments that the bankers and the bosses, the City of London and the CBI will use all their powers to force Labour to water down or abandon its spending commitments, while carrying through every one of its cuts.

If the capitalists forced an anti-austerity party like Syriza in Greece to climb down over its commitments to the poor, then imagine how easily they may be able to pressure Labour into more austerity, not less.

That’s why Workers Power wants to put Labour in office, where we can mobilise to force Labour not only to honour its pledges, but also to go much further: to close the internal NHS market, to build a million council houses, to bring the academies, free schools, grammar and fee-paying schools under local authority ownership and control, to legislate for a minimum wage of £10 an hour and lift the pay freeze, and to tax the rich and the corporations to the hilt.

To do this, we will have to build a mass movement that can mobilise at the sharp end of the austerity onslaught.

Social housing tenants will need to stop evictions and social cleansing, and join with the millions stuck in private rented accommodation to demand rent controls, secure contracts and more council units.
Local communities will have to rally together with health and education workers to protect hospitals and schools from closure, privatisation or budget cuts.

We will need a wave of coordinated all-out strikes to restore our spending power to pre-crisis levels, to prevent the destruction of decent jobs and to stop and reverse privatisation. And if this means breaking the anti-union laws, we should do so and demand Labour rescinds them.
Not a penny more to the banks, which are as corrupt as sin and caused the crisis in the first place.

Of course this will raise the question of the trade unions’ blind loyalty to a Labour Party in conflict with their members’ interests. While the right wing will call for a compromise on the Blairites’ terms – also known as surrender – we should demand that the unions break from Labour and put their political funds towards constructing a new mass party of the working class.

… or more Tory cuts

Putting Labour to this test would be the best outcome. Because the alternative – an outright Tory government or a Conservative-led coalition – would be far, far worse.

David Cameron, George Osborne and co. won’t even say where their cuts are going to fall. Why? Because they know that if they told the truth their vote would crumble.

After all, that’s what happened last time, when they – along with the Lib-Dems – whipped out a completely new manifesto after the election as the basis for the coalition.

What we do know however is that there will be even more savage cuts to benefits and pensions, more zero-hours, part-time and minimum wage jobs, less social housing and higher house prices and private sector rents. The NHS and state education will be starved of funds, fragmented, privatised and exposed to the profit-making imperatives of the market.

Then we really will be in for the fight of our lives. All the warnings about needing to mobilise a mass movement of resistance under a Labour administration would apply doubly so under the Tories.

Revolutionise the movement

Either way, we cannot simply go along with business as usual. It will not be enough to hold big demos every couple of years, to mount the occasional one-day strike only to call off the action at the first whiff of talks or to rely on a political party that condemns strikes and only offers to make “more humane cuts” with a slower tempo and a heavy heart.

Our current trade union leaders are not fit for purpose. We need to organise all the best trade unionists into a movement to hold them to account, to deliver decisive action from below when necessary, and to replace them with rank and file class fighters.

The various far left socialist groups took the initiative after 2010 in setting up coordinations of struggle: the Coalition of Resistance, the People’s Assembly, the National Shop Stewards Network, Unite the Resistance. There was little if any coordination as a result.

All these campaigns were undemocratically controlled from behind the scenes by the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Party, the SWP or smaller groups. None of them had any real presence on the ground, in our towns and cities. And none of them united in action.

Union leaders came along to speak at big halls and rallies… and walked away scot-free, with no demands effectively placed on them.
This time, we should force the creation of real councils of action at local, regional and national levels. Delegates from workplaces, housing estates, schools and colleges, along with the union branches and campaigning organisations, should gather to discuss, decide on and take action. This is the only way we will loosen the bureaucrats’ grip, so we can fight with both hands.

Last but not least, we will have to pose the question of what kind of party we need. The candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Left Unity already call for a new party. That’s why we support them.

But others, still committed to Labour, should also be drawn into the debate. However, we should reserve no leading positions for them, nor privileges for MPs and councillors.

Our aim of course should be to take the power, but our focus in the first instance should be on organising resistance. A new workers’ party should not make the winning of elections the be all and end all of its programme; elections are a means to an end.

We believe an anti-austerity party needs to be anticapitalist as well, since it is the logic of capitalism that is driving austerity forwards. Only by taking over the banks and mega-corporations and confiscating their assets will we be able to cancel the debt and start planning to rebuild our cities and stop the destruction of the environment.

By basing ourselves on the democratic bodies that have been built up to conduct the struggle, we can fight for a real workers’ government that can defy the markets.

Parliament, in the end, is just a talking shop. Real working class power has to rest on millions, ready for action – arms in hand if necessary – when the bosses use the police, the courts and special forces to deny the majority their will.

That’s what we fight for in this election and the months and years to come. And that’s why, if you agree with us, you should join Workers Power.

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