Part of the Union

Just over a year ago we reported on a victory for Indian farmers after a year-long strike that pitted them against a far right government that used police brutality and tried to exploit ethnic and religious differences amongst the farmers.

Since then we have reported on successful strikes by Finnish healthworkers and Dutch railworkers. In the UK the strike wave that began in the summer shows no sign of abating and is remarkable both for the discipline and unity of the workers in achieving comfortable majorities for action in repeated ballots, and for the high level of support from the general public. The strikes in the UK have persisted, despite the Government propaganda machine going into overdrive, while Starmer’s Labour Party wavers between equivocation and condemnation of the strikers!
The global crisis of capitalism has generated class struggle around the world. The mendacity and ineptitude of the Tories has made it worse in the UK and provoked levels of class struggle last seen in the 1980s. Then, the defeat of the miners led to almost 40 years of rampant capitalism. Today the resilience of union organisation and the revival of class struggle is a cause for optimism. But only if we win.

Looking ahead to 2024

In January 2022 Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck in the opinion polls. By December Labour had a very healthy 28 point lead. This is testament to the charisma and popularity of Keir Starmer. (Ed. some mistake surely!)

In January Sir Keir’s net approval rating was -24, according to YouGov (with 53% saying he was doing badly compared to 29% saying he was doing well.) Twelve months on and that minus has turned into a zero with 39% rating him badly and the same percent rating him as doing well. Among Labour voters his approval rating is +36, with 62% rating him as doing well.

At the moment he seems to be out-performing Rishi Sunak who, as Prime Minister, started with a zero net approval (29% saying he was doing well and the same proportion saying he was doing badly). Now the latest figures have him at -10, with 31% saying he is doing well (well done Rishi that’s a solid 2% increase in 3 months), compared to 41% saying he is doing badly. (Oh dear, but that increase is wiped out by the extra 10% who do not appear to like him at all). Amongst Conservative voters he has a net approval of +30, with 54% thinking he is doing a good job.

Recent by-elections, often a precursor to a General Election result, but more often totally different, have tended to favour Labour. That said, the results, whilst good in percentage terms, are being won by massive voter abstention. The most recent by-election in Stretford and Urmston, a safe Labour seat, saw the Tories virtually wiped out. But the turnout was a historic low of below 25% and, if that was to be repeated in a General Election, everything that follows in this short review could be safely ignored.

One recent estimate of the result of the 2024 General Election put Labour on 361 seats, with an overall majority of 39 (the Conservatives would lose 182 seats). When we dig into recent Survation polling we can estimate Labour’s vote at around 13.3 million with the Tories on 8.1 million. That is a reverse of 2019, with the Tories polling two million fewer than Jeremy Corbyn managed. In fact, it would be their worst result since 2001 when they polled 8.3 million. For Labour the result would only have been bettered by Tony Blair in 1997. 

Frankly, everything is pointing toward a Labour victory in 2024, but with an important caveat. A lot can happen in 12 months, let alone 24. Ask Boris Johnson or Liz Truss. Rishi Sunak may be way down in the popularity stakes but he has up to 24 months in which to win the trust of the British public. But at the moment, whether we like it or not, Labour’s strategy of taking Labour voters for granted and targeting disaffected Tories seems to be working. Of course, a lot will depend on whether the economy improves. And, according to Survation, around four million voters remain undecided. It would not take much for Labour’s lead to slip and the Tories, yet again, to become the government. The question is: does it really matter which of the two main parties wins?

UK’s terminally sick economy

In January UK inflation was 5.5%, the highest it had been since 1992. This was prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and prior to the energy price rises. Wage increases in January were still at record lows. In fact, wage rates were rising at an average of 4.5%, a full percentage point below inflation.

Fast forward to December. Inflation is currently at 10.7%, whilst average wage increases are still running at 6%. In the private sector wages are rising at 6.9%, and in the public sector by 2.7%, neither of which is in line with inflation.

So what has been happening and why can’t the Government do anything to affect it?

The current recession was not caused by ‘the’ Tories, but was almost certainly caused by tories. It is not the result of anything done by any particular government, even if some have reacted better than others. 

The recession is a result of investor confidence, or rather lack of it. As the rate of return on investments falls, investors hoard their money rather than investing it. There are a number of indices of investor confidence but all of them show the same thing, across the globe confidence is low and falling.

Why is it worse in some countries, particularly the UK? In a word, incompetence. The Government has control over the public sector, around 20% of the economy. But, whilst they don’t control the rest, they affect it with their decisions. And Liz Truss exacerbated an already bad situation with her ill-fated and short-lived premiership. Brexit has not helped either. In essence, as the rest of the world has caught flu, we have caught pneumonia and, whilst the rest of the world seems to be in for a lengthy financial illness, the UK’s economy looks terminal.

Reasons to be hopeful

“Why don’t you get back into bed….”

So sang Ian Dury in his hit song ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ back in 1979 and, as we head into 2023, there are many of us who feel like crawling under the covers and staying there for the foreseeable future. But are there reasons to be hopeful for 2023?

More people are now aware of how our parliamentary system is not fit for purpose and that can only be a good thing. But will they stand by their beliefs and not vote for any of the major parties in 2024? We hope so but have our doubts, and of course, if Labour should win the next general election, the leadership will see it as a validation of their swing to the right. So we must remain hopeful that voters will see sense and vote for one of the smaller parties.

The strikes also give one reason to hope. People have finally had enough and have left their workplaces. Now if only the unions would get fully behind a general strike we might get somewhere.

Otherwise. Environment? NHS? Our rights? Trying to remain hopeful can be tiresome, but we cannot give up.

3 thought on “2022 – Goodbye to all that”
  1. Comrades your call for voters to support smaller parties, not Labour, at the next GE beggars belief.
    The top priority for socialists is to secure a crushing defeat for the Tories, not, as some on the left have mistakenly argued, because that signals support for slippery Starmer, but because for us the crucial index is always the one that registers the confidence and combativity of our class.
    Seen from that perspective, instead of what Lenin dubbed ‘parliamentary cretinism’, making the right call is a no – brainer.

    1. We are certainly not in a situation remotely similar to 1905 where Lenin called for the Bolsheviks to contest Duma elections in a post-revolutionary society. It is simply nonsensical to believe that somehow a vote for Labour is any indication of class consciousness. The only reason Labour has any chance of winning an election is because Tory voters are deserting their party (not to Labour incidentally but to that great Mass who will abstain). This was much the situation in 1997, 2001 and 2005 where the lack of enthusiasm for Labour was matched by and exceeded by the Tories voters staying at home. Far from strengthening the hand of workers struggles the election of a Labour government will derail the current struggles. At first we will be told to wait for a Labour government, then that they cannot do anything because of the mess the Tories have left and then those who strike, even for modest pay rises, are somehow Tory enablers justifying the imposition of new restrictions on trade unions. The cretinism here is those who believe that a vote for Labour signifies anything other than a surrender to the ruling class interests represented by a party that expels socialists, has racist tendencies and has every intention of adopting the Tories pro-business, anti-working class policies.

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