Photo of strikers in Eastbourne - Ann Marcial

AS the strike wave intensifies, the Government is insisting that there is no money to fund wage rises and to do so would only fuel inflation. And while media coverage shows some sympathy for the strikers and is critical of the Government, this argument is rarely challenged for the nonsense that it is.

Inflation and the subsequent cost of living crisis are driving our wage demands, not the other way round. The real driver is the explosion in fuel and energy prices, and the knock-on effect on farming and industry has been driving up the cost of everything else.

The massive profits announced by Shell and BP demonstrate that this crisis, like every other crisis of capitalism, is being used to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. We are waiting for any of the media ‘experts’ to ask whichever government clone they are interviewing to explain how not paying nurses a living wage will stop energy costs from driving prices through the roof.

Of course they won’t ask, because they all accept the free market dogma that firms have to be free to make profits, otherwise the economy will collapse. Well our economy is collapsing. Of the thirty leading economies in the world, only the UK will go into recession this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The TUC has stepped into the fray with a report which argues that the rot set in with Thatcherism in the 1980s but was accelerated by austerity policies from 2010 onwards. Before then, starting with the 1945 Labour government and continuing right through to the 1970s, governments followed policies which valued work over the accumulation of wealth and enabled living standards to rise.

The TUC asks us to place our hopes in these policies inspired by economist, John Maynard Keynes, who wanted to defend capitalism from the threat of communism. These policies seemed to work for a while. Those of us who grew up in the period after WW2 can testify that living standards did rise. But it had nothing to do with government policy. We had strong trade union organisation and a tradition of unofficial strikes led by shop stewards’ committees, known at the time as ‘do-it-yourself reformism.’ We did it in spite of government policy, be it Tory or Labour.

When our success in raising living standards threatened profits, trade union militancy was not enough to prepare us for the government response, initiated by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in the 1960s, of anti-union laws (In Place of Strife) and wages freezes (Prices and Incomes Policy).  And ever since then Tory and Labour governments have used the law to support the bosses and cripple the working class organisation that is our best defence.

In alliance with the Labour Party, the TUC report is not arguing for strong unions, shop stewards committees and the repeal of anti-union laws. It is not arguing for a general strike or for truly radical policies to nationalise key sectors of the economy and stop the rampant profiteering of the oil companies. They want a return to a managed capitalism, where we are grateful recipients of any crumbs they can deliver from the master’s table.

As the American socialist Audre Lorde once proclaimed,

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches first published 1984

This report was inspired by Michael Roberts’ blog post, Keynes and the left. Sign up to Critical Mass if you want to bring about genuine change.

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One thought on “Strike for Change or Trust the TUC?”
  1. Good article – but it does serve to emphasise that radical change is a very distant prospect. I agree with the crucial need for grass roots and community and work place activism – but I’m not seeing at present the dissemination at that level of a coherent set of values or a belief system able to drive and sustain this. There’s no coherent, consistent, seductive groundswell of opinion that clearly outlines the path to change or its objective.

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