The importance of 20 OctoberProbably, like many of you, I’ve been on many marches and demonstrations. One of my first, was the last day of the CND Aldermaston march in 1961, which ended with the Committee of 100 sit down in Trafalgar Square. It was my one and only close encounter with Bertrand Russell! More importantly, it set the scene for ever more effective demonstrations during the 1960s. Perhaps the most tragic demonstration, was the day in 1979 at Grunwick’s where the TUC mobilised a solidarity picket which we were winning, then everyone was marched off to a meeting, letting the scabs’ bus through. Similarly tragic, but in a different way, was the indifference with which our own Labour Government met the 1 million that marched against the Iraq war. The action of every single person who was on that march has been subsequently justified by the horror and illegality of the events that have followed.
So will the TUC demonstration ‘march for the future’ on the 20th October be the start of a historic trend, or another tragic lost opportunity? The answer, as ever, lies in our hands, in our ability to mobilise just about everyone we know and more, to get up to London. In the UK, just as in every other country where the state has stepped in to bail out their bankers, the working class is being forced to pay the cost of the crisis. We haven’t yet experienced the barbarism that has been meted out to the workers of Greece, or that is constantly suffered by the poor or undefended workers in developing countries, but that is where the Tories are driving the weakest in our society and where they would like us all to be, in the very near future. Essentially, as argued in earlier blogs, capitalism will survive if the working class can be forced to the pay the cost: we have it in our power to stop them.
With the decision of the TUC to consider the possibility of a general strike and individual unions, together with other organisations, preparing at a rank and file and community level, the political conditions can be seen to be moving into place where it could be possible to unite all parts of the working class, to mobilise to bring this government down. We should have no qualms about arguing this case as we did not elect this Tory government: they lack democratic legitimacy both as the coalition has been imposed upon us and key elements of their manifestos and election pledges have been revealed as lies. In short, it could be argued that we have experienced a neo-liberal coup d’état. As socialists, our political priority should be to work in solidarity with all who can see the dangers that the Tories represent, toward achieving this end.
Here are some of the reasons that we should aim to have over 1m people on the march:
1. Everyone who relies, would like to rely, or who has relied on selling their labour to survive – the working class – is being affected by the Tory attacks. Those who depend on the support of the state, particular the weakest, are having their benefits removed, capped or reduced and are being denigrated and hounded by the state and the Tory gutter press. The demonization of the working class, so well documented by Owen Jones is having the intended effect of dividing us, as a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Trust has indicated. The 20th October can demonstrate that we stand together and do not accept these cruel attacks, which are not acceptable in a society that seeks to describe itself as civilised.
2. Unemployment is a horror that not only locks people out from an income, but wastes and undermines their ability to make a meaningful contribution. The much-adjusted official unemployment figures do not provide a real indication of the extent of this unacceptable experience. The TUC has estimated that the real unemployment figure is 6.3m and in addition another 3.3m are underemployed. UK Unemployment for those in the 16 – 24 age group is running at 21.6% according to official figures. What is revealed by these figures, is that 1/3 of the employed population of around 29m is experiencing unemployment or under-employment. No wonder fear stalks the land.
3. For those in work, the attacks are unremitting. Pay freezes coupled with price rises means that for most, real wages and family incomes have been falling for the past 7 years. Use this frightening indicator from the Guardian to discover just how low and unequal family incomes are in the UK: you will be shocked. Pensions – in effect, saved wages - are being stolen and young people in work face working to nearly 70 to save sufficiently to retire, if even then. The threat of job loss means that fear stalks the workplace and the Tories intend to make it worse, by removing even the protection of health and safety legislation.
4. The UK is a rich society: so rich that the deficit is not a problem and could be sorted within a year, with all of us benefitting. However the UK does not seem to be a rich society, as that wealth is so unequally distributed, and becoming more so. Stewart Lansley’s work and that of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett document the current situation and the dangerous adverse consequences. Moreover, business is on general strike, holding back around £750bn in cash that could be invested. Not only can we afford all of our public services, we in fact have the money to bring them up to the best standards: it is just in the wrong hands and used for useless speculative purposes. False Economy has documented all the arguments against the current economic policies, we have covered them in the earlier blogs and there are many plan ‘B’s.We can orientate the economy to work for people and the planet and not for profit. The answers are possible, we know what they are and we know what we can all do to make them come into being. What is needed is the political confidence and boldness to make the alternative happen. This is why the 20th October is of critical importance. The Tories have run out of options to save their system, other than attack us; the working class. We have the power to stop them and go on to put make our socialist solutions into a realty. By making sure over a million are on the streets, we demonstrate our power and, moreover, we link in solidarity with the workers in the EU and across the world who are fighting back. Within the Labour Party, we can demonstrate to the right that New Labour is dead, that the active working-class political base exists to argue the case that socialism and democracy, provide an answer.