On Young and Precariat Workers

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Above photo taken by Mary Finch

Below is an editted version of my contribution to the discussion on British Perspectives at the Socialist Party’s March 2017 National Congress:

Ryan Aldred, Plymouth and South West

Comrade chair, comrades.

For many youths growing up in the 90’s, those putting forward a so called “alternative” to the Tories would have been Tony Blair, promising a university education for everybody and a life of prosperity thereafter. And how prosperous we are now! This was followed by Nick Clegg, promising to end tuition fees and put a brake on Tory austerity; well done there Cleggy!

It should therefore come as no surprise that in some of the most deprived areas, that young and precariat workers take a very jaded approach to Corbyn. There is some mileage in more boldly putting forward our programme among these layers. It is mainly a layer of older workers returning to the Labour Party and more politically engaged students who identify with Corbyn and recognise that he is qualitatively different from his neo-liberal predecessors.

There is a backwardness in class consciousness and particularly combativity compared to previous periods. This, coupled with the atomisation of young and precariat workers especially along with their abhorrent living conditions which can explain the increasing prevalence of mental health issues working class people are struggling to overcome. With poverty contributing to isolation and social exclusion leading to depression and the constant worry of living hand to mouth resulting in greater levels of anxiety.

It is these same material conditions which give rise to an often inchoate and elemental anger which can quickly rise to the surface and potentially spill over. Thus in this volatile period there is a danger that we could see a return of the riots which took place in 2011 as the conditions are still there which caused the riots to erupt.

Likewise, we could see a new occupy style movement albeit one on a higher political level due to the increased pace at which processes and events are taking place compared to the original occupy movement. Moreover, we’re likely to see the explosive injection of youth on demonstrations such as we have seen with the anti-Trump protests for instance.

With the lack of generalised industrial struggle in this period compared to some of the heroic struggles that took place in the Thatcher years, combined with the lack of organised opposition from Corbyn and general lack of momentum in Momentum, we could see the frustrations of youth finding expression in a resurgance of ultra-left and anarchist ideas. We have already seen this in embryo in the anti-party mood in the indignados and occupy movements and this will no doubt increase if we see further betrayals by left populist parties such as Syriza in Greece.

With all this unpredictability and volatility, one thing remains glaringly obvious, we will continue to see the accumulation of capitalist contradictions, agitating and radicalising the working class and especially the youth and more precariat layers. Improving technology is exacerbating this, self-service machines replacing shop workers and, as reported in the Financial Times this week, electronic lecturing displacing even this once secure profession.

We’ve seen the opportunities for super exploitation with apps such as deliveroo and uber eats, this has been compounded by Phillip Hammond’s budget, targetting the self-employed which will hit those in the rising gig economy hardest.

There is a desperate need for a bold and audacious alternative and in the absence of a serious fightback from the Corbynistas, TUSC is well placed to build towards that, even with the disappointing withdrawal of the SWP from TUSC. By showing confidence in our ideas and our programme, as evidenced by our strong intervention in the March 4th NHS demo, we can win new layers to our ranks and capture and hopefully harness some of that anger.

By being patient, flexible and resilient when building amongst casualised and particularly young workers, accommodating for comrades’ daily struggles, we can build confidence in these layers to take their first steps organising in the harsh conditions of zero-hours living.

This can help us to sink deeper roots into the class to ensure workers don’t internalise feelings of failure for not being productive members of a capitalist society which sees fit to discard them. By agitating among these workers to express their rightful indignation at a system that is failing them, whilst linking their struggles into the wider struggles of the working class by helping to organise these layers, we can prepare the ground for the revolutionary idea that we can instead discard this capitalist system and build with our class towards a socialist alternative.

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“Pasokification” of the Labour Party: A Workers’ Party is Needed

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” This certainly seems to ring true when looking at the current state of the Labour Party. When analysing the comments and actions exuding from Labour representatives and thereby extrapolating its current direction or lack thereof it is clear that it is reaching a political cul-de-sac.

Recently, Sadiq Khan expressed that cuts to legal aid cannot be reversed:

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/mar/02/labour-cannot-reverse-tory-legal-aid-cuts-sadiq-khan-says

This might have come as a shock if it were not for the fact that this is only the latest statement in a mounting list of evidence for the Party’s complete degeneration. No matter which area of policy is looked at, the Labour Party seems to barely go beyond apologism for the last 5 years of Con-Dem austerity in a political manifesto that is as anaemic as it is sophistic.

This is to be expected of a party which long ago did away with even giving lip service to the ideas of Socialism with the purging of Clause 4 under Blair. This, coupled with the effective neutering of the Trade Union voice through the Collins Review is very telling of the Party’s gradual but inevitable bourgeoisification. As the leadership continue to break away from the party’s historical roots they will only hasten their demise; a fate which is evident in that their entire existence has become that of simply putting the brakes on Conservative austerity and privatisation rather than seeing any reversals.

The significance of this is crucial because it is evidence that the Labour Party’s leadership is ailing from the fact that it has no alternative to offer and so spends its entire time reacting to Conservative policies rather than offering up anything that goes beyond being the lesser of two evils. If the Labour leadership were to listen to the diminishing number who still cling to the Labour Party in the hope that it will shift direction, or better yet listen to those who have been completely disillusioned it would easily be able to put together a bold programme.

Rather than simply increasing spending on the NHS why not reverse the privatisation which has opened up the funding gap? Rather than promising to freeze energy bills, why not renationalise the utilities? Rather than reducing fees from £9,000 a year to £6,000 a year why not scrap fees altogether? It’s insulting enough that the Labour Party are dressing up a reduction of fees as a step forward when students graduating as late as September 2014 will have only had to pay £3,000 a year. How much angrier will the firefighters, teachers, NHS workers, local government workers and many others be when Labour offers up nothing but excuses for why Conservative policies that have led to the degeneration of pay, terms and conditions to all these workers cannot be undone?

The point that needs to be stressed is that it simply is not true that the damage done by the Con-Dems cannot be undone. What is clear is that the Labour Party is not the vehicle through which to effect this change. The very fact that Labour members are floating the idea of a grand coalition of Tories and Labour in the result of a hung parliament is evidence that Labour is reaching a political cul-de-sac:

http://labourlist.org/2015/03/labour-mp-says-party-shouldnt-rule-out-a-grand-coalition-with-the-tories/

Such a move will only bear the same result as their disastrous coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems on the issue of Scottish Independence.

The Pasokification of the Labour Party appears to be a question of when rather than a question of if as it is following the same course of action as Greece’s Pasok party. Pasok continued to implement austerity when it was voted into power in 2009 and has now completely collapsed as Syriza’s anti-austerity message propelled them to take the most seats, largely at the expense of Pasok.

The troika’s (European Central Bank, IMF and EC) strangulation of the hopes of Greek the working-class cannot last as anti-austerity parties gain traction in countries like Spain and spread across Europe. Moreover, unless Syriza stops retreating from its pre-election promises, the working-class could potentially sweep away the current leadership to secure the relief from austerity it was promised, so long as disillusionment does not set in. However, for this to take hold there is a need for the development of a socialist leadership which has the confidence to take on the Troika even if doing so means Grexit.

The feeling around for a vehicle through which to oppose austerity resonates with the current picture in Britain. It seems that even some of the trade union leadership, in anticipating backlash from its rank and file membership which have been at the receiving end of cuts made by Labour led councils, are cautious about putting forward Labour as a solution to the problem of the Tories. A pamphlet recently sent to Unite members urging them to register to vote so that their voices can be heard in the elections clearly gives tacit support to the Labour Party but dares not mention them by name.

Instead, the pamphlet talks about tuition fee hikes, the bedroom tax and the NHS and pushes union members to vote for a party which can protect these things. It seems that the trade union officialdom are just as embarrassed of putting forward their alleged political voice as the Labour Party leadership are embarrassed of strikes and its party’s historic working-class roots.

There is a desperate need for a political alternative that has a programme that reflects the growing feelings of anger at the relentlessness of cuts that have been passed by a rainbow coalition. Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems are committed to continuation of current spending plans and the likes of UKIP and the Greens have posed as an alternative but have shown themselves to be more of the same. Whether it is UKIP Councillors in Plymouth voting against an implementation of the living wage for agency workers employed by the council or Greens in Bristol attempting to close down 7 libraries, it is clear that actions speak far louder than words.

This is where the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) enters, stage left. TUSC mounted a mammoth 560 candidates in the local elections last May and is set to mount over 130 parliamentary candidates this year as well as 640 candidates in local elections taking place at the same time. TUSC has a growing number of Councillors up and down the country putting forward a principled stance of refusing to administer cuts as a means to protecting jobs and public services.

Having now achieved the threshold to qualify for a political broadcast, the national media blackout on TUSC can finally be lifted meaning that millions of people up and down the country can finally hear about TUSC and embrace the only party that will offer a genuine alternative to austerity and misery this May. A vote for TUSC is a vote against cuts but moreover the growing support for building local TUSC groups and steering committees means that the foundations of a new workers’ party are firmly being laid down. TUSC has a comprehensive programme and can only build on its accumulating success to replicate the anti-austerity mood which is starting to sweep across Europe. Capitalism offers no way out of this protracted crisis, Socialism is the only way forward for working-class people and the future of the planet.

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Greeks Reject Austerity: Prospects For The European Working Class

Many Greeks will no doubt be inspired by the election of Syriza in the last few days. With a full quarter of Greeks unemployed and a staggering 60% of Greek youths without work it is no wonder that the Greek working-class is looking to a political alternative rather than sticking with the eye-watering austerity consensus offered by the main parties of Capitalism. The election of Syriza poses some interesting questions for the working-class across Europe over the next period but the road ahead is by no means staightforward.

The very fact that Syriza stood on an anti-austerity platform throughout the elections will no doubt sprout hope amongst Greeks that have faced huge falls in living standards since the global economic crisis which unfolded in 2008. Moreover, this could bolster support for Podemos in Spain, as well as opening up prospects for anti-austerity alternatives in Portugal and Italy.

With General and Local Elections taking place in Britain in May, the publicity which these results have received could also encourage a layer of the British working-class to question the necessity of austerity. However, with the first past the post system as well as a media blackout on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), it is unlikely at this stage that TUSC will see results of this magnitude yet.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it was only in 2009 that Syriza was polling less than 5% of the vote with Pasok (Greek equivalent of the British Labour Party) being the main contender for power. Pasok has now seen a massive collapse in its support which serves as an example to the Labour Party which has remained committed to continuing with Con-Dem austerity if elected later this year. The importance of raising the TUSC banner high and offering a no cuts alternative cannot be stated enough as the rank and file of trade unions are increasingly questioning the point of supporting a Labour Party which has continued to ignore the needs of ordinary working class-people in favour of big business.

As highlighted above, the election of Syriza could potentially cause a leftwards shift to occur across much of Europe, although this depends largely on the movement that can be built against austerity in the next period. The European bourgeois are no doubt wary of this new development with stern warnings being passed onto Greece since the results of the election were announced on Sunday. In a bid to foster divisions among different sections of European workers, Sigmar Gabriel of the German SPD stated “Things that Greece itself won’t do cannot be shunted on to the taxpayers and employers in neighbouring states”.

Yet, there have been some worrying signals which clearly indicate that Greece is by no means on a clear path to recovery just yet. First of all is Tsipras’s backpedalling on the strong anti-austerity rhetoric being used throughout the elections, toning down his position to one of compromise rather than confrontation of the troika (European Union, European Central Bank and IMF). Furthermore, is the unlikely choice of the Independent Greeks as a coalition partner to prop up a Syrizan Government. Though also being against austerity, the Independent Greeks are a right-wing party with a reputation for racism and homophobia.

With this in mind, it is not yet clear how things will shape up in the next period. However, the working-class of Greece need to keep the pressure on Tsipras to deliver on the promises that have been made as the current prospects for Greek, and indeed all, European working-class people remains unacceptable. If Tsipras is not to go the way of the “Socialist” Hollande in France, then a firm stance against austerity needs to be upheld as the working-class of Greece will not acquiesce with so much at stake. In addition, with the elections already causing a stir in the rest of Europe, the Greek working-class will very quickly find that they have allies in the working-class across Europe and indeed the world if they take the route of struggle.