Trade unions, the economic crisis and the class struggle


Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, and other trade union leaders met secretly with David Cameron last week, the first such meeting between the TUC and a Tory government for 25 years.

The thin veneer of justification for entering into talks with Cameron lies in the position adopted by the leadership of the unions that the Tories have declared war on the working class for purely ideological reasons.

Therefore, the argument goes, it is possible that Cameron, who is bending over backwards to be nice to the TUC leaders, might be somehow won over by the force of non-ideological, reasoned argument.

Part of this charade by the unions has been for them to prepare various ‘alternatives’ to the government’s slash and burn policies.

The TUC has produced in the past an alternative budget, while the GMB union, which represents low-paid council workers, has produced a paper to be presented to local councils detailing ways they could save money without destroying jobs.

All these proposals involve raising money from the banks through levies, closing tax avoidance schemes and the like.

All this sounds very reasonable and worthy except for the simple fact that it is totally and utterly futile.

The Tories and the coalition have not declared war on the working class and the welfare state out of any ideological hatred.

They have been driven to take on the working class and its unions out of desperation, a desperation borne out of the necessity of the capitalist class to make workers pay for its crisis. 


To expect the government to make the banks suffer is akin to asking a snake to bite its own head off.

While the right wing of the TUC engage in talks to beg the government for mercy, the left wing of the movement are completely muddle-headed over this issue.

Although leading ‘lefts’, like Bob Crow and Len McCluskey did not attend the meeting, they too accept that the Tories are ideologically motivated.

The difference between them and the right wing is that they believe the coalition cannot be talked round, they must be frightened off through strikes and demonstrations on a mass scale, like those of the anti-poll tax campaign of 1990.

The mass refusal of workers to pay the tax and the huge demonstration that resulted in a pitched battle with the police in Trafalgar Square convinced the then Tory government to ditch not just the poll tax but Thatcher, its main architect.

McCluskey, Crow and their fellow lefts are pushing for a similar campaign to force the government to ditch its attacks.

While this sounds terribly militant it, in fact, masks a hopelessly reformist outlook, one that completely ignores the nature of the present crisis.

20 years ago the poll tax was not vital to the continued existence of British capitalism, it was dropped without causing any problem to the economy and the Tories went on to continue running the country, even after Thatcher’s departure, for a number of years.

The crisis today can in no way be compared to the situation of the poll tax.

Weak, bankrupt British capitalism is fighting for its life, not playing ideological games.

The crisis has reached the point where one class or the other will triumph at the expense of the other.

McCluskey has referred to the demand for a general strike as ‘rhetoric’, we can assure him that the WRP and News Line are not indulging in rhetoric.

Our consistent demand for an indefinite general strike to bring down the coalition and go forward to a workers government that will expropriate the capitalist class is deadly serious, it is the only way to ensure the victory of the working class and secure its future.