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Proletarian issue 41 (April 2011)
Industry matters: How the TUC 'leads' the proletariat - by the nose

The spirit of non-cooperation is certainly alive and kicking in Greece. Despite the intensifying threats of dismissal by the employers, in full cooperation with employer-led trade unionism, the most recent general strike in Greece was another major success, with the KKE-oriented popular front PAME again taking the leading role.

A speaker at a PAME rally cautioned militants that it was not just a question of kicking out PASOK and changing “the political staff of the bourgeoisie”, but a struggle for power. He warned, “If the movement lacks such an orientation the struggles are led to a deadlock, they will deflate.”

Meanwhile, in response to the austerity programme implemented by the Greek government at the behest of the IMF, workers are finding novel ways of loosening the belt. Activists wearing brightly coloured vests with “total disobedience” printed on them have staged a series of occupations of motorway toll booths, releasing commuters from the obligation to pay, whilst union militants have been covering ticket machines on the Athens tube with plastic bags so everyone can travel free.

Bus and tram passengers are getting free rides too, where public-spirited citizens have taped up the on-board ticket machines. The activists explain: “The people have paid already through their taxes, so they should be able to travel for free.”

The tactic has also spread to the health sector, with state hospital doctors staging a blockade in front of pay counters to prevent patients from paying their €5 flat fee for consultations. In Britain, where GP consortia’s budgets are now to be floated on the stock exchange so money clawed back from patient care can be turned into profits, the time is ripe for a similar outbreak of decency amongst civic-minded physicians.

Faced with the 50,000 NHS job cuts predicted by the TUC, such a spirit of non-cooperation is exactly what is needed over here.

Numerous protests and one-day strikes in Britain – involving teachers, posties, cleaners, civil servants and many others – give ample evidence of a widespread readiness to resist, given only the necessary organisation and leadership.

In the south of Korea this remains spirit alive too. Union members at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction are resisting plans to lay off 190 workers. Despite a cradle-to-grave diet of anti-communism from the authorities there, worker resistance is firmly embedded in the culture – the country has one of the most militant trade-union movements in the world, with a long and proud history of activism.

The company answered their strike with a lock-out. Not to be outdone, one of the strike leaders then occupied a 50-metre-tall crane on the shipyard. Despite legal injunctions and the threat of crippling fines, Kim Jin-Suk has held firm. Last reports say she was joined by two other comrades.

TUC’s futile ‘resistance’

The decision of the TUC to invite Labour leader Ed Miliband to speak on the platform at the long-awaited day of protest on 26 March was a premeditated slap in the face for the working class and should be condemned by all who are serious about building an anti-cuts resistance movement worthy of the name.

Even before the well-deserved collapse of Labour at the last elections created a vacuum in capitalist political leadership into which were sucked the ConDem mediocrities who now strut the stage, the labour aristocrats at the TUC were painting Labour in pretty colours to fool the workers. Labour’s cuts, they sighed, whilst regrettable, were largely unavoidable and in any case preferable to Tory cuts. Ditto Labour’s union-bashing, Labour’s privatisation rampage and Labour’s genocidal wars.

With Labour out of the hot seat and Gordon Brown out to grass, the party’s leadership election was the next burning question of the day for the TUC, eclipsing the ‘minor’ question of how the unions proposed to mobilise to resist the austerity juggernaut rumbling over the horizon. Despite pressure from the PCS, RMT and other unions calling for the TUC to coordinate resistance efforts, the accession of ‘Red Ed’ on a phony ‘left’ platform was greeted with a sigh of relief from the opportunists.

At last they could revert to the old formula: a moderate degree of lobbying, Early Day Motions and ritual protests against Tweedle Dum (“ConDem” cuts) to while away the time until Tweedle Dee (a new Labour government) can be elected again. Meanwhile, keep pouring members’ hard-earned subs into Labour party coffers and keep the seat warm for social democracy.

Breaking with Labour

So grossly at odds with what workers require from union leadership has the TUC shown itself to be that union militants have increasingly sought alternative ways of mobilising, notably within the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN).

When Chancellor Osborne’s provocative ‘spending review’ last October was met with nothing more spirited from the TUC than the promise of a bit of a demo the following March, the NSSN took a lead in mobilising its own less leisurely protests, where possible in coordination with local trades councils, and gave Bob Crow and others a platform to denounce Labour’s record of treachery.

And in a significant development at its January conference, the shop stewards announced their intention to put organised labour at the heart of the anti-cuts movement, and to do so on the basis of opposition to all cuts.

These good intentions, if consistently adhered to, will set the anti-cuts movement on a very healthy and instructive collision course with the Labour party, hundreds of whose local councillors are currently implementing the so-called ‘ConDem cuts’. There is no more divisive force in the workers’ movement than the Labour party, and every step in the direction of breaking the link with Labour is a step closer to uniting workers in resistance against capitalism.

For too long Labour has got away with having its cake and eating it. Never mind that, in power, it initiates government cuts and, out of power, it implements local cuts, it still claims a leading role in the anti-cuts movement.

In just the same way, Labour sent British troops into Afghanistan and Iraq and then sent the party’s ‘left’ representatives into the anti-war movement with an offer to lead the protests! The TUC’s invitation to Miliband on 26 March will disgust all honest workers and should help convince ever more of them of the importance of breaking the link with Labour and taking the fight to the capitalists.

How the TUC ‘leads’ the proletariat – by the nose

Five months after Osborne’s declaration of class war, the TUC at last stirred in its sleep. Once again, it was time to march us up to the top of the hill, hear some faked-up ‘fire in the belly’ from the Labour ‘lefts’, sieve through another Labour leader’s utterances in search of some ‘progressive’ fool’s gold, then march us down again. The TUC knows how to do this; it’s had a lot of practice in all its years of steering workers away from revolution.

In honour of the occasion, the TUC produced a pamphlet entitled Cuts Are Not the Cure, which was a masterpiece of prevarication. The TUC invited us to march for the “alternative”. By this it meant not socialism, however, but a better regulated and managed capitalism along Keynesian lines. The TUC leaders asked us to march against “unfair”, “unnecessary” cuts – a carefully coded message which gives a free hand to today’s Labour councillors and any future Labour government to implement cuts that can be dressed up as ‘fair’ and ‘necessary’.

They told us that the “ConDem” cuts are ideologically driven and not warranted by the actual depth of the crisis. Yet when Keynesian solutions all fail, as sooner or later they must, then it is indeed the crisis itself which dictates the cuts, implemented by whichever bourgeois party. The Tories may in the short term lean harder on the accelerator than Labour might do in their place, but they are all heading off the same cliff.

What the TUC can never admit is that behind the debt crisis lies an overproduction crisis already 30 years in the making. An overproduction crisis does not mean that too many products are being made than people need to consume. Rather, it means that more commodities are being produced than can all be sold at a profit on the market. The problem is aggravated when capitalism, desperate to beat the competition, intensifies the exploitation of workers, thereby further depressing their ability to buy commodities.

There are two possible capitalist responses to this dilemma. Efforts can be made to revive the effective demand by various methods, all of which are founded on increasing debt. The drawback is that this postpones rather than solves the problem, and stores up yet worse trouble down the line.

The other capitalist response, which in the end becomes a necessary evil if the capitalist system of exploitation is to survive, is to destroy all those productive forces whose product is no longer able to be realised as expanding capital. To be concrete, this means closing down enterprises, laying off workers and slashing wages and welfare. This is achieved first of all through cut-throat competition between rival blocs of monopoly capital and ultimately through war.

These basic facts need to be grasped by workers so that they can judge the scale of the social crisis we are entering and the real choices with which history will be confronting them. Let us remember that both the major overproduction crises of the last century ultimately played out in two world wars, with socialist and anti-colonial revolutions hard on their heels.

The TUC wants us to believe that the only real problem is the bunch of over privileged ConDem public school boys left in temporary charge of the shop. Get Labour back in minus the Blairites, runs the story, and we can all unite, swallow whatever cuts Labour deems ‘fair’ and ‘necessary’, and get on with ‘growing our way out of the recession’.

Cuts are not the cure” announced the TUC’s flier for 26 March, reassuring us besides that the illness is not life-threatening anyway. Don’t worry about Britain’s national debt, it twittered. “All countries have a debt – there is nothing dangerous about that.” Just look how much we borrowed from America after the second world war and we took ages to pay that back!

Why, the current debt blip is really nothing to panic about. And in so far as there’s a problem, we can extricate ourselves from it with some moderate belt-tightening, the creation of some ‘green’ jobs and some mild restraints on bankers’ bonuses.

This whistling in the dark fails to notice either the real character of the crisis or the historical context in which it is unfolding. After World War Two capitalism was recovering from overproduction crisis. Right now, having already used every possible stratagem to evade the consequences of market glut, imperialism is just now entering the acute phase of the crisis. The parallel is 1929, not 1945.

Massive surplus capacity stifles all markets, the US is too busy trying to rescue itself to throw anyone else a credit line, and on past performance only war, revolution or both will shift the logjam. We do not have an option of ‘growing ourselves out of recession’; capitalism is in a hole and cannot stop digging.

One solution: revolution

The only cure for the crisis ripping through Britain today is socialism. Those who pretend it is possible to duck the consequences of an overproduction crisis more than 30 years in the making by tinkering with the existing capitalist system are practising a cruel deceit upon workers, blowing smoke in their eyes at the very moment that capitalism is preparing an all-out class war assault in defence of the exploiting class.

Cuts are not the cure, ” the TUC assures us. Yet every monopoly capitalist gang knows different. The only chance of prolonging their reign of exploitation in time of overproduction crisis is to slash labour costs, wipe out surplus productive capacity, throw millions out of work, drive all competitors to the wall and bend every sinew to the task of carving a greater share of a glutted and shrinking market.

True, this temporary ‘cure’ for the ills of capitalist commodity production in practice means plunging the modern world back into the ditch of slump and imperialist war, wantonly destroying the fruits of years of labour, setting back human progress and putting at hazard even the biological future of the human species. Yet for the capitalist, who can act only as capital personified, all such considerations must shrink into insignificance when confronted with the only real alternative: the replacement of capitalism by socialism.

And that is the task with which history ever more insistently confronts workers: the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

Only by taking state power, expropriating the exploiting class and bringing the means of production into social ownership can the working class end the contradiction between the public character of labour and the private character of appropriation, the contradiction which is now threatening to stifle all further civilised development in modern society.

There is only one solution: revolution.
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