Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The need for fighting unions. posted by Richard SeymourThe latest news on the economy is that unemployment is at its highest rate for seven years. Because New Labour has reduced access to benefits, the number of people claiming is still below 1 million, but the number of people actually out of work and seeking employment is over 1.7 million. As usual, there is probably a large amount of hidden unemployment, with people receiving disability benefits despite wishing to work, but face serious difficulties when trying to get it (to point this out is not to endorse New Labour's Work Makes You Free manifesto). The US economy is still in trouble, and a deep recession remains a distinct possibility (it is worth noting that the recent woes of the American working class pushed aspiring Democratic candidates, even 'social conservatives', to adopt economic 'populism', pledging to oppose further 'free trade' deals and increase the minimum wage - possibly, they might even live up to some of their rhetoric). And if the US economy slides, the British economy will go with it, since exports to the US will suffer (and the Eurozone isn't going to pick up the slack). The housing market, which everyone knows is ludicrously overvalued, will collapse as well.
So, how will our political class manage this? By stimulating demand through supplemented incomes (ie higher benefits, more tax credits etc)? By borrowing to invest? By relaxing interest rates? Perhaps a little bit of the last two, but most likely is that New Labour and the Tories will a) talk up the need to curb migration, while carefully managing a sufficient flow of low-cost labour to boost growth, (which both diverts the discussion from an emphasis on class, and benefits the Nazis, whose recent victory in court owed a lot to New Labour's rhetoric about Islam), b) talk up the need to 'reform' the public sector, by cutting pensions bills and other forms of benefits, c) boost the case for a Keynesian military state, with the argument being that to scrap the ludicrous Trident replacement would cost jobs, d) suppress minimum wage increases and implement an unofficial incomes policy across the public sector (thus suppressing wages across the economy as a whole). In short, the political establishment will run things in the interests of capital and ensure that we pay the costs of any crisis. They will, as far as they can manage, take the opportunity to further restructure the economy with fewer protections for workers and more 'flexibility' so that capital can higher us on more advantageous terms to itself.
The only way to counteract this vicious bind, of fascist anti-migrant 'protectionism' on the one hand, and neoliberalism on the other, is to generate a radical left-wing programme for managing the economy in the interests of working people - y'know, the many, not the few. Respect is by no means influential enough yet to be the main vector for such a move, and the Labour left is moribund - McDonnell isn't going to save it and, to be frank, he would be doing well to get more than 10 per cent of the vote, especially if Michael Meacher is also going to run. If there is hope, it rests with the proles (and the Poles too). The unions have elected a wave of radical leaderships and waged sometimes successful defensive and aggressive strikes (mostly defensive) on key issues. The Organising for Fighting Unions conference this weekend sought to point the way to building a radical grassroots movement in the unions and making them capable of acting politically as well as economically, of combatting the new wave of racism and warmongering, while trying to build a political alternative to New Labour. It launched a Workers Charter, calling for a living wage, pay equality, full union recognition rights as well as international solidarity, for example with workers in Venezuela. It also supported the RMT's calls for a Trade Union Freedom Bill. We have to fight on all of these fronts, concurrently. Unless you are prepared to break with New Labour, you won't get the reforms you want. But the capitalist elite won't give an inch either unless workers are organised, united and militant. And to avoid such militancy and unity, they will prefer to exacerbate all manner of divisions that are socially catastrophic for us. To conserve the interests of the Anglo-American ruling class in hegemonising global markets, they will ditch even their pretense at embracing liberalism. It's amusing, for instance, to see the American publication, Investor's Business Daily, foaming at the mouth at the success of the Democrats whom they claim will appease 'Islamic fundamentalism' and all that shit. They know well enough that the Democrats are the second party of imperialism and that they won't fundamentally alter the direction of US foreign policy. Equally, they don't give a shit about 'Islamic fundamentalism', since American investors extract a huge amount of cash from the subaltern Saudi dictatorship. But they need people to be worrying about Muslims and also about migrants fleeing from the Cafta scam that has made the American rentier class so much money.
So, all of that is why we need fighting unions. I thought it was worth a mention.