The local elections that were held on 5 May showed a dramatic reversal of the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats as they were punished, losing 11 per cent of their vote, for helping the onslaught on student fees, jobs and public services in order to go into the coalition government.
The protest vote went to the Labour party against this attack but the Labour Party is also carrying out the dismantling of the public council sector. Their leadership agree with reducing the deficit by cuts.
The Labour party was punished in Scotland, the worst result for 80 years, as people voted for the SNP nationalist party, against the Lib Dems and Tories. The SNP’s programme included: no tuition fees, no NHS (health) prescription charges, free personal care for the elderly, free school meals for all five-to-eight-year-olds, they were against the privatisation of the Post Office and are against building nuclear submarines in Scotland. This was a programme to the left of the Labour Party but it is not an anti-cuts programme.
The new SNP government, like Labour councils elsewhere, are beginning to carry out hard cuts in public and council services in Scotland as they carried through a cuts budget in April with labour support. The SNP are planning further attacks this year. It is the old tartan Tories with a left face, pro business and funded by big business.
In Britain all the socialist and left parties and alliances got squeezed by workers wanting to register a protest vote against the coalition government. But workers also voted for parties will try to carry through devastating cuts to local and public services.
The election results are a reflection of anger against the cuts that was seen in the student movements, continuing protests against council cuts, the increasing strike action and the half million demonstration against cuts in London organised by the trade union movement.
This situation is creating the possibility of new left alliances as workers look towards unity against the cuts and are forced to confront the Labour Party in their fight against the Government.
As the elections were taking place real incomes had fallen for the fourth year in a row, the first time they have done so since 1870, during a previous great crash. One had happened to the leading world colonial power, but now, as with other countries in Europe, Britain is facing decline and decay. The economy is hardly recovering as construction, manufacturing, services sectors are stagnating or falling. Mass unemployment is set to grow and is now permanent with inflation predicted to rise to above 5 per cent this year.
The cuts are starting to bite in Britain and it is the young and minorities who are hit alongside services for the elderly, for families and much more. Some hospitals are very close to being handed over the private sector, as they are unable to maintain the PFI payments (where hospitals were built privately and rented back to the public sector for high and regular payments over 25 or 30 years).
The scams dreamt up by the Labour Government and continued with the coalition government to put public services, like the railways, under private control with the support of public money, threatens to engulf all public services. That is why there will be clashes this year which will continue to grow. Capitalism is attempting to survive by turning back the relationship of forces between the rulers and the ruled. They have been trying for 60 years and now they embark on a high risk strategy to destroy the gains of the post-war period.
This sense of an historic attack is not lost on thoughtful workers and students as many agree ‘we have been here before’. The lessons of the post-war period are coming up inside the movement. There is a swelling movement against cuts in the public services including strike action planned by teaching and civil services unions and others against pension cuts, job losses and wage cuts.
There is no simple repetition of the past but it is culmination of 70 years of struggle and while many will agree capitalism is trying to take us back to the 1930s, the situation for the working class is also like the 1920s as the last general strike in Britain took place in 1926. It was defeated 3 years before the great crash. These deep clashes are starting after a great crash. Capitalism will not stabilise because the only way out for British, as for European capitalism, in a world of turmoil such as the financial and economic problems of the European Union and the rise of the Arab revolutions, is an onslaught on the public sector, jobs, the unemployed and social rights won in decades of struggle.
During the elections it was not possible to discuss with workers without finding someone, and often many, in their families who have not already been directly hit by the cuts. The worst hit in all this are immigrants trying to find a way to survive with a government and a press that tries to scapegoats the immigrants and divert attention from the real causes of the crisis.
The situation is ‘catching up’ with the analysis that Marx made of the fundamental processes of the polarisation in society, the immense accumulation of wealth and increasing misery at the bottom.
Interestingly some words have disappeared such as globalisation that was so much used in the 1990s. Globalisation was used as a cover to mean the softening of world capitalist relations and exploitation but what was really taking place was the sharpening of contradictions and rapid speed up of the growth of parasitism and decay that vastly accelerated the boom and bust.
‘Globalisation’ also covered something else that was pushing through, not the end of the socialism and of history but the increasing international context of class struggle. Every serious struggle of workers (and of students) finds increasing parallels across the world. This fundamental point of class struggle is largely ignored by the British trade union leaders and by many others.
As workers turn more to understand who they are and where they came from these connections will made. Britain has some of the greatest traditions of this. We are in a period where the struggle of Marx and Engels in Britain will live again in the consciousness of workers including their struggle for and leadership of the 1st International that brought workers together with such different traditions in Europe in the struggle for socialism.
In seeking out the traditions of our class workers will see that they were the main force that brought in health, education and employment rights and that nothing was ever given by the British ruling class other than it was forced from them. These things were won because of the revolutionary movement across the world at that time.
Their weakness at that time of not continuing to the overthrow of capitalism and socialism has many reasons but central was the fact that there was no Fourth International leadership strong enough to unite these revolutionary movements with the British struggles. Today that task is posed directly in imperialist Britain, in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain but also throughout Europe and with developing deep class connections with the working class and mass movement of the Arab revolution.
The local elections in Britain reflected the anger of workers against the government but these deeper questions have are just beginning to surface. They will as the united fronts of struggle develop between different sections of workers, unions and communities and they in turn become one united front and as long as there is a growing party of the International Workers League that is capable of carrying the struggles to workers’ power.