Editorial: RMT action changes the debate

“An ounce of action” by the working class, Karl Marx’s great collaborator Friedrich Engels is reputed to have said, “is worth a ton of theory” in developing awareness on a mass, societal scale.

And so it has proved again with the RMT rail worker strikes at the end of June, following on the biggest trade union-led demonstration in a decade on June 18, which have touched the consciousness of millions of people in Britain and internationally too.

The propaganda offensive against the RMT has also in its own way helped to showcase the power of the working class once it is prepared and organised to fight.

BBC presenters from the UK’s very own ‘state-affiliated media’ sometimes tried a line – even as they broadcasted from a deserted station concourse – that the strikes were not as impactful “as expected” (by who? compared to what?), while real-time retail data had high street footfall across Britain down 8.5% in a week and 27% in central London.

But the general routine across the capitalist press and TV, with different degrees of subtlety, was to denigrate the union for ‘holding the public to ransom’, selfishly making demands that would ‘cripple the economy’, and even accusations of being ‘Putin’s friend’.

The capitalist establishment has been sorely rattled by the biggest strikes organised by the RMT since its formation in 1990.

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Resetting the council cuts battleground

The cost of living crisis hitting workers is also having its impact on the finances of local councils – which are responsible for over a fifth of all spending on vital public services.

Rising prices have increased the fuel costs of refuse trucks, care workers’ cars, and school transport services, while soaring energy costs have hit budgets for schools, children’s centres, care homes, swimming pools, libraries and street lighting.

Council budgets were agreed in January, based on the government’s autumn 2021 spending review settlement which factored in inflation of about 3%.

But six months later the consumer prices index is rising by 9.1% and a new council funding ‘scissors’ looms, with projected spending for the 2022-23 financial year no longer balancing with income.

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Roe lost but the struggle goes on

The US Supreme Court has overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling which recognised a constitutional right to abortion. This represents the biggest attack on women’s rights in the US for the last 50 years and has been met with protests by tens of thousands across the country. CHRISTINE THOMAS writes.

The US Supreme Court has overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling which recognised a constitutional right to abortion. Decisions will now be left to individual states, at least 13 of which already have ‘trigger laws’ in place ready to ban abortion. Abortion could become illegal in practice in more than half of US states – affecting as many as 36 million women, according to Planned Parenthood. And it will be working-class and ethnic minority women, who do not have the resources to travel hundreds of miles to states where an abortion is still possible, who will suffer the most. The overwhelming majority of those seeking abortion will be women, although of course other groups will be affected by attacks on abortion and reproductive rights more generally. As one spokesperson for the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute explained: “The typical abortion patient is in her 20s, doesn’t have a lot of money, and has one or more children”. Sixty-one percent of abortions are carried out on minority women.

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American showdown

HANNAH SELL reviews one of the numerous recent books looking at the events in Washington DC on 6 January 2021 and their aftermath, examining the crisis in both the Republican and Democrat parties and the prospects for huge movements shaking the US.

This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future

By Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns

Published in the US by Simon & Schuster, 2022

This Will Not Pass, a new book by two New York Times journalists, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, was published prior to the start of the current House Committee hearings into the events of 6 January 2021. It covers much of the same ground, although its revelations about the storming of the Capitol are tame compared to some of the evidence given to the hearings. Moreover, despite the promising title, it is light on conclusions about how the ‘battle for America’s future’ will develop, not least because it barely references the experiences of working-class Americans, their organisations, and how the working class is developing its consciousness on what needs to be done to find an answer to the American crisis.

Nonetheless Martin and Burns do describe well events in Washington DC on January 6, including Trump whipping up the crowd, declaring “we will never give up, we will never concede”; while his sidekicks like Alabama congressman Mo Brooks told the crowd to start “taking down names and kicking ass” and Rudy Guiliani called for “trial by combat” over the election results. Meanwhile inside the Congress buildings politicians were hiding under desks and writing last messages to their families. It depicts “Republican president candidate Mitt Romney being seconds away from ‘colliding with a throng of insurrectionists’ that had breached the Senate, and him raging about ‘what this says to country and the world’ and ‘the only time this ever happened before was in the civil war’.”

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Six decades since Algeria’s war of independence

July 5 is the sixtieth anniversary of Algeria’s Independence Day in 1962 which marked the end of the eight-year war of independence. CLARE DOYLE looks back at a seminal struggle in the post-1945 movement against colonialism.

“The Algerian war, 1954 to 1962, was a savage colonial war, killing an estimated million Muslim Algerians and expelling the same number of European settlers from their homes. It was to cause the fall of six French prime ministers and the collapse of the Fourth Republic; it came close to bringing down de Gaulle and – twice – to plunging Metropolitan France into the chaos of civil war”. This description is carried on the back cover of an authoritative book by historian Alistair Horne, called A Savage War of Peace, published in 1977.

The Algerian war of independence lasted twice as long as the first world war and its victory marked the end of 130 years of brutal French colonial rule. But even today, six decades on, Algerians both in their ‘homeland’ and in metropolitan France, face an uphill struggle for democratic as well as economic justice.

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The Marxist view of history

Continuing Socialism Today’s Introduction to Marxism series, NAOMI BYRON looks at the Marxist view of history, the theory of historical materialism.

Capitalism, the system we live under today, is unequal and undemocratic. It is a class society, based on the exploitation of the working class by a ruling class – the capitalists, a small minority of the population who own and control the main industries and financial institutions.

In the capitalist education system we are led to believe that class society has always existed, that class exploitation is natural and unavoidable, and that capitalism is the best way of organising society. We are also told that history is made by famous individuals and that working-class people have no power to change the system of society.

The theory of ‘historical materialism’, developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, provides a framework for socialists to analyse human society and the laws of its development. It explains that class societies have not always existed; that in fact the earliest human societies were classless societies based on cooperation and consensus, without systematic exploitation or oppression.

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Global perspectives in the new era

The recent national congress of the Socialist Party, held from 14-16 May, began with a discussion looking at global developments and perspectives for national conflict, economic crises, and the struggle for socialism. Here we reproduce the introduction to the discussion, made by the Socialist Party general secretary, HANNAH SELL.

Today we are assessing the world that is emerging on the other side of the Covid pandemic. It threw all aspects of society into flux. It has created enormous economic uncertainty and increased tensions between nation states, different sections of ruling elites and, above all, between classes.

Of course even now the pandemic is not over. Part of the reason that the Chinese regime has set its lowest growth rate target in three decades is that it is struggling to deal with a huge surge in Omicron. There are currently 290 million people in harsh total lockdowns, which are increasingly ineffective and unpopular. There are numerous reports of people in Shanghai protesting because they have been locked down without food for days at a time.  Nonetheless, on a global basis – while Covid is still an ongoing cause of stress in people’s lives, and a disruptor of the economy – it is increasingly becoming seen as an endemic disease: one more problem that society has to deal with.

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No Ukraine bounce as the vacuum remains

Despite his efforts to portray himself as the dashing war leader, there was no Ukraine bounce for Boris Johnson in the 2022 local elections that took place across 200 councils in England, Scotland and Wales on May 5.

The contrast with the performance of Johnson’s heroine, Margaret Thatcher, in the 1982 council elections held during the war with Argentina over the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, could not be starker. In 1981 the Tories lost over a thousand seats and control of the then Greater London Council. Come 1982 Thatcher increased the Tories’ share of the vote to 40% while Labour, on 29%, had a net loss of 225 councillors, losing control of nine authorities including Birmingham, Bradford, the Lothian region in Scotland, and the London boroughs of Lambeth and Waltham Forest.

This year the Tories’ projected national share of the vote was 30%, down from 36% in the 2021 local elections, with a net loss of 485 councillors and eleven councils. Johnson’s alleged electoral ‘magic touch’ is coming to an end. And with it the glue that has been holding together a Tory party that has become a collection of different sectional capitalist interest groups, containing within itself the basis of at least two parties that could crystallise into being at some point in the stormy events that lie ahead in Britain and internationally.

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Few winners in Scottish council elections

The Scottish council elections saw the Tories suffer major losses as their share of the first preference vote fell to 19.6%, with almost a quarter of their councillors being wiped out. Since 2007 the single transferable vote system for local government elections has been used in Scotland.

Despite the huge class anger over the cost of living crisis and Boris Johnson neither Labour nor the Scottish National Party (SNP), however, made significant gains. Turnout was also down, at just 43%. 

Scottish Labour – now led by the pro-capitalist right under Anas Sarwar, dubbed the millionaire tendency – gained only 19 seats and ended up with a vote share of just 21.7%, marginally ahead of the Tories. Labour now have 281 councillors across Scotland, to the Tories 216. 

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Behind Aspire’s Tower Hamlets triumph

The stand-out development in the May elections was Lutfur Rahman’s victory as an Aspire party candidate in Tower Hamlets’ mayoral contest, unseating the right-wing Labour incumbent. Aspire also won a council majority, with 24 seats to Labour’s 19.
In April 2015 Lutfur Rahman was unjustly removed as mayor by an election court hearing – and debarred from standing for office for five years – as the establishment parties ganged up against him. Council spending had fallen by £172 million during Lutfur Rahman’s 2010-2015 administration as it faced a central government squeeze, but Rahman, and his then Tower Hamlets First party, were still not trusted to uncomplainingly deliver by the Con-Dem coalition or New Labour.
Seven years later the same establishment parties still rule in Westminster and they won’t give Lutfur Rahman, or the new council, an easy ride now. What role Aspire can play in the fight for a new, mass national vehicle for working class political representation is a discussion that the Socialist Party will fully engage with in the period ahead.
Here we reprint as background analysis an article by HUGO PIERRE, first published in the June 2015 edition of Socialism Today, No.189, which examines the lessons of Lutfur Rahman’s previous mayoralty and the campaign against him.
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