Editorial: The struggle and the ballot box

As trade union activists in Britain were preparing for February’s escalation of the movement against the cost-of-living crisis here, news came from across the Atlantic that, in the words of The Independent newspaper headline, ‘Kshama Sawant America’s highest profile socialist won’t seek re-election’ later this year.

The autumn election would have seen Kshama, described by The Independent as “America’s highest-ranking elected socialist”, compete for a fourth term on Seattle city council, the eighteenth biggest city by population in the USA.

The statement from Kshama herself explaining the decision not to stand referenced events in Britain, contrasting the role of “much of the union leadership” in the US – “closely tied to the Democratic Party establishment, afraid to call out the Democrats, afraid to run independent candidates” – with what she perceives to be a different situation in Britain.

“It should be progressive labor unions using their resources” to launch a movement against the might of big business and the political establishment, she argued, “as unions have in the UK with the Enough is Enough campaign. But that has not happened” in the US, she said, because of the unions’ ties with the Democrats. (The Seattle Stranger, 20 January 2023)

And so Kshama’s conclusion is to step back when her term ends in December from the city councilmember position she has held since her victory in 2013, to help, she says, launch “a national movement, Workers Strike Back, instead of myself running for re-election again in Seattle’s District 3”.

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Will students join the fightback?

The current strike wave has come off the back of a historic cost-of-living crisis facing workers and their families, with real household income set to shrink by 7% in the next two years, the largest fall since records began.

For university students, this historic collapse in living standards has come at twice the pace. While inflation soared towards a 41-year high of 14% in the autumn, student maintenance loans for 2022/23 increased by just 2.3%. This amounts to a 7% cut in the value of maintenance support over one year. As a result, the average monthly shortfall between students’ loans and living costs has risen to £439 this year, up from £340 in 2021/22, and £223 in 2020/21.

With pay from part-time jobs and parents’ income also squeezed, an unprecedented number of students this year have been pushed to extremes to compensate for a record gap between government maintenance support and living costs. Sixty-two percent of students are now cutting back on essentials, while 52% are using their savings, and a staggering 25% have reported taking on new debt to finance their living costs. Polls have also consistently reported around 10% of students using food banks this year.

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Global Warning: XR debates tactics for climate struggle

“We quit” declared a New Year’s Day resolution from climate protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR). After just over four years of existence, XR has decided to “temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic”. CHRISTINE THOMAS looks at this change of tactic and how it fits in with the struggle needed to end the threat of climate change.

At the opening of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November last year, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned that humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. “We are in the fight for our lives and we are losing… our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible”. In the 2006 Stern report, commissioned by the UK government, climate change was described as a consequence of “the greatest market failure the world has seen”. In other words, it is the capitalist profit system that is the root cause of environmental destruction and is hurtling us towards ‘hell’.

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Ukraine war: Roots of the conflict

One year on from the outbreak of the brutal war in Ukraine HANNAH SELL reviews Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, a book that looks back at roots of the current conflict.

A year ago, on 24 February 2022, the world awoke to discover that the Russian president Vladimir Putin had launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. Initially, the US offered to airlift the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky out of the capital Kyiv to safety, and in the early hours and days of the invasion most commentators expected a quick and relatively easy victory for Russian forces. Reality turned out very differently. Putin’s miscalculation, and the determined Ukrainian resistance, have revealed that the seemingly mighty Russian military machine is far weaker than it appeared. US imperialism, once it realised that the war offered an opportunity to undermine or even humiliate Putin’s Russia, has provided huge amounts of advanced weaponry to the Ukrainian forces, as have, to a lesser degree, other Western powers. There is, therefore, a large element of a proxy war between Western imperialism, the US in particular, and Putin’s gangster-capitalist regime.

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Can the Met police be reformed?

With corporate profits piling up as living standards for the majority fall, there is an inevitable erosion of the idea that the powers that be have society’s best interests at heart. There is dwindling confidence in all the institutions that uphold the capitalist system, including political parties, the media, the judiciary, and the police. Recent events have accelerated this process in the Metropolitan Police, including discussion about its abolition. SARAH SACHS ELDRIDGE debates what programme socialists should put forward.

A February 2023 YouGov survey found that by 51% to 42% Londoners don’t trust the Metropolitan Police. Only 6% say they trust them “a lot”. In 2022, City Hall research found that 57% of Londoners believed the Met could be relied on when you need it and 62% agreed the Met treats everyone fairly. Both measures represent record lows for public perceptions of the Met, down from 77% and 74% respectively in 2014, when the figures were first published. 

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Marxism, intersectionality, and fighting women’s oppression today

To commemorate International Women’s Day (8 March) we are publishing an article written for Solidarität, the newspaper of the German section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

‘Woman, life, freedom’, ‘Black lives matter’, ‘#Metoo’, ‘Ni una menos’ – protests against shared oppression have been a salient feature of the post-2008 ‘Great Recession’ world. Women in the US, Poland, Ireland and Latin America have risen up to defend and extend abortion rights. Protests against gender violence have swept countries from India to Mexico. Low-paid women workers in Scotland have taken strike action and won an important struggle for equal pay. All of these movements have thrown up different theories and strategies about how women’s oppression can be successfully fought.

One of those ideas is intersectionality. Like many theories of oppression, it is open to different interpretations, but is generally understood as a recognition that individuals and groups can experience multiple oppressions – gender, race, class, sexuality, ability etc – and that those oppressions ‘intersect’ and impact each other.

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The Soviet school of chess

With interest in the game of chess growing recently, JOE FATHALLAH looks at the role chess played in the Soviet Union in the period immediately after the Russian revolution and during the Stalinist counter-revolution.

The hit Netflix-broadcast TV series, the Queen’s Gambit, alongside the more recent cheating allegations aimed at the American grandmaster Hans Niemann, have hugely boosted the profile of the game of chess. Add to this the impact of the Covid lockdowns, during which table-top games in general underwent a revival in popularity, millions of people previously unfamiliar with chess have now discovered and started playing it. At the top level, the game is now big business, with corporate sponsors and prize funds running into the millions, although still without anywhere near the level of capitalist commercialisation of the most popular spectator sports such as football.

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Policing protest

Charged: How the Police Try to Suppress Protest 

By Matt Foot and Morag Livingstone,Verso, 2022, £15.19

Reviewed by Niall Mulholland

In January 1983, Willie Whitelaw, Conservative home secretary, hosted a celebration party at the Home Office. Invited guests included members of the Association of Chief Police Officers and Home Office staff. They were toasting the Public Order Manual of Tactical Options and Related Matters, which covered all forms of public disorder. This manual allowed for unprecedented military style tactics for policing. Given the manual’s contents, it was classified, which meant only senior officers were ever officially allowed to see it. The secret manual first came to light in 1985 at the trial of miners arrested at a mass picket at Orgreave, South Yorkshire, during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, where thousands of police with horses and truncheons attacked miners.

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Britain on the boil

Rising strike action and economic and political crises are central features of the situation in Britain as we enter 2023. How do we see these processes developing in the period ahead? Below Socialism Today prints the draft British Perspectives document written for debate at the Socialist Party’s national congress in February, which addresses these and other vital issues for the class struggle today.

The background to the 2023 national congress is economic crisis, a weak government and, above all, dramatically intensified class struggle. In December 2022 an estimated 1.5 million days were lost to strike action, the highest level for over thirty years. As January 2023 opens, the strike wave is continuing to escalate. It has widespread popular support.

What, however, are the prospects for class struggle beyond the immediate period? As this statement elaborates, the as yet uncertain outcome of the current strikes will be an important factor shaping future developments. But regardless of the results of these battles, we are at the beginning of a new period of increased working-class combativity.

Clear successes for the trade unions in the present disputes would partially relieve the desperate of cost-of-living squeeze and enormously strengthen the confidence of the working class for inevitable future battles. On the other side, even if the current wave of struggle does not lead to clear victories for workers, or if defeats are suffered, it will not prevent new conflicts erupting. The current strike movement marks a turning point, a decisive departure from the previous period of prolonged low levels of struggle.

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The fight for trade union unity

The strike wave has raised the prospect of the weak and divided Tory government of Rishi Sunak, the third Conservative prime minister in a year, being forced out of office by mass struggle. But, asks ROB WILLIAMS, is the trade union movement capable of such a victory? What are the obstacles in the way and can they be overcome? What is the role of the militant unions in the fight for a united struggle?

The Covid pandemic was one in a series of crises that has beset global capitalism in the last decade and a half, starting with the credit crunch ‘Great Recession’ of 2007-08 and resulting brutal austerity. Each crisis has had profound effects on the confidence and consciousness of the main classes in society – the capitalists and the working class. In particular, they have revealed the historical weaknesses of British capitalism, provoking a crisis of political representation for the capitalist establishment, which reached a nadir in the Boris Johnson and Liz Truss governments last year.

Yet Sunak’s government is still attempting to hold the line on the pay squeeze. Not only is it doing this in regard to its own employees, public sector workers, but also appears to have been supporting the intransigence of the employers on the railways and in Royal Mail. However, this is because of the government’s weakness rather than its strength, desperate as it is to not open a door that other workers could pile through. The Tories have also finally announced their plans to implement new anti-union legislation. This move, along with the lack of progress on pay, has ratcheted up the pressure on the union leaders to call joint strike action.

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