The following text was a discussion document at the recent Coordination Meeting of the ACG
In 2022-3, the UK witnessed the biggest strike wave for over 30 years. The working class woke from its slumber and began to rub the sleep from its eyes.fought its way back into the public eye. For three months from the end of 2022 into the Spring of 2023, hardly a day passed without some form of strike action.. More often than not,, union leaders struck deals for inflation pay rises well below inflation – refusing to mobilise their members and take the action as far as it could have gone.
However the Tories entered into these strikes saying there could be no negotiations or improvements in pay. Yet one by one, they reached settlements which went beyond what the government had been prepared to concede. This has not passed unnoticed among workers.
There were some local victories, like at Ash Field Academy in Leicester, and National Express in the West Midlands. Transport for London and Sadiq Khan caved in the face of action by railworkers, Khan suddenly discovering funds to pay them.
In the second half of 2023 there was a lull in struggle, although many local strikes broke out. Despite this, the cost of living crisis continues. The junior doctors engaged in an historic days long strike at the beginning of the year.
This cost of living crisis will force other workers to engage in further struggles over pay and conditions during this year.Already there are plans for further strikes in education and the NHS.
The present scenario
In the last four years, Britain has had four prime ministers and there has been a series of crises and scandals punctuating this period, -the Covid pandemic and how it was handled, the general awareness of corruption and nepotism within the political establishment, the crisis in Royal Mail, not just the postmasters but the threat to cut out Saturday deliveries and reduce deliveries to three days a week, the crumbling schools and other buildings, the deterioration of UK infrastructure, potholes failing to be addressed, the and the appalling state of rail transport with rising fares, the widening gap between rich and poor, a growing disillusionment with political parties and the monarchy, inequality in the UK higher than anywhere else in Europe.
Redundancies as a resort for UK capitalism, 638 workers at printing and business services company Communisis in Liverpool, Leeds and Cramlington, (Northumberland). 500 proposed job losses at Nationwide Building Society, threats to 2,800 jobs at Lloyds, 2,000 jobs at Barclays, 800 jobs at Metro Bank, and other job losses planned at Bank of Scotland and Halifax. Advisory services PwC recently announced job cuts of between 500-600, Deloitte plan 800 job losses, and similar redundancies are happening with EY and KPMG.
Tech companies too, which include Netflix, Microsoft, X (Twitter) Shopify and Tesla already made big job cuts in 2023, whilst Amazon and Salesforce announced job cuts at the beginning of this year.Over the coming year, tech companies globally are expected to make layoffs, a trend begun last year. According to online publisher tech.co, most tech companies including Netflix, Microsoft, Twitter, Shopify, and Tesla lost staff in 2023. Amazon and Salesforce have begun the new year with redundancies. British Telecom announced it would cut its workforce by 55,000 or more than 40% by 2030.
Employers are looking to cut costs and increase profits for shareholders.
In response to the strike wave of 2022/23 the Bank of England raised interest rates to 5.25% to attempt to depress wage demands. This had an effect on the economy, aiding slowdown and leading to a fall in hiring permanent staff, and leading to redundancies, as above.
As a result, the unemployment rate rose to 4.2 % at the beginning of December, that is, 1.4 million unemployed, an increase of 13,000 from previous quarter and of 206,000 from the previous year. The effects of the Covid pandemic contributed an increase of 77,000 out of work. Unemployment is highest amongst the young, those between 16-24.
Social media and AI
The increasing rise of social media has hit newspaper publishing and their advertising revenue hard.The publishing business Reach, who own the Mirror, Express and Daily Star, and many local papers, laid off 450 journalists.
Online shopping has forced the collapse of many high street stores, including Debenhams and Wilco. John Lewis is considering cutting 11,000 jobs.
Computer technology, including AI, have been used to cut jobs, instead of cutting working hours , as could be the case.
An incoming Labour government
A large part of the British ruling class is now looking to a Starmer government to act as a social fire brigade and extinguish working class revolt. In line with this, they are expecting the leadership of the trade unions to aid this incoming government and quash strike action.
However, the experiences of the past year or so , show that the working class is far more willing to take action than it done under the last Blair and Brown administrations. We saw that most of the strikes of the last year or so only won limited concessions, but despite this, more and more workers are seeing that strikes and collective action in general are effective. Workplace militancy is once again back on the agenda.
Coupled with this, many working class people no longer see Labour as their party. It is only a deep disgust with the Tories and the collapse of the Conservative vote, that will lead to a Labour victory, and then probably on a low turnout.
Workplace struggle cannot be seen in isolation. Even if the trade union bureaucrats stymie national strike action, local strikes will continue. Alongside this comes struggles in the neighbourhood against gentrification, social cleansing and increase in the number of high rise buildings, an increasing tempo of actions around the environment, and a whole host of other struggles in reaction to the social malaise, like campaigns around free transport etc. Coupled with this are the massive turnouts around Gaza. There is an orchestrated campaign now emanating from a section of the ruling class, including amongst the NATO leadership and militarists, hyping up war fever including calls for conscription. There will be a reaction to this. In fact, this orchestrated campaign is itself a reaction to the massive anti-war protests not just here but globally.The ACG, with its consistent anti-war and internationalist positions and propaganda, is well placed to take advantage of this and should immediately prioritise antimilitarism and the building of campaigns against conscription.
Even before the coming election, there may well be a new wave of strikes, including against the new Minimum Service Legislation (MSL) if it is used against workers threatening to strike.
Whatever happens this year, if a government led by Starmer is elected, it will face a working class that has begun to rediscover collective action. Labour’s avowal of fiscal austerity will act to keep wages down, and this will bring resistance. It is up to us to help maximise that opposition.