Seize the time

Issue section: 

British politics has not reached the same pitch as the turmoil in some other parts of Europe. But that does not mean that the processes are essentially different. Here too the government which seeks to impose round after round of brutal attacks on the working class is increasingly unpopular.

The local elections on 3 May showed a deep rejection of the Tories and Lib Dems. David Cameron's party lost 428 seats, Nick Clegg's 385 - and Labour reaped a rich harvest of 824 gains and control of 32 councils. And that mood is not going away. Nearly all the opinion polls since the local elections have Labour with double digit leads.

Millions of workers voted Labour as the "default option" when they wanted to register their anger at the coalition. Even in Scotland, where the SNP have done well recently, Labour gained more seats than Alex Salmond's party. However there is a continuing deep unease about all the main parties. Less than a third of people voted in the May elections, hardly a ringing endorsement of Ed Miliband.

And the potential for a left of Labour challenge was shown in a few examples such as Respect following-up George Galloway's victory in Bradford by winning five seats in the city. Independent socialist Michael Lavalette also won a seat in Preston.

It's not difficult to trace the root of the fury at the government. The publication of the 2012 version of the Sunday Times revealed that the super-wealthy continue to their robbery while lecturing the rest of us about the need for austerity. The richest 1,000 people in Britain, the top 0.005 percent of adults, have seen their wealth grow by £155 billion in the last three years. Workers may not know the precise figures, but they feel in their lives that they are being stuffed while the rich keep partying.

Meanwhile the Leveson inquiry generates new evidence on an almost daily basis of the venality of the corporate media, the intimate links between politicians of all stripes and media barons, and the readiness of the cops to accept large sums of cash while assisting the newspapers with their manufactured inquiries.

Tension grows inside the coalition as the Lib Dems fear they may be eclipsed as a national force if they go on like this, while the Tory right grumbles that Cameron is too soft. But the coalition is determined to keep making the working class pay. Analysts differ in their figures, but all suggest over 80 percent of the cuts are still to come - and they will be backed by more attacks on workers' rights, and more strengthening of repressive laws, particularly using the excuse of the Olympics.

But public sector workers' resistance to the attempt to make then pay more for their pensions, work longer and get less refuses to die, despite the wishes of coalition ministers and some union leaders. Practically every group of workers who are consulted by their union leaders on the government's offer respond with huge votes for rejection. Latest examples include health workers in the GMB union who voted 96 percent against the offer on a 60 percent turnout. But the union leaders have failed to seize on the possibilities for struggle. If they had built on the momentum from the strike by 2.5 million last year we could already have seen a victory on pensions which, given the parlous state of the coalition, would have opened the possibility of booting out Cameron and his crew.

That should not be a reason to despair. The TUC's decision to call a national demonstration on 20 October provides a crucial opportunity to revive mass street protest, and to launch action that goes beyond the intentions of the union leaders who have called the march. Teachers' unions and others already plan joint action in October and students are readying for a new national protest. And who will guarantee that the summer will not see a repeat of last August's riots or some similar explosion of rage? We want a million or more on strike in the autumn and a million or more on the streets. We need a general strike against the coalition's attacks.

Big new battles are coming. But it would be fatal to wait for months in order to build the fightback. There should be another big strike this summer, and major protests as the cuts continue to bite. The conference called by Unite the Resistance for 23 June will be one important focus for trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners to discuss and plan the way forward. The challenge is to build the fightback and put socialist politics at the heart of the struggle.