Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives: a Socialist Party congress 2012 document


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Summer's riots

31. This sense of alienation - combined with heavy-handed police harassment - was one of the factors in the riots of last summer.

The paranoid and panicky reaction of the government - which succeeded for a while in silencing even mild criticism from New Labour - indicated that they were shocked to their foundations.

The report, 'Reading the Riots', produced by the London School of Economics and carried in detail by the Guardian newspaper, was very revealing about the real causes behind the riots as seen through the eyes of the participants themselves.

A further report by the Children's Society, which surveyed 13 to 17-year-old youths and adults, concluded that young people across the UK believed poverty was one of the key reasons behind the August riots.

Of those questioned, 66% of adults and 57% of children believed people rioted "to get goods and possessions they couldn't afford to buy".

All of this was dismissed out of hand by the Tory home secretary, Theresa May, who stated that those involved in the troubles were an "unruly mob who were seeking instant gratification"! Behaving just like bankers it seems!

32. We foresaw such a development, which was raised in previous perspectives documents. We warned that unless there was a conscious movement led by the trade unions then a youth revolt was brewing - firstly among students - but also amongst a whole generation locked out of society through mass unemployment and the denial of access to education.

We understood the causes of the riots and we sympathised with those reasons but we did not act as cheerleaders or approve of riots as a method of struggle, as the SWP did.

Through our intervention, we tried to turn those involved and affected by in the riots in a positive direction towards the labour and trade union movement and the traditional methods of struggle associated with it: strikes, demonstrations and a mass movement to change conditions.

We cannot approve of looting, of the burning of small businesses, the driving out of ordinary working-class people from their homes and destroying their means of employment.

33. Since the riots, the ruling class has made it clear that the next time - especially if they lose control as they did in August - they will not hesitate "to open fire on arsonists targeting shops and offices during raids if there were a risk of someone getting killed in nearby homes".

They promise to resort to water cannon and baton rounds, which is the first time such methods would be used in Britain.

Thatcher came close to this situation, as the recent opening of the files for 1981 revealed. Measures she advocated included concentration camps following the Toxteth riots.

Geoffrey Howe, Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, considered that Liverpool was "ungovernable" and therefore should be subjected to a policy of "managed decline".

34. However, the adoption of these policies of repression, in the heated climate of today will only provoke countermeasures of an equally violent character.

Single combat between the police and an increasingly alienated layer of young people - over the heads of the working class - could reinforce the already increasingly barbaric conditions in the inner-city areas.

Only by drawing young people into the orbit of the labour movement and, ultimately, of the revolutionary movement - of educating them on programme and perspectives- will it be possible to prevent them going down this route and involve them in a real, fighting, socialist alternative.

All the ingredients already exist for some layers of young people to take to the road of terrorism. To prevent them entering this blind alley it is necessary to organically link them to the labour movement.

The labour movement must take up all strands of opposition to capitalism. That can only be done by building a powerful youth movement, with its main goal of struggle and socialism. The marvellous Jarrow march was a landmark for the development of such a movement.

35. The fight for jobs is linked to the struggle for education. Increased tuition fees - despite the government's claim - together with the pitiful level of 'grants' and the soaring rise of students' living costs including rents, has resulted in an 8.7% drop in the number of young people applying to universities. The struggle against fees increases is not over.

36. It is vital that we establish a firm presence, particularly in the inner-city areas, where the riots were triggered.

But this now presents difficult problems for us and is linked to the changed population and ethnic make-up in these areas.

In London in particular, but it is not restricted to here, there has been an influx of immigrants who are not immediately open to the arguments of the labour movement and socialism.

Some of those from Eastern Europe initially associate socialism with Stalinism. In general, the situation today is more difficult than in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

At that stage, immigrant workers were won to the labour movement over a period of time and had a higher percentage in the trade unions than the population in general.

This was despite the fact that they were not from a traditional trade union background. They were not from the cities of the Caribbean or of Asia but the rural areas! Today, the labour movement faces the same challenge as it did in the 1950s and 1960s, but the economic crisis, the weakening of the trade unions, particularly in the private sector, and the large number of countries immigrant workers have come from, make this a more complicated task.

Those communities that came to Britain in the past remain loyal to what they still perceive as the 'labour movement', in reality New Labour.

Racially discriminated against, and feeling acutely their minority status they cling - in the main - to New Labour.

The same is true of those who come from Eastern Europe and Africa. It will take the experience of New Labour in action to dispel their illusions and open up the possibility of influencing them.

37. Amongst the younger generation - whose roots are in Britain - it is a different situation. We must urgently seek to build from this layer - some of whom have entered our ranks - in the next period.

With those from Eastern Europe, it will take a little bit longer but the changes that are being wrought in their home countries - where the class struggle has recently intensified - will help us.

In Russia and Romania, mass movements have developed against the dictatorship of Putin and the chronic unemployment and poverty which scar many of the countries in the region.

The effects of the social counter-revolution and the political system which emanated from this, while not completely dissipated are being challenged by a new generation without experience of the Stalinist regime that went before.

Moreover, immigrants from Eastern Europe, largely younger, will be affected by the social and political situation in Britain, if not immediately, then in time.

38. It would be complacent in the extreme for us to imagine that an outbreak similar to that of last summer could not take place again.

Youth unemployment is over one million and is rising. It was mass youth unemployment in Spain - which continues to rise and stands at the scandalous figure of over 50% of young people unemployed - that fuelled the movements of the indignatos and the Occupy movement in general.

Yet the weakness of the Occupy movement itself opens a space for capitalism to bend with the wind, to seem to make some secondary concessions in order to nullify or encompass the movement within the framework of capitalism.

When the Occupy movement says, "The system is broken, we must fix it," this holds out the hope that in some way capitalism, through reforms, can be changed.

39. We have to point out that inequality is woven into the very fabric of capitalism. The source of all inequality in this system is expressed in the exploitation by the capitalists of the labour power of the working class, the marvellous idea formulated by Karl Marx more than 160 years ago.

Profit, he pointed out, is the unpaid labour of the working class. The struggle to control the surplus is the key to controlling society, the government, the arts, science and technology.

In periods of boom, the classes can sometimes share out this surplus relatively amicably. But in periods of crisis - of the kind which we are experiencing now - classes fight sometimes ferociously over diminished 'rations'.

If the tops of the trade union movement do not reflect adequately the stoked up anger through the official organisations of the working class, it will seek an expression elsewhere.

We therefore have to be flexible and prepared to engage with such movements if and when they develop.

40. It is certain that this year will see a heightened struggle on all fronts. This is guaranteed by the counter-revolution against the sick, the disabled and those who been pushed into what the Observer called "severe poverty", including an estimated 210,000 children, and 80,000 who will be made homeless.

Some of those on disability benefits stand to lose between 50 and 100 each week if the historic link between the rate of inflation and welfare payments is broken, as it will be.

Osborne - the hard man of this government - will slice 18 billion off the welfare bill. He invokes the principles of 'fairness' but in reality, as the Observer commented, "he seems determined to bury the core principle of the welfare state, namely universalism".

A new period of 'means testing' on the scale of the 1930s could return. Therefore, suffering will increase as will the resistance to these measures.

The cut in disability allowance is particularly cruel and, amongst all the other campaigns, we must seek to devote some resources to this battle.

Even Boris Johnson has come out against these measures. With elections for London mayor looming, it serves Johnson to take up a semi-critical stance towards the government, particularly on unpopular measures.

The angry mood amongst disabled workers has also been shown by the industrial action against the semi-privatisation of Remploy, in which we are playing an important role.

41. These are just some examples of the way that the government - including the Liberal Democrats - are in hock to big business.

It is also illustrated by the pernicious campaign against 'red tape' - by which the government means a wholesale assault on health and safety and the increased cost for the right to go to an employment tribunal.

As if British bosses are eager to massively invest in industry but are prevented from doing so because of the 'resistance' of the trade unions manifested in the perpetuation of red tape!

42. In reality, there is 130 billion in the vaults of big business lying idle against the background of mass unemployment.

The only reason why the capitalists do not invest is not because of the impediment of working-class and trade union resistance but because they do not have more profitable outlets in the real economy than in the financial markets or simply holding the money in the bank for the colossal accumulation of surpluses that have piled up.

One of the factors perpetuating the crisis is the impoverishment of the working class. In the US, the average median wage in real terms is back to what it was in the 1950s! A big increase in wages, by creating increased 'demand' would provide some 'stimulus' to the economy.

It would not solve the underlying problem of capitalism but could provide some relief for working people.


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