Photos: UK Parliament/ Maria Unger/CC and London SP
Photos: UK Parliament/ Maria Unger/CC and London SP

Editorial of Socialist issue 1282

Relief, rejoice, cautious optimism, scepticism… There will be mixed feelings in the minds of working-class people on 5 July. But whatever the cocktail, the fact clear to everyone will be that the Tories, historically the bosses’ primary political party, which has inflicted 14 years of misery on ordinary people, will be resoundingly defeated.

At the time of writing, before polling, Labour are odds on with the bookies to have an overall majority, too short even to make it worthwhile Tories betting on their own demise. Their electoral annihilation will dissolve any remaining cohesive substance holding the world’s oldest capitalist party together.

The source of its fragility? The fragile state of the global capitalist economy and particularly British capitalism’s falling standing within it. And Starmer’s Labour will build a government on those same ruined foundations.

But although Starmer is committed to defend the capitalists’ interests, that doesn’t mean workers can’t or won’t struggle, or that concessions can’t be extracted from the new government, whatever its intentions entering office.

Tata Steel

Unite the Union called strike action to defend 2,800 jobs at Tata Steel in South Wales to begin just four days after the general election. At the time of writing, that threatened action has forced Tata bosses to the negotiating table (see left). The need for Labour to nationalise to save jobs, as Socialist Party members have been consistently raising, is posed immediately.

But any reprieve for Tata workers, whether or not the measures taken extend to nationalisation, will have been won through workers’ struggle, and will be seen as such by others. What confidence that would give to other sections of the workers’ movement, that the Labour government can be pushed by workers’ action! What an answer that would be to some sections of the trade union leaderships which will inevitably try to persuade their members that the best way to get Labour to move is not to take action, but to ‘give them time’.

Similarly, another failed privatisation stalks Starmer. That of Thames Water. It is demanding government bailouts in the hundreds of millions to help it pay its £18 billion mountain of debt – loaded onto it by capitalist investors since Thatcher’s privatisation.

Will Starmer simply bail it out, opening the floodgates for the bosses of Britain’s many other debt-ridden companies to come cap in hand threatening collapse or redundancies? Nationalisation is posed again – to a party with an election manifesto that’s only mention of such measures is to not tender passenger rail freight services again when contracts expire.

The workers’ movement needs to fight for real nationalisation, under democratic workers’ control and management, and with compensation only paid where there is proven need.

Public sector pay

Even before taking office, Labour Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has reportedly been negotiating a pay agreement with leaders of the British Medical Association (BMA) to try to resolve the junior doctors strikes. Whether or not that is accepted by members, it will be carefully inspected by other public sector workers.

Weeks into the new Labour government, the School Teachers’ Review Body is set to announce its recommendation for teachers’ pay. The Pay Remit for civil servants was delayed by the Tories and the NHS Pay Review Body has been submitted and sits in Starmer’s in-tray. Deciding on pay offers for hundreds of thousands of workers, many of who have been on strike in the last two years, is an immediate task.

Labour’s spending?

And within the first few months, Labour’s first ‘fiscal event’ will take place. Its earliest possible date is just after the Trades Union Congress meets in Brighton.

Labour’s chancellor Rachel Reeves will pen that ‘spending review’ under pressure from the capitalist class and the ruthless world ‘markets’. Britain’s capitalists overwhelmingly back Labour as a temporarily more stable political vehicle than the Tories. They themselves are divided on the way forward British capitalism – but remain united in the principle that the working class should be made to pay.

Meanwhile, the spectre of Liz Truss’s ‘mini-budget’ catastrophe remains. It exposed the fragility of Britain’s debt-ridden economy, and the low regard with which it is held by capitalist investors internationally. The pledge to match Tory ‘fiscal constraints’ and to reduce government debt as a proportion of GDP by the end of the five-year parliament is an attempt to reassure the ‘markets’.

Reeves’s answer as to how that is possible without a continuation of brutal austerity? Ironically, the illusive ‘growth’ – the same aspiration as Truss. Britain has long been unable to achieve productivity growth to levels competitive with its rivals, the other rich capitalist nations. On average, workers are £10,700 a year worse off than they were before the 2007-09 economic crisis than had wages grown at the same rate as they had before. How long will workers accept being told to ‘wait for growth’?

The workers’ movement needs to organise to counter the big-business pressure on Labour from day one. Any concessions won by workers will raise confidence to fight for more. Concessions on public sector pay, for example, would mean the next questions will be: ‘Well what about council funding?’, ‘What about crumbling schools?’, ‘What about money for our NHS?’

The trade unions should seize every opportunity to fight for workers’ interests. For example, by demanding that Labour repeals all aspects of the Tories’ Trade Union Act 2016 and the rest of the Tory anti-union laws going back to Thatcher and Major, and on any number of other issues.

British capitalism has an array of festering sores which can quickly develop into pressing crises for Starmer. In an increasingly conflict-ridden and unstable world, international events will impact Starmer’s government too. Such is the crisis of capitalism in Britain and worldwide, It is not possible to lead a stable capitalist government in the medium or long term.

Countering Reform UK

What form will political opposition to Starmer’s Labour take? The surge in support for Reform UK is an ominous straw in the wind, signalling how the populist right can develop – spreading its dangerous and divisive ideas – in the absence of a mass working-class political alternative.

The current political terrain would have been different had Mick Lynch and Dave Ward, the trade union leaders behind ‘Enough is Enough’, used their authority to develop the organisation into a new political party at the beginning of the strike wave in autumn 2022. It would have had the enthusiastic support of the half a million who signed up to support, and many more.

The question of the trade unions developing independent working-class political representation will be posed even more sharply with Labour in power. The Socialist Party’s stand in the general election as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition was part of the process of advancing that struggle for a new mass workers’ party.

Working-class opposition to Starmer’s Labour government is unlikely to develop in a straight-forward or predictable way. But by engaging in those struggles, workers and young people will be forced to look for political ideas and an organisation to take their fights forward. Socialist Party members engage at every stage, putting forward a programme for the socialist transformation of society, linked to the immediate tasks facing those in struggle. There will be huge opportunities to build the Socialist Party, now and throughout the lifetime of this Labour government, and if you want to help us in that task – join us!