RMT strikers in Reading. Photo: Neil Adams
RMT strikers in Reading. Photo: Neil Adams

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1186

How can you tell when a Tory is lying? Their lips are moving. It’s a very old joke but it remains as true as ever.

That’s because in this ‘them-and-us’ society, capitalism, the Tories exist to defend ‘them’, the bosses. But they cannot be honest about that, especially when working-class people are suffering so acutely.

The latest big Tory lie is that wage rises that protect workers from galloping price rises are a threat to living standards. Boris Johnson and the bosses say workers must take the hit. They hope to undermine the growing wave of pay strikes. But it won’t work.

For one thing, this isn’t a choice for workers – it’s a question of survival. Nine in ten of the population are already thinking about how to reduce energy usage this winter. But it’s only summer.

For another thing, while the crisis hits us, the bosses are in clover. Look at some of the companies where workers are organising for strike action: Royal Mail boss Simon Thompson got 23 times more than the average postie. No wonder 115,000 postal workers are balloting against a 2% pay rise – when RPI inflation is at 11.7%!

Unite the Union’s new report highlights that profit margins for the UK’s biggest listed companies (FTSE 350) were 73% higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

What’s more, workers create the wealth, as RMT executive member Jared Wood pointed out, speaking at one of the many solidarity rallies on the third day of June’s historic national rail strike. That gives us enormous potential power.

Jared, who is also a Socialist Party member, said: “They said when you went on strike, you cost the London economy £50 million. I say that means every day we don’t strike, we make the London economy £50 million! That’s £18 billion a year!”

The truth is that a fightback is needed. And striking together is the obvious way to maximise our impact by hitting their profits.

As Jared concluded: “The best thing people in other unions can do at this time to help the RMT win is to get on the field of battle and join the fight! Put forward your own demands on pay, working conditions, get out there and strike alongside us!”

Johnson’s Tories reeling, Starmer’s Labour with bosses not workers – organise the workplace and political alternative

The impossibility of ignoring the failings of the ‘them-and-us’ system forms the background to the strikes – but also to the by-election losses for the Tories on 23 June.

In the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honiton, the Tories suffered the biggest numerical majority ever overturned in a by-election. The Tory candidate ‘did a Boris’, albeit hiding in a dance studio to avoid the press not a fridge. In both Tiverton and Wakefield, the Tories flagged likely losses but the scale was greater than anticipated.

That’s because these were protest votes against Johnson and the suffering his government is bringing to the lives of millions. When placards outside the parliament of one of the richest economies on the planet read, “We can’t afford to live”, workers can’t afford to tolerate the government any longer. These by-elections gave a small chance to protest.

This is understood by many Tory MPs, who fear the gigantic losses could translate into the looming general election, which must take place before December 2024: but what they do about it they cannot agree on.


Over the weekend following the results, all sorts of ideas were raised. Some are fighting to elect Johnson’s opponents onto the 1922 backbench committee to change the rules and have another vote of no confidence. Many lamented the weakness of a cabinet which should get rid of him. Tory grandees came out of the rotting woodwork to fulminate against Johnson.

But they all face a major problem: who would replace him and how could they sell a system that means workers get poorer while Britain enjoys more billionaires with more money than ever?

Labour’s victory in Wakefield was actually a 4,759-vote loss on the 2019 general election result under Jeremy Corbyn. This was no resounding endorsement of Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘New Blairism’. But Starmer is preparing for the general election by asserting and re-asserting his readiness to lead a party that defends the ‘them-and-us’ system.

In Sunday’s Observer he wrote: “What Labour offers is a proper plan to … get Britain’s economy growing again so that businesses and families across the country can reap the rewards.” But there are no shared rewards for big business and working-class families. Our interests are opposite to theirs.

Between 1937 and 1979, union membership in Britain doubled, while the share of income going to the top 1% fell by two-thirds. Between 1979 and 2014, membership of unions halved and the share of income for the richest 1% more than doubled.

Starmer’s leadership is clear which side Labour is on – and will be on if in government. He banned Labour frontbenchers from attending RMT picket lines. That this is preparation for being a government that faces strikes by workers opposed to being made to pay while profits are protected was spelt out by Labour MP David Lammy.

Asked what would happen to the Labour MPs who did join picket lines to show their support for the RMT rail strike, Lammy said that Alan Campbell, the shadow chief whip, would be speaking to them “and making it very clear that a serious party of government does not join picket lines”.

Which side are you on?

As Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, correctly said at the Trades Union Congress demo on 18 June, pointing at Parliament, “you’ve got to pick which side you’re on and you either get up and fight with us or you get out of the way”. Starmer’s Labour has picked a side.

But where does that leave workers fighting in the workplaces when the general election comes, with all the main parties on the side of the bosses? The need for a new workers’ party gets clearer by the day.

How can workers fight to assemble a key part of the tools we need to fight the cost-of-living crisis – our own party representing our own interests?

The Socialist Party supports the call by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition for those in a position to solve this problem – the trade union leaders or even Jeremy Corbyn standing independently – to act.

We will continue to do everything we can to make this necessity for our class a reality. And that includes fighting for a new party to have as a key aim the replacement of the ‘them-and-us’ system with socialism.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) Coventry Area branch has passed the following motion on the union’s relationship with the Labour Party and working-class political representation, calling on CWU general secretary Dave Ward to call a special conference

“This branch condemns the current position of the Labour Party leader regarding the ongoing rail workers’ strike in calling for MPs and party members not to attend and support the picket lines. This is a disgrace and shows the extent to which Labour has lost its link with workers. We call on the branch to write to Dave Ward to ask that he call a special meeting to discuss this serious issue, and to call a special conference with the aim to end our affiliation with Labour.”