Fuel Price Attack on Workers: Far Bigger Than the Poll Tax!
Britain is heading for an explosive decompression of neoliberal imperialism and Toryism, including the pink Toryism of the Blairites currently as manifested by Keir Starmer’s Labour Party leadership. Everything is coming together in a perfect storm so that the pressure of the huge capitalist crisis is bearing down on the political regime.
The factors bearing down on them are both international and domestic, a confluence of various damaging factors resulting from the breakdown of the neoliberal capitalist project both on the domestic and international level. The international factors are severalfold: the Ukraine war has given a major boost to the inflation that was already embedded within the system from the pent-up demand that resulted from the Covid-19 lockdowns, which a planned economy could have carried out rationally by simple adjustments of planning. A capitalist economy, however, cannot, as has been proven as inflation was already beginning to soar at the end of 2021, long before the imperialists provoked Russia to defend itself by sending troops into the Donbass to defend its people from NATO-funded Ukrainian nationalist-fascist attacks.
The result in Britain is the biggest attack on working class and lower middle class living standards ever attempted by the ruling class, at least since the 19th Century. Perhaps Hitler’s bombing of London and other cities was comparable. The threatened quadrupling of the fuel bills paid by ordinary people, including pensioners, is a total disaster and will lead to large scale malnutrition and freezing to death among ordinary workers and the poor, particularly old age pensioners, if not stopped.
This is a far bigger attack on the working class than Thatcher’s Poll Tax, which was mainly an attack on the poorest sections of the working class, the unemployed, etc. (it could be called the Ukraine Poll Tax plus). The latest estimate is that the price cap will rise to a staggering £6,000 pa by April 2023, more than quadrupling the price. This attack, from privatised energy resellers in turn in hock to the large oil and gas extractors and international conveyors, is a frontal attack on the living standards of the entire working class and a good chunk of the lower section of the middle class as well. As an illustration of the latter, 500,000 small businesses face being driven to the wall by energy price hikes, and the price of beer in pubs is reckoned likely to soar to £14 per pint by the end of 2023 if inflation is not curbed immediately.
The huge rise in inflation is entirely price driven. The practiced propaganda liars in the media are attempting to try to blame workers going on strike to preserve their living standards for the fact that inflation in August was found to have risen to 10.1% according even to the Tories’ fraudulent CPI measure of inflation. In terms of the correct RPI measure, which takes full account of housing and energy costs and is weighted towards the staple purchases of ordinary people and families, the figure is 12.3%. But they are failing to demonise rail strikers and other strikers, because everyone knows the impact that this inflation is having on their own standard of living: a massive, often unmanageable attack. The result is that despite Truss and Sunak both ranting against trade unions, and Truss in particular promising the Tory rabble whose votes she seeks that she will further ban strikes and attempt to criminalise trade unionism, a clear and growing majority of the public supports the strike wave.
Mick Lynch, the General Secretary of the RMT, has stated that it might be necessary to call a general strike to beat off these attacks on working class people, which is the first time this has been seriously raised as a possibility since the pit closures crisis of 1992. The strike wave is not confined to the railways: a ballot of workers at Royal Mail in a dispute over working conditions, separate from the pay issue, produced a 98.7 vote in favour of strikes out on a 72% turn out. Unite members at the containerised docks at Felixstowe, voted by 92% in favour of strikes, and began an 8-day strike at the port, which handles around half of the UK’s containerised traffic, on 20 August. The strike wave crosses all kinds of barriers – barristers have already engaged in sporadic strikes and are now seriously looking to organise an all-out strike.
The labour bureaucracy and imperialism
The huge problem is that the British trade union movement is heavily bureaucratised, and the bureaucracy centred on the TUC has since the 19th century been a force acting against struggle, reflecting the interests of the labour aristocracy that long considered that it benefitted from Britain’s imperialist position in the world. This attack, together with the preceding four decades of neoliberalism, culminating in the fusillade of attacks in the past decade, have undercut the advantage that the working class itself perceived it had in the preceding century or more. It was a pathetic piece of collective working-class chauvinism that drove part of the working class to back the Brexiteers, hoping vainly to retrieve that former privileged position by supporting the fantasies of Farage, Johnson etc. But what they have gained instead is a likely attempt by Truss to wield the jackboot against them when she takes office in early September. That upcoming struggle, which is now visible and not far away, should provide the British workers movement with a priceless lesson in the need for all-out struggle and solidarity against decrepit British capitalism, in a situation where objective developments now act to undermine such fatuous illusions.
Let’s be clear: in the face of this massive neoliberal crime in the making, and the immiseration of the British working class and even middle class that it threatens, we certainly need a general strike. We need union leaders that raise the necessity for such a mass action in front of the masses. But a general strike needs political leadership and a determined cadre to organise it. We do not have anything like that at the moment. It will have to be created in the struggle itself.
The defeat of Corbynism by the Blairised right wing of the Labour Party has radicalised many ten of thousands, in fact hundreds of thousands, against the Blairised neoliberal bureaucracy in Labour. It has also led to an estrangement of some of the more militant inclined unions from Labour. The various would-be party type formations that have come into being as a result of the defeat of Corbynism, such as the Resistance Movement/System Change, the Galloway-led Workers Party, Breakthrough, and other fragments, including the SLN, need to find a way to work together to build something substantial that can overcome Labour. We welcome the initiative of the CWU, Mick Lynch and Zahra Sultana MP in initiating ‘Enough is Enough’ as a mass campaign to defeat the energy and cost of living attack and note the mass resonance it has immediately gained. It is possible that this also could provide a focus in struggle for the development of a mass political movement to mobilise the working class as a class in itself and for itself, as well as becoming the champion of all oppressed layers, as is necessary in this situation where a general strike is a real possibility and a burning necessity.
Thanks to the Tory crisis, in the face of this burgeoning economic disaster, which is crucifying ordinary people, there is no effective government. The disgraced, pathological liar Johnson is AWOL for most things, having fled to Chequers to enjoy state largesse while Sunak and Truss slug it out in front of the Tory Party membership, swelled by defectors from UKIP as Johnson appropriated both their programme and their people in 2016-19. The contest has become a hate fest against organised labour, and oppressed minorities and their supporters (the ‘woke’) as Truss is predictably making the running even though even senior cabinet colleagues like Michael Gove freely admit she is on a ‘holiday from reality’ in refusing to even attempt to address the crisis caused by mushrooming energy prices.
In other European countries, particularly France, state ownership of the energy industry has led to the state effectively freezing energy prices for the whole of 2022, or at least limiting the rise to 10%. But in Thatcherite neoliberal Britain, privatisation rules: the energy industry (gas and electric) was privatised decades ago by Thatcher, and Blair/Brown’s so-called Labour government, which ruled for 13 years during the 40 years of neoliberalism we have suffered since, didn’t lift a finger to reverse any of it. Blair/Brown’s was a neoliberal government just as much as Thatcher’s.
Neoliberalism and engineered mass slaughter of the poor
The austerity Tory-LibDem coalition we had 2010-2015, with its benefit cuts and hounding particularly of the disabled as ‘scroungers’ caused the deaths of around 150,000. As well the numerous criminal acts of racial persecution under the “hostile envinronment” overseen by Home Secretary and later Prime Minister Theresa May, also meant a considerable number of migrants had their lives ruined, or were deported to their deaths, often through being denied NHS care. The Windrush scandal brought some of this to public view. All these go into the necessary accounting.
Then since 2015 when the Tories gained their short-lived overall majority under Cameron, we have had Brexit, which has obviously crippled the British capitalist economy, hidden somewhat by the Covid pandemic which coincided almost exactly with the actual exit of Britain from the EU. The pandemic provided the opportunity for Johnson to exhibit his own pathological hatred and bloodlust against the working class. Initially the government endorsed a policy of ‘herd immunity’, which involved deliberately allowing this new disease to spread virtually unchecked through the population.
In particular, the policy of discharging suspected Covid patients from hospitals into care homes for the elderly caused carnage, which was the intention, reducing the pension bill of the government. In its initial strains, and prior to any vaccine being developed, Covid was frequently deadly to people who were not young and/or with existing health conditions, which affect a large proportion of the population. Johnson was not able to get away with this ‘herd immunity’ barbarism at the beginning of the pandemic, and was forced by strong criticism from Jeremy Corbyn, who was still Opposition Leader until April 2020, to introduce measures to halt the uncontrolled spread of the disease.
But Corbyn then made way for Starmer who was simply supine: his watchword was: “whatever the government decides to do, we support them”. When Johnson sabotaged the first lockdown in the summer of 2020, and decreed that children had to return to school even though severe forms of the disease were still running rampant, Starmer backed Johnson against the teaching unions, which raised objections and tried to protect their members, and indeed schoolkids and their families, from a still-potent threat to public health. Starmer sacked his shadow Education Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, because she supported the teaching unions’ position. But instead of openly admitting this he concocted a smear that RLB was guilty of ‘anti-Semitism’ to hide the real reason for the sacking. Given such latitude by Labour, Johnson deliberately sabotaged the first set of quarantine measures before they had time to be effective. The result was the Kent, or Alpha variant of the disease, four times more infectious and just as dangerous as the original, which also rapidly spread around the world.
There then followed an appalling cycle of ‘mockdowns’ – quarantine measures that were for camouflage and clearly too lax to be effective, prematurely lifted in any case, until Johnson grabbed hold of the vaccine programme once it became operative in 2021 in a desperate bid to give himself an alibi, and to distract attention from the enormous death toll of the pandemic: in excess of 200, 000. Fortuitously the virus evolved into Omicron, a somewhat milder form, in 2022. At the same time the liars were organising parties for the privileged parasites that made up and hung around Johnson’s government, the exposure of which finally destroyed the ability of this ‘teflon’ suited pathological liar to keep on lying with impunity, providing the excuse, if not the reason, for his terrified cronies to bring him down this summer.
Since a good portion of the UK Covid death toll was as deliberate and engineered as the death toll from the austerity programme of Cameron-Clegg. it is reasonable to double the death toll of Cameron-Clegg-May’s austerity and deportations and attribute around three quarters of the death toll that Johnson was responsible for as part of a neoliberal cull of the population. This fits in with Johnson’s affinity with other arch-neoliberal, right-wing pseudo-populists such as Trump and Bolsonaro, who did nothing to protect their people from Covid, but rather used it as a weapon to attempt to wipe out sections of the population they saw as surplus to requirements, those that do not make a profit for predatory big capital.
Which makes as least 300,000 victims of neoliberal terrorism in Britain since the Cameron-Clegg austerity programme began in 2010 (not counting the victims of the ‘hostile environment’, who are less easy to quantify, but certainly run into many hundreds). Cameron-Clegg began their attacks with the support of Gordon Brown and his ministers who also stood in the 2010 election promising a more severe attack on public spending than anything that happened under Margaret Thatcher. Cameron won, since he represented this programme more consistently, and delivered a deadly series of attacks on workers.
And his neoliberal successors since have presided over a mushrooming mass slaughter of the working class in Britain, or rather those sections of it – the retired, the disabled, those lacking the relevant skills to survive the huge deindustrialisation that neoliberalism engineered from the 1980 onwards. They did this to drive up their own unproductive renumeration through property bubbles and scams, and appropriating surplus value from overseas through the export of industrial jobs to low wage economies mainly in the Far East to provide cheaper inputs to the imperialist countries.
Populism and imperialism
This is another aspect of neoliberalism that bears some commentary. ‘Populism’, particularly in the US, once meant a political trend within bourgeois politics that stood with the people in some underdeveloped, not-really-class sense, and sought to limit the power of big capital over the people. But in the main imperialist countries today, we have pseudo-populists whose purpose is to harness racist and demagogic sentiments to strengthen big capital over the working class, and to crush movements of workers and the oppressed. That is what right-wing populism means today in the conditions of imperialist decay. It has even spilled over in some cases into dependent countries like Brazil, where the butcher Bolsonaro was put in power by a coup process organised by US capital. Trump in the US made hypocritical capital out of the resentment of workers at the export of industrial jobs overseas under neoliberalism. So did the Brexiteers. And it is Britain that this has been played out to its conclusion economically as the delusion that Britain could regain its former glory by turning away from the EU, has simply led to another massive attack on the workers. One that threatens another carnage, the deaths of hundreds of thousands from malnutrition or freezing to death.
The anomalous thing about this populism is that in some parts of the world where the imperialist bourgeoisie does not call the shots, populism appears to have provided some means for the masses to fight back against neoliberal attacks. The most obvious example is in Russia, where the imperialist-derived shock treatment of Yeltsin, with the carnage that this inflicted upon the working class of Russia and the former USSR, has been to a considerable extent rolled back by Putin’s populist, bourgeois, but non-imperialist government. This however depends on the absence of the imperialist bourgeoisie as the decisive force at the top of society. Forms of left populism have also played an important role in giving expression to mass anti-imperialist sentiments in Latin America, but they have proven less effective than in Russia, because of the deeper roots of a long-standing comprador bourgeoisie whose political and economic links to imperialism are considerable. That class cannot be worked around by ‘left’ populist governments. It must be torn out by the roots.
In Britain and the US, right-wing forms of populism, that is, populism on the basis of the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie, have proved a genocidal force against the working class, that is, a brutal enhancement and intensification of neoliberalism. Something that has evolved quite close to fascism, in fact. Trump’s Xenophobic, anti-public health populism led to the death of over a million Americans from Covid. The characteristic of this kind of right-wing imperialist ‘populism’ is the mobilisation of the chauvinistic sentiments of sections of the majority ethnic working class against minorities on the basis of a pathetic nostalgia for past imperial glory that is in fact impossible to resurrect. The section of the working class that was always subliminally aware that some of its social gains were paradoxically able to be won because its ruling class had plundered resources from other people, expressed its impotent rage at imperial decline with such constructs as ‘Make America Great Again’ and of course Brexit. The hated ‘elite’ in the lingo of the imperial populists was any section of the ruling class that, for its own reasons, paid lip-service to racial equality, or had links with the labour movement, however tenuous, things like that.
But in fact, the Trumps, Johnsons, Farages, Le Pens, Salvinis, Trusses, even Bolsonaros are part of the imperialist neoliberal elite, or in the latter’s case, a Yankified puppet comprador elite. They are not saviours of the workers, but their bloody assassins. It is in the interest of the working class, not to realign with bankrupt neoliberal imperialist social democracy, the Blair’s and Starmers, but rather to rediscover the use of revolutionary methods in dealing with the neoliberal elite – all of it. To the genocidal butchery of the working class by the neoliberal terrorists, whether Trump with his fondness for open white supremacists, or Biden, Johnson, Blair and Starmer with their increasingly open support for Nazism in Ukraine, we note that the class interests of the workers are objectively for the extermination of the entire genocidal, fascist-implicated neoliberal capitalist elite, whether populist-imperialist like Trump, or shitlib imperialist, like Biden and Starmer. The Ukraine war has revealed they are all supporters of Nazism, and genocide against the working class and oppressed, and willing to lie shamelessly to cover that up, lies that come from the shameless lying liberal media, such as the Guardian in Britain, as well as the more traditional right wing press. They all need to be wiped off the face of the earth by the methods of Robespierre and Dzerzhinsky, a renewed, cleansing elimination of a deadly threat that otherwise threatens humanity with extinction through nuclear war or environmental holocaust.