Anti-capitalism for Scotland
When workers at the Prisme packaging manufacturers in Dundee heard that they were to be sacked without being paid any pay owed or redundancy money they said enough is enough. Their firm had gone bust and the workers suspected that the firms resources had been transferred to another firm of asset strippers who have been used to avoid paying what is owed to the workers. Unbelievably this is quite legal in Britain. But the workers occupied the factory and taking local cartoon character Oor Wullie, who has had a few run-ins with authority himself, as their mascot they set out on a campaign for justice. Within days they had gathered support from working people not just from Dundee but from around Scotland and around the world.
Their stand flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of the last few years. We were told that workers would not fight and that strikes were a thing of the past. Average strike days were down to record levels. Trade-unions had been shackled by anti-union legislation. If they supported a wildcat strike, tried effective picketing or failed to ballot their members they faced the sequestration of their assets. These workers were not even organised in a trade-union.
It is too early to talk of a generalised fight back by the organised working class but the example of the Prisme workers and of the engineering construction workers (which we examine in this issue of Frontline) certainly points to at least a shift of attitudes regarding struggle. The reason lies with the massive crisis of capitalism which has swept across the planet like an economic wildfire leaving destruction in its wake.
Unemployment is growing at unprecedented rates in every part of the country. In Dundee, where the Prisme workers are, just days later a major employer, NCR announced the closure of its plant with the loss of 250 jobs. The financial sector in Scotland is set to be hit very hard with the Royal Bank of Scotland set to lay off 20,000, half of them in the Lothians. The takeover of Bank of Scotland by Lloyds/TSB, themselves now in dire straits, is likely to lead to thousands more job losses in the region.
Around the world the figures tell a similar story of economic depression. Unemployment figures for the United States reached 8.1% in February, a sixteen year high. Europe also saw heavy job losses particularly in Ireland, Spain, the UK and Italy. Asia has also been badly hit. With a shrinking market in North America and Europe Chinese exports have gone down by a quarter.
The future for millions of workers around the globe is one of uncertainty and poverty. Workers have little choice but to fight in order to protect their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods.
There are of course other ways that the impoverishment and alienation of working people from the system can express itself. Blaming foreign workers both at home and abroad is one way. This was one facet of the engineering strikes, though a small facet in what was generally a class-conscious dispute. There is potential in this crisis for racist views to spread. There is also potential for the state to tend towards repressive measures as resistance to the effects of the crisis spreads.
Metropolitan police officer Superintendent David Hartshorn outlined as much in a recent report when he warned of public order problems emerging as disaffected victims of the recession link up with radical environmentalists and others. Speaking to the Guardian he said that radical groups had not had success drawing people to the streets up until now but that “obviously the downturn in the economy, unemployment, repossessions, changes that. Suddenly there is the opportunity for people to mass protest.”
There have also been revelations about the state compiling databases of those attending demonstrations. Regular protesters who have committed no offence are being added to the vast database alongside information about their political affiliations. Journalists have also been targeted for example at recent environmental protests in Kent.
The state may well be right in pointing to the possibility of public unrest. The job of socialists is to struggle to ensure that the rage and anger of these victims is directed in an organised way. We need to present an ideological alternative to the market and to explain how the system can be run in a way that moves away from the market madness and towards a rational meeting of needs. There is an urgent need for socialists to combat racist ideas and to stop the spread of political cancers like the BNP.
This means campaigning on the streets, fighting around transitional demands and in defence of the conditions of working people. It means working in solidarity with those workers who are in struggle. It also means presenting a political alternative at the ballot box.
Socialists face a challenge at the coming European elections. The current position of the SSP is not to stand a candidate in these elections. A complicating factor is that the RMT rail union are putting together a slate to stand in the elections. The exact nature of this is unclear at the moment but the programme is focused on opposition to the EU. It is quite correct to say that the EU is a neoliberal institution which forces member nations to open up markets for transport, energy, education and many more to competition. In addition nations adopting the Euro as their currency are required to meet tough public spending limits. Socialists don’t hold back in making these criticisms of the European Union. However it is not the EU that is perceived as being the cause of the financial crisis. Rather the crisis is rooted in the capitalist system itself, first manifested through the credit crunch that hit the US financial system.
The SSP should certainly look to a broad based campaign for the European elections but should be clear that it is an anti-capitalist programme that should be to the fore.