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New year, new spirit

15 December 2022, Glasgow: GMB workers at the university striking over the employer’s failure to pay agreed back pay being supported by students.

In many ways the situation facing workers in Britain is as dire as it has been at any time since the Second World War. Inflation is rampant, services are crumbling, food banks have become a growth industry. But there is a shining light: the working class is fighting.

In that struggle lies the key to survival, the opportunity for progress, the hope for a future. The army of the working class is on the move.

Nothing has been more depressing over recent years than endless moaning about pay and staffing coupled with widespread refusal to do anything about it. Now workers are starting to take responsibility for their workplaces.

For the first time in their history, nurses are on strike. They know they are not just striking for pay. They are also striking for the NHS. They understand that without collective action to make the service attractive to new staff and able to retain the staff who are there, the NHS will wither and die.

That understanding, that link between pay, conditions and a future, is common to all the fights – big and small – that are rippling around Britain.

We communists know that the struggle – widespread as it is – must grow. Far too many are sitting on their hands, unwilling to commit to action, hopeful that if others win pay rises then they too will reap the benefit.

And yet over a million are taking action or contemplating doing so. Action is breaking out in companies that have invested fortunes in suppressing the growth of unions – Amazon warehouse workers in Coventry, for example, voting for the first strike in that giant’s British operations.

The flames of struggle are a cleansing fire. They transform the dire mumbling about “low morale” – always a precursor to defeatism – into the rather different morale that comes from fighting for a future.

We see also – and here lies the greatest hope of all – the beginnings of an understanding that workers cannot sit on the sidelines, least of all in their own industries and areas of work. They must take charge where they can, just as surgeons have done to ease waiting lists.

Now more than ever it is essential that these fights are well conducted. There will be advance and retreat. No one can stay on strike for ever.

Above all, the battles must be under the control of those involved. Nothing good can come of handing coordinating powers to the TUC.

Workers must assert control. No one knows all the answers to the mess we are in, but workers know most of them, and can work out the rest. Struggle will be the teacher.

The government is, predictably, lashing out, threatening yet more restrictions on the right to strike. But it – and capitalism as a whole – is floundering. Everything it touches turns to crisis. And there’s a reason for this: the working class is on the march.