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What democracy really means

Now that the referendum is over, the focus of the media has leapfrogged the coming months and focused on the general election. Nothing else is relevant. No event or attitude can be considered or even discussed without thinking about how it will play come the general election.

Trade unions are peddling the same line. Never mind tomorrow, they say, think about May. Some unions – and many workers too – will use the coming poll as an excuse to avoid acting, a rationalisation of cowardice. Others will see in the election a reason to delay action just so as not to upset the Labour Party and damage its chances.

For those wedded to the parliamentary path, any excuse will do. But the truth is that the election is irrelevant to the working class except as a massive distraction from the real issues for us: work and pay, the EU and immigration, housing, the threat of war, the need to rebuild Britain.

The true meaning of democracy is the rule of the people. There are times when voting helps that, and times when it doesn’t. Turnout alone is not an indicator of involvement. The fact that turnout in the European elections earlier this year was a scant 34 per cent didn’t mean people were apathetic, just that they hate the EU. And the turnout in Scotland didn’t show 84 per cent in love with capitalism’s “politics”, but that the question really mattered to them.

‘When people are asked a genuinely important question they will answer it.’

The turnout levels certainly don’t show that parliamentary democracy is back in favour. When people are asked a genuinely important question they will answer it, if they don’t have to “elect” someone to do it for them for the next five years. Unlike parliamentary elections, referendums should pose a question that actually matters – which makes a referendum perfect for the issue of British membership of the EU.

The outcome of the Scotland referendum, the rejection of separatism, reflects a vital recognition that unity matters far more than individual or regional issues. Workers need to build on that victory – and victory it is – by identifying our common concerns and how to fight together, uniting to improve our lives.

The coming general election has nothing to do with improvement for the working class, only better opportunities for exploitation by the capitalist class. Anyone who doubts this should look at the manifestos when they appear. Better still, take off the title pages and try to work out which manifesto comes from which party.

One thing’s for sure, though. The Labour manifesto will have streams of verbiage about the minimum wage and the need to raise it, but not a whisper about repealing the repressive legislation that has hamstrung unions and their members every time they have sought to fight for more pay.

Workers have far more in common than what divides them. All workers want to improve their lives, but many seek easy ways out. Preoccupation with voting for political parties is no way out at all. Experience should teach that, but the same old lies are returned to again and again – an avoidance of reality.

The theme for the TUC’s march and rally in London on 18 October – ”Britain needs a pay rise” – is much better than other recent days of so-called action. But there is more marching than doing these days. It says a lot that a stroll around London at the weekend now counts as “action”. You only move forward through struggle. What is needed is not days of action, but workplace organisation to plan action over pay.

The history of Britain over the past half century is that whoever wins a general election, capitalists do better and better, and we do worse and worse. That’s not because we are victims but because we avoid responsibility for our own lives. Criticising an employer for exploiting you is like asking a shark not to eat fish. We need to stop criticising and start acting.