Collective action, the only way to have our say!

9 May 2011

No sooner had the frivolous pageant of the royal wedding settled down than the media were seized by the furore surrounding the AV referendum. As if there was any stake in choosing between two systems designed to protect the main parties' political monopoly and to ensure that elected politicians remain in the service of big business and unaccountable to working people!

No wonder the referendum did not stir much passion among voters! Ironically, this did not stop all the politicians from hailing what they called an "unexpectedly high turnout" - which is rather bizarre, since 58% of registered voters did not see the point of voting on the issue across Britain and 65% in Greater London!

No voice in the ballot box

By definition, the AV referendum could not allow voters to express an opinion about the ConDems' austerity policy. But nor could the local or regional elections.

In Scotland, the SNP came a clear first by snapping up seats from all the other established parties. But its nationalism, promoting a more "humane" brand of capitalism for Scotland, is deceptive: "humane" or not, someone has to pay for the crisis and for the SNP, like for all the other main parties, there is no question of getting the capitalists (British or Scottish) to foot the bill.

In England, the fact that the local elections involved only a section of the electorate, meant that they could not be used as a national test for the ConDems' policies - especially as these elections did not involve London, by far the country's largest working class conurbation.

The biggest losers by far in these elections were the Liberal Democrats, who paid the price for abandoning their traditional role as a buffer between the two main parties, in order to jump into bed with the Tories and underwrite their attacks against the working population. No-one will shed tears over the Lib-Dems' fate: they only got what was coming to them!

More significant, however, was Labour's failure to regain the ground it had lost in the last comparable elections, in 2007. Although Labour managed to gain 857 additional council seats, this was partly at the expense of independents, but mostly at the expense of the Lib-Dems, who lost 748. Not only did Labour fail to regain a significant number of the seats it had lost to the Tories in 2007, but the Tories even managed to gain an additional 86 councillors!

In short, against the backdrop of elections in which the turnout was as low as ever, the Tories seem to have been more effective, once again, at mobilising their own traditional electorate than Labour.

But is this any surprise when, after the 13 years of anti-working class policies carried out by Labour in government, the same party fails to show any political will to resist the ConDems' cuts in the councils where it would be in a position to do so?

The need for a collective response

The ballot box cannot allow the working population to have a say in this society, neither in these elections nor in any other.

And, anyway, the working class cannot afford to wait for another election to offer such an opportunity. It is facing too many urgent issues that need to be dealt with now.

While politicians are keeping us busy with bogus issues like the AV referendum, behind the scenes, they are sharpening their knives against workers' jobs, conditions and services.

Already, tens of thousands of jobs have gone or are about to go in local government and other public services, such as the Royal Mail. At the same time, the government is finalising its attacks on welfare provisions: housing benefit, allowances for the disabled and long-term sick, care for the elderly, are all threatened with the axe. Pensions are under attack as well, in both the public and private sector.

Meanwhile, the so-called NHS "reform" is paving the way for a major downgrading of health provisions for those who, like most of us, cannot afford to pay for some treatments which will become increasingly hard to obtain on the NHS.

These attacks, which are designed to meet the bill of the bankers' bailout, form the elements of a comprehensive offensive against the whole working class. It can and should be met with a collective response uniting all our forces.

The huge mobilisation on March 26th was a step in that direction. More steps need to be taken as a follow up, to build up our collective strength and at last have our say - in order to stop the job-slashers and service-axers in their tracks.