The death of a class enemy

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
15 April 2013

Rarely has the class divide in British society been more graphically exposed than by Thatcher's death at her chosen "care home" - the Ritz hotel (£900 per night plus meals!).

One side - the side of the capitalist class, with its politicians and businessmen - paid ceremonious tributes to her services to British capital - including her large-scale privatisations, her rolling back of the welfare system and public services, and her massive tax cuts for companies and the wealthy.

The other side - the working class - expressed, on the contrary, its hatred for what it sees, rightly, as the symbol of three decades of on-going attacks against workers' jobs, conditions and communities.

Thatcher and the class war

What made Thatcher a class enemy was the ruthlessness of her onslaught against the working class during her premiership in the 1980s.

Not that the so-called "Iron Lady" succeeded in paralysing the working class into total submission. During 7 of the 11 years of her rule, she was confronted with many strikes, often long and large. There was the miners' strike, of course, but also strikes by steelworkers, as well as seafarers, print and health workers, among others. What's more, on two occasions, she had to face such explosions of anger from inner-city youth, that in comparison, the riots of 2011 look like a tea party,.

However, Thatcher's main merit in the eyes of the capitalist class wasn't that she crushed these strikes herself - which she didn't, at least not single-handedly - but that she got union leaders to do a large part of the dirty work for her, by policing their own ranks.

Thatcher came to office after a decade in which union leaders had been discredited by their cooperation with Labour's austerity policies. As a result, in the 1970s, many, if not most, of the numerous strikes were unofficial - as much against union leaders, as they were against the bosses.

Behind her demagogic anti-union rhetoric, Thatcher's strategy was to get union leaders to regain control of their membership. Within just a few months of coming to power, she got the bosses' organisation, the CBI, to make a deal with the TUC (the so-called "concordat") which was to be the blueprint for her first anti-strike laws. And the following year, while the TUC was adopting a policy of "new realism" - which endorsed the idea that strikes should no longer be a weapon of choice - Thatcher passed her second anti-strike law.

Significantly, these laws were hardly ever used to prosecute union leaders, even if they bestowed such new powers on the state. They were really aimed at extinguishing workers' militancy and that's what they were used for, but mostly by union leaders themselves, as a convenient excuse for their own passivity.

Fighting today's "Thatcherism"

In 1990, Thatcher was finally pushed aside by her own peers, when the discredit she'd earned as a result of introducing the poll tax, became too much of a liability for her party.

But "Thatcherism" did not go away. Every government that followed, whether Thatcher's Tory successor John Major, Labour's Blair and Brown or, today, the ConDem Coalition, has implemented its own version of Thatcherism. All these governments displayed the same determination to please the City. All of them wanted to reduce the share of society's wealth that goes to the working class majority, in whatever shape or form, whether it be wages, or public and social services, and divert it to the capitalist class.

In fact, "Thatcherism" was nothing but the real face of a capitalist system in its umteenth crisis, placing all the resources of the state at the service of the capitalist class, in order to maintain its profits, at the expense of the working population.

Today, after 5 years of a crisis far deeper than anything under Thatcher, "Thatcherism" is hitting us again with renewed brutality. The attacks against the poorest which came into force in early April - including the "bedroom tax" - just at the same time as Osborne was awarding a new round of tax cuts to the wealthiest, are the latest, but certainly not the last, example of this brutality.

And this should remind us of vital lessons from the Thatcher years. Thatcher only got away with her attacks at the time, because in each strike, she had to deal with just one section of workers. The sectional policy of union leaders and their refusal to unite workers' ranks in a common fight against the capitalist's offensive, meant that each time the strikers had to fight in isolation. But it doesn't need to be that way. It is certainly possible to organise a common fightback involving all sections of workers. In fact it is the only way forward today.