The John McDonnell Column May 2011


We are witnessing, on 30th June, the greatest act of trade union solidarity in a generation – but it must only be a start if we are to fend off and defeat the attack this Government has launched against us.

For a start, don’t shy away from describing what this attack is. It is class war in its starkest form. Every cut to our public services, every worker sacked and every cut to our pay and pensions is not just a personal or individual loss – it is an assault on us all as a class. It is as a class, therefore, that we have to fight back to stand any chance of protecting ourselves and defeating this wretched Government.

The methods by which we can defeat them are obvious. First, dismiss any idea that a lead on this struggle will come from Parliament. The Government will only be defeated in Parliament after they have been defeated by extra-parliamentary action. Only when they are defeated on the picket lines and on the streets will this Government become vulnerable to parliamentary and electoral defeat.
That is why mobilising for 30th June – and the actions which must follow – is an absolute duty falling on all our shoulders. Joining the picket lines, participating in the rallies and marching in the demonstrations associated with this dispute will give a massive boost to the confidence of not just the workers on strike but also to all those others who are becoming the victims of this Government and this recession.

We should now be raising the call for co-ordinated industrial action in the autumn at every opportunity. Some trade union leaders who are now announcing that they will support sustained action later this year will, when the time comes, seek to head it off by dressing up minor sops ministers throw to them as major gains which justify calling off action. Don’t let them divide us and deflect us from the task in hand. That task is uniting the trade union movement in a united call for a General Strike as the movement’s contribution to an Autumn of Anger.

There will also be politicians from all sides who will condemn the strikes and direct action campaigns. They should be ignored – largely because they are the ones who are culpable for initiating and supporting the policies which have led to this economic crisis. They also offer no alternative to the cuts. Arguments that a Labour government should cut slightly less over a longer period of time are hardly going to inspire workers who are losing their jobs and having their pensions and pay cut to support the return of a Labour government. Cuts delayed are still an attack on working people’s living standards and are still part of the process of making the working class pay for this crisis caused by the wealthy.

If there is any confusion about who is not being asked to pay for this crisis, a swift reading of the Financial Times should clarify matters. Check out the latest bankers’ wage rises it has published. Jamie Dimon from Morgan Chase was paid $20,776,324, a 1,541% increase on 2009. Stephen Hester of Royal Bank of Scotland – which is owned by us taxpayers – received a total pay award of $11,537,346, 15% up on last year. John Varley from Barclays gained a 239% pay rise last year, taking his pay to $5,945,946 in 2010. And we shouldn’t forget Eric Daniels from Lloyds, who was blamed for the disastrous tie up of Lloyds and HSBC – who was paid $8,367,953 in 2010, a mere 68% pay rise on 2009.

Don’t ever let them tell us we have to pay for this crisis with cuts when the bankers and speculators who really did cause the breakdown of our banking system continue – literally – to laugh all the way to the bank.

Alongside the industrial action we need, we should be encouraging – and taking part in – direct action on every possible front. Occupations, demonstrations and creative peaceful direct action mobilisations can make their invaluable contribution to creating a climate of opinion in which the Government continuing in office becomes unsustainable.

There is every prospect at this stage that the Government will react with more anti-trade union legislation and further laws to undermine the right to protest. At this point, it will have stepped beyond any semblance of democratic legitimacy and the only legitimate and effective response will be civil disobedience. When the civil rights movements of the 1960s marched, one of the songs they sang was We shall overcome. When the young demonstrators marched through Alabama facing the threats of the racists, civil guards and police, they sang this song but they changed the words of one of the verses to “we are not afraid, we walk hand in hand”. Be ready, be determined, be confident. We can win if we are not afraid and if we walk hand in hand. Solidarity!

John McDonnell is MP for Hayes & Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and the Labour Representation Committee.

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