On Sunday 1 October tens of thousands will protest at the Tory party conference, demanding no more austerity; scrap the pay cap; decent health, homes, jobs and education.
At the TUC congress in Brighton on 10-13 September, Mark Serwotka, leader of the civil service workers’ union PCS, said: “We have a weak government with no mandates to implement further public sector pay restraint. Now is the time for the action required to defeat this government pay cap and put real-terms pay increases in the pockets of our members”.
Other union leaders also said that action was called for, and talked of going for a rise of 5% for public sector workers.
On 24-27 September the Labour Party conference meets in Brighton. Labour has been consistently ahead in the polls since its left-wing manifesto gave it a good result in June’s snap general election.
A more recent poll showed 58% backing Labour’s plan to scrap uni tuition fees; 57% backing renationalisation of utilities and 55% of the railways; and 69% backing a cap on top bosses’ spiralling pay.
More local Labour Party delegates will be at the conference for many years, and they will include many left-wingers who joined or were revitalised after Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015.
The potential is great for asserting and clarifying left-wing policies, and making rule changes to give the Labour Party the democratic life it has not had since Tony Blair imposed his own rules in 1997.
Already the fire down below has pushed the Tory government into saying it will drop its 1% pay cap for public sector workers. Since 2010, according to a calculator devised by the public service workers’ union Unison, workers now on £30,000 a year have become £4,800 worse off in real terms, those on £20,000 a year, £3,200 worse off.
Nine years after the 2008 crash, profits have recovered nicely. Unemployment is lower than since 1975 and the percentage of those of working age in employment higher than ever. Yet real wages across the economy are still falling. They edged ahead of inflation briefly in 2015-6, but have been falling most of the time since 2010.
The Tories’ retreat is slight. They have approved pay rises for police and prison officers slightly above 1%, but still below inflation, and put no money into public budgets to cover the rises.
They hint at slightly higher rises for health and education workers, but still at no reversal of the school cuts and the NHS budget caps, so any higher rises will be at the expense of cuts.
Even after the June election, chancellor Philip Hammond declared: “It would be easy to take our foot off the pedal [of cuts]. But instead we must hold our nerve [with] a steady determination to restore our public finances to balance by 2025”.
The Tories can imagine nothing else. And Hammond, at least, knows that their Brexit plans, despite Boris Johnson’s cooked statistics, will bring economic damage, if only from the loss of tax revenue from millions of EU-origin workers. More of those workers than of the general population are in the tax-contributing years of life rather than the drawing-down-the-benefits later and earlier years.
Politically and economically, the conditions are here for the labour movement to go on the counter-offensive. The task of socialists is to get the labour movement ready to do that.
In the unions, that means nailing down the general talk about action into definite plans for definite sectors facing definite settlement dates, and wide and energetic support now for pay disputes already in train, like the Picturehouse workers’.
In the Labour Party, it means organising the left and taking the fight through Labour Party conference for Labour to back workers’ industrial disputes; to open up internal democracy; to help new left-wing activists organise a real Labour youth movement; and to commit to policies capable of overturning the power of capital.
On the streets on 1 October it means maximum mobilisation and a loud demand to tax the rich.
Let’s get to work.