Solidarity and Unity Vital to Building the Fightback in 2023 – Matt Willgress

“It is scary but true to say that we have seen nothing yet in terms of the ruling-class offensive on our communities.”

This is a vital time for the Left writes Matt Willgress, Arise Festival

This week, Tory ministers met numerous trade unions from different sectors to discuss public-sector pay in the face of growing industrial action, but the unions’ reaction across the board was that no real movement was made, meaning that strike action is set to escalate, including with the PCS announcing 100,000 of their members will be on strike on what is shaping up to be a major day of industrial and other forms of action on February 1st.

The Tory refusal to budge on pay is the logical follow-on from the Tories’ autumn statement towards the end of 2022 which confirmed they are locking-in austerity for years on end, including real terms pay cuts for public sector workers.

We need to be clear what this means in terms of human and social impact – it means starving local government, the NHS, education and other public services of resources for years even though they are already at breaking points, it means not solving the social care crisis for years, and it means ever-increasing poverty and inequality (already at grotesque levels) for years.

The Left needs to understand the scale of what we are up against politically, the extent of the crisis Britain is facing, and vitally the scale plus nature of what is to come if the Tories aren’t forced out, and the political agenda isn’t dramatically reset in this country.

In this sense, it is scary but true to say that we have seen nothing yet in terms of the ruling-class offensive on our communities.

Boris Johnson had already used the cover of the Covid crisis to launch a massive offensive on all fronts, and Liz Truss seemed intent on a quickfire carnival of reaction and bonfire of our rights, but even with both these gone we now a new wave of austerity is being accompanied with an orgy of reaction. This includes – but is in no way limited to – new attacks on trade unions and union rights, the scapegoating of refugees, the demonisation of Trans people, attacks on benefit claimants, and much more besides.

This is alongside a hard-right foreign policy agenda and driving the agenda on tackling climate change backwards, even if some of the most extreme rhetoric from the Truss days has at least temporarily been abandoned on this front.

This is also an increasingly authoritarian Government intend on ever-tightening restrictions on our right to resist, with new anti-trade union laws attacking our right to strike being add to the long list of reactionary legislation that includes the so-called Public Order Bill and many other attacks.

Such a prospect means that the Left but must rise to the challenges ahead as we face this deepening social and economic emergency.

We need to be organising resistance to the Tory offensive right now – and give all we can in solidarity with those communities, trade unions and other progressive causes (such as the BLM and climate justice movements) making a stand.

Crucially we need to be backing those movements taking direct action and backing those workers taking industrial action.

We have seen widespread industrial action from unions including the RMT, TSSA, ASLEF, CWU, RCN, RCM, PCS, UCU and Unite, and as I write this piece numerous unions including the NEU and FBU are set to join them – all standing up not only for their own jobs, pay and conditions, but also for a better future for all of us.

In this context of deepening resistance to the Tories, when the Labour front bench doesn’t take on the fight needed, we need to do it ourselves – and we simply can’t be waiting until a General Election, which could not be until the end of 2024, in order to get the Tories out and start to win change. By then millions more people would have suffered to unbearable degrees, and our collective rights could have been rolled back generations.

To move things forward, the Left must work together more and work together better in the Labour Party and beyond it. This means much more conscious co-operation and conscious collective organising, and the basis for working together must be to support the real struggles taking place in our society and to put forward a positive Left policy agenda.

Let’s make 2023 the year of mass and growing waves of resistance to the Tories – join us at the Building the Fightback on February 1 in solidarity with workers in struggle and to map out our next steps.

  • Matt Willgress is the national co-ordinator of Arise – A Festival of Left Ideas.
  • You can follow Arise – A Festival of Left Ideas on Facebook and twitter; and see all upcoming Arise events here.
  • ONLINE RALLY: Building the Fightback in 2023 takes place 6.30pm Wednesday, February 1st with Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary; Diane Abbott MP; Dave Ward, CWU General Secretary; Richard Burgon MP; Helen O’Connor, GMB Southern Region & Peoples Assembly; Liz Cabeza, Acorn (Haringey); Nabeela Mowlana, Young Labour; Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No; Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary. Get your tickets here.
Featured image: The Arise Festival Conference on December 10th, 2022. Photo credit: Labour Outlook

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