Building the Fightback in 2023 – Matt Willgress, Arise Festival


“Let’s make 2023 the year of mass waves of resistance to the Tories, where we put our values of solidarity and unity into practice.”

Matt Willgress

By Matt Willgress

The start of 2023 has confirmed that despite the “re-packaging” in parts of the media when Rishi Sunak replaced the hapless Liz Truss as Tory leader, this is as right-wing and Thatcherite a Government as ever.

In particular, new anti-trade union legislation has further confirmed that this is also an increasingly authoritarian Government intent on ever-tightening restrictions on our right to resist. The new attack on our right to strike is the latest addition to the long list of reactionary legislation that includes the so-called Public Order Bill and many other attacks.

Whilst threatening to deny trade unions their fundamental rights, Tory ministers in January also 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. At the time of writing, this means that strike action is set to escalate, including with the PCS announcing 100,000 members will be on strike on what is shaping up to be a major day of action on February 1.

The Tory refusal to budge on pay is the logical follow-on from last year’s the autumn statement which confirmed they are locking-in austerity for years on end and means the social emergency we face – including in terms of deepening levels of poverty and inequality – is going to get ever-scarier and more inhumane.

Whilst this is going on, Labour has a much-welcome and consistent poll lead, but with Tory MPs not likely to vote for an election until late 2024, urgent resistance to the Tories’ attacks is increasingly coming from trade unions and social movements.

And in the context of this growing resistance, the Labour Front Bench’s response is often disappointing to put it mildly.

First we had the attempt to stop front-benchers backing strikes or going to picket lines. More recently, we had a refusal to commit to reversing new anti-union laws if they are passed and Labour then gets back to power. And then alongside this we have seen developments such as Wes Streeting’s increasing support for private sector involvement in the NHS deeply alienate many of those same people who are facing the brunt of the Tory attacks.

In this context, the Labour Left can play a vital role on two fronts.

Firstly, as part of all the movements mushrooming up across our communities against the ruling-class offensive, and secondly by acting as a bridge for these struggles into the Labour Party.

On the first point, moves to co-ordinate actions between different social movement and trade union struggles should be particularly welcomed and encouraged. When Extinction Rebellion and the Don’t Pay campaign both gave support to – and added supplementary actions to – a recent day of action called by ‘Enough is Enough’ and trade unions around the cost-of-living crisis, it helped amplify the core messages of the day and bring together different activists and causes that have a common enemy not only in this Tory Government, but the whole rotten system.

On the second point, the Labour Left needs to look at ways that its different elements can work much better together to win support for these struggles in the Labour Party, and indeed expose the front bench’s failure to get behind them.

One way to do this, could be for different key organisations to try and circulate a model motion each month on the same key issue, or even better the same model motion, that could then be taken to CLPs across the country. Recent and relevant examples on where this should be eminently possible include backing strikes, firmly opposing the Tories’ attacks on refugees and their rights, and on standing up for civil liberties, including our right to strike.

Let’s make 2023 the year of mass waves of resistance to the Tories, where we put our values of solidarity and unity into practice.

  • 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.
  • Online Rally Building the Fightback in 2023. 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. Register here.
  • This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. You can subscribe to Labour Briefing by sending a £20 cheque with your address to ‘Labour Briefing Co-op, PO Box 78639, London N16 1LA.
Featured image: Labour for Labour rally at the World Transformed September 24th, 2022. Photo credit: Labour Outlook

Leave a Reply