The British state is no stranger to violence.
In the last two decades, UK armed forces have bombed and murdered in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and the Government is now enacting a law to prevent British troops from being accused of war crimes. Britain has sold munitions and other military equipment around the globe, fuelling such conflicts as the continuing war in Yemen (Britain is no longer the world’s third-biggest arms dealer as it was two decades ago, but it is still in the top eight, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).1 Currently, perhaps in a desperate attempt to appear significant in the wake of the Brexit débacle, it is seeking to project its military power in the Black Sea by sending two warships amid ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.2
Strengthening the State...
At home, though it’s rare now to turn out the troops to defend capitalism’s interests, the police are used to fulfil a similar role. From the Miners’ Strike to the arrests of environmental activists and the heavy-handed policing of BLM marches last year, the state uses the police to crack down on dissent. Through the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the government is proposing to give the police more powers to break up demonstrations and further criminalise protest. A demonstration in Bristol against the proposed Bill at the end of March became a violent confrontation3 – the police alleged the demonstrators started the violence, but participants tell us that the police attacked a group of mainly angry women. Police claims of injuries to cops including broken ribs and punctured lungs were found to be fabrications lapped up by the press.4 This was only days after a vigil in London in memory of Sarah Everard was broken up by police in brutal scenes.5 Though these kinds of events do not generally pose an existential threat to capitalism and the state they still question the system – if nothing else by giving the lie to the idea that we are all passive and “consent” to the status quo.
…whilst Attacking Workers
Beefing up the state is not the only threat to the working class. Our living and working conditions are also under attack. More than 800,000 workers in the UK have been made redundant over the last year6 as the bosses use the downturn caused by the Covid lockdowns as an excuse to attack workers. The crisis began long before Covid (Carphone Warehouse, Monarch and Flybe, for example, all collapsed before Covid hit the UK) but it is the latest excuse for the inability of capitalism to provide a decent future. The reality is wages have remained almost flat since the financial crash of 2008 and the poorest 20% have seen their incomes decline over the last 10 years.7
We have written many times about the crisis of capitalism that has been unfolding for half a century. No matter what parties hold power, the crisis continues. They need to massively devalue existing capital to resume profitable exclusion but as they want to avoid the uncertainty of a Third World War, their only remaining option is to attack the working class, to make us pay for capitalism’s crisis through lower wages, more precarious conditions and by rolling back the last vestiges of the welfare state. In January the TUC protested about the practice of "fire and rehire".8 It’s claimed that over the last year, 1 in 10 workers has been told to accept cuts to wages and/or worsening working conditions, or face dismissal. According to research published in the Observer and on the Guardian website9 , over the last year companies alleged to be using these tactics include Centrica, where "hundreds" of British Gas fitters lost their jobs last week while Centrica made an £80 million profit, and Go Ahead North West (another profit-making firm that took government grants to keep workers employed).
Other firms such as ESS that supplies caterers and cleaners to the MOD and Goodlord which provides computer services to estate agents, are also accused of using "fire and rehire" tactics. The practice is not confined to private companies either – NHS hospital porters in Birmingham and teachers in Loughborough, Leicestershire are also under threat of "fire and rehire".10
These attacks are happening because the ruling class doesn’t have any solution to the crisis. The only answer to the capitalists’ problem of trying to increase profit-rates is to increase the exploitation of the working class, in the knowledge that this might provoke resistance from workers who see their wage-packets shrinking and conditions worsening, if they’re not thrown onto the dole. So, on the one hand, the economic attacks, to try and restore profitability to a broken system that offers only catastrophe to humanity. On the other hand, the strengthening of the state apparatus in the face of expected trouble, in a desperate bid to cling on to power. Only the united working class has the power to do away with the whole rotten mess and build the future communist society.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 55) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.