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Friday, 30 December 2011


2011 has clearly been a good year when TIME magazine, of all publications, names “The Protestor” as its “Person of the Year”!,28804,2101745_2102132,00.html 2011 has also been called “The Year of Revolt”, “The Year of Revolution” and “The Year of the Uprisings.” (Although the BBC website, true to its mission to mystify and trivialise, simply called it “The Year When A Lot Happened,” managing to equate the Arab revolutions with Amy Winehouse’s death and the royal wedding. If you think I’m making this up, take a look:-

2011 has been a year of international revolt to bear comparison with that other annus mirabilis, 1968, and those other peaks of global revolution, 1848 and 1919. But if you were paying attention, some fairly large straws had already been a-blowin’ in the wind. In fact, in the previous year, 2010, protests and rebellions had been growing in various parts of the world as governments imposed austerity measures on their populations to pay for the banking crisis which broke in 2008, throwing the world economy into turmoil.

Here in the UK, militant student protests against fees and the marketisation of education had started in November 2010, opening the door to a new period of resistance. Tory party HQ in Millbank was occupied and trashed, police and students clashed outside parliament and, during the 9 December protests, the car carrying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall was assailed on Regent St, causing apoplexy in the right-wing media. Other European countries, notably Greece, saw much bigger protests, strikes and riots that year.

But as the man said, people make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. And on December 16, 2010, under the US-backed dictatorial regime of Zinedine Ben Al in Tunisia, a 26-year old street vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi, sole earner in his family of eight, was insulted and bullied by the police one time too many. Equipment confiscated, without money to bribe officials, desperate, he set fire to himself outside the governor’s office, dying from his burns on 4 January 2011. Thus it was that an extreme act of protest, born from oppression and despair, sparked off riots and demonstrations in Tunisia which spread and gathered momentum. By 14 January, 2011 the uprising had grown into a revolution, forcing Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. This in its turn triggered a wave of uprisings across the Middle East which are continuing as I write.

Key to the whole dynamic and zeitgeist of 2011 has been the amazing Egyptian revolution. The growing Egyptian working class had been flexing its muscles since 2006, when the number of strikes and protests began growing sharply. The US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak had been long hated for the vicious and oppressive nature of his regime, and his complicity in the Iraq war and Israel’s genocidal violence against Palestinians made him even more loathed among ordinary Egyptians. On Tuesday 25 January, 2011 a popular uprising began, and after street battles and massive demonstrations Mubarak was toppled from power on 11 February. However, the military took control of the country in his place, and the unfinished revolution continues as we move towards the new year, as people take to the streets once more in an heroic struggle to continue the revolution and wrest power from the army. Read more here: . And here, the writer Mona Eltahawy describes how she was beaten and assaulted by the Egyptian junta’s security forces

This ‘Arab Spring’ spread across much of the Middle East, as workers, students, the middle classes and the poor rose up to challenge despotic regimes. Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and many other places felt the impact of popular protest and rebellion. Even in Israel, US imperialism’s attack-dog state, there were large demonstrations over housing and other issues. The West used military intervention in Libya as a way of regaining political and economic leverage in the region. In Yemen and Syria mass military repression has resulted in many deaths and injuries, and in both countries the regimes are hanging on, slowly decomposing as mass protests continue, but exacting a terrible price for their destruction. Even the US-backed absolutist monarchy of Saudi Arabia felt the breath of revolution.

But the revolts of 2011 were not confined to the Middle East. Attacks on working people and the poor came not just from dictatorships but from the governments of the so-called ‘Western democracies’. Europe saw the unelected International Monetary Fund (IMF) the European Central Bank (ECB) and compliant politicians forcing through austerity measures that were only going to make the economic crisis worse. Their policies were increasingly exposed as springing from a specific agenda: make working people, the unemployed and the poor pay for the crisis caused by the profligacy and greed of the financial institutions. A critique of this began to emerge in the ‘Occupy’ movement which developed in opposition to corporate greed in New York in mid September and rapidly spread to most of the North American and Western European capitals and beyond.

As crisis spread across the Eurozone, with contagion making it impossible for individual states to know whether the money and bonds their banks were holding was junk or not, ruling classes relentlessly restructured their economies in their own class interests. But the citizens of many parts of Europe were being forced into rebellion. A new generation was beginning to learn that there is no crisis the capitalists and the ruling classes cannot survive if they can make the working class pay the price. Talk of a lack of lack of political representation spread, as social democratic parties of the sort that have traditionally used the rhetoric of shielding workers from the worst aspects of the free market now led the attack on workers.

Of all the Western economies, only Iceland seems to have refused to bail out its banks, and is the one country that appears to be coping best. But Western politicians and media talk as if such a response is unthinkable, despite the evidence. It seems obvious to many that to throw public sector workers on the dole, cut pensions and force up unemployment across the board will not solve the crisis, but deepen it. How can forcing down people’s standard of living and restricting the amount of money they hold possibly generate growth? But to say this is to expose yourself as a Keynesian, or possibly even a Marxist. It is an indication of how far to the right governments have gone under the cosh of the free market that such moderate proposals are now regarded as heretical and ‘beyond the pale,’ because they involve a tiny redistribution of wealth.

State intervention is anathema to the neoliberals. “You cannot buck the market,” they say. “It must be allowed to run unfettered”. Well, what about the banks? Shouldn’t they be allowed to fail too, unfettered, without government intervention? After the shock of the Lehman Bros collapse governments intervened, and we saw the biggest nationalisation in history, that of the banks. What we have seen since is actually summarised by the formulation: “socialism for the rich: capitalism for the poor”. The benefits are very specifically targeted but the risks are socialised.

In Britain the Con-Dem attack that will continue into 2012 is not essentially an economic exercise but an attack by one class on another. The capitalist class has decided on an international level that, given the scale of the crisis which is engulfing it, what is now necessary is the complete re-shaping and restructuring of the way services and benefits are provided. This involves the dismantling of the whole of the so-called ‘social wage’ which has sustained workers in the advanced capitalist countries since the end of World War Two, and goes hand-in-hand with ongoing privatisation and casualising of work itself, as attempts are made to shore up a declining rate of profit.

This is what drives the attack on public sector workers and on their unions, unions which in the 1970s and 80s were strong enough to negotiate decent pensions for their members. The fact that UK public sector pensions are better than private sector ones is actually a testimony to the power of organised labour. The powerful manual unions were hammered in the 1980s, and from the 1990s onwards their hold on private sector work shrank. Sometimes the work itself (eg mining, much of manufacturing) disappeared, and the pension schemes were raided and dismantled. At first, in the 1980s, only rogue employers like Robert Maxwell began the process of pension theft. Tested out, the practice was generalised. The theft by Ford, under the guise of Visteon, of its workers’ pensions was nothing short of criminal. There is now an all-out employer and government-led offensive against pension schemes, with unilateral cuts taking place at the employers’ will in the private sector, and union resistance continuing in the public.

But as I write the leadership of the main British trade union federation, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling off industrial action over pensions, saying it supports a government deal that is not fundamentally different from the situation before the November 30 public sector strike. The speed with which they have capitulated is undignified but unsurprising. Instead of an unified, coordinated strategy of resistance, the TUC agreed to section-by-section negotiations. Sectionalism has been the curse of the British trade union movement. It is not only strategically misguided but unprincipled for one union to agree a deal while other unions are still fighting over the same issue. The danger is that the first cracks in the fragile unity will precipitate a collapse of resistance. The TUC leadership often invokes the rhetoric of ‘Unity is Strength’ but in practice displays little grasp of it.

The pensions issue is an important one because it draws all the unions together. It effectively surmounts the laws banning solidarity action, because it affects all public sector workers. As a unifying factor, it can act as a lightning-rod for the anger which is growing around other issues but which cannot find expression. So the move towards a possible settlement is worrying. Rank and file activists must do everything possible to insert some spine into the TUC negotiators. For practical suggestions on how to keep up the pressure, click here:

And for full details of Unite the Resistance’s lobby of the TUC on Thurs 12 January and emergency national meeting on Saturday 14 January, click here:

In terms of a model for effective resistance, the unofficial walkouts, demos, blockades we have seen from electricians and other construction workers this winter have been inspirational, as have the other private sector strikes at Unilever and Argos and elsewhere. Scottish railway signal workers in the RMT union launched a three-day official strike over Christmas over changes to conditions, and in London tube workers in ASLEF also struck on Boxing Day over pay, provoking fury from the government and media. Resistance in both public and private sectors will continue as the employers begin fresh attacks in 2012.

On the other hand, the trade union and Labour Party leadership were conspicuous this year by their total uselessness. This is not just an ‘image problem’ but a defect in ideas, the origins of which go back to 1989 and beyond. After the old Stalinist regimes collapsed, the political economist and author, Francis Fukayama, deputy director of the US State Department’s policy planning department, argued in his book “The End of History? ” that the worldwide spread of ‘liberal democracies’ signalled the end-point of humanity’s sociocultural evolution, with ‘Western liberalism’ becoming the final form of human government. What we were witnessing, he said “is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such...” In other words: the class war is over and free-market capitalism has won, it is now the only game in town.

How absurd that argument now sounds, as we look back from a 2011 in which the profound structural crisis of capitalism continues to unfold with increasingly catastrophic consequences, environmental as well as political. Capitalism has proven to be ever less capable even of sustaining itself, let alone being the economic base on which to nurture progressive liberal democracies.

But throughout the 1980s and 1990s the leaders of social democratic parties and trade unions in the West had been drawing the same conclusions as Fukayama. Radical change in the direction of socialism was no longer possible: capitalism had won. The defeatism expressed in the ‘New Realism’ of the trade unions and the ‘New Times’ of Marxism Today was born of years of Thatcherite domination and trade union defeat. Thatcher, it was said, was hegemonic, had connected directly to working-class voters and Labour would never again form a majority government. Furthermore, many on the left of the Labour Party and trade union leadership had illusions in the socialist credentials of the Russian and east European economies. When these regimes collapsed in popular revolutions, their supporters were demoralised and politically disorientated.

Kinnock’s Labour Party paved the way for Blair’s New Labour – a party that loved the free market and looked after big business as well as the Tories did, while retaining a minimal social democratic gloss. This was Baron Anthony Giddens’s supposed centrism of “The Third Way,” or, to put it in the more forthright words of another baron, Peter Mandelson: “New Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” And as for the working class, well, it had ceased to exist, hadn’t it, in any significant sense, and no longer needed looking after. As John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister under the hated Blair, opined after the Labour victory in 1997, “We’re all middle-class now.”

These half-baked ideas fused with the relativity of post-modernism, careerist opportunism and a completely uncritical acceptance of the triumphalism of the US neo-cons, to create a set of political ideas and a political culture around New Labour which had very little connection with the lives and experience of ordinary people, in the UK or indeed anywhere else. Yet this was happening at a time when on a global level the working class was growing faster than for generations, and was also learning to resist the conditions capitalism forced on it, as BBC Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason illustrated in his 2007 book “Live Working or Die Fighting.”

Part of the current problem with the leadership of the UK Labour Party and trade unions is, simply, that they do not believe there is such a thing any more as the working class. Least of all do they believe in a class which is able to resist capitalism or assist in the construction of a new world. What is at the root of the collapse of social democratic reformism is firstly, the disappearance of any economic space whereby politics might actually benefit workers, and secondly, the disappearance of any sense of an agent of change. If the working class has ceased to exist, there is no agency which can change the system in any fundamental way. This belief acts as intellectual justification for a strategy of deckchair-rearranging while the system threatens to drown us all.

It is a failure of imagination and of politics - a failure of the art of the possible as much as a question of nerve, and is at the heart of the TUC sell-out over pensions and much else. With the disappearance of the central concept of class a massive void has opened up at the heart of social democratic politics, which is one of the reasons why Ed Miliband sounds so unconvincing and vapid. As I write, Labour ‘thinkers’ are warning him that he will lose the next election if he appeals to his core supporters in the public sector and leads a serious campaign against the cuts! This is the disappearance not of class politics but of a reformist politics centred on the working class. Class politics, in the sense of a political project geared to the further empowerment and enrichment of the ruling class, is of course alive and kicking.

And this sort of pessimism is pervasive. Barely 18 months ago, the ‘received wisdom’ from the media was that the banks and the governments which protect them had got away scot-free with persuading everybody that cutting the deficit was the real issue. The frankly illegal behaviour of the massive financial institutions which got us into the mess in the first place had, it was said, been forgotten. The commitment of all the major political parties to the banks and the bankers remained absolute. There was no alternative.

But resistance came from outside the UK parliament and US congress, outside the official political spheres. In September the Occupy Movement detonated in the belly of the beast – New York. Eventually involving millions world-wide, it gave a voice to the many whose disgust at the inequalities of the system had been unheard . The tactic of occupying city squares was inspired by the massive occupations of Tahrir Square, and by Los Indignados, the ‘Indignant Ones,’ whose occupation of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid triggered similar protests across Spain, and whose cry “we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers” found a resonance worldwide. The movement is on a continuum at one end of which are the small, purely symbolic protests and at the other the strikes and mass demonstrations involving thousands such as the one that shut down the port of Oakland, California, in November:,8599,2098628,00.html

The commentators that have mocked Occupy’s identification with the Egyptian revolution completely misunderstand the situation. Of course protesting in an advanced capitalist country under liberal democracy is a different experience from under Mubarak’s secret police or Assad’s army. But that is not the point. The fact is that young people growing up in somewhere like Swansea, or Hackney, as much as in Madrid or the banlieues of Paris, over the next decade are going to find that there are no jobs, slashed benefits and collapsing public services, and that all the main political parties support that state of affairs. This is a serious case of political disenfranchisement, and it is only through protest that they will be able hold on to the little they’ve got. The English riots of this summer, triggered by the police killing of an unarmed black man, Mark Duggan, were a response, visceral and inchoate, not only against the police but against this situation.

This is why 2011, the Year of Revolution and Resistance, has been such an important turning-point. The reconstitution of social movements, of a philosophy and practice of resistance, takes time. Ideas are important, but without activity they remain unanimated. A previous significant wave of international radical energy, and its ‘fructifying residue’ the ‘New Left’ of 1968, did not constitute itself in a vacuum but out of a wave of uprisings involving millions. It was not a single year, but a series of political and social convulsions which lasted from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s. There is a new urgency for us in 2010 as environmental changes caused by capitalism threaten life on the planet. The formulation of the great revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg, that the choice for humanity is either socialism or barbarism, has rarely felt so true.

Revolutionary socialists must strive to unite the social movements like Occupy with the workers’ movement and the unions. The failure of 1968 was its failure to connect such forces together: the social movements – against Vietnam, for equality, against racism – did not effectively connect up with the only power that could change things: the organised working class. Where these elements came together, as in the French general strike of May 1968, the effects were dramatic, taking us closer to revolution in a major capitalist country than at any time in the last 50 years.

In 2012 the economic crisis will deepen, as will the resistance to it. On our side, a new generation, unscarred by defeats, is taking the field. Revolutionary socialists must act as ‘the memory of the class,’ making sure that we learn from the struggles of our past. We learn, too from the activity of the class itself. Rosa Luxemburg laid great store by the spontaneous creativity of mass movements. We must have faith in the self-renewing energy of the masses, while aiming to show in practice that the ideas of revolutionary socialism do not only explain the world but are the best guide to changing it. But we must do all this with humility, in a spirit of comradeship and with a readiness to learn.

What we saw in 2011 was the beginning of the rebuilding on a global scale of a new left and of a new politics of resistance. There will be sell-outs, defeats and reverses. The horrifying power of capitalism to inflict suffering and demoralisation remains intact. But in 2011 ordinary people - workers, students, the disabled, the unemployed, the poor - began, as the overwhelming majority, as the 99%, to fight back. And that makes all the difference...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


The aftershocks of the strikes and protests of November 30 are still travelling around the body politic. It’s clear that Cameron was caught off-guard by the size not only of the strikes but of the protests and demonstrations too. Quite interesting how eager the Eton toffs and their media lackeys were to believe their own ill-judged propaganda. The prearranged media ‘line’ was that the strikes were to be, in Cameron’s words, ‘a damp squib.’ The Sun’s headline the next day was: “The (not so) general strike.” The arrogant numbskulls never considered that millions of people were going to be directly and personally involved in the action and therefore would have the evidence of their senses to go on as well as the anodyne pro-free market mystifications of the mainstream media. For the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets and experienced first-hand the size of the protests, Cameron’s comment seemed completely out of touch, forcing him to retract his smug blurt.

Local news reporters could not but see the sheer numbers on the streets. However, the spin in my local daily the South Wales Evening Post was that, instead of attending the picket lines, protests and rallies, people ‘just went shopping’. I am sure that some of those on strike did just that. It is always a minority who go on the early-morning picket (how could it be otherwise when, officially and legally, you are still only allowed six people?) It is a larger number who go on demonstrations, but still you wouldn’t expect the whole staff of a school, for example, to attend a demo.

Just let me just take the city I live in, Swansea. I have been here for six years, taking a keen interest in local popular protest and industrial relations and I have never seen anything like the size of 30 November. The local press put it at 1500: it could well have been 2000. Talking to others who are long standing trade union activists, they say the last time there was anything of this size was the huge anti-Tory protest when Keith Joseph visited the town in 1981.

Talking to people in other parts of the country, the same thing is reported: that the strikes were massively supported and that there were huge demonstrations in most towns and cities. And of course what happened when the large rallies finished? Many of the protestors did some early Xmas shopping, or flooded into the cafes and pubs. If the media are serious about harping on about this, rather than seeing it as some failure of militancy, shouldn’t they consider campaigning to give people time off work (with pay) each week to go shopping to stimulate the economy? And, by the way, have they considered the reverse impact on the shops of Swansea and elsewhere if large numbers of the big public sector workforce in the city are made redundant in order to pay the bankers? How is that going to affect the local economy? Why does joined-up thinking come so hard to the people who run local (and national) newspapers?

Jeremy Clarkson’s statement on early evening TV that public sector strikers should be taken out and shot in front of their families smacks of self-publicising idiocy. Difficult to know where to start to criticise him, really: that, like Gaddafi and Assad, he thinks protesters should be shot or that he thinks executing people is something to have a laugh about...I mean the guy comes across as a total wanker anyway, so this is what I’d expect him to say. All public sector workers should at the very least boycott his wretched environmentally-destructive macho programme from now on.

But what is interesting is the non-reaction of the authorities. Poor schmucks who propose a riot on Facebook for a few seconds (or Muslim poets who write poems about jihad on the internet) go to jail for four years or to Guantanamo. No calls of “but it was only a joke” there. But a right-wing London celeb can go on prime-time BBC TV and call for strikers to be assassinated at a time when anti-strike people might well be angry, and after fascists have actually physically attacked UK anti-cuts protestors, and what happens? Not only is he not charged with any ‘hate crime’ but his employers, the BBC, and his friend, David Cameron, defend him...

The reason the vile Clarkson’s comments reverberate so unpleasantly is, to be honest, because large-scale strikes are so rare these days. Most people have forgotten the levels of media vitriol which used to be directed at strikers in the 1970s and 80s. In a recent interview, Owen Jones, author of the excellent ‘Chavs’, , compares the demonization of working-class people today with the 1970s. “When (they) were demonised in the late 1970s it was often because of their strength...’union militants holding the country to ransom’...’union thugs and bully boys.’” Now they are excoriated as ‘chavs’ and spongers, milking the welfare state. But the same class hatred is evident. I remember a 1980s Evening Standard cartoon of a train driver striker depicted as a cave man with a ‘thick skull’, and a ‘chip on shoulder,’ which would have quite rightly been seen as racist had it depicted an ethnic group. Clarkson’s talk of executions revives this sort of demonization. I heard a radio phone-in programme the day after the strike which was shamelessly whipping up hatred against public sector workers and their ‘gold-plated’ pensions. We should expect more of this as action rises in defence of workers’ rights.

The big question after 30 NOV is : WHAT NEXT? My gut feeling is that whatever spreads the action to larger and wider groups should be supported, and any attempts to ‘sectionalise’ the movement should be resisted. The idea of calling out one section at a time, as council workers at Southampton have been doing since May, is not some magic solution, as industrial relations expert Gregor Gall shows in this thoughtful piece, written in October : And also this one, written in Union News after #N30:

For some of the trade union leadership, the idea of the sectional, ‘smart strike’ is very attractive. Everybody knows that one day will not do it, but the ‘received wisdom’ among the union leadership is that members won’t come out for more than a day, because of the financial hit to their pockets. They may have a point, but one way to resolve this is to offer strike pay at an adequate level, perhaps calling on members to contribute to a strike fund, to fund-raise etc, and to campaign around this, arguing the case to the membership that more united action is necessary. There is perhaps some agitational work needs doing here. That is surely what leadership means. No?

For all these reasons, I am very dubious about sectional action, except if it is being used as a springboard to more united action. I fear that the danger is that some in the TUC may use the so-called sectional, ‘smart strike’ as a substitute for more full-on action. This sort of ‘death by a million strikes’ can end up leading members up a blind alley, creating the sense of doing something but ending up by demoralising and exhausting people, and then blaming them when, exasperated, they fail to vote for another one-day strike, thus letting the bureaucrats off the hook – “we did all we could – it was the membership that sold out!” While sectional action is better than no action at all, it should never be used as a substitute for more effective action. Sectionalism is the curse of the British trade union movement. While socialists cannot just yell “General Strike!” all the time, and while there are probably going to be occasions where, as part of a wider left movement, we end up supporting sectional, regional, ‘staggered’ action, we should always be arguing within the unions for action that will draw larger numbers into activity. The more united we are the stronger we are.

What does need to be done is for the campaign to begin in the new year with another nationwide strike. The day needs to be named as soon as possible. There should also be immediate work-to-rules wherever this can be achieved. Teachers and lecturers are already planning this. Workers in particular industries should decide what is most effective: no working out of hours, no marking, ‘withdrawal of goodwill’, whatever. But it should be united action, not something that only affects one section. There should at the same time be a sustained campaign to persuade union members of the case for more strike action. Probably best to see this as the first phase, aiming to culminate with another strike - a 48-hour one, this time - in February. Remember the pension reforms go live on 1 April 2012. If we can’t knock them back by then it’s going to be much harder afterwards.

Any attempts by employers to go on the offensive – as at Langley School in Newham, for example, where they are bringing in agency scabs, should be countered by wider, more united action. We cannot allow rogue employers to test out new attacks which will then be generalised. Alliances also need urgently to be built which unite service users with providers – this could create a Wisconsin-type situation and give strikers the political clout to knock the government back. We should be going all out to spread the action beyond simple union action, involving for example students, disabled groups and other user groups. Also linking with the Occupy movement and all other anti-cuts groups. In France, Spain and Italy the attack on pensions was beaten back. In those struggles the decisive factor was widespread industrial action combined with enormous popular mobilisations. This is the model we should be aiming at.

(Many thanks to Deni for pix!)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

"...the aim was to rub out the working class as a political and economic force in society..",

Why doesn’t Britain make things any more? Aditya Chakrabortty has written an article for the Guardian on what he calls the “de-industrial revolution.” The article can be read here:

De-industrialisation is an issue which most of the mainstream media has decided it is impolite to discuss, so I was interested to read what he had to say. I was particularly interested since I live in south-west Wales, a region which has been repeatedly visited by the de-industrial wrecking ball. My hometown of Llanelli was involved in iron production since the late eighteenth century, then tinplate and steel, and the surrounding area was the edge of the anthracite coalfield, with coal being dug from the seventeenth century onwards. That is, until 1989 when the last local pit, Cynheidre, closed. Shipping had already gone, as had metal production, with the closure of the last steelworks in 1981. The steelworkers were the first to feel the impact of Thatcherism: they lost a 13-week strike in 1980 and paid the price with thousands of jobs.

Llanelli, like Swansea to the east, displays all the symptoms of de-industrialisation: high unemployment, collapse of infrastructure, visible evidence of homelessness, widespread social problems with alcohol and hard drugs (the council is currently applying for an order to make street drinking illegal), low-level crime, a general air of decay and collapse exacerbated by the relocation of the big chain stores to a nearby retail park away from an increasingly crumbling, boarded-up town centre. Yet, surprisingly for a town which used to have both a strong work ethic and a powerful Nonconformist presence, public discourse about the impact of deindustrialisation has been non-existent.

The town has seemed to all intents and purposes to be in denial about what happened to it. Like an abused child, it has internalised the trauma, blaming itself. When last year a series of TV fly-on-the wall documentaries, although flawed, at least attempted to describe in public the town’s serious heroin problem, there was an outcry in the local paper the Llanelli Star and elsewhere. “Did these people want to drive away investors or something?” was the cry. So all serious attempts to describe the ripple effects of deindustrialisation and to identify the problems are themselves closed off before they even get started.

Carmarthenshire county council talk as if the tokenism of building a Travel Lodge and a multiplex in the town centre are major steps towards correcting the decline. Previously regeneration was to be effected through the ‘Marina development’ down the old North Dock – still empty years after finish. Yet while there will be some welcome construction work, and while shops will provide a tiny number of jobs, what it will mainly do is provide profits for the multinationals that run the wretched places. A Travel Lodge and a Multiplex? Has this been costed and thought through? People have to have some spare cash to go to the cinema, especially with what they charge for popcorn these days, and increasing numbers of young people watch films on the internet. And who the hell is going to come to stay in a hotel in boarded-up downtown Llanelli when Swansea and the Gower are a few miles away? Since when did ‘build some shops’ become ‘regeneration’?

But to be honest, this doesn’t demonstrate any great originality by Carmarthenshire county council. It is of a piece with the ‘dominant narrative’ across the board politically and culturally. As councils and local authorities lost more and more of their powers, and as their ability to raise revenues directly declined, so their rhetoric about ‘regeneration’ became, paradoxically, ever more fulsome. In reality, as local councils lost whatever ability they once had to respond to local needs, so councillors were more and more relegated to the level of functionaries doing the bidding of central government, entirely tied to its purse-strings and faithfully reflecting its priorities and its protection of corporate interests. This feeling of powerlessness led to a decline in involvement with local politics, part of the ‘democratic deficit’ which is now feeding the Occupy movement.

The great con-trick which Tory and then Labour governments perpetrated was the illusion of decentralisation and ‘giving power back to the people.’ The reality of this was increased concentration of the important powers, tax, revenue, police etc and the selling-off of the rest. ‘Decentralisation’ was really a front for privatisation. Why should you have local councils looking after the interests of commercial enterprises when you can just cut out the middleman? Why have properly funded services, whether in health or education, when you can let market forces do it all?

Of course, these were the same market forces that were supposed to fill the gap caused by the closing down of mining, steel and manufacturing industry. This was at best a pious hope and at worst a callous lie. Thatcherism unleashed what Owen Jones, author of ‘Chavs’ called a “tsunami of de-industrialisation” which decimated communities and caused manufacturing to collapse. When Thatcher came to power in 1979 over 7 million UK workers earned a living in manufacturing: 30 years later this had fallen to 2.83 million. Jones traces the cultural and political demonisation of the working class, and the media campaign to portray working-class people as chavs and scroungers, in tandem with the return of endemic high levels of unemployment from the 1980s onwards. Blame the victim: after all, as Jones says, “ admit that some people are poorer than others because of the social injustice inherent in our society would require government action.”

The lived day-to-day reality for people living in the economically devastated areas of the UK which were previously the industrial centres is a permanent reminder of the social destruction wrought by Thatcher in the 1980s. It is, by the way, why many of us older trade unionists feel such rage at so-called ‘Thatcher chic’ which is now laughably being promulgated with the Meryl Streep movie, and which shows how highly-paid media hacks have become totally detached from the lives of ordinary people (another theme of Owen’s). Any notion that this wife of a millionaire (I mean Thatcher, not Streep) represented any sort of progress for women, when the effects of her attacks on the lives, livelihoods and culture of working class women and men still scar our lives, is in extremely poor taste.

Those of us who stood on miners’ and printers’ picket lines to be charged by horses and battered by riot police were in no doubt about the Tories’ desire to extract vengeance for the successful miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974, the second of which brought down the Heath government. Workers got revenge, of sorts: the mass campaign against the poll tax, culminating in the 1990 poll tax riot ‘day of rage,’ was what toppled Thatcher at the last. But the changes her governments forced through had profound consequences, extended and confirmed by subsequent Labour administrations, which by then had completely ideologically de-camped to free market economics.

It is this sense of class warfare that is the central omission in Chakrabortty’s article. He talks about the various narratives which have been spun to justify deindustrialisation, and how Labour, under Blair and Brown, were guilty of what he calls ‘techno-utopianism,’ apparently believing that

“Once the British had sold cars and ships to the rest of the world; now they could flog culture and tourism and Laura Croft.” He quite correctly exposes the fallacies and downright lies peddled in this process, and shows how the free market and the ‘smaller state’ (big society?) have contributed to the disintegration of the UK economy. But the dominant tone of his article is a sort of sense of puzzlement at how such economic self-harm could have been wrought.

And to be honest it is rather puzzling if you just leave it at that. Why, after all, should our rulers have deliberately introduced weaknesses into the economy that would become deadly faultlines, making the crash, when it came, so catastrophic? How can a serious strategy have been devised to destroy the UK’s industrial base, and then to replace it with finance, which produces nothing, and debt? Was it just wishful thinking? Were they just stupid? Well no, not all of them. For some of them there was another overriding concern, nay, obsession, which made the future wealth of the society an irrelevant consideration.

Chakrabortty talks about the onset of a Tory ‘austerity programme’ as if it were a change in the weather. He ignores the most important prerequisite of deindustrialisation – destroy the effectiveness of workers’ organisations to resist. We forget what a fright the workers’ struggles of the 1970s gave the British ruling classes. They were determined to crush the unions forever.

There is no mention in the article of the set piece battles that Thatcher fought in her assaults on the trade unions, especially the miners. This is the clue to understanding a political and economic trajectory which otherwise makes no sense. The crucial factor in the equation was that the changes, it was hoped, would deal fundamental damage to the trade union movement. That overrode all other considerations. For that Thatcher was prepared to risk destroying the economic foundations of the society and, ultimately, weakening its competitive edge on world markets.

There is always a sense in which our rulers cannot see what is in front of their noses because, unlike Marxists, they do not see the creative act of labour as being central to the creation of value. It is always the ‘animal dynamism’ of entrepreneurs or some such self-justifying bollocks that animates things for them. So, in the logic of capitalism, why not create a fantasy land where you let the markets rip, relying on debt to power your economy? If you see value as lying in the power of money, then why not break the laws of gravity of your own economics? Why not build castles in the air from derivatives, collateralised debt obligations and credit exchange swaps? Who not destroy the ability of the British economy to manufacture goods?

Entering the fantasy-land of the free market, of globalised neoliberal capitalism, has consequences. The workers of Pinochet’s Chile, where the free market experiment was first tested out in 1973, know that. We did not have to suffer what our Chilean comrades did, but what was done to British workers was no small thing. As Jones puts it: “There has been no greater assault on working-class Britain than Thatcher’s two-pronged attack on industry and trade unions. It was not just that the systematic trashing of the country’s manufacturing industries devastated communities – though it certainly did, leaving them ravaged by unemployment, poverty and all the crippling social problems that accompany them, for which they would later be blamed. Working –class identity itself was under fire. The old industries were the beating hearts of the communities they sustained...the unions, whatever their faults and limitations, had given the workers in these communities strength, solidarity and a sense of power. All of this had sustained a feeling of belonging, of pride in a shared working-class experience...the aim (of the Tory offensive) was to rub out the working class as a political and economic force in society, replacing it with a collection of individuals, or entrepreneurs, competing with each other for their own interests.”

Thatcher aimed to get rid of trade unions which had a strong rank-and-file, and radical traditions of direct, unofficial action, replacing them with shrunken, over-bureaucratised shells, over-controlled from the top down, more interested in selling their members credit cards and car insurance than in organising for a fight. Actually, it is resistance, not credit cards, that builds unions, it is exercising the power which workers have which gives them confidence in their ability to collectively fight back. We are still in the process of rebuilding this from the bottom up. New, young people, unscarred by the defeats of the past, come in, and new waves of resistance begin, triggered now by the accelerating breakdown of capitalism.

What Thatcher and the others did not understand is that all this is done because we have no other choice. Things like trade unions are basic defensive organisations. We resist through trade unions when we can. If not we resist in other ways. In class society it is the struggle between the classes that drives history forward. If that sounds ‘grand narrative’ that’s because it’s meant to, and as I look around the world, at the street battles in Athens, the general strike in Oakland, California, the revolutionary struggles in Tahrir Square, I make absolutely no apologies for that.

As we prepare for the strikes on November 30, we should remember that the pauperisation of some places – Llanelli, Merthyr, Moss Side - ran in parallel with the obscene enrichment of other places - the City of London, the Stock Exchange. This is why the OccupyLSX movement and the N30 strikes are an integral part of each other.

We are entering a period of uprisings and revolutions.

The Nov 30 strikes herald a new phase of the struggle.

Comrades come rally...