A 12 April opinion poll put Labour ahead of the Tories, 34/31, for only the second time since the 2015 general election. Among people aged 18 to 24, it showed a Labour lead of 51/20.
The Tories have been battered by Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation, by their splits over Europe, by their forced retreat on disabled benefits, and by the Panama Papers. Labour can get ahead. It will be hard on 5 May.
Sadiq Khan should win London mayor for Labour. But an SNP landslide in Scotland is almost certain. In polls for the Welsh Assembly, Labour is still ahead of the Tories and Plaid Cymru, but less than it was in the last Assembly elections because Ukip’s rise to 16% of the poll has taken more from Labour than from the others. Across Britain, some other polls show the Tories still ahead, and, despite their splits and rows, Ukip is on 17%.
Labour did relatively well last time round — four years ago — in many councils being contested now, and that will make the 5 May results look bad. The other downside is that many Labour right-wingers don’t care how Labour does on 5 May, or actually want Labour to do badly so that things look bad for Jeremy Corbyn.
Every tilt towards Labour on 5 May will help weaken the Tories and push back the Labour right’s plots. The token left-of-Labour candidacies for 5 May are neither politically bold enough to plant a flag for revolutionary socialism, nor well-based enough to give confidence to the broader movement.
What happens after 5 May? Across the country, Labour councils are dead set on continuing to do the Tories’ dirty work, transmitting the chops in central government funding into cuts in local services and jobs. Even individual rebels, like Lambeth Labour council Rachel Heywood, who has come out against library closures there, are rare. The cuts are now huge. Any difference made by carrying them out in a supposedly “caring” way is now marginal, and will anywhere disappear when next year’s cuts come round. If Labour councils defy the government and refuse to make those cuts, the government will have to back down as it did on disabled benefits and tax credits. If even one or two councils defy, they can win as Clay Cross and Poplar did in their day. The choice of Labour councils complying with the cuts is a choice to line up those councils with the Tories against their communities, to undermine Labour’s revival, and to help the Tories get over their disarray.
Tories are now claiming that the junior doctors’ dispute is an attempt to bring down the government — in other words, saying that if they are forced to concede to the junior doctors, then they will be forced to concede to public service workers across the board, and will become a lame duck government. They say they now look on the junior doctors’ dispute as their “miners’ strike”, their equivalent for this decade of Thatcher’s Tories’ showdown with the labour movement in 1984-5.
The labour movement should make it a “miners’ strike” for us today. We — other unions, and the Labour Party, and the Labour Party leaders too — should rally round the junior doctors, and without the weaseling, equivocation, and betrayals of 1984-5. The government has taken one step back already on its plans for forced academisation of schools and abolition of Qualified Teacher Status, saying they’ll delay legislation. If teachers and parents mobilise a big campaign, without waiting for the teachers’ strike pencilled in for 6 July, that will keep the government off balance. So vote Labour on 5 May. Turn the labour movement against the cuts and into a fightback!
BHS: don’t accept “hard luck”
The news of a potential 11,000 job losses at British Home Stores, now the retailer has gone into receivership, should not be “hard luck”, a capitalist reality that workers just have to accept. While department stores may be a form of retail that is past its sell-by-date, there is no law of nature which dictates the buildings, goods and most importantly, the skills and knowledge of the thousands of shop workers, have to go to waste.
By some accounts the capitalists might have been able to save or restructure BHS had they been so minded. Unfortunately BHS has been run by Philip Green for most of the last 15 years and he used the company as a cash cow to fund his lifestyle to the tune of £586 million. The new owner over the last year, Dominic Chappell, has, according to the Guardian (26 April), taken out more than £25m.
There is an alternative. At BHS, at Tata Steel, or any other company cutting jobs. All it requires is a little imagination, and some political will from an elected government. Nationalisation and putting companies under the control of the people who really understand them, the shop floor workers, the technicians and ordinary administrators. Under these conditions, all economic enterprises can be rethought, reshaped and put to good use. There is no such thing as a “failing industry”, just industries that capitalists can’t make profits out of, and therefore don’t want to hang onto.
At Port Talbot a management buyout is currently being discussed, and the government has indicated it would take a 25% stake. But this deal, if it happens, will be at the expense of the workers and involve redundancies.
Such deals always take place within capitalist logics. At Port Talbot they will recreate a company, keep on workers and save the jobs communities rely on, keep producing a material that is needed to build new homes and other things — but only if it is “financially viable”. For the capitalists and the government which serves them, that is always the “bottom line”.
After the financial crash, a string of high-street shops closed down and there were, especially in Ireland, examples of retail workers taking direct action — mostly to demand that wages owed to them were paid. These were also protests at the carnage of job losses. Workers at BHS should now consider taking action, occupying their shops and asserting their right to a job. And action needs to happen sooner rather than later, while the stock is still in the shop waiting to be sold. Workers at BHS, in steel, and in any other areas where job cuts occur, socialists and labour movement activists need to organise for solidarity and to assert the idea that workers are worth more than the “bottom line”.