Saturday, November 12, 2011

Democracy at risk

With the replacement, in the space of a few days, of two elected European Premiers with technocrats charged by the European political elite with the task of implementing austerity programmes against their own populations it is clear that we are moving into a period in which our struggles as trade unionists to defend our economic interests (crucially for us just now the pensions dispute) will become inseparable from the defence of democracy itself.

Jurgen Habermas this week summed it up very well; “Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy want to extend the executive federalism of the Lisbon treaty into an outright intergovernmental rule by the European Council to make it possible to transfer the imperatives of the markets to the national budgets without proper democratic legitimation, using threats of sanctions and pressure on disempowered national parliaments to enforce nontransparent and informal agreements creating an especially effective, because disguised, arrangement for exercising a kind of post-democratic rule”.

The worsening financial crisis, caused like every such crisis in a capitalist economy by the bosses going on strike and failing to invest their capital in productive industry will only worsen the financial pressures on national Governments, who will continue to pursue the economic prescriptions of the IMF and ECB, attacking the wages and the social wage of the workers.

In Europe, including the UK, the weakened social forces which built the social democratic postwar settlement will continue to resist the appalling social consequences of these economic policies. In these circumstances, we can expect to see further restrictions on the right to protest and the right to strike as, ultimately, what is now at risk are not only the social gains of the last century but the democratic gains of the last two centuries.

In the UK we have a Coalition rather than a Government of technocrats, but its function is the same, to secure public consent for policies contrary to the interests of the great majority of the population. If we are to secure a better future, the trade unions need to campaign for our policies, defeat this Government and secure its replacement with a Government committed to policies which would rebuild our economy and society in the interests of the majority. As hard as this may be even to imagine, it seems to me that the only possible such Government would be a Labour Government – which is why I’ll be at the AGM of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) next Saturday, to discuss with fellow socialists in and around the Labour Party how we might move in that direction.

As the LRC National Committee statement for Saturday puts it; The Labour Party leadership has totally failed to connect with the new movements and new mood of resistance. Worse still, it has continued to support largely the same economic strategy as the Coalition with only marginal differences over the speed and severity of cuts. From a position where it initially recruited tens of thousands of new members in the aftermath of the 2010 general election in reaction to the coalition government, the Labour leadership is blowing this goodwill by its refusal to speak up on behalf of the 99%. The election of Ed Miliband as Labour Leader reflected a rejection of New Labour by Party members but this has not been repaid in any way since. With rare exceptions he has pursued the same agenda as Blair and Brown economically, politically and in terms of Party democracy. The opportunity presented by ‘Refounding Labour’, for instance, was abandoned in favour of a continuation of centralised control. The task of the LRC is to play the role that the Labour Party has failed to grasp – to be an essential part of building the resistance and to assist in giving it political expression”.

The strike on 30 November is not simply about our pensions. It will be a crucial moment in building resistance to the austerity plans of the global elite, which are plans to roll back decades of social progress.

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