Britain

The British National Health Service was set up sixty years ago, officially on July 5th 1948. It was the result of years of struggle on the part of the working class for a free universal health service. At its height it was as close as you could get to a communist principle under capitalism. Over the years the capitalists have been working hard to drag us back to the dark days when the poor could not afford decent healthcare.

Pressures have been building up in British society. High house prices, fuel and food price increases and pay restraint and cuts particularly in the public sector are all having a huge effect on workers. It's obvious that there's going to be a change and the longer it is delayed the worse the storm is when it eventually breaks.

This article was originally published in 1971 in the Militant International Reviewunder the title Marxism and the Pilkington Strike – A lesson from history. The Pilkington glassworks had entered into dispute and had come up against the problem of the stifling control of the bureaucracy over their union, the GMWU. The Socialist Worker advised the workers to leave and set up a new union. The Marxist tendency, gathered around the Militant, advised against this and events later confirmed the correctness of this position.

British capitalism is in big trouble. The official annual inflation rate has hit 3.3%, its highest level for 16 years. The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has been forced to send a letter to the Chancellor of Exchequer, Alastair Darling, to explain why the Bank has been unable to keep inflation from rising at more than 2%, which is the target set by the government for the Bank.

The political landscape in Britain is changing before our very eyes. This morning’s prominent TV news is of the tanker drivers’ strike, showing scenes of pickets with Red Flags turning away lorries at Shell refineries. The next item is the deepening government crisis, followed by a warning from Gazprom that oil prices could reach $250 a barrel. It was like a typical news bulletin of the 1970s.

In any historical period, the dominant ideas are those of the ruling class. In 1989 the world was treated to the words of Francis Fukuyama, who published an essay with the title 'The end of history?' His argument was not that historical events had literally stopped happening but that the collapse of so-called 'communism' in the Soviet union meant that western liberal democracy had successfully established itself as the ultimate and ideal form of government. Marxism lay totally discredited he declared, gloatingly.

This is a two-part article looking at the decline in the quality of life for working people in Britain today. The first article focuses on the workplace, where there has been relative decline in wages and deterioration in the conditions of employment. The second part looks at the attack on the 'social wage'. Real wages, i.e. purchasing power has been declining and the overall infrastructure of what once was an advanced welfare state, has been crumbling.

Lal Khan was speaking in Birmingham on June 1 at a meeting organised by the local PTUDC, where he outlined the developing crisis in Pakistan and highlighted the need for socialism as the only answer to the problems of the workers and peasants.

The New Labour government is on the rocks. The wreckage of Blairism, under the leadership of Gordon Brown, was dealt a further crushing blow at the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. A 7,000 Labour majority was turned into a 7,000 Tory majority in a swing of 17.6%. It was the Tories' first by-election gain in 30 years.

The Crewe by-election, with an 18% swing to the Tories, confirms that they are on target for a landslide win in the next general election. Railway workers and other working class people who have voted Labour for generations have finally had enough. The betrayals and disappointments of New Labour have caused these electors to break the habit of a lifetime. Make no mistake about it. Mass working class abstentions have done for Brown and his witless crew.

Up till recently, Britain’s main high street banks had not seemed to have suffered much – they were all announcing big profits and there was little talk of large ‘writedowns’ of worthless assets. But now the Royal Bank of Scotland has announced that it lost £4bn in the last three months as a result of the world’s great credit crunch and it must write off £5bn in loans and debt securities that it had on its books as worthless. The credit crunch is going to hit Britain in a big way.

"Britain has been hit by what trade unions have called the biggest wave of work stoppages since the Labour government came to power 10 years ago, with up to 400,000 public sector employees going on strike." (Reuters: Headline and opening sentence Friday, 25 April 2008)

New Labour suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent local elections, but those left groupings who were hoping to capitalise on Labour's difficulties also found themselves in a mess. As Ted Grant explained, the working class always ignore these sectarian grouplets on the fringes of the labour movement and in times of struggle always turn towards their traditional organisations.

The Tory victories in the local elections on May 1st mean that the Conservatives will almost certainly go on to win the next general election and form the next government. Theoretically the Labour leadership could turn the situation round, but they seem incapable of changing their disastrous course. New Labour is in meltdown.

At a recent public meeting in London a couple of hecklers were attacking John McDonnell for being a member of the Labour Party. A veteran trade union activist answered them by comparing the Labour Party with a house that has been overrun by rats. The task of the working class is to clean up the house and get possession of it once again.

This British Perspectives draft document (2008) is part of a wide-ranging discussion about the likely development of events in British society. It looks at the crisis of capitalism worldwide and how this affects British capitalism and also looks at how this impacts on the trade union movement and the political situation as a whole.

Alan Woods was invited to speak at Eton, the most prestigious private school in Britain (known as a "public" school in English), by the school's Orwell Society. Alan gave a very clear explanation of why society needs to be changed and why the only direction it can go in is socialism. We believe the points raised and the answers given provide a very good outline of what Marxism stands for today.

A debate in the British Parliament on the nationalisation of Northern Rock, involving John McDonnell MP, has revealed that billions of pounds are to be diverted away from the intended purpose of preventing a banking collapse, into the pockets of the Rock's management. It seems the directors of Northern Rock had set up a financial institution called Granite, the real purpose of which was to carry out tax evasion!

"The London police on strike. After that, anything can happen", said Sylvia Pankhurst in 1918. The ground is certainly shifting in Britain. There has been a continual build up of public anger at the government's attempt to impose a 2% limit on public sector pay. The Police are getting a paltry 1.9% rise, in effect a pay cut. They were furious and making all kinds of threats against the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown.

New Labour fears that if Northern Rock collapses large sectors of the financial system could follow. And that would reverberate throughout the economy. Recession is on its way. A financial collapse could be the trigger. The right thing to do is nationalise Northern Rock, and with it take over the whole banking system.

Since 1979 UK child poverty has doubled. In 2006, 3.8 million children were living in poverty in homes on less than 60% of average income. Although this is a fall of about 600,000 since 1998, this still leaves 500,000 children above the Government's own target. This is not the whole picture either - poverty in the whole population is increasing.

Towards the end of last year we witnessed the collapse of another attempt to create a party to the left of Labour. The RESPECT party, which was founded in 2004, was the latest effort to establish an electoral alternative to Labour. It succeeded in winning an MP, George Galloway, as well as a few dozen councillors up and down the country. However, the whole project soon went pear-shaped.

Tommy Sheridan is facing yet another fight in his colourful career as Scotland's best known socialist. He has been arrested on suspicion of perjury arising from his widely publicised defamation case against the News of the World for which he was awarded £200,000 damages.

It is fashionable today among some on the left to refer to some golden age of "old labour". They use this to argue that in the past it was a workers' party but now it is no longer. The Blairites on the other hand claim that the party was too "left-wing" to be elected. But there has never been such a golden age. If you look at the record of Labour governments, they have all been responsible for cutting living standards and carrying out an imperialist foreign policy.

Andrew Glyn died from a brain tumour on 22 December 2007.  He was 64 years old.  A fellow of Corpus Christi College in Oxford since 1969, he was a leading socialist economist for all that time.

In 1970, just like today, the Labour Party seemed dead from the neck up. After six years of desperately disappointing government, Labour had been unceremoniously bundled out of office. The Tories were back, aiming to put the boot in to the working class.

At the University of East Anglia recently Rob Sewell of the Socialist Appeal gave a talk on the Miners strike in Britain 1984-5. The strike was a culmination of the inevitable build up of tension between the ruling and working class. In the post-war period the decline of British imperialism had occured. The Tories of the 1980s were a rabid reaction to that phenomenon, determined to destroy the organised labour movement by taking on its most militant section, the National Union of Miners.

One year ago today comrade Phil Mitchinson died tragically of a heart attack. He was without doubt a very talented comrade who devoted his time to editing the Socialist Appeal and helping to build our tendency in Britain and internationally. Here Rob Sewell remembers Phil and the role he played.

Marxists have always maintained that at some stage the intensity of the class struggle affects even the “armed bodies of men” of the bourgeois state. Such an example was the police strike in Britain at the end of the First World War. In the late summer of 1918 the sight of 12,000 furious Metropolitan constables marching on Whitehall sparked panic among ruling circles in Britain. Under the leadership of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, militantly class-conscious policemen conspired to overturn their role as the subservient body of the State.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is occupying the headlines of many newspapers with his comments that Britain failed to act on intelligence that could have prevented the 7/7 London bombings. Beyond the response of the bourgeois media, what is the real relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia?

Comrade Phil Lloyd has died in Swansea at the age of 74. He joined the tendency led by Ted Grant back in the 1950s. He was a pioneer of the Marxist tendency and played a key role in its development. Alan Woods was one of the youth that that Phil Lloyd helped to recruit and educate. Here Alan remembers the man and fighter.

Some 130,000 postal workers in the Communication Workers Union were due to return to work yesterday after taking successful strike action in defence of terms and conditions. However, many workers were scandalized to discover that management had imposed new attendance times without their consent.

Last week speculation reached fever pitch in the press over whether or not Brown would call a snap General Election after only three months as prime minister. The Tories were languishing in the polls and the young Turks of New Labour's front bench were keen to launch an election. Then new polls showed a different picture. However, there is little enthusiasm amongst traditional Labour supporters and there are dangers of an economic crisis.

British postal workers have just finished finished four days of industrial action (5/6 October and 8/9 October) over a bitter row over pay and conditions. This will be followed by a rolling programme of strikes until the dispute is resolved. This article, written just before the dispute started, comments on the situation.

We are making available to our readers an appeal by the Labour Representation Committee on the issue of internal party democracy. On Sunday Labour Party conference kicks off. If Brown’s proposals are accepted it appears that from next year CLPs and affiliates will no longer have the right to take resolutions to Party conference.

Over the past 15 years production has risen at about 3% a year in the OECD countries, while money supply, mortgage and company debt, personal borrowing and the massive so-called derivatives market based on this credit has increased at over 25% a year! Result? A huge bubble which is now bursting, starting with Northern Rock.

The collapse of Metronet , the consortium entrusted with upgrading the London tube, spells the collapse of the whole notion of 'Public Private Partnership', otherwise known as the Private Finance Initiative.

This is the final part of the British Perspectives document. The issues which it covers are the trade unions and the Labour party, and the Marxists' orientation towards the mass organisations. Also covered is the importance of the youth, emphasing the importance of theory and the training of Marxist cadres for the enormous events that impend in Britain and elsewhere.

In this section we deal with the question of the Blair government, the increasing abstentions of the working class, and the growing discontent affecting all sections. It also deals with the Conservative party, the natural party of the ruling class, which has shifted to the “centre” ground and won back a layer that voted Liberal Democrat.

Ten years ago in Britain, at the time of the sudden death of Diana, we witnessed an outburst of popular feeling without precedent in recent British history. It was an entirely new phenomenon, reflecting an entirely new situation in Britain. Here we republish Alan Woods’ article written in 1997 which looked at the serious crisis the monarchy and the British establishment were facing at the time.

On Thursday 18th July comrades of the British Socialist Appeal showed their solidarity with the Peoples Youth Block (BJP) by protesting outside the embassy of El Savador against the repressive measures employed by the government. A letter of protest was received, signed by leading trade unionists from the NUJ, PCS, CWU, ASLEF, UNISON and the TGWU.

Brown has replaced Blair as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, but has anything fundamental changed? Absolutely not! And yet behind this seemingly uneventful change lies the manoeuvre to stop John McDonnell to stand for the leadership. All the indications were that John would have made a good showing. Something is stirring in the British labour movement.

As the Middle East descends deeper into a vicious cycle of death and destruction, the Reverend Blair has stepped once again onto the world stage as international “envoy for the Middle East”. Blair has the strong backing of the US President George W. Bush. In other words, Blair will bend the knee as always to US imperialism and its interests.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of The Act of Union between Scotland and England. This was accompanied by the merger of the parliaments into one Westminster Parliament. In January 1707, the Scottish parliament voted 110-67 to ratify The Treaty of Union, which became law four months later.

While GDP in Britain is supposed to be the fifth largest in the world, the division of this wealth is extremely unequal. What growth has taken place has mainly been by increased exploitation of workers. The market principle of profit comes before education and health. Yet British capitalism's share of world exports has continually decreased.

This document constitutes an analysis of the deepening social, political and economic crisis of British capitalism. This perspective applies the method of Marxism to these developments, seeking to uncover the trends and processes within, and serves as a guide to action for all those workers and youth who want to struggle for a socialist transformation of society.

Written before Gordon Brown emerged as the sole candidate to replace Blair, this article shows where Brown really stands on key issues facing the workers of Britain. His latest budget actually shifted the burden of taxation in such a way that the poor actually pay more.