The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Strike Wave in Great Britain Gains Strength

Oct 10, 2022

For months now, British workers have been carrying out a growing strike wave against their falling standard of living, as prices rise and wages don’t keep up.

At first, limited numbers of workers began carrying out one-day strikes, organized by some but not all of the rail unions. But increasing numbers of workers are now participating. On Saturday, October 1, about 170,000 workers went out on strike, organizing protests across the country against the fall in workers’ wages relative to prices. That day, for the first time, all the rail unions struck together, shutting down 90% of rail traffic. Postal workers, port workers, government workers, and teachers participated in the strike movement.

While more extreme than in this country, the problems facing British workers might sound familiar. While the government organized the most expensive royal funeral in history, while the companies in the British equivalent of the Fortune 500 have given 80 billion pounds to their stockholders so far in 2022, prices for fuel, heat, and everything else are skyrocketing, while wages stagnate. Workers’ standard of living has been in free fall.

In the face of the unfolding economic crisis in Britain, the Tory government of Prime Minister Liz Truss has been open about its intention to attack the working class in the interests of the richest people. It tried to carry out a massive tax cut for the very rich, and it has proposed cuts to public services. The tiny raises the government proposes in some benefits don’t come close to keeping up with rising prices. At the same time, the home secretary has talked about cutting benefits for all those who can “get another job”. Meanwhile, its leaders blame immigrants for the problems facing “British” workers: The home secretary even said it was her “dream” to see migrants deported to Rwanda.

It remains to be seen how far this strike movement will go, and what perspectives British workers will find. At the October 1 rally, Mick Lynch, leader of one of the rail unions, said: “We are the working class and we’re back as a force in this society … We refuse to be divided … We refuse to be poor anymore.” These sentiments met with broad applause and seem to reflect the attitude of many workers participating in these strikes.

At the same time, the main union leaders organizing this movement encourage workers to put their hopes in the next election—which might be in 2024 or 2025—when the current right-wing Tory government seems likely to be defeated. But just as in the U.S., waiting for an election to replace one set of politicians with another leaves the working class always waiting. And as the British economy shakes under Tory leadership, the Labor Party increasingly poses not as an organization of the working class, but as the “real party of business and fiscal responsibility”, as the British revolutionary workers’ group Workers’ Fight point out in their last workplace newsletter editorial.

As that same editorial goes on to say, right now, “All these reactionary policies could be rendered harmless, if the working class used the full collective force of the current wave of strikes to push back against the capitalists and their government…. Of course, using the ‘full collective force’ of the working class means organizing it. That’s the next step.”

Whether British workers will find the way to organize that collective force remains to be seen. But wherever this strike wave goes, whatever perspectives it manages to find, it demonstrates the power of the working class. The British Prime Minister and her lesser ministers were reminded of this when they found the trains weren’t running to take them from their party conference back to London!

Here in the U.S. too, workers move all the people and goods, distribute the packages, teach the children, produce all products, staff the hospitals, and do everything else. We face the same basic problems as the workers in Britain. We have every reason to follow their lead and mobilize to stop the decline in our standard of living!