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Communique of September 9th 2022 : The Death of Queen Elizabeth and the Dynamic of Strikes in Great Britain

“UK unions suspend strike action following death of Queen Elizabeth” (Reuters, September 8th 2022 [1]).

Insofar as we have written an agitational leaflet addressed to the attention of the proletarians of the United Kingdom on August 20th, it is our political responsibility, if we are to consistently apply the party method, to take into account the evolution of the situation, in particular the change brought about by the death of Queen Elizabeth, a contingency becoming a factor of rupture of the dynamic of class struggle in progress in the United Kingdom, and to warn the proletarians whether or not we maintain our previous orientations and slogans.

As soon as the death of Elizabeth II was announced, it was highly likely that the death, the period of national mourning, and the massive media, political and ideological campaign that immediately followed would inevitably bring to a halt the momentum of the ongoing labor strikes in the UK. As soon as the death was made public, the British unions rushed to announce the suspension of the planned days of union strikes; those that the unions had set up one after the other, sector by sector, sector after sector, to take control of the workers’ combativity that had expressed itself, especially during May-June, by a dynamic of so-called wildcat strikes, unofficial, without union notice; those days of action that they had submitted to the vote of the workers in order to make them legal, official, but which do not need any vote to be canceled.

Not having a militant presence in the U.K., it is difficult for us to grasp the immediate state of mind that may prevail in the ranks of workers, in workplaces, in strikes and picket lines. In particular, at the time we wrote our leaflet of August 20, it was difficult for us to grasp whether the union days of action at the end of August represented an attempt by the unions to regain control over the dynamic of strikes or whether these days were the culmination of the unions’ control of this dynamic, or even its stifling. Nevertheless, convinced that the line of confrontation could only be situated then, in August, around the extension and the generalization of the struggle, we called on all the proletarians in Great Britain to go on strike "without waiting"; without waiting for the unions to have definitively concluded their operation; without waiting for the days of action in ’one’s’ sector. We also called on them to continue the strike after the union day of action in a given sector or enterprise had elapsed. In doing so, they would have risen up against the union counter-offensive, whether it was a simple attempt to regain control or the culmination of this takeover. However, today, there is no need for a local militant presence to point out that the dynamic that was underway, whether it was still in the making or already in decline, can only be interrupted following the death of Elizabeth II. And therefore that the orientations and the slogans that the communist vanguards, the party of tomorrow, must advance are already no longer the same.

Indeed, and on the basis of our evaluation of the general balance of power between bourgeoisie and proletariat, whether on the international or even simply British level, and as confirmed by the spontaneous and wildcat strikes of May-June, it was possible – it was a political stake of the immediate concrete situation, of the confrontation between the classes – that the most combative fractions of the proletariat in Great Britain would engage, more or less directly, in the open confrontation with the unions for the conduct of the strikes and in opposition to their tactics of days of action. Hence our intervention and our slogans of August 20. However, since yesterday, the level of commitment and struggle has become much more demanding for the proletariat in the UK because the balance of power has become much more unfavorable. The course of events is no longer at all, immediately and for the moment, in its favor.

To continue the strikes or to launch a struggle is now to confront openly and head-on the whole of the state apparatus, which is mobilized around national unity and mourning. All its forces are stretched to the extreme to draw the British people into the emotion and national unity around the monarchy. The inevitable result is that the sympathy which public opinion – that is to say, the whole of the proletariat and the petty-bourgeois strata – might have shown in August, and even up to yesterday, towards the strikers and the concern about the ravages of inflation can only be greatly attenuated, if not disappear, and isolate the few proletarians, or minorities, who would risk going on strike in the days to come. As a result, the potential to impose a balance of power on the bourgeoisie forcing it to back down on its attacks, in particular by accepting general wage increases in the face of inflation, is greatly reduced, if not altogether absent for the time being. In the same way, the potentialities of extension, generalization and unification of the strikes are also reduced, probably absent for the immediate future. The favorable moment to launch into the strike and to extend them is thus past. Recognizing the inversion of the dynamic, of the course of struggles, that the queen’s death has provoked – if this inversion was not already in the process because of the reinforcement of union control – does not preclude another inversion of dynamics in the weeks or months to come. But recognizing this reversal must lead us, and should lead any communist organization wanting to assume the role of effective political leadership, to adapt or change the previous orientations and slogans; in our case those we put forward on August 20.

The death of Elizabeth II, a contingent factor, thus interrupted the dynamic of strikes that had been underway since May in the United Kingdom. Its use against the strikes by the state apparatus and the British bourgeoisie as a whole was undoubtedly facilitated by the apparent – or so it seems – pacification of the situation of wildcat and spontaneous strikes by the unions thanks to the days of action in August. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there is no defeat, even minor, of the proletariat during this episode of struggle. The British bourgeoisie simply succeeded in interrupting the dynamic that was underway. In this sense, the workers’ mobilization against inflation and for wage increases in Great Britain remains relevant and should be expressed again in the coming months, in one form or another. Because of the crisis and the imperialist war, the preparation for the generalized war, the generalized rearmament and the development of the war economy, the attacks against the proletarians will not stop. And the first declarations of the new Prime Minister Liz Truss have certainly removed the last doubts that might have remained. So, if the dynamic of struggle and strikes that prevailed this summer in Great Britain is probably a thing of the past, it is just as likely that it was only the first battle of an episode of class struggles in Western Europe, or even in Great Britain itself. In any case, it is not a defeat that would handicap any resumption of struggles in the medium and short term.

The result of this situation, where the dynamic of struggle is strongly reversed, is that the wait-and-see position which consisted in "waiting for a hot autumn and for the strikes to develop mechanically" to intervene and to put forward general orientations and slogans for the struggle is today undone by the rapid evolution of events and, above all, by the initiatives of the bourgeoisie itself. If it was difficult, and without sense, to speculate on any contingent event, such as the queen’s death, in the analysis of the dynamics of the relation of forces between the classes in the United Kingdom, it does not remain less that the action of the trade unions against the strikes was an element of the situation which had to be taken into account – otherwise one forgets that the class struggle is the struggle between the classes, is a two-way struggle – and which demanded the putting forward of general orientations and slogans for immediate action without waiting. There is no doubt that this is a first experience of struggle – and of mass strike dynamics – for the young generations of revolutionaries, from which it is up to them to draw the first lessons as to the role of the communist vanguards, in particular to assume the effective political direction of the workers’ struggles.

It is no longer time for communists to call massively for the strike and its extension for the time being in the United Kingdom, as we did on August 20th [2]. "If it goes without saying, it will be even better if we say it", according to Talleyrand’s formula: if proletarians go on strike in spite of everything, we will support them to the maximum, while limiting the extent of the slogans and the action that we will launch. In the same way, revolutionary militants may be led to call for a strike in a particular workplace, depending on the situation and local potential, and it is their duty to do so, taking into account the fact that the possibilities of extension and active sympathy for their strike have been greatly reduced. But our general party slogans for the moment – that is to say, on September 9 and subject to any new event modifying the course of events, or even another contingency that is always possible – are rather to call on the combative proletarians to regroup in struggle committees in order to mobilize and best prepare the next episode of the ongoing confrontation, of which we have just lived the first episode. Our party intervention in the United Kingdom ceases to primarily be one of agitation to become one of propaganda, aiming to draw lessons and to favor the regroupment of the most combative proletarians in view of the resumption of this particular mobilization. And this is for the new episode, the new moment, of the class struggle in Great Britain that is opening up in the face of the crisis, the war and the preparation of each national capital for the generalized imperialist war, a preparation that demands from the proletariat the bulk of the sacrifices.

The IGCL, Septembre 9th 2022

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Notes:

[2. It is even possible that our own intervention was itself behind the events – we were not able to verify this, in particular because of our absence from British territory.