The first coalition government since World War Two was formed in the United Kingdom last week, as Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats joined David Cameron’s Conservatives, giving the latter a big enough majority to oust Gordon Brown and Labour. Clegg’s decision marked a historic stage in another grim fight to the death – between the ruling capitalists and the working class.
Prior to Brown’s resignation, he and other leading politicians from the three main parties had all spoken of the need for a “strong, stable” government to emerge from the general election result, which saw Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems alike fail to win sufficient support for their very similar policies of brutal cuts to social spending.
In return for seats in Cabinet, the Lib Dems have abandoned their modestly ‘centre-left’ policies, and embraced Cameron’s stridently anti-working class agenda. Gone are the pledges to impose a ‘mansion tax’, to make employers pay extra National Insurance contributions, and tax bankers’ bonuses. The Trident nuclear missile will be retained, at a cost running into the tens of billions, and £6 billion to vital social provision will be announced in a forthcoming ‘emergency budget’, in which a 2.5% rise in VAT is also expected to feature.
But this massive assault is merely a taster for the main course to come. With the UK national debt at almost £1 trillion following the bank bailouts, the super rich are demanding an unprecedented war on working class living standards.
However, events in southern Europe give some clues as to what’s coming. Greek Prime Minister Giorgios Papandreou has made slashing cut after slashing cut for the last few months, trying to wring €30 billion from a country of only eleven million people. His latest announcement – an attack on pension entitlements – provoked large demonstrations, in a nation that has seen numerous one day general strikes this year.
Now the leaders of Spain and Portugal are getting in on the act, after the announcement of a further trillion dollar bank bailout by the European Union. Presiding over a country with an official unemployment rate of more than 20%, Spain’s José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero declared a 5% cut in public sector pay to be followed by a wage freeze, the elimination of a significant subsidy for families with new babies, and the end of government spending on prescription drugs. Cuts in local government spending were also unveiled.
Not to be outdone, Portugal’s José Sócrates indicated he would take the axe to local government, public sector jobs and salaries, and even unemployment benefits, at the time when they are most needed.
Though this kind of ferocity is yet to reach British shores, the Cameron/Clegg government will keep it in mind when dealing with the situation at British Airways, where another round of strikes against pay and job cuts is scheduled to begin this week, despite pressure from the courts and the Unite leadership’s best efforts to manage the anger of their members. The ‘I support the BA cabin crew strikes!’ Facebook group is here, and the ‘An injury to one is an injury to all! Defend the right to strike!’ group is here.
Finally, there have been two general strikes in the Middle East over the past week. In Yemen, the General Labour Union called a series of nationwide stoppages in protest at price increases, which have pushed many workers into destitution. And in Iran – another country subject to US aggression – workers in all Kurdish cities and towns went on strike, despite martial law measures carried out by the Islamic regime. Indeed, the action was sparked by the execution of five labour activists, and was supported by hundreds of Kurds on the Turkish side, who tried to cross the border into Iran.
Capital’s global struggle against working class people is provoking a response which transcends the system of rival capitalist nation states.