The crisis: an open letter to trade unionists

Fellow Workers,

 Capitalism is once again in the middle of one of its periodic economic crises, this time a bigger one than in the recent past. And, as usual, we are the victims. This crisis has been caused, as all capitalist crises are, by the uncontrollable pursuit of profits that drives the capitalist economy.

 With all capitalist businesses chasing profits, one sector of the economy inevitably overexpands in relation to what it can sell. This time it was the US house-building sector. Its overexpansion had an immediate effect on the banking sector which, in its chase after profits, had been engaging in dubious practices. This in turn had a knock-on effect on other sectors and is still working its way through the economy. Which is where we are today, with closed factories and rising unemployment alongside unmet needs.

 Unemployment in Britain is expected to reach 3 million, maybe even before the end of the year. Faced with this economic tsunami, the government has been helpless. They have bailed-out the banks but, apart from that, all they have done is to print more money, but this won’t get production going again. It will just stoke up inflation for later. It looks as if this Labour government will end like all previous Labour governments – leaving office with more unemployed than when they took over. So showing once again that governments can’t control the way capitalism works.

 The capitalist economy will eventually recover but of its own accord, not because of anything the government might do. And not without first putting the working class through many more months of additional misery.

 Recovery will only come when the rate of profit is restored. Which employers are actively seeking to bring about by imposing wage freezes, even wage cuts, watering down pension schemes, and anything else they can think of to reduce their labour costs. Some have even had the cheek to ask their employees to work for nothing. Meanwhile both the Labour government and the Tory opposition are insisting that public sector workers will have to suffer too.

 Workers should fight back. But the crisis has shifted the balance of forces even more in favour of employers. In the best of circumstances, when production is expanding and there is a labour shortage, unions have to work hard to get wages to go up a bit more than inflation. Now, with falling production and rising unemployment, unions can only try to put a brake on the downward slide, only try to stop things getting worse, .

 Ask yourself this: Why should we have to fight the same battles over and over again? Is this the only future? Yes, within the context of the capitalist system of production for profit, it is. But capitalism is not the only possible way of organising the production and distribution of the things we need. There is an alternative.

 Workers can and should organise to end capitalism which forces them to work for wages to live. We should organise to replace it with a system based on producing the things we need simply because we need them and not to make a profit. Production for use, not production for profit. But we can’t control what is produced unless we also own and control the means of production. In short, we need socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

 To achieve this, workers need to take political action. We need to organise not just in trade unions but also as a political party with socialism as its aim and policy. This the Labour Party never was, even though it was originally set up and financed by the trade unions. Its policy was to work for reforms within capitalism. Labour governments did bring in some reforms, but they were never able to make capitalism work in the interests of workers. That’s just not possible. All of them ended up merely managing capitalism and in the only way it can ever be – as a profit-making system in the interests of those who live off profits extracted from the unpaid labour of wage and salary workers. Instead of Labour changing capitalism, capitalism has changed Labour into the miserable band of self-seeking apologists for capitalism that everybody today can see they are. It’s high time the unions stop financing this capitalist party, as some have already done.

 Some are suggesting that, now that existing Labour Party has failed, the unions should set up a new Labour party. That would be a mistake. Labour reformism has failed once and it would fail again. So, let’s not go down that road a second time. Let’s learn the lesson of history that no government can manipulate capitalism to ensure permanent full employment and steadily rising wages, the TUC’s illusion (and not only theirs) of a radiant future. Which, even if possible, would still leave the exploitation of wage-labour for profit on which capitalism is based.

 No, what is needed is, as we said, a party with socialism as its aim and policy, an instrument workers can use to win control of political power with a view to ending capitalist ownership and the wages system and to bring in the common ownership of the means of production so that these can be used to meet people’s needs in accordance with the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Socialism is still the hope of humanity. Let’s work for it.

The Executive Committee,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain.
 August 2009

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