Editorial – the class war and why there is one

According to the loud-mouthed Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, the rail unions are ‘dinosaurs’ who are ‘motivated by some outdated class war’ (Times, 15 August). But if the class war is outdated, why is the government waging it on behalf of the profit-taking class? Why has it given itself powers to allow agency workers to replace strikers? Why has the likely future prime minister promised to place yet more obstacles in the way of union members going on strike without breaking the law?

The fact is that class conflict is built into the nature of capitalism as a society where the means of life – the places where the goods and services to keep society going are produced and provided – are owned and controlled by only a section of society, and where the rest of us, as non-owners of such places, are forced by economic necessity to go out onto the labour market and sell our physical and mental energies for a wage or salary. But that is not all. As the only way in which new wealth can be produced is by humans using their efforts to transform materials that originally came from nature, the non-work income of the owners – as profits and other property incomes – can only come from what those workers produce.

Capitalism, in short, is based on the economic exploitation of wage-labour for profit. This is why the interests of the two classes into which it is divided are diametrically opposed. How could they not be when the income of one class comes from the work of the other? The interest of the one class is to defend and increase profits; the interest of the other is to minimise its exploitation. Workers form trade unions to try to do this. The owners have the government to defend their interests.

The Tories, as the traditional party of the ruling class, recognise that this is the government’s role and preach class war against the workers’ unions. The Labour Party have had to learn this the hard way but now accept that in government they too have to give priority to profits and profit-making.

In the current situation, with the rise in the cost of living back in double digits, the unions are not even asking for double-digit wage increases, but only for something more than the 1 or 2 percent that they have been getting. Even non-unionists are changing jobs to get a higher salary so as to try and keep up with the cost of living. It is an almost spontaneous reaction of a class whose standard of living is being reduced. In reflecting this, the unions are doing their job. And in opposing them the government is doing its job.

The class war will only end when workers win political control and make the means of life the common property of society as a whole; when they win the class war and abolish class society.

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