Every time someone says the recession is ‘bottoming out' and economic recovery is on the horizon there's a report or set of figures to contradict them.
Even those with the most rose-tinted spectacles admit that the British economy in particular is in bad and still declining health.
For example, the Office for National Statistics had to revise downwards its figures for the drop in output in January to March this year, which showed the biggest quarterly drop since 1958. The rate for the year at 4.9% is the biggest since comparable records began in 1948. The ONS also now admits that the recession started in at least the second quarter of 2008, months earlier than previously claimed.
Meanwhile the OECD has also revised its forecasts for the decline in British output in 2009 which at 4.7% will be the biggest year on year fall since 1945. The OECD predicts a deficit of 14% of GDP, which means that Britain will be further in the red than any other major developed country. Because of the size of the deficit the OECD thinks that any further stimulus to the economy would only make things worse. No wonder the Daily Telegraph (25/6/9) headlined "OECD pours cold water on Britain's green shoots."
More cuts to come
The number of unemployed in Britain is officially already at the highest level since July 1997 and continues to get worse, with no interruption to the flow of redundancies being announced. Corus are getting rid of 2000 jobs. Lloyds are getting rid of another 2100, making 7000 from the banking group since January. As the list gets longer the Labour and Tory parties only argue about how extensive cuts in public expenditure should be.
Economist John Philpott of the CIPD (BBC 16/6/9) has sketched out what future cuts will mean: "The public sector has yet to feel the full impact of the recession, and the resultant bloodbath in the public finances." The impact of this is clear to him. "As a result the coming era of public sector austerity might not only witness large scale job cuts, but also an ongoing ‘workplace guerrilla war' marked by waves of major public sector strikes and regular bouts of unrest"
Workers fight and spread the struggle
There's no need to wait for future austerity in Britain to see the working class struggle. Following the wave of wildcat strikes earlier in the year focussed on the Lindsey oil refinery there was further struggle during June after 51 workers were sacked. During the following days there was a wave of solidarity actions. Then, a week later, after Total dismissed 647 workers the struggle spread still further. There were unofficial strikes at oil refineries, power stations, nuclear power stations and various other plants. These strikes involved thousands of workers at more than 30 sites across the country from Wales to Scotland, from Somerset, Oxfordshire, Kent and Essex to Yorkshire and Cumbria.
These strikes were not sanctioned by the unions. Indeed the GMB tried to get those on strike at Longannet power station in Scotland back to work, but the workers ignored the union. Ultimately, it was by taking their own initiatives and through the solidarity actions of thousands of workers that those dismissed were all reinstated, and those who had taken illegal solidarity actions were not victimised.
The BBC's employment correspondent Martin Shankelman (29/6/9) made a neat summary of the situation.
"The wider significance of the strike cannot be ignored.
This was a dispute which ran outside the law and still succeeded. The strikers did not wait for a ballot to walk out, nor did they observe the legal obligation to notify the employers of their withdrawal of labour.
Instead they just downed tools and left, to be rapidly followed by colleagues at other sites around the UK who also went on strike in sympathy, taking secondary action, which may well have been outside the law as well.
Union leaders could not even get involved with the organisation of the strikes, for fear of legal reprisals. ... Wildcat strikes are back on the agenda."
Workers' solidarity opposed by the ruling class
It will surprise no one to hear that Downing Street condemned the strikes. So did a not so independent-minded editorial-writer in the Independent (20/6/9). Under a heading "The wrong way to strike" you could read that "the manner in which these workers are venting their frustrations is doing them no favours at all. By walking out without holding a strike ballot, they instantly broke the law and ceded Total the moral high ground." While praising Total's ‘morality' the writer maintained that "the monster of arrogant and bullying labour militancy is just as unpopular in the broader country as it was when the state moved to suppress it three decades ago".
The Independent's welcome for state repression against expressions of workers' solidarity is fairly mainstream for bourgeois thought. More insidious is the threat from the Left which poses as the friend of the workers.
The main leftist groups all saluted the victory of the strikers, and yet when you examine their perspectives for the future you see them setting traps for the working class. The Socialist Workers Party in an online article (26/6/9) titled "Victory at Lindsey shows how to fight" showed that their ideas on how to fight go against the recent experience of thousands of militant workers. For the SWP "An important step in the fightback is to win the construction national ballot for action in the GMB and Unite unions. Everyone should join a union and get involved in the ballot."
Groups like the SWP want to get workers back in the union way of thinking, even though workers have been discovering that if they want to express their class solidarity it is necessary to fight outside the union and legal framework.
If workers are beginning to understand that they can't trust the unions and that they have to take struggles into their own hands, then that will be one of the greatest gains from the recent strikes, not just for the workers involved, but for all workers who are beginning to see that self-organisation is the only way for the class struggle.