Over the past two months the British ruling class has subjected us to a slurry of nationalism, patriotism, the ‘pride in being British’, with Union Jacks and the Cross of St. George rammed down our throats and up our arses. The media, newspapers, TV and radio have not paused for a moment in the task of telling us that, regardless of wealth, social status or class we should all be proud to be British.
We have to be honest and say that this campaign (because it is a deliberate campaign on the part of the bourgeoisie) has had a certain success. Thousands have turned out at the different events; hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee and billions in hosting the Olympic Games.
For the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee the royal presence was paraded around the country, and maximum press overage was given to street parties and the waving of flags, especially by children. This was all supposed to generate nostalgia for 1952, culminating in Her Majesty graciously opening up Buckingham Palace for a star-studded concert. Soon after that we had the Euro 2012 football: cue blokes dressed in crusader gear and an ad campaign proclaiming ‘we’re not supporting a team, we’re supporting a nation’. We Brits could be united in suffering, knowing that the England team would inevitably be knocked out (but we all know that losing well is also an aspect of ‘Britishness’). Now we are preparing for the third course of this patriotic feast in the run-up to the London Olympics with the Olympic torch travelling around the country.
The reality behind this circus did filter through from time to time. First there was the scandal around the group of jobseekers bussed to London to act as crowd stewards on the day of the royal flotilla. Deprived of proper accommodation, protective clothing and food (and, of course, wages), this incident couldn’t have been a clearer indictment of the slave labour conditions increasingly being imposed on the unemployed through ‘workfare’ and similar schemes.
And then at the end of June, after the grandiose celebration of inherited wealth and status, we had David Cameron speechifying against the ‘culture of entitlement’, castigating people for having too many children when they’re on benefits and generally preparing the ideological ground for phase two of the ‘reform’ of the social security budget. Cameron outlined plans to strip housing benefit from the under-25s, to introduce further time-limits on unemployment pay, and to restrict hand-outs for those with large numbers of children. According to Cameron, this ‘culture of entitlement’ is creating deep social divisions – which apparently are not at all caused by the widening material gap between the ‘entitled’ few at the top and the growing majority at the bottom. No, the real division is between what Cameron calls ‘hard working people who do the right thing’ and the benefit scroungers living off their labour: in other words, between the employed and the unemployed fractions of the working class.
Class struggle poops the party
However, in spite of this massive campaign of patriotism, what Marx called the ‘old mole’ of history, the class struggle, has not disappeared. In June, at the Coryton Oil Refinery in Essex we saw running battles with pickets fighting with the police. 180 workers are to be laid off from the Swiss owned Petroplus Company. This fightback has included workers from the Lindsey and Grangemouth sites.
In Essex, also at the end of June and in response to cuts to frontline services we saw firefighters begin the first of a series of 5 strikes in a long running dispute with the Essex fire authority.
On the London Buses we saw 33 routes disrupted by one day strikes, with crews striking over bonuses for the period of the Olympics. London Underground Tube drivers have also been in action over the payment of Olympic bonuses.
On the same day as the first London bus drivers’ strike, there was a national ‘industrial action’ by doctors over the issue of pensions – an event that you don’t see very often.
These are all small, dispersed struggles, dominated by the sectional viewpoint promoted by the trade unions. But they are still significant because they took place in the face of a massive campaign to subsume us into the ‘nation’. That they happened at all is testament to the fact that we are part of a class – the working class – which is by definition international, because it is everywhere faced with the same system of exploitation. A system now in deep crisis; and in the near future we are going to be engulfed in it to the same degree as our class brothers and sisters in Greece, Spain and Italy. Then our rulers will expect us to make immense sacrifice for the good of the nation; indeed they already are doing this. In response we can only rely on our class struggle, our class identity, our class consciousness.