All Quiet on the Western Front…?

“Beware the Ides of March” Shakespeare.

The ‘ides of March’ (15th) saw the largest number of people on strike in the UK for a generation, but blink and you may have missed it.  While French workers bring paralysis to municipal functions to defend pensions and conditions from attack, European class struggle’s western front is appearing strangely quiet.

Some Health Unions have conceded following firefighters earlier on in March.  Others have, like the teaching unions, paused for negotiations, while the UCU higher education union has sent an e-ballot asking whether its members wanted to consider a ballot on the strikes despite no new proposal on offer.  Similarly, education strikes have been called off in Scotland and Wales.

In February the postal workers union, the CWU, cancelled its planned strike action after a legal challenge. The union’s legal teams cited laws that are ‘heavily weighted against working people’.  What happened to the TUC’s call for rolling actions against new anti-strike laws let alone existing ones?

Could it be the union leaderships are just surprised they have institutionally survived this challenge so far and want to quit before it gets too scary?  The government’s tactic is clear: pacify those workers they think have the most public sympathy (health, emergency, teachers), to leave the most militant industrial workers isolated and defeatable.

Despite 8 months of escalation, lost wages and increasing hardship, effective coordination, including mutual commitment to hold out for settlement across trade and sectors that redresses decades of decline and refuses war austerity, has failed to materialise.

Instead the union bureaucracies, refusing tuppence, have marched their members to the top of the hill to settle for tuppence ha’penny.  The piecemeal staggering of action over days and regions has undermined momentum and confidence to a point where some will now, if reluctantly, accept this as a win.

It is a defeat and union leaders have been all too eager to walk in to the governments cul-de-sac.  The causes of the strikes – capitalisms austerity to fund war, have not changed nor has the increasing hardship and impoverishment of the working class. 

Momentum is being lost and unification has failed, exemplified most starkly in the division amongst health unions. Paris burns while Britain waits by the embers.

On capitalisms other western front, Russia’s borders with Ukraine, Putin’s widely anticipated new offensive has begun with embarrassing failures that undermine its ability to change momentum as the war passes its anniversary. Western officials and analysts suggest Russia lacks capacity, except in numbers, while cautioning that the situation could quickly change.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace claims that 97% of Russia’s effective military is now inside Ukraine, while his US counterpart says that “Russia is continuing to introduce large numbers of troops into the theater. Those troops are ill-equipped and ill-trained and because of that they’re incurring a lot of casualties.”

NATO strategists are using Bakhmut to fix Russian focus and bleed it white, as the Germans did with the French at Verdun n 1916.  Both Ukraine and Russia have staked their reputations on it.  The lack of dynamic is sheer bloody exhaustion on a mountain of workers corpses. 

The aim is to ferment Putin’s quarrelling forces, the Wagner machine versus the military establishment.  The impasse will most likely be broken by NATO’s technological tour de force once supplies have arrived on the battlefield, generating a replacement frenzy by the capitalist arms economy. 

Russian technology may be running short and its troops lacking in morale and quality, but as a cynical Russian proverb says “quantity has a quality all of its own”.  Any such break through would not be enough to end the conflict, so the cash machine and the meat grinder will continue hand in hand. 

Every diversion on both fronts, the class struggle at home and it’s bloody mirror in Ukraine is being thrown in.  Here, blaming small boats and refugees; blaming Gary Lineker and the BBC; blaming the sick, disabled and the just ‘had enough’ for failing Britain by not working.

Abroad, blaming Asia for not taking sides whilst blaming its largest economy, China, for taking sides, blaming Putin for being illegal.  Meanwhile we emerge from a cold costly winter not two steps forward but one step back, becoming poorer as the wealth of war profiteering reach new heights.

As revolutionists we stand by our perspective that peace begins with victory on the home front.  The effective collaboration of organised Trade Unionism with the state’s capitalist agenda is not a betrayal, it is their job! And in doing their job they also pursue the agenda of the war profiteers.

We know from the picket lines workers remain unhappy and call for them to refuse both the divisions and paltry compromises the union leaders are trying to sell them, to continue to fight for the outcome they wanted and for mutual solidarity with those still fighting. 

For rank and file coordination and escalation outside of the control of the Union structures.  Our prosperity and peace depend on it.

Article by Dreyfus