There are plenty of reasons for socialists to be cheerful as we go into the New Year. Our class is once again on the move, fighting to protect its interests, and talking about its future. This is a very good thing. But New Year optimism always gives way in the end to the gloomy realism of a bleak January morning. It is in this spirit that we point to some worrying counter-developments.
On 3 December, Spanish air-traffic controllers walked off the job and called in sick en masse in protest at the imposition of worse working conditions and longer hours. The right of workers to take collective action to protect their interests, including withdrawing their labour, would be considered by most to be a fundamental human right. But under capitalism, the right of capital accumulation to proceed uninhibited is also a fundamental right. Between equal rights, force decides. So the Spanish state declared martial law, sent in the military, and armed police forced the workers back to their desks under threat of a six-year prison sentence. That’s the freedom of labour for you.
Meanwhile, the newspapers have been dominated over the past couple of months with revelations from the WikiLeaks website, which leaked secret communications between US diplomats and their seniors, and earlier posted evidence of atrocities by Western armed forces against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The real significance of these leaks is not so much their content – informed opinion was already aware of most of what was going on. It is that the leaks threaten to make ‘informed opinion’ available to more people. This is, from the point of view of the ruling class and its state, a disaster. First you give people information about what’s going on in the world. The next thing you know they’ll be wanting a say in it. That’s not conducive to flexible labour markets. And so the more extreme sections of the US commentariat called for the murder of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; the website has been under continuous attack ever since from hackers and businesses; and Assange has been threatened with extradition to the US to face espionage charges. That’s the freedom of information for you.
Finally, a growing protest movement in the UK against the cuts in state spending on education and other vital social services, led for now by students and university lecturers’ unions, is facing increased state repression. Demonstrators, mostly young adults and children, have been provoked and terrorised by armed police, ‘kettled’ for hours on freezing cold streets without access to food, water or toilet facilities, and then savagely beaten with truncheons. No one is spared this state thuggery: a disabled man with cerebral palsy was beaten by the police and dragged from his wheelchair across a road, and one young man had to have emergency brain surgery after a beating. A death at the hands of the state thugs cannot be very far away. And yet all the talk from the media and the police is of increasing the repression – snatch squads, targeted searches and water cannons have all been mooted. That’s the freedom to protest for you.
What we’re facing is the simple fact that our class enemies hold state power, and will use it, ruthlessly to protect their interests and defend themselves from the threat of democracy. Which is why the Socialist Party argues for the prime importance of taking state power out of their hands.