The Derby lock-out of 1833-4 is considered to be one of the key moments in the development of a working-class identity in Britain. Led by the trade unions, it was the first practical national example of the workers seeking to wrestle back a degree of control from their mill owner employers.
Although it started at another mill in Derby, the Silk Mill was chosen as the symbolic focus of the lock-out. The initial strike over the firing of one employee steadily grew to include 2,400 workers from across the town and brought national attention to the trade unionist cause for the first time.
The strike continued for many months, only collapsing when starvation set in, and played a vital role in developing what would become the British labour movement.
Many strikers were later victimised and never worked in their trade again. All the same, in late 1834, the Dorchester Agricultural Labourers of Tolpuddle took up the struggle for trade unions, which only exist today because of the sacrifices made by the likes of the Derby silk workers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the London dockers of 1889.
In 1934, a plaque was erected by Derby Trades Union Council to commemorate the struggle of Derby silk workers a hundred years earlier. It is mounted outside the Silk Mill museum.
That was then, but what about now?
Fast forward to the present day, and social democracy has become the enemy within our movement.
Throughout its history, the British Labour party has been committed in its essence to corporatocracy, monopoly capitalism and free market fundamentalism, and equally committed to the annihilation of communist movements and countries, workers included, that challenge the power and domination of the British ruling class.
Now once again, Labour is fiercely defending western imperialism, cheerleading for every escalation of war against Russia, backing the ramping up of military expenditure and pushing for an even more aggressive policy on the pretext of British ‘leadership’ in Europe, as its leaders kowtow to the profiteers in the armaments, oil and finance industries.
The British Labour party is a threat to humanity. It welcomed US atomic missiles onto British soil; it welcomed the birth of the British atomic bomb; and it welcomed the mass killing of communists in Europe, making an alliance with fascists and Nazis to achieve this goal. Now its current leaders are deeply invested, as traitors and enemies of the working class, in the same deadly adventurism, only this time its alliance is with Ukrainian Nazis, fascists and nationalists in Nato’s proxy war against Russia.
The lack of meaningful opposition to their anti-worker policies at home means that the ruling classes of the imperialist countries are free to continue waging predatory wars abroad as they try to dictate to the masses everywhere how they should conduct themselves.
It is time to wipe away this shame from the face of the working class.
Opportunism keeps our class weak
This cannot be done, however, without exposing, and defeating, opportunism in the working-class movement. In particular, the opportunists – like the fake communists and Trotskyites who use Marxist rhetoric in order to reconcile the workers with Labour party social democracy – the most deadly enemy of the working class and faithful servant of imperialism.
The reason why the trade unions supported the government in the occupation of Iraq was that it is the interests of the labour aristocracy – the upper, bribed, layer of the working class – to do so. The privileges of this upper layer of workers in imperialist Britain depend on the plunder that comes from British finance capital’s looting abroad, and that is why the Labour party and its affiliated unions will do everything to preserve the interests of the ruling elite and the present system, despite claiming to be on the side of the workers.
This is precisely the reason why the trade unions today shamelessly support the neo-nazi Nato alliance’s proxy war against Russia, which is using the Ukrainian masses as cannon fodder. Even people who call themselves communists have fallen into line behind Nato.
Some of these disgraceful ‘communists’ hide their opportunism with the use of ultra-‘revolutionary’ phraseology, describing the conflict in Ukraine as an ‘interimperialist war’, instead of enlightening the working class by emphasising that the Nato gangsters are waging a proxy, aggressive war against Russia, and that British workers are duty-bound to support Russia and not adopt a neutral position, which in essence means siding with Nato.
One of the pretexts used by the Trotskyites and revisionists for their slavish support of the Labour party is that the latter has, through the support of the trade unions, deep connections with the working class, and that we must not ‘divorce ourselves’ from the masses.
This is an absurd assertion. First, because the unions do not represent more than a quarter of the workforce – the overwhelming majority of British workers today are not in unions. Second, because the membership of the unions is constituted by and large by the upper layers of the working class – the labour aristocracy – whose interests the Labour party represents now, as it has always done.
That should be clear to anyone who has not shut his eyes and stuffed his ears. The attitude taken by this labour aristocracy towards imperialist wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen are glaring examples of its total subservience to British imperialism.
The most recent example of the British trade union movement’s fealty to British imperialism is in its collective stance on the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, which has seen trade unions donating their members’ money to nazi-affiliated Ukrainian trade union organisations, British union members preventing Russian ships from docking in British ports, and British unions participating in a march which took place in London last year, at which calls were made for the escalation of armed conflict in the region and for Russian president Vladimir Putin to be overthrown and executed.
The union leaderships’ lack of condemnation for the actions of sizeable numbers of those at that march can only be interpreted as tacit approval of their conduct.
The British trade union movement has also distinguished itself in its service to the anticommunist Labour party throughout the last century. It actively colluded with the Labour government’s privatisation of the NHS during the years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s premierships, accepting ‘guarantees’ on job protection in exchange for waving through without challenge the proliferation of private finance initiative (PFI) contracts, which lumbered the health service with billions of pounds in debt and interest payments, the servicing costs of which will increase with every hike in interest rates as budgets are subsumed by runaway inflation.
As the global economic crisis of capitalism deepens at breakneck speed, as our rulers indulge in endless money-printing to prop up the failing banking system yet again, galloping inflation and a rampant war drive are only going to make an already dire situation infinitely worse for workers everywhere.
The sooner workers ditch their affiliation to organisations that are institutionally bound to the Labour party in particular, to social democracy in general, and to the capitalist system in toto, the sooner will we be able to mount a meaningful resistance to the war being waged against us, turning the tables on our rapacious rulers and their decadent and dying system.
Break the link with Labour!
Defy the anti-trade-union laws!
Turn the struggle for decent wages into a struggle for socialism!