by Thomas Carmichael
The victory of Boris Johnson in the December general election, and his return to government with a strong majority in the Commons, represents a threat to democracy, workers’ rights and the welfare state that is unprecedented in Britain since perhaps the days of Margaret Thatcher. In only the first week of the new Parliament, the Tories rowed back on Chancellor Sajid Javid’s living wage promise, sparked fears about workers’ rights post-Brexit, and proposed legislation to curtail the right of transport workers to take strike action. In addition, attacks on the NHS have already begun in earnest, with private firms being invited to bid for services, including paediatrics and oncology, under a scheme which will see “NHS hospital trusts buying clinical care from a list of suppliers”, according to the Sunday Mirror.
In Northern Ireland, a disappointing election night for the two main parties has left both Sinn Féin and the DUP on the back foot, with the major winners being the SDLP and the Alliance Party. Given the political landscape of Northern Ireland, any election result that appears to move away from the sectarian hardliners on both sides and the ultra-conservatism of the DUP will be viewed by many as a sign of progress. However the anti-choice stance of the SDLP and the role of both parties in Stormont austerity – with Alliance’s Stephen Farry implementing significant cutbacks to then Education Maintenance Allowance in his time as Minister for Employment and Learning, for example – should not be forgotten. Only the building of a genuine socialist alternative to the mainstream parties can provide effective opposition to austerity, ensure the protection of our newly won reproductive and LGBTQ rights and end the Green-Orange stalemate once and for all.
In the coming weeks, months and years, trade unions, young people and communities at large must be ready to organise to resist this agenda. Only a grassroots programme of mass action can now prevent Boris Johnson from realising his full and catastrophic potential. Working-class struggle can make policies unimplementable and begin to open up cracks in a government, even one with so strong a parliamentary presence. Workers should look to the examples of the resistance to the poll tax – led by Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party – that proved to be the final nail in Thatcher’s coffin, as well as to the non-payment campaign which defeated water charges in the South, for proof that conservative government policies can be defeated through a determined fightback. Furthermore, the overwhelming outpouring of public support for the ongoing health worker strikes here in Northern Ireland should leave no one in any doubt that five years of Tory attacks on our rights and public services, particularly the NHS, will not be taken lying down.