The astounding decision by the TUC to postpone its annual congress in Brighton out of ‘respect’ for the death of Queen Elizabeth will be greeted with a near-audible sigh of relief across the union hierarchy.
A spontaneous fight-back had been building, erupting in militant strikes by posties, rail workers and others, taking on a new sharpness as the harsh reality behind the anodyne phrase ‘cost of living crisis’ is starting to be felt by millions of workers.
This has been most uncomfortable for the TUC mandarins, whose entire claim to legitimacy rests upon on their supposed role as the general staff of the labour movement, giving overall ‘leadership’.
As the Brighton bash loomed, pressure was increasing for the TUC to give direction to workers’ fight-back. The demise of the reigning monarch was just the excuse it needed to dodge this urgent responsibility, allowing it to surf a shallow wave of jingoist nostalgia and to join in distracting workers from the class struggle instead of instead of directing their prosecution of it.
With a near-identical turn of phrase, union leaders dutifully queued up to mouth the same tired shibboleths about a nation in mourning for the loss of a beloved monarch, her alleged ‘service’ to the nation, a nation ‘united in grief’, ad nauseam.
No doubt our new king, Charles III, will be first in line to return the favour, dipping his hand deep into his capacious pockets this winter when those same workers face hunger and black-outs.
The CWU’s Dave Ward explained why his union had pulled the plug on what was shaping up to be a serious militant defence of pay and conditions by postal workers as follows: “Following the very sad news of the passing of the Queen, and out of respect for her service to the country and her family, the union has decided to call off tomorrow’s planned strike action.”
Train drivers’ union Aslef also postponed a strike planned for 15 September, blaming “the sad news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death” and expressing “our deepest condolences to her family, friends and the country”.
Saddest of all, and a reminder that even the most militant trade union politics cannot be relied upon in prosecuting the class struggle, the RMT’s Mick Lynch explained the suspension of planned rail strikes in the following stomach-churning words: “RMT joins the whole nation in paying its respects to Queen Elizabeth. The planned railway strike action on 15 and 17 September is suspended. We express our deepest condolences to her family, friends and the country.”
If trade unions respond in this way to the demise of the monarch, what kind of response can we expect when it’s a question of war and peace?
We have already had the unedifying spectacle of workers refusing to handle Russian sea-borne freight – in a cruel reverse parody of the anti-imperialist British dockers who refused to load military supplies to be used in the war to crush the Russian revolution a century ago.
Workers need to know – and it is the job of communists to tell them – that their true class interests can only be advanced through proletarian internationalism and the anti-imperialist movement, and not via the Union Jack and the British bourgeoisie, whether tricked out in the pomp and circumstance of a bourgeoisified monarchy with phony feudal trappings, or served straight up in the form of bourgeois dictatorship.
If we are to mourn, let us mourn for something worth mourning for. Better still, let’s stop mourning and start organising.
Mourning for the wet supermarket voucher that got refused
Mourning for the cancelled operation
Mourning for the christening grandad missed because of the coach ticket he could not afford
Mourning for the kid’s shoes that got tight and cannot be replaced
Mourning for the last portion of cereal before mum went to bed hungry
And a minute’s silence for the working class that cancels its strikes because of ‘mourning’
– Nina Kosta