International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.


The Financial Times described the action against high fuel prices recently as "assuming the proportion of mass insurrection"! "It has been led by three groups famed for their inate conservatism: farmers, independent hauliers and taxi-drivers".

The protests that have swept Britain and Europe recently, over the massive fuel tax burden, which included such methods as the blockading of oil refineries and motorways, were a carbon copy of the actions of French farmers and truckers, who won a victory over the French government. This was despite the fact that politicians and the press in Britain had predicted there was no possibility of a French situation developing because " we don't do things like that here". Such complacency was shattered as petrol supplies ran out while millions backed the actions of the farmers, and truckers, and the tanker drivers who refused to cross the picket lines. With only 9 oil refineries in Britain, and Grangemouth supplying fuel for 90% of Scotland, the actions had the effect of cutting supplies within hours of the blockades starting.
The mass support for the actions of the truck drivers and farmers- many of whom have been driven to the verge of extinction - exist because of a widespread view that "at last someone is doing something". "This is a fight for survival. It we don't succeed we might as well sell up." This comment from a road haulier summed up the financial position facing many involved in these protests.
This public support for the blockades was in stark contrast to the pathetic, class collaborationist policies of the trade union leaders. The TUC leadership gave their full support for any "action" the government were prepared to take to end the blockades, and get the economy moving again. Even "left" trade union leaders, like the STUC's Bill Spiers, opposed the actions of the protesters calling the protests a "bosses blockade". There were in particular road hauliers who had broken the miners strike in 1984 who were involved in the protests. One haulier who was interviewed on TV was asked why should your blockade be supported when you drove through the miners pickets? He replied:"I think now that Arthur Scargill was right". The TUC which was meeting in Glasgow at the time underlined their strike breaking role when they released a press release that described the blockades as "An unconstitutional attempt to bully the government into submission" The TGWU leadership played a key role in attempting to force the tanker drivers into breaking the blockades at the oil refineries. Throughout this movement we saw the clear role of the TUC leaders who acted as an arm of the capitalist state.
Blair’s government has been weakened. A series of opinion polls have even seen the discredited Tories under William Hague overtake New Labour. While this is unlikely to last the fact that a party, who are largely seen as unelectable because of the legacy left by 18 years of Tory government, can out perform the Blair government is a crushing condemnation of the first three years of New Labour On the other hand the confidence of the working class in their own ability to take action will have grown during the September days, while the governemnt is wounded.
This movement, along with the action of the Unison local government workers in Scotland, was a complete refutation of the idea that mass struggle is an historical relic of the past. It was a real indication of the mood of outrage that exists at the destruction of public services and the widespread feeling that the "boom" in the economy has only benefited the rich and the fat cats.
The Herald newspaper on the 11th of September carried an article on the latest report into poverty in Britain by the Joseph Rowentree Foundation, which found 25% of the UK population living in poverty: the highest figure in the last 20 years. 34% of children live in households that lack essential items such as a damp free home, decent heating and two meals a day. In the same edition of the paper a report on Directors pay showed the top fat cats who "earned" 15.7 times more than their employees in 1994 now receive 20.7 times more. Average pay for the bosses has grown by 72% to £410,000 in that period. By contrast workers pay has increased by 18% to £20,400. It is the outrage at this massive polarisation of wealth; the feeling that it's about time we got some of this for ourselves that has led to a new wave of struggles opening up in the last few months.
From Ireland to France to Norway the last period has been characterised by offensive struggles of the working class to claim some of the enormous profits being made at the expense of the majority of society. Scotland and Britain had seemed to be immune from these developments. In1998 an all time low of 59,000 days were lost through strike action in Scotland. This compared to over 500,000 days lost in 1989, at the time of the last local authority strike. Now however a change has taken place. The Unison strike and the protests over fuel prices will encourage other workers to take action in the months ahead.

Economic "boom"

This new industrial situation is characteristic of the last stages of an economic upswing. Despite 8 years of growth in the world economy discontent at the system is more pronounced because of the one sided nature of the recovery. In the world's strongest economy-the USA- the wealthiest 1% of the population have seen an 85% increase in wealth in the 1990's. And yet 80% of US families have received 0%. Workers in many of the advanced countries of Europe and the USA see falling unemployment, and the existence of super profits for the bosses as an opportunity to demand improvements in wages and living standards. This is especially critical because of the types of jobs that have been created.
In Scotland, for example, 47,000 manufacturing jobs have gone since 1997. The textile, oil fabrication and electronics industries have been hard hit. These examples underline a decisive shift away from manufacturing into the financial and the service sectors. In the same period, since 1997, there has been a 33% rise in financial services which has resulted in a big growth in call centre jobs among others. There are now more people working in retail than in manufacturing in Scotland; there are fewer workers in construction than work in Hotels and resteraunts; there are more call-centre workers in Scotland than work in mining, engineering and ship building added together.
This has meant a big fall in full time, permanent jobs and a shift into part time and/or temporary employment. Between August 1998 to August 1999 there was a loss of 35,000 full time jobs in Scotland at the same time there was a corresponding rise of 32,000 part time jobs-23,000 of these were women workers.
This has had an huge impact on wage levels resulting in endemic low pay. Almost 33% of workers who work full time earn less than £13,000 a year. 55% earn less than £18,000. This is the reality of the 1990's "boom". This is before a downturn hits the world economy which, even if it was a recession rather than a slump, would have devastating consequences for the working class internationally. But especially in Scotland whose economy is particularly vulnerable to an world economic downturn.
In an era of world capitalism no single country can escape the impact of the crisis of capitalism. The Scottish economy relies heavily on exports. Scotland produces 28% of Europe's PC's, 80% of it's workstations and 65% of it's cash machines. Many of these are produced by workers employed by foreign multi-nationals. There are over 80,000 people in Scotland working for foreign owned multi-nationals in manufacturing alone. A world downturn would leave an export reliant economy like Scotland open to the removal of Foreign Direct Investment and the drying up of export markets. The international struggle for socialism retains all it's relevance with the vital neccesity of building a unified struggle of the working class across countries and continents.

Scottish Parliament

Almost 18 months into devolution and the standing of the Scottish Parliament could not sink any lower. A poll commissioned by The Herald newspaper in July, to coincide with the Parliament's first anniversary, found only 1% of people who were very pleased with the working of the parliament, while 36% were very displeased. This was before the Scottish exams fiasco and the local government strike action.
There is widespread despair at the lack of any progress on the crisis afflicting the NHS and public services in general. Hospital waiting lists continue to increase despite the so-called extra millions from the Blair government.
The first national local government strike since 1989 has erupted with over 70,000 UNISON members involved in the first day of action in favour of a 5% wage increase. Thousands of GMB and TGWU members refused to cross picket lines despite voting against strike action themselves. This tenacity and determination by the Unison membership has not been matched by the leadership who hope to scale down the next round of industrial action. Nevertheless the Unison strike action marks an important turning point in the mood amongst public sector workers in favour of taking action over pay and in defence of services.
The continued underfunding of local government is reaching critical proportions. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) reported recently (5th Sept) that councils had suffered cuts of £500 million since 1997. £1.3 Billion is needed for school building repairs and £1.2 billion for roads and bridges. This is on top of the £1.3 billion required for teachers pay and care for the elderly. COSLA reported to the parliament that a minimum of £1 billion for next year would be required, on top of current plans, to begin to make up for the shortfall in local government.
Scottish Councils were given just 0.8% for pay increases for their staff this year while inflation stands at over 2%. Local government workers have been offered 2.5%- in effect a pay freeze. To pay the Unison members their just 5% claim would cost over £300 million which, even if Unison failed to win an increase, would further eat into council budgets. This is at a time when, due to the continued falling levels of unemployment, the government has a budget surplus.
The recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announced by Gordon Brown which saw a £43 billion increase in public spending over three years announced, will not alter the crisis situation in the NHS or local government in Scotland. Since being elected the New Labour government has stuck rigidly to the Tories spending cuts, which have resulted in a £50 billion cut in the last five years. This brought public spending down to the lowest level since 1963-at 38% of GDP. The CSR increase will not even put public spending back to where it was 5 years ago.
The determination of the Blair government to stick to the neo-liberal straight- jacket is causing increasing anger amongst wide sections of the population. There is a growing feeling that at least some money is there and it should be spent now on public services. The inability of the parliament in Scotland to challenge Westminster and demand extra resources from the New Labour government, has acted to spread the mood of disappointment towards devolution.


The SNP have failed completely to raise the demand that the Scottish parliament should challenge New Labour in Westminster for the money to halt the crisis. They have been content to sit back and allow the anti- New Labour mood to deliver them election victories. The most recent opinion polls indicate the SNP overtaking Labour in voting intentions for the next Scottish elections in 2003, while Labour remain decisively ahead in polls for the general election. The pro-market programme of the SNP has proven incapable of turning the mood of disappointment in the Scottish executive into a mood for further constitutional change.
The recent leadership contest between John Swinney and Alex Neil-the so called left wing alternative- re-inforced the big business orientation of the party and was a big turn off for most people. 60% had no opinion or did not care who won the contest. Neither wing of the SNP has a policy for a return to even the limited reformist programme of the early 1990's. At that time the SNP stood for the re-nationalisation of the privatised utilities, a major house building and renovation programme, increases in pensions and benefits. The SNP in common with all other big business parties have surfed the wave, shifting their economic and social policies decisively to the right. The SNP now stand for a low tax, high productivity independent Scotland modelled on the Celtic Tiger in Ireland. An economy where corporation tax is slashed to encourage foreign direct investment by multi-national corporations.
And yet the leadership contest has served to underline the differences inside the SNP and among SNP supporters in Scotland. Even in a very confused and inchoate manner Neil attempted to appeal to the working class base of the SNP. He has argued that the SNP should not ape New Labour and orientate to middle Scotland, but should take the fight direct to the working class heartlands in the central belt area of Scotland. The nationalists still have their main base in the rural areas of the North East of Scotland. Five out of six of their Westminster MP's represent this area.
While paying lip service to the record levels of poverty, low pay and opposition to housing stock transfers in Scotland the SNP leadership are, at the same time, conscious of the need to be a "business friendly" party. Their economic case for independence depends on a high profit and low cost business environment. In other words the same global neo-liberal economic model that has massively accelerated the growth of inequality in Scotland and internationally during the 1990's.
A battleground in this contest is over how independence is to be acheived. Swinney is part of the "gradualist" wing of the SNP leadership. They see independence being won through the gradual extension of powers to the Scottish parliament from Westminster. If the Scottish Parliament can be made to work, they argue, it will create an appetite among Scots for more far reaching powers to be given to Scotland. The "fundamentalist" wing of the SNP, supposedly represented by Alex Neil, call for a clear commitment for an independent Scotland that would not compromise on the hope of being handed a few more devolved powers.
As the CWI has consistently argued, these tensions reflect huge pressures on the SNP from the British, and large sections of the Scottish ruling class, who are striving to retain the British union. It was not accidental that the SNP last year relegated the demand for independence to 10th place in their programme for the Holyrood elections. There was a ferocious campaign by the press, the political establishment and sections of big business against the SNP, when they looked like mounting a serious challenge to Labour for the Scottish parliament elections. The resignation of Salmond is in no small way linked to that experience, as he drew the conclusion that the struggle for independence would be a long and bitter process. Furthermore, one that would lead the SNP on a collision course with the capitalist establishment. Previous to that the SNP leadership had illusions that big business could be persuaded to accept or at least remain neutral on the question of an independent Scotland. The economic and political interests of British capitalism and the decisive degree of integration of the Scottish economy into that of Britain make the ruling elite, on the whole, completely opposed to the break up of the British State.
Ian McWhirter, a leading political commentator who writes for the Herald newspaper, said "The British state would not allow secession without a fight. Maybe not with tanks in the street, but certainly with a sustained and well financed campaign against "breaking up Britain" which would have the backing of Labour, the Lib Dems, Tories and most of the Scottish press." Aug 9th.
These factors have been the decisive catalyst for sections of the SNP leadership preparing to accept the idea of increased autonomy that falls short of an independent Scotland. The SNP recently changed their position on how independence would be be acheived. Previously they argued that an SNP majority in Holyrood or Westminster would be a mandate for opening up negoitiations on the terms of a separation of Scotland from the UK. Now they argue that an SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament would lead to a proposal for a referendum on independence within 4 years. This is partly in an effort to encourage other parties like the Liberals, or even the Tories, to set up a coalition with the SNP in Edinburgh to run the administration, while allowing their partners to campaign for a No vote in a referendum.
The disappointment over devolution has played a role in stalling the mood around independence. 61% in a Herald poll recently believed they would not see an independent Scotland in their lifetime. The cynicism and mistrust at the political establishment, including the SNP leadership, is helping to undermine the belief that they are prepared to lead a serious struggle for independence.
The Scottish Socialist Party(SSP), which according to recent polls could have at least four members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) in 2003, would also be approached by a possible SNP administration to enter a coalition. While the SSP has a policy for an independent socialist Scotland, it would be a disaster to formally enter an SNP coalition. This idea, which some elements of the SSP would support, would lead to the SSP being totally discredited by an administration which would continue a programme of cuts and austerity.
The SSP must follow an independent class policy which means adopting a marxist programme. It should back a referendum on self-determination, campaigning in favour of independence. This approach alone would ensure that the forces of socialism would continue to grow and develop into a mass force in Scotland.
The growing anti-capitalist movement, the recent eruption of anger over fuel prices and the Unison action in Scotland signals the opening of a new stage in the class struggle. The accumulated anger that has been simmering, as a result of the growing inequalities of the 1990’s, will blow up in the face of the Blair government sooner or later. It will mark also the opportunity to build powerful parties of the working class and win new adherents to the programme of the CWI.