This article was written by Jonathan Neale in June this year for Socialist Review, which did not publish it. It is a contribution to the debate about whether neoliberalism has changed the working class in ways which make struggle weaker. Jonathan argues that neoliberalism has changed us “in ways that make struggle harder, and easier, and different, and more explosive”.
Defeats have demoralised our leaders. And we can’t go back. The union movement we had 40 years ago was built on expanding capitalism and full employment. When we ask ourselves how to get out of this hole, our best examples are not the British rank and file movements of the 1970s or the Minority Movement of the 1920s. It is more important to look to Greece now, or Marikana in South Africa, teachers in Chicago, or textile workers in Egypt. People who are wrestling with the same problems we are wrestling with.
Also, we need to keep one lesson from the old rank and file tradition. The union leaders negotiate between employers and workers. They live and work in the middle. So sometimes they call strikes and sometimes they sell out. What decides that is pressure from above and pressure from below.
Note: This piece was published before rs21 was established as an independent organisation in January 2014. rs21 was founded by a group of people who had been in the opposition within the SWP and who left in response to its persistent mishandling of rape and sexual harassment allegations against a leading member.