The British general election of 8 June 2017 is probably the most important event of 2017. In the general elections of 8 June, the Labour Party of Britain, led by Jeremy Corbyn, almost won the general elections. The Labour Party (LP) won 262 seats in the British parliament, about 40% of the vote, and increased its seats in parliament by 30. The more important result is that the ruling Conservative Party lost its majority in parliament. The Labour Party increased its influence in Britain by adopting radical policies like nationalisation of the railways, free health care, free education and similar policies. The party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a longstanding socialist and activists in the Labour Party, and was very active in the anti-apartheid campaigns in Britain.
For us to understand the importance of these results we have to look at how the working class, its aspirations and demands were defeated by neoliberalism. It was in 1979, that Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister in Britain, and the leading champion of neoliberal politics, which promote free markets in everything, and promote privatisation of all social services, low wages and policies that favour the rich. Thatcher hated working class organisations because she said they promoted the idea of solidarity and strong government. She went out to destroy them.
Between 1945 and the end of the 1970s unions in Britain wielded enormous power. The unions had managed to get government to introduce radical policies in favour of the working class. This system led to a dramatic reduction in poverty and sharp increases in the living standards of the working class. Thatcher’s main aim was to destroy the power of the unions and even the unions themselves, and by 1985 she succeeded.
The defeat of the working class and its most important organisations in Britain, the trade unions, led to a long period of retreat and defeat of the political party of the British working class, the Labour Party. The Labour Party was formed by the unions as a working class party in 1900 to represent the working class in British politics, but by the 1990s, the Labour Party no longer represented the interests of the working class. The party was captured by the interests of the powerful monopoly capitalists in Britain, and it adopted the policies of Margaret Thatcher, much like the ANC in South Africa.
The adoption of radical policies by the Labour Party and the major increase in its political influence was mainly due to mobilisation of the youth by the youth. After decades of marginalisation from British society and politics the youth of Britain began to organise themselves and to take up political and social issues. The key event was the struggle in the Labour Party in 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn stood for election as the leader of the Labour Party. The participation of the youth in that struggle led to the formation of Momentum, a youth activist movement that mobilised to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Momentum now has 150 groups across the country with 23 000 active members and 200 000 supporters.
Momentum managed to mobilise youth to participate in the elections in large numbers for the first time. The result of this mobilisation and focus on youth is that about 66% of youth that voted in the elections voted for the Labour Party, not just because of its policies, but also because for the first time they felt that Corbyn represented the kind of leader they can trust.
The surge in support for radical political platforms in Britain was accompanied by a return to mass political organising, which has not been seen in Europe for decades. For the first time the Labour Party pulled in masses of people to rallies, something that only happens in concerts in Europe. Momentum also struggled for the democratisation of the party, and for taking back the party from control by the Members of Parliament, many of whom were captured by monopoly capital. The victory of Corbyn in the leadership battle twice within five years was a victory of the democratisation of the party. The party now has more than 800 thousand members, the largest in the leading capitalist countries.
This victory of working class and progressive politics in the Labour Party has global ramifications. If Labour becomes the government of Britain, and it sticks to its manifesto, this will be the most dramatic change in global politics in 40 years. But the battle is only beginning. Monopoly capital will not take this setback and defeat lying down. The Labour Party, Momentum and all progressives in Britain are in for a big and long war against British and global monopoly capital.
For the working class all over the world, the victory of a Corbyn-led Labour Party on a radical platform will be an inspiration, and it may open up a new period of a global working class offensive against neoliberalism and monopoly capital.
Originally published here: https://karibu.org.za/the-return-of-the-working-class/