The Public Sector Strike on Thursday and Democracy

Croydon TUC received encouraging reports on Thursday that the national one day strike by public sector workers that day had been well supported in Croydon. We await more detailed reports from the unions involved (Unite, GMB, PCS, FBU, Unison and NUT), but it was clear from reporting by the BBC that the strike had been too big for them to ignore. Failing to report anything that might disturb the current cosy Westminster consensus has, of course, become the BBC’s default position of late as witnessed by their news blackout of the recent Peoples Assembly demo.

Labour, in the form of its leader Ed Miliband, failed to support the strike. No doubt he didn’t wish to upset that part of the electorate which reads the Daily Mail. Cameron’s response on the day of the strike itself was to proclaim that the Tory Party manifesto for the forthcoming general election will include further restrictions on trade union rights. In particular, it will call for a simple workplace majority in a postal ballot to be no longer sufficient to call a strike – a majority of everyone eligible to vote will be required, whether or not they actually vote.

No one, of course, expects a Tory Party manifesto to written by anyone outside a small cabal around The Great Leader. Unfortunately, following Blair’s ‘reforms’ to the Labour Party in the 1990s, we have come to expect the same from the Labour Party. Cameron’s announcement does, however, throw into sharp relief the limitations of parliamentary democracy – limitations which are growing ever more apparent.

At the last election only 65% of the electorate voted. This enabled the Tories to harvest 307 seats in parliament – enough to cobble together a coalition government for five years – with the consent of only 23.5% of the electorate. Yet this is the Party that is proposing that workplace ballots must secure 50% of their electorate before a strike can be called – or rather before the many other restrictions around calling a strike can be addressed.

While the hypocrisy behind Cameron’s proposal is breath-taking, it does draw attention to more fundamental issues about the nature of democracy under capitalism. The ultimate aim for communists is a state in which citizens rule themselves, rather than be ruled by a wealthy minority. Parliamentary democracy is a mere shadow of what we mean by ‘democracy’. In a parliament of 600+ seats, less than 100 are likely to be decisive in any one election in determining the outcome. In the 500 other seats, our votes will make no difference whatsoever to the overall outcome. Proportional representation can improve this situation slightly, but it cannot fix the system. The same can be said about better selection of candidates. More women, more workers and fewer lawyers and wealthy individuals with outside jobs would help, but it won’t fix the problem. To achieve the aim we have set ourselves, democracy must be local, participatory and spread across every institution of society, including the workplace and media such as the BBC and the venal, offshore-owned, capitalist press.

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