‘As a minister, I experienced the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government. Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes is minuscule.’
Tony Benn, Diaries, 1988
The smallest rumour of a worker downing tools in response to an injustice is enough to provoke hysteria in the British media, so little wonder that what is billed as the biggest wave of strikes in 85 years (albeit by a union not yet taking action) means our airwaves are full of questions as to the legitimacy of strike action.
Let’s skip over the ludicrous argument that one day’s less schooling on 30 June does more damage to the development of a school pupil than Michael Gove’s onslaught on the education system. And the one that the average teacher’s principal concern is their annual salary rather than the thankless job they have chosen to do – presumably in sharp distinction to our selfless banking class.
The vast majority of workers in the UK will only take strike action in the most extreme of circumstances, even when their wages, pensions and working conditions are under attack. Society is worse off as a result of this reluctance. Since the 1970s, workers’ share of the economy has been severely eroded. Our economy has turned into a giant casino for the super rich, with asset bubbles placing basics like housing out of the reach of ordinary people. Massive mortgages, credit card bills, privatised pension funds, public-private partnerships and a hundred other means of transferring money from the pockets of the majority into the investment portfolios of the elite have been created. Workers’ quiescence has been deafening.
Another section of society is much more active when it comes to protecting their own very narrow interests. Those in control of our society, most particularly the financial sector, are not afraid of using economic power to ensure governments of whatever shade serve their interests, no matter what the impact on millions of ordinary people.
The term ‘capital strike’ refers to the practice of business elites, in particular banks, withholding capital in an economy in order to pressure or undermine a government. Roosevelt first accused big business of capital strike in order to undermine his progressive ‘New Deal’ reforms in the 1930s.
But you don’t have to go back that far to see corporations ‘downing tools’. At every stage of the financial crisis, business elites have gobbled up their bail-out subsidies and piles of ‘quantitative easing’ while withholding those funds from small business. For all their posturing, Vince Cable and George Osborne have done nothing to ensure banks assist recovery, allowing them to raise rates for borrowers, keep them down for savers, and pocket the difference. Meanwhile, even a hint that the banks might be taxed a little more to pay for their behaviour provokes howls of protest and threats to move abroad.
Where threats fail to work (they usually don’t), finance indeed brings the economy to a halt. In April, Portuguese banks stopped buying government bonds, forcing the government within a matter of days to go to the European Central Bank for a bailout. It really makes no difference whether that bailout was sustainable, the point is to get those funds flowing into the banks’ coffers once again. Society will pay the price for many decades to come.
On a wider scale, a small group of unaccountable companies called Credit Ratings Agencies issue verdicts which effectively dry up a country’s access to finance, often sending economies into a tail spin.
None of this is limited to our own part of the world. Just to take a very recent example, the election of Ollanta Humala to president of Peru earlier this month, on the mildest of social democratic platforms, led to a stock market plunge after he dared raise the prospect of windfall taxes on the mining transnationals which are looting his country.
All of this has a deeply corrosive impact on democracy of course. Back in 2001/03 Lula da Silva faced an even tougher ride than Humala at the beginning of Latin America’s left turn. During his campaign, the Brazilian currency fell very quickly as it became increasingly clear Lula would win. Financiers attempted to subvert the democratic process, and indeed won a fair bit of influence over his government.
So again and again financiers use their power to change society to suit their own interests. It’s in the interests of everyone else that workers use strike action to shift power back in the direction of the rest of us.
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History