Workers' Liberty #68


COMMENTARY


AWL National Committee on the fuel tax


The AWL National Committee on 4 November 2000 discussed the fuel tax protests.

Main resolution passed by National Committee

1. The fuel blockades were essentially a movement to assert the interests of one particular section of capital, mostly but not all small capital, driven by the crisis of overcapacity in the road haulage industry and the economic crisis in farming, against the capitalist government.

2. Even where wage-working drivers backed the blockades, they acted in line with, and often in association with, their employees. The widespread support for fuel tax cuts does not change the fundamental fact that the movement was one of small capital. The various deals now being discussed whereby hauliers would get special treatment on fuel prices or vehicle excise duties indicate that even in the demand for lower price, the seeming identity of interests between workers and the blockaders was superficial. Our job is to drive in the class wedge. Part of the way we can do this and in particular break proletarian drivers from their bosses is to demand (a) application of the European Working Time Directive (48 hour maximum) to the transport industry; (b) minimum wage at the European Decency Threshold (about 7 an hour); (c) expanded public transport and haulage, and an offer to the smaller drivers, driven to the wall by the economic crisis, of jobs with decent labour standards.

3. We are sympathetic to many of the concerns behind the demand for lower fuel tax (e.g. the absence of alternatives to cars in rural areas and the threat posed to drivers' jobs). We are not opposed to the demand for lower fuel tax in principle. However: (a) concessions won by this particular section of capital (road hauliers, farmers, etc.) are all other things being equal more likely to open the way to concessions to other sections of capital, rather than to working-class gains; (b) concessions won by the "roads lobby" in particular carry problems from a social and working-class point of view (ecology, disadvantage to the poorer sections of the working class dependent on public transport); (c) the connections between the blockaders and the Tory party, virtually inevitable from the class nature of the blockaders quite apart from opportunist Tory calculation, mean that blockaders' victories also tend to boost the Tories. We are obliged to make an overall class assessment before rushing in to shout "us, too" to a political focus we would not have chosen. Because of its blandness the demand has no specifically working-class dimension, and in the blockades it was the cutting-edge to the tax-cut demands of small capital, or even of big capital. We can support the fuel-tax cut demand only as part of an independent working class programme, distinct from both the demands of small capital and the reactionary policies of the Blair government. Such a programme would address the blockaders' demands to the extent that they are compatible with working-class interests. We do not defend the current level of fuel tax.

4. Our emphasis had to be, and has to be, on specific working-class demands and working-class self-assertion. We could not support the blockade movement as such because of its social nature. We can support general democratic movements as such, despite small-capitalist leadership, on democratic grounds, but this was not that sort of movement. We do not support movements against the New Labour government no matter what and no matter who. They are very far off, and may well not develop at all, but there are circumstances where we would defend the New Labour government (with all the appropriate qualifications) against the forces who launched the blockades.

5. We could, did and can suggest that the working class follow the example of the blockaders' militancy. But we advocate that the working class use that militancy for its own aims rather than to boost or augment or extend the movement of small capital. We propose such demands as:

* Tax the oil companies;

* Tax the rich;

* Fund public transport; stop and reverse privatisation.

6. We advocate a proper working-class policy for the environment. There is no need however for fuel tax to be as high as it is in Britain. Here the government is engaging in "redistribution" via taxing the broad population instead of the rich and big business. We advocate an integrated transport policy providing cheap and readily available public transport for all, at the expense of the rich.

7. If the working class and labour movement can rouse itself round its own demands, then it can hope to pull along some of the small capitalists, the self-employed, and the workers who have been involved. That should be our aim - as against the working class being pulled along by the 'roads lobby' or by a more plebeian, smaller-capitalist layer of the 'roads lobby'.

8. If the blockades resume in November, we oppose the government using the army, police, etc. to break them, pointing out how that will be a precedent for similar action against workers' struggles. We oppose workers being involved in the government's blockade-breaking activities. We would advocate workers refuse to take part on grounds of safety.

9. The leaflet issued and posted on our web site in mid-September therefore does not represent the AWL line.

Supplementary motions passed by NC

The labour movement should favour a cut in petrol tax.

The labour movement leaders - especially Morris and Monks - were wrong to denounce the blockades movement and to help Blair break it.

We reject the general line of the WL [64-5] editorial, "The return of militancy".

The editorial in WL64-5 was inadequate because it failed to make any definite assessment of the blockade movement in relation to the working class.

Amendments rejected by NC

In (3), delete clause (b) "concessions won by the "roads lobby" in particular carry problems from a social and working-class point of view (ecology, disadvantage to the poorer sections of the working class dependent on public transport)".

In (3), delete: "Because of its blandness the demand has no specifically working-class dimension, and in the blockades it was the cutting-edge to the tax-cut demands of small capital, or even of big capital. It follows that we can and could only condone the fuel-tax cut demand as a tactical move to get a hearing for our own demands, concerns and focus".

In (5), replace the first part by: "It was disorientating to suggest that the working class follow the example of the blockaders' militancy. In reality the blockaders' so-called militancy was a fake, police and oil company supported militancy. We advocate that the working class uses its own militancy for its own aims rather than to boost or augment or extend the movement of small capital".

In (5), add at the end of the list of the demands: "Scrap Fuel Tax".

Motion rejected by NC

1. The political crisis created by the fuel protests of mid-September was led by petty bourgeois farmers and hauliers and had the support of many millions of workers who supported the demand for a cut in petrol tax and who are tired with this government's policies.

2. The labour movement should favour a cut in petrol tax.

3. The movement was not created for political, anti-Labour purposes by 'enraged Thatcherites' who could not stand to see the Tories lose the next election; the organising forces were inchoate, and hardly formed a coherent right-wing political bloc.

4. The labour movement leaders - especially Morris and Monks - were wrong to denounce the blockades movement and to help Blair break it.

5. The labour movement could have used the crisis for its own purposes, raising its own demands (including a cut in petrol tax, nationalisation of oil, tax on the oil companies, etc.), sympathetic, rather than in flat counterposition, to the blockaders.

The documents

The leaflet posted on our website in September
Editorial in WL64 on the fuel blockades

Back to the contents page for this issue of Workers' Liberty

Back to the Workers' Liberty magazine index

[ Home | Publications | Links ]