Following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, there has been a wave of over-the-top displays of ‘grieving’ in recent days, as Britain enters an official period of national mourning.
Football matches have been cancelled. Televised comedy has been banned. And everywhere you look – whether on Tube station escalators, at bus stops, or in shopping centres – screens glow with the image of the Queen’s face, in her honour.
This pomp and pageantry has pushed everything else off the news channels and papers, including the cost-of-living crisis, which one tin-eared BBC presenter even declared to now be “insignificant”.
But as Glaswegian comedian Kevin Bridges commented at a stand-up show (which Bridges refused to cancel): “She’s not going to be the only old woman to die this winter.”
That it takes a comedian to cut through the barrage of flag-waving propaganda only draws attention to the deafening silence emanating from those who should be expressing the real thoughts of millions of workers and youth: the leaders of the labour movement.
Unsurprisingly, Labour Party leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer has joined in with the establishment’s extravagant gushing of grief.
“Today, our country, our people, this House are united in mourning,” Starmer bombastically stated, speaking in Parliament. “Queen Elizabeth II was this great country’s greatest monarch, and for the vast majority of us it feels impossible to imagine a Britain without her.”
Such nauseating ‘national unity’ nonsense was also echoed on the party’s website, where Starmer concluded an official statement by saying: “For seventy years, Queen Elizabeth II stood as the head of our country. But, in spirit, she stood amongst us.”
Such declarations sing from the same hymn sheet as the rest of the jingoistic ruling class: that the Queen was a down to earth, ordinary Briton.
Listening to such claptrap, you’d forget that Lizzy was a millionaire monarch who presided over colonial atrocities and the impoverishment of her dear subjects, and who even audaciously claimed from the state’s poverty fund in order to heat Buckingham Palace.
Such adulation for the death of ‘our’ unelected head of state is hardly surprising, coming from this knight of the realm who leads His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. Starmer has long proved himself a devoted, patriotic servant of the British establishment.
More than that though, by joining in the chorus of ‘national unity’, just at a time when the class divide in society is being evermore starkly revealed, Starmer shows his true role as an agent of the ruling class.
As well as the postponement or cancellation of sporting events, film showings, and (most bizarrely) weather forecasts, a number of trade unions have also taken the decision to postpone strike action.
In the case of the CWU, this was a last minute call, with the union’s announcement about last Friday’s scheduled strike of postal workers only made the evening before it was due to take place.
The CWU, in turn, were following the lead of the RMT, who had already called off their strike action on the railways planned for 15 and 17 September.
Since then, ASLEF, TSSA, and PCS have all postponed strikes, while the RCN has also delayed the start of their strike ballot of NHS nurses.
In the middle of a raging class war, a truce has effectively been proposed to the ruling class. We must be clear, however, that this is a one-sided truce.
The bosses, the Tories, and the bankers have not paused in their attacks on pay and conditions. Nor are they doing anything about soaring living costs. In fact, they are profiting handsomely from these.
The capitalists are stinking hypocrites from start to finish.
Workers are expected to halt strikes and break off their struggles. But there has been no announcement from Royal Mail bosses about any real pay rise being offered ‘out of respect’; no statement from Network Rail bosses, calling off their planned cuts to jobs to honour Her Royal Highness.
And nor have the energy monopolies stopped their profiteering, in recognition of the nation’s collective grief.
In fact, the bosses and billionaires will likely use this hiatus to prepare their next offensive against the working class, with incoming prime minister Liz Truss threatening to introduce new repressive anti-union legislation.
Accompanying these announcements of postponed strikes, unfortunately, were a slew of obsequious statements from the tops of the labour movement, ‘paying their respects’ to the Queen and the Royal Family.
“The UK’s trade union movement sends our condolences to the Royal Family on the death of the Queen,” tweeted the TUC, for example, “[recognising] her many years of dedicated service to the country.”
The UK’s trade union movement sends our condolences to the Royal Family on the death of the Queen, and recognises her many years of dedicated service to the country.— Trades Union Congress (@The_TUC) September 8, 2022
Similarly, left Labour MPs such as Rebecca Long-Bailey also wrote cringingly patriotic messages, repeating the establishment’s line about how the Queen “united us all”, and even blacking out their social media profiles in tribute.
Queen Elizabeth II served us with unrelenting duty, dignity & kindness. Her dedication to uniting us all was a beacon of goodness through her long reign. A shining example of the best of us. My thoughts & prayers are with her family, loved ones and the nation at this sad time. pic.twitter.com/ppQL5iH4Ru— Rebecca Long-Bailey (@RLong_Bailey) September 8, 2022
Such language plays right into the hands of the ruling class, with their calls for ‘national unity’, which are consciously designed to demobilise and disorientate workers.
Furthermore, it sows dangerous illusions in the monarchy, which is no friend of the working class.
Instead of singing the praises of our class enemies, the Labour and trade union leaders should be explaining and exposing the real reactionary role of the monarchy – a reserve weapon of the ruling class, which will be deployed against the labour movement when the time comes.
Alongside cancelled strike days and fawning eulogies, this year’s TUC Congress was also postponed.
At the congress, several motions calling for coordinated action across the whole trade union movement were set to be debated. If passed and acted on, these would have marked an enormous step forward for the movement.
The postponement of the congress must not be used by union leaders to now sweep these motions under the carpet.
Instead, union activists must ensure that these are on the agenda for the rescheduled TUC Congress, which is now set to take place in Brighton on 18-20 October.
And above all, this meeting of leading trade union representatives must be turned into a council of class war – used as a launchpad to resume mass strike action across the movement.
Up until now, momentum was clearly building across the trade union movement, as militant strikes by rail workers and posties breathed confidence into the working class.
The Queen’s death – and the response of the trade unions – has temporarily cut across the momentum that was built up over the summer in these strikes. But this can, and will, be regained.
Just as King Canute could not turn back the tide, no one can hold back the rising wave of class struggle.
None of the problems facing workers have gone away. Indeed, they are likely to get even worse.
Economists are even predicting that next Monday’s bank holiday for the state funeral could technically tip the country into recession (although we may already be in one).
Union leaders should therefore announce new dates for strike action at the earliest opportunity.
And nationally coordinated action should be prepared for, alongside rallies and demonstrations in every town and city, as part of a mass campaign, with the explicit aim of bringing down the Tories and the entire bosses’ system.
This is the only way to appropriately mark the death of dear Queen Lizzy – to overthrow the old order that she, the monarchy, and the rest of the rotten ruling class represent.