Union leaders have called off strikes, XR organisers have abandoned a major event and the venue for a radical festival has been cancelled. ‘National unity’ is all on one side. We must keep on fighting, and that includes fighting for a republic.
The RMT leadership announced the cancellation of strikes on 15 and 17 September less than an hour after the queen’s death was made public. Explaining the reason for the cancellation, Mick Lynch stated that ‘RMT joins the whole nation in paying its respects to Queen Elizabeth’. The CWU cancelled the second day of its two day strike action today, Friday. General Secretary Dave Ward justified the decision by saying it was made ‘out of respect for her service to the country and her family’. The TUC has cancelled its annual congress ‘as a mark of respect’.
Extinction Rebellion announced last night that they were cancelling the Festival of Resistance they had organised for this weekend. XR activists have, the organisation says, ‘put much time, heart and commitment into making this festival the beautiful reality it was gearing up to be.’ But it was to take place in Hyde Park, which is a ‘royal park’, and XR’s leadership say that ‘occupying a Royal Park at this time would not be practical.’
In Wigan, the Diggers Festival scheduled for this weekend is no longer happening, after Wigan Council took a decision to ‘cancel public events’. The festival, which takes its name from the radical Diggers, who stood for social equality during the English Revolution, was to have included a music stage and stalls run by dozens of campaign and community groups.
It’s a mistake to call off strikes and protests. We’re told that the nation is ‘united in grief’ as if life had come to a stop. But Royal Mail and rail company management are still at work, and of course the Stock Exchange is still trading. A CWU member responded on Twitter after the strike was called off by saying ‘our office deducted this weeks strike money from our pay this week (against the law I know) but they did! So if I’m not getting paid for today and tomorrow why should I go in?’ The ‘unity’ is all on one side.
Trade union leaders, like Labour Party leaders, accept the idea that the nation, the British state, unites us all, regardless of factors like class or race. If you think that, it makes sense to back down at times of ‘national emergency’. But the truth is that the state – with the monarchy at its head – is controlled by a tiny number of the rich and powerful, and acts in their interests. The British state, right now, is driving millions into poverty by raising fuel prices, destroying the NHS, planning to deport refugees to Rwanda and making plans to aggravate the climate emergency by restarting fracking.
And the British state has a track record. It was during Elizabeth II’s reign that it fought to keep the remains of its empire. As a recent account of that history made clear, that meant the torture of people in Cyprus, the forced resettlement of half a million people in what is now Malaysia, and the imprisonment of a million Kenyan people in concentration camps. That is the reality behind what the then future queen, speaking from Cape Town on her 21st birthday, called ‘our great imperial family’. That imperial tradition goes back to 1660, when the royal family and City of London merchants established the Royal African Company, which transported over 200,000 ensaved African people to American colonies, of whom over 45,000 died as the slave ships crossed the Atlantic.
This is not a history anyone should celebrate. But the Tory ‘war on woke’ seeks to do exactly that, to defend a ‘tradition’ of slavery and empire in the past as well as racism, homophobia and transphobia in the present. So we can’t stand silently by, without protest, as ‘tradition’ dictates the continuation of the monarchy. It’s offensive and ineffective, amidst the host of problems we face, to rely on comforting ourselves with fake accounts of past glories. We are told that the monarch represents ‘continuity’ – but that’s exactly the problem. We need to break from a tradition characterised by racism, oppression and the war of their class against ours. Britain should become a republic.
BBC presenters, and many other respectable voices, are calling on us to forget about issues like this, about past wrongs and present injustices, and lose ourselves in talk of nation and tradition. But the tradition is rotten and the nation remains divided, and if truth and justice are to win we need to understand that, and keep on fighting.