Ukip came top of the Europolls in Britain on 22 May. The Front National, which has a clear-cut fascist lineage, won in France. Populist and racist anti-European parties did well in other countries.
In Germany, the new, right-wing, and anti-euro AfD is at 7% scarcely a year after being launched, while in Denmark the far-right Danish Peoples’ Party gained three seats.
Greece, the country which has suffered most with cuts plans from the European Union and European Central Bank, is a partial exception to the rise of the anti-EU far-right.
There, the left-wing party Syriza for the first time ran clearly ahead of the main right-wing party, New Democracy. Syriza rejects the EU leaders’ cuts plans and proposes Europe-wide solidarity to break them rather than advocating “get Greece out” as an answer.
Alarmingly, the neo-Nazi (and anti-EU) Golden Dawn party came third with 9.4 of the vote, winning three seats. The other group gaining ground is a new party, To Potami, which is vague but leftish and not anti-Europe.
Greece shows that the left can provide answers to the social discontent, but only with an effort.
If the left goes halfway with the nationalists by endorsing “get out of the EU” as an attempt to jump on a populist badwagon, that will only help the right. Fanciful footnotes from idiots like the Morning Star and other supporters of the pathetic No2EU, which speculate that the re-raising of economic barriers between countries will somehow push towards socialism, are simply reactionary nonsense – and reactionary nonsense that achieved a derisory vote.
Voters persuaded that re-raising national barriers is the first step will inevitably drift to the serious, powerful barrier-raisers: the nationalist right.
“No to the EU” agitation, whether from right or idiot-“left”, threatens the position of millions of workers who have crossed EU borders to seek jobs.
We should instead seek to unite workers across the borders for a common cross-European fight against the cross-European plans of capital and of the EU leaders. Anti-EU populism, whatever “leftist” slogans may be tacked on, can make no useful contribution to that fight.
Comrade Osler writes on Facebook:
So TUSC stands 561 candidates and gets 40,000 votes … that’s a little over 70 each. The only successful candidate was a former Labour councillor who ran under an entirely different label.
This is a humiliating defeat that must be demoralising for all concerned, and on any objective yardstick, is actually a *setback* for any attempt to build a rational socialist current in Britain.
So is there an a master plan at work here, or am I missing something?
Comrade Coatesy agrees, adding an interesting French comparison:
There is a strange group in France, commonly known as the Lambertists, the Parti ouvrier indépendant, POI, who have been standing in elections for a very, very, long time.
They get derisory votes.
But they do have a few councillors (basically the equivalent of Parish members).
In fact they got over 40 in the last municipal elections (always bearing in mind that these ‘councillors’ represent in many cases communes with three inhabitants and a cat).
TUSC (who are part of rival Trotsykist tradition) sees to have joined this doomed path.
Great TUSC victory in Southampton
Keith Morrell has re-won his council seat Coxford, standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Keith was previously kicked out of the Labour Party for fighting against cuts.
He has been decisively re-elected with 1,654 votes, 43%. This is a great result and vindication for his stand, alongside fellow rebel councillor Don Thomas, in opposing all cuts.
Ukip came second with 796 votes, Labour third with 724 votes, the Tories fourth with 500 votes, and Lib Dems last with 168.
The result has lit up the idea that fighting councillors can help build support for a real alternative to austerity. It is in sharp contrast to the close shave for Labour council leader Simon Letts who nearly lost his seat to Ukip after two years of implementing Tory cuts.
The devil is in the detail as they admit from the figures for 100 candidates they got a round total of ….
Do the maths baby.
The complexities of calculating percentage shares in multi-seat contests, especially with the variation in information provided by different councils (over a bank holiday weekend!), is one of the reasons for the delay in collating the results. But as soon as we can we will post up a comprehensive seat-by-seat and council-by-council report on how all the TUSC candidates fared.
What is clear from the results so far, however, is that ‘the party that doesn’t exist’ for the national media (TUSC still doesn’t appear in the BBC’s website’s guide to the English council results – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26434025 ) has made its mark and prepared the ground for broader and deeper electoral challenges in the future.
By Dale Street
No merger with the PCS this side of a General Election. And maybe never.
Although they do not put it as bluntly as this, that’s the substance of two of the motions submitted to the Unite Policy Conference being held in Liverpool late June and early July.
Merger with a union not affiliated to the Labour Party would be “a huge distraction” from winning the election for Labour. Mergers are a good thing only if the unions involved have “similar industrial interests”. Mergers are bad for Unite if its financial situation would be damaged by the pensions liabilities of the other union.
Consequently, there should not even be any discussions about any merger this side of the General Election. And any proposed merger should have the approval of either Unite’s biennial Policy Conference or at least 75% of its Executive Committee.
Given the enthusiasm of the Unite and PSC General Secretaries for a merger – albeit one not shared by broad swathes of activists in both unions – these two innocent-sounding motions are likely to provoke no small degree of controversy at the Unite conference.
And they are not the only motions likely to do so.
Conference will again see a clash over Europe, with one motion calling for opposition to quitting the EU, opposition to a referendum on EU membership, and support for a pro-EU vote in the event of a referendum.
Other motions variously call for the union to demand a referendum and British withdrawal, and to campaign alongside of other unions and organizations such as the RMT and “No to EU/Yes to Democracy”.
According to the latter motions, the EU “blocks any political advancement” (apparently simply by virtue of its existence), the EU is becoming “a NATO-style military force” (given its “involvement” in countries from Afghanistan to Mali), and Unite needs to offer an alternative to UKIP (apparently by saying the same thing as UKIP on the EU).
Given their involvement in the “No to EU/Yes to Democracy” electoral initiative, one wonders whether the Socialist Party will be backing such motions (which no doubt originated with supporters of the Communist Party of Britain / Morning Star).
Conference will also see a re-run of what is becoming the ritual biennial jousting about the union’s affiliation to the Labour Party.
Some motions argue that the Labour Party is the only show in town and denounce “the growing talk about establishing a new party as naïve and dangerous adventurism and question the real motive of those developing this agenda.”
Motions on the agenda which seek to “develop this agenda” include demands for what might be called a sliding scale of disaffiliation (a 10% cut in affiliation fees each time Labour and/or its leadership commit various political misdemeanours).
Other motions of the same ilk call for Unite to convene an open conference “on the crisis of political representation for the working class” in order to “discuss the way forward for working class representation.”
In fact, the real controversy about matters pertaining to the Labour Party will not be triggered by the pro-disaffiliation-but-too-gutless-to-say-so-openly motions but by two other motions.
One of them – a pro-affiliation motion – “applauds the 13 members of the Unite Executive Council who had the foresight to vote against the Collins proposals.”
(It should be remembered that the Unite leadership slavishly backed the Collins Review, and that the bulk of the United Left members on the Executive Council either backed or abstained on the vote on the Collins Review – contrary to United Left policy.)
The other motion commits Unite to encourage councillors to vote against cuts, to support councillors who do so, to defend them against disciplinary action, and to “establish a dialogue” with Councillors Against the Cuts, with a view to possible joint campaigning activity.
(At the moment the Unite “line” effectively amounts to standing on the sidelines, on the grounds that Labour councillors are accountable to the Labour Party, not Unite.)
The vast bulk of the motions on the conference agenda focus on what might be termed “bread and butter issues”, in the positive sense of the expression.
They are motions which focus on the basic issues which face workers, in workplaces, in Britain, under a Con-Dem government, in 2014:
Attacks on terms and conditions of employment. Declining health and safety standards. Attacks on pension rights. Attacks on effective trade union organization. The privatization of public services. The spread of zero-hours contracts. Austerity. Growing inequalities in employment and in society as a whole. Environmental damage caused by the chase for profits.
It is important to register that fact to counter bogus claims by the right wing – within and outside the trade union movement – that unions have lost touch with their members and focus on esoteric international issues at the expense of their members’ real concerns.
Having said that, the agenda does include a number of oddities.
Motion B27 harks back to the “Buy British” campaign of the Daily Mail of the 1960s by calling for legislation to ensure that multinationals, companies and government departments “buy British goods to support British workers.”
Motion F28 rightly condemns celebrations of the 1914-18 war but claims that the Tories’ celebrations are “at least in part a consequence of their defeat in Parliament over armed intervention in Syria”, and that opposition to militarism requires support for the so-called “Stop the War Coalition”.
(The latest feat of the latter “coalition” was to act as apologists for the Russian militarism’s annexation of Crimea.)
Among various motions attacking “Israel the Apartheid State”, motion F11 condemns the “inhuman conditions” in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria resulting from “the siege” and “military attacks”.
But the forces carrying out the siege and the attacks (i.e. the Syrian army, which enjoys the support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command)) are not even mentioned in the motion. Instead the real culprit is … Israel! As the motion puts it:
“The situation in Yarmouk is a direct result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine since 1948 and the failure of the world to address the rights and demands of the Palestinian people.”
(In contrast to the various “End Israeli Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine” motions which advocate ratcheting up the boycott of Israel, motion F12 calls on Unite to encourage Israeli and Palestinian unions “to maintain their strong bilateral relationship as an important aspect of bridge-building for the peace process.”)
Finally, and on a very different note, motion P5 lists a comprehensive and worthwhile series of measures which Unite should take to support lay reps in the workplace.
Never has the aphorism “When I try and get hold of a full-timer, none of the f***ers ever phone me back” been expressed more eloquently and more constructively than it is in this motion.
From the AWL website:
Above: McCluskey and Serwotka
By a PCS activist
The annual conference of PCS, the largest civil service trade union, on 20-22 May will debate a motion submitted by the union’s Executive (NEC) on PCS merging into the big general union Unite.
The motion would instruct the NEC, on completion of talks with Unite, to convene a special delegate conference to debate the terms of “merger” and decide whether to proceed to a membership ballot to authorise the “merger”.
Strictly speaking the “merger” would be a transfer of undertakings. PCS members, staff and assets would transfer into Unite, essentially on the basis of the Unite rulebook (although the PCS leadership is said to be looking for assurances on democracy and PCS membership of Unite decision making committees).
Some PCS members think the leadership is keen on merger because the union’s future looks extremely difficult. With Tory-led Coalition’s austerity drive, PCS has lost a significant number of members since May 2010. In 2013 alone it lost a net average (leavers minus joiners) of 1,600 members each month. Further civil service job cuts are looming.
Moreover the union is under explicit threat of Tory ministers quickly ending the “check-off” whereby civil service departments deduct PCS dues directly from members’ wages and pass them to the union.
The PCS Independent Left, the left wing opposition to the ruling Left Unity/ Democracy Alliance, has said that if PCS is facing financial meltdown then “merger” with Unite has to be supported, irrespective of qualms, simply to keep trade union organisation alive in the civil service and other workplaces where PCS organises.
However the PCS leaders claim that the union is well able to continue as an independent organisation. The PCS Independent Left therefore argues that it should do so rather than transfer members to Unite.
The PCS leaders proclaim that moving PCS to Unite “would create a union able to bridge the traditional divide between unions operating in the public and private sectors so that we can boost our bargaining power.” They do not explain how, for example, the bargaining power of Unite members in a car factory will be boosted by the adhesion of PCS to Unite, or how the bargaining power of civil servants in HMRC or DWP will be boosted by being in the same union as car workers and other trade unionists in the private sector.
The Left Unity/Democracy Alliance has run PCS for eleven years. Over that time it has totally failed to overcome successive governments’ divide-and-rule policy of carving the civil service up into a huge number of “delegated bargaining units” and to regain civil service national bargaining. Yet that same leadership now asserts that merely by joining Unite it will overcome the bargaining divisions between public and private sector workers.
The PCS leadership effectively assumes that union “merger” is a shortcut to the development of wider working-class political awareness and industrial militancy.
The PCS leaders state that “merger” (transfer!) would create “a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members” but has not explained precisely what it sees as the changing industrial circumstances and precisely how this new force within Unite would be better able to deliver for Unite and PCS public sector members. They do not say how the awful defeats PCS has suffered under their leadership would have been avoided if we had been Unite members.
The underlying and only very partially stated argument would seem to be that:
• PCS cannot “win” against the state on its own (winning is rarely defined by the PCS leadership),
• Public sector workers must therefore strike together on pensions, pay, jobs and services (and presumably keep striking until the demands of all the different occupational areas of the striking public sector workers have been satisfied – not a model the PCS leadership followed in the pensions dispute with the last Labour Government)
• Unison and other unions cannot be trusted to do so, as shown by the pensions debacle in November 2011
• If PCS “merges” with Unite and a large public sector group is created, then Unite will be able to call out its civil service, NHS and local authority workers at the same time, and thereby put pressure on Unison and other unions to join with it.
There is plenty of talk about a “new powerful force”, “making a difference”, needing “a more effective trade union fightback in the public sector” and PCS and Unite sharing the same basic approach of being genuine fighters for members. However, nothing has prevented Unite and PCS from calling such joint action before now if they wanted to.
In reality, Unite remains a relatively minor player in the NHS and local government. A fully united public sector fightback would require Unison to play an effective and committed role. That is extremely unlikely under the current Unison leadership.
PCS should certainly agitate for joint action, but has to develop its own independent strategy for winning on issues facing PCS members. There is no short-cut through merger with Unite.
The PCS leaders hint that they see themselves (in Unite) as competing with Unison for authority in the TUC and members in the NHS and local government. They say, “A merged union would become the second largest public sector union. It would be the first public sector union to hold substantial membership in…the NHS, local government and central government.” PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka spoke at last year’s PCS conference of creating a “left wing pole of attraction” in the union movement.
But competition with Unison is unlikely to attract its membership in mass numbers. If a few left-wingers are won over, that will be at the price of them abandoning the fight to replace the leadership in Unison of Dave Prentis or a successor in the same mould chosen in Unison’s next General Secretary poll in 2015.
Mark Serwotka or the Socialist Party, the dominant group in the PCS leadership quite clearly see themselves running Unite’s public sector group. They are certainly not going to give up the leadership of an independent trade union just to play second fiddle in one sector within Unite.
And Socialist Party must have high hopes of dominating Unite’s “United Left” through the much bigger PCS Left Unity membership.
Merger is likely to mean losing PCS’s democratic structures and its actual and potential industrial coherence.
PCS has annual elections at all levels; annual national and group conferences; delegates directly elected by branch members; and a widespread membership understanding of the key industrial issues.
Delegates to Unite’s national conferences are indirectly elected by regional committees and regional industrial sector committees; national policy conference takes place every two years; national rules conference every four years; industrial sector conferences every two years. Elections for the Unite NEC, Regional and Branch Committees are held every three years.
PCS’s very different circumstances enable direct relationships between members and the different levels of the union and within the single “industry” that is the civil service and the private sector support companies that provide services to the civil service. The end result is a membership with common workplace experiences and issues that gives national PCS an explicit and (potentially) unifying coherence of trade union purpose. That makes accountability (potentially) easier to judge and deliver.
There is simply no real industrial logic to merger with Unite.
There is some opposition on the left and right to merger with Unite because of its relationship to the Labour Party. It’s an opposition which either sees PCS in apolitical terms (a union for state employees!) or sees politics purely in terms of standing would be left-wing independent candidates in opposition to the Labour Party. Both are wrong and fail to outline any way in which PCS can help remove the Tories from government, ease the considerable pressures on members, and replace them with a trade-union based party whose leaders need to be opposed and tested with positive working class policies.
For certain an alternative to Labour will not be found through TUSC or similar candidates. Serious socialists opposed to the merger should not get caught up with opposition on sectarian grounds.
Above: the CPB, Morning Star and (to their shame) the Socialist Party support No2EU
The Morning Star – to all intents and purposes the paper of the Communist Party of Britain – has a problem with Ukip. In particular, it seems unable to make up its collective mind as to whether or not Ukip is racist. Whilst most on the left, including several Labour MPs, have no hesitation in denouncing the Farage rabble for racism, the Morning Star and the CPB front ‘No2EU’ seem not so sure.
Last month the Star ran an article headed No2EU: Ukip Will Win Unless We Tackle EU, that included the following:
But No2EU convener Brian Denny said simply calling Ukip racist would not stop it from success at the May 22 European elections.
“If Labour keeps ignoring the issue the only winners will be Ukip and worse,” he said.
“The free movement of capital and labour, a cornerstone of EU law, is creating chaos across Europe.
Now, the Star isn’t quite saying there that Ukip are not racist, but that “simply calling” it “racist” is insufficient – which is obviously true, as far as it goes.
But the Star‘s true position has been made clear in the present weekend edition May 3-4), which caries an article headed Don’t Be Fooled By Farage, written by John Haylett, who edited the paper from 1995 to 2009 and remains a prominent member of the Party. It includes the following:
The EU has never been hugely popular in Britain, viewed as a hulking continental power that interferes in too many decisions proper to Westminster level or devolved administrations.
And although race relations in Britain are generally good, this is no thanks to a political elite that characterises immigration as a problem.
With unemployment at an underestimated two million-plus level and nearly 900,000 16 to 24-year-olds on the scrapheap, scapegoating migrants provides fertile electoral ground for desperate politicians.
Labour apologises for not being tougher on immigration when in office while the conservative coalition pledges more stringent controls.
Ukip trumps them all by rejecting EU free movement, claiming that 26 million jobless people across the bloc have their eyes on British workers’ jobs
It’s nonsense. It’s scaremongering. It encourages fear of foreigners, but it’s not racist.
Farage has no difficulty knocking down this knee-jerk response, championing a level playing field for would-be migrants and criticising the negative effect of EU Fortress Europe on African and Asian workers seeking jobs in Britain.
The Ukip leader favours an immigration points system whereby employers could bring in staff from anywhere in the world.
I read that as Haylett saying that not only is Ukip not racist, but that he – Haylett – (and, therefore the Star and the CPB) in reality – once you cut through the bullshit – agree with them on immigration.
And if you think that’s me misreading Haylett’s piece for factional reasons, I submit the following, from an article on the same page of the same edition of the Star:
The free movement of labour policy of the EU superficially appears progressive and is seen as such by many on the left, but it is designed only to allow systematic exploitation of labour.
It’s another example of the post-modern myth of “freedom” and “choice.”
The European Court of Justice is also complicit in this with rulings such as the Laval, Viking, Ruffert and Luxembourg cases all defeating trade union moves to prevent migrant workers being used to displace unionised workforces.
One of the often ignored problems with mass migration is the displacement and disruption that its victims suffer.
Now, there’s a serious discussion to be had by trade unionists regarding the impact of immigration upon terms and conditions. But the likes of Denny, Haylett, the Morning Star and the CPB, are not contributing to that debate by parroting what amounts to Ukip propaganda.
And it also explains why they’re so keen to defend Ukip from the charge of racism.
Labour MP Mike Gapes is quite correct when he denounces Ukip’s latest poster campaign as “racist.” The slogan “take back control of our country” and posters suggesting that “unlimited cheap labour” from Europe is undermining the conditions of British workers and causing unemployment, is inevitably divisive and racist…
… even when it’s dressed up in “leftist” and pro-trade union language:
Following the accession of eastern European states to the EU, migrant labour has been rapidly moving west while capital and manufacturing jobs are moving east.
While western European countries experience a large influx of migrant labour east European countries are suffering population falls and an inevitable brain drain, leading to a loss of skilled labour and young people as well as an uncertain future of underdevelopment.
In more developed member states, wages have been under pressure in many sectors in a process known as ‘social dumping’, as cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce and trade union bargaining power is severely weakened.
These problems have arisen in Ireland, most notably in the Irish Ferries dispute, when the company replaced 600 Irish seafarers with labour from Eastern Europe at considerably lower rates of pay.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is demanding measures to protect particularly unskilled workers where social dumping is threatening jobs.
“It is an iron law of economics that an abundant supply of labour pushes down its cost. It is insulting people’s intelligence to pretend otherwise,” it said in a statement.
Across Europe, it is clear that we are witnessing large movement of capital eastwards as labour heads west. And this is happening in accordance to the principles of the single European market, which allow the ‘free movement of goods, capital, services and labour’, regardless of the social consequences.
Single market rules, therefore, truncate all forms of democracy, including rights to fair wages, working conditions, welfare and social protection and collective bargaining. These EU policies can only mean a continuation of mass migration and, ultimately, feed the poison of racism and fascism, the last refuge of the corporate beast in crisis.
To reverse this increasingly perverse situation, all nation states must have democratic control over their own immigration policy and have the right to apply national legislation in defence of migrant and indigenous workers.
(Alex Gordon of No2EU, speaking in Dublin, October 2011)
PS: the “wave” of migration from Poland is over
PPS: Comrade Coatesy exposes Ukip’s real attitude towards the unemployed
Nigel Farage, in full wader mode, has proposed spending foreign aid money on flood damage.
Working on the assumption (which I hope is true) that most readers of this blog are not regular readers of the Daily Mail, I thought it might be a good idea to let you know that the Mail’s petition calling for foreign aid money to be diverted to the UK flood crisis has achieved over 100,000 names in support, and a Comres poll for ITV showed that 73 per cent of Britons agree. The above information comes from today’s Daily Mail, so of course should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. But the rising tide of anti-foreigner, anti-EU and anti-foreign aid xenophobia at the moment cannot be denied. The words of sanity that have been expressed on the subject of migration, by EU commissioner Laszlo Andor and his splendidly combative colleague Viviane Reding, have been of little avail: the UK public seems to be in the grip of isolationism, whether that be anti-EU sentiment, anti-immigration hysteria, or even the slightly more rational reluctance to endorse foreign wars. The current floods have given the fanatically anti-EU Daily Mail the opportunity to bring all these currents together into a vicious, nationalistic and semi-racist campaign against foreign aid: the anti-EU idiot- “left” should take notice … but, sadly, they seem too stupid to do so:
The Guardian‘s development network (which is linked to ‘EurActiv‘) reports:
A campaign by the UK Independence party (Ukip) and the Daily Mail newspaper to divert Britain’s overseas aid budget into domestic flood relief has been condemned as “disgraceful” by Lord Deben, the former Conservative environment minister.
Aid agencies, MEPs and officials from the EU and UN also told EurActiv that such a move would breach Britain’s international obligations.
The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, riding high in polls for European elections in May, first raised the issue on a visit to flood-hit parts of Somerset last weekend, saying it would take “a tiddly per cent of the overseas aid budget” to help flood victims.
The Daily Mail picked up the issue, running a front-page editorial on Tuesday calling on its readers to “put UK flood victims first” and “tell the PM where our foreign aid is needed” in a petition it initiated.
The tabloid, which has often championed climate-sceptic views, railed against “waste” in the UK’s €13bn (£10.6bn) aid budget and called for the money to be spent at home.
“Britain has given hundreds of millions towards flood relief overseas,” the editorial said. “Today, it is our own people who are enduring the misery, and the Mail believes there could no better use for the aid budget than alleviating Third World conditions at home.”
But the hint of a gathering bandwagon around an issue that had previously been the domain of the far right sparked condemnation across the political board.
“It is a disgraceful proposal to take from the poorest people on earth in order to avoid paying the cost of flooding from Britain’s own resources, resources which the prime minister has already promised,” Lord Deben told EurActiv.
Since 2000, overseas aid spending has notched up some significant successes. It has funded the vaccination of 440 million children against preventable diseases and the immunisation of 2.5 billion children against polio.
Aid spending has also provided antiretroviral drugs for 6.1 million people and helped detect and treat 11.2m cases of TB worldwide. Much of this work has taken place under the aegis of the UN’s eight millennium development goals for 2015.
European aid, in particular, has helped almost 14 million new pupils enrol in primary education and connected more than 70 million people to improved drinking water, since 2004, according to the European commission.
“You simply cannot compare the resources of the UK with those of the poorest countries in the world, where they go to bed hungry, lack any access to water, sanitation, electricity,” Alexandre Polack, an EU development policy spokesperson told EurActiv. Claims of waste were simply not true, he added.
One UN official said that channelling overseas aid into domestic flood relief would risk isolating the UK in talks about a post-2015 successor to the millennium development goals, which David Cameron previously chaired.
“Overseas aid is part of the UK’s foreign policy and how they position themselves in the world and contribute to development discussions on the post-2015 dialogue,” the source said. “How can they contribute to that if they have no money to offer the causes that may arise out of that by 2015?”
“Overseas aid is meant for overseas,” the official continued. “If we spent it on national issues, it would be a perversion of its original intent and a breach of regulations governing that part of the budget.”
Headlines in the UK have been captured by the floods, which have submerged large parts of the country’s south-west, and thousands of homes have been evacuated from towns around the river Thames.
But Cameron clarified on Tuesday that the question facing his government was “not either protecting our overseas aid budget or spending the money here at home. What we need at home will be spent here at home,” he said.
Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the UK’s storm-battered south-west, said that there was little support in his constituency for the Daily Mail’s campaign. “Most people recognise that it is an attempt to mix chalk and cheese,” he told EurActiv. “We have a duty to help people in difficulty everywhere, and our aid budget is being extremely well spent.” Watson queried why Farage’s “blind opposition to everything European” prevented Ukip from supporting a relief application to the EU’s solidarity fund. “I have been pressing the government to make an application, and they have three weeks left to do so,” he said. “I have had talks with the commissioner and with government ministers and I am [still] hoping they will. At present, the Treasury is resisting as we will lose some money from our rebate, but there would still be a net gain for the UK, and as taxpayers have paid into the fund I think we should be taking advantage of it.”
Oxfam said that money should be redistributed from the UK’s wealthiest population sectors to help alleviate suffering in the sodden flood plains.
British bankers had received more than €70bn in bonuses since the onset of the financial crisis – far more than the UK’s aid budget, according to a statement by the aid agency. “At the same time, billions of pounds of tax are dodged by companies and individuals who are not paying their fair share,” Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy said. “The choice should never be between helping those overseas or people in the UK when there’s enough money to do both.”
Reports in the mainstream media that Ed Miliband is about to “break the link” with the unions, are somewhat exaggerated – or at least, premature. The main thing about the Collins report (examining the Labour/union link in the aftermath of the Falkirk non-“scandal”) is that, while it doesn’t change union representation in the LP immediately, it contains a “time bomb” promising to change it in 5 years’ time. It’s obviously important to oppose that, and the ‘Defend The Link’ campaign’ will be producing a briefing in the next few days. However, silly people who think there’s something “progressive” about breaking the link will, no doubt, seize upon the Collins recommendations (to be pushed through the Party NEC tomorrow, before a special Party conference on 1st March) to pronounce the link either dead already, or not worth defending.
Up until now, the only people within the labour movement publicly arguing for breaking the link have been the Socialist Party and the treacherous Blairite scum of ‘Progress’. But now, some serious people ostensibly on the left within the labour and trade union movement seem to be taking up what is, essentially, a defeatist position. Some influential people around Len McCluskey are taking about disaffiliating if Labour loses the next general election, and the Daily Mirror’s respected columnist, Kevin Maguire, argues, in today’s edition, for unions to break with Labour and “issue bold agendas and seek to radicalise Labour from the outside, instead of swallowing abuse on the inside. ” In other words, a “left wing” version of the relationship that US unions have with the Democrats. It sounds very radical, doesn’t it? In reality, it means giving up on the idea of the working class having a party of its own. We republish Maguire’s piece (below) so that activists know the sort of arguments to expect from so-called “left-wingers” in favour of breaking the link:
Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire argues that it’s time the unions left what he calls “their abusive relationship”:
It’s time for the trade unions to march proudly out of Labour’s front door instead of being slowly bundled out of the back.
Rather than enduring a thousand indignities, organised labour should take its money and people and abandon institutional links with the party it fathered, nurtured, saved and continues to sustain. However Ed Miliband dresses up these far-reaching reforms, which were triggered by his blind panic over the selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk, the truth is he wants union cash but not the unions.
The Labour leader elected on the back of members is terrified of the “Red Ed” tag, never forgiving those who awarded him the top job. Miliband’s treatment of the unions reminds me of the Tony Blair era when the general secretary of the TUC, John Monks, complained they were treated like “embarrassing elderly relatives” by an ungrateful leader.
Votes were fixed weeks ago to pass Miliband’s package at this week’s meeting of Labour’s national executive committee and a shamefully short two-hour conference on St David’s Day.
Yet speaking to very senior figures in the biggest unions, including Unite, Unison and the GMB, I know they feel they get poor value for money as they begin contemplating a moment when they could formally break from the party. They shouldn’t be afraid when a split might benefit both, mutual interests better served by space when living in each other’s pockets creates an unhappy marriage.
It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with for years, listening to the arguments from both sides.
The great Jack Jones counselled “murder yes, divorce never” but I believe Labour and the unions are a couple who need to go their separate ways.
The argument for one member, one vote in Labour will always trounce justifications of creaking federal structures. Miliband changing how leaders are elected prompts questions he hasn’t thought through about his own legitimacy under a discredited system.
And he’s in La-La land if he thinks anything short of outlawing union membership and transporting activists to Australia would end Tory smears.
But Miliband can do his job and union leaders can negotiate policies for donations rather than handing over millions of pounds in return for sniping and ingratitude. The party over the past few decades got more out of the link than the unions. A prominent Labour figure, a supporter of party ties, told me it was frustrating that unaffiliated unions such as the teachers, cops and nurses were courted while affiliated unions were vilified. A Labour MP, a champion of the union link, whispered that he was afraid Ed is opening a Pandora’s box.
Left-wing unions withholding up to £4million from Labour under a new membership system, he said, would have the resources to fund a rival party. Creating a UKIP of the Left would be self-defeating for indulgent unions, with Tories the only winners if a weakened Labour is electorally drained. The challenge for independent unions would be to issue bold agendas and seek to radicalise Labour from the outside, instead of swallowing abuse on the inside.
Miliband’s reforms are essentially a power grab dressed up as democracy.
He is a leader who strengthened his patronage by abolishing elections for Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and Chief Whip. Emperor Ed raising from 12.5% to 20% the number of MPs required before a candidate may stand for the leadership is a narrowing of Labour politics intended to stop a Leftie winning a party vote.
The rule would’ve barred Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, limiting the last contest to a family affair, with elder brother David likely to have beaten the younger Miliband the most delicious irony of the reforms.
Tellingly, not one union has affiliated to Labour since the Second World War and a couple, the RMT railworkers and FBU firefighters, departed. The other unions should call Miliband’s bluff and leave by that front door. Once out, they’ll never want to go back in.
Given the importance of the Grangemouth dispute, the scale of the defeat and the implictions for British trade unionism, we make no apology for returning yet again to the subject. This article by Dale Street, analysing the pathetically inadequate, self-deluding and unserious response of much of the British left, first appeared in the AWL‘s paper Solidarity.
Above: Stevie Deans in his Grangemouth office
The Unite union’s defeat by Ineos at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant in Scotland merits serious analysis and discussion by socialist organisations. We need to understand what happened and draw appropriate lessons in order to minimise the risk of such defeats in future.
Much of the left press has been desperate to spin a narrative of a militant workforce champing at the bit to take radical action, but being held back (and, ultimately, stitched up and sold out) by a capitulatory bureaucracy.
Workers Power told us: “The workers and their shop stewards, who bravely campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (i.e. rejection of the new terms and conditions), refused to be blackmailed.” By contrast, “McCluskey shamefully fled the battlefield at the first threat from Ineos billionaire boss, Jim Ratcliffe.”
The WP version of reality continued: “What followed (after Ineos announced closure) was an utter disgrace to trade unionism and a total betrayal of the loyalty of the workforce to its union. So-called socialist general secretary and darling of most of the left, Len McCluskey, not only accepted all of Ineos’ demands but ‘embraced’ a deal that extended the strike ban for three years.”
A common pattern. But is it what happened in this case? A statement by Ineos Unite convenor Mark Lyon said: “I made the call to accept the company terms and it was not at all easy. The decision was made by me but with the full endorsement of our stewards and our members. I make no apology to anyone for this decision.
“It is our judgement that they (Ineos) were prepared to close the site down and our members preferred to keep their jobs and take a hit on terms with the plan to work our way back.”
“Len McCluskey came to Grangemouth to give us support and solidarity. He did that but did not make this decision… we did.”
The eventual deal at Grangemouth represents a huge setback for workers, but it is simply not consistent with facts to suggest it was foisted on an unwilling workforce from above by Unite’s national leadership.
Both Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Network paint a similar picture, with both deeming Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party a central cause. Socialist Worker said: “Despite McCluskey’s often fiery rhetoric, his strategy rests on winning a Labour election victory, not on workers’ struggle.” And, according to the ISN, “Unite’s leadership was still distracted, playing games in the Labour Party. Not only did they lose those games, they took their eyes off what was happening to their actual members.”
The SWP and ISN’s starting point is not an analysis of the actual events at Grangemouth, but their own position on the Labour Party (that it is an irrelevance and a diversion, and that no struggle against its leaders using the existing Labour-union link is possible). The facts are then interpreted to justify the preconceived position.
Such an approach entails ignoring events in the real world which contradict that “analysis”. Thus, when Mark Lyon’s statement was posted on the ISN website over a week ago, the response from the ISN was… not to respond at all.
This was despite the fact that the person who posted Mark Lyon’s statement was the author of the article which it contradicted! But what did reality matter for the ISN when compared with an opportunity for (inaccurate) denunciation?
And if events at Grangemouth unfolded as claimed by the SWP and the ISN, then one would expect no shortage of Unite members in Grangemouth to be criticising their leadership (at plant, Scottish and national level).
But neither the SWP nor the ISN articles (or any other article written from the same angle) carry any quotes from Unite members in Grangemouth criticising their leaders for having sold them out.
In fact, the best that the SWP could come up with by way of a Unite activist providing the obligatory statements about “bullying bastard bosses” and “what was needed was to occupy the plant” was a Unite convenor in Donnington in Shropshire (who has been providing similar on-cue and on-message quotes to the SWP for over a decade).
The ISN’s references to “playing games in the Labour Party” and Unite taking its eyes off “what was happening to their actual members” merit particular attention.
The mainstream media, the Tory leadership, and Tory strategists like Lynton Crosby have launched countless attacks on Unite’s alleged activities in Falkirk Labour Party, using them as their central conduit for their attacks on the Labour Party.
But the ISN majestically dismisses the focus of those attacks (i.e. Unite’s involvement in the local Labour Party) as a mere case of Unite “playing games”.
ISN is right to insist that Unite focus on what’s happening “to their actual members”. But one of those “actual members” is Stevie Deans.
When Unite defended him — not just in Ineos against management’s attacks. but also in the Labour Party against attacks by party officials — it was not getting bogged down in “playing games in the Labour Party”. It was defending one of its “actual members” — which is what trade unions are meant to do.
In contrast to the above analyses, the Socialist Party (SP) focused heavily and sympathetically on the dilemma facing shop stewards in the plant itself. But it too approached the situation by looking for opportunities to justify its own dogmatic and sectarian position on Labour. Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the SP said, were “holding the union back,” Labour “does not support workers in struggle,” and Unite should therefore “come out clearly in favour of a new mass workers party.”
In other words: Unite should pull out of the Labour Party in exchange for… the SP’s spectacularly unsuccessful Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.
The other curiosity about the SP’s analysis was what was not in it: a call for a general strike.
This was not an oversight. The SP leaflet distributed at the rally in Grangemouth on 20 October also made no mention of a general strike. Nor did the SP’s model motion for union branch meetings, drafted in response to Ineos’ announcement of closure of the plant.
For the SP, a general strike is something to demand in motions to TUC congresses and trade union conferences or when Cameron suffers a defeat in Parliament (e.g. over Syria). But when a potential major industrial and political dispute looms on the horizon — the call for a general strike suddenly disappears. Perhaps the reason is that it’s a sloganistic article-of-faith designed to catch a mood, rather than a serious strategy proposal.
What characterises much of the left analysis of Unite’s defeat in Grangemouth is:
• Substituting a simplistic notion of workers-want-to-fight-but-leaders-sell-out for serious analysis (and, even if that simplistic notion were true, failing to explain how the leaders managed to get away with selling out such a highly organised workforce).
• Adapting their analysis in order to fit in with their own pet themes and hobbyhorses.
Above: Stevie Deans
For once, the Guardian got it right about an industrial dispute:
“Not so much victory from the jaws of defeat, as defeat from the jaws of devastation. After two terrible days in which workers at Grangemouth thought they had no future whatever, they breathed an almighty sigh of relief when they learnt that they would not be out on their ears, but would hold on to jobs with terms entirely rewritten to suit owners, Ineos. Compared with the threatened alternative of mass local unemployment, the outcome is infinitely preferable – especially as a £300m investment should safeguard jobs at the plant for many years to come. But a settlement in which the bosses have humiliated the union, dismantled pensions and frozen pay for years on end leaves a bitter taste.”
The scale of the defeat inflicted upon Unite and the workforce at Grangemouth cannot be exaggerated. Ineos has had its way on everything: pay will be frozen until 2017, the shift allowance will be slashed (from £10,000 to £7,000), the final salary pension scheme will be replaced by a ‘defined contributions’ scheme, enhanced redundancy terms will go, Unite’s collective bargaining rights will be curtailed, and there will be a three-year no-strike deal.
All that was in place before the latest news that convenor Stevie Deans has tonight resigned from his job with immediate effect.
Inevitably, sections of the left are already screaming “sell-out” at Unite. Shiraz doesn’t have any inside information at this stage, but we are aware of credible reports that, following the closure announcement, Unite came under considerable pressure from its Grangemouth membership to accept the Company’s terms.
The most detailed report so far published in the left press has come from The Socialist, which noticeably avoids any crude charge of “sell-out”, though it is critical of Unite. The article is marred by the ridiculous suggestion that Unite’s failure to call for nationalisation earlier than it did was a result of its policy of ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party. The article also states that “the Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, supported by the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, was at that point [ie after the closure announcement] urging that the union sign up to the company’s demands” as though Rafferty and McCluskey were trying to force Ineos’ terms onto a reluctant membership – something that does not seem to have been the case.
Nevertheless, as far as we can judge it’s a reasonably accurate report, and worth taking the trouble to read:
Trade Unions must learn lessons from Grangemouth setback
Ineos and billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe have announced a reversal of the company’s plan to shut the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth. This follows a significant defeat for Unite on workers’ terms and conditions, demanded by the brutal Ineos management as part of their “survival plan”. While playing Russian roulette with the lives of thousands of workers, the billionaire Ratcliffe was sailing his £130 million luxury yacht around the Mediterranean. He recently applied to build a £5 million mansion in Hampshire.
There were cheers at the mass meeting when the workers were told the plant would re-open. Having been told on Wednesday that 800 jobs were lost, it is understandable that the announcement was welcomed – at least for now. It will also bring relief to the around 2,000 sub-contracted workers at the site who were in the midst of being laid off.
Ineos had said they were going to liquidate the company that ran the petrochemical plant. This would have meant workers lost thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands of pounds, in redundancy payments. Under current statutory redundancy terms post-liquidation workers would have been entitled to a maximum of £13,500.
As part of the deal Ineos will be bailed out to the tune of £134 million in Scottish and UK government grants and loan guarantees. The company claims it needs this to ensure a £300 million investment at Grangemouth over the next few years. After claiming the business was on its knees, Ineos is now saying the site has a 15 to 20 year future ahead of it. This is further proof that the company was lying about the so-called “financial distress” of the plant.
If this u-turn by the bosses was a result of being forced into a retreat by collective trade union action by Unite members, including an occupation of the plant, the reopening of Grangemouth would be seen as a step forward by trade unionists at the plant and beyond. However, this was not the case. Instead Unite has agreed to sign up to the company’s “survival plan”. This includes no wage rises until 2016, cuts in bonuses resulting in a loss of up to £15,000, the tearing up of the final salary pension scheme, a three-year no-strike deal, and an end to full-time union convenors on site.
There was huge pressure on the shop stewards at Grangemouth following the closure announcement on Wednesday 23 October. More than half of the permanent workforce at the whole Grangemouth site had been told their jobs were gone. The oil refinery was closed. According to Ineos it would remain so, unless the union agreed to huge cuts in workers’ terms and conditions. The possibility of closure enduring was a real one. In addition, the Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, supported by the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, was at that point urging that the union sign up to the company’s demands.
In the absence of a fighting strategy by Unite to save the plant, including the occupation of the site and the building of a mass campaign across Scotland to demand that the Scottish/UK governments nationalise Grangemouth, the pressure proved too great for the shop stewards to resist. Nevertheless we recognise the commendable role the stewards and union activists have played at Grangemouth over the last years in defending trade union rights and conditions at the plant, which was emphasised by the successful strike in 2008. Read the rest of this entry »