Tomorrow (Saturday 6 Sept), the United Left (the ‘broad left’ group within Unite the Union) will debate the European Union.
This debate will be interesting, because until Unite’s June 2012 Policy Conference, both the two constituent unions that make up Unite (The T&G and Amicus) had toed the Stalinist/Labour-left ‘line’ of calling for withdrawal. This was overturned, largely because rank and file Unite members (especially those in Passenger Transport) understood the need for a co-ordinated European-wide response to the economic crisis and the bosses’ attacks. Thus the change of ‘line.’
The Stalinist and semi-Stalinist forces within Unite are, of course, anti-EU fanatics, but dared not openly attack the existing policy. Instead, at this year’s Policy Conference they put forward a resolution calling for an incoming Labour government to hold a referendum on EU membership. This is, in reality, a thinly disguised call for withdrawal, but I think it’s safe to say most delegates didn’t realise this, and it was passed.
So those of us who recognise the profoundly reactionary nature of “left” anti-EU posturing cannot afford to rest on our laurels within Unite. Here’s the text of the leaflet I’ve put together for the Alliance for Workers Liberty at tomorrow’s debate:
The possibility of a serious unravelling of the patchwork, bureaucratic semi-unification of Europe, slowly developed over the last sixty years, is more real today than ever before. The decisive push for unravelling, if it comes, will probably be from the nationalist and populist right.
Right now in France, an economic and political crisis is rocking Hollande’s weak, pro-capitalist socialist government and with the mainstream right also in crisis, there is a real possibility of Marine Le Pen of the Front National winning the 2017 presidential elections. Her recipe is for France to leave the EU, close its borders to immigrants and to embark on policies of economic autarky in the name of patriotism. Le Pen presently leads in opinion polls.
The EU could not survive the departure of France and would collapse into beggar-my-neighbour economic policies, competitive devaluations, trade protection and slump. Inevitably, wages would be driven down and workers’ rights would go by the board.
And that calls the bluff of a whole swathe of the British left.
For decades, most of the British left has been “anti-EU” as a matter of faith. In Britain’s 1975 referendum on withdrawing from the EU, almost the whole left, outside AWL’s forerunner Workers’ Fight, campaigned for withdrawal. Since then the left has hesitated explicitly to demand withdrawal. It has limited itself to “no to bosses’ Europe” agitation, implying but not spelling out a demand for the EU to be broken up.
The agitation has allowed the left to eat its cake and have it. The left can chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country. It can also cover itself by suggesting that it is not really anti-European, but only dislikes the “bosses’” character of the EU.
As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist. As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neo-liberal governments could be anything other than neo-liberal.
As if the material force behind neo-liberal cuts were the relatively flimsy Brussels bureaucracy, rather than the mighty bureaucratic-military-industrial complexes of member states. As if the answer is to oppose confederation and cross-Europeanism as such, rather than the capitalist, neo-liberal, bureaucratic character of both member states and the EU.
As if the EU is somehow more sharply capitalist, anti-worker, and neo-liberal than the member states. In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.
As if the answer is to pit nations against Europe, rather than workers against bosses and bankers.
When Socialist Worker, in a recent Q&A piece, posed itself the question, “wouldn’t things be better for workers if Britain pulled out of the EU?”, it answered itself with a mumbling “yes, but” rather than a ringing “yes”.
“Socialist Worker is against Britain being part of a bosses’ Europe”. Oh? And against Britain being part of a capitalist world, too?
Britain would be better off in outer space? Or walled off from the world North Korea-style? “But withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t guarantee workers’ rights — the Tories remain committed to attacking us”. Indeed. And just as much so as the EU leaders, no?
As recently as 2009, the Socialist Party threw itself into a electoral coalition called No2EU. Every week in its “Where We Stand” it declaims: “No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union!”, though that theme rarely appears in its big headlines.
The RMT rail union, in some ways the most left-wing union in Britain, backed No2EU and today backs the “People’s Pledge”. This “Pledge” is a campaign to call for parliamentary candidates to demand a referendum on British withdrawal from the EU, and support them only if they agree.
It was initiated by, and is mostly run by, right-wing Tories, but fronted by a Labour leftist, Mark Seddon. It is backed by many Tory MPs — and by some Labour left MPs such as Kelvin Hopkins, John Cryer, and Ronnie Campbell, and by Green MP Caroline Lucas.
The referendum call is a soft-soap demand for British withdrawal, based on the hope that a majority would vote to quit. (In a recent poll, 55% of people agreed with the statement “Britain should remain a full member of the European Union”, but 55% also agreed with the statement “Britain should leave the European Union”, so…)
Even the demand for withdrawal is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (i.e. all the neo-liberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.
That is not what the no-to-EU-ers want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too. A speech by RMT president Alex Gordon featured on the No2EU website spells it out: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries… Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish…”
For decades “anti-EU” agitation has been like background music in the left’s marketplace — designed to soothe the listeners and make them more receptive to the goods on offer, but not for attentive listening. If the music should be played at all, then it should be turned up now.
But do you really want the EU broken up? What would happen?
The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.
There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.
Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.
There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.
Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.
Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, and especially in 1914 and 1939.
The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty
He was … “a friend and partisan of all good causes, always ready to circulate a petition, help out a collection or get up a protest meeting to demand that wrongs be righted. The good causes, then as now, were mostly unpopular ones, and he nearly always found himself in the minority, on the side of the under-dogs who couldn’t do him any good in the tough game of making money and getting ahead. He had to pay for that […] but it couldn’t be helped. [He] was made that way, and I don’t think it ever entered his head to do otherwise or live otherwise than he did.
“That’s just about all there is to tell of him. But I thought [...], that’s a great deal. Carl Sandberg said it in this way: ‘These are the heroes then – among the plain people – Heroes, did you say? And why not? They gave all they’ve got and ask no questions and take what comes to them and what more do you want?’ “ – James P.Cannon (The Militant, June 1947)
I’ve just heard that Tom Cashman is dead.
His daughter, Ruth, got in contact to say:
My dad died yesterday. Though he had differences [...] he considered you all comrades.
We will send round details of the funeral once it has been arranged.
“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try and avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth…”
Leon Trotsky — the Last Testament of Leon Trotsky, Mexico, 27 February 1940
Tom had been ill with a brain tumour for a couple of years, so at one level his death is not a shock.
But Tom’s mental and physical strength meant that he’d hung on for much longer than would normally have been the case.
Not necessarily a good or merciful thing, but there we are.
I’ll write more about Tom shortly.
But for now, I’d just like to say:
He was about the finest and most principled person I ever knew.
He introduced me to real socialist politics.
He understood the interaction between trade unionism and socialist politics.
He – together with Graham Stevenson, who had completely different politics – devised the plan that kept union organisation intact on London buses after privatisation.
He was the voice of political sophistication and Marxism on the T&G -going into -Unite Executive, while he was on there.
Best wishes and solidarity to Ruth, Johnnie and all Tom’s friends, comrades and family.
I’ll write more soon.
We’re reproducing another article by Jon Lansman of Left Futures. A behind-the-scenes supporter of Shiraz, who holds a senior position in one of the major unions, recommends Jon’s stuff as the best informed and most incisive commentary there is on the Labour-union link. This secret Shiraz-supporter particularly likes the way Jon brings out the fact (ignored by the likes of the Socialist Party and the SWP) that the trade union leadership is 100% complicit in all the Labour leadership’s “betrayals.”
Above: Unite funds the People’s Assembly, but Len votes for austerity at Labour’s NPF
The climax of Labour’s formal policy process this weekend which had involved 1,300 amendments from local parties to eight policy documents, filtered down and composited by 77 regional representatives, was a debate on austerity. That’s fitting given that it is the foundation of the Coalition’s disastrous economic policy and, unfortunately, in a lighter version, of Ed Balls’s approach too.
What was less fitting, indeed shocking, was that it was a debate in which George McManus, the Yorkshire constituency representative moving the amendment, was given just one minute to speak, and Ed Balls the same. George made a great speech which you can read below. Ed’s speech consisted of a list of those who had withdrawn their amendments in favour of the “consensus wording” as if that was a sufficient argument for the perpetuation of austerity (and he ran over his time). There were no other speakers. The vote was 127 to 14 against the proposal that Labour’s policy be amended to read:
We recognise that the cost of living crisis is inextricably linked to government’s self-defeating austerity agenda. That is why we will introduce an emergency budget in 2015 to reject Tory spending plans for 2015-16 and beyond and set out how we will pursue a policy of investment for jobs and growth.”
Those voting against included some people representing the seven CLPs and numerous NPF members who had submitted almost identical wording and many more who essentially agreed with the amendment including representatives of all major trade unions (I’m told media and entertainment union BECTU voted for). After the vote, some of them, including leading MPs and trade unionists admitted their continuing support. They nevertheless felt compelled to vote against their own preferences and the policies of their unions. Continue reading →
Unison leaflets here
If you can’t get to the London demo, here are the local picket lines and demos:
LONDON & EASTERN
The Woolwich Centre, Wellington Street, Woolwich
Luton Town Centre
5.15 am Morson Road, Depot, Enfield
10.00 am Walthamstow Market Square
(10.45 move to Oxford Circus and assemble outside
Broadcasting House, Great Portland Street for 11.30 am)
Barking & Dagenham
Civic Centre Dagenham
Frizlands Lane Depot
Barking Town Hall
Creek Road Depot
Civic Office, New Road, Grays
Oliver Close Depot, West Thurrock
Curzon Drive Depot, Grays
Ley Street Depot
Town Hall Ilford
Building 1000, Becton
Town Hall, Barking Road,
Folkstone Road Depot, East Ham
6.30 am Amey Depot
7.00 am Bayard Place (throughout the day)
11.30 am Beckers Park, Northampton
12.30 pm Rally at All Saints Plaza
5.00 am Stores Road Depot
7.00 am The Council House
7.45 am Middleton House
11.00 am Rally at The Market Square
11.00 am Rally at Rykneld Square
07.00 am Sulgrave Square
07.00 am Layton Road
07.00 am Blackbird Road
11.30 am Rally at King Street
11.30 am Rally at Brayford Wharf North
12.30 Rally at City Square
Nottingham City Homes
10.30 am Rally at Forest Recreation Ground
7.30 am Town Hall, WS1 1TW
7.30 am Civic Centre staff entrance & environmental depot
200 Pelsall Road, Brownhills WS8 7EN
10.30 am Sandwell mbc organising a mass demo outside
the council house, oldbury with free transport to the TUC
demo in Birmingham
07.30 am. Civic Centre, Swann House
Hanley town hall
Cromer Road depot
Kingsway Stoke, outside the civic centre – rally
NORTH EAST, YORKSHIRE & HUMBERSIDE
11.00 am Northumberland Road (next to City Hall), Newcastle
Northumberland County Council, Stakeford Depot
Durham County Council, Meadowfield Depot
Redcar & Cleveland Council Depot
Middlesbrough Council, Town Hall
Civic (front & back)
Woolston School Base
07.30 Green & Clean Depot, Port Royal Street
07.30 Civic Offices, Guildhall Square
08.00 City Museum, Museum Road
10.00 Portsmouth International Port
12.00 pm Rally at Guildhall Square
Above: Len McCluskey of Unite (left) and Mark Serwotka of PCS
A report (below) that should be of interest and, perhaps, concern, to members of both Unite and PCS. I have yet to be convinced of the industrial logic of this proposed lash-up. In addition, as PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party, it could give a boost to those stupid/sectarian elements within Unite who want to disaffiliate from Labour:
“The Special Executive on Thursday agreed to sanction the commencement of
formal talks with PCS, following a period of exploratory talks. This will
not be a merger but a transfer of engagements, in which PCS will agree (or
not agree?) by ballot to join UNITE. Therefore there is not expected to be
any significant change to the Rule Book though it may require minor
technical changes. In other words there is not expected to be any disruption
to UNITE and/or its members and officers/staff as a result of the transfer
“PCS would bring with it some 200,000-230,000 members almost all of whom
would form a new industrial sector in UNITE for civil servants. The
remaining private sector members would be allocated to the appropriate UNITE
industrial sector e.g. GPM and IT Comms? One of the attractions is that
UNITE would be a stronger voice for public sector workers linking up Health,
Local Authority, MOD & Gov Depts with PCS’ Civil Servants. Politically PCS
sees itself as a fighting back union like UNITE and we do not expect
difficulties there. We still do not know what financial liablities this
would bring but due diligence would apply in formal talks and if the
implications are not acceptable this could of course be a deal breaker
“There was a small vote ( 5 or 6?) against the proposal from some UNITE NOW
and other non-UL exec members.”
(From the United Left email list)
Len McCluskey writes….
Why Unite members should vote Labour on 22nd May
Some politicians these days seem to be falling over themselves to criticise Europe.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the European Union is more than just a building in Brussels.
It gives us the laws and legislation that stop you being exploited by your boss and protect you on a daily basis. Amongst other things, the EU makes sure your hours at work aren’t exploited, you get protection at work and you get statutory holidays.
It’s ,responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK and brings an estimated £30bn to the UK economy. So Europe isn’t just good for Britain, its good for you.
Europe makes you, your family and Britain better off every day at work. That’s why the European Elections this year are so important for you to take part in.
On 22 May, Unite is asking you to make sure you vote Labour to make work safe, make work fair and make you better off. In these elections every vote really does count and your vote could well make the difference. So don’t miss out!
-Len McCluskey, General Secretary
What has Europe ever done for us?
Quite a lot as it happens…
Safety at work: Every day, thanks to Europe, your workplace is safer
Sickness/Holiday Rights: You don’t lose holiday rights accrued during periods of ill health
Equal Pay: Men and women must be paid for doing the same job or of equal value
Holidays: Thanks to Europe, Uk workers got the legal right to holidays for the first time in 1998
Time off work: Your boss can’t force you to work more than 48 hours a week and must give you regular breaks
Fairness at work: It doesn’t matter if you are full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, in-house or agency, all workers get the same rights
Maternity rights: Statutory maternity leave of up to a year
Parental leave: New parents are entitled to time off work to look after their children
Discrimination: Protects you from discrimination against your age, gender, race, sexual orientation or if you are disabled
Healthcare on holiday: if you get ill when you are on holiday, you won’t have to pay for your healthcare
[you can download a pdf version of this leaflet here]