By Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (This article appeared in yesterday’s Morning Star, but in view of comrade Wrack’s description of Brexit as a “victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists” is clearly at variance with that paper’s pro-Brexit ‘line’).
TUC Congress convenes at an absolutely pivotal time for the labour movement and for firefighters — and the motions tabled by the Fire Brigades Union are intended to reflect that.
The new political situation in Britain is defined by the decision to leave the European Union (EU). The FBU advocated a vote to Remain. Although the EU is a neoliberal bosses’ club, some forget the key role of British governments in driving the neoliberal agenda within Europe.
Austerity in Britain is driven from Westminster, not from Brussels. Europe also provides a common terrain for workers’ solidarity and workers’ rights across the continent.
The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.
Brexit has resulted in a more right-wing government. It means an already difficult period ahead will be even harder for the trade union movement and the working-class communities we represent.
The FBU’s motion is clear that the trade union movement should not blame working-class people for the consequences of Brexit.
We don’t blame workers who voted to leave. We don’t blame migrant workers, they deserve solidarity.
We know two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain. We don’t blame the labour movement or the TUC — we fought a good campaign to remain and we were right to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn was not to blame for Brexit. Corbyn campaigned from day one to remain in the EU. He was right to advocate Remain while articulating criticisms of the EU. He held scores of meetings and events. He was correct to avoid collaboration with David Cameron and the Tories.
Who do we blame? We blame the Tories. They decided on the referendum. They set the question. They set the timing. It was mostly Tory politicians who fought it out in public. It was mostly Tory voters who voted to leave. They created the mess we’re in. We need to pin the blame for the consequences on them. Every job loss, every cut, every dodgy trade deal, every attack — is their fault. Every example of economic and political turmoil needs to be laid at their door.
The TUC and unions are right to say workers should not pay for Brexit (workers have paid for the economic downturn in countless ways since 2008). But that is not enough. The labour movement has to say who will pay for Brexit. The answer is that the bosses will have to pay.
The wealthy, the ruling class — they have to pay. The money is there — in the banks, in property, in the wealth of the ultra rich — the new Duke of Westminster, Mike Ashley and Philip Green. The government should tax them for what is necessary and by whatever means are necessary.
It follows on from who’s to blame and who should pay, that the labour movement cannot support a partnership approach on Brexit.
In my view, it was wrong for former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber to sign a joint letter with Cameron during the referendum campaign.
We are not all in this together. It is not the job of the trade union movement to act as the tail of British business. It is not our job to accept deals that worsen the conditions of our members so that Brexit can be managed.
The labour movement needs to make itself a factor in the Brexit process. We do that by mobilising our members as active forces capable of shaping our own destiny.
We need to strengthen our links with workers across the world, including within the EU. We will stand in solidarity with migrant workers wherever they are. We need to hit the streets and make our voices heard. We need to speak clearly and act in determined defence of working-class interests.
A discussion piece by Tim (of What About Classism?):
I’m a left of centre Labour voter, but I am not a hard left ideologue or a communist nor dream of some sort of communist utopia, or anything like that. Far from it, in fact. Like most people who are from working class backgrounds, be they black, Asian or white or whatever other ethnic minority we may come from, I simply want an economy that works for more people, including of course myself, my family and the community I come from. We are told again and again that the UK is the world’s fifth biggest economy, yet there is poverty everywhere, low wage zero hours contract and insecure jobs, the NHS is being underfunded, the North is worse off than the wealthy parts of Southern England, disabled people are being persecuted and the icing on the cake is that austerity is being forced on the poor for the greed and mistakes of an unregulated banking industry, and a political system that now whether nominally left or right has abandoned the economic working class, the economic working class being anyone black, white, Asian, immigrant or anyone else who is poor in this very wealthy country, even when they are in work in many cases.
Democracy hasn’t been abandoned at all, it has merely become the preserve of the very wealthy, the upper class, the upper middle class and the middle class, so about 20% of the population are represented, and often deftly represent themselves very well. The sad fact is that the majority of people are not represented and are not allowed to represent themselves anymore either. We have a ‘freemarket’ economy that benefits more or less the same people who are in power, and the rest of us are excluded from the benefits of a wealthy economy and political enfranchisement.
I’m not a ‘Corbynista’ either, but I notice, as many people have, that the ‘unbiased and completely impartial’ media, and the political establishment have been going at him day by day. Why is this? Many on the right make jokes about him, saying he will never be PM and actually saying they hope he stays as Labour party leader as he will never get elected. As well as this, many Labour MPs are desperately trying to oust him, saying rather strangely that he will divide the party if he doesn’t go, yet by attacking him and putting pressure on him they are threatening to almost destroy the party if they don’t get their way. It is another problem with democracy that MPs, far from being public servants, are primarily carving out lucrative careers for themselves by selling themselves to the highest bidder, or the neoliberal ideology that dominates now. Most of the new Labour party ordinary members support Jeremy Corbyn, whereas many of the MPs don’t. But the members of the party voted for him. For once in a long time, many people feel that a change is coming. It is obvious also to many of us that the system which has institutionalised economic injustice at its heart, is the preferred one for many wealthy people, regardless of the hardship and poverty this creates for millions of people. That many of us who struggle either in unemployment or low paid dead end jobs are sick of this should come as no surprise. The democracy of the wealthy and privileged is now used to deprive those who are already poor of their democratic rights, in a supposed democratic nation. That is about the bottom line. Read the rest of this entry »
We continue with this important interview with Kim Moody, on the prospects for the class struggle. Part 1 can be read here.
From Labor Notes:
Where’s our economy headed? This is part two of our interview with Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor.
Despite the hype about the “gig economy,” Moody argued in Part 1 that the bigger change most workers are experiencing is the rise of the crappy-job economy. On the bright side, he pointed out how just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing.
In Part 2, we ask Moody about corporate mergers, the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, and what it will take to organize the South:
Labor Notes: Increased competition between corporations has led to massive mergers. What has been the impact on workers?
Kim Moody: It’s in the mid-’90s that this new mergers and acquisitions wave took hold. It was fundamentally different from the big mergers and acquisitions waves of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Those mostly were about conglomeration—companies buying up all different kinds of production, finance, and everything you can get your hands on. Diversification would be another word for it.
The mergers of the mid-’90s forward have gone in the opposite direction. More companies are shedding unrelated divisions. For example, General Electric and General Motors used to have huge financial divisions and they dumped those, even though they were moneymakers.
All these major industries have seen mergers that are creating bigger employers. In some industries the concentrations are huge. If you look at trucking, UPS is this massive employer that it wasn’t 20 years ago. UPS is in every field of logistics—not just in delivery or even in trucking, but also in air freight.
So companies are buying up things that are in their basic core competencies. The structure of ownership has been realigned in a way similar to the first half of the 20th century, when unions, including the CIO, organized these big corporations.
This concentration of ownership along industrial lines means that there are more economically rational structures now in which unions can organize.
So you would no longer see a situation where the union strikes one division but the company has plenty of unrelated divisions that are still making profits.
Right. And when you put that together with the logistics revolution, you begin to get a picture of what I’m calling “the new terrain of class conflict.”
We are dealing with production systems, of both goods and services, that are far more tightly integrated than they used to be, and companies that are bigger, more capital-intensive, and more economically rational.
So unions should be able to take advantage of the vulnerable points in just-in-time logistics and production to bring some of these new giants to heel. The old idea of industrial unionism might have a new lease on life if—and it is a big if—the unions can take advantage of this situation.
My view is that this is going to have to come from the grassroots of the labor movement. Or those who today are not organized, like the people in warehouses. There is a potential that really hasn’t existed in well over half a century.
The consolidation of industry and the whole logistics revolution: these things have only come together in the last 10 or 15 years. When workers and unions in these industries—and many of these industries have unions in pieces of them—look at this situation, it’s something they’re not used to yet.
It usually takes a generation for the workforce to realize the power that it has, and the points of vulnerability. This was the case when mass production developed in the early 20th century. It took pretty close to a generation before the upheaval of the ‘30s.
This bears not only on unions but on American politics. An obvious change that has taken place in pretty much the same period—the ’80s up until now—and will continue on is the change in the racial and ethnic composition of the entire population, but particularly concentrated in the working class.
For example, if you look at what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “transportation and material moving” occupations in the ’80s, maybe 15 percent of those workers were either African American, Latino, or perhaps Asian. Today it is 40 percent.
Workers of color now compose a much bigger proportion of the workforce, much of it due to immigration. The biggest growth, of course, is among Latino workers. Workers of color are now between 30 and 40 percent of union membership.
It seems the right is making its own hay out of the changing demographics of the country.
This is happening everywhere in the West. It is much easier to blame immigrants for the lack of jobs or housing or crowded schools than it is to figure out how to deal with the powers that be.
So a lot of people turn towards these self-defeating ideas that they can solve their problems by closing off borders and sending people back, or by keeping Muslims out.
We have the potential to have a phenomenally different kind of labor movement. It is going to be different from anything we have ever seen in the United States, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter. That is, if we have a multicultural, multiracial labor movement that is larger and is growing and is taking advantage of the new terrain that we just talked about.
A common tactic used by business is whipsawing workers against one another, using non-union areas of the country against union-dense areas. I am thinking of Boeing and South Carolina. Boeing got from Washington State the largest subsidy ever given to a company in the United States. And yet they still sent all those jobs to South Carolina, which also provided them with massive subsidies. How much of a hindrance has the inability to organize the South been for labor?
The answer is massive. This goes all the way back to the end of the Second World War, and the amount of manufacturing value-added that was produced in the South just grew until the ’80s.
The amount produced in the South continues to grow a little, but it has more or less leveled off. I have some ideas why.
If you look at the auto parts industry, for example, in the last 10 or 15 years it has dramatically reorganized, one of the most dramatic reorganizations of any industry that I have seen. You have many fewer companies, and those that remain have gotten bigger.
The bulk of them are in the Midwest and not in the South. A huge percentage of them are actually in Michigan. Of course, they are nonunion.
So I am not saying that the South is not important. You won’t crack manufacturing until the South is unionized. These big corporations do whipsaw. But given the new structure of these industries and the logistics revolution, there is a possibility of counter-whipsawing.
Say you have a union drive at a South Carolina plant and you want to cut off production there, to force management to recognize the union. My guess is that you can find suppliers, if they are unionized or can be unionized, whether they are in the South or Midwest, that can strike and close down that plant.
Given the rise of these tight new logistics systems, unions can counter-whipsaw by closing down suppliers or even the transport links, and thereby starve management at these Southern plants into submission. That would require the cooperation of many different unions—but they have to begin thinking about that if they are ever going to organize the South.
Her ‘Brexit’ material is not yet available on Youtube – so her ‘Ant’ material will have to do for now
I’ve long been a fan of Bridget Christie, and her words (quoted in the Guardian) about her current show in Edinburgh merely confirmed me in my admiration:
“I totally reject this notion, which is coming from a lot of people on the left, that we mustn’t criticise leave voters,” said Christie. “Everybody has to admit that there were a lot of people who voted leave for not noble and legitimate reasons. Just look at the 500% increase in race hate crimes after Brexit.”
She continued: “And people saying that the middle classes and the educated elite are demonising the working classes as racists. Well, I’m working class and I don’t accept that at all. Racists are being demonised; it doesn’t matter what their socio-economic background is. We have to talk about it – in the media and in comedy.”
I put it a bit more tactfully in a (so far unpublished) letter to the Morning Star:
A number of articles and letters in the Morning Star over the past few weeks have objected to anyone mentioning the plain fact that the Brexit vote has been followed by a “spike” in racist incidents.
The pro-Brexit left seems to object to having the consequences of their irresponsible foolishness pointed out to them: this denial reached its apogee with the editorial of August 1st, which stated “”Singling out anti-EU and labour movement campaigns for blame is even more reprehensible”: I can assure you, comrades, that those of us who warned about the consequences of your reactionary stance will continue remind you of your shameful role in encouraging racism and backwardness for the foreseeable future.
Workers who voted “Leave” must be approached with sensitivity: the “left” who pandered to backwardness and reaction must never be allowed to forget what they did. As for the fantasy that a “left exit” is on the cards: get real and face reality, comrades!
That was written before this steaming pile of reactionary/idealist shite appeared … at first it made me very angry, but I guess I’d be better advised to follow Ms Christie’s lead, and just take the piss out of these stupid arseholes.
Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism
Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:
The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.
For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.
Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.
With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.
The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.
Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.
The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.
Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.
If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.
That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.
The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:
“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”
We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.
Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.
You need to watch, and listen to, this:
Above: Nakia Jones, a black female police officer with the Warrensville Heights Police Department in Ohio, wants the world to know that she is outraged by the conduct of her fellow officers who killed Alton Sterling in Louisiana.
“If you are white and you work in a black community and you are racist, you need to be ashamed of yourself,” Jones said, in a powerful message addressing other police officers that has gone viral. “You stood up there and took an oath. … How dare you stand next to me in the same uniform and murder somebody? How dare you? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
From The Guardian:
Fatal shootings by police in Minnesota and Louisiana have revived protests about the treatment by officers of black Americans who appear to be carrying firearms legally or unthreateningly.
Philando Castile was shot dead by an officer in St Paul, Minnesota, late on Wednesday as demonstrations continued 1,100 miles away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over the killing by police of Alton Sterling. Both incidents were partially captured on cellphone video.
Sterling, 37, appeared to have a pistol inside his pocket when he was fatally shot during a struggle with two officers.
Their deaths are the latest in a series of controversial cases including those of Tamir Rice and John Crawford, two young African Americans who were separately shot dead by police in Ohio in 2014 while handling pellet guns in a park and a Walmart store respectively. In both cases, officers fired within seconds of seeing them.
Campaigners said African Americans were treated unfairly to deadly effect. “No matter how well you follow the rules, you can still be dead because you’re black,” said Brittany Packnett, an activist and former member of Barack Obama’s White House policing taskforce. “Compliance has never guaranteed our safety.”
After the Leave vote: stand up for migrants, defend Corbyn, fight for unity and solidarity
By Cathy Nugent
The vote to leave the EU reflects deep and growing social distress caused by years of vicious capitalist attacks against living standards, public services and democratic rights. But the vote was also a defeat for labour movements in Europe, for internationalism and for the left. The three million Europeans living, working and studying in the UK will now be fearful about their future. The response of socialists and the labour movement can only be to redouble our fight against austerity, defending migrants and for the socialist vision of a better world.
Any concessions by the left to the mood of national isolationism — such as justifying the strengthening of immigration controls — will be disastrous mistakes. Such policies would lead to more despair and a further shift away from the class politics we want the labour movement to champion and build support for in the working class — the politics of unity and social solidarity.
The referendum result has illuminated and deepened existing dangerous political fault lines and it has created new ones.
Cameron’s resignation will push the “star” demagogues of the Tory Leave campaign — Michael Gove and Boris Johnson — into government. This is a quasi-political-coup. The Brexit camp used the referendum, a vote on a limited issue, to lever themselves into governmental power. By bringing this referendum about Cameron is wholly to blame for his own fate. But getting rid of Cameron is not, as some on the left will argue, a victory for democracy! If a general election were soon held, as some on the left advocate, it would be fought under conditions of chaos, confusion, dismay and reaction. It would not be likely to result in a victory for the left.
The referendum result has already been used by the right-wing in the Labour Party as an opportunity to challenge the Corbyn leadership. We defend Corbyn! The huge democratic mandate on which he stood for and won the leadership of the Labour Party stands. Whatever the shortcomings of Labour’s campaign on the referendum, Corbyn was right not to tail-end the Tory’s big business message on Europe, was right not to appeal to traditional Labour voters on the basis of prejudice against migrants.
On 23 June, majorities in England and Wales, and not Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensured an exit from the EU. That in itself opened up more division in the working class of the “United Kingdom”. It has already given the green light to the SNP to push for a further referendum on independence for Scotland. While a move towards independence may be seen as making connections with Europe, it will also separate Scottish workers from others on this island.
Some of the vote for Leave was based on conservative nostalgia for a UK, or an England, that has never existed. Some of it was expression of outrage by working-class people against long-term insecurity and deprivation. But there was a broader social spectrum than this which saw the vote as a referendum on the general state of society. Not just the older, white working class, but also the younger under- and precariously-employed working class. And, anecdotally it seems, to a limited extent, people from more established migrant backgrounds also saw voting Leave as a way to express feelings of insecurity. And we have to face the uncomfortable truth that many who voted Leave were convinced by dominant racist themes of that campaign — that the way to resolve any and all of these social problems is by stopping or slashing inward migration.
The socialist message, that poverty and injustice can be overcome by working-class solidarity, has for many workers been eclipsed by another, meaner, much less ambitious and utterly false vision, which says that only the most limited improvements can be achieved, and then only by cutting out “foreigners”.
But none of the perceived social problems — crumbling public services, declining standards of living, worsening urban infrastructure, growing inequality — has anything to do with the EU, or the numbers of recent migrants. It was everything to do with capitalism — homegrown, UK capitalism.
Those of us who argued for a Remain vote on the basis of fighting for the working class — in all its diversity — across Europe, did not convince people of our argument. Our alternative — social solidarity and uniting workers across Europe — was not a strong enough message to win the day.
That is why the left that said “remain” must urgently come together in the weeks ahead to plan our response to these difficult times. We will oppose the right-wing attack on the leadership of the Labour Party. We will oppose accommodation to all forms of nationalism. We will defend migrants. We will fight for clear socialist solutions on the real issues facing the working class, whether they voted for Remain or Leave. It is especially important to take that message into the working-class communities which did vote for Remain. We will fight for unity across the working class – for jobs and housing, against privatisation and to rebuild the NHS.
If you want to join this urgent campaign, please get in touch. Or come to our Ideas for Freedom event on 7-10 July to discuss further with us.
Further responses to the referendum result will be posted soon.