Isaiah Dreads and the Left’s fatal flaw

November 29, 2016 at 5:04 pm (class, culture, history, left, music, solidarity, workers)

Related image
Above: what sort of accent would he have had?

Guest post by Robin Carmody:

In October 1984, early in the season that ended with Bradford and Heysel, there was a major fire at Norwich City football ground. You’ve almost certainly never heard of it, because it didn’t happen during a match and so nobody was killed. But it very easily could have done; football grounds had been allowed to decay, partially out of a Tory belief that the conditions in which working class people had to live didn’t matter, so badly that Bradford, like Hillsborough, could have happened to multiple other sets of fans at multiple other times. It is, in fact, a wonder that they didn’t.

But imagine if that fire had actually killed as many Norwich fans as Bradford or Liverpool fans were killed in the disasters that did happen. How would the Left’s response have differed? Could it – would it – have responded with as much empathy and fellow feeling for the dead and the bereaved? Might elements of it, even, have felt that those who died were en masse class traitors, unworthy of equal levels of support?

The unfortunate situation that continues to prevail on much of the English Left is that when many Leftists say that they support working class people who do not speak RP, and the right of those accents to be heard and not discriminated against and perceived as a badge of stupidity, they only mean working class people in areas, and the accents of those areas, which were largely made by the industrial revolution and have experienced heavy non-white settlement since 1945. When it comes to working-class people in areas, and especially the accents of those areas, which were largely unaffected by the industrial revolution and have not had such levels of immigration (other than, in a much more concentrated period the reaction to which has now had disastrous political consequences, from Eastern Europe), they are often capable of the most obscene levels of prejudice, discrimination and the treatment of entire forms of working class speech as badges of stupidity.

It hurts much more to hear this sort of thing from the left in the same way that, even after Maxwell had withered away the paper’s soul and got rid of everyone from Pilger to Waterhouse, it hurt much more to see the Daily Mirror run covertly racist and anti-Semitic lies about the Beastie Boys in 1987, or to equate modern Germans with Nazis in 1996, than if it had been The Sun; you simply expect better, and expect more, from those who portray themselves as against prejudice and discrimination. Portrayal of people with, say, Scouse accents as thick – a partial factor in the Hillsborough disaster (and over-compensated for by the constant tabloid references to “Jamie” Bulger, a name never used by his family, as if they could only counterbalance the years of dehumanisation with an equally insulting faux-chumminess) – comes pretty much entirely from people who do not deny their prejudice, but flaunt it, boast about it, wallow in it. You don’t expect anything else from them. Portrayal of people with West Country or East Anglian accents as thick, on the other hand, comes disproportionately from people who make a great point of how immune they are from prejudice, how even-handed and equal their treatment of others is (eg leftie comedians on Radio 4). But in this field they completely abandon those rules and are, quite often, guilty of some of the most obscene, incontinent and just plain unpleasant abuse and mockery of other people I have ever come across. It is, by those criteria, far more actively disappointing.

And what makes it worse is that the prophecy is self-fulfilling. While accents with left cred, such as that of Liverpool, have strengthened and enhanced, those without are in the process of withering and dying. Worse, leftists from regions such as south-west England have, in many cases, internalised such rhetoric and believe it applies accurately to themselves; in my direct personal experience, they frequently do not speak up against negative stereotyping of their regions and actively join in with it themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

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Letter to American friends and comrades

November 9, 2016 at 10:07 am (anti-fascism, civil rights, class, Democratic Party, elections, fascism, Jim D, misogyny, populism, Racism, reaction, Republican Party, tragedy, Trump, United States)

Image result for picture Trump victory

Dear Friends and Comrades,

Today is a terrible one for America and the world.

Unlike too many on the left, I’ve always been pro-American. Pro-American in the sense that I love and admire American culture, the the ideals of the founding fathers and the noble battle by black and white Americans to achieve Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all US citizens. Most of all, I admire the fact that America is a nation of immigrants – multi-cultural in the best sense.

Now all that appears to be at risk, with the election of a narcissistic, isolationist bigot who quotes Mussolini with approval and openly admires Putin.

Trump may not be a fully-fledged fascist, but he’s certainly giving the far right a major opening. “Trump has shown that our message is healthy, normal and organic,” one white nationalist leader told the New York Times.

Racist violence and harassment, whether or not it’s driven by organized groups, is already on the rise. The past two years have seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and the month before the election witnessed a spate of anti-Black incidents in Mississippi–including an African American church that was set on fire and spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump.”

Now the left will have to figure out how to mobilize against the threat of a growing far right. As Dorian Bon wrote for SocialistWorker.org:

[T]he right wing can’t be shrugged off as insignificant, and protesting against it shouldn’t be dismissed as giving the right the attention it craves. The vile ideas of figures like Trump, just like the more developed reactionary filth of openly fascist parties, have to be named and confronted…

Equally important, the right wing’s politics of despair and scapegoating have to be countered with a positive alternative–one that stands for justice and democracy, in contrast to the prejudices of the right. This is why building social movements against all the oppressions and injustices faced by ordinary people is important–not only for winning change on particular issues, but in challenging the success of the right wing that tries to exploit these conditions.

Trump, the boorish, sexist, racist, tax-dodging mountebank, charlatan, billionaire, has been the unworthy beneficiary of working class and middle class disillusionment with both the Democrat and the Republican so-called “establishments”. The dreadful Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of the reviled “political class” that has left blue collar workers rotting in enforced idleness and industrial areas turned into rust-belts. She and her Democrat fixers had privately welcomed Trump as the Republican candidate, believing him to be unelectable. The reality was that Clinton was the ideal opponent for Trump. Much of what he and his supporters said about her was sheer sexism, but some of it was true – or, more importantly, it rang true: privileged, out of touch, uninterested in the day-to-day concerns of working people. Ironically, the self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders would have been a stronger candidate and quite possibly have beaten the charlatan.

Richard Rorty in his last book, “Achieving Our Country,” written in 1998, presciently saw where a post – industrial USA was headed.

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Populist and fascist movements build their base from the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the mainstream political process . The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”

We have seen this in the UK in the form of “Brexit” and the racist carnival of reaction it has unleashed (some on the supposed “left” to their shame, even supported a “Brexit” vote!), so for me personally, the Trump victory is a second body-blow to come within a few months. Elsewhere, authoritarian nationalist populism is in power (Putin, Erdogan, Modi) or waiting, menacingly, in the wings (Le Pen, Golden Dawn, Wilders, etc).

I believe America will survive and eventually defeat Trump and Trumpism. Your democratic tradition and history of civil rights struggle is too strong to be permanently subdued by this creature. But it will take a revived left, embracing workers of all ethnicities and decent people of all classes an d backgrounds, willing to take on not just the proto-Fascist Trump, but the “respectable” Democrats so disastrously personified by Hillary Clinton. Joe Hill’s famous words to Big Bill Hayward have become something of a cliché over the years, but rarely have they been more apposite than now: “Don’t mourn, organize!”

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Campaign to support Iranian workers launched

October 28, 2016 at 11:05 am (class, Human rights, internationalism, Iran, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

Shahrokh Zamani: 1963-2015

Remember Shahrokh: build a movement!

Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign officially launches!

The Campaign to build solidarity with the workers’ movement in Iran was officially launched last week on 20 October in London. The meeting, held at the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers heard contributions from a number of speakers from the labour and trade union movement and included veteran Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Opening the meeting, PCS activist and Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network (IWSN) supporter, Matt Wells outlined the aims of the campaign and the reason for launching it now, at the same time bidding farewell to IWSN, whose work the new Campaign will build on. The Iran regime’s opening up to ‘Western’ Capitalism had not paid off for the workers and youth of Iran and repression of the labour and trade union movement continued. The death of Shahrokh Zamani last year underlined this. His imprisonment and then, what we believed to be murder, for forming an independent trade union and refusing to be silenced even when behind bars, was meant as a warning to workers and youth from the regime. However, we refuse to be silenced inside and outside Iran.

Daniel Randall, activist in the RMT trade union and worker on the London Underground, then spoke. Daniel outlined the importance of solidarity for the workers’ movement; that the solidarity was based on class and not national borders. Daniel recounted how the petition to free Shahrokh and Reza (Shahabi) had been important not just in the aim to secure their release but also in raising the consciousness of his workmates about the importance of working class unity.

Omar Raii, executive committee member, National Union of Students, and NCAFC activist then spoke. Campaigning around the statements issued by the Campaign so far had helped to re-politicise the students’ movement in Britain and also raise awareness of the workers’ movement in Iran.

The meeting then heard from Aram Nobakht, a Workers’ Action Committee activist in Iran, who told the meeting about his shock and disbelief when he heard about Shahrokh’s death. Initially he thought it was rumour. When they were talking to Shahrokh exactly on the night prior to his untimely death “he was, as always, full of energy” But then it became clear that it was true. Shahrokh’s body showed signs of poisoning. But the activists had no time for sorrow. Aram went on to say: “It’s no coincidence that Shahrokh was killed at exactly the moment when the labour movement and its militancy and the radicals have been on the rise again, including daily strikes, including street clashes with the cops, even factory occupations and so on.”

“Shahrokh was tirelessly organising day and night from his prison cell. What made Shahrokh different from other typical labour activists was his obsession with building a revolutionary party. In the past we repeatedly asked him to tone down the language of his articles and his statements. He said ‘I have been sentenced to 11 years in prison, I have nothing to lose, there is no way out of here. … Can you assure me that I’ll be released alive from this prison? If … [so] then I will keep silent. … I don’t want to lose the chance to fight this regime.’

“The legacy of Shahrokh is still alive. … In his last days Shahrokh was emphasising the importance and significance of publishing a bulletin as an organising tool, as an organising organ for our committee. Over the past year we’ve been systematically involved in publishing and distributing bulletins in the labour areas, in areas around factories … along with distributing and handing out leaflets … in defence of other political activists …”

“We do believe that we are [following] on the same way as Shahrokh suggested and this is the only trustful and reliable way for founding a party, a revolutionary party from below … by finding the most militant workers, educating them, recruiting them, that’s the only basis for our future party. And this is the legacy of Shahrokh Zamani.”

Kelly Rogers, BECTU activist and leader of the strike movement amongst cinema workers then outlined how her own experience in the workplace had taught her the importance of solidarity in the face of attacks from the employers on the pay and conditions of workers. This had inspired her to organise with her workmates. Kelly said that while there was no comparison in Britain with the harshness of the conditions faced by Iran’s workers struggling against their employers and the regime, she understood that the attacks on workers come from the same place – the ruling class.

Peter Tatchell then gave a powerful and inspiring speech which concluded with a promise that the Iranian regime’s tyranny would fall.

The meeting agreed to launch a statement which will be published in the next few days and publish a model motion for trade union, labour movement and student movement organisations which is published below.

NB: all spoke in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.

Affiliate to the campaign!

A model motion for trade union branches, student and labour movement organisations:

SOLIDARITY WITH WORKERS IN IRAN

This branch notes
1. That the July 2015 nuclear deal between the Iranian, US and European governments has opened up trade and diplomatic relations. However there has been no “peace dividend” for Iranian workers, as shown by the shocking flogging of 17 gold miners for protesting against layoffs in late May.
2. The continuing plight of working people in Iran: unemployment is still 12.2%, with youth unemployment at 27.8%; high inflation and unpaid wages pushing many employed workers into poverty; around 18% of children suffering from malnutrition etc.
3. The continuing imprisonment and repression of workers, teachers and other political activists for exercising basic democratic rights such as forming independent trade unions, expressing dissent and calling for equality for women, national minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ people, etc.
4. That despite continuing repression there has been a resurgence in Iranian workers’ protests in many sectors – car workers, rail workers, miners, nurses, gas workers, steel workers, sugar cane workers, teachers …

This branch believes
1. That Western governments and organisations like the ILO agency cannot be trusted to push for genuine workers’ and human rights in Iran. Iranian workers and others fighting for their rights need international solidarity from labour movements around the world.
2. That above all, like workers everywhere, Iranian workers need the right to strike and independent trade unions freed from state control.

We resolve to
1. Publicise the struggles of workers in Iran as well as other battles for human rights against the dictatorship.
2. Invite a speaker from the newly formed Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign, named for the Iranian trade unionist and socialist jailed for campaigning to form independent unions and found dead in prison last year (September 2016).
3. Support and publicise the SZAC’s activities and protests.
4. Affiliate to the SZAC (which is free) and make a donation of £…

(Bank account: ‘WSN’ – Sort code: 60-83-01 -Account Number: 20018467)

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The Corbyn Party and the Working Class

September 18, 2016 at 5:23 pm (class, elections, Guest post, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Marxism, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, workers)

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn Len McCluskey

Above: McCluskey and Corbyn, the leaders of the two wings of our movement

By Johnny Lewis

Corbyn’s victory in 2015 and what by all accounts will be a victory by an even larger margin later this month is the second attempt to remake the Labour movement – the first being Blair’s. Both differ from Gaitskell or Bevin – their political ancestors, as they have arisen at a time of fundamental change to the structure of class in the UK and throughout the advanced  capitalist world.  The essential consequence of this change in the UK has been the unions’ inability to overcome the competition between workers: it is this which informed both Blair and Corbyn’s rise and informs what the Corbyn party should do.

Competition between workers 

From the 1870s, for about a century the manual working class formed an overwhelming majority, of the population, and workers’ were concentrated in ever larger workplaces. Both its size and cohesive character determined how the ruling class had to rule, gave rise to the modern unions and the Labour Party – the labour movement which Marxists, socialists and Stalinists engage with. The centre of gravity for this constellation was the unions, and although their economic power ebbed and flowed their potential to struggle against the employer remained a constant threat to capital.

For the last 40 years developments in the accumulation process, primarily through growth in productivity, alterations in the international division of labour and technical advances have reordered work both the type of work workers do and how they work. For the first time in history we have a working class in which manual workers constitute a minority, while large workplaces have declined in number with an attendant rise of SME’s, outsourcing, sub-contractors the ‘gig economy’ and under-employment.  Combined, these changes to work have cracked and fractured the cohesive character of the working class. It is no longer possible, as EP Thompson did, to view the working class as one where shared material conditions had enabled them to arrive at an understanding of their social position. Gone then is a working class commonality of shared experiences with a set of common markers and understandings which arose from lifestyles and communities rooted in similar experiences of work. Today we have something approaching the opposite, where it is quite possible to find Thompson’s working class but it does not share a singular experience of class: rather there are many radically different practical experiences amongst workers. This redrawing of class would be of little consequence if it had not triggered the political and ideological fragmentation of class. If anyone needs proof of this, they only need to look at the post-2015 election analysis and the prognosis for 2020: commentators universally consider Labour’s chances of winning as  bleak. Not only will they have to win 100 seats, but the voters they need to win back are highly differentiated between North, South, inner city and suburbia, and of course Scotland – all have a different view as to what Labour should represent.

Under the impact of this transformation of class, the unions and the Labour Party entered parallel processes of prolonged change punctuated by more or less acute crisis, this manifests itself as a loss of an authoritative and coherent working class voice to articulate its interests, and it could not be otherwise.

Both class fragmentation and the loss of a working class voice have a single source they are a direct consequence of the labour movement’s failure to control competition between workers. As the Communist Manifesto makes plain `…This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves’.

Competition between workers is a natural consequence of capitalism, meaning that workers and their organisations are always confronted with how to overcome it, and the answer is always the same: organisation. However accumulation shapes what and how workers produce, consequently it shapes the organising tasks workers face. While the accumulation process (eg mass production) prior to the 1970s tended to homogenise class, developments since have generated the opposite. Of course the growth in competition between workers is not simply a product of changes in the accumulation process: rather it has facilitated capital’s victories over labour which have, in their turn, enabled the institutionalisation of competition at the workplace by government and through the legal system.

The unions’ inability to win is due to their inability to organise new types of employment and in most cases to stop the race to the bottom of many traditional workers. This is not because they don’t want to win, they don’t know how to and neither does anyone else – at this moment in time.

For the first time since before the great wave of industrial militancy, which began with the new unionism; unions’ are unable to function as the backbone of the working class as they are unable to defend workers’ economically. The corollary is political activity now dominates over economic struggles a situation entirely contingent on the unions’ inability to end the competition between workers. We are then functioning within the template of a fragmented class / weak labour movement. While this predates the miners’ strike it became part of the movement’s DNA with their defeat.

This is the context in which Corbyn and Blair should be understood as twins of a sort, both owe their ascendency to the competition between workers and both propose a resolution to it – albeit diametrically opposed solutions. For Blair the weakness of the movement and class fragmentation provided the potential to bury the institutions of the labour movement and with it class politics, throwing us back into a reworked liberalism – and he nearly succeeded. Corbyn aspires to offer the opposite, however to do that the movement has to answer the question how can we practically end the competition between workers or to put it another way how can we organise to unite our class?

Parallel worlds

The primacy of political activity has come to dominate what the movement does and it is also the hallmark of a radical activism which has sprung up since the crisis – all to the good. Now political activism is de rigueur there is also a prevalent view of equivalence between different types of political activity But this is not the case. Campaigning activity, demos, social movements, cannot offer a governmental alternative, if for no other reason than they are not mass movements they fall into the category of pressure or protest groups. Labour movement politics are different in that they focus on their own internal political struggles which have taken us from Blair to Corbyn and the need for a governmental alternative to stem or stop competition between workers. A Labour government including a Blair government, offers limited protection from competition. Blair’s introduction of the minimum wage is an example, while Corbyn’s proposal for mandatory collective bargaining would to all intense and purposes end the competition between workers. There is then a substantial difference between protest and the parliamentary politics of the labour movement, and it is equally wrong to counterpose one to the other as it is to think they are equivalent both are essential elements in any working class strategy.

Although political radicals and the far-left have got Corbyn (after a fashion), they spent the last two decades, particularly since the crash and until Corbyn’s victory, demanding a New Party (NP) and in effect calling for an alternative labour movement: the crassest examples being the Socialist Party (SP) and the SWP.

At bottom they rejected the reality of a fragmented class / weak movement template – a rejection which pushed them away from a class based politics towards a political radicalism. The most direct outcome was to detach them from the movement’s norms and rhythms and most importantly the political struggle by which it began to reform itself. The core justification for a NP was the notion that Labour was unreformable. This was always the propaganda of misdirection as the Blairites’ success was predicated on the support (active and passive) of the unions. However pusillanimous one may wish to paint the union leaders and however guileful the Blairites were, this was a matter of power – and the powerlessness of the unions decimated by relentless numerical decline and the collapse of their economic muscle. Any cursory understanding of the labour movement brings you back to this underlying problem of the weakness of the unions.

Those of us who insisted Blair’s project could be rolled back based our view on two propositions. First the dynamic which had propelled the unions to form the Labour party was, in the face of the anti-union laws (and the collapse of collective bargaining) reasserting itself. Unions need a political party to enable, what the Webbs called ‘legal enactment’ to counteract the decline of collective bargaining and legal constraints on the unions. This need and the Blairites’ unwillingness to countenance it, provided a potential for a fight-back within the party. The second factor was the CLPs. Historically party members have time and again shown an ability to form a left wing and struggle over control of the party. In spite of being hollowed out by wars and marginalised by party ‘reforms’, by 2010 the members were ready for change. Yet experience showed that outside support for the CLPD they were unwilling to organise, nor were the unions individually or collectively (with the partial exception of Unite) willing to push for change within the Party.

There was then a stalemate – which existed since at least 2010 – between a Labour movement, large parts of which wanted or needed to move beyond Blair’s party, and on the other hand the party machine and the MPs. With Miliband’s resignation those in the Party who understood it was essential for an anti-austerity candidate to beat Kendal got Corbyn onto the ballot paper by the skin of their teeth. As soon as he was nominated he became a conduit for those politicised to the left by the crisis and his victory showed in a starker manner than anyone believed possible, the mismatch between Blair’s party machine and the CLPs and associate members.

The significance of the leadership ballot remains, lost on the majority of NP advocates: they focus on the element of luck which saw Corbyn get nominated and on the potential of the Corbynistas. As in any endeavour one needs luck but such an argument obscures the activity of the many activists arguing with MP’s to nominate him and then organising and running his campaign. While focusing on the Corbynistas obscures the fact that the centre of gravity was the constituencies who threw off the dead hand of the party machine and reasserted control over the party – the act of a movement rather than a sect and which would be equally significant even if Corbyn had lost. We have witnessed a readjustment from below – something many Marxist did not believe possible and for sure played no part in – their absence highlighting the absurdity of the politics of the ‘alternative party’.

The rejection of the ‘template’ I have described (ie: of fragmented class / weak movement) also meant the rejection of the terrain and tempo of struggle it necessitated and the boundaries it imposed on the class struggle. These boundaries were replaced with the assertion (liberally peppered with bombast – listen to any SP or SWP speaker) of the alternative made possible by an act of will if only enough effort was expended. However much they asserted themselves it was not possible to break free of the constraints imposed by ‘the state of the class’ – if they could we would be living in a radically different political landscape.

This attempt to ‘jump over’ the fragmented class had the consequence of turning its advocates into the very opposite of what a Marxist organisation should aspire to be. Time and again ideas were overextend to the point of becoming irrational, illustrated by the assertion during the general election that there was little or no difference between Labour and the Tories and, yes, they (eg the SP’s front organisation TUSC) were a serious alternative to Labour. It was noticeable that the organisations supporting this perspective became increasingly illiberal and quixotic; guided by a hugely inflated self-image (the small propaganda group as the Party) chasing an imagined working class, they attempt to make history `under self-selected circumstances’, we have over the last decade or so been witness to a reprise of Third Period Stalinism as farce.

It seems highly unlikely they will reorient to see themselves as a tendency whose main task is one of contributing to the `organisation of the proletarians into a class’, instead they will, in all likelihood, recalibrate their alternative labour movement to run through the Labour Party. We will bear witness to politics as an historical reenactment society preforming the French turn with Corbyn in the role of Blum and the Party’s left as the ILP.

Although Corbyn’s victory has shifted the terrain and tempo of what is possible the fundamental constraints of a fragmented class remain intact. However it is inconceivable we will not see further attempts to `jump over’ the fragmented class not just by some Marxists but also from the influx of radicals buoyed up by Corbyn’s victory. For those who see class as central our question is how we practically organise class and this can only be done by linking existing struggles and anti-Tory campaigns to winning the working class to vote Labour. Read the rest of this entry »

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Matt Wrack: make the bosses pay for Brexit

September 13, 2016 at 9:42 am (class, Europe, internationalism, left, posted by JD, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

FBU leader Matt Wrack marching in Essex against job cuts in 2012

FBU leader Matt Wrack marching against job cuts in 2012 (Pic: Kelvin Williams)

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.

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Matgamna: What is Trotskyism?

August 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm (AWL, class, history, labour party, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, Shachtman, socialism, trotskyism)

We publish the following piece by Sean Matgamna (of Workers Liberty) in the light of recent scare stories about alleged ‘Trotskyist’ infiltration of/influence over, the Labour Party:

Shachtman (rt) with Trotsky & Frida Kahlo in Mexico, 1937

What is Trotskyism? (written 2007)

Click here for the debate around this contribution.

19th and 20th century socialism is a house of many rooms, cellars, attics, alcoves, and hidden chambers (not to speak of private chapels and “priest-holes”).

There are in it the utopian socialists of our pre-history reformists and revolutionists, parliamentarians and insurrectionists, “direct action” anarchists and union-building syndicalists, council communists and kibbutz-building utopian Zionists.

And then fascists sometimes proclaimed themselves socialists (national-socialists). So did many Third World political formations, often more fascist than socialist, such as the “Ba’th Arab Socialist Parties” of Iraq and Syria.

And Stalinism. The political reflections and tools in the labour movements of the Russian Stalinist ruling class proclaimed themselves “communists” and “socialists”, and for much of the 20th century were accepted as the main force of communism and socialism, in bourgeois propaganda as well as their own.

The great names of real socialism are numerous, and are far from being at one with each other: Gracchus Babeuf, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, Etienne Cabet, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Auguste Blanqui, Mikhail Bakunin, Ferdinand Lassalle, Louis Michel, Wilhelm Liebknecht and his son Karl, August Bebel, George Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, Jules Guesde, Jean Jaures, Victor Griffuelhes, Paul Lafargue, Laura Lafargue, Eleanor Marx, Pavel Axelrod, Peter Kropotkin, James Connolly, Daniel De Leon, Jim Larkin, Eugene Debs, Christian Rakovsky, Henry Hyndman, Ernest Belfort Bax, William Morris, Keir Hardie, Klara Zetkin, Sylvia Pankhurst, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Shliapnikov, Leon Trotsky, Chen Duxiu, Antonio Gramsci, Leon Sedov, James P Cannon, Leon Lesoil, Pantelis Pouliopoulos, Abram Leon, Ta Thu Thau, Henk Sneevliet, Max Shachtman…

The Communist International picked up and subsumed many of the threads of earlier socialism, and wove them into a more or less coherent strategy of working-class struggle for power — the direct action of the French and American syndicalists, the political “syndicalism” of the De Leonites, the revolutionary parliamentarianism of Liebknecht, the sometimes acute criticism by communist-anarchists of the parliamentarians of the pre-1914 Socialist International, the concern with national liberation of such as James Connolly, and all that was healthy in previous socialist activity and theorising.

They denounced bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism in the name of the fuller democracy of workers’ councils — their criticism of bourgeois democracy would later, like so much else, be annexed and put to its own pernicious uses by totalitarian Stalinism.

The Russian working class, in their unprecedented creativity — for instance, in creating soviets (workers’ councils) — and the Bolsheviks who led them to victory had in life found solutions to many of the problems that had perplexed earlier socialist thinkers.

What had all the different strands of socialism in common? What, with their different methods, tempos, and perspectives, did they seek to achieve?

All of them — the socialist reformists such as Keir Hardie, too — sought to abolish capitalism and the exploitation and wage-slavery on which it rested, and to replace it with a non-exploitative, rational, humane society.

Their ideas of what would replace capitalism differed greatly, for instance between anarchists and Marxists, but all the socialists sought to replace private ownership of the means of production and exchange with collective social ownership by the workers and working farmers.

All of them — in one way or another, with one qualification or another — looked to the working class, the slave-class of the capitalist era, to achieve this great social revolution.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The death of grassroots democracy?

August 20, 2016 at 4:55 am (class, democracy, elections, Guest post, labour party, workers)

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 »

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Interview with Kim Moody, part 2: labour’s new sources of leaverage

August 17, 2016 at 12:14 am (class, internationalism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

walmart.jpg

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.

Another important change has been in the demographics of the working class. Can you talk about what those changes mean?

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.

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In praise of Bridget Christie on Brexit

August 6, 2016 at 6:17 pm (class, comedy, Europe, Racism, stalinism)


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:

Dear Comrades,

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.

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Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism

July 13, 2016 at 8:38 am (class, Johnny Lewis, Marxism, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

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.

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