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)


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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Black female US cop: “How dare you stand next to me in the same uniform and murder somebody?”

July 7, 2016 at 9:57 pm (civil rights, class, cops, Jim D, Racism, United States)

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.”

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Holding the pro-Brexit idiot-left to account

June 26, 2016 at 4:20 pm (AWL, class, Europe, ex-SWP, John Rees, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Socialist Party, SWP)

Image result for picture John Rees
Above: Rees: fucking idiot

By Martin Thomas

On 24 June, as the Brexit referendum result hit the school where I work, both students and teachers were aghast. The idea that this was a “working-class revolt” inflicting “a massive reverse” on the rich and powerful had no takers in a school whose catchment area is among the 5% poorest in the country.

Some students told me “I have dual nationality, Slovak and British [or whatever it might be], so I’ll be all right. But…” And they’d sigh. Yet some on the left are jubilant.

The Socialist Party claims “the fundamental character of the exit vote… was a working class revolt” causing “the anger and despair of Britain’s elite” and probably “the collapse of the Tory party”.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is less fantastical, acknowledging that “the Left Leave campaign we were part of had only a marginal effect”. But somehow, it claimed, “the rich and the powerful… have suffered a massive reverse” – through the bit of the “Leave” campaign which had a not-at-all-marginal effect, the right-wing bit. (One survey before the referendum found that active “Leave” campaigners were broadly 60% Tory, 40% Ukip. Odd leaders for a “working-class revolt” against the “rich and powerful”).

The SP, the SWP, and the anaemic Lexit/ Left Leave campaign have all responded by demanding an immediate general election and predicting a left Labour Corbyn victory in that election.

In fact, this moment of high dismay for the left has quickly been seized on by the Labour right to launch the motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn they hadn’t dared to push until now. They could see things moving their way when, even before referendum day, left-wingers like Paul Mason, cowed by the Brexit surge, had started arguing for Labour to propose blocks on immigration from Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn’s and John McDonnell’s statements since the result have been sadly weak, and most of the left has been pushed back into a defensive stance against the attempted Labour-right coup.

The very rapid online support for Corbyn suggests we can beat the coup. But the direction of movement, for now, is not from Corbyn surge to a super-surge pushing the Tories out, but in the other direction.

“Cameron out” is no left-wing slogan when it is actually happening, and he is due to be replaced by a more right-wing Tory! The Tories will now proceed with more right-wing business. Possibly some pro-EU Tories will choose to fade out of politics, but they won’t launch a party split now, which would be on a hiding to nothing.

There will be Tory tensions over the terms of Brexit, but those are for the years to come, not the next few weeks. And they will be over adjustments and calibrations, easier to manage than the sharp in/out conflict over the EU which has divided the Tory party for 20 years.

There is little prospect of a general election. Why ever would the new right-wing Tory leadership respond to the democratic mandate they now claim, not by pressing ahead, but by nervously provoking a vote of no confidence?

Maybe Gove and Johnson will overreach themselves, and the left can rally and quickly turn things round. But not if the left tells itself that things are already going the right way!

The core argument of the Brexit left is that any disruption that causes dismay among the majority of the ruling class must automatically be good for the working class.

It was most exuberantly expressed in an article by former SWP leader John Rees on his Counterfire website on 15 June. The SWP, Lexit, and SP commentaries are only toned-down versions of Rees’s argument.

The tactical rule, so Rees argued, must be: “if we want to start dismantling the actually existing centres of power and so weaken the real and currently operative engines of exploitation and oppression that means opposing the main enemy: the ruling class currently embedded in the EU”.

Gove, Johnson, and Farage are ugly? “Sometimes your ugliest enemy isn’t your most powerful enemy”. The rule must be to set ourselves against the “most powerful enemy”. “Only someone entirely wedded to the linear school of historical analysis could fail to see an opportunity for the left in this situation. Minds uncomfortable with contradiction always have difficulty with social crises, of course”.

But if a more-reactionary minority of the ruling class can construct populist support to prevail over the majority, it does not thereby cease to be more reactionary. Revolutionary political crises inevitably come with some chaos and disorder, but the converse does not follow: that chaos and disorder bring revolution. Read Naomi Klein’s book on The Shock Doctrine, which chronicles many cases in recent decades where episodes of social chaos have been used by the right to push through devastating policies which they could not have implemented in calmer times. Rees’s argument, and the SWP’s and the SP’s, that “crisis” of any sort must be good, reflects their demoralisation. Having lost, or half-lost, their belief in the possibility of a real social-revolutionary crisis, they cast around for “crises” of any sort as substitutes.

The referendum result has brought disarray in the ruling class, but, as Bank of England governor Mark Carney says, they “are well prepared for this”. The 1992 Swiss referendum vote not to join the European Economic Area, the 1994 Norwegian referendum vote not to join the EU, and the 2005 French vote to reject the draft EU constitution (by a bigger majority than the narrow Swiss and Norwegian votes) all caused disarray: but no ruling-class collapse, no left-wing surge. The disarray in the working class caused by a political event in which Gove, Johnson, and Farage have managed to draw a sizeable chunk of the class behind them is not so easily managed.

Donald Trump has drawn in plebeian support to beat the Republican establishment. He might even win the presidential election. That will be a setback, not a great opportunity, for the working class and the left.

The clerical hierarchy in Iran channelled mass plebeian support in 1979 to defeat the pro-US majority of the Iranian ruling class. The result was terror against the working class, not socialist advance. There are dozens of other examples in history of the folly of Rees’s scheme.

Even the examples he himself cites about advances for the right being opportunities to “to start dismantling the actually existing centres of power” show nothing of the sort.

“No-one assumes that the English Defence League is as powerful an enemy as the Tory government, though both must be opposed. The same applies here: the mainstream ruling class block is the main enemy”. But no-one on the left argues that we should ally with the EDL to cause chaos for the Tories, or that, if only we could think as non-linearly as John Rees, an EDL triumph would really be a working-class victory!

“We need to seize the opportunity a crisis gives us (as we did when we formed the Stop the War Coalition the week after 9/11, when it would have been so easy to just say ‘the right will benefit’)”. But the right did benefit! The Islamist right gained prestige by showing its power, and the US right gained by getting its mandate to make war in Afghanistan and Iraq. That the left was able to organise some big (though unsuccessful) demonstrations against that right-wing surge doesn’t change the overall picture.

And the analogue to forming the Stop the War Coalition then – leaving aside the considerable arguments about how that campaign was run – would be to form a “Stop the Anti-Migrant-Drive Coalition” now, not to celebrate Brexit.

The Socialist Party and SWP statements discuss a matter which does not bother Rees in his dialectical constructions: the character of the working-class element in the vote for Brexit.

They insist at length that it was not all racist, and not all pro-Ukip. That is surely true. Little of the feeling against East European migrant workers is based on racial stereotypes. Many people of relatively recent immigrant background have been persuaded that the gates should be closed against new migrants: they are often very aware of the awkwardness of the argument, but have been convinced that migration is now just “too much”. To think of the numbers of jobs, or houses, or hospital beds, as fixed quantities, and respond by saying that the limited numbers must be kept for those already in Britain, is narrow-minded and false, but not racist.

Some people with no hostility to migrants were drawn in by the demagogic argument that Brexit would allow “us” to make “our own laws” or to “take control”. (The Brexiters were tactfully silent about which laws originating from the EU they objected to. In fact they are such laws as those implementing EU protections on working hours and agency workers, and even those were not “imposed”, but voted through by the Blair-Brown Labour government – rather reluctantly, but voted through – after Tory obstruction).

And some people were swayed by the same sort of argument as the left Brexiters: that, whatever about migrants, whatever about laws, any protest against the status quo, the “elite”, must be good. Very few of those will have been swayed by the left; but in any case, this argument, the most “left-wing” of the Brexit arguments, not really left-wing at all. Going for an incoherent kick against “the elite” is a substitute for and a diversion from real class-struggle mobilisation, not an example of it. The feeling may not be racist or pro-Ukip, but it is such that can be, and has been, channelled by racist, by Ukip, and by Tories.

(Rees claims that Ukip support fell during the referendum campaign. The poll figures bounced up and down a lot, but Ukip’s percentage rose from an average of 14% in polls between mid-March and mid-April to an average of 16% between late April and early June. The Tories’ lead over Labour rose from tiny between mid-March and late April – an average of 1.7% – to an average of 4% between late April and early June. No “collapse of the Conservative Party” there!)

The whole train of thought here, despite or maybe because of the manifest anxious desire of the SP and SWP to show themselves in tune with what they reckon to be working-class feeling, is patronising and manipulative, an example of what Marxists call “middle-class workerism”.

That many older workers in depressed areas of low migration voted “Leave” does not mean that the whole working class, or even a majority, voted “Leave”. That many people in the worst-off sections of the working class voted “Leave” does not make “Leave” a more authentically working-class response than the “Remain” stance of younger, more educated (and often more educated precisely because younger), big-city, working-class people.

Socialists will best serve our class brothers and sisters who voted “Leave” by arguing with them – not caricaturing them, not dismissing them, but treating them as intelligent women and men who have gone off course, as people do, but can and should be convinced by reason. When they are convinced, class-conscious and socialistic elements in their thinking, now suppressed and overwhelmed by the Brexit demagogy, will come to the fore.

The SP and the SWP, by contrast, seem to have given up on convincing workers. They look, awe-struck, at the Brexit surge with its “anti-elite” overtones, and scrabble to suggest ways in which that surge, as it is, can be managed, manipulated, redirected, so as to channel into their desired outcome of a general election and a Corbyn victory. Their approach is similar to a common caricature of the Trotskyist transitional-demands approach (one promoted both by opponents of the approach and some who consider themselves supporters of it): that transitional demands are those which appear “realistic”, not-specially-socialist, not-specially-radical, but lend themselves to mobilisations which can, in a way unknown to the workers involved, slide into socialist revolution. In the SP’s and the SWP’s constructions, Brexit has become a sort of fake “transitional demand” by which the dialectically-attuned can manoeuvre the working class into desired channels.

As Frederick Engels explained: “Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. [And] in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required…”

What is to be done now is to conserve and extend workers’ unity, between workers in Britain of all origins and between British and European workers; to defend migrant rights and the worker rights which have entered British law under pressure from the EU; to fight to redirect the social anger expressed in Brexit votes towards social solidarity, taxing the rich, and social ownership of the banks and industry; and to stand up for socialism. None of that can be done if the left falls for the fantasy that the Brexit vote is already taking things our way.

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AWL initial statement on the Leave vote

June 26, 2016 at 9:07 am (AWL, class, Europe, immigration, posted by JD)

Logo of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty

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.

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