Guilt, race and class politics: “Where are the people of color?”

March 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, class, left, political groups, posted by JD, solidarity, Trump, United States, women, workers, youth)

Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.

It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.

On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.

Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.

But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”

In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.

The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?

Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.

This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.

Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.

But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.

A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.

White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.

Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.

This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.

To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.

But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.

It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.

You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.

Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.

Permalink 1 Comment

Notes on Brexit from a trade union and working class perspective

February 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm (class, Europe, Johnny Lewis, labour party, left, nationalism, populism, Socialist Party, solidarity, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Protesters block the main gate to the Wilton Chemical Complex on Teesside in support of a mass walkout by energy workers in Lincolnshire

Above: Reactionary Socialism in action

By Johnny Lewis

Labour and Brexit
For Labour the 2015 election may well prove as significant as the Liberals’ 1924 defeat which signified their eclipse by Labour. Certainly this fate was signalled by the psephologists post ’15 analysis of Labour’s 2020 prospects. They concluded Labour needed to win 100 seats and, more importantly meld together a number of very different political constituencies.  While this predates both Corbyn and the referendum all three spring from the same fountainhead of a profound change to class, one that has equally impacted on the unions as on Labour.

As I have argued in a previous post the unprecedented changes to class are profoundly changing the labour movement, and it is not a question of if, but when and how, this leads to some form of fundamental realignment. Whether, in the end this is piece-meal in character or takes the form of a sharp break, the prelude to such a change will be Labour’s electoral decline.

Since at least 2010 this should have determined the left‘s strategy; to form a  tendency within the Labour movement primarily working in the Party to roll back New Labour’s uncoupling of the unions from the Party and their abandonment of social democracy for social liberalism. A strategy which only made sense by turning the Party outwards to win back its working class base.

Such a view is one among many and the left cannot be measured by its failure to take up this particular approach but it can on its inability to adopt any strategy to reform Labour, a failing compounded by the hapless Corbyn and his entourage. Brexit has now amplified our shortcomings and seems set to bring to a head the crisis within the movement.

Unlike Trump or Le Penn’s programmes Brexit was not a programme for government yet the inescapable logic of the exit process makes it just that. Injected into the body politic as this virus spreads it is radically transforming the host and its weakest part is Labour. Labour is no longer facing a passive indifference from sections of its core electoral base, rather they are now mobilised around Brexit and the Party is in a life and death struggle with the forces Brexit unleashed. How Labour defines itself against the Brexit process will play no small part in determining its future.

To date the only impact of Brexit on Labour has been to function as an accelerant on the divisions between its membership (Remain voters) and its working class electoral base (Leave voters). The likely consequence of this is to speed Labour’s electoral decline and further push the Party back in the direction mapped out by New Labour: that of social liberalism, now cast as identity politics.

The casting of Labour as a party of social liberalism can only happen through a focus on pushing back against the rise of social conservatism. All to the good that the Party takes on conservatism, but when this is seen to be its primary role it cannot but become part of the process of moving the body politic to one where the primary cleavage is defined as one of social liberalism against conservatism. The consequence is to move the party further away from class and the ability to speak to those workers smitten with reactionary socialism.

Reactionary Socialism
Surely it is now clear that Brexit is the English version of a phenomenon sweeping the west, where large numbers of workers, including trade unionists are moving from passive political indifference to an active engagement with, what is commonly known as the populist right.

In all cases its core support comes from the least well educated, and those impoverished by industrial decline typified by Logan County West Virginia. The site of the battle of Blair Mountain, a struggle to unionise the mines and the biggest armed insurrection since the civil war – Democrat to its core – now belongs to Trump.

The stage of development and pace of this process is different between countries so in France the Front National has built up its working class base over decades, while Trump’s rapid accent was made possible by winning over sections of core democratic voters; some 48% of US trade unionist voted Trump. In the UK this tendency has been galvanised by Leave and is still being formed around the Brexit process.

Regardless of each country’s stage of development the tune is the same; a direct appeal to workers on the grounds of the betrayal by their traditional parties, nationalism and its corollary xenophobia, hostility to supra national institutions, conservative social policies and elements of economic social policies usually associated with the left, wrapped in an imagined past. This is a form of reactionary socialism.

This is not the first time workers have been mobilised behind a reactionary programme, the phenomenon was first noted by Marx when remnants of feudal society tapped into workers’ anti-capitalist sentiment attempting to mobilise them against the consolidation of bourgeois political power and regress development of the productive process.

Today’s reactionary socialism is not peddling a regressive form of capitalism such as autarky(although this might come) rather we are witnessing neo-liberalism’s attempt to restructure itself on national rather than super national institutions, uncoupling the state institutions from  social liberalism, and realigning them with a social conservativism. To push through the latter it attacks bourgeois democracy by shifting power away from the legislature to the executive exemplified by Trump and seen in the UK by the attempts to stop Parliament holding a Brexit vote. Linked to this are attacks on the independence of the judiciary, again the benchmark is Trump but the Mail’s retro Stalinist headline “Enemies of the People” points in the same direction.

Apart from the policy specifics what makes this international movement different from previous incarnations is the manner in which it threatens the fabric of these countries Labour movements

The electoral success of the populists is unthinkable without mobilising large sections of the workers. Nowhere is this more apparent than the workers role in securing a Brexit victory.

Brexit and the working class
The most remarkable aspect of the Leave campaign was how its working class base drove it making border controls its beating heart and effectively turning it into a single issue campaign. The fact it makes little to no economic sense, or for the more enlightened among the Leave leadership it was anathema, to win they needed the working class vote which stood behind the demand.

Brexit is however more than border controls. As with other populist demands it is a modern day Janus; on the one hand it looks to the past with its socially reactionary programme but also to a future of repositioning British capital to its post EU incarnation. It envisages a future where the state becomes an enabler for multi-nationals through a low tax low welfare economy or as UKIP’s Douglas Carswell put it `Singapore on Steroids’.

The lynchpin holding these elements together is workers support for immigration controls. The shadow it casts over the Brexit process obscures all else, at least at this stage of the process.  However workers mobilised behind this banner are signing up to become the foot soldiers in the repositioning of Neo-Liberalism. They are the battering ram to eviscerate democratic institutions, and what remains of social legislation. The irony is their future in this Brexit Arcadia is prefigured in the present by the flexibility of the deregulated ‘gig’ economy; the as and when work ethic of the migrant labourer.

This is the terrain socialist and trade unionists have to fight on if they wish to engage with workers, mapping an alternative which counterposes workers’ rights to Singapore on Steroids. Such an approach will in the short term be swept away by the Brexit tide, an inevitable consequence of the time lag between the expectations raised by Brexit and its consequences.

However those wishing to engage with the Brexit worker are doing so largely from within a social liberal / conservative discourse and will surely miss their mark.  At least they, unlike Lexit supporters have something to say about Brexit other than viewing it as a victory.

The Lexit Delusion
As part of Marx struggle against feudal socialism he polemicized against those socialist whose watch word can be summarised as “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”:  this included elements among the Chartists who supported aristocratic Tories who, like them, were against the factory owners.  As an organised tendency these supporters of reactionary anti-capitalism were known as `True Socialists’. Today our world is replete with their offspring from Putin lovers, Jew-haters through to the Lexiteers: often, but not always, one and the same.

The starting point for Lexit was the True Socialist dictum of a defeat for Remain being a defeat for the ruling class – my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Once ingested it enabled a view of the world which ignored the reactionary premise of Leave, ignored the reactionary character of the campaign’s leadership, ignored that its core working class support was concerned with stopping immigration, and ignored the consequences of Brexit for the Labour Party. Perhaps most delusional was their belief they had a voice in the campaign. It is then hardly surprising that they are unable to grasp that Brexit was the catalyst for the rise of reactionary socialism.

A central pillar of this denial is to view the Leave voters as sticking two fingers up to our rulers, in reality this is a collective act of wish fulfilment of transposing and imposing their formula my enemy’s enemy onto the workers. Of course this does have a point but the point is banal. If you sees class conflict as central to how society functions you also accepts that workers often take reactionary positions. The fact Brexit has mass working class support does not make it less reactionary. Trump and La Pen peddle the same programme as Brexit and rest on a similar working class base, but apart from our hard core Putin lovers, on what possible basis could one support such people?  In the end the only purpose of `class struggle by stealth’ is as a piece of self-deception.

This cul de sac finds our `true socialist’ tied to the coattails of a hard Brexit and however surreptitiously need to distance themselves from Corbyn’s attempts to cling to the single market, until the consequence of Brexit has beaten them over the head enough times to knock some sense into them they have nothing to say to workers.

Of course the majority will march against Trump seeing no contradiction with Lexit, as they too become corralled within the social liberal / conservative discourse.

Socialist \ social liberal defence of free movement
It would seem most supporters of free movement start from the basis of upholding the socialist principle of internationalism. Yet this seemingly most of radical position rests largely on social liberalism, a mix of a moral imperative, rights and equality for migrant workers overlaid by a socialist gloss of workers’ solidarity and internationalism. See for example Allinson (Unite GS candidate) or the recent defence of free movement by Ira Berkovic posted on Shiraz Socialist.

Such appeals sit within the liberal – conservative discourse and invite rejection by the workers leaving the socialists with nothing more to say, and the way open for the populists to further consolidate their hold over such workers.

This defence betrays a division between a socialist and trade union approach, in big picture terms it separates out a socialist principal from workers immediate interest whether perceived or real.

Although such socialists like to view support of free movement going back to earliest times our movement’s history is far more chequered, and the liberal / Socialist approach (as with the broader social liberalism) has its origin in the struggles for equality in the early post-war period ’45-’79. Obscured in those struggles was the issue of competition between workers

Workers’ competition and free movement
Competition between workers can take many forms; between individuals, groups, or categories of worker  struggling to maintain or obtain an occupational position at the expense of others or a willingness to undercut the wage rates to obtain or maintain work at the expense of others. This competition is the worker’s natural state under capitalism as are the divisions it engenders between workers.

Workers struggle to overcome such competition is the driving force in the formation of unions and with it the starting point in the formation of class and therefore class power. It is also the starting point for working class socialism. There is however always an alternative which poses a reactionary resolution to worker competition. In periods of economic prosperity and or a strong labour movement it lies largely dormant, today we see the consequences of living with a weak and fractured labour movement.

Older workers will have direct experience of such divisions played out along gender and race lines. I can recall a job where the better paid plumbing work was given to white workers, who defended the practice on the grounds their jobs were more complex and “`N’s  are just not up to it.” Of course there are parallel examples of how women were excluded from the workforce, often backed up by law.

This example is drawn from a period of powerful unions, full employment and state welfare which had largely removed the reserve army of labour as a factor in a workers life and gave a particular shape to the struggles against these forms of worker competition.

Pushed by an emerging constituency of women and black workers it was the unions– often against the wishes of members and local union officials who came to the fore to fight discrimination. From the early ‘70s they were joined by the state and the two can be viewed as working in tandem to `civilise the workplace’ for women and black workers. State sponsorship led to a growing judicial floor of rights which defined our understanding of such practices. The workers who perpetrated these practices were increasingly marginalised seen as backward, bigots, racists’ sexist etc (all usually true) as the ethos of equality and rights came to dominate the workplace.

Today worker competition takes on a very different complexion; the economic model Thatcher built and continued under Blair reshaped the workforce, deregulated the labour market, and has largely removed the state social security system and social infrastructure. In our civilised workplaces where employers stuff workers mouths  with rights and equality we find for most workers job security has gone, work has intensified, workers are fragmented, unions are weak and competition between them takes many forms such as; in multinationals the employer threatens to relocate, the struggle between core (often unionised) and periphery workers, workers who take wage cuts to save their job from being undercut by a cheaper competitor, all are underpinned by a reanimated Reserve Army of the underemployed.

It is this markertising economy which EU migrants have been sucked into, and have become one factor in the competition between workers. More importantly they have become one of, if not the central way difference between workers is understood, and consequently one of the key ways worker competition is comprehended.

Our present throws a different perspective on the early post war struggles for workplace equality; in retrospect we can see discriminatory practices were a form of competition between workers. The bigotry of whatever type, while all too real was a hook one group was able to hang their hat on to rationalise their advantage over another, illustrated today by the inadequacy of the concept of race to categorise hostility towards E Europeans

Such reactionary solutions not only exist when workers are in direct competition with each over jobs and has a real basis in fact it also functions as the background noise in the workplace where divisions are understood through different forms of prejudice. In the latter case the worker comes to understand difference through breathing in the prevalent common sense prejudices of the day creating an unholy feedback loop where the prejudice explains difference and the difference reinforces the common sense prejudices.

Those defending free movement have, to all intense and purposes transposed the understanding of workers’ call for the end of free movement solely as a form of prejudice (it is) which they challenge by raising equality and the rights of others failing to comprehend it is a major plank in the reactionary (and completely illusory) solution to the problem of competition between workers. A different approach to this question starts from a trade union perspective.

A trade union perspective
In reality ‘rights’ are a secondary issue in any worker employer relation, as prior to them is the economic relation. If capital did not need migrant labour and if migrants did not need the work then there would be no relation around which rights could be discussed. From a trade union perspective the starting point for viewing migrant labour is necessarily the economic and it should also be the starting point for socialists. From this perspective it is another element in the struggle to mitigate competition between workers.

Yet it is precisely this point the liberal / socialist approach wishes to obscure through a non-recognition of the impact of migrant labour on labour markets. Berkovic touches on this matter in relation to the Socialist Party (SP) idea of the state-imposed closed shop and McCluskey’s call for sectoral bargaining. He says;

“The demand relies on two assumptions: one, that migrant labour necessarily has a depressing effect on the pay, terms, and conditions of domestic workers. And two that employers deliberately and directly hire migrant workers in order to drive down their costs, because migrant workers will work for less.”

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the SP’s or McCluskey’s views, Berkovic’s position does not hold up: far better to say some migrant labour depress wage rates as they are willing to work for less, and where employers can use migrants to drive down wages they will.

If one looks at aggregates of migrants impact on wage rates the evidence shows a somewhat neutral picture but that does not help with the specifics where wages have been depressed or the local labour market has been radically reshaped by an influx of foreign Labour. This is not a universal experience but it is a wide spread one among lower paid workers the cohort who voted Leave, to deny this or believe it is press hysteria leaves you unable to speak to these workers. It also puts their concerns beyond the pale because either they are dupes of the press or racists or both. It is akin to denying that in some parts of the country the health service has not been overwhelmed by the influx of migrant Labour, in both cases you cannot pose a solution if you refuse to accept that any problem exists.

A trade union approach recognises the issue but rejects the reactionary solution of border controls. Instead, we attempt to tackle the issue as with any other industrial matter – or  wage inequality which can only be undertaken in two ways: industrially where workers bid up wages and terms and conditions, for example in the recent strike at Fawley where Italian contract Labour took strike action to obtain parity and won; or through governmental action and developing policies for a future Labour government to enact. In this instance labour can increase the minimum wage (a point made by Berkovic) and change  labour legislation to alter the terms on which labour can be hired for example to regulate how agency labour can be used. Such demands are of course not specific to migrant labour they are general demands to improve the material well-being of workers. An effect of implementing such demands will, reduce or the flow of foreign labour. A conclusion which gives socialist radicals’ apoplexy as it is seen to be capitulating to the tide of reaction they need to consider where not supporting such demands places them in relation to the working class.

This change to labour legislation is my understanding of the origins of McCluskey’s proposal (even though he has now clearly overreached himself and taken this proposal to a ridiculous extreme), specifically out of a problem posed by the Posted Workers Directive. Originally wages, terms and conditions were derogated to individual member states; Blair chose the minimum wage rather than applying the going rate set by sectoral collective bargaining, which a number of other member states chose to do. This had two generalised consequences firstly in some workplaces peripheral workers have been replaced by Posted Workers on a lower rate; second the substitution of Posted workers for English workers sometimes at a lower rates. The demand was for government to shift the rate to the going rate which would also mean the employer of Posted Workers would also have to engage with unions around sector-wide collective bargaining.

It is clear that Labour’s present policies on workers rights are far from fully formed. However it can only be by proposing policies that curtail labour flexibility that we can build working class opposition to border controls and  begin to speak to workers about the issue – a hearing I am sure will get easier as Brexit unfolds and its consequences become apparent.

Permalink 7 Comments

Organising the Labour Party in Northern Ireland

February 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm (campaigning, class, democracy, Ireland, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity, Unite the union)

Leonie Hannan, Vice Chair of the Labour Party’s Belfast branch, spoke to the unofficial Momentum magazine, The Clarion.
For an open letter from Momentum supporters in Northern Ireland to the Momentum NC, arguing for their right to organise a group, see here. At present the Labour Party in Northern Ireland meets regularly, decides on policies, campaigns on issues and sends delegates to conference, but is not allowed (by the national Labour Party) to stand  candidates in any election.

lpni2

How has the Labour Party in Northern Ireland changed over the last eighteen months?

LPNI has changed in two main ways. First of all it has grown dramatically, from around 350 members back in May 2015 to over 3000 now. There was a first surge during and just after the leadership election in the summer of 2015 and then a second leap in membership prompted by the coup and the prospect of a challenge to the elected leadership.

This first change, in many ways, predicts the second – that the politics of the party here have shifted to the left and members have an appetite for active involvement in politics. It’s clear that people are joining because they are motivated by Corbyn’s leadership, his critique of society’s problems and the kinds of policies he is advancing. When the party was much smaller, it did not have the reach that we have now, it was in some ways quite de-politicised because the focus was trained almost exclusively on the right to stand in elections – which LPNI still does not have and which remains a very important issue for us.

However, despite this difficult context for Labour activism, now we are seeing new members who are primarily motivated by politics and the need to contribute to the Labour Party’s new direction – a direction which they see holds potential to address the serious problems facing society, problems that have been compounded by years of austerity and which have particularly acute ramifications in Northern Ireland.

What kind of people are involved and what motivates them?

Well this is the really interesting bit and points to how our increased membership can contribute significantly to our long-standing campaign for the right to stand candidates. LPNI attracts members from across communities, people who see the system isn’t working for them and who feel a profound disillusionment with sectarian politics. We have trade unionists joining us, we have BME members and many LGBT members too – who don’t always feel comfortable in some of the other political parties in this region.

We have members who might describe themselves as Republicans alongside those who hold Loyalist views and, of course, many in between and this is something quite unique in Northern Ireland. Something quite unusual and yet extremely powerful. For progressive politics to make an impact here, we have to draw people from across the sectarian divide around issues that affect all communities – the effects of poverty, loss of jobs, social, educational and health inequality, homophobia and racism and the continued repression of reproductive rights. The larger a party we are here in Northern Ireland, the more motivated activists we attract, then the greater pressure we can apply on the issue of our right to stand candidates. We are here, we are many, we are diverse and we need Labour representation.

Corbyn won 70pc of the vote in your nomination meeting – more than in his own CLP. Why such strong support?

He didn’t just win 70% of the vote at our meeting, he won 70% of the vote in the election itself. Moreover, he would have had an even higher share of the vote if the majority of our members had been able to use their vote. In the end, much less than a third of members could exercise a vote (because our membership is disproportionately new and therefore found itself subject to the NEC’s last minute rule changes). I just think this shows the way Corbyn’s political agenda resonates in Northern Ireland, which is a post-conflict society suffering deeply at the hands of its own power-sharing government and their implementation of Tory cuts.

In fact, at the nomination meeting, person after person stood up to say why they had been brought into politics (often for the first time and, for some, after decades of disillusionment with politics) by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. They saw this change as offering an opportunity to rehabilitate the Labour Party as a political party for ordinary people; a party that would not put the needs of corporations above those of struggling workers.

How does the LP fit into, or stand out from, the framework of sectarian politics and the constitutional conflict in NI?

As I mentioned, LPNI draws its membership from both communities and provides a much-needed space for non-sectarian politics. In fact, its growth in membership speaks not only to the interest in Corbyn, but also to the disillusionment with Stormont [the Northern Ireland Assembly]. Effectively we have a government made of false opposites – Sinn Fein and the DUP power share, they govern together and they implement the Tory agenda. Of course, engaging with the Labour Party doesn’t preclude having a view on the Union, but in the end the Good Friday Agreement ensures that any change would have to have the consent of the people.

What is your relationship with the trade unions?

We have a really strong relationship with Unite, who provide us with space for our meetings, who campaign with us on local issues and who resolutely support the project of standing Labour candidates in NI. There is really high trade union membership here in Northern Ireland, many as part of affiliated unions and so it is a real disservice to those affiliated members not to have the possibility of full political representation.

Please explain about this issue of standing Labour candidates.

Historically, the Labour Party has tried to remain neutral in relation to Northern Irish politics, preferring to sustain a relationship with the Social Democratic and Labour Party instead. The SDLP are sometimes referred to as a ‘sister party’ and attend Labour Conference.

However, there are a number of problems with the SDLP in terms of Labour representation. First, they do not (and cannot) attract support from both communities because of their status as a nationalist party. They have their origins in the Civil Rights movement and the Catholic community’s struggles in the 60s for equality. Today, their commitment to equality only goes so far, they describe themselves as a pro-life party and their spokespeople have continued a virulent attack on women’s rights by vocally supporting the current abortion law (women cannot even have an abortion in Northern Ireland in the circumstances of rape, incest, foetal abnormality or risk to a woman’s health – interesting considering the recent Polish women’s campaign).

Besides this key issue, the SDLP hold conservative views on a range of issues and just don’t offer a left-wing alternative to the ultra-conservatism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, founded by Ian Paisley). In these circumstances it is just not reasonable for the Labour Party to suggest that Northern Irish people should support the SDLP in the absence of Labour. I suppose the other simple point to make is that 3000 people didn’t just join the SDLP, they made themselves clear when they joined the Labour Party and I think they should be listened to.

What are the big issues the party, or its members, campaign/should be campaigning on over there?

Northern Ireland is an economically deprived region, a problem which fosters sectarian tension, and has suffered a series of devastating job losses. JTI Gallagher let workers go in May, Caterpillar announced job losses in September, cuts have been seen across the voluntary and community sectors, library service cuts and many more. There are also the same issues as elsewhere with un-unionised labour, which need to be tackled and LPNI is playing its part supporting worker organisation and strike action wherever possible.

The Momentum NC in February passed a document saying the organisation wouldn’t organise in NI. What’s your view on that?

We are writing a letter to the NC making our case for Momentum organisation in NI. The main point is that their decision not to organise is based on a a statement made by a Momentum national officer that Labour does not organise in NI. Well, as I have just explained – Labour absolutely does organise in this region and so there is no reason why Momentum should not also organise, especially so considering the motivation of the vast majority of our members. I regularly get forwarded emails received by Momentum from members in NI who are eager to be involved, the demand is there and it really should be met. Like the right to stand issue, it is a bit much to be told by people in England what we can and cannot hope to achieve over here in relation to Labour politics. Really, the people in England, both Momentum and Labour, ought to listen to the 3000 Northern Irish residents who are telling them very clearly what it is they need.

nilp

Northern Ireland Labour Party members protesting against cuts

Permalink 10 Comments

It’s anti-Muslim racism, not Islamophobia

February 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm (Anti-Racism, class, communalism, Human rights, immigration, imperialism, Islam, islamism, language, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion)

By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)

“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)

Protester holding a sign in Washington, D.C. Original caption: Sept 15 2007 March and Rally, Member of the counter protest Gathering of Eagles, yelling

Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 9 Comments

Trump, Populism and the Left

February 6, 2017 at 8:19 pm (Andrew Coates, Civil liberties, class, communalism, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, France, populism, Racism, Trump, UKIP)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):

Image result for trump and populism

Populists High on the Hog.

From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.

In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.

But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.

But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.

It is an illiberal democracy.

Müller predicts that in power,

..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)

This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.

Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)

Populist Calls to Break up the EU.

After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.

This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).

Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).

Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction

Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)

If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)

The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).

What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?

This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.

.

****

(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia.  More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République

Permalink 7 Comments

Previewing the Stoke Central By-Election

January 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm (class, democracy, elections, labour party, populism, posted by JD, reformism, UKIP)

Local lad Phil Burton-Cartledge (who blogs at All That Is Solid) concludes his series of articles on Stoke-on Trent in the light of the forthcoming by-election:

Previewing the Stoke-on-Trent Central By-Election

Finally, here’s the third installment on the Stoke-on-Trent politics special. We’ve spoken about Tristram Hunt’s career in The Potteries, and we’ve turned our attention to the local scene. Now it’s time to go all Mystic Meg and break out the politics astrology charts. For which party do the stars align?

Labour have got to be the favourites. Stoke-on-Trent Central was born a Labour seat, and the party will be stretching every sinew to ensure it stays that way until the Boundary Commission kills it. Labour has some very strong cards to play. Firstly, the membership. All the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire parties are active, campaigning organisations in-between elections. The bad old days of nothing happening unless we were asking for votes are long gone. Additionally, the combined membership of these parties are huge. Stoke Central itself is pushing 500, the other Stoke parties are more or less the same and nearby parties are, if anything, even larger. And we know people are going to travel from far and wide to help out. In short, a tsunami of Labour activists are poised to swamp the constituency, and none of the other parties will come close to matching it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 3 Comments

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 »

Permalink 5 Comments

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!”

Permalink 23 Comments

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)

Permalink 1 Comment

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 »

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »