Johnson’s anti-Obama racism

April 22, 2016 at 5:10 pm (Europe, Obama, posted by JD, Racism, Tory scum, United States)

More foghorn than dogwhistle:

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Corbyn’s speech on the EU

April 15, 2016 at 7:43 am (Europe, internationalism, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity)

The Labour leader’s speech delivered yesterday (Thursday April 14 2016) setting out his position on the EU and the forthcoming referendum:

THE people of this country face a historic choice on June 23 — whether to remain part of the European Union, or to leave.

I welcome the fact that that decision is now in the hands of the British people. Indeed, I voted to support a referendum in the last parliament.

The move to hold this referendum may have been more about managing divisions in the Conservative Party, but it is now a crucial democratic opportunity for people to have their say on our country’s future — and the future of our continent as a whole.

The Labour Party is overwhelmingly for staying in, because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century. Labour is convinced that a vote to Remain is in the best interests of the people of this country.

In the coming century, we face huge challenges — as a people, as a continent and as a global community.

How to deal with climate change? How to address the overweening power of global corporations and ensure they pay fair taxes? How to tackle cyber-crime and terrorism? How to ensure we trade fairly and protect jobs and pay in an era of globalisation? How to address the causes of the huge refugee movements across the world? And how we adapt to a world where people everywhere move more frequently to live, work and retire?

All these issues are serious and pressing, and self-evidently require international co-operation. Collective international action through the European Union is clearly going to be vital to meeting these challenges. Britain will be stronger if we co-operate with our neighbours in facing them together.

As Portugal’s new Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa has said: “In the face of all these crises around us, we must not divide Europe — we must strengthen it.”

When the last referendum was held in 1975, Europe was divided by the cold war, and what later became the EU was a much smaller, purely market-driven arrangement.

Over the years I have been critical of many decisions taken by the EU. And I remain critical of its shortcomings — from its lack of democratic accountability to the institutional pressure to deregulate or privatise public services.

So Europe needs to change. But that change can only come from working with our allies in the EU. It’s perfectly possible to be critical and still be convinced we need to remain a member.

I’ve even had a few differences with the direction the Labour Party’s taken over the past few years, but I have been sure that it was right to stay a member. Some might say I’ve even managed to do something about changing that direction.

In contrast to four decades ago, the EU of today brings together most of the countries of Europe and has developed important employment, environmental and consumer protections.

I have listened closely to the views of trade unions, environmental groups, human rights organisations and of course to Labour Party members and supporters and fellow MPs.

They are overwhelmingly convinced that we can best make a positive difference by remaining in Europe.

Britain needs to stay in the EU as the best framework for trade, manufacturing and co-operation in 21st-century Europe.

Tens of billion pounds-worth of investment and millions of jobs are linked to our relationship with the EU, the biggest market in the world.

EU membership has guaranteed working people vital employment rights, including four weeks’ paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protections for agency workers and health and safety in the workplace.

Being in the EU has raised Britain’s environmental standards, from beaches to air quality, and protected consumers from rip-off charges. But we also need to make the case for reform in Europe — the reform David Cameron’s government has no interest in, but plenty of others across Europe do.

That means democratic reform to make the EU more accountable to its people. Economic reform to end self-defeating austerity and put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy. Labour market reform to strengthen and extend workers’ rights in a real social Europe. And new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services.

So the case I’m making is for “Remain — and Reform” in Europe.

Today is the Global Day of Action for Fast Food Rights. In the US workers are demanding $15 an hour, in the UK £10 now. Labour is an internationalist party and socialists have understood from the earliest days of the labour movement that workers need to make common cause across national borders.

Working together in Europe has led to significant gains for workers here in Britain, and Labour is determined to deliver further progressive reform in 2020 — the democratic Europe of social justice and workers’ rights that people throughout our continent want to see. Read the rest of this entry »

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The sheer stupidity and self-delusion of ‘exit left’

April 13, 2016 at 7:52 pm (CPB, Europe, left, posted by JD, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, wankers)


This way to a cul-de-sac

By a London teacher (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Vote Ukip, get Corbyn!

I have been on the far left for over thirty years, and I’ve seen and heard some pretty strange things.

I have watched women members of a revolutionary socialist group join the back of a segregated Muslim march against Israel. I’ve argued with left-wing British trade unionists who backed the jailing of independent trade unionists in the old USSR. I’ve seen socialists carry “We are Hizbollah” placards, and listened to leftists who refused to condemn 9/11.

These are sincere people, genuinely believing they are doing the right thing. Often they have given many years of their lives fighting for what they hope will be a better world. And yet they have lost the plot. Their immediate actions and views have become seriously detached from the fight for human liberation.

The current left belief that Brexit is a blow against EU racism and will lead to a left shift in British politics is right up there in the Premier League of unreason.

At the National Union of Teachers union conference over the Easter holiday we debated the EU referendum, eventually rejecting Leave the EU by a big majority.

The Communist Party’s Unity bulletin had declared that the EU vote was (despite the words on the ballot paper) about the NHS.

The SWP believe that a vote to leave will be a blow against racism, despite the fact that a tabloid-driven, UKIP-benefiting, wave of racist hysteria will grip the country if Britain votes to leave. The new leader of the Tory Party will preside over a capitalist UK with even more unpleasant immigration restrictions.

Unfortunately the NUT Executive’s amendment which was passed did not advocate staying in the EU and advocated no position on this “divisive issue”. Some speeches urged rejection of the Brexit position because this was a political matter and the union should defend workers, not meddle with politics.

Workers Liberty’s problem with a union adopting a Brexit position is not that it is political, but that it is stupid.

Brexit is an immediate, pressing threat for many workers in the UK. If Britain votes to get out of the EU the first thing which will happen is that the regulations governing the right of EU workers to work here will be seriously worsened.

In my school the cleaners are mainly Portuguese. Some teaching assistants are Spanish. The man in the photocopy room is Polish. The men in the Premises Dept are Eastern European. There are teachers from Ireland, Spain, Eastern Europe and other EU countries. Quite a few students and their families are from Europe. If the NUT had adopted a Brexit policy what would I say to them? The union has concluded that, in order to strike blow against the racism of the EU, we will help an even worse right wing Tory government into office who will then insist you Sod Off Home? What sense could any normal, rational person make of that?

If you are a racist that message might seem reasonable. If you are a white SWPer with a British passport, Brexit might not appear so much of a problem. For everyone else on the left or in the unions it is a serious threat to the working lives of our friends and co-workers.

Nevertheless the SWP and Socialist Party are dimly aware that Leave = more racism. No doubt someone has told them so.

So they have solved their presentational problem by adding an extra delusional twist to their policy. Although Brexit may seem to hand the government on a plate to the Tory right led by Johnson and Gove, in fact it will give us a left Labour government, led by Corbyn. Hey presto! Like magic, like a rabbit from a hat!

In fact, although Brexit would presumably mean Cameron would lose the leadership of his Party, it is unlikely that the government would fall (it would require a no confidence vote). Even if Brexit did lead to an election, given a Leave vote would give a massive boost to the right in British politics the left would hardly be in a position to take advantage. The right would make gains in an election that came after a vote to Leave.

So why do people like the SWP and SP add an extra layer of delusion – vote to Leave and get a Corbyn government! – to shore up their Left Leave position? Because to do otherwise would mean examining their basic framework which says any damage to capitalism and the Tories is good for us. Having a close look at that framework would be difficult and dangerous (because it would lead to an unravelling of a lot of other positions they hold).

They find it easier to plod on, no matter what damage is done to rational left politics

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Wilders, Farage help give Putin a victory against the people of Ukraine

April 7, 2016 at 9:38 pm (Andrew Coates, apologists and collaborators, Europe, fascism, immigration, Jim D, populism, Racism, Ukraine)


Above: Farage backs Putin’s line on Ukraine – on Putin’s very own TV channel

“More worrying, though, is the UKIP line supporting Putin and claiming that a trade agreement with Ukraine is somehow an example of EU aggression. It takes breathtaking chutzpah to claim that non-exclusive trade constitutes aggression, while Russia is ‘only defending itself’ when it annexes part of the territory of its neighbour, supports violent separatists in another part and tries to prevent a sovereign country from choosing to trade with its neighbours.

“UKIP’s pro-Putin line has been aped by other far-right parties in Europe. In return, Putin has given support to several of them. It is a truly worrying trend” – Labour MEP Richard Corbett in September 2014 .

The right wing fanatics and racists who are the driving force behind the anti-EU movement in Europe and Britain, have scored a victory on behalf of their hero and (in some cases) financial sponsor Vladimir Putin.

Dutch voters have voted against an EU trade agreement with Ukraine, and in doing so have handed Putin a propaganda victory and stabbed the Ukrainians in the back: it is the same draft agreement that sparked pro-EU protests in Kiev, sending the authoritarian Kremlin stooge Viktor Yunukovych into exile in Russia in February 2014.

Farage helped garner support for the referendum in the first place, and has a long record of “admiring” Putin and supporting his stance on Ukraine.

The racist anti-immigration right winger Geert Wilders has worked with Farage throughout, emphasising the alleged threat of immigration from Ukraine and an expansion eastwards of the EU:  whether these racist reactionaries are actually in the pay of Putin (as are, for sure, the French Front National and the Hungarian anti-Semitic Jabbik party) is not the real issue: paid or unpaid, these right wing fanatics and racists are doing Putin’s bidding. And, in the Netherlands, as in Britain, some idiot-leftists have gone along with it, as Comrade Coatesy explains here). The people of Ukraine, who courageously rose up against corrupt rule in 2014, are the victims of ultra-right Putin-fans like Farage and Wilders.

Serious leftists in the UK need to learn our lessons from this debacle.

Above: this poster, depicting Wilders and Putin in a tender moment, was banned from railway stations and bus shelters in the Netherlands. It was designed by the youth wing of the Netherlands’ Labour Party

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The anti-EU “left” and its embarrassing friends

April 2, 2016 at 11:11 am (Europe, ex-SWP, Lindsey German, posted by JD, stalinism, SWP, wankers)

This way to a cul-de-sac

Alan Thornett reports on the London meeting on March 23 called by Counterfire and the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) in support of an exit vote in the EU referendum.

It’s worth noting that until the announcement of the forthcoming referendum, Alan Thornett and Socialist Resistance, of which he is a leading member, favoured withdrawal from the EU. They still show little sign of fully thinking-through the implications of their change of line, welcome as it.

From the Socialist Resistance website:

It generated a lively debate amongst the hundred plus people who attended.

The platform speakers were Tariq Ali, Lindsey German from Counterfire Liz Payne, chair of the CPB, Harsev Bains from the Indian Workers Association Aaron Bastani from Novara Media, Joseph Choonara from the SWP, and a speaker from the RMT. There was no sign of the Socialist Party who hold a similar vote for exit position.

The stance taken from the platform was that the EU is a reactionary anti-working class project. I suspect most in the room, including myself, agreed with that. Therefore, and this is the controversial part, the only position to have in the referendum a was a vote to leave.

Given this, much of the discussion was about what exit would mean in terms of the political aftermath in Britain and where it would leave the workers’ movement.

The platform was unanimous on this. They argued, incredibly in my view, that an exit vote would create a good situation for the left. It could well bring down the Tories and even bring a left wing Corbyn government to office.

This was strongly challenged by Charlie Hore from RS21 who said that all this completely misunderstood the character of the referendum and the conditions under which it was taking place. It was a Tory leadership project designed to placate the Tory xenophobic right and gather a few votes from UKIP at the election.

I spoke on similar lines and saying the idea that the left would gain from an exit vote was fantasy land. If the vote goes for exit it will be a huge victory for UKIP, the Tory right and for racism and xenophobia. The idea that such an event could push the political situation to the left is simply not credible.

It is far more likely that it would push the situation sharply to the right and could split the Tory party, bringing about a realignment of the xenophobic right which would put them in a stronger position. It would be seen as an endorsement of racism and xenophobia in a referendum and you would not want to be a migrant or an asylum seeker in Britain after such a vote had taken place.

Other floor speakers talked about the need to win back national sovereignty and others talked about how the EU had helped to precipitate war with Russia in Ukraine.

The platform was somewhat embarrassed by the first speaker from the floor. He said he was from People Before Profit in Lewisham and that they were having joint stalls with UKIP. In fact, he said, the UKIP people preferred to hand out the PBP leaflets rather than their own!

All the platform speakers rightly disagreed with this and took the first opportunity presented to say so.

One worrying thing in all this was the complacent attitude taken by the platform regarding the precarious situation that citizens of other EU countries living in Britain would be in the event of an exit. I had raised this in my contribution saying that both of the main exit campaigns had been asked about this and neither had been prepared to say that their situation would remain the same. They have both said that it is not possible to say at this stage.

Joseph Choonara replied to this saying that he thought that it is unlikely that moves would be made against them in the event of an exit because there are a lot of Brits in other EU countries, particularly Spain. Not much comfort there.

Although there was talk at the beginning of the meeting of the need to set up a left exit campaign. At the end of the meeting nothing happened in this regard. You got the distinct feeling that no one was bursting to launch it.

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Steel crisis: state aid, including nationalisation, is *not* prevented by the EU!

March 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm (economics, Europe, Jim D, reformism, solidarity, Tory scum, unions, workers)

As the UK’s steel industry faces extinction, the Tories prevaricate over what – if any- state aid they are willing to offer in order to save the Tata operations at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton (North Wales). At least 40,000 jobs are at stake.

Business minister Anna Soubry initially stated that the  government was willing to consider “everything possible” – including nationalisation – in order to save the Port Talbot plant. But now her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out nationalisation, arguing “if you look around Europe and elsewhere, I think nationalisation is rarely the answer.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Tata Steel have suggested that EU rules restricting state aid were to blame for its decision to sell the UK steel business – a claim that has been seized upon by campaigners for Brexit, including the supposedly “left wing” Morning Star, always willing to let the Tories off the hook by claiming (entirely falsely) that the British government “is banned by EU competition laws” from intervening to save the industry.

While it’s true that EU rules place some restrictions on using state aid to prop up industries, European governments with the political will have either turned a blind eye to the regulations or found ways round them. For instance, while the EU blocks support for “manufacturers in difficulties”, it allows national governments to nurture the “long term competitiveness and efficiency” of industry, and also to provide state funding to lessen the “social impact” of closures.

Even outright nationalisation is not barred by the EU: Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345

All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf

In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’

While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted, in particular, by the anti-EU “left”.

In Italy the government took control of the Ilva steelworks last year to save 16,000 jobs. Then the firm was handed £74 million for “environmental improvements” – ie direct state aid.

Germany also provides aid to its regional governments on the understanding that steel produced in the country is used on any German building or engineering projects. Germany also operates the part-publicly-funded Gesellschaft, a research organisation that provides applied science for companies that would otherwise find the cost prohibitive.

In 2012 French president Hollande threatened to nationalise Arcelor Mittal steel’s operations in the Lorraine plateau in order to save the blast furnaces of Florange and their 2,500 jobs. He didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about any EU state-aid rules. Ironically, Hollande’s threat was denounced by Boris Johnson – now a leading light of the Brexit campaign.

In a written answer to Labour Euro-MP Jude Kirton-Darling at the time of the Redcar steelworks closure last year, the European Commission confirmed that the UK Government could have given state aid to support the steelworks. Here are some of the ways that other EU governments have intervened to support their domestic steel industries, and other energy intensive industries. There are also examples of regional governments taking initiatives in Germany and Spain.

(Temporary) Renationalisation

In early 2015, the Italian Government temporarily renationalised the Ilva Steel works in Taranto, Southern Italy. The Italian government cited the unabated toxic emissions and very poor environmental standards, which had led to unusually high rates of cancer in the area around the plant. It is estimated that it will cost €1.8bn to make Ilva compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive’s standards. This decision is currently subject to a complaint from EUROFER (European steel industry association) under state aid rules.

Investment in strategic R&D facilities

The French government are providing state-aid to the ArcelorMittal plant at Florange, in France to support their ongoing R&D work, this follows on from a long running industrial dispute over the closing of two blast furnaces. This public support comes to a total of €20-50 million over 4 years, with a further 33 million been raised in public-private investment.

Support for energy efficiency/environmental technologies

In 2010, the European Commission accepted German state aid of €19.1 million for an energy-saving steel production project run by Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, a subsidiary of the Salzgitter AG group. The aid will allow Salzgitter to produce steel through an innovative production process, Direct Strip Casting (DSC), which consumes less energy than alternative processes. The aid is in line with EU guidelines on State aid for environmental objectives (see IP/08/80) because on balance, the positive effects for the environment largely outweigh potential distortions of competition.

Loan guarantees

In 2010, before the May elections (which saw a change in Government), the UK Labour government was willing to provide Sheffield steel producer Forgemasters with an £80m loan to develop new technologies as part of a supply chain for nuclear reactors. While ultimately the new government withdrew this offer, the reasoning for a change of heart was ideological and not related to European State-Aid rules.

Taking a public stake in a steel company

Following the sale of 20.5% of shares in ‘NLMK Belgium Sogepa Holdings SA’ for 91.1 million euros ($123 million), the Belgian public authorities have a shareholding in a new company producing steel which owns steel plants in Belgium, France and Italy. NBH employs about 1,000 people in Belgium, while the European division employs 2,530 people in total. The engagement of the Belgian public authorities has helped strengthen the commitment of the Russian group, and transformed the company carrying the steel business in public private joint venture with the financial support of the Walloon region.

Compensation for energy costs

A range of German Government industry policy interventions provide German industry as a whole, including its energy intensive industries, with a range of long established reliefs from energy and climate change-related duties, levies and taxes:

Over the period 2010-2012 Germany’s support for its EIIs were worth 26bn euros, or some 8bn euros (£6.4bn) a year (table 2).
Support covers thousands of firms. Unlike the UK package, support is not confined to specific sectors.
At company level, in Germany compensation is available for 90% (or in the case of larger and energy intense consumers, 100%) of electricity taxes.

In Sweden, the PFE programme aims to encourage, through incentives (reductions in the amount of energy taxes), energy-intensive industries to improve their energy efficiency. This is a long-term agreement involving the Swedish government, the energy-intensive industries and trade unions. The duration of this program is 5 years. 117 industrial companies are involved in this project (i.e. 250 plants). The Swedish Energy Agency monitors and controls the programme. The Programme Board, established in 2005, brings together representatives from government, business, trade unions and employers as well as research centers. Both with an advisory and regulatory purpose, the Board meets four times a year. After only two years of existence, more than 900 measures were implemented or underway. These measures cost the companies € 110 million but benefited from a rapid return on investment (two years on average). They have saved about 1 TWh per year of electricity, i.e. from 500 kT to 1 million tons of CO2, and a total of € 55 million. In 2010, it doubled its objectives.

Using the powers of the official receiver to support employment & attracting buyers for troubled plants

In November 2014, the Italian government agreed to sell Italy’s second-largest steelmaker Lucchini’s Piombino complex to family-owned Algerian conglomerate Cevital. Lucchini was previously owned by Russia’s Severstal but was declared insolvent in 2012 and placed into special administration. The company received two offers for its core assets in Piombino, one from Cevital and the other from India’s JSW Steel. The government administrator said the Cevital offer was more attractive as it foresaw full employment at Piombino. The Piombino complex employs about 2,000 people and can produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.

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“Shameless Brexit scum!”

March 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm (Europe, fascism, Galloway, immigration, islamism, Jim D, populism, Racism, terror)

British expats living on the continent called Nigel Farage ‘shameless Brexit scum’ for retweeting a post that rabid anti-EU Torygraph columnist Allison Pearson had posted immediately news of the Brussels massacre began to emerge.

British expats living on the continent called Nigel Farage 'shameless Brexit scum' for retweeting a post that branded Brussels as the 'jihadist capital of Europe... the Remainers dare to say we're safer in the EU'

Ukip’s defence spokesman, Mike Hookem, tried to tie the bombings to migration, and Nigel Farage repeated the same claim.

But the opportunism and cynicism of the Brexiters isn’t just distasteful: it’s completely wrong, and must be exposed.

Anti-EU fanatics persistently claim that restoring total control of UK borders would make a terror attack less likely. They’ve seized on the Brussels attacks as an opportunity (and these are the people who whinge about the Remain campaign’s “Project Fear”!) to suggest that EU membership increases the risk of terrorist attack – in the face of the evidence, as shown in two authoritative articles, one by the former DPP and now Labour MP Keir Starmer, the other by the independent reviewer of terrorism, David Anderson.

The Brexiters’ only ally with any credibility in security matters, former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove has argued  that leaving the EU probably won’t make any difference to security, but even he does not seriously suggest that there would be any overall security gain from leaving the EU. In fact, his argument (that EU counter-terrorism arrangements are largely ineffectual) logically should lead to a call for greater European co-operation and  integration, not Brexit.

From the far-right, UKIP, to a host of others, there has been a call to bring in tough border controls and halt migration.

Marine Le Pen has called for an immediate crack down Islamic fundamentalism and on areas where she considered it flourished.

She  said,

Dans l’urgence, et pour la sécurité de tous, il est impératif de procéder à la fermeture immédiate de la frontière franco-belge, fermeture réelle et non pas fictive comme depuis plusieurs semaines, et au rétablissement de contrôles sur l’ensemble des frontières nationales de notre pays.

In this emergency, for the security of everybody, it is imperative to immediately close the French-Belgian frontier, a real shut down and not a gestural one that’s been in place for the last few weeks, and reestablish controls over all our national borders

Le Pen repeated this saying on France-Info, “”Il faut arrêter Schenguen.” – we have to end the Schengen agreement on free movement within (continental) Europe.

Meanwhile, the increasingly eccentric George Galloway (like Farage, a Putin-admirer) took another step towards  a common front with the far-right in announcing (on Putin’s RT),

Free movement between European states should have been abandoned after the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) attacks in Paris last November, former MP George Galloway said in the wake of Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels.

The Respect Party’s candidate for mayor of London argued that suspending the right to free movement could have prevented attacks on European soil.

So the Brexiters are not just morally shameless scum: they’re also dangerous fanatics, happy to put their nationalist and racist obsessions ahead of the security and solidarity of ordinary people. They are, in fact, dancing to the terrorists’ tune: I don’t always see eye to eye with Owen Jones, but he hits the nail of the head in an excellent piece in today’s Guardian, which concludes with this wise observation:

“My fear is that Isis is winning, that it is succeeding in its aim to spread fear and hatred around the globe. It is threatening to cause chaos and fundamentally change our way of life – but whether we let Isis do that is our choice. At the very least, in the context of the EU debate, Isis should not be allowed the role of a political player. If we leave the EU, then so be it. But let it not be because Isis drove us to it.”

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Brexiters try to cash in on Brussels massacre

March 22, 2016 at 3:01 pm (Asshole, Europe, terror, tragedy, UKIP)

Contemptible:

Alan Thomas's photo.

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No support whatsoever for the liar and opportunist Duncan Smith!

March 21, 2016 at 5:59 pm (David Cameron, Europe, Jim D, Tory scum, wankers)

I’m becoming somewhat worried that some lefties seem to be quietly sympathetic towards IDS. This letter, sent out by him to fellow Tory MP’s one whole day after the budget, should put paid to any illusions that he is some kind of ‘caring Conservative’ or ‘man of principle’:

Steve Bell 15.3.2016 Illustration: Steve Bell

 ONE DAY AFTER BUDGET, IDS LETTER SUPPORTING THE CUTS

Iain Duncan Smith signed this ‘Dear Colleague’ letter – the term for correspondence sent to all Tory MPs – on Thursday. It was 24 hours after George Osborne’s Budget, and the day when the Chancellor was going on the airwaves to defend his measures.

IDS makes no mention of his opposition to the disability cuts, which he would later cite as the reason for his resignation, bar an ambiguous line pledging to ‘take this response forward’.

On a second page, reproduced below, IDS explains changes to the Personal Independence Payment, with the paragraphs we have highlighted showing his defence of the shake-up.

One of his arguments is that the benefit, intended to help people who struggle to use the toilet or get dressed, was being used for the unnecessary purchase of ‘items like beds and chairs that people have already’.

Why we are changing the Personal Independence Payment

  • Our welfare reforms have helped more disabled people back into work so that they have the security of a job.
  • And as we reform welfare, we are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society and targeting the extra support we are providing for disabled people on those who need it most.
  • We introduced the Personal Independence Payment to help meet the extra costs that someone with a disability faces.

IDS makes no mention of his opposition to the disability cuts

  • We introduced the Personal Independence Payment to help meet theextra costs that someone with a disability faces.
  • Recent legal judgements have broadened the scope of what is considered an ‘aid and appliance’ to include items like beds and chairs that people have in their homes already.
  • The number of people who qualify for PIP solely due to aids and appliances –which in many cases are provided by the NHS or local authorities – has tripled in 18 months.
  • Yet in 96% of these cases reviewed by health professionals, they found that the likely on-going extra costs of daily living due to their disability was low or even zero.
  • And in his independent review Paul Gray recommended that ‘the Department should review how aids and appliances are taken into account in PIP assessments against original policy intent’.
  • That’s why last year we brought forward a consultation to explore how best to take account of aids and appliances and help disabled people meet the extra costs of their disability.
  • We have carefully considered the responses and are continuing to talk to disability groups and colleagues about the best way to do this before bringing forward legislation.
  • No one currently on PIP will see any change until their next review.
  • We are also providing support for disabled people through the mobility component of PIP, Employment and Support Allowance, local welfare provision, support through the NHS, adult social care, Access to Work and the Disabled Facilities Grant.
  • Facts on disability and Personal Independence Payment spending 
  • Personal Independence Payment spending will rise in every year of this Parliament in real terms.
  • This year we are spending around£50 billion on support for sick and disabled people, more than the entire £34 billion Defence budget this year.
  • We are spending more in real terms supporting disabled people in every year ofthis Parliament than the £42.6 billion Labourwas spending in 2010.

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EU referendum: the left arguments for ‘Out’ and ‘In’

March 19, 2016 at 2:02 pm (class, democracy, Europe, Johnny Lewis, left, Racism, solidarity, unions, workers)

Left wing anti-EU campaigners have, so far made little attempt to argue their case from an explicity pro-working class, or even trade union standpoint. So it is at least refreshing to see Enrico Tortolano attempt to do this in yesterday’s Morning Star. We republish his piece below, followed by a reply from Johnny Lewis:

Lets’s fight on our terms not EU’s

Enrico Tortolano (campaign director, Trade Unionists Against the EU) argues that Britain’s EU referendum on June 23 is not a choice between two bad options but rather a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to live in


Trade union negotiators spend their lives between a rock and a hard place trying to make the best of bad options.

This can lead to a habit we like to think of as pragmatism — making the best of a bad job.

However, at key historical moments fundamental principles come into the equation. Sometimes we have to aspire above the unacceptable options we are offered.

Britain’s EU referendum is such an occasion. It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers. We have to express our deeper interests as working-class people.

To say Cameron’s “EU deal” is just as bad as the status quo and in the next breath advocate a vote for Britain to remain in the EU in order to build “another, nicer EU” misses the point. As does former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who thinks he can reform the EU — something millions of workers over three decades have found impossible.

It shouldn’t be forgotten he advised the Greek government to accept 70 per cent of the EU austerity memorandum and is responsible for much of the present crisis. His failure to understand the system, to grasp the nature of EU institutions and neoliberalism itself, underlies his utopian illusion.

The EU is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a bastion of workers’ rights, nor to support the struggles for equality of women, minorities or young people.

The desperate plight of working-class communities throughout the EU’s 28 member states is clear. Average unemployment was 8.9 per cent in January 2016 — 10.3 per cent in euro-area countries. Incredibly, this is hailed as a sign of recovery by some EU enthusiasts because it represents a 0.1 per cent reduction from the previous month.

Workers in the EU have been trapped in a prolonged crisis of joblessness and falling real wages for over 15 years.

Since 2000 average EU unemployment rates only fell below 8 per cent — 1 in 12 workers — briefly in 2007-8 only to rise to 12 per cent in 2013, before reverting to EU “normality” of around 10 per cent today.

For millions throughout the EU this has meant their lives have been defined by foodbanks, homelessness, debt and precarious forms of employment.

The intended outcome of German ordoliberal policies applied by EU political elites in the interests of big business is to lower wages, “foster competitiveness” and increase worker insecurity.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (M Star March 9) and some trade union leaders who attempt to put a brave face on what they see as the least bad option, unfortunately risk choosing by far the worst option.

Leaving the EU would tear the Tory Party apart. Of course there would be confrontation, but given the ruthlessness with which they are destroying the welfare state and workplace rights, exiting and taking them down makes sense on all levels. This shouldn’t be outside our movement’s cognitive mapping — the real danger for workers lies in giving up on the idea of meaningful change. EU institutions rule exclusively in the interests of corporations and finance capital and are the main drivers of austerity in our part of the world.

A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda. It would also show British people know the only way to stop TTIP, privatising our NHS and public services, is by leaving the EU. These are precisely the reasons why large corporations, the US and global capital are desperately funding and supporting a campaign for Britain to remain a member of the EU.

This referendum is about class issues, not narrow negotiating issues. If the TUC or European TUC could negotiate a favourable settlement for workers with EU institutions and their masters in the Round Table of Industrialists, why has this not already happened?

This referendum is about whether workers want a future of intergovernmental collaboration based on UN principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for self-determination of nations, or a continuation of the EU’s endless austerity where supranational super-states financialise and privatise all areas of human activity.

In this context, it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights.

This is simply untrue. Decades of EU neoliberal economics have depended on its denial of the most basic of workers’ rights — the right to work. The equivalent of Britain’s entire full-time working population (22.98 million) are unemployed across the EU. It is a low-growth area worsened by EU institutions attacking collective bargaining rights.

Accession states, or countries with odious debt like Greece, have been forced to demolish collective bargaining arrangements as conditions for EU bailouts. The EU as a bastion of women’s rights? Try speaking to working-class Greek, Spanish or Portuguese women resisting the aggressive EU austerity agenda.

The European Court of Justice upholds fundamental EU principles of “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services. That’s why its rulings automatically trump workers’ rights.

The Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. The economic crisis of 2008 was used to push through a raft of policies giving the unelected European Commission the power to veto member governments’ budgets and spending plans.

A concrete road map has been articulated by the EU around an assault on workers’ rights that has led to mass protests in Bulgaria and general strikes in Portugal.

Because some on the left have been starry-eyed about the long-dead myth of “social Europe,” the task of organising real international solidarity with these struggles has been neglected.

Let’s revive the deep internationalism of Britain’s trade union movement. Vote to leave the EU. Make a new world possible.

REPLY:

The left Brexiters are putting workers’ rights in danger – and playing into the hands of the right

By Johnny Lewis (a leading trade unionist)

Comrade Tortolano opens his piece by noting that there are situations for socialists in which fundamental political principles must take precedence over the day to day pragmatism of trade union-style negotiations. In principle, I can agree: I’d argue that getting rid of Trident – even before we have an alternative jobs plan in place – is a case in point. Getting out of the EU most certainly isn’t.

At most, it could be argued that the argument over Brexit v Remain is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class over two alternative strategies for British capitalism, in which the working class has no interest one way or the other. In the past (during the 1975 referendum, for instance), some of us have argued just that, but I will now go on to explain why that approach does not apply in the present referendum campaign, and why trade unionists and the left should argue to remain.

I have argued in a previous piece that those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.

Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union and pro-worker legislation has increased. Such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post- 1980 legislation originates from the EU.

It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties – the result of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. Comrade Tortolano cites the Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases as demonstrating “beyond reasonable doubt” his case that  the ECJ’s rulings on the implementation of the Directive is anti-worker: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation – and in directing their fire at the EU people like Comrade Tortolano in reality let the Tory government and its Coalition and New labour Predecessors off the hook.

However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. And the consequence of this dismantling of the floor would almost certainly start a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries are forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right. In fairness to Comrade Tortolano, he does at least address this crucial issue, but only by denying reality and obscuring the real issues with empty rhetoric (“it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights” etc).

The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP, though it is hinted at in Comrade Tortolano’s piece, where he complains of the European Court of Justice upholding the principle of “free movement” of labour: that foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.

We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist right’s emphasis on immigration of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believes (like, incredibly, Comrade Tortolano) the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is b – to put it mildly – worrying that they come close to blaming migrants for low wages.

Unable to put forward any coherent or convincing trade union-based rationale, those left wingers advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim, as does Comrade Tortolano, that  “It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers”, he is unable to present any such case, and neither has any other left Brexiter.

The comrade’s rhetoric about “our system of justice, democracy, collective rights” is simply empty guff: as I have stated (above), every single aspect of pro-worker and pro-union legislation in the UK since 1980 (with the exception of TU recognition) originates from the EU. As for “justice”, the EU has forced successive British governments to introduce legislation on parental leave, age discrimination and transgender rights that almost certainly wouldn’t exist otherwise; and in other areas – equal pay, maternity rights, sex, disability and race discrimination, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has improved and extended existing laws, making it more difficult for a reactionary UK government to undermine them.

Comrade Tortolano then puts forward the further argument: that “A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda.” Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what people like the comrade believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.

The comrade, like all anti-EU leftists, no doubt believes that measures such as renationalising industries or intervening directly in the economy are made impossible by EU membership (I am surprised that this argument is only hinted at in his article): but this is simply not the case – see Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345

All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf

In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’

While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed  myth, promoted by the anti-EU left. But, for the sake of argument, say it were true: are we seriously suggesting that a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a clear democratic mandate and manifesto pledging public ownership of the nation’s railway system and ‘Big Six’ energy companies, would be deterred by the objections of EU bureaucrats? This, incidentally, is where analogies with Greece, Spain and Portugal fall down: the UK has the fifth-largest national economy (and second-largest in EU) measured by nominal GDP: the idea that a left wing UK government could be bullied in the way that Syriza in Greece was is simply preposterous.

Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism. That’s why the left Brexiters like Comrade Tortolano are so badly – and dangerously – mistaken. It’s also why people like myself , who in 1975 argued for abstention, now say that in the forthcoming referendum, class conscious workers and all progressive people, must argue, campaign and vote to remain.

The referendum is not simply a matter of being about in or out: it is also an episode in the formation of this new, populist right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the Brexit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the recent decline in workers’ rights within the EU: rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against their real and imagined grievances – politicians not listening, growing impoverishment, or the belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline – not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the Brexit campaign.

The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: the one convincing claim that Comrade Tortolano makes against the EU is about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left and within the unions who advocate Remain not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.

Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive, it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers, and on a pan-European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.

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