FBU leader Matt Wrack marching against job cuts in 2012 (Pic: Kelvin Williams)
By Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (This article appeared in yesterday’s Morning Star, but in view of comrade Wrack’s description of Brexit as a “victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists” is clearly at variance with that paper’s pro-Brexit ‘line’).
TUC Congress convenes at an absolutely pivotal time for the labour movement and for firefighters — and the motions tabled by the Fire Brigades Union are intended to reflect that.
The new political situation in Britain is defined by the decision to leave the European Union (EU). The FBU advocated a vote to Remain. Although the EU is a neoliberal bosses’ club, some forget the key role of British governments in driving the neoliberal agenda within Europe.
Austerity in Britain is driven from Westminster, not from Brussels. Europe also provides a common terrain for workers’ solidarity and workers’ rights across the continent.
The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.
Brexit has resulted in a more right-wing government. It means an already difficult period ahead will be even harder for the trade union movement and the working-class communities we represent.
The FBU’s motion is clear that the trade union movement should not blame working-class people for the consequences of Brexit.
We don’t blame workers who voted to leave. We don’t blame migrant workers, they deserve solidarity.
We know two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain. We don’t blame the labour movement or the TUC — we fought a good campaign to remain and we were right to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn was not to blame for Brexit. Corbyn campaigned from day one to remain in the EU. He was right to advocate Remain while articulating criticisms of the EU. He held scores of meetings and events. He was correct to avoid collaboration with David Cameron and the Tories.
Who do we blame? We blame the Tories. They decided on the referendum. They set the question. They set the timing. It was mostly Tory politicians who fought it out in public. It was mostly Tory voters who voted to leave. They created the mess we’re in. We need to pin the blame for the consequences on them. Every job loss, every cut, every dodgy trade deal, every attack — is their fault. Every example of economic and political turmoil needs to be laid at their door.
The TUC and unions are right to say workers should not pay for Brexit (workers have paid for the economic downturn in countless ways since 2008). But that is not enough. The labour movement has to say who will pay for Brexit. The answer is that the bosses will have to pay.
The wealthy, the ruling class — they have to pay. The money is there — in the banks, in property, in the wealth of the ultra rich — the new Duke of Westminster, Mike Ashley and Philip Green. The government should tax them for what is necessary and by whatever means are necessary.
It follows on from who’s to blame and who should pay, that the labour movement cannot support a partnership approach on Brexit.
In my view, it was wrong for former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber to sign a joint letter with Cameron during the referendum campaign.
We are not all in this together. It is not the job of the trade union movement to act as the tail of British business. It is not our job to accept deals that worsen the conditions of our members so that Brexit can be managed.
The labour movement needs to make itself a factor in the Brexit process. We do that by mobilising our members as active forces capable of shaping our own destiny.
We need to strengthen our links with workers across the world, including within the EU. We will stand in solidarity with migrant workers wherever they are. We need to hit the streets and make our voices heard. We need to speak clearly and act in determined defence of working-class interests.
“I am happy, like a myna/Life in a caravan, thinking about my friends/Let’s go to the garden,” go the upbeat lyrics from “Khandahar,” a poem first written in English and then translated to Farsi by two Afghan sisters, ages 9 and 12, who were living in a trailer in the migrant and refugee camp in Calais, known as the Jungle.
“Khandahar” is one of 13 tracks on “The Calais Sessions,” a benefit album recorded in the camp involving about 20 refugees and visiting professional musicians. The music ranges from Middle Eastern-inflected pop to Iraqi rap to tunes from the Balkans and Spain. Some pieces are love songs. One mourns the death of a Syrian brother. Others are joyful instrumentals set against a backbeat of traditional percussion.
We continue with this important interview with Kim Moody, on the prospects for the class struggle. Part 1 can be read here.
From Labor Notes:
Where’s our economy headed? This is part two of our interview with Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor.
Despite the hype about the “gig economy,” Moody argued in Part 1 that the bigger change most workers are experiencing is the rise of the crappy-job economy. On the bright side, he pointed out how just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing.
In Part 2, we ask Moody about corporate mergers, the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, and what it will take to organize the South:
Labor Notes: Increased competition between corporations has led to massive mergers. What has been the impact on workers?
Kim Moody: It’s in the mid-’90s that this new mergers and acquisitions wave took hold. It was fundamentally different from the big mergers and acquisitions waves of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Those mostly were about conglomeration—companies buying up all different kinds of production, finance, and everything you can get your hands on. Diversification would be another word for it.
The mergers of the mid-’90s forward have gone in the opposite direction. More companies are shedding unrelated divisions. For example, General Electric and General Motors used to have huge financial divisions and they dumped those, even though they were moneymakers.
All these major industries have seen mergers that are creating bigger employers. In some industries the concentrations are huge. If you look at trucking, UPS is this massive employer that it wasn’t 20 years ago. UPS is in every field of logistics—not just in delivery or even in trucking, but also in air freight.
So companies are buying up things that are in their basic core competencies. The structure of ownership has been realigned in a way similar to the first half of the 20th century, when unions, including the CIO, organized these big corporations.
This concentration of ownership along industrial lines means that there are more economically rational structures now in which unions can organize.
So you would no longer see a situation where the union strikes one division but the company has plenty of unrelated divisions that are still making profits.
Right. And when you put that together with the logistics revolution, you begin to get a picture of what I’m calling “the new terrain of class conflict.”
We are dealing with production systems, of both goods and services, that are far more tightly integrated than they used to be, and companies that are bigger, more capital-intensive, and more economically rational.
So unions should be able to take advantage of the vulnerable points in just-in-time logistics and production to bring some of these new giants to heel. The old idea of industrial unionism might have a new lease on life if—and it is a big if—the unions can take advantage of this situation.
My view is that this is going to have to come from the grassroots of the labor movement. Or those who today are not organized, like the people in warehouses. There is a potential that really hasn’t existed in well over half a century.
The consolidation of industry and the whole logistics revolution: these things have only come together in the last 10 or 15 years. When workers and unions in these industries—and many of these industries have unions in pieces of them—look at this situation, it’s something they’re not used to yet.
It usually takes a generation for the workforce to realize the power that it has, and the points of vulnerability. This was the case when mass production developed in the early 20th century. It took pretty close to a generation before the upheaval of the ‘30s.
Another important change has been in the demographics of the working class. Can you talk about what those changes mean?
This bears not only on unions but on American politics. An obvious change that has taken place in pretty much the same period—the ’80s up until now—and will continue on is the change in the racial and ethnic composition of the entire population, but particularly concentrated in the working class.
For example, if you look at what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “transportation and material moving” occupations in the ’80s, maybe 15 percent of those workers were either African American, Latino, or perhaps Asian. Today it is 40 percent.
Workers of color now compose a much bigger proportion of the workforce, much of it due to immigration. The biggest growth, of course, is among Latino workers. Workers of color are now between 30 and 40 percent of union membership.
It seems the right is making its own hay out of the changing demographics of the country.
This is happening everywhere in the West. It is much easier to blame immigrants for the lack of jobs or housing or crowded schools than it is to figure out how to deal with the powers that be.
So a lot of people turn towards these self-defeating ideas that they can solve their problems by closing off borders and sending people back, or by keeping Muslims out.
We have the potential to have a phenomenally different kind of labor movement. It is going to be different from anything we have ever seen in the United States, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter. That is, if we have a multicultural, multiracial labor movement that is larger and is growing and is taking advantage of the new terrain that we just talked about.
A common tactic used by business is whipsawing workers against one another, using non-union areas of the country against union-dense areas. I am thinking of Boeing and South Carolina. Boeing got from Washington State the largest subsidy ever given to a company in the United States. And yet they still sent all those jobs to South Carolina, which also provided them with massive subsidies. How much of a hindrance has the inability to organize the South been for labor?
The answer is massive. This goes all the way back to the end of the Second World War, and the amount of manufacturing value-added that was produced in the South just grew until the ’80s.
The amount produced in the South continues to grow a little, but it has more or less leveled off. I have some ideas why.
If you look at the auto parts industry, for example, in the last 10 or 15 years it has dramatically reorganized, one of the most dramatic reorganizations of any industry that I have seen. You have many fewer companies, and those that remain have gotten bigger.
The bulk of them are in the Midwest and not in the South. A huge percentage of them are actually in Michigan. Of course, they are nonunion.
So I am not saying that the South is not important. You won’t crack manufacturing until the South is unionized. These big corporations do whipsaw. But given the new structure of these industries and the logistics revolution, there is a possibility of counter-whipsawing.
Say you have a union drive at a South Carolina plant and you want to cut off production there, to force management to recognize the union. My guess is that you can find suppliers, if they are unionized or can be unionized, whether they are in the South or Midwest, that can strike and close down that plant.
Given the rise of these tight new logistics systems, unions can counter-whipsaw by closing down suppliers or even the transport links, and thereby starve management at these Southern plants into submission. That would require the cooperation of many different unions—but they have to begin thinking about that if they are ever going to organize the South.
Leave a Comment
Statement from DİSK Chair Kani Beko on the state of emergency declared in Turkey
The solution is democratization, not a state of emergency!
In the wake of the 15 July coup attempt, a three-month state of emergency was declared all over Turkey in accordance with “suggestions” from the National Security Council.
Declaring a state of emergency following a coup attempt that aimed to completely suspend democracy will solve none of the country’s problems but only serve to realize the system of governance envisioned by the coup plotters.
Turkey is being subjected to a nationwide state of emergency for the first time since the 12 September 1980 coup. Occasional states of emergency were implemented on a regional basis until 2002, but they were synonymous with extrajudicial murders, massacres, disappearances in custody and torture.
For those who proffer that “it won’t be like that this time,” just one look at their record under “ordinary” legal circumstances provides warning as to the grave new threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.
From the government’s pun on the 1980-era catch phrase “Should we feed them instead of hanging them?” in support of capital punishment to the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights, all the signals indicate that the government is not responding to the coup attempt in accordance with “democracy” and universal values.
Let no one forget that the coup plotters bombed the country’s parliament. The decision to sideline the Turkish Grand National Assembly – which had provided a very pointed reply to the coup plotters’ attacks – cannot be explained with “democracy;” the only term appropriate is a “counter coup.”
It is also clear that workers’ rights are severely threatened by the state of emergency. In an atmosphere in which the quest for all manners of rights has been prohibited, the rights that workers have won could be stripped away without even a cursory hearing in Parliament’s General Assembly.
From the theft of the right to severance to the obligatory individual retirement system, the government will be able to impoverish workers and reduce their employment security without encountering any resistance from workers’ struggles, the courts or the parliamentary opposition. It will be possible to convert the state of emergency into a state of unprecedented exploitation for capital.
One cannot categorize an authoritarian system of governance devoid of any legal foundation as a “struggle against coups” with the legal window dressing of a state of emergency.
Turkey does not need to pick from the least worst of a perfidious bunch of coup plotters and dictators.
Turkey does not need torture, capital punishment and a state of emergency.
Turkey does not need to see its parliament effectively sidelined.
All these violations are part of the aims and goals of civilian and military coups.
What Turkey needs is democracy, secularism and peace and for all of its people to create a country in which all can freely practice their beliefs, express their thoughts and live in dignity.
With its demands in favor of labor, peace, democracy and secularism, DİSK has always stood against all coups and all attempts to impose a dictatorship, and will do so once more against the new state of emergency.
Leave a Comment
This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:
In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.
There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.
The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. Bush also recommended his aides read the book. Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.
With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.” Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)
At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.
Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.
Speech delivered 20th June (NB: not the same as his piece in yesterday’s Guardian)
May I start by expressing Unite’s shock at the death of Jo Cox and our deepest sympathy to her family.
We can only hope that the outpouring of grief from across the nation will help Jo’s husband, Brendan and his family in these unbearable times.
Her death places in context what is really important in our lives.
She was, of course, a passionate advocate for the Remain campaign and would surely want political debate to continue.
Brothers and Sisters,
As this referendum campaign draws towards a close, I think everyone can agree on two things.
First, it matters. As we come up close to the moment of decision, this feels like one of the most important votes any of us will cast in our lives.
And second, this is close. The elite complacency of the start of the campaign, that this was just a quick canter to the winning post for REMAIN, has disappeared.
This could go either way.
For those two reasons, I wanted to speak out directly, both to and on behalf of the members of Unite, the biggest trade union in the United Kingdom, also as someone who can legitimately claim to know the hopes and fears of the working-class communities across the country, the sort of community I grew up in and have kept my roots in.
There is no need for a spoiler alert – Unite is fighting all the way for a Remain vote, and for Britain and British workers to build their future in unity with the rest of Europe.
But I have not come here to lecture or to patronise those working people who take a different view. Who can be surprised that in so many industrial areas, voting for the status quo is not exactly a popular option?
I am just asking all those people, including many Unite members, to reflect on their concerns, and whether they would be best addressed by staying in Europe, or by a Brexit.
And I want to flag up what I believe will happen to working people on the morrow of a vote to leave.
Let me turn first to the issue of IMMIGRATION:
Some pundits and commentators, like explorers returning from a visit to the deep unknown, are stunned to find that this has become an issue.
I for one am not in the least surprised. I understand those concerns. They are NOT, for the greatest part, anything to do with racism or xenophobia.
They are to do with the systematic attempt by our greedy elite to hold down wages and cut the costs of social provision for working people.
Let us be clear – what has been done in the last ten years is a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. Countries with vast historical differences in wage rates and living standards have been brought together in a common labour market. The result has been huge downward pressure on living standards.
What happens when two hundred workers are competing for jobs where previously only ten did? Wages are frozen or cut.
What happens when workers can move from a country where a job pays £5 an hour to one where the same job pays £20? The answer is that many do so move, and the same job then ends up paying just £12 an hour.
That is why trade unions have never been in favour of a so-called free labour market. Control of the labour supply in an industry or across society has always been the core of our mission, to ensure that workers get their fair share of the wealth they create.
But let me be clear about something else. Pulling up the drawbridge against the rest of Europe is the wrong answer. Read the rest of this entry »
Jo Cox was both a dedicated constituency MP and a true internationalist. This is what she said in Parliament on 3 May this year about Aleppo, the betrayal of Syria and our duty to refugee children:
Text of a speech by Jim Kelly, London & Eastern Region Chair of Unite, at a Norwich meeting “What future for the Left in Europe?” making the case for trades unionists to vote and campaign for REMAIN in the EU referendum.
Above: Jim Kelly
Unite is the largest private sector manufacturing union in the UK, with around half a million members employed in manufacturing. We are clear that a vote to Remain will be better for our members employed in British manufacturing than the chaos and uncertainty that will follow a Brexit. The same applies to the public sector, where TU membership is far stronger.
Unite research shows that Brexit will have a disproportionate impact on exports to the EU in industries where membership is strong, Aerospace, 54%,
Transport, 44%, Finance, 44%, Food manufacturing, 53% and the Chemical industry 54%. This will have a devastating impact on union membership.
Within TUC affiliated unions the overwhelming majority, in terms of membership support Remain, with only three small unions, RMT, ASLEF and the
Bakers Union supporting exit.
Unite’s position on the referendum issue was agreed overwhelmingly at the 2014 Policy Conference.
“That on balance of advantages at present Unite would argue for a vote to stay in the EU while also campaigning against a neo- Liberal agenda being
promoted from Brussels”
We went on to agree we should be addressing the need for hope & solidarity: developing A new vision based on the values of social justice;
This was a continuation of the decision of the 2012 conference to reject a Brexit position. It was recently decided at the April EC to join the Remain
campaign, as a “permitted participant” but not to work with the Tories but to support “Another Europe Is Possible” and urge our members to vote
Unite is all too aware that some of our members, like many working class people across the UK have been influenced by the right wing and its supporters in the media. Some on the Left are also advocating Brexit.
*Those on the Brexit left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to positively answer two questions; that exit will benefit unions and workers,
and their campaign will help develop worker’s consciousness *
Why these two questions are fundamental is because 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 legislation has increased. Seen as a totality such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall: with two major exceptions (TU recognition and the minimum wage) all such post 1980 legislation originates from the EU.
In the UK our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties, a cumulative effect of the way European laws have been introduced in the
UK, with UK governments using their rights to Opt Out to water down EU legislation.
While we may blame many things on the EU, the majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted that legislation.
Let’s look at two cases:
First; The recent steel crisis caused by dumping of cheap inferior steel on the world market by China. It was the UK government which vetoed the right of the EU to impose tariffs to keep foreign steel out of Europe. Also other EU members have state-financed steel plants – for instance in December 2014 Italy did this 2014 to prevent a steel plant closure. EU law didn’t ban bailouts for British Steel – after all, Gordon Brown part nationalised a number of banks in 2008 – Sajid Javid and the UK Tory Party simply wasn’t interested in supporting tens of thousands of workers due to the UK Tory government’s free market dogma.
Secondly, The Posted Workers Directive: this has frequently been cited by some as an example of legislation which divides workers and undermines pay. 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 National Minimum Wage (thereby creating a two tier workforce) while in Ireland they linked the Posted Workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining: meaning far less room to drive down wages and divide workers.
A much higher level of workers’ rights in Europe applied across the EU would ease some of the pressure whereby employers exploit free movement of
labour to accelerate the race to the bottom, exploiting both UK and migrant workers.
However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit would see the government dismantle it, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions:
· Priti Patel (employment minister) has called them a “burden” and said she would like to “halve” them.
· Boris Johnson said it was “very disappointing” that Britain had not made “changes to employment law”, complaining that we “need to weigh in
on all that stuff, all that social chapter stuff”. Boris at his most articulate!
· Chris Grayling, when asked what European “red tape” he disliked, he referred to health and safety laws.
The consequence of this pulling apart of the floor of rights could also accelerate a European wide race to the bottom. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development?
Unless, of course, someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believed the Tories will leave it intact (as some people on the anti-EU left sometimes, incredibly, appear to do).
The Press has made much of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership during the referendum. My view is that Jeremy’s strategy of presenting a “warts and all” argument focusing on worker’s rights, consumer protection and democratic reform while strengthening European solidarity to fight against austerity is absolutely correct.
The issue here is not Jeremy but in many cases the UK media sucking up to Farage, Gove and Johnson and making the divisions in the Tory party the main focus of their reporting
Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation would result if we Brexit on 23rd, we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on all unions and their memberships.
Moreover, the impact of a serious downturn caused by Brexit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what the Left Leave advocates 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 an exit victory will cause within our ranks.
In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will boost an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.
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 programme of the populist right, whether Farage, Le Pen or Trump. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in worker’s consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalisms and a sense of alienation. This referendum should not be seen solely as being about “in” or “out”: it is also a key episode in the formation of this populist right-wing.
For many workers supporting exit, the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against the causes of their social problems, whether it is about politicians not listening, their growing impoverishment or their belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline; not least by stopping immigration.
In voting for exit many workers, clearly including many of our members, will not have been influenced by the arguments of the left, rather they
will cast their vote bound hand and foot to Johnson, Gove and Farage and the hard-right leadership of the Out campaign.
Once the impact of destabilisation on the working class is grasped and the wider political impact on working class politics understood, it should be obvious that our enemies’ enemy, in this instance UKIP and the hard-right of the Tory Party, is not our friend.
The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it. Those who advocate leaving are right when they speak about its undemocratic nature and we on the left 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 democratic limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European-wide trade 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, must be to ensure we stay in.
Reblogged with the permission of Camilla Bassi, of Anaemic On A Bike:
My interview in Jungle World on the British radical Left and Europe
Jungle World is a radical left-wing German weekly newspaper published in Berlin, which is known for its anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan politics.
The following is the original transcript of my forthcoming interview (out on Thursday 16th June 2016) in Jungle World, see http://jungle-world.com.
In your Blog you have criticized the position of the SWP and Lexit campaign. Can you briefly describe why a part of the British (radical) left is arguing for leaving the EU and why this is wrong in your opinion?
Dominant sections of the British Trotskyist Left, and surviving Stalinist currents, compose the Lexit campaign. The legacy of Stalinism largely explains why so-called Trotskyist organisations like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) have effectively adopted a leftist nationalist position – a hangover from the Stalinist idea of “socialism in one country”. One further feature of the SWP’s and SP’s position is their warped calculation of ‘Britain out’: that conditions will be objectively better for the British working class because there will be a crisis in the ruling Conservative Party government. This is warped since the mainstream Brexit campaign, if it succeeds, will undoubtedly be a huge victory for the political Right (regardless of any reshuffle of its leaders). The hegemonic politics of ‘Britain out’ is anti-immigration, racist nationalism. There’s simply no way round this.
The Lexit campaign is mobilising the nation-state as a bulwark against the evils of neoliberal global capitalism. For sure, the EU is a bureaucratic and undemocratic capitalist club of bosses, which is hostile to immigrants and refugees. But as socialists we are not crudely anti-capitalist; we are not crudely anti-globalisation. We are for sublating the progressive elements of capitalism out of capitalism; we are for an alternative globalisation. As such, on the EU question, our political response should be: stay in and fight for a fully democratic workers’ Europe. This is congruent with the tradition of Marxism (from Marx and Engels, through to Gramsci, Lenin, and Trotsky): for a socialist “United States of Europe”. Capital seeks globalisation, it seeks to overcome national borders; let’s not forget that as capitalism’s gravediggers, so do we but on our own terms! It is incongruous and anti-dialectical to pose as internationalist and yet succumb to nationalism, which is what Lexit does.
The upcoming EU referendum has revived nationalist sentiment and postcolonial nostalgia. Is the rhetoric of independence related to the British colonialist history? Does the (radical) left have an answer to that? What is particularly “British” in this discourse and where do you see analogies with other European countries, where anti-EU populism, both left and right wing, grew in the past decade?
Since 1945 racist anti-immigration discourse in Britain has rarely referenced biological inferiority, rather immigrants have been racialised as the cause of the socio-economic problems of ordinary Britons. English/British nationalism is dependent upon the idea of ‘race’: “an island race” which is distinct and apart from Europe. This imagined community utilises the past supposed greatness of the British Empire. A present insecurity in the national psyche, fuelled by a politics of austerity and a scapegoating of ‘the Other’, drives a resurgence in the allegiance to the national psyche: ‘Britain was great, let’s make Britain great again’. Ironically the Lexit campaign, while ostensibly for open borders, totally blunts its ability to challenge this racist nationalism.
The British situation is also very much part of a contemporary and pervasive European trend of anti-EU populism and exclusivist and racist nationalism, which positions the nation-state as a rampart against the perils of globalisation. This is a populism that seeks to cement space and reverse time. This is a deeply reactionary throwback of which a potential disintegration of the EU would be a part.
What role does the refugee crisis play in the referendum campaign? On the one side the right wing fears the refugees, on the other side the left sees the EU as a system killing people who are seeking protection or a better life… Why is it possible for the left to agree with the the right and far right in this question?
Absolutely core to the mainstream Brexit campaign is an implicit and sometimes explicit racism and xenophobia to immigrants and refugees, specifically their racialisation as the cause of socio-economic woes, which leaves the government’s politics of austerity unquestioned. The primary argument of the Lexit campaign is that the EU is neoliberalism incarnate, which leaves our national government ‘off the hook’. Secondary arguments of Lexit follow: the EU is an enemy of immigrants and refugees, and a ‘Britain out’ vote will destabilise the government. It is not a case of the far Right and the far Left agreeing on the question of immigrants and refugees, but rather that both place blame on the EU and negate national bourgeois responsibility.
Let´s focus more on the left. Why does the British and European left rediscover nationalism right now? Is it only anti-EU-rhetoric or is there more about that?
Romantic anti-globalisation has long been a current on the Left. This includes the crass dichotomy of ‘local good’ and ‘global bad’. In this schema, the nation-state forms the context spatiality of ‘the local’ whereas the EU of ‘the global’. Karl Marx once said of reactionary, romantic anti-capitalists that, it is “as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill”. Add to this the legacy of Stalinism and its thesis of “socialism in one country” and one has a thoroughly muddled left-wing nationalism. Central to decent socialist politics is a commitment to a fully democratic, alternative globalisation, with international workers’ solidarity that brings down borders rather than erects or cements them: a global democratic union of localities that sublates the radical possibilities born from global capitalism – its infrastructure, wealth, resources, and gravediggers – out of capitalism into an equal and just society.
Who are the people that vote for leave? Can you characterise this group? Do working class interests play a role in the debate?
The key battle in amongst the working class in England and Wales (Scottish voters are, in the main, likely to vote to stay in the EU). The working class in England and Wales have traditionally voted for Labour, but in recent years have increasingly been attracted to far Right parties like UKIP. Why? This trend is a consequence of the Labour Party drifting rightwards under Tony Blair, the weakness and incompetence of the organised far Left, the defeats of the labour movement, and the mainstreaming of racist anti-immigration discourse. This sociological group will ultimately determine the vote.
In an open letter to Britain Slavoj Žižek writes: “The nation-state is not the right instrument to confront the refugee crisis, global warming, and other truly pressing issues. So instead of opposing Eurocrats on behalf of national interests, let’s try to form an all-European left.” Is that a possibility/solution? What do you think about new movements such as DiEm25 launched by Y. Varoufakis a couple of week ago, which not only are decidedly pro Europe but claim to make “another Europe” possible?
Both Žižek and Varoufakis are generally correct. A pan-European Left which can fight for another Europe, a workers’ Europe, is absolutely central for our class – locally and globally. Is it possible? Yes, absolutely: by mobilising connections through labour movement struggles, trade unions, political left organisations, and so on. The DiEM25 Manifesto is right to assert: “The EU will either be democratized or it will disintegrate!”
Leon Trotsky’s ‘method of analysis’ back in 1917 is as astute then as it is today: “If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.” What the EU has constructed is not something we want to blindly bulldoze, its disintegration through a tsunami of racist and xenophobic nationalisms would be a terrible reversal of historical progress. As cosmopolitan internationalists, we are for, echoing Trotsky, a “United States of Europe – without monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy”!
By Camilla Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
On Saturday 14th May 2016 I attended the Sheffield TUC’s “Europe IN or OUT? The Big Debate”. Maxine Bowler of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) was the main speaker on the top table for the ‘out’ position. In my contribution from the floor I began by stating my critique of the European Union as a neoliberal capitalist club, which is hostile to migrants and refugees. I reasoned that one can be a fierce critic of the status quo and bureaucracy of the European Union whilst recognising that the alternative actuality of ‘Britain out’, in the face of a deeply chauvinistic wave coalescing through the Brexit campaign, would be a reactionary throwback which will impede the struggle for working class liberation. I then referenced the Marxist tradition (by Marx and Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, and others) for a socialist “United States of Europe” – a tradition which has been problematically displaced by Stalinism. Maxine replied: “I am angry that someone has used Marx and Engels to defend the European Union!” So she missed my point. But much worse still, she woefully neglected an important history and compass for the present from supposedly her own tradition. As the debate proceeded, a member of the audience tentatively made a case for ‘Britain out’ on the basis of a need to curb immigration. Maxine responded by making a case for open borders. And herein lies the political incongruity of the Lexit campaign: arguing against a Fortress Europe and for an open Europe, while effectively retreating to (a left-wing) nationalism; arguing against the European Union and for an internationalism, while ineffectively challenging the forces and conditions of existence that are fuelling xenophobia, racism, parochialism, and nationalism. In the fantasy politics minds of its campaigners, Lexit is the subversion of Brexit, yet in reality it is merely an inversion. Moreover, given the tsunami of Brexit, Lexit’s attempt to capsize Brexit continuously fails as wave after wave capsize Lexit.
In the Social Worker article “Say no to Fortress Europe – vote leave on 23 June”, the organisation argues:
“the EU isn’t about bringing people together across borders. It’s about bringing together the ruling classes of some countries to compete against the ruling classes of other countries – partly by putting up borders. The EU makes it harder to travel into Europe from Africa, Asia and South America. To do so it promotes scapegoating myths that can then be turned against European migrants. So can its machinery of border control and repression. Building a racist Fortress Europe is central to the EU project. Bringing down that fortress is essential for any real internationalism or anti-racism. Some activists argue that the bigger enemy is “Fortress Britain”. But the two aren’t in competition. Britain’s rulers use the EU to police their own borders.”
If we leave the European Union, further still, if it disintegrates under a tsunami of chauvinistic nationalisms, then what are the conditions of existence to then fight for an open Europe? If we succumb to a form of left-wing nationalism amidst waves of racist, xenophobic English and British nationalism, then what are the conditions of existence for a future of workers’ solidarity across borders? Maxine and other SWP members at the Sheffield debate defined those who spelt out the highly probable consequences of ‘Britain out’ as promoting a “politics of despair”. Instead, they speculated, Boris would oust Cameron, the Tories would look like a joke, the masses would then take to the streets, and socialism would be victorious.
II. The Marxist tradition for a “United States of Europe”
Let’s start with the following historical context, as summated by Cathy Nugent in her article “What do Socialists say about the United States of Europe?”: Read the rest of this entry »
Next page »