Labour’s future: notes on the Resolutionary Road

June 5, 2017 at 7:48 am (class, democracy, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism)

By Johnny Lewis

The Manifesto
Post-election Labour will be confronted with choosing between two diametrically opposed futures: one road takes it back to some variant of New Labour while the other is the refounding Labour as a reformist party. Although which future will be determined by the forces each side can muster, the leverage open to either is in no small measure contingent on the election outcome.

Some three weeks ago the Tories held a 24% lead, Labour was heading for a defeat of 1931 proportions and the party’s right were ecstatic. Defeat on such a scale would see off Corbyn ensuring in short order the loss of a left majority on the National Executive, and the Party bureaucracy intensifying its purge against anyone seen as a danger to incumbent constituency parties and council leaders. This would clear the way for the Party to jettison its manifesto, replacing it with some pale blue austerity-light policies. The press and the right’s narrative to remove Corbyn would be straightforward enough: Labour’s defeat was a consequence of Corbyn’s divisive nature, his lack of leadership skills and a far-left manifesto which alienated the British public.

Even if Labour do badly, the cant the press spew out and the right’s attempt to unseat Corbyn will not have such purchase in the light of the way the election campaign has turned.

For sure the Tories have run a bad campaign by displaying May in all her pomp we have seen her for what she is: a third-rater. Of course the odium poured on Corbyn will have some effect but it will be limited because unlike May he is a known quantity. What has changed politics in the last 14 days has been Labour’s manifesto.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 defeat every commentator, pundit and pollster’s analysis of Labour’s chances in 2020 where at best bleak. The only route Labour could take in 2020 was to offer a social programme which appealed to the whole class rather than just the poor, and this is what we have seen with the present manifesto. It is its radicalism which has closed the gap with the Tories. Moreover it has provided a means for the young to begin to come out from under the dead weight of the old.

Labour’s social programme has largely thwarted the plan to ditch Corbyn, placing the left in a far better position to defend the leadership against attacks by the right. I also consider it has done more in the following sense: support for Corbyn comes from individuals whose lived experience of modern-day capitalism has led to a rejection of its inequalities. As such they are bound together negatively by what they are against. Outside of their rejection of inequality we find a cacophony of competing voices and no way of uniting them. The manifesto changed that and has provided the first substantial positive voice which the movement has been able to organise around. Moreover it provides us with the first important measure around which this melee of competing voices can begin to take on a coherent political shape through critique and debate around how the ideas in the manifesto can be developed.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance the election will have massively strengthen the left’s position made possible by the manifesto. Post June 8th the Corbyn movement can begin to reshape Labour into a reformist party. If this potential is realised and we witness the emergence of a reformist party it will be of historic importance and I think unique in character as rather than being based on the unions (the old Labour model) it will rest on an overtly pro-working class political programme. We are still a long way off from that, but far far nearer than it looked just a few weeks ago.

Momentum and the Party.
Only the membership can undertake such a transformation: the manifesto provides the positive statement for us to unite around, while the activity we need to undertake to transform the Party will develop us into a more ideologically coherent entity (but I hope a pluralistic one). This however will not happen spontaneously: the pivotal force to drive it forward can only be Momentum, supported where possible by union organisation. Of course my hope for Momentum to play such a role will be in vain if Lansman turns out to be as perfidious as some make out and is indeed a puppet of the Blairites (!).

Turning the party into a recognisable reformist party was always the only real goal open to the Corbynistas, yet much of the last two years has been wasted pretending they and indeed the Labour Party as a whole, could be something else. The idea of Momentum either as some embryo party or a left current which at some stage splits from Labour to form a new party, turns to dust when it is given a moments consideration. The relevance of Momentum is to change Labour and the relevance of the organised left is to take part in such a transformation not as a faction but a tendency.

In fact the tasks the left faced first faced in the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory are simply repeated post June 8th: defending Corbyn, becoming the catalyst to develop Labour’s social programme, winning positions for the left within the Party, turning the Party outward to campaigning, winning working class members to its banner, training Party members and at the centre carrying out the CLPD’s programme. It is only by organising around these specific tasks that the left will be transformed into an ideologically coherent entity and with it the Party.

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Why the Unite vote should worry the left

April 23, 2017 at 8:04 am (class, elections, Johnny Lewis, left, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

 Image result for picture Unite logo

By Johnny Lewis

I spent a suspenseful Friday afternoon stalking my Unite friends attempting to find out the results, while they tried to imagine what the union would look like under a Coyne leadership – of course everyone understood what it would mean for the Labour Party. However by late afternoon it was clear McCluskey had won by some 6,000 votes on a 12% turnout. I had previously commented that a Coyne victory would demand a high turnout – i.e. he would have to mobilise those who don’t usually vote, as for sure the activists would turn out for McCluskey; this proved wrong, the turnout dropped and still Coyne nearly won!

My initial thought is that the lower poll numbers come from two sources: first Unite changed its rules excluding a certain category of retired members, who traditionally voted in high numbers, second some 85,000 deserted McCluskey. It is possible these voters deserted McCluskey rather than the idea of a left union. They may well have thought he should not have stood for a third term, unable to vote for Coyne (and why in God’s name would they vote Allinson?) so they abstained. Coyne’s vote would seem to reflect a failure to garner members who don’t usually vote – rather he rallied the craft vote to his banner, just as the left winger Hicks had done in previous elections.

Whether this speculation is right or not in big picture terms it is secondary to the real issue which is the turnout Anne posted and the voting numbers for Unite’s previous elections but even this does not give the full measure of decline, if you go back to the T&G when 30% plus voted. Of course Unite’s 12% turnout is a towering victory for democracy when compared with the GMB’s last General Secretary election.

For both McCluskey and the union’s left wing organisation the United Left (UL) the question which should be uppermost in their minds is how was this result possible when the left has run the union since its formation, and when there has been no serious internal opposition to the left’s policies? How do they account for this yawning gap between the activists and the members  -and more importantly how can they overcome it?

The UL, looking at it from the outside, it is a hugely successful electoral machine comprising officers and members, and since Unite’s formation the majority of lay Executive members and both General Secretaries, Woodley and McCluskey, who identified as UL supporters. It is however unlikely the UL will be able to face up to this question, based on two assumptions: firstly when it comes to big issues the UL takes its direction from the GS and in reality is his creature; second and of far greater importance, is the dominance of conservative elements within its ranks. The first such group are UL members who sit on committees – the  ‘committee jockeys’. It is through the mechanism of the UL that lay members can progress onto the committee structures. (For those who are unaware of ‘how these things work’ all unions have a means by which members progress into the structures. In the GMB for example it is achieved via officer led cliques).

While UL supporters populate large swathes of the committee structures my guess is if one was to inspect the ‘left’ credentials of many of these UL supporters you would find they are bogus. I am not saying all UL representatives should be harden bolshevikii but the root by which many enter the committee structure is not through workplace activism but because they adopted left credentials as their passport to get onto committees. While I have no idea of their proportions within the UL, for sure such people have no interest in change – as long as their positions are not threatened.

A second conservative group are the routinists who simply don’t get it: for them Unite under a left leadership can do no wrong and they will explain away McCluskey’s narrow victory as the result of Coyne’s negative campaign and the press. A sub-set of such conservatives will be Allinson supporters and much of the organised left whose rationalisation will boil down to McCluskey’s shortcomings as a left winger – if only he had led the charge against Trident and if he really committed the union to support Corbyn … etc, etc …

Undelying all this is a complete misunderstanding of the state of the union, class and class consciousness – a misunderstanding which is becoming increasingly delusional. Ranged against these two blocks are those who recognise the divide between activists and members and desperately want to change matters. My guess is they feel pinned down by the weight of the careerists and routinists and so do not have the space to explore how to tackle this burning question. The only force that can come to their’s and the union’s rescue is the General Secretary sponsoring change from above. When I mention this to my Unite friends there was a deadly silence.

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Unite: the stakes are too high to indulge Allinson’s vanity project

March 21, 2017 at 6:09 pm (campaigning, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Unite the union, workers)


Above: the threat from Watson’s man Coyne is too serious for “leftist” gestures

By Johnny Lewis

The latest concocted row about an alleged “hard-left plot”, supposedly orchestrated by Momentum and supporters of Len McCluskey, to “seize permanent control of the Labour party” is palpable nonsense, being cynically used by Tom Watson and the right wing candidate in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne. The claims don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, but nevertheless the way they’ve been seized upon by Watson, the right of the PLP and most of the media, demonstrates exactly what’s at stake in the current Unite election. And it demonstrates quite decisively why a victory for Len McCluskey is of crucial importance to the serious left, and why Ian Allinson’s left-wing challenge to McCluskey is an irresponsible indulgence.

I was chatting to some friends who are foot soldiers in McCluskey’s re-election campaign and I innocently asked if now Allinson is on the ballot and he’s proved a point will he step down and throw his weight behind McCuskey? I was met with laugher and a look which I can best describe as pity. Not a chance, I was told: he’s out for his fifteen minutes minutes of fame. They also believe Allinson actually thinks he can win (whereas I’d put any statement Allinson may have made about winning down to hyperbole rather than the man being delusional).

Although they were laughing it was clear they are very angry with Allinson as they consider Coyne could take it if he is able to mobilise those who don’t usually vote. To get to these passive members Coyne is relying on social media and will surely see the red tops back him, and if anything will win it for him it will be The Sun. Also, as pointed out in a previous post Coyne will pick up numbers from the old AMICUS section who voted Hicks last time, viewing Coyne as far closer to their craft ethos than McCluskey. Although a Coyne victory is unlikely its very possibility is the context in which Allinson’s candidacy has to be judged and is the source of the anger of McCluskey’s foot soldiers.

While the consequences for Unite of a Coyne victory are not that easy to quantify, the impact on the broader movement is a known quantity. Unite is the buckle which holds the Labour left together: a Coyne victory would see that left unravel. A victorious Coyne would in quick order ensure Unite delegates on Labour’s Executive would vote with the right giving the anti Corbyn forces an inbuilt majority. All this is known to everyone, so why does Allinson continue to press his case?

Given the stakes in this election, the justification for left winger to stand against McCluskey needs to be pretty good. Allinson’s core reasons for standing can only be a combination of a belief that McCluskey has fallen short / sold out the members industrially and therefore needs to be challenged and, secondly, a desire to make propaganda for his vision of socialism through demonstrating an alternative to the supposed industrial shortcomings of McCuskey.

Self-evidently these reasons for standing do not have equal weight: the cornerstone of Allinson’s challenge must necessarily show McCluskey has failed to pursue a militant industrial policy; I don’t think that would be difficult to show – I think it is impossible. Apart from some lacklustre sallies at some of the union’s industrial activity Allinson has nothing to say on this matter. While the industrial ethos of McCluskey’s tenure has been one where the union supports all workers who take industrial action, refuses to repudiate strikes, and has set up a substantial strike fund. Of course it is quite possible to have a different assessment from McCluskey of what is possible but that is a matter of judgement / tactics rather than principle.

On this fundamental issue there is no difference in substance between Allinson and McCluskey, yet the context in which this election takes place means this industrial question is the only conceivable rationale for standing a left candidate. Unable to make any sort of case of ‘McCluskey the sell-out’, his campaign can only turn tactical differences into major concerns and invert the relationship between McCluskey’s industrial record and Allinson’s desire to propagate his socialist views so that the latter dominate.

While my Unite friends tell me that at nomination meetings the SWP and other Allinson supporters have tried to squeeze every ounce out of any real or imagined failure on the union’s part, it is Allinson’s broader socialist musing which dominate the debate – and those musings really are not to be taken seriously. To give one example:

While Allinson is clearly a Corbyn fan he is more ambiguous about the Labour Party he tells us:

‘…if there is a real movement of resistance to Tory policies at grass roots level, “wait for Jeremy” is not good enough when our rights, jobs and services are under attack every day’.

The political literacy of this statement is, to say the least, suspect. To start with the idea that Unite is ‘waiting for Jeremy’ originates from the socialist stricture that unions should not curtail industrial demands to placate an existing Labour Government or, indeed, to maximise the likelihood of a future Labour Government. The idea Unite is being held back from industrial action by the possibility of a Labour Government is palpable nonsense. Perhaps it is a propaganda point to show that Allinson has no illusions in Labour or Corbyn?

Then there is the question of what Allinson calls ‘a real movement of resistance’: now this is instructive because Unite has been at the centre of the People’s Assembly and I think it is doubtful whether that body would have much life without Unite’s support. So Unite under McCluskey has been central to building ‘resistance’ and it seems to me as an outsider it is the cornerstone of McCluskey’s general political approach. In fact Unite has done more to develop political activity outside of the Labour Party than any other union or political organisation. Allinson may well have done this or that aspect of campaigning differently but in the broad sweep of things he can have no serious difference with the present Unite leadership. The final point is his silence on what to do in our failure to date to build such a movement.

While he reckons the best means of defending Corbyn from right wing attacks attacks is to build ‘a real movement’, Allinson has no idea what to do in the absence of such a movement except make propaganda for building one. This of course betrays a passivity towards the Labour Party. While that may be OK for a political organisation it is not OK for a trade union. Whether he likes it or not the battle to support Corbyn and to get a Government that supports unions is taking place inside the Labour Party and among union members – and the crucial job of the left within the unions is explaining to them why they should vote Labour.

Two tragedies

The Unite election encapsulates two tragedies for the left: first that a large number of activists think it is quite permissible to split the left vote on what is to all intents and purposes an indulgence, and second that it is the right whose victory is contingent on mobilising sections of the passive membership. Or perhaps the nub of the left’s problem is that few people outside the ranks of the committed really care.

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Notes on Brexit from a trade union and working class perspective

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

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

Above: Reactionary Socialism in action

By Johnny Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Momentum: don’t break it!

December 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm (campaigning, Johnny Lewis, labour party, political groups, reformism, sectarianism, stalinism)

By Johnny Lewis

From Labour’s defeat in 2015 socialists were confronted with two tasks: organising for Labour to win the next election and – regardless of its outcome – establishing Labour as a social democratic party; in effect transforming the Labour Party. While it is possible to work for a Labour victory without working for Labour to become a social democratic party it is inconceivable that transforming Labour can be achieved outside of the campaign to win the next election. These tasks were equally applicable in the wake of the 2010 defeat, the major changes being that Corbyn has massively increased the possibility of achieving the second of these goals and Labour is much closer to fragmenting under the impact of the populist Right.

It may be this timeline is truncated by a snap election (a disaster) it may be the tempo of the class struggle changes demanding a change in approach but these are maybes and we need to work from where we are rather then speculate on what might be.

Rather than seeing these tasks as a `struggle for socialism’ they are concerned with class power as both an election victory and Labour becoming a stable left wing party are predicated on how far we are able to halt the competition between workers and develop the class as a whole both in its material well-being and organisational strength. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of a faction which sees the Party as a recruitment opportunity or as a vehicle for the politics of identity. In the latter case parties, movements or campaigns are an aggregation of identity based groups and individuals are understood by, and political activity is mediated through ascription.

The class-based approach can only be undertaken by a tendency which holds on tight to the Labour Party, and is concerned with putting down roots in the working class movement and through its activity bring into its orbit existing labour movement activists, radicals who have joined through Corbyn and most importantly the union rank and file. The Party membership provides fertile ground for such a tendency as a majority of long-term constituency members are on the left alongside the Corbynistas

The many thousands who have joined in support of Corbyn fall into two groups 58% (106,521) were never in a political party – of the 42% ‘retreads’ 31% (56,933) are re-joining the party, the other 11% coming from the Greens and the far left. While the dominant ideological trend among the `never beens’ is  heavily influenced by identity politics (something many of the retreads have also absorbed), their core views are rooted in various strands of neo-Stalinism: support of Stop the War, failure to understand the importance of bourgeois democracy and the view of Jackie Walker as a ‘victim’.

Some 20,000 of these Party members are now in Momentum and it is Momentum which should be the crucible in which this class tendency is formed. It would do so by combining three interlocking areas of activity:

  1. Winning over other Labour Party members and pursuing the internal struggle to democratise the party.
  2. Taking part in Labour’s policy debate not by putting forward a programme rather taking proposals for discussion and debate. The model here is the Fabians and the most pressing proposals need to focus on an economic alternative.
  3. Campaigning activity: the primary aim of such activity would be to decouple the white working class vote from the populist right, to develop class consciousness to a point where workers are ready to vote Labour. Such campaigning activity should be undertaken jointly with the unions and dictated by Labour and the unions rather than Momentum or non-Labour party campaigns or organisations.

It is these practical and common tasks that should bind Momentum together as a class tendency while its activity would transform the Party, reconfigure relations between Party and unions and ‘reset’ Labour’s relations to the working class.  

Momentum is very far from becoming that tendency. They show little interest in such prosaic matters, rather they are focused on the three way factional dispute between the organised left, the neo- Stalinists (animated around Walker’s removal) and the leadership. By all accounts this is a vituperative fight infused by identity politics and has effectively paralysed the organisation: it would be astonishing if it were to survive another six months in its present form.

Standing behind the immediate issues which generated this faction fight is the broader question of Momentum’s relationship to the Labour Party. Although a majority view themselves as Labour Party supporters, the organised left and the retreads have introduced the ‘New Party’ question: ie the formation  of a new party or social movement (I use the shorthand NP to cover both) to supersede Labour. It is this conflict between transforming Labour and the NP which underpins the faction fight.

The NP proposition came to prominence during the heyday of anti-austerity campaigning and should have died with the 2015 election results.  At first glance its representation inside Momentum seems absurd but many of the  Corbynistas are but a sub-set of anti-austerity movement transposed into the Labour Party, and for many of them NP ideas are deeply embedded in their political makeup. This ambivalence towards Labour is also reflected in Momentum’s structure with its adherence to social movements and the frankly bizarre notion that it should be open to non-party members.

There are two types of NP advocates – those who have a casual attitude to the LP, viewing it as a convenient staging post to some undefined alternative and those who argue Momentum should take programmatic positions on a range of issues. Whatever type of alternative they may wish to peruse the crux of the matter is they view Momentum as the embryo of the NP and so its focus is always something other than the Labour Party. NP ideas are wrong-headed for a number of reasons – most obviously the lack of a mass movement to which they can engage.

It was the depth of the recession that determined one of two types of working class response to the economic crisis. Where the crisis was severe in Europe, political and state institutions come under pressure from below. Witness Spain where some 8 million participated in the 15-M Movement or Ireland where around 17% of the population demonstrated – equivalent demonstrations in the UK would have mobilised 4 million on the streets. In these cases, as with Greece, mass movements fragmented existing left parties and a process begun of establishing new political formations which have yet to mature into political parties. A second permutation which was seen in the UK was one where the crisis was limited. In this instance while the anti-austerity movement drew many into political activity it never reached the scale where it constituted a mass, insurgent, or social movement. Without such a mass base there was no pressure from below to challenge Labour to the point where it would fragment. Instead political institutions have remained largely intact with right wing populism and left wing radicalism flowing into their respective parties which moved them away from the centre ground to the political poles. This is not to argue these political institutions are not undergoing a process of degeneration rather the tempo and character is very different from counties where the recession was deepest.

As important as the scale of the movement is its social composition: where mass movements emerged there was a definable working class element, but this was not the case in the UK. The social profile of the Corbynistas, (a proxy for the anti-austerity movement) shows them to be similar to the pre- Corbyn Labour Party membership except a tad more middle class, socially liberal, politically radical and older.

Whatever variant of the NP project some Momentum members might hold, without a mass movement attempts to will the NP into existence are futile. Such NP supporters are, `trapped’ within the confines of the Labour Party’s existing structures and routines, and it is this reality Momentum’s NP supporters refuse to acknowledge.

Non-acceptance of this reality is expressed through counterposing a NP belief to the actual struggle taking place within the Labour Party. In practice this ‘non acceptance’ can take a number of forms, for example refusing to support a Labour Party campaign because its demands are not radical enough or believing one should run a Momentum campaign separate from the Party because `your’ demands are more radical, or attempting to get Momentum to adopt ‘your’ programme. In this manner the NP advocates separate themselves off from the struggle in the Party: this represents another form of sect building, well described by Hal Draper. The practical consequences are to separate themselves off from Momentum members who disagree with their programme and stymie Momentum’s activity within the Party.

While sect building is as old as the left, what is an altogether new twist (at least outside of a Stalinist state) is how the left has substituted Corbyn for the mass anti-austerity movement and in so doing has raised him up as the personification of that movement. His deification obscures any understanding that it is the Labour Party which oxygenates both Him and the Corbynistas. Without the Labour Party you could not have Corbyn, and outside of the Party he would rapidly wither on the vine while the Corbynistas would find themselves thrown back onto another imagined mass movement, the People Assembly. However to grasp this point would mean facing the fact the Party is not the repository of a mass movement which Momentum can somehow lead to a life independent of the Party.

It may be Momentum can pull back from the brink, although I doubt it has either the collective will or for that matter the interest. While the consequence of a split will lead to rancor and recrimination among the combatants it will also provide an unpalatable lesson for NP proponents. A cold wind will blow around the would be masters of the universe as they find there is no mass movement for them to lead rather like Corbyn they draw sustenance from the Labour Party and that their relationship is first and foremost with the Party not the Corbynistas.

A split however will do so much more. One has to ask what lesson those outside the faction fight will draw when they see on the one hand the populists at the gates and on the other hand Momentum’s response – a faction fight. While the factional participants will rationalise ‘the struggle’ the lessons most will draw is the inability of the left to ‘make’ anything of value. However the real tragedy is that the potential for transforming Labour will at best be set back indefinitely, but all too likely lost altogether. Such an outcome will play no small part in letting the populist Right breach Labour’s walls.

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The Corbyn Party and the Working Class

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

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn Len McCluskey

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

By Johnny Lewis

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

Competition between workers 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:

The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.

For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.

Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.

With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.

The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.

Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.

The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.

Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.

If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.

That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.

The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:

“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”

We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.

Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.

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Peter Taaffe’s delusional response to Brexit

June 29, 2016 at 4:38 pm (Europe, fantasy, Johnny Lewis, populism, Racism, reaction, Socialist Party)


 ” totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions… that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’”

By Johnny Lewis

In a previous post I dealt with the argument from ‘Lexit’ (ie left pro-Brexit) campaigners that the chaos an exit from the EU would create for the ruling class would, inevitably, benefit the working class. For ‘Lexit’ people this functions as a Deus ex machina, overcoming the unsolvable problem of their failure to grow as a movement and acts as a substitute for activity within the working class. We now have Brexit and with it chaos in spades, and we will soon see just what a wonderful new dawn it will usher in for socialism and the working class. In the meantime the Brexit triumph has to be painted as a great working class victory: the Socialist Party’s Peter Taaffe has duly obliged in an article published in their paper and on their website. To do this he has to begin with two big – very big – assertions.

The vote “…represents at bottom a predominantly working-class revolt against austerity” and it is “… totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions… that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’ in Britain and encourage right-wing forces in Europe and elsewhere”. From these two assertions the rest of Taaffe’s views follow; in fact both of these statements verge on the delusional.

A recent report form the Europe Council on Foreign Relations: The World According To Europe’s Insurgent Parties: Putin, Migration And People Power points to the rise of insurgent parties across Europe some are of the left but mainly of the populist right; they are “sceptical about the EU, resent the United States, and are sympathetic to Russia. Most prefer borders closed, migration low, and trade protected. They all want to return power to the people through direct democracy”.

While some parties on the left such as Podemos want to reform the EU, it is the parties of the populist right who have been emboldened by Brexit. It was Le Pen from Front National, the Northern League from Italy the Austrian FPO and the Dutch PVV who hailed it as a victory for their own anti-immigration and anti-EU stances. This relationship between Brexit and the European populist right has simply escaped Taffe’s notice – or perhaps he regards it as merely incidental in the ever-onward march of socialists towards inevitable victory.

In Britain Ukip has been gaining traction for a number of years. In the 2015 election they gained 3.5m plus votes (12.6% of the electorate) displacing the Lib-Dems as Britain’s third party.  Over the last year they have made small but noticeable encroachments into unions’ workplace positions. It is inconceivable that Brexit has not increased their stock and if Johnson et al fail to deliver on controlling the boarders, then for sure Ukip will be there to pick up disillusioned Brexit voters.

It is not only the neck of the new Tory leadership Ukip will be breathing down: it is also the Labour Party’s. After the 2015 election Ukip declared the gaol of replacing Labour in the North. Having come second in some 120 seats they are now well on the way to building up a constituency infrastructure as the prerequisite to a stable and ongoing challenge to Labour.  It is self-evident that the referendum has further consolidated and extended Ukip’s  working class base.

Just as the with reactionary consequences in Europe, the consequence of the Brexit victory boosting Ukip and the right in general is not on Taaffe’s radar – indeed how could it be when he considers Brexit a great triumph for socialism.

One thing Taaffe is right about is Brexit’s working class base: there were far greater numbers of workers voting to leave than stay. While there was just two percentage points in it among C1’s there was nearly 50% more voting to leave among C’s and DE’s (according to the Ashcroft poll).  The same poll also showed a stark division  in social attitudes between Leave and Remain, with 39% of leavers, more than twice the number of remain voters, viewing themselves `either as “English not British” or “more English than British”. By large majorities’ Levers, as opposite to Remainers, did not see multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation or immigration as forces for good. This divide chimes in with one of the findings of Labour’s Future,  that social conservatives were deserting Labour to such an extent that it is “now largely a party of progressive, social liberals who value universalist principles such as equality, sustainability and social justice. It is losing connection with large parts of the voter population who are either pragmatists in their voting habits or social conservatives who value family, work, fairness and their country.”

So Brexit voters clearly fall into the category of those deserting Labour.

One would think as a general rule socialist would err on the side of social liberals rather than the socially conservative – but such a presumption cuts no ice with Taaffe who is unequivocal; Remain workers were  “… cynically exploited by the Tory ‘remainers’ and their supporters”.  The Brexiteers are a different matter: `”Traditional Labour areas and regions [who] voted heavily against the government…Even where remain won a majority there was an unmistakable working-class determination to show ‘them’ – the Tories and the remain elite – that ‘enough is enough'”.

Such a black-and-white division is in fact essential to the ‘analysis’ put forward by Taaffe and the Socialist Party (SP) as it enables them to conjure up Brexit workers, and their struggle against the “elite”, as a tablou, the backdrop illustrating the correctness of the SP stance on the EU.

Taaffe is able to assert this division exists because while Remain are seen as dupes, Brexiteers are somehow ideologically free agents, pushing a spontaneously arrived-at class positon.  While for sure Lexit had no say in the leave campaign, the ideas and views that Brexit-voting workers listened to and absorbed were those of the Brexit campaign. The key – the main and often the only – message workers picked up from Brexit was stopping immigration which merged with their own independently arrived-at view.

The élan Brexit achieved was due entirely to Johnson and Gove saying to workers what they wanted to hear: leave the EU and we will stop immigration. 80% of leave voters said immigration was bad, 35% of Labour Leave voters cited the need for border controls (as opposed to 27% of Tories) as the main reason for voting Leave.

As I believe is universally acknowledged, without the ‘carrot’ of curtailing immigration we would still be in the EU. This is not to say austerity did not play its role in the Brexit vote, but for many (probably most) pro-Brexit workers, it was immigrants who were the scapegoat for the destitution they’re experiencing under capitalism. Yet austerity also played an important role for Remain workers in similar social circumstances, the difference being they did not blame ‘foreigners’

Absenting himself from tiresome facts, Taaffe has conjured up an ideologically- free imaginary movement arising from the Leave campaign – implicitly and/or ‘unconsciously’ socialist (or at least, ‘progressive’) in character. But the harsh reality is Leave voters were tied hand and foot to the racist-right Brexit campaign, and how could it be anything else? Taffe tells us in a half-hearted concession to this point “…it is true that the racist …UKIP was for leave, as was the Tory capitalist brutalist duo of Johnson and Gove, with an emphasis on scapegoating immigrants. Some workers were no doubt seduced by the anti-immigrant message of these reactionary forces”: if this means anything it is an attempt to say the SP (and perhaps the rest of the Lexit campaign) were in competition with the two main right wing Leave campaigns, putting  the anti-EU case to the workers. Outside of the SP self-deusionary propaganda circles the reality was that Johnson and Gove were the Leave campaign with Farage providing their more forthright, openly racist, flank.

While the SP and Lexit supporters continue to deny the character of the Leave campaign and refuse to countenance its reactionary consequences in the real world, the rest of us are confronted with just that. While the bill in jobs and terms and conditions has still to be presented, we have already seen that Brexit has lowered the racist bar, back to where we were in the late ‘60’s, with a racist surge of verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks taking place across the county. Brexit has not just brought overt racism back onto the streets: it has placed immigration at the centre of the political stage.  It is this rather than class upon which the political axis now turns: if an election was held today even a Labour party united behind Corbyn would struggle as the question of border controls is now the centre of the political discourse.

Anyone who spoke to workers during the campaign will know how immigration was the alpha and omega of any discussion: the lack of understanding and the repeating of misinformation existed on a breath-taking scale. Whatever else socialist and in particular trade unionists do we need to engage with Brexit workers and our starting point is not to call them racist bastards’ or suggestthat we should all hold hands, celebrate our diversity and be nice to one another. Rather it is to explain why the immigrant is the wrong target. Nonsense like Taaffe’s delusional (indeed, self-delusional) article will not help us do that.

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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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The alleged ‘Jihadist plot’ to take over Birmingham schools

March 12, 2014 at 10:41 pm (Brum, children, crime, Education, islamism, Johnny Lewis, law, religion, religious right, sectarianism, Tory scum)

Shiraz Socialist has for some time been in possession of documents that seem to show a conspiracy by Islamists to exploit the Tories’ academy programme in order to take over schools. We have, up until now, refrained from using this material or commenting upon it, because we were not clear on its provenance and not satisfied of its authenticity. There must, properly, be the suspicion that the documents have been faked in order to stir up anti-Muslim feeling. However, this material is now in the public domain (the Birmingham Mail, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Times have all carried articles), so we’ve decided it’s time for us to cover the story.

Firstly, what do the documents contain?

The documents’ central and most alarming content is what seems to be a letter from a Birmingham Muslim fundamentalist to a co-thinker in Bradford.

This details a five-point guide called ‘Trojan Horse’, for taking over schools and urges the rolling out ‘Trojan Horse’ to Bradford and then Manchester, boasting that  considerable success has been achieved in schools in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham

The documents outline alleged successful plots carried out against a number of Birmingham headteachers and other members of staff.

The documents also give a step-by-step guide for targeting “under-performing” schools with dirty tricks methods, involving the spreading of lies about the school heads.

The recipient is first urged to identify any Salafi (ie: hard-line fundamentalist)  parents sending pupils to the school.

‘They are always the most committed to the faith and are hardliners in that regard and once charged up they keep going for longer,’ says the letter.

‘When the parents have been identified, we start to turn them against the headteacher and leadership team.

‘The only way to do this is to tell each parent that the school is corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and mixed swimming and sport.

‘If you can get them to be very vocal in the playground as they drop off or pick up their children that will stir up other parents.

‘The parents MUST be given direction and told not to discuss this with anyone, you only need a maximum of four parents to disrupt the whole school, to send in complaints to question their child’s education and to contact their MP and local authority.’

Once the head has been forced out, Islamist governors push through plans to make the schools academies.

The academy status, as promoted by the Tories, allows them to be run out of the control of the local authority, with funding provided direct from central government.

The letter states: ‘’Operation ‘Trojan Horse’ has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham, implementing it in Bradford will not be difficult for you.’’

Trojan Horse, the letter states, has been fine-tuned so that it is ‘totally invisible to the naked eye and allows us to operate under the radar. I have detailed the plan we have in Birmingham and how well it has worked and you will see how easy the whole process is to get the whole process is to get the head teacher out and our own person in.’’

The documents propose that schools with poor Ofsted reports and with large Muslim student populations should be targeted for takeover.

They add: ‘’The poor performing schools are easy to disrupt, the better performing with strong head teachers is much harder and so we have to manufacture a strong enough reason, but rest assured we have not failed yet, no matter how difficult removing the head teacher may be. You just have to be clever and find the most appropriate way to deal with the school.’’

The documents add: ‘’This is all about causing the maximum amount of organised chaos and we have fine-tuned this as part of operation Trojan Horse. You must identify what the heads strengths are and build a case of disruption around that.’’

One passage reads: “We have caused a great amount of organised disruption in Birmingham and as a result we now have our own academies and are on our way to getting rid of more headteachers and taking over their schools … Whilst sometimes the practices we use may not seem the correct way to do things you must remember this is a ‘jihad’ and as such all means possible to win the war is acceptable.”

Yesterday’s Times (11 March) drew attention to “glaring errors” in the letter, suggesting that it might be a fake. The main “glaring error” is a reference to  the ousting of the former head of Springfield School in Sparkhill/ Moseley, Birmingham. The letter states “We did this perfectly to Noshaba Hussain from Springfield School. However, the Governors reappointed her so now we have another plan in place to get her out.” In fact, Ms Hussain was dismissed in 1994 and was not reinstated. The Times also states that “the crudeness of the apparent forgery is underlined by another error. It identifies two Birmingham schools where the plotters claim credit for removing head teachers late last year. However, the author seems to have muddled up their departure dates.”

The Times goes on to quote Tahir Alam, a former “education chief” at the Muslim Council of Britain, and named in the letter as involved in the plot: “This ridiculous assertion is based entirely upon a leaked document nonsensically referred to as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ … the authenticity of which any decent and fair-minded person would question and quickly conclude as a hoax. Any reference to me is a malicious fabrication and completely untrue.”

As against this, Shiraz can report that we’ve spoken to a number of teachers from some of the schools named in the documents, and they are of the opinion that the documents are probably genuine – if only because their content tallies with verifiable events in at least two of the schools named in the documents. The former headteacher of Saltley School, Balwant Bains (who we have not spoken to) is reported as saying he was “bullied and intimidated” in the months before he resigned last November after clashing with the school’s governors. The Birmingham Mail (10 March) reported that “Friends claim the respected head, of Sikh origin, was undermined when governors over-turned his decision to expel a Muslim pupil found with a knife. The harassment of Bains included an anonymous text message branding him a “racist, Islamophobic Head teacher.” Five non-Muslim governors of the school have resigned, leaving 12 Muslim governors out of 14. The problems at Saltley School began, according to our sources, when Mr Bains was asked by governors to make curriculum changes, including the scrapping of sex education and citizenship classes because they were allegedly deemed “un-Islamic”. He was, we’ve been told, instructed to introduce Islamic studies into the curriculum and told that only halal food should be served to pupils, even though Saltley is a non-faith school. Mr Bains resigned after an Ofsted report concluded that he had a “dysfunctional” relationship with the school’s governors.

Shiraz has also been told by Birmingham teachers that at another school named in the documents, Adderley Primary,  four Teaching Assistants have been forced out following the school’s receipt of resignation letters that the four denied having written. As a result of the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents the police have now re-opened their fraud investigation into the letters. At least one of the Teaching Assistants is now pursuing an unfair dismissal claim.

Shiraz Socialist will be following this bizarre affair and will report on developments. In the meanwhile, whether or not the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents prove to be genuine, what is clear is that the Tories’ academy programme is opening up education to religious fanatics, sectarians and bigots, making a mockery of the government’s proclaimed commitment to social inclusion.

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