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.
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.
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.
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:
- Winning over other Labour Party members and pursuing the internal struggle to democratise the party.
- 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.
- 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.
Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)
The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.
It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.
It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.
Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.
The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.
In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.
The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:
“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.
That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.
Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.
Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.
It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.
Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.
It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.
Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.
The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.
But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.
The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.
And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.
Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.