If the bankruptcy of the trade union bureaucracy were in any further need of demonstration, then the antics of soon-to-depart GMB general secretary Sir Paul Kenny over the European Union (EU) referendum adds a new chapter.
First, Kenny orchestrated a motion to the TUC Congress, which would have pledged the trade union movement to campaign for Brexit if David Cameron extracted some concessions from other European powers on the working time directive, agency workers and other workers’ rights. The key phrase was: “Congress gives notice that it will campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum if these rights and protections are removed.”
After some behind the scenes horse-trading, Kenny withdrew the resolution in favour of TUC general council statement. This softened the stance, warning the prime minister that “you will lose our members’ votes to stay in the EU by worsening workers’ rights”. It added that if British workers’ rights were further undermined, the “pressure to put TUC resources and support in the referendum behind a vote to leave the European Union will intensify dramatically”.
Kenny spoke to the resolution and rhetorically repeated his threat in the Congress debate on Tuesday 15 September. He said: “If Cameron secures the sort of cuts to workers’ rights he is seeking — will you be able to stand up and say to members and beyond that ‘yes — we know your protection under the working time directive and rights to proper earning on holiday pay are going, yes — we know crucial rights for agency workers are going, that health and safety laws designed to protect the work life balance are being denied to you, that free trade agreements threaten your job and your public services. But forget all that — We want you to vote yes to support these attacks.”
Second, Kenny made a similar attempt at Labour Party conference on 28 September. This time the GMB motion was composited, with Kenny moving the resolution so as to add his own caveat. Actually the motion stated: “Conference supports the membership of the EU as a strategic as well as an economic asset to Britain and the Labour Party approve of UK membership of the EU”, adding that “Conference recognises that Europe needs change, but notes that the path to reform is working with our allies across Europe”.
Kenny put his own spin on it, stating that “Free movement of labour has become the right to exploit workers in one member state by employment of people through the now notorious umbrella agencies”. He chastised Labour Party leaders who “by blindly embracing a Europe at any price, merely encourage Cameron and the CBI to push for even more attacks on working people”.
Kenny penned a crass justification of his position, published in the Morning Star on the same day. Kenny criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to vote to stay in the EU in the referendum and fight for reform. Kenny opined: “This retreat on the European Union is a big mistake. The EU needs reform. All those ideals of a social Europe, of solidarity and raising pay and conditions to a standard, have been lost. The EU has become an exploiters’ charter.” Apparently, because Cameron is going around Europe trying to sell off working people’s rights “Jeremy’s original ‘wait and see’ position was correct. So why give them a blank cheque? That’s bad negotiating tactics.”
Kenny pretends he is conducting negotiations, when in fact he’s not even at the table. It is no blank cheque to commit to staying in the EU and pledge, as Corbyn has, that a future Labour government would overturn any opt-outs that Cameron secures. In fact such a position is more likely to persuade other European leaders not to give ground to Cameron. Even if Cameron were able to extract some concessions, it would take workers in Britain back to the situation in 1993, when the UK belonged to the EU but the Tories opted out of the social chapter. Most unions then were for staying in, for good reason.
Instead of seeking to fight alongside workers across Europe to level up rights and protections, Kenny appears to think that if his poker game fails, somehow leaving the EU will be okay for workers. What Kenny fails to explain is how leaving the EU would strengthen workers’ rights. A Tory-driven “leave” campaign might topple Cameron, but only to replace him with someone more right-wing like Johnson. And a Eurosceptic-led Tory party would immediately slash workers’ rights even further in pursuit of trade deals and concessions with world markets. Kenny’s position is strategically wrong and tactically completely inept.
Kenny then makes a classical sleight of hand, exclaiming “And Labour wants us to fund the In campaign, to stand on platforms next to Tory bastards and then to convince our members to swallow it?” To campaign alongside the Tories, he warns, would be “as bad a mistake as it was in Scotland. Worse.”
This is nonsense. The “quit EU” camp, will be dominated by reactionaries such as Lawson, Farage and quite probably a few current Tory cabinet members. The risk of being pulled behind them is not hypothetical. Already the anti-EU Pledge campaign, driven by right-wing Torie, has roped in the RMT union (briefly) and Labour MPs such as Jon Cruddas, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins, and Ronnie Campbell.
The composition of the two camps does not determine the working class policy: socialists and trade unionists must make our independent stand based on the best assessment of working class interests.
Kenny also echoes Tory anti-migrant talk. The EU is simply “transporting people with lower living standards to new places in order to further lower living standards”. He told the Stalino-nationalist Morning Star that “he’s pleased that so far, the social conflict this can cause has not got out of hand. But he’s in no doubt that that’s thanks to unions, not politicians”.
This is a mealy-mouthed way of saying the problem with the EU is too many migrants and that the only way to protect “British” labour is to put up the border controls. Kenny dissolves internationalism with this stance: workers in Europe, migrants or refugees are irrelevant to his main concern: namely, British workers.
Beneath the veneer is a callous narrowness, a shameful chauvinist sectionalism, that can have no place in the labour movement. His anointment by the British brings his career in the trade union movement to a fitting conclusion. But no workers should follow his abysmal counsel.
By Ewan Gibbs and Nathaniel Blondel (at Left Futures)
The reaction to John McDonnell’s announcement that he would aim for a balanced current account, whilst maintaining borrowing for capital investment, revealed a recurrent fault line within left-wing economic thought. At its most banal McDonnell was accused of signing up to George Osborne’s ‘austerity charter’, whilst more sophisticated critics argued such policies would weaken demand and harm economic growth. This article will not address the technicalities of figures and whether Labour should borrow limited amounts rather than aim for a balance (see a critical account here). Instead we will focus on the key political division the fallout from this announcement has revealed, and what it says about the character of ‘Corbynomics’, and the barriers it faces.
During the last thirty years of political setbacks, socialist economic policies have taken a particular battering. This has been very apparent in the predominant responses to the onset of austerity since 2008. Rather than proposals for a fundamental restructuring of the economy, the main left response has been both defensive, and grounded in an argument for why “ideological” cuts are unnecessary and harmful. Invoking mainstream Keyensian economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, the argument has gone that government could stimulate an economic recovery through borrowing at cheap rates. Insofar as it went this was welcome, but it was a more or less passive argument that could unite trade unionists, and political forces of the ‘centre-left’ from Labour, to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. At best, the Keynesian approach amounts to a tepid intervention and stimulation of demand. Read the rest of this entry »
As a general rule I’m against calling for the expulsion of anyone from the Labour Party, if only because I’m well aware that in doing so I could well be making a rod for my own back.
I also tend to agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s approach of appeasing more centrist individuals within the PLP and keeping the likes of Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle inside the tent.
But surely an exception should be made for Lord Andrew Adonis, the ex-SDP uber-Blairite who has accepted George Osborne’s offer to head up the newly-created national infrastructure commission? This is such a gross act of betrayal, not just of JC personally, but of the Party as a whole, that I’m sure the public would understand – even applaud – a sharp, punitive response.
Mind you, it’s unclear whether or not the serial-turncoat Adonis has simply resigned the Labour whip in the House of Lords, or resigned from the Party itself. Most reputable reports suggest it’s the former, but today’s Times suggests the latter:
So, what should Corbyn do if this scum-bag has already resigned from the Party? Well, here’s a suggestion: when I helped form a certain far-left group in the mid-seventies, we inherited a practice from a predecessor group – that we wouldn’t accept any member’s resignation; instead, we’d expel them (for the record, this practice was eventually dropped). A bit of toytown Bolshevism, perhaps -but what an excellent idea for dealing with Adonis, if it turns out he’s already resigned from the Party.
I doubt that Mr Nice Guy Corbyn will do it, though: I fear he really is a nice guy.
A generous tribute to the old bruiser from a long-standing opponent, Jon Lansman (first published at Jon’s blog, Labour Futures):
Denis Healey was a great figure for twenty-five years of Labour history, a politician with “a hinterland”, very well-read and deeply interested in art and music, and, though Jeremy Corbyn may not have approved, was a master of the brilliant put-down. Geoffrey Howe was forever diminished by that greatest of personal attacks – his attacks summed up as being “like being savaged by a dead sheep“. He will be remembered fondly even by many of us for whom he was a bête noire in our youth in the 1970s.
As Chancellor under Wilson and Callaghan he was undoubtedly the Chancellor who sealed the end of the Keynesian approach that had been adopted by both Labour and Tory governments in the post-war period until then, and has only been reintroduced as Labour’s by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. He led the battle in cabinet for the cuts in public expenditure which were the price of IMF support for Sterling.
However, with hindsight, he was chancellor in the most difficult of times with rampant inflation that was largely a consequence of the Barber boom (named after the Tory Chancellor between 1970 and 1974) and the oil price shock, and he was unfairly blamed for the winter of discontent following Callaghan’s insistence in 1978 on a disastrously low 5% pay norm when inflation was still 10%. He did, after all, favour a system of price controls far more extensive than anything being proposed by Corbyn and McDonnell and his incomes policy, agreed through full cooperation with the TUC and trade union leadership, was clearly designed to benefit the low paid.
In the years of New Labour, he may quite reasonably have been regarded as on the left of the party.
As it happens, I have a grievance against Denis Healey. On 20 September 1981, in the latter stages of Labour’s deputy leadership election campaign (the first that involved party and union members not just MPs) in which Denis Healey had been challenged by Tony Benn, Healey accused me personally on live television of “orchestrating the heckling and booing” which he had faced on the previous day at a Labour demonstration in Birmingham and at a similar event in Cardiff that July.
I was, at 24, the secretary of Benn’s campaign committee but had not been present at either demonstration. I never received an apology from Denis Healey though I did from London Weekend Television which accepted that I had been libelled. By that evening, ITN’s News at 10 ran what Tony Benn recorded in his diary as “a devastating denunciation of Healey” and showed Healey merely saying that “if I made a mistake it was unwise“. But in spite of that, as is so often the case in these situations, the Mail and Express and sundry other right-wing newspapers continued to carry nasty stories about me for several days. And even now when the incident is referred to, which happens from time to time, the accusation is normally reported without any reference to the fact that the TV company settled out of court to avoid a libel action.
Still I bear Denis no grudge. Though he won the election by a whisker of 0.5%, he so nearly failed to do so. That he suffered such an embarrassment on the eve of the Annual TUC congress was very damaging to his position. The TGWU, though it’s executive had already decided to nominate the “spoiler” candidate, John Silkin, decided the following day to give its second round vote to Tony Benn. Walt Greendale, then chair of the union executive and one of the outstanding lay union activists of the period, told me at the time that he thought it would probably not have reached that decision if it hadn’t been for Healey’s foolishness.
I hold no grudge against Denis. When he came to campaign for Tony Benn in the Chesterfield by-election in 1984, I spent a large part of the day with him and, though there was still no apology, he was witty, charming and impeccably polite. He campaigned hard all day, topping it off with the wonderfully memorable speech at one of the packed public meetings which characterised that campaign which culminated in the words “Healey without Benn would be like Torvill without Dean” at which precise point the Chesterfield Labour banner behind him came crashing down. It brought the house down with laughter, and we all retired afterwards to a pub where Denis entertained everyone, playing the piano and singing songs alongside Tony. It was one of the funniest evenings I have ever spent. He is sorely missed.
(Update:- Major Denis Winston Healey speaking at the Labour Party Conference in 1945)
Above: Dennis, where are you now that they need you?
From ‘Labour First’ (republished here for the information of the entire labour movement):
Thank you to everyone who was at Labour Party Conference and ensured that far from being a rout for Labour’s mainstream, we won both the main votes that were contested among delegates (the priority ballot on whether to debate Trident, and the National Constitutional Committee election) and asserted that we are here to stay, to play a loud and proud role in the life of the party, and to fight for our values and defend the policies we see as essential to a Labour victory and, in the case of Trident, to national security.
We think we struck the right tone in being clear that we accept our new party leader’s mandate and will get stuck in behind him in fighting the Tories and austerity, but we will not roll over and allow key policies where we think he is at odds with common sense and public opinion to be ditched, or allow the Hard Left to seize every layer of the party structure or to manipulate the rules to their own partisan advantage.
If you did not watch it yesterday, please take the time to read Tom Watson’s brilliant speech which closed the conference with a reiteration of the need for a broad electoral appeal and a restatement of our achievements in government between 1997 and 2010: https://www.politicshome.com/…/tom-watson-speech-labour-par…
We come out of the conference with unexpected momentum and our heads held high. We need to build on that momentum because the Hard Left will be seeking to move fast to shift the party in their direction, using the vast amount of data and new members they secured in the leadership election.
Here is just some of what needs to happen next:
In our network
We need to expand our network round the country. Please ask everyone you know who would share our concerns about the future direction of the party to join our email list using this link: http://eepurl.com/Nzh75
We need a key contact in every CLP – someone who will attend CLP meetings and is able to promote our candidates for internal elections, our model motions etc., and feed back intelligence to us. If you are willing to do that and haven’t already told me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, CLP and phone number.
We want to set up local Labour First groups on the model that we already have in the West Midlands, a space where Labour moderates can meet up informally and build networks with like-minded people. If you can help initiate a group in your region, county or city, please email me.
If you can donate to help us cover the costs of our increased activity please send a cheque payable to Labour First to Labour First, c/o 125 Oxford Road, Old Marston, Oxford, OX3 0RB, with a covering note with your full name and address, or make a bank transfer or set up a direct debit to Labour First account is with Unity Trust Bank.
In your Region or Nation
There are a series of Regional, Scottish and Welsh conferences coming up:
East Midlands Sat 24 October Leicester
Scotland 30 Oct-1 Nov Perth
North West 31 Oct & 1 Nov Blackpool
East 13-15 November Stevenage
South West Sat 21 November Bristol
Wales 19-22 February Llandudno
Other regional conferences happen later in 2016.
These conferences elect Regional Boards which have a role in organisation, campaigning, and local government and MEP selections. The conferences also elect two delegates each to the National Policy Forum. It is important that this layer of the party’s structures is not captured by the Hard Left.
We need to know who the delegates are from your CLP if they have already been elected, so we can ensure they know who the mainstream candidates are. Please email me back with details of your CLP’s delegation to Regional Conference if you are in a region with one scheduled, and the political stance of the delegates where known.
We will try to have fringe meetings at as many of these conferences as possible, which we will publicise in due course.
In your CLP
All of us need to be active at CLP level, if the grassroots of the party are not politically healthy, the top of it never will be:
Be welcoming. We need to take the lead in welcoming all the new members that have signed up and integrating them into the social, political and campaigning life of the party. It doesn’t matter if for some of them their motive for joining was Corbynism – many people who started out as Bennites in the 1980s ended up as Blairites or Brownites, people’s views change as they get more deeply involved in politics. We cannot afford CLPs divided into “new” and “old” members – we have to take the initiative and reach out.
Recruit. We won’t get a louder moderate voice in the party by making the whole party smaller again. That would be pernicious. We need to embrace the politics of mass movements, we need to build an even bigger party that is more representative of Labour and potential Labour voters by getting people who share our values among our friends, family and colleagues to join and become active: https://join.labour.org.uk/
Campaign. Labour’s moderates have to visibly be the people who, even under a leader we did not pick, are leading local campaigning against the Tories, the Lib Dems, the Greens, UKIP and the SNP.
Take responsibility. Every position of responsibility from branch secretary upwards has its role to play in ensuring Labour is a stable, efficient, democratic and fair party. Each feeds into the next layer above and has a knock-on effect on the overall direction of the party. We have to volunteer for – or hold onto – positions of responsibility and do the hard work that sustains the party. We should rally round hard-working CLP, LCF and branch officers, councillors and MPs if they come under unfair partisan attack.
Build alliances. Many of the old divisions and battles are now rendered meaningless. We have to work with and support anyone who has the best interests of the Labour Party at heart and wants a mainstream, electable Labour. There are many people who would until this summer have defined themselves as on the left of the party who are horrified by the way events have turned out and suddenly find themselves politically adrift. We must reach out to them.
Organise. The major challenges in early 2016 will be nominations for the NEC elections, and election of 2016 Annual Conference delegates, both of which are likely to see unprecedented levels of organisation by the Hard Left. In many CLPs we also expect to see organised attempts to take control of the key officerships at CLP AGMs. We all need to be prepared to mobilise every possible mainstream member to vote at these key meetings – with a key difference being that some CLPs have an All Member Meeting structure and others a delegate based General Meeting.
Know the rules. The national rulebook (available on Membersnet) and your CLP standing orders are your allies. Read them, and use them to ensure proper democratic procedures and appropriate comradely behaviour are adhered to.
We are at the start of a process of saving the Labour Party. It is going to be a long and difficult struggle. Let’s get to work!
Secretary, Labour First
Copyright © 2015 Labour First, All rights reserved.
Above: Trident nuclear submarine patrolling (Getty Images)
Jeremy Corbyn has suffered his first defeat as Labour leader: and it’s been Unite and the GMB who’ve brought it about.
The decision by delegates at the Party conference not to have a debate on Trident came about because Unite and the GMB, with tens of thousands of their members’ jobs dependent upon the renewal of the nuclear weapons system, made it clear that they’d vote against any anti- Trident resolution.
Today’s Morning Star front page headline declared ‘Dismay As Trident Vote Is Blocked’ while the story beneath quoted CND’s Kate Hudson, at some length, decrying the decision as “bitterly disappointing, not just for the Labour delegates and members who wanted to see that debate take place, but for many, many others round the country who wanted to see Labour stand up unequivocally against the government’s determination to rearm Britain with nuclear weapons … Failure of Labour to change its policy means that in spring next year , when the government seeks Parliament’s approval for Trident’s replacement, Labour policy will be on the wrong side … Labour will give the Tory government a blank cheque for nuclear rearmament.”
Tucked away at the end of the Star‘s article is a brief reference to the role of Unite, the paper’s main funder: ‘Setting out his opposition to unilateralism, Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “I understand the moral case and the huge cost of replacing Trident, especially in this era of austerity, but the important thing for us is jobs and the defence of communities.”
The embarrassment of the Morning Star aside, the significance of the votes of Unite and the other major unions on this issue, is that they seem to be reverting to their traditional role as bastions of right wing pragmatism, against the leftist idealism of much of the Party’s rank and file (although, having said that, only 7.1% of constituency delegates voted for a debate on Trident). It also points to the failure of the anti-Trident left to deal effectively with the questions of jobs: Unite and the GMB in reality regard Trident as a massive job creation scheme and so far (beyond vague references to the Lucas Alternative Plan of the 1970’s) the left has failed to come up with a convincing answer.
Meanwhile the GMB’s recently-knighted buffoon of a general secretary, ‘Sir’ Paul Kenny has lined up with Labour’s Europhobes (some of the most right wing people in the Party) in urging the Party to “keep its options open” on EU membership and, in fact, campaign for withdrawal if Cameron’s renegotiation results in any weakening of British workers’ rights – quite how leaving the EU will prevent the Tories attacking workers’ rights in Britain is not explained by Kenny or his europhobic friends. In fact, Corbyn’s recent clarification on Europe (stating that he “cannot envisage” Labour campaigning for withdrawal and that the Party will re-instate any workers’ rights bargained away by Cameron) is plainly the only rational left-wing position.
For all his fake-left posturing, Kenny’s position on Europe (like his position on Trident) is, objectively, an attack on Corbyn … from the right.
It’s time for Corbyn’s supporters to start organising seriously in the unions.
This first appeared in the AWL’s paper, Solidarity; Charlie Kimber is National Secretary, Socialist Workers Party:
Dear Charlie Kimber,
I am responding to your “Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter” (8 September), and subsequent statements by your organisation in which you basically tell “The tens of thousands of people who cheered Jeremy at his rallies [who] are a sign of the potential for a mass movement against austerity” that they are wasting their time.
You say, the Labour Party leadership are so right wing and the unions will only back Corbyn if he can win the next election so there is, “no point spending four years striving to get Corbyn into office just to see him destroyed.”
I don’t share your analysis. While not destroying them, the effect of Corbyn’s campaign has been a disaster for the Parliamentary Labour Party and the trade union leaderships who have worked hard to maintain the wall between what Labour does politically and the rest of the labour movement.
Yes, his candidacy was a fluke and the Labour Party left is woefully unprepared for the fight against the right, both inside and outside the party. It is an indication of the weakness of whole left over decades, but we have to start from where we are and make the most of this chance.
Even in your worst case scenario and Corbyn is “destroyed” in four years time, the revolutionaries in the Labour Party will still have been struggling alongside hundreds of thousands of others for that period. People can learn from defeat as much as from victory; but to learn from either revolutionaries need to go through the struggle and having done so will get a much more receptive hearing than if you are one of those revolutionaries who remained on the sidelines as a spectator.
There is then the possibility of raising the movement to a higher political level but only if there are enough revolutionaries trying to spread that message.
For all your talk about the undoubted necessity for struggle you back away from the political struggle within the Labour Party to move it to the left. “The real danger is that Corbyn supporters are plunged into internal party struggles…” Except that this lack of internal party struggle is precisely what has made the Labour Party the top-down neo-liberal supporting organisation it is today.
The struggle inside the party can be a part of the more general struggle to rouse our class against the Tories. If “…resistance… [is] … the best route towards political radicalisation” why doesn’t that apply inside the structures of the hundreds of thousands strong Labour Party as well?
Your dismissal of the need for internal party struggles illustrates the operational mindset of the SWP’s leadership who can just tell the membership what to do without having to “waste” all that time on debate and democracy. Happily there are Corbyn supporters who understand that a healthy political organisation cannot be built be decree or decide what to do in the “… struggles at work and in working class areas” by diktat.
Socialists should be encouraging Corbyn’s supporters to flood into the Labour Party, get organised and tear down the wall before the Parliamentary Party has time to rebuild it.
You say, “We should all support [Corbyn] against the Labour right”; if you’re serious about that then join the Party and encourage your members and supporters to do the same.
This was published in The Times yesterday (Sept 18): JC would be well advised (in the light of reports like this) to respond in an equally courteous and frank manner:
Sir, We would like to congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on his election as Labour leader. We always seek to establish constructive working relationships with the major parties and we hope this will be the case with Mr Corbyn.
There are some key questions on which British Jews will be looking for reassurance. There are concerns about Mr Corbyn’s apparent past openness towards organisations and individuals involved in violent extremism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. These have included Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are proscribed terrorist organisations, overtly anti-Semitic, have hateful policies towards women and LGBT people and total contempt for human rights. We hope he will affirm and implement a “zero tolerance” stance towards racists, extremists, Holocaust deniers and homophobes.
We also hope Mr Corbyn will pursue contact with the mainstream Israeli and Palestinian political parties, with the aim of advancing peace and security for both national communities. We look to him to reaffirm long-established Labour party policy against boycotts, which are stigmatising, divisive and counterproductive. We will also be asking for support on a range of key religious freedoms important to Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews
“What I tried to do for both sides is to give them a way out with some form of dignity otherwise they wouldn’t lay their arms down.
“And can I just say this, because this has been raised with me time and time again – I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.
“There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise.”
McDonnell was honest, straightforward and (I thought) convincing on last night’s Question Time. In stark contrast to his boss in July, when asked perfectly reasonable questions about his warm words towards Hamas and Hezbollah:
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