Brum bin workers win first round against redundancy plans – council humiliated

September 21, 2017 at 9:04 pm (Brum, campaigning, Cuts, Jim D, labour party, Liverpool, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

 Len McCluskey addresses solidarity rally last Sunday (Image: Birmingham Mail)

Refuse workers in Birmingham are celebrating a major victory and Unite has suspended strike action after a high court judge issued an interim injunction to block redundancy notices sent out by the Labour council.

A full court case in November will rule on the underlying legal dispute over the council’s bid to shed staff and change working patterns.

Workers who attended the two-day hearing hailing the ruling as “fantastic” and a “massive victory”.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said the ruling left the council’s “unfair and unjust plans in tatters”.

Beckett said: “This judgment will be a huge relief to Birmingham’s bin workers, who in just a matter of weeks were facing losing their job or pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year.

“As part of the ruling, Unite will suspend its industrial action until the matter is put before a full court hearing at a later date.”

The union also repeated calls for Stella Manzie, the council’s chief executive, to resign. This follows an deal reached on August 16 at ACAS between the council’s then-leader, John Clancy, and Unite. As a result, the union then suspended strike action and issued a statement saying plans to abolish 120 grade 3 (supervision) jobs had been dropped, and no redundancies would take place.

Then, out of the blue, the agreement broke down with council leader Clancy even trying to make out that there never had been a deal – a bare-faced lie that ACAS publicly disputed. As a result, Clancy was forced to resign as leader of the council

To be clear, the pressure on Clancy from fellow Labour councillors was not for having reneged on the deal, but for having reached it in the first place. It has also became apparent that the driving force behind aborting the deal was interim chief executive Manzie, a bureaucrat with a long record of driving through cuts at various local authorities: at the high court, Mr Justice Fraser read out an email sent on 15 August from Manzie to Clancy saying the council could not look weak and “as if it’s being walked over”.

Referring to the dispute between Clancy and Manzie, Fraser said: “Neither party comes out of this sorry saga with any credit at all – I could use the words remarkable, extraordinary and more.”

It seems that one of Manzie’s arguments against Clancy was that the deal would open up the council to a wave of equal pay claims – something that Unite’s legal team strongly disputes. Howard Becket says that the equal pay issue was not put to Unite by Manzie’s legal team during discussions and it was not raised by the council during the high court hearing.

Immediately following the council’s repudiation of the ACAS deal, redundancy notices were issued to 113 grade 3 workers – a provocative move that resulted in Unite’s successful high court action.

Unite is confident of winning at the full court hearing in November, but there can be no doubt that the refuse workers (who voted 94% in favour of resuming their strike after the ACAS deal broke down) are prepared to return to the picket lines if it proves necessary.

A relatively minor, but politically interesting, aspect of the dispute has been the stance of the Socialist Party (SP). They have been commendably active in their support for the workers, but noticeably embarrassed over the council’s issuing of redundancy notices. After all, this was exactly what the SP’s forerunner, Militant, did when they ran Liverpool council in 1985.

The SP has always proclaimed Liverpool council’s record to have been exemplary and refused to countenance any criticism of the decision to issue redundancy notices – until now. In an attempt to explain the difference between Liverpool council issuing redundancy notices in 1985, and Birmingham doing exactly the same in 2017, the SP now describes the Liverpool decision as “a mistaken tactic to buy time”. However, it was OK really because:

“[T]he council made clear to the workforce that not one single worker was to be made redundant – and none were”.

The trouble with this excuse is that Birmingham council are saying pretty much the same thing:

None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay”.

So perhaps a minor, but valuable, by-product of the dispute will be to force the comrades of the SP to make an honest re-assessment of their own tendency’s record when it ran Liverpool council.

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Open letter to the deluded pro-Brexit “left”

September 7, 2017 at 12:48 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, ex-SWP, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, left, Migrants, populism, Racism, rights, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, Tory scum)

p46 - Potential measures
Above: the leaked Tory plans

Open letter to the deluded pro-Brexit “left”

Yes, I mean you lot at the Morning Star/CPB, SWP, Counterfire and Socialist Party:

I take it for granted that as self-proclaimed leftists, you are knee-jerk anti-racists and internationalists opposed to anything that tends to divide, rather than unite, our class.

And yet you called for a Leave vote in the referendum, and continue to back Brexit! In the case of the Morning Star/CPB, you oppose continued membership of the single market and customs union – in other words you want a “hard” Brexit!

To its shame, the Morning Star continues with this folly, publishing Daily Mail-style editorials that more or less explicitly back David Davis against the “intransigent” Michel Barnier and the “EU bosses in Brussels, Bonn and Frankfurt.”

Some of us tried to warn you about the Pandora’s box of xenophobia and racism that you were opening. Yet even when the Leave vote was immediately followed by a sharp increase in racist attacks and incidents (in fact, hate crime in general, such as attacks on gays), you wilfully closed your eyes and stuffed your ears, mouthing shameful banalities and evasions like “there was racism on both sides” and “racism didn’t begin on June 23rd.”

Well, yesterday we caught a glimpse of what the Tories have planned for EU citizens in Britain, or coming to Britain.

The plans are not yet official government policy, but all the signs are that they soon will be. The leaked document is explicit about ending a rights based approach. EU citizens arriving after Brexit would have to show passports, not ID cards; they would have to apply for short term two year visas for low skilled jobs; they would be prevented from bringing over extended family members and be subject to an income threshold (£18,600 per year) even to bring a spouse.

Employers, landlords, banks and others would have to carry out checks on paper-work. The hostility towards immigrants Theresa May deliberately stirred up as Home Secretary would intensify, and rub off on all “foreigners” and ethnic minorities, whether from the EU or not. British-born people of colour would inevitably find it more difficult to obtain work and accommodation.

As immigration lawyer  Colin Yeo  has commented: ‘The first and most obvious [result] is that the plans would make the UK a far less attractive destination for migrants. This is of course the whole point. The Home Office is protectionist by nature and worries only about security. The economy, consequent tax take, international relations and “soft power” international standing are considered worth the sacrifice. But what would happen to the sectors of the economy dependent on migrant labour, such as agriculture, food processing and hospitality? Are the public ready for a huge recession, massive job losses and reduced funding for public services and infrastructure?’

Andrew Coates, who knows a thing or two about France, has noted that ‘the scheme is a policy of National Preference, close to the demand of the far-right Front National, for jobs to go to first of all to UK Nationals.’

Deluded comrades: how are you now going to explain yourselves and your craven role as foot soldiers for the carnival of reaction that is Brexit? Your original  arguments and justifications for your pro-Leave stance during the referendum varied from the bizarre (after Farage and Johnson – us!) through the deluded (vote Leave to oppose racism!) to the frankly egregious (immigration controls are a form of closed shop!).

There was only ever one argument in favour of Brexit that made any sense from a socialist perspective: that EU membership would prevent a left wing government from implementing nationalisations and other forms of state intervention into the economy.

This urban myth has been perpetuated by left-reformist anti-Europeans and by Tory anti-interventionists for the last forty years.

But it’s wrong, at least according Article 345 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU of 1958, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’ This Article remains in force and makes a nonsense of the claim that existing EU legislation prohibits the kind of nationalisation, or other economic intervention, being advocated by Jeremy Corbyn.

But even if it did, is anyone seriously suggesting that if Corbyn gets elected on a manifesto that includes public ownership, he would not be able to implement it if we remained in the EU? Nonsense. As the pro-Brexit right continually reminded us during the referendum campaign, Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world, and (unlike Greece) would have little difficulty in forcing the EU to accept a Corbyn government’s right to introduce such relatively minor reforms as taking key industries and services into public ownership. Anyone who’s ever taken a train in France or Germany knows this.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and I’m wrong: what is the benefit for a social democratic Corbyn-style government, of voluntarily leaving the EU, rather than pushing ahead with its programme regardless, and (in effect) daring the EU to kick the UK out? That’s a question I’ve asked many times in debates with you lot, and to which I have never received a coherent reply.

As the reactionary, anti-working class and essentially racist nature of Brexit becomes more and more obvious, I cannot believe that anyone who calls themselves a socialist, is not appalled. It’s probably too much to ask the self-absorbed, self-deluded, ultra-sectarian groups that comprise the pro-Brexit “left” to simply admit that you’ve got it wrong, and reverse your disastrous policy on EU membership. That kind of intellectual honesty is not part of your culture. But I think internationalists and anti-racists do have the right to demand that you make it clear that you support free movement, oppose a “hard” Brexit and support the maximum possible degree of co-operation and integration between British and European people (and, in particular, workers via their organisations) in or out of the EU.

Is that too much to ask, comrades?

JD

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Scottish left: still grovelling to nationalism

July 18, 2017 at 5:27 pm (elections, identity politics, nationalism, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, sectarianism, Socialist Party, SSP, SWP)

Image result for picture Scottish Socialist Party SSP

By Dale Street

“The Labour Party in Scotland has been wiped out.” That was the verdict of the Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) on the 2015 general election. The next step was: “The trade union movement must now prepare to build a new mass party for the working class.”

In alliance with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the SPS had stood ten candidates in Scotland under the ‘Trade Union and Socialist Coalition’ (TUSC) banner. Their votes ranged from 0.2% to 0.7%, and amounted to only 1,772 in total.

But that did not constitute a “wipe-out”.

The slump in the Labour vote in 2015, explained the SWP, demonstrated that “the crucial task for all on the left in Scotland is to quickly discuss and organise for a united left alternative in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.”

The SWP was contemptuous of “some in the Labour Party who argue that what is happening in Scotland is just a wave of nationalism.” What this “failed to understand” was “the shift in the political landscape and the potential for the left to grow.”

Apart from allying with the SPS to stand TUSC candidates, the SWP had also given a tacit call for a vote for the SNP: “The SWP is not calling for a blanket vote for the SNP on 7th May” (in effect: a call to vote SNP in most constituencies, but not all).

For the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) Labour’s performance in Scotland in the 2015 general election had borne out its pre-election predictions:

“Make no mistake about it. We are witnessing the end of an era. Like the Liberals prior to the labour movement, Scottish Labour is a beast that will soon be almost extinct over the next decade.”

The election result was further proof of the need for unions to disaffiliate from Labour:

“The unions in Scotland need to stop propping up the bankrupt project that is Labour. We’ve seen attempts by the biggest of all unions, Unite, to drag Labour back to the left. That’s proven utterly futile.”

“Union leaderships should combine with the SSP and all genuine socialists to build a mass working-class socialist party to stand up for Scotland’s working-class majority population.”

The SSP had stood four candidates in the election – after the SNP and the Greens had, unsurprisingly, ignored SSP proposals for a single pro-independence ‘Yes Alliance’ candidate in each constituency. Their total vote was 895.

In their approach to this year’s general election and analysis of its results, the SPS, SWP and SSP struck a very different tone. But it was no better that that adopted two years earlier. And it was certainly a lot more incoherent.

The SPS stood no candidates in the general election. Nor did TUSC. Nor did the non-existent “new mass party for the working class” which the SPS had looked forward to after the 2015 general election. Instead, the SPS “campaigned in support of Corbyn’s manifesto.”

But this did not mean campaigning for a vote for the party in Scotland (Scottish Labour) which was standing on the basis of that manifesto (however inadequately it promoted its contents in its election campaigning).

The SPS coupled its support for “Corbyn’s manifesto” (minus support for Scottish Labour) with “pointing to the need to adopt a far more sensitive approach on the national question”, including “as a minimum the right to a second referendum when there was a majority in favour of one.”

After the election the SPS talked up “significant swings to Labour in working-class areas in Glasgow and across the West of Scotland”. In fact, the popular vote for Labour in those constituencies was either static or less than in 2015 general election.

The SPS also fell over itself with helpful tips about how Scottish Labour could have improved its performance and “doubled their numbers (of MPs) in Scotland”. But such belated advice would have had more credibility coming from an organisation which had actually campaigned for a Labour vote.

In the run-up to this year’s general election the SWP again made an implicit call for a vote for the SNP, using the formulation “We call on our readers to vote Left in every constituency – to choose the candidate who is best able to carry forward the fight against austerity and racism AND FOR INDEPENDENCE.” (Emphasis added.)

Any number of Scottish Labour candidates would have met the first two criteria but none would have met the third. But in England and Wales all Labour candidates were endorsed by the SWP, for what it was worth, simply because they were Labour.

In other words: it was okay to vote for a right-wing Labour candidate in England, but wrong to vote for a left-wing anti-independence Labour candidate in Scotland!

The SWP looked on in awe when a thousand people turned up to hear Corbyn speak in Glasgow during the election campaign. But this was coupled with criticism of Corbyn for not supporting a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Corbyn was “on the side of the majority of Scots who don’t want a second referendum,” complained the SWP. But the normally let’s-not-waste-our-time-with-any-of-this parliamentary-shite SWP was aggrieved by Corbyn’s failure to “respect the majority for a second referendum in the Scottish Parliament”!

In its analysis of the election result the SWP concluded that “using the crude measure of first-past-the-post elections, independence has won this election”. The three anti-independence parties, explained the SWP, had won only 40% of the seats.

But in the real world, using the only slightly more sophisticated measure of the popular vote, independence lost. Anti-independence parties picked up 63% of the vote.

Inconsistently, the SWP attributed the SNP’s loss of seats to the fact that “the SNP leadership staked so much on a second independence referendum.”

So: independence won the general election in Scotland, according to the SWP, but the party which had championed independence had lost seats because – errrr – it championed independence.

The SWP was realistic in its analysis of Scottish Labour’s poor showing in the election and the fact that its increase in the number of seats held masked a more basic electoral stagnation. But, at the end of the day, this was all irrelevant.

With the election – yawn – out of the way, the SWP could get back to business as usual:

“We should not postpone the fight against austerity to focus on a second referendum and let the SNP off the hook. Battling against those attacks now should be at the centre of the left’s political action.”

Like the SPS’s “new mass party for the working class”, the “mass working-class socialist party” which the SSP had looked forward to in 2015 had also failed to materialise by the time of this year’s election.

Left to its own devices, the SSP stood four fewer candidates than it had in 2015, i.e. none.

“But that does not mean that we will not be campaigning,” the SSP explained. It would be campaigning – for independence:

“Our annual conference last weekend committed all SSP members to spend the next six weeks making the case for independence and helping to ensure this become the ‘independence election’.”

This was the vital task confronting SSP members because “Theresa May is heading for a 60-70 seat majority at Westminster, and Labour is heading for a hiding.” Only Scottish independence could provide a defence against the approaching Tory onslaught.

Boldly, the SSP declared its readiness to criticise the SNP for failing to be sufficiently pro-independence:

“In the very important debate Alex Salmond initiated last week between him and Nicola Sturgeon about this being ‘the independence election’, we are bound to say we agree with Alex. … We will press the SNP to put an unequivocal commitment to independence in its manifesto. And we will criticise them if they do not.”

Unfortunately for “Alex”, having the SSP on his side turned out not to be enough to save him from defeat.

But the SSP was as good as its word. In an article snappily entitled “Independence Offers Our Only Escape From a Zombie Tory Government” SSP co-convenor Colin Fox let the world know:

“Our party will be writing to the SNP to insist they put independence at the epicentre of their manifesto. We will be campaigning to increase support for independence with a series of sparkling initiatives which we will unveil in the next few days.”

But the election result was not as predicted by the SSP. May’s credibility, the SSP acknowledged, was “in tatters”. Corbyn’s gains had shown that socialist ideas “are highly popular, and this must be welcomed.” And a second general election was “a strong prospect.”

The SSP attributed the loss of 21 seats by the SNP to “their failure to make the case for independence – supposedly (sic) their core belief.” This is the same SNP which, according to the SWP, “staked so much on a second independence referendum.”

The SNP’s defeat, concluded the SSP, “underlined the case for a reinvigorated broad-based Yes movement.”

In other words: prospect of strong Tory government necessitates Scottish independence; actual election of weak Tory government necessitates … Scottish independence.

Some things never change. And one of them is socialist organisations which have collapsed into tailending nationalism – even when the nationalism they chase after is in electoral decline.

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The Socialist Party’s “wretched concession” to nationalism

April 27, 2017 at 9:16 pm (AWL, Europe, identity politics, immigration, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reformism, Socialist Party, trotskyism)

Image result for picture Lindsey oil refinery strike
Above: the 2009 Lindsey oil refinery strike

NB: this article is from the AWL: anyone from the Socialist Party is welcome to send us a reply, which will be published on this site.

By Ira Berkovic

At best, Hannah Sell’s article “Brexit and the left” (Socialism Today, the magazine of the Socialist Party, Issue 207, April 2017) is a series of platitudinous banalities. At worst, it is a wretched concession to nationalism.

In a rare direct polemic against other group on the left (the Socialist Party prefer to plough their own sectarian furrow, acknowledging the existence of other tendencies only occasionally), Sell makes a number of claims about Workers’ Liberty which range from the distorted to the straightforwardly untrue. She accuses us of “having consistently argued that the EU is progressive”. This is not our position.

The institutional infrastructure of the European Union, like all capitalist institutions, is a class instrument, constructed to enforce the rule of capital. But the continental integration it brings with it provides a higher platform for working-class solidarity and united struggle than the hard right’s alternative — a Europe of competing national-capitalist blocs, walled off behind high trade barriers and intensive immigration controls. That was the choice on offer in the 23 June referendum; that is why Workers’ Liberty was for “remain”.

She next accuses us of having “no concept of the limits to capitalism’s ability to overcome the barrier of the nation state”. In fact, we have repeatedly cautioned against the view that capitalism has bypassed the nation state entirely, echoing the arguments of Ellen Meiksins Wood and others. Rather, nation states themselves “globalise” by making themselves attractive sites for international investment, and plugging into interconnected world markets. This globalising logic creates objective, material basis for a greater degree of working-class unity than “national” working classes struggling solely against “their own” ruling class, behind barriers and borders.

Sell scoffs at the idea that capitalism might “carry through the task of the unification of Europe and that this would be ‘progressive”, apparently impervious to the reality of the degree of European integration and unification capitalism has already achieved. To repeat: the existence of a single market, and the erosion of borders throughout substantial parts of Europe, provide an objectively higher, better, basis for working-class unity than the vision preferred by the right, and apparently by the Socialist Party, of rigidly delineated national-capitalist blocs. For that process to be reversed under pressure from economic nationalism and xenophobic “sovereignism” — currently the only meaningfully hegemonic forces behind the drive to break up the EU —would certainly not be “progressive”. The article finishes by repeating the Socialist Party’s wretched position on immigration – that is, an unquestioning acceptance of the idea, which does not survive contact with evidence, that migrant labour straightforwardly depresses pay and conditions for domestic labour, and that the solution to this is to apply controls at the border.

Migrant workers are as much part of our class as British workers. Our politics must be as much for them as for British workers. We must defend their rights – their rights to migrate freely and safely, free from the violence of border controls, and their right to legally seek work – as vociferously as we defend the wages, terms, and conditions of domestic labour. To adopt any other position necessarily implied that the rights of British workers come first, simply by dint of the fact that they are British. There is no other word for this but “nationalism”.

Sell’s article says that “the only way to push back is for a united struggle of all workers”. Quite so. But in the context of what is essentially a polemic against a policy of free movement, and for restrictions on immigration, it is plain that, for the Socialist Party, “united struggle” is not the “only way to push back”; they also favour legislative mechanisms to restrict immigration. Sell cites the 2009 Lindsey oil refinery strike, where workers protested at bosses’ use of Italian migrant labour on terms that undermined collectively-negotiated agreements, as an example of the kind of struggle necessary.

That strike began as a strike demanding “British jobs for British workers”. Undoubtedly the Socialist Party comrade involved did play an important role in shifting the dispute away from such racist slogans and onto politically healthier terrain. But those who, while supporting the Lindsey workers’ fight for national agreements to be respected, sounded a note of caution about the risk of viewing migrant workers as the enemy, were right to do so.

Sell quotes Giorgio Cremaschi, leader of the Italian union Fiom, supporting the strike, but none of the Italian migrant workers themselves. Migrant workers’ agency is missing from the Socialist Party’s picture; the implication is that “united struggle” in fact means struggles by British workers against the way migrant labour is “used”. The fact remains that the Lindsey scenario is rare. There, a unionised domestic workforce, with collectively-negotiated national agreements, saw their employer physically bus in migrant workers and employ them on terms outside the existing agreements. This is not the basis on which any significant proportion of migrant labour comes to Britain – or, to use the Socialist Party’s schema in which migrants are passive instruments of neo-liberalism with no agency of their own, “is brought”.

Ending free movement, which is the Socialist Party’s policy, would not do anything to meaningfully protect trade union agreements. It would, however, significantly disadvantage working-class people from EU countries attempting to move to make a better life for themselves and their families. The Socialist Party give their pro-immigration controls position a labour-movement gloss by claiming that the “control” they favour is a kind of (presumably state-enforced) closed shop, whereby employers wishing to “recruit abroad” must be “covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining”.

But the vast majority of migrant labour does not consist of workers directly “recruited abroad”, but of workers who come to Britain, sometimes as a result of acute poverty and lack of opportunity in their countries of origin, looking for work. Does the Socialist Party propose to have border police checking union cards at Dover? Should we expect to see Socialist Party delegates at Britain’s airports and docks, telling migrant workers – the very people who, in previous generations, helped lay the foundations for our modern labour movement – that employers will use them to undercut British workers, and that the class conscious thing to do would be to get back on the plane or boat and go home?

All workers – local and migrant – should be “covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining”, but this will be imposed on employers through class struggle. To propose it as policy we want the existing state, with its Tory administration, to adopt as a fix for a perceived immigration “problem” is a political contortion undertaken by a tendency visibly uncomfortable with the implications of its own perspective.

The Socialist Party should take some responsibility for the logic of its position. Be honest! Just say it, comrades: you think immigration depresses pay and conditions for domestic workers, and to solve this problem, you think there should be less immigration. That is the substance of your view. No amount of gloss, nor any amount of reassurances that you do not consider migrant workers to be at “fault”, as Sell puts it in the article, change that fundamental fact.

Workers’ Liberty takes a different view. Our view is that no human being should be “illegal”. Our view is that the right to move freely, including to move between states, is a fundamental human right, and that restrictions on that right cannot be imposed except by state violence. Have employers sometimes attempted to “use” migrant labour to lower their costs? Of course — just as some employers historically exploited the entry of women into the workforce to drive down wages by paying them less than men. In proposing restrictions on immigration, however packaged and presented, the Socialist Party echo the Lassallean socialists of the 19th century who opposed women’s entry into the workforce on the basis that they would be “used” to undercut existing, male, workers’ wages.

The free movement that exists between EU member states should be extended, not restricted. Bosses’ use of migrant labour to undercut local labour should be met with common struggle and demands for levelling up, not calls to end free movement. By arguing that the rights of British workers can be protected by restricting the rights of migrant workers, the Socialist Party give ground to nationalism.

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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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Three arguments against free movement, and three responses

January 5, 2017 at 9:01 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Ira Berkovic (also published at the Workers Liberty website)

In the debate in the labour movement around “free movement”, which is in fact a debate about immigration, a number of arguments have been made by left-wing advocates of ending free movement – that is, leaving the EU on a basis which abolishes the rights of free movement to the UK that EU citizens currently have, and which UK citizens currently have to other EU states.

This article attempts to respond to some of those arguments, and present a positive case for defending and extending existing freedom of movement.

Argument One: “By ending free movement we can make Britain a giant closed shop”.

See: “Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit opportunity”, Clive Heemskerk, Socialism Today No. 201, September 2016.
“Standing in the way of control: thoughts on Labour post-Brexit”, Tom Muntzer, The Clarion, 28 November 2016
“Workers need safeguards and strong unions to make migration work”, Len McCluskey, LabourList, 5 November 2016

A closed shop is a workplace in which membership of the recognised union is a condition of employment. It is a gain which grows out of workplace organisation and strength, when a union is strong enough to impose it on the employer.

It was illegalised by Thatcher’s anti-union laws in 1990, and now exists only in a handful of places in a spectral form, where workers are able to establish a culture and a common sense in the workplace whereby choosing not to join the union is universally understood as a very bad idea.

So, what has any of that to do with the debate on immigration?

In what is simultaneously the most fantastical and, in some ways, the most offensively reactionary, “left-wing” argument against free movement, some have suggested that the existing free movement arrangements could be replaced by a form of immigration controls that legally compels bosses who wish to “hire abroad” to operate closed shops, so the foreign workers they recruit must be union members in order to get jobs, or be covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey puts it like this: “Any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.”

The implication is that if employers are legally forced to only hire union workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, there will be no financial incentive for them to hire cheaper, migrant labour.

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.

But in a genuine closed shop, the enforcing body is the trade union. In this version, the British state will apparently become the enforcer. Quite how this is supposed to work in practise (whether, for example, it will involve uniformed border police checking people’s union cards at Calais and Heathrow) is not clear.

And why will the proposed law apply only to international migrants? Why will a Polish worker looking for work in London require a union card, but not an English worker from, say, Blackburn looking for work in London?

And why is it imagined that the existing labour movement, that has not been able to overturn the law banning closed shops in order to force employers to recognise them for domestic labour, will succeed in forcing employers to operate closed shops for migrant labour?

Some advocates of this policy on the revolutionary left justify the approach with reference to the First International, which did indeed set as part of its aim resistance to attempts by employers to “play off” workers from one country against those of another.

But two key differences with the contemporary situation are missed out. Firstly, the disputes to which the First International was responding were ones in which employers who faced strikes in Country A attempted to directly hire workers from Country B, in order to break the strike in Country A. Almost no migrant labour in Britain today is directly recruited abroad, and none of it on the conscious, explicit basis of doing the work of striking workers in Britain.

And secondly, the methods of the First International were solidaristic, linking workers’ organisations across borders to appeal directly to workers not to allow their labour be used to undermine the struggles of their brothers and sisters abroad. This approach has nothing in common with the hostile attitude to migrants and immigration implied by the policies of today’s anti-free-movement left.

There is a nationalist arrogance implied in this politics. The implication is that British workers are unionised, militant, and in an almost permanent state of struggle to defend their conditions – which is why bosses want to use migrant workers, who of course have no trade union consciousness and are little more than scabs, to undermine it.

The reality is quite different. As we know, strikes are at historically low levels and the labour movement has halved in size since its 1979 height. The picture of a militant and combative “native” labour movement having its struggles undermined by bosses shipping in migrant strikebreakers is simply false. In fact, some of the brightest spots in contemporary class struggle in Britain are migrant workers’ struggles, such as the organising by the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB) and United Voices of the World (UVW). As Jason Moyer-Lee of the IWGB puts it, these struggles mean migrant workers often leave their jobs “better than they found them”.

Overturning the law on closed shops, and reintroducing them as a feature of the industrial landscape in this country, is a worthy aspiration. But that will be achieved through organisation and struggle. To demand a state-enforced “closed shop” as a means of “solving” the largely illusory “problem” of migrant labour depressing wages for domestic workers is, at best, bizarre.

It either functions as a demand that migrant workers have adequate trade union consciousness before they move to Britain (again, why demand this of a Pole moving to Britain, but not a Geordie moving to London?), or is simply a dishonest obfuscation. Uneasy with straightforwardly expressing the political core of their demand – that immigration be reduced – the policy is wrapped up in “trade union” verbiage to make it appear like something other than what it is, a demand for boosting one group of workers at the expense of another, in this case on the basis of nationality and immigration status.

It is the very opposite of the politics of class unity and solidarity that the principle of the closed shop is supposed to express.

Argument Two: “We need fair immigration controls”.

See: “My cure for a divided Britain: a programme of managed immigration”, Stephen Kinnock, The Guardian, 19 September 2016

Versions of this argument are used by a range of people in the labour movement, from Blairite and soft-left MPs through to some on the far-left. Read the rest of this entry »

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How, just 50 years ago, the closed shop reinforced the colour bar

October 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm (BBC, Civil liberties, history, Human rights, immigration, posted by JD, Racism, Socialist Party, unions, workers)

A superb BBC Radio 4 programme today, told the story of how rail worker Asquith Xavier took on the colour bar operated at Euston station by NUR lay officials claiming that all they were doing was operating the ‘closed shop’; Socialist Party members take note:

BBC, 15 July 1966:

1966: Euston staff ‘colour bar’ ended

A West Indian refused a job at Euston Station will now be employed there after managers overturned a ban on black workers.

Two months ago Asquith Xavier, a train guard from Dominica, was refused a transfer from Marylebone Station to Euston because of his colour.

The new job would have meant a pay increase of around £10 a week for Mr Xavier who started work for British Railways (BR) as a porter 10 years ago.

He was informed about his rejection and the reason for it in a letter from Euston’s local staff committee whose members belong to the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR).
BR does not have to abide by staff committees’ recommendations on appointments but they are very influential.

However, at a news conference on Friday BR spokesman Leslie Leppington said the colour bar at Euston Station had now been ended and Mr Xavier would be given a job.

However, Mr Leppington insisted the ban – rumoured to have been in place for 12 years – had not been a “real” colour bar.

He said it had been instigated by the workers out of a desire to protect their jobs and had never been management policy.

“If we had wanted to impose a real colour bar we would not have done it this way.

“We would have found some excuse to show he was not suitable for the job, wouldn’t we?” Mr Leppington said.

Mr Xavier, 44, is currently off work due to ill health and was not at the news conference.

But afterwards the secretary of the West Indian Standing Conference, Jeff Crawford, said they would be calling for the government to take action.

“We are going to urge the government to conduct a full and independent inquiry into discrimination throughout British Rail – to find out the extent of the problem, the cause and effect and the solution,” Mr Crawford said.

Similar bans to that ended at Euston are reported to be in force at other London stations including Camden and Broad Street.

But under current law the government’s options to curb them are limited.

The Race Relations Act was passed last year but contains only measures to combat racial discrimination in public places such as hotels and pubs (discrimination in the workplace was not illegal until an amendment to the Race Relations Act in 1968 -JD).

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Immigration: Corbyn’s principled stance shames Socialist Party

October 14, 2016 at 1:16 pm (Anti-Racism, capitulation, Europe, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party)

Image may contain: 1 person , text

This article first appeared in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website

One of the best bits of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour conference speech was his defence of migrants.

“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages; it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.

“It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS; it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training.

“It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.

“Immigration can certainly put extra pressure on services… What did the Tories do? They… demonise migrants for putting pressure on services…

“We will act decisively to end the undercutting of workers’ pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour and agency working… And we will ease the pressure on hard-pressed public services – services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations”.

Socialist Party of England and Wales logo.gif

It should put to shame the Socialist Party, which has presented immigration controls as a sort of working-class “closed shop”, thus feeding the myth that migrant workers, and not the exploitation of migrant workers, drive down wages:

“The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days”, declares the SP, “has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

“It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists”.

Were those sentences a bit of bad writing? An aberration? Not at all. The SP has opposed free movement of labour consistently, in many articles, for instance this one by their leader, Peter Taafe, that contains the following:

“The alleged benefits of the ‘free movement of labour’ are in reality a device for the bosses to exploit a vast pool of cheap labour, which can then be used to cut overall wage levels and living standards”.

“The EU’s free movement of labour rules… have helped the bosses to inflict a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and conditions, rather than stemming from workers’ interests and a raising of living standards across the board”.

Even conventional academic research has shown that any depression of wage levels which follows increased immigration at a time of diminished trade union rights and inadequate solidarity is confined to particular categories of labour, and is much smaller than the wage gain which would result from stronger union rights and greater workers’ unity.

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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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Socialist Party supports immigration controls and likens them to … the closed shop!

September 8, 2016 at 11:29 am (Andrew Coates, Europe, immigration, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Socialist Party)

A brilliant denunciation by Andrew Coates:

Socialist Party: For Ending the Free Movement of Labour to the UK

Image result for pro-europe demonstration trafalgar square left unity tendance coatesy

Capitalist pro-EU demonstrators.

The Socialist Party (SP) writes,

The EU referendum result was a massive rejection of the capitalist establishment but voting Leave was not a vote for a governmental alternative. Now Jeremy Corbyn has the opportunity to use his Labour leadership re-election campaign to rally both Leave and Remain voters behind a programme for a socialist and internationalist break with the EU bosses’ club, argues CLIVE HEEMSKERK.

The Party is exultant.

‘Project Fear’ lost (project hysteria about Johnny foreigners won…).

The main forces of British and international capitalism did everything they could to secure a vote in June’s referendum to keep Britain in the EU. President Obama made a carefully choreographed state visit. The IMF co-ordinated the release of doom-laden reports with the chancellor George Osborne.

And then there was the shameful joint campaigning of right-wing Labour Party and trade union leaders with David Cameron and other representatives of big business.

A propaganda tsunami of fear was unleashed to try and intimidate the working class to vote in favour of the EU bosses’ club.

But to no avail. Pimco investment company analysts mournfully commented that the vote was “part of a wider, more global, backlash against the establishment, rising inequality and globalisation” (The Guardian, 28 June).

No mention of, er, Jeremy Corbyn’s position in favour of Remain..

The article is full of a lot of tiresome self-justification, and statistics that minimise the Labour voters’ support for Remain, not to mention that of the overwhelming majority of young people, (“Just two out of five people aged 65 and over backed staying in. In contrast, 75% of voters aged 18 to 24 plumped for Remain). They apparently do not see it as a problem that, as the Mirror put it,  “Labour’s heartlands united with Tory shires” to vote Leave.

Accepting the present state of class consciousness – on this basis we could equally claim that the Tory shires were also voting “against the capitalist establishment” – is not a socialist standpoint.

Instead the so-called Lexit camp offered ‘understanding’ about fears about being swamped’ by migrants, and a cart-load of clichés about ‘Brussels’ links to big business, as if Westminster is not bound and foot to Capital.

We can also recall straightforward lies blaming the reform of the Code du Travail in France on the EU and the idea that Brexit would halt the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),  when it’s been EU countries, and not the UK that have scuppered it for the moment.

The result was that during the Referendum campaign the Lexiters sided with the ‘sovereigntists’ who imagine that leaving the EU would ‘restore’ power to Parliament, and indeed the Nation.

In other words they stood on the same side as the most reactionary sections of Capital and the bourgeoisie, the Tory Right and the ‘populist’ nationalist-racists of UKIP.

If they are not always as honest as their virulently nationalist French allies, the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID), about this, the strategy of the Socialist Party, like the SWP, the Morning Star and Counterfire, ties class politics to national sovereignty and erodes the internationalist basis of a common European left.

https://latribunedestravailleurs.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/tribune-meeting-28-mai.jpg?w=620&h=228

Trotskyist POID pro-Brexit Rally in Paris May 2016 backed by the SP, Morning Star, Steve Hedley, Alex Gordon, Lexit campaign, and Co.

It is the task of the left to fight, not adapt to, the carnival of reaction that took place during and is continuing after the Referendum.

But no doubt the Socialist Party would have found class reasons to ‘understand’ those in the Victorian proletariat who celebrated the 1900 ending of the siege of Mafeking and this joyous meeting of toffs and East Enders.

Image result for siege of mafeking celebrations in London

To these high-minded people, all capitalist politicians are to blame for nationalist campaigns that feed on racism (“All capitalist politicians, defending a system based on the exploitation of the majority by a small minority, to some degree rest on nationalism – with racism as its most virulent expression – to maintain a social base for capitalist rule”). It’s never the ideology of others, who have no minds of their own. So they, the capitalist lot, are all to blame…

No doubt from the front page of the Daily Express, UKIP, to…the Liberal Democrats….

https://i2.wp.com/www.aljazeera.com/mritems/imagecache/mbdxxlarge/mritems/Images/2016/6/21/9b0dab20514e4f629643f00e451eff0f_18.jpg

The SP would no doubt dislike this UKIP poster.

Instead the Socialist Party has no position on the problem – but is opposed to the free movement of labour.

Or to put it less indirectly: migrant labour and ‘foreigners’.

This is a real sticking point.

In the negotiations that are taking place, the Socialist Party lays down a few ‘principles’, apparently socialist and ‘trade unionist’,  on the topic.

They state,

The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.

What is their position on the kind of ‘border control’ they do support.

The organised workers’ movement must take an independent class position on the EU free movement of labour rules that will be raised in the EU negotiations (see box).

Which is?

Here is the negative (Why the Socialist Party opposed the EU.)

What ‘free movement’ exists in the EU is used to allow big business to exploit a cheap supply of labour in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of low pay, zero-hour contacts and poor employment conditions.

Well there’s nothing here about pan-European efforts to end this ‘race to the bottom’.

Only a very British exit from the system.

We would like a specific answer: is the Socialist Party in favour of a “closed shop” controlling entry for European and other migrant workers entry into the UK?

How will this operate ?

Pre or post-entry?

To the whatabouters we ask: will ending freedom of movement from ‘Fortress  Europe’  mean that you can make a ‘socialist’ Fortress UK?

Migrant labour deserves an answer on how the Socialist Party wishes to regulate their future.

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