As the UK’s steel industry faces extinction, the Tories prevaricate over what – if any- state aid they are willing to offer in order to save the Tata operations at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton (North Wales). At least 40,000 jobs are at stake.
Business minister Anna Soubry initially stated that the government was willing to consider “everything possible” – including nationalisation – in order to save the Port Talbot plant. But now her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out nationalisation, arguing “if you look around Europe and elsewhere, I think nationalisation is rarely the answer.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Tata Steel have suggested that EU rules restricting state aid were to blame for its decision to sell the UK steel business – a claim that has been seized upon by campaigners for Brexit, including the supposedly “left wing” Morning Star, always willing to let the Tories off the hook by claiming (entirely falsely) that the British government “is banned by EU competition laws” from intervening to save the industry.
While it’s true that EU rules place some restrictions on using state aid to prop up industries, European governments with the political will have either turned a blind eye to the regulations or found ways round them. For instance, while the EU blocks support for “manufacturers in difficulties”, it allows national governments to nurture the “long term competitiveness and efficiency” of industry, and also to provide state funding to lessen the “social impact” of closures.
Even outright nationalisation is not barred by the EU: Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345
All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf
In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’
While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted, in particular, by the anti-EU “left”.
In Italy the government took control of the Ilva steelworks last year to save 16,000 jobs. Then the firm was handed £74 million for “environmental improvements” – ie direct state aid.
Germany also provides aid to its regional governments on the understanding that steel produced in the country is used on any German building or engineering projects. Germany also operates the part-publicly-funded Gesellschaft, a research organisation that provides applied science for companies that would otherwise find the cost prohibitive.
In 2012 French president Hollande threatened to nationalise Arcelor Mittal steel’s operations in the Lorraine plateau in order to save the blast furnaces of Florange and their 2,500 jobs. He didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about any EU state-aid rules. Ironically, Hollande’s threat was denounced by Boris Johnson – now a leading light of the Brexit campaign.
In a written answer to Labour Euro-MP Jude Kirton-Darling at the time of the Redcar steelworks closure last year, the European Commission confirmed that the UK Government could have given state aid to support the steelworks. Here are some of the ways that other EU governments have intervened to support their domestic steel industries, and other energy intensive industries. There are also examples of regional governments taking initiatives in Germany and Spain.
In early 2015, the Italian Government temporarily renationalised the Ilva Steel works in Taranto, Southern Italy. The Italian government cited the unabated toxic emissions and very poor environmental standards, which had led to unusually high rates of cancer in the area around the plant. It is estimated that it will cost €1.8bn to make Ilva compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive’s standards. This decision is currently subject to a complaint from EUROFER (European steel industry association) under state aid rules.
Investment in strategic R&D facilities
The French government are providing state-aid to the ArcelorMittal plant at Florange, in France to support their ongoing R&D work, this follows on from a long running industrial dispute over the closing of two blast furnaces. This public support comes to a total of €20-50 million over 4 years, with a further 33 million been raised in public-private investment.
Support for energy efficiency/environmental technologies
In 2010, the European Commission accepted German state aid of €19.1 million for an energy-saving steel production project run by Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, a subsidiary of the Salzgitter AG group. The aid will allow Salzgitter to produce steel through an innovative production process, Direct Strip Casting (DSC), which consumes less energy than alternative processes. The aid is in line with EU guidelines on State aid for environmental objectives (see IP/08/80) because on balance, the positive effects for the environment largely outweigh potential distortions of competition.
In 2010, before the May elections (which saw a change in Government), the UK Labour government was willing to provide Sheffield steel producer Forgemasters with an £80m loan to develop new technologies as part of a supply chain for nuclear reactors. While ultimately the new government withdrew this offer, the reasoning for a change of heart was ideological and not related to European State-Aid rules.
Taking a public stake in a steel company
Following the sale of 20.5% of shares in ‘NLMK Belgium Sogepa Holdings SA’ for 91.1 million euros ($123 million), the Belgian public authorities have a shareholding in a new company producing steel which owns steel plants in Belgium, France and Italy. NBH employs about 1,000 people in Belgium, while the European division employs 2,530 people in total. The engagement of the Belgian public authorities has helped strengthen the commitment of the Russian group, and transformed the company carrying the steel business in public private joint venture with the financial support of the Walloon region.
Compensation for energy costs
A range of German Government industry policy interventions provide German industry as a whole, including its energy intensive industries, with a range of long established reliefs from energy and climate change-related duties, levies and taxes:
Over the period 2010-2012 Germany’s support for its EIIs were worth 26bn euros, or some 8bn euros (£6.4bn) a year (table 2).
Support covers thousands of firms. Unlike the UK package, support is not confined to specific sectors.
At company level, in Germany compensation is available for 90% (or in the case of larger and energy intense consumers, 100%) of electricity taxes.
In Sweden, the PFE programme aims to encourage, through incentives (reductions in the amount of energy taxes), energy-intensive industries to improve their energy efficiency. This is a long-term agreement involving the Swedish government, the energy-intensive industries and trade unions. The duration of this program is 5 years. 117 industrial companies are involved in this project (i.e. 250 plants). The Swedish Energy Agency monitors and controls the programme. The Programme Board, established in 2005, brings together representatives from government, business, trade unions and employers as well as research centers. Both with an advisory and regulatory purpose, the Board meets four times a year. After only two years of existence, more than 900 measures were implemented or underway. These measures cost the companies € 110 million but benefited from a rapid return on investment (two years on average). They have saved about 1 TWh per year of electricity, i.e. from 500 kT to 1 million tons of CO2, and a total of € 55 million. In 2010, it doubled its objectives.
Using the powers of the official receiver to support employment & attracting buyers for troubled plants
In November 2014, the Italian government agreed to sell Italy’s second-largest steelmaker Lucchini’s Piombino complex to family-owned Algerian conglomerate Cevital. Lucchini was previously owned by Russia’s Severstal but was declared insolvent in 2012 and placed into special administration. The company received two offers for its core assets in Piombino, one from Cevital and the other from India’s JSW Steel. The government administrator said the Cevital offer was more attractive as it foresaw full employment at Piombino. The Piombino complex employs about 2,000 people and can produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.
Strike at Maudsley, Lambeth, Lewisham and Bethlem Hospitals for a living wage, sick pay and unsocial hours
Adapted from the GMB’s website:
Photo: Michelle Gordon
With a profit of $1.4bn, American multinational outsourcing provider Aramark can well afford to pay their staff a proper wage says GMB.
GMB, the union for staff in the health service, is holding a strike at four South London Hospitals on Monday 21st March for 175 members working as cleaners and hostesses for private contractor Aramark.
GMB members will make history by leading the first strike against Aramark in the UK, having voted 97% in favour of industrial action. They will be seeking a living wage and fairer arrangements for sick pay and unsocial hours payments.
Picketing is taking place at the following addresses:
Bethlem Royal Hospital
Monks Orchard Road
108 Landor Road
University Hospital Lewisham
Lewisham High Street
Many of the staff who keep the hospital sites clean and prepare and serve food to patients are paid as little as £7.38 per hour and receive only 10 days of sick pay per year. Sick pay is only provided after the first 3 days of illness and workers in their first year of service receive no sick pay at all.
Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “GMB members are serious about fighting for something that any worker should be entitled to: A wage they can live on and a sick pay scheme which ensures they won’t be forced into poverty as a result of falling ill.
“Aramark make a profit by paying workers as little as possible. GMB members in South London and Maudsley NHS Trust are now saying enough is enough, they should be rewarded properly for the work they do.
Our members are proud to be making history by leading the first strike in the UK against Aramark. Predominantly low paid women workers, the bravery our members are showing in this fight against an aramark multinational is inspiring. One woman was telling me how she was punched in the face by one of the patients while she was serving food on the ward – all for £7:38 ph!
Aramark is a $14.3 billion, American owned, multinational outsourcing provider. They can afford to pay their staff a proper wage.”
Contact: Nadine Houghton on 07714239227 or Andy Prendergast on 07984492726 or GMB press office on 07970 863411 or 07739 182691
Notes to editors
1 GMB press release dated Thursday, January 21, 2016
Dispute Looms At Of South London And Maudsley NHS Trust As Pay Talks With Contactor Aramark For £10 Per Hour Living Wage Stall
Next step is seeking permission for official strike ballot and there will protest demonstrations on 2nd and 9th February says GMB.
A dispute looms as pay talks covering 175 GMB members employed as domestics and hostesses by private contractor Aramark at four sites of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) have stalled.
The pay talks which have broken down cover members at the Maudsley, Lambeth, Bethlem and Ladywell sites where GMB is seeking a living wage of £10per hour and an end to two tier arrangements on sick pay and shift allowances.
GMB officers will now seek permission to proceed to an official strike ballot. GMB will also be calling demonstrations outside the sites as part of the campaign for a living wage and an end to the two tier workforce in the NHS.
Aramark is an American owned multinational outsourcing provider turning over $13billion. It pays many staff on the SLAM contract as little as £7:30ph for providing front line services to mental health patients.
Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “It’s unfortunate that we have been forced to ask our members whether or not they are prepared to strike but we have consistently told Aramark that our members provide a front line service in a mental health trust within London and as such they deserve to be paid a genuine living wage of £10ph, full sick pay and proper shift allowances.
Our members are working around many vulnerable individuals, sometimes they are verbally and even physically attacked and yet many of them are unable to take sick leave as they are not paid for this, some of them also receive no extra pay for working weekends and bank holidays. they have rejected the offer that Aramark made to them as it went nowhere near satisfying the members demands.
GMB will continue to press for a living wage to be set at £10 per hour as agreed at GMB Congress. Members make clear in their experience you need at least £10 an hour and a full working week to have a decent life free from benefits and tax credits. Less than £10 an hour means just existing not living. It means a life of isolation, unable to socialise. It means a life of constant anxiety over paying bills and of borrowing from friends, family and pay day loan sharks just to make ends meet.”
The Guardian‘s coverage, here
Left wing anti-EU campaigners have, so far made little attempt to argue their case from an explicity pro-working class, or even trade union standpoint. So it is at least refreshing to see Enrico Tortolano attempt to do this in yesterday’s Morning Star. We republish his piece below, followed by a reply from Johnny Lewis:
Lets’s fight on our terms not EU’s
Enrico Tortolano (campaign director, Trade Unionists Against the EU) argues that Britain’s EU referendum on June 23 is not a choice between two bad options but rather a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to live in
Trade union negotiators spend their lives between a rock and a hard place trying to make the best of bad options.
This can lead to a habit we like to think of as pragmatism — making the best of a bad job.
However, at key historical moments fundamental principles come into the equation. Sometimes we have to aspire above the unacceptable options we are offered.
Britain’s EU referendum is such an occasion. It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers. We have to express our deeper interests as working-class people.
To say Cameron’s “EU deal” is just as bad as the status quo and in the next breath advocate a vote for Britain to remain in the EU in order to build “another, nicer EU” misses the point. As does former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who thinks he can reform the EU — something millions of workers over three decades have found impossible.
It shouldn’t be forgotten he advised the Greek government to accept 70 per cent of the EU austerity memorandum and is responsible for much of the present crisis. His failure to understand the system, to grasp the nature of EU institutions and neoliberalism itself, underlies his utopian illusion.
The EU is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a bastion of workers’ rights, nor to support the struggles for equality of women, minorities or young people.
The desperate plight of working-class communities throughout the EU’s 28 member states is clear. Average unemployment was 8.9 per cent in January 2016 — 10.3 per cent in euro-area countries. Incredibly, this is hailed as a sign of recovery by some EU enthusiasts because it represents a 0.1 per cent reduction from the previous month.
Workers in the EU have been trapped in a prolonged crisis of joblessness and falling real wages for over 15 years.
Since 2000 average EU unemployment rates only fell below 8 per cent — 1 in 12 workers — briefly in 2007-8 only to rise to 12 per cent in 2013, before reverting to EU “normality” of around 10 per cent today.
For millions throughout the EU this has meant their lives have been defined by foodbanks, homelessness, debt and precarious forms of employment.
The intended outcome of German ordoliberal policies applied by EU political elites in the interests of big business is to lower wages, “foster competitiveness” and increase worker insecurity.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (M Star March 9) and some trade union leaders who attempt to put a brave face on what they see as the least bad option, unfortunately risk choosing by far the worst option.
Leaving the EU would tear the Tory Party apart. Of course there would be confrontation, but given the ruthlessness with which they are destroying the welfare state and workplace rights, exiting and taking them down makes sense on all levels. This shouldn’t be outside our movement’s cognitive mapping — the real danger for workers lies in giving up on the idea of meaningful change. EU institutions rule exclusively in the interests of corporations and finance capital and are the main drivers of austerity in our part of the world.
A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda. It would also show British people know the only way to stop TTIP, privatising our NHS and public services, is by leaving the EU. These are precisely the reasons why large corporations, the US and global capital are desperately funding and supporting a campaign for Britain to remain a member of the EU.
This referendum is about class issues, not narrow negotiating issues. If the TUC or European TUC could negotiate a favourable settlement for workers with EU institutions and their masters in the Round Table of Industrialists, why has this not already happened?
This referendum is about whether workers want a future of intergovernmental collaboration based on UN principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for self-determination of nations, or a continuation of the EU’s endless austerity where supranational super-states financialise and privatise all areas of human activity.
In this context, it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights.
This is simply untrue. Decades of EU neoliberal economics have depended on its denial of the most basic of workers’ rights — the right to work. The equivalent of Britain’s entire full-time working population (22.98 million) are unemployed across the EU. It is a low-growth area worsened by EU institutions attacking collective bargaining rights.
Accession states, or countries with odious debt like Greece, have been forced to demolish collective bargaining arrangements as conditions for EU bailouts. The EU as a bastion of women’s rights? Try speaking to working-class Greek, Spanish or Portuguese women resisting the aggressive EU austerity agenda.
The European Court of Justice upholds fundamental EU principles of “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services. That’s why its rulings automatically trump workers’ rights.
The Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. The economic crisis of 2008 was used to push through a raft of policies giving the unelected European Commission the power to veto member governments’ budgets and spending plans.
A concrete road map has been articulated by the EU around an assault on workers’ rights that has led to mass protests in Bulgaria and general strikes in Portugal.
Because some on the left have been starry-eyed about the long-dead myth of “social Europe,” the task of organising real international solidarity with these struggles has been neglected.
Let’s revive the deep internationalism of Britain’s trade union movement. Vote to leave the EU. Make a new world possible.
The left Brexiters are putting workers’ rights in danger – and playing into the hands of the right
By Johnny Lewis (a leading trade unionist)
Comrade Tortolano opens his piece by noting that there are situations for socialists in which fundamental political principles must take precedence over the day to day pragmatism of trade union-style negotiations. In principle, I can agree: I’d argue that getting rid of Trident – even before we have an alternative jobs plan in place – is a case in point. Getting out of the EU most certainly isn’t.
At most, it could be argued that the argument over Brexit v Remain is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class over two alternative strategies for British capitalism, in which the working class has no interest one way or the other. In the past (during the 1975 referendum, for instance), some of us have argued just that, but I will now go on to explain why that approach does not apply in the present referendum campaign, and why trade unionists and the left should argue to remain.
I have argued in a previous piece that those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.
Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union and pro-worker legislation has increased. Such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post- 1980 legislation originates from the EU.
It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties – the result of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. Comrade Tortolano cites the Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases as demonstrating “beyond reasonable doubt” his case that the ECJ’s rulings on the implementation of the Directive is anti-worker: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation – and in directing their fire at the EU people like Comrade Tortolano in reality let the Tory government and its Coalition and New labour Predecessors off the hook.
However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. And the consequence of this dismantling of the floor would almost certainly start a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries are forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right. In fairness to Comrade Tortolano, he does at least address this crucial issue, but only by denying reality and obscuring the real issues with empty rhetoric (“it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights” etc).
The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP, though it is hinted at in Comrade Tortolano’s piece, where he complains of the European Court of Justice upholding the principle of “free movement” of labour: that foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.
We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist right’s emphasis on immigration of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believes (like, incredibly, Comrade Tortolano) the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is b – to put it mildly – worrying that they come close to blaming migrants for low wages.
Unable to put forward any coherent or convincing trade union-based rationale, those left wingers advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim, as does Comrade Tortolano, that “It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers”, he is unable to present any such case, and neither has any other left Brexiter.
The comrade’s rhetoric about “our system of justice, democracy, collective rights” is simply empty guff: as I have stated (above), every single aspect of pro-worker and pro-union legislation in the UK since 1980 (with the exception of TU recognition) originates from the EU. As for “justice”, the EU has forced successive British governments to introduce legislation on parental leave, age discrimination and transgender rights that almost certainly wouldn’t exist otherwise; and in other areas – equal pay, maternity rights, sex, disability and race discrimination, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has improved and extended existing laws, making it more difficult for a reactionary UK government to undermine them.
Comrade Tortolano then puts forward the further argument: that “A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda.” Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what people like the comrade believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.
The comrade, like all anti-EU leftists, no doubt believes that measures such as renationalising industries or intervening directly in the economy are made impossible by EU membership (I am surprised that this argument is only hinted at in his article): but this is simply not the case – see Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’
All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf
In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’
While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted by the anti-EU left. But, for the sake of argument, say it were true: are we seriously suggesting that a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a clear democratic mandate and manifesto pledging public ownership of the nation’s railway system and ‘Big Six’ energy companies, would be deterred by the objections of EU bureaucrats? This, incidentally, is where analogies with Greece, Spain and Portugal fall down: the UK has the fifth-largest national economy (and second-largest in EU) measured by nominal GDP: the idea that a left wing UK government could be bullied in the way that Syriza in Greece was is simply preposterous.
Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism. That’s why the left Brexiters like Comrade Tortolano are so badly – and dangerously – mistaken. It’s also why people like myself , who in 1975 argued for abstention, now say that in the forthcoming referendum, class conscious workers and all progressive people, must argue, campaign and vote to remain.
The referendum is not simply a matter of being about in or out: it is also an episode in the formation of this new, populist right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the Brexit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the recent decline in workers’ rights within the EU: rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against their real and imagined grievances – politicians not listening, growing impoverishment, or the belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline – not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the Brexit campaign.
The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: the one convincing claim that Comrade Tortolano makes against the EU is about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left and within the unions who advocate Remain not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.
Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive, it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers, and on a pan-European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.
By Johnny Lewis
(Johnny Lewis is the nom de plume of a leading UK trade unionist)
Those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.
Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union legislation has increased. Seen as a totality such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post 1980 legislation originates from the EU.
It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties, a cumulative effect of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. This has often been cited as an example of legislation which divides workers: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation.
However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. The consequence of this pulling apart of the floor would also fire the starting gun for a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries were forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right.
The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP. They argue foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.
We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist rights use of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believed the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is inconceivable that could blame migrants for low wages.
Unable to put forward any trade union based rationale for exit those advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim their political reasons for exit ‘trump’ the trade union reasons for remaining, for sure such arguments better be extremely compelling: I’d submit that while the arguments they put forward may be many things, ‘compelling’ is not one of them.
The left’s political arguments for exit are not straightforward as they do so from a number of different political standpoints. Here I consider the arguments advocated by many of the far-left.
Until the late 60’s all of today’s far-left supported what was the Common Market / EEC: but by the 1975 referendum most had shifted their position to a no vote. This about face arose from a desire to relate to the massed ranks of the virulent anti – EEC Labour Party/ CP and trade union left.
Today this rationale has long been forgotten morphing into something far more esoteric. Their argument for exit has two main components the first part holds the EU is an emerging imperialist power and therefore needs to be resisted the second puts forward the view that an exit would precipitate a crisis in the UK and within the EU, making it easier for workers to struggle against austerity.
The ‘imperialist’ argument is bound up with a view of a world divided into two camps the imperialist and anti-imperialists, included in this latter group is Russia, indeed Russia is viewed as the bulwark, the vanguard in the struggle against imperialism. This understanding of imperialism is a continuation of the way Stalinism divided the world between those who supported the ‘Soviet’ block and the imperialist west. This left advocacy of this reworked Stalinist world view removes any critical assessment of what a state or movement’s attitude is towards national self-determination or towards a counties working class and its labour movement, substituting a criteria which backs sates and movements based on their opposition to the west. On a global scale this has seen them back Russian’s imperialist aims in Crimea and support for the butcher Assad.
As a general understanding of imperialism it is deeply flawed, set within an EU context it is risible, once its Marxian flourishes are removed we are left with a prosaic point which boils down to wanting to leave the EU because its capitalist. It should be added that this fatuous view seems to be the cornerstone of all on the left who wish to exit. One may legitimately ask given the EU is constituted by 28 capitalist states who, by and large, pursue neo liberal polices, many of whom, the UK included, are real not proto imperialist powers what else could this institution be other than capitalist?
So if the imperialism rationale fails to run, what of the second element in their argument the idea that leaving the EU will destabilise capitalism? This idea represents the politics of my enemy’s enemy is my friend and is more akin – in its consequences on unions and workers, to anarchism or nihilism than trade unionism, or socialism, let alone a Marxian standpoint.
Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what its left advocates believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which the movement, particularly the Labour Party will have to contend with.
Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism.
The referendum should then not be seen solely as being about in or out it is also an episode in the formation of this right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the exit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the decline in workers’ rights rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against the causes of their social malaise, whether it is about politicians not listening, their growing impoverishment, or their belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the out campaign.
Once the impact of destabilisation on the working class is grasped and the wider political impact on working class politics is comprehended it is very far from the case that our enemies’ enemy, in this instance UKIP, is our friend, or maybe I fail to see the big picture because I fail to understand the dialectic.
The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: those who advocate leaving are right when they speak about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left within the unions not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.
Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers and on a pan European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.
The pro-Brexit “left” (such as it is) has a big problem dealing with the fact that many workers’ rights enshrined in UK legislation would not exist but for the EU. The best they can come up with is flat denial of facts (“TUPE has nothing to do with the EU”), straw-man evasion (“workers’ rights have been attacked without a peep from the EU”) and banality (“it was the trade union movement that won workers’ rights in Britain”).
If you want a taste of this kind of disingenuous little-England garbage, decked out with fake-“left” phraseology, read any day’s edition of the Morning Star.
Fortunately for the UK labour movement, we now have a report from the TUC proving beyond reasonable doubt that rights such as paid annual leave and fair treatment for part-time workers are due to the EU and will be in danger if Britain leaves.
Rights and protections including TUPE, paid annual leave, time off for antenatal appointments and fair treatment for part-time and agency workers, are “used every day by millions of workers”, the TUC said. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, “no one can say what will happen to these rights”.
The TUC highlights the likelihood that following a Brexit the Tory government would be emboldened to roll back rights and safeguards brought in and protected by the EU. The authoritative report – UK Employment Rights and the EU was released today.
The report says there has been some recent concern among union members that Brussels has increasingly restricted the scope of EU social policy by placing limits on the ability of unions to organise industrial action in cross-border disputes. It says that, in some eurozone countries, the European commission has undermined collective bargaining agreements that cover whole industries: “However, set against these concerns are the significant employment rights gains that continue to accrue to UK workers as a result of our EU membership.”
“These are wide-ranging in scope, including access to paid annual holidays, improved health and safety protection, rights to unpaid parental leave, rights to time off work for urgent family reasons, equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers, rights for outsourced workers, and rights for workers’ representatives to receive information and be consulted, particularly in the context of restructuring.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line. It’s the EU that guarantees workers their rights to paid holidays, parental leave, equal treatment for part-timers, and much more.
“These rights can’t be taken for granted. There are no guarantees that any government will keep them if the UK leaves the EU. And without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections,” she said.
The report warns that the government has already succeeded in reducing workers’ rights, when in 2012 the qualifying period for unfair dismissal rights was increased from one to two years, along with new caps on compensation.
“And in 2013, much higher fees were imposed on workers seeking to enforce their rights at employment tribunals,” it says.
Ms O’Grady added: “The current government has already shown their appetite to attack workers’ rights. Unions in Britain campaigned for these rights and we don’t want them put in jeopardy. The question for everyone who works for a living is this: can you risk a leap into the unknown on workplace rights?”
CONDEMN THE DEFAMATION OF NUM SOLIDARITY WITH UKRANIAN MINERS
The National Union of Mineworkers is disturbed by the smears against our union regarding our approach to the conflict in Ukraine. These smears have been promoted mainly by elements on the outskirts of the labour movement. Sadly, some who should know better have been willing to give air to such defamation. We at the NUM have long experience of those who would seek to sow divisions and discredit us and we have a proven record of defending ourselves when necessary.
It is shamefully claimed the NUM has joined the camp of our enemies and abandoned our history of working class internationalism. Some even asserting we have crossed into the same camp as fascists and taken the line of Nato. Let us set the record straight.
The NUM has not based its response to the Ukraine crisis on what the British or Russian media tell us. We have not been charmed by the opportunity to sit in their TV studios and accept without question their government’s line. Instead we naturally turned to our fellow miners’ unions, with whom we have a friendship stretching back decades: the Trade Union of the Coal Mining Industry (PRUP) and the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU). The very first statement issued by the NUM executive committee was clear:
“The NUM supports the international principle of self-determination and expresses its support to our brothers and sisters in the miners’ union, PRUP, who are calling for all interference from outside Ukraine to stop. The NUM calls for a peaceful resolution to the current issues facing the people of Ukraine and our thoughts are with all the miners in the Ukraine, who we regard as our friends.”
During some of the worst fighting in Ukraine, we hosted a delegation of miners at the Durham Miners Gala in 2014 that were warmly received, yet our hospitality is now denigrated by assertions they were not miners, but national union officials from Kiev. This is untrue. The delegation was from Donbas and the speaker that addressed the gala was chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk branch of PRUP.
The NUM has sent two delegations to Ukraine; we have visited industrial areas, met national union officials, local branches and rank-and-file miners. We have also met with activists of the wider labour movement. The NUM attended and addressed the joint union congress of Miners of Ukraine on April 21. We are proud to have taken part in a protest by thousands of miners in defiance of riot police at the parliament in Kiev against pit closures.
Those attacking the NUM seek to question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian trade unions. Yet we have seen with our own eyes that the miners’ unions are not slavishly following the oligarchs and the government. They are resisting as best they can pit closures, austerity and anti-union laws. The NUM is being attacked because we support fellow trade unions that appeal for solidarity instead of the armed forces that hold a third of the territory in Donbas. Despite the wishful thinking of some, Putin’s Russia is not sponsoring a revived 1917-style soviet republic or a Spain of 1936. It is clear the takeover in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk area was initiated by rival oligarchs and Russia out of their own vested interests. In those areas the existing labour movement has been suppressed, trade unionists have been kidnapped, tortured and even murdered. This is common knowledge and has been reported to the international trade union movement repeatedly.
We have given our support to the Ukrainian labour movement in supporting the unity of Ukraine and of the working people of Ukraine, opposing the undemocratic division of Ukraine by force, which has been a humanitarian and economic catastrophe; it has divided working people and their labour movement.
At no time has the NUM given support to either Russian or Ukrainian far-right forces active in Ukraine – our solidarity is first and foremost with the labour movement. The NUM endorses the calls by the Ukrainian trade unions for justice for victims of the attacks on both the Kiev and Odessa trade union buildings, and of those killed on the Malaysian airline.
The situation was summed up in an address by the Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine to the conference of its sister union, Aslef, that “Ukraine has been squeezed between an aggressive power in our east and neoliberal economic policies from the west. The working people of Ukraine are suffering from both the terrible cost of war and of austerity.” NUM shares the view that it is for the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, free from external intervention from Russian or western imperialism. That is, we support the achievement of peace through self-determination, solidarity and social justice.
National Union of Mineworkers
Saturday’s TUC/Equal Opportunities Review Discrimination Law Conference was, as usual, a highly informative event.
The driving force behind this conference (an annual event) is Michael Rubenstein, editor of Equal Opportunities Review and widely regarded as Britain’s leading expert on both equal opportunities law and employment law (he also edits the Industrial Relations Law Reports): unlike a lot of legal people, he makes no secret of his sympathy with the trade union movement.
Amongst the other distinguished speakers was Karon Monagham QC of Matrix Chambers, on ‘Sex and race discrimination: recent developments.’ Anyone whose ever Karon speak will know that she makes no secret of her left wing stance and passionate commitment to anti-racism, equal opportunities and trade union rights – how she ever got to be a QC is a bit of a mystery …
Karon spoke with authority on her subject, concentrating upon:
- Judicial review of employment tribunal fees
- Proving disparate impact: the Court of Appeal decision in Essop
- Direct, indirect and associative discrimination: implications of the CJEU decision in CHEZ
- Justifying indirect discrimination: where the law now stands
Karon noted that, “As to recent decisions of the Courts and tribunals, they’re a mixed bag. We have seen some worrying recent case law challenging some of the prevailing orthodoxy around the concepts of equality under the EA 2010 and related matters. We have also seen some progressive case law, in particular in reliance on fundamental rights protected by EU and ECHR law.”
In the course of her presentation, Karon made it clear that the EU Equality Directives, case law from the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, remain potent and effective tools for all those concerned with defending human rights and trade union rights.
In fact, although it did not appear on the agenda, a recurring theme of the conference was the EU and the possibility of Brexit. In his opening remarks, Michael Rubenstein asked “Do you think Brexit and the Cameron government, together, are going to be good or bad for human rights, equal opportunities and trade union rights?” He added, laughing, “That’s a rhetorical question.”
During the final Q&A session, the panel were asked what they though the impact of a Bexit would be on human rights and employment legislation in the UK: Rubenstein replied with a single word: “catastrophic.”
The idiot-left who seem to think that something progressive can be achieved by getting out of the EU need to take notice of people who know what they’re talking about.
- Comrade Coatesy adds:… Tendance Coatesy backs the Labour in for Britain campaign to Vote to stay in the European Union.We also support a number of broad pro-European left campaigns.Including this: Another Europe is Possible.
Who we are
Another Europe Is Possible is a campaign for a radical ‘in’ vote in the EU referendum.
We have come together as activists and campaigners to build a Europe of democracy, human rights, and social justice. We don’t believe a British exit from the EU offers a path towards the social, citizen-led Europe we so urgently need. That’s why we are saying ‘stay in Europe to change Europe’.
Our campaign is still in development and we will publish a list of supporters when we formally launch in February 2016. Our organising group are also currently working towards a founding conference later this year – watch this space for more info.
From Another Europe’s site:
EU debate: We need to stay in Europe to change Europe. The idea that a social Europe could emerge by quitting the EU is a delusion. There are no quick fixes for neoliberalism, writes Luke Cooper in Red Pepper magazine
I didn’t see the interview JC gave on the Marr show yesterday (but I’ve found it on Youtube and posted it above). I now see that JC came out with an interesting and potentially workable “third way” on Trident, proposed penalising companies that don’t pay the living wage, and committed to repealing Tory legislation outlawing secondary strikes – excellent!
More worrying is what he had to say on foreign affairs – that a diplomatic channels should be opened with Islamic State and that they have “strong points”: as a result hashtag #ISISstrongpoints is trending at this very moment.
In the same interview JC shamefully equivocated on the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination (what Marr called a “veto”).
I know JC is routinely traduced and misrepresented in the media, by Cameron and – perhaps worst of all – by the Blairites and the old Labour right. But fucking stupid statements like these (and I’ve now watched the Youtube clip, and he did indeed, make them), really play into the hands of the Tories and the Blairites – confirming the view that JC is blind to the threat posed by, and in denial as to the nature of, Islamist fascism, and is something of an “anti-imperialist” idiot.
A CALL FROM THE BMA – TO OUR FELLOW WORKERS, TRADE UNIONISTS, CAMPAIGNERS AND ACTIVISTS: WE NEED YOU!
The current situation:
Junior Doctors across England will be commencing industrial action on Tuesday 12th January. We are opposing this government’s attempt to impose an unsafe new contract on the medical profession. It is our view that the proposed contract represents an existential danger to the NHS as an institution.
You may be aware that the BMA had initially suspended its planned industrial action at the start of December and returned to talks with the Department of Health. That decision was made in good faith. However, over the last few weeks, in the course of negotiations with Government we have encountered only intransigence. It is clear that the government perceives our contract issue as pivotal for its attempt to “reform” the NHS towards a neoliberal, commercialised system.
It is therefore evident to us that we have no choice but to transform our 98% ballot mandate into action.
The developments of the next few months will have consequences stretching far into the future. This government is wilfully putting at risk our patients’ safety, the tolerability of our working lives as NHS workers and the very viability of the NHS as a publicly-funded, publicly-provided service.
Why we need YOU
The coming period will be the ultimate test of the BMA’s resolve as a Union. However, we remain mindful of the fact that the BMA is not an abstract entity operating in isolation from wider political developments. There is no way that we can win this on our own. We need all concerned citizens, activists and trade unionists to stand alongside us in this fight.
Over the last few months we have been in dialogue with many trade unionists throughout the country and we have been enormously grateful for their support both at a local and national level. The public messages of support from our allied health worker colleagues, the firefighters, the teaching unions and the TUC and TUCG unions have galvanised junior doctors.
We are therefore well aware that all eyes are upon us and that the institutions which represent the wider working class stand with us in solidarity.
We are in no doubt that Osborne, Cameron and Hunt will use the proposed doctor’s contract as a tool for achieving the destruction of safe terms and conditions throughout the NHS and throughout the public sector. The Conservative Party is attempting to stretch the NHS into an ostensibly 7-day elective service whilst simultaneously launching the biggest assault on NHS resources in its history. The politics of austerity represents a clear and present danger to the nation’s health.
A victory for the Junior Doctors would signify the first real crack in the entire edifice of austerity in the UK.
Please stand with us. And when you need us, ask us. We will stand by you.
Invitation to attend our pickets
On behalf of the entire BMA we thank you all for your incredible support so far. Many of you will have seen the details with regards to the planned action and I will reiterate them below. We invite you to come out and display your visible support for us on the days of action.
- The action will begin with an emergency care-only model, which would see junior doctors provide the same level of service that happens in their given specialty, hospital or GP practice on Christmas Day. It will then escalate to full walk-outs. The action as proposed is:
Emergency care only — 24 hrs from 8am Tuesday 12 January to 8am Wednesday 13 January
Emergency care only — 48 hrs from 8am Tuesday 26th January to 8am Thursday 28 January
Full withdrawal of labour — from 8am to 5pm Wednesday 10th February
- The aim is to picket all major hospitals in England on all three days of proposed action. Pickets will be in the vicinity of the main entrances and will start at 8am, continuing until at least 12.30pm. However, many picket sites will continue into the evening, especially at the larger hospitals.
- Along with the pickets there will be parallel “Meet the Doctors” events at nearby transport stops or public spaces. We will direct you to these events from the picket.
- Please turn up on the days of action, and give us your support. We will then inform you if other local events are planned on the day. If you are an allied health worker, trade unionist or campaigner please do consider bringing along the banner representing your organisation, your working uniform or similar. We would appreciate it however if banners in explicit endorsement of specific political parties are not displayed and that any selling of campaign literature such as newspapers is relatively discreet.
- On the days of action, please do debate us, educate us and invite us to address your colleagues in your workplace or trade union branch.
I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of another important upcoming date. On Saturday 9thJanuary student nurses, midwives and allied health workers will be marching in opposition to Government plans to scrap the NHS student bursary. The protest will assemble outside St Thomas’s hospital at midday and proceed to Downing St. The BMA will be marching alongside the nursing students and we hope to see you there!
Just as the social democratic consensus in this country began with the inception of the NHS in 1948 so too will the NHS be the site of Britain’s last stand against the all-consuming forces of austerity.
Solidarity is the antidote to the cynicism of those in power. Now is the time to stand together in a common defence of the NHS. If not now, when?
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, Member of BMA Junior Doctors Committee National Executive.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has decided to reaffiliate to the Labour Party.
At a recall conference today, the issue was debated and delegates voted to reaffiliate. The FBU disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004 after a bitter pay dispute, where the Blair government intervened aggressively on the side of the employers. A combination of disgust with the disgraceful behaviour of Labour ministers, anti-political sentiment, nationalism in the devolved administrations and plans by some activists to back other socialist candidates saw the union voluntarily leave the party. Resolutions at subsequent conferences calling for reaffiliation, mostly from brigades in the North East of England, have been overwhelmingly rejected. The picture began to change before the election, particularly last year after Labour leaders provided some support to firefighters in the FBU’s pensions dispute. Labour shadow ministers also took on board some of the union’s political demands for the fire and rescue service, such as on flooding. The decisive shift has been the Corbyn leadership.
Corbyn and John McDonnell were co-founders of the FBU’s parliamentary group, set up after the disaffiliation. Corbyn has a record of support for the union going back to the 1977 pay dispute. Both supported the union throughout the Blair-Brown and Miliband years. Although the precise form of affiliation will be debated, to take account of differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland, re-engagement will be a tremendous fillip to the left across the labour movement and an important counter to the gathering forces of the right wing who want to depose Corbyn. Socialists should add our weight to the FBU debate as enthusiastic advocates of affiliation to the Labour Party, as part of transforming the labour movement and promoting working class political representation.
Every union, particularly those not currently affiliated, should have this discussion. Socialists should seek these discussions with other activists, rather than leave it to union leaders to make links at the top. Socialist Worker’s editorial (27 October 2015) sagely advises that “affiliating to Labour won’t stop the Tories”, but does not say whether it is for affiliation or against. The Socialist Party, whose TUSC perspective has been utterly discredited by the Corbyn surge, has Rob Williams writing in The Socialist (14 October) that “we believe it is premature to re-affiliate”. Rather than plunge into the living battle within the Labour Party, the SWP and SP advise militants to ponder their doubts from the outside, or wait until things somehow become more “mature”. Their stance is utterly useless in the debates now raging within the unions.
Labour: reaffiliate to unions
Dave Green, National Officer of the Fire Brigades Union, spoke to Solidarity (paper of the AWL) some weeks before the special conference:
Q: It has become public this week that the FBU will be discussing re-affiliation to Labour at it’s special conference on 27 November. What do you think about the affiliation debate?
The FBU disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004. This followed the acrimonious pay dispute a couple of years previously where firefighters were regularly vilified by not only the mass media but also Labour politicians. There had been disquiet with the Labour Party and its policies for some considerable time, from the abolition of Clause 4 through to the Iraq war. However, the public attack on firefighters and the FBU in 2002/03 was the final straw. Since then there has been much debate about affiliation. Every year there are motions to our conference asking for affiliation and, so far, every year they have been voted down. We have to be honest with ourselves about this. Firefighters are no different to the general population and are influenced by debates and issues that surround them. Many are wary about any connection with a political party. Distrust in the established political system cuts across all classes and occupations. The move away from the Labour Party reflected that distrust and a general feeling of ″they are all the same″ or ″what have they ever done for us?″ Many of us have fought for years from within to bring the Labour Party back from a party that merely diluted down Tory policies to a party that truly reflected the aspiration of working people and proactively, unapologetically made the case for socialism. We have had a presence at the Labour Party conference for several years now and the heartening aspect of that has been the positive messages we get from delegates there. Not the usual MPs, but active local Labour politicians, many of whom have the same aspirations as us. It is not just a case of the FBU affiliating to Labour, but it is more to do with the Labour Party re-affiliating to the trade union movement. Corbyn′s election has given the trade union movement, and workers generally, a massive opportunity to bring forward, through the Labour Party, policies that we as socialists have aspired to for all our working lives. A awful long time for some of us! However, this needs to be translated into positive action. Those supportive Labour politicians are still enacting cuts across the public sector. They need to be given the confidence to start resisting. An alternative narrative needs to be written, and pretty damn quick. Our Executive Council were clear. We are living through one of the most reactionary, right-wing governments that most of us can ever remember. The Tories are removing all obstacles of opposition to their policies, that are trying to create a society that looks after the elite and them only – they are attacking the only protection that workers have (through the Trade Union Bill), they are gagging the media (through attacks on the BBC), they are engineering the electoral system to ensure a one-party state (in England at least) through denying the poor a vote and re-drawing constituency boundaries to give them an inbuilt majority. If we, as socialists, are serious about creating a different society, one that reflects our wishes and aspirations and is not one that we talk about in pubs and at meetings, then we have to act. Jeremy Corbyn has fought alongside all workers in struggle, both nationally and internationally, for decades. He has supported firefighters and the FBU. He will reject austerity and will protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. At this still embryonic stage of his leadership, it is essential that all who want a better society do all they can to support him and what he stands for. That is why the FBU believes we must affiliate to the Labour Party. If we can build a mass movement from within, then who knows what we can achieve. However, I know what will happen if we stand back and do nothing, watch it evolve, watch the party machine do its dirty work. Corbyn will be ousted and the hopes of millions will be gone. What will we do then? Stand back and say ″I told you so!″? No, it’s about supporting Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell — not necessarily the individuals, but what they stand for, because it is what we stand for. How can we not be part of that?
Q: How do you think the FBU should organise for its politics within the Labour Party if it was to reaffiliate?
We would need to be active. We would need to ensure that our members and officials across the UK engage with what the Corbyn Labour Party stands for. We need to encourage members to be active within the Labour Party. First of all, join the Party and go to branch meetings. We can then get the fire service back on the political agenda. We would encourage more political schools around the country to discuss the fire service and organise to protect it. In order to engage our membership the Labour Party needs to show what it will do for them — both in their working lives and their lives outside the fire service. The problem with Labour under Miliband (and the others) was that whilst they talked about representing the working class and the disadvantaged they really never did. There was never any real discussion about an alternative. I think many within our movement felt completely powerless as the agenda was set by the Tories and their friends. The Labour spin machine has a lot to answer for. The amazing return for Jeremy Corbyn proves the point about there being a political vacuum as regards an alternative.
Q: The Blairites did a lot to destroy Labour Party democracy. What do you think needs to happen to re-democratise the Party?
The main thing would be conference. That is where members of the Labour Party, be it individuals or affiliates, can make a big difference. If the decisions at conference revert back to being binding on the PLP and its leadership then workers will see a real point in being affiliated. If firefighters can see that moving a motion at their local branch could become national policy, then that will energise and give them hope. It is no use having a democratic conference if there is no substance beneath it. Branch organisation is also key. Any party worth its salt has to be built from the bottom up. It is impossible to have a credible political party without there being democratic accountability on the ground.