Labour Campaign for Free Movement launched

August 5, 2017 at 8:27 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, labour party, Migrants, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

By  04/08/2017

MPs and union chiefs call on the party leadership to say it how it is – and to come out fighting for free movement:

A series of leading allies of Jeremy Corbyn, including former shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis (pictured above) and the leaders of several trade unions, have joined forces to call on the Labour leadership to fight for free movement.

Lewis, the ex-shadow defence secretary, and the general secretaries of the TSSA and Bakers’ Union, as well as MPs David Lammy and Geraint Davies are among the backers of a new campaign which aims to resist the “scapegoating” of migrants by a “political and economic elite”.

The group, entitled Labour Campaign for Free Movement, accuses the Tories of responding to the refugee crisis with “brutality and detention centres” and demands Labour translates into policy its recent “celebration” of the contribution of migrants.

“Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services,” the group wrote in a statement today.

“These are the product of decades of under-investment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.”

The intervention is the latest salvo in Labour’s internal debate over the shape of Brexit. Last month, the party leadership performed a significant U-turn when senior figures such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott said they were keeping all options on the table.

EU leaders have repeatedly said the single market is tied to the issue of free movement but today’s launch of the free movement campaign makes no reference to the trading bloc, although many of the signatories have previously spoken out on the subject.

As well as Manuel Cortes, head of the TSSA, Ronnie Draper, leader of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, and Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, the backers include Labour national executive members Ann Black and Darren Williams, and MEPs Julie Ward and Lucy Anderson.

The statement:

We are Labour members and supporters united in our commitment to defending and extending the free movement of people in the context of the debate around Brexit.

To sign up to the campaign, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

The UK is at a crossroads in its relationship to the rest of the world, and so is our party. Immigrants and free movement are being scapegoated by a political and economic elite that is subjecting ordinary people to cuts and austerity. During the greatest refugee crisis in recent years, the Tories have responded with brutality and detention centres.

Labour should respond with clarity, humanity and solidarity. We fought the last General Election arguing against such scapegoating, and celebrating the contributions of migrants to our society. That tone must now translate into policy.

Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services. These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.

A system of free movement is the best way to protect and advance the interests of all workers, by giving everyone the right to work legally, join a union and stand up to their boss without fear of deportation or destitution. Curtailing those rights, or limiting migrants’ access to public services and benefits, will make it easier for unscrupulous employers to hyper-exploit migrant labour, which in turn undermines the rights and conditions of all workers.

Free movement enhances everyone’s rights. There are more than a million UK citizens living in the EU, and millions more who may enjoy the right to do so. UK workers in the EU have access to benefits, healthcare and other public services. Tens of thousands of UK students study abroad each year under ERASMUS schemes. UK and European citizens have the automatic right to family reunion.

Labour must build a society for the many, not the few. We need well-paid, secure jobs for all, with guaranteed hours, collective bargaining and stronger, freer trade unions. We need a policy of massive investment in council housing, public services and infrastructure. And we need to tell the truth about who and what is to blame for the crisis: an unaccountable elite who have run the economy in their own narrow interests. Ending free movement would be counterproductive to achieving all of this.

List of signatories

Sign the statement here

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Unions challenge Corbyn’s Brexit delusion

July 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm (Conseravative Party, economics, Europe, Jim D, labour party, populism, TUC, unions, Unite the union)

Steve Bell cartoon
Above: Labour shouldn’t back this Tory obsession (cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian)

Watching the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit is excellent spectator sport, but some on our side seem determined to follow them into the right wing, nationalist mire. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been showing signs of revisiting his anti-EU past, apparently committing Labour to hard Brexit, and capitulating to the anti-immigration camp.  Since then, John McDonnell has softened the position, suggesting that Britain could stay in the single market under some circumstances.

It’s becoming clear that the Labour leadership and PLP are almost as split on this as the Tories, though the rank and file membership (including those who identify as Corbynites) are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit. It may not be an accident that just lately, the delusion of a “left exit” (or “Lexit”) from the EU has been canvassed in left of centre publications (here and here) and expertly demolished here.

But as well as the rank and file of the party, another powerful constituency has been horrified by Corbyn’s apparent capitulation to the ideas of a hard Brexit: the unions. The TUC remains committed to staying in the single market and customs union (even if it uses some dodgy arguments) as does the biggest pro- Corbyn’s union, Unite.

But the most outspoken (and perhaps, surprising) union attack on “Lexit” so far has come from Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, a union that supports both Corbyn and Momentum. In an article on the New Statesman website, Cortes tears into the “Lexit delusion” and concludes by raising the possibility of Labour coming out against any kind of Brixit – soft or hard – and campaigning to stay in the EU:

“We don’t know yet what Brexit will look like. By the time the deal – or no deal – is finalised, almost three years will have passed since the vote to leave was made. That’s a lot longer than the Tory 2015 majority lasted. Let’s treat the voters as grown-ups not ideologues. If what’s on the table damages our livelihoods and/or is a simply a free trade deal in which the EU makes all the rules, why can’t we can’t change our minds?

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it’s important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it. Jeremy’s past Euroscepticism, his vote against both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, actually makes him the best person to renegotiate a new future for Britain in the EU, not a Brexit deal which will harm the implementation of our manifesto and our vision of a People’s Europe.”

Cortes is to be congratulated for posing the issues so plainly, and for breaking an emerging  taboo within the labour movement: the idea that we might just campaign to overturn the referendum result.

(NB: and before anyone mentions it, none of this changes Shiraz‘s past criticisms of Cortes and the way he runs the TSSA)

  • Acknowledgements and thanks to Peter Ryley for an excellent piece that gave me some ideas for this post.

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“A perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book” … or, more simply: it’s shite

July 27, 2017 at 3:15 pm (crap, publications, scotland, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Anne Field

I’ve just been idly browsing the internet looking for reviews of “The Battle for Grangemouth”, penned by former Ineos (Grangemouth) Unite convenor and current International Transport Workers Federation full-timer Mark Lyon.

I came across four reviews of the book:

http://www.cercles.com/review/r79/Lyon.html

https://rs21.org.uk/2017/04/08/review-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-workers-story/

https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worthless-exercise-in-self-righteous-posturing/

http://www.counterfire.org/articles/book-reviews/18924-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worker-s-story

Without doubt, the most damning review is that written by Keith Laybourn – Huddersfield University Diamond Jubilee Professor, former Huddersfield University Professor of History, author of 47 books (that’s 46 more than Mark Lyon), and successor to the late Eric Hobsbawm as President of the Society for the Study of Labour History:

“This is a perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book. … It is written in the form of a pantomime sketch to the extent that one can almost join in and boo and hiss when the ‘devious’ and ‘greedy’ Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, appears on the page, and cheer when the ‘brilliant’ Pat Rafferty, the Unite Scottish Secretary, and others of the Unite union enter the stage.

 Lyon also adopts an anecdotal style which makes it very difficult to establish the details of the events in a clear manner, especially when his anecdotes about individuals cut across some major points of discussion, and even more so when dates seem to fluctuate. … Obfuscation is often present with the result that a smokescreen descends over the script.

 This could have been an important and perceptive book. What a pity that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, should seek to endorse a book which throws little light on the events of 2013 and little honour on his union, of which Mark Lyon is vice-chair. The story of Grangemouth deserves a detailed and worthy study. This is not it.”

(As an aside: Laybourn’s review was published by the French magazine Cercles, which describes itself as a “Review of British Civilisation”. How sad to think that Lyon’s tawdry oeuvre should be regarded as an exemplar of the state of our national culture.)

 The book review published by Counterfire is not quite as damning. But Counterfire does not do damning. And it is a review in which criticism of Unite runs in parallel with criticism of the book itself:

Lyon and his colleague Stevie Deans soon found themselves extremely deep in helping to further Ineos’ corporate lobbying. The results were about as unappealing to socialists as you could imagine.

Unite was involved in helping Ineos get tax breaks from the government, get tax-payer-funded subsidy from the government and get around environmental legislation that might have cost it money. 

I really don’t think anyone will be coming to this (book) looking for a ‘how to’ guide. Given the serious mistakes the union made lobbying for a ruthless company to achieve its socially and environmentally unfriendly goals, only to be severely attacked for its trouble, this is probably just as well.

The book is a history of things lost by our labour movement, not least because of a faulty strategy of colluding with an employer. For ideas about how to take struggle forward, you will have to look elsewhere.”

The other two reviews linked to above are no less critical.

The question which all this is leading up to is the following: Can anyone point me in the direction of a review of Lyon’s book which actually has a good word to say about it?

(Other than a ‘review’ published in a certain daily newspaper which is the recipient of substantial financial assistance from what used to be Britain’s biggest union.)

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Unison’s Supreme Court victory sees tribunal fees scrapped

July 26, 2017 at 9:29 am (campaigning, Civil liberties, law, rights, unions, UNISON, workers)

From Unison:

Supreme Court verdict follows four-year fight by union and is a victory for everyone in work

Employment tribunal fees will be scrapped after UNISON won a landmark court victory against the government this morning. 

The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – has unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.

 The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals  since July 2013, when fees were introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling.

Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees, says UNISON.

Reacting to this morning‘s decision, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.

Read the full Supreme Court judgement in
R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor

 “The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.

 “It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.

 “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”

 UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna added: “The Supreme Court correctly criticised the government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament.  

 “The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law. UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”

The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.

Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013 and started at around £160 for a type A claim, such as wage claims, breach of contract, and £250 for a type B claim, covering issues such as unfair dismissal, race and sex discrimination.

There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunal attracted an additional £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.

The seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand.

The judges also said fees were set so high, it “has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, and also put off more genuine cases, than the so-called vexatious claims the government claimed fees were meant to deter. 

The Supreme Court stressed that the administration of justice is not merely a public service, where courts and tribunals are only of value to the “users” who appear before them and who obtain a remedy. 

It said access to justice is of value to society as a whole, especially where cases establish legal rules and principles of general importance.

The Court said UNISON’s evidence showed the fall in claims when fees came in was “so sharp, so substantial and so sustained” that they could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes.

It also held that fees particularly deterred the kind of ‘low-value’ claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.

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Corbyn’s weakness on Brexit endangers Labour’s revival

June 30, 2017 at 8:51 am (Europe, Jim D, labour party, reformism, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers, youth)


Cartoon: The Economist

Corbyn and his team risk jeopardising Labour’s election success because of their backwardness over Europe and de facto commitment to supporting the Tories over Brexit.

It was always a fundamental political weakness waiting to be exposed, although during the general election campaign the Corbyn team skilfully maintained a policy of studied ambiguity.

Corbyn’s capitulation to the Tories over Brexit and the sacking of three front benchers who voted for the amendment to stay in the single market and customs union, is a big mistake, because:

  • It will dismay and disillusion the overwhelmingly pro-EU internationalist and anti-racist youth who rallied to Labour and Corbyn at the election
  • Labour’s mistaken but just about plausible argument that it is bound by the referendum result to support leaving the EU has been stretched to arguing that the referendum also binds it to oppose the single market and customs union
  •  This position has enabled opportunist right wingers like Chuka Umanna and Meg Hillier to take a different stance from Corbyn and thus generate headlines about Labour division just at a time when the Tories are weak
  •  Newly-elected left Labour MPs like Lloyd Russell Moyle and Alex Sobel have been put in a position of going against Corbyn alongside right wingers
  • This risks alienating unions like Unite, which are acutely aware that their members’ jobs in manufacturing will be put at risk outside the single market and customs union: Unite has policy to stay in both, as does Usdaw and the TUC.

Labour MPs, MEPs and peers have launched a group opposing hard Brexit and in favour of staying in the single market and customs union. They’ve signed a statement arguing, amongst other things, that young voters backed the party in the general election because they wanted it to “stop the Tories in their tracks” over Brexit. Some of us here at Shiraz might disagree with some aspects of the statement, but it’s considerably better than Corbyn’s position.

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Iranian teachers’ union leader on hunger strike

May 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm (Eric Lee, Human rights, internationalism, Iran, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

.

Eric Lee writes:

The name Esmail Abdi should be familiar to you.  In the past, I’ve asked for your help in demanding that the Iranian government free this leader of the Tehran teachers’ union.  Abdi was sentenced to six years in jail on bogus charges and teachers’ unions around the world, led by the Education International, have been demanding his release.

Now things have suddenly gotten much worse.

On 30 April, Esmail Abdi began a hunger strike to protest the continued, unlawful repression of teachers and human rights defenders and the lack of independence of justice in Iran.

Abdi is kept in harsh detention conditions and denied communication with his family and lawyer.

The hunger strike is taking a toll on his health, putting his life in serious danger.

And the prison authorities have not reacted to any of his demands.

Please take a moment to show your support for this brave trade unionist:

http://www.labourstart.org/go/hungerstrike

And please share this campaign with your friends, family and fellow trade union members.

Thank you!

Eric Lee

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Tories to outlaw effective strike action on rail

May 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm (elections, posted by JD, Tory scum, unions, workers)

This item, tucked away in the Tories’ “pro-worker” manifesto, seems to have escaped the media’s notice:

‘We will work with train companies and their employees to agree minimum service levels during periods of industrial dispute – and if we cannot find a voluntary agreement, we will legislate to make this mandatory’ (p.60)

H/t: Comrade Tony and thanks to Roger McCarthy and others BTL for pointing out the link to the image I originally posted had broken.

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Unite suspends Coyne

April 20, 2017 at 8:00 pm (elections, posted by JD, reblogged, unions, Unite the union)

The Skwawkbox reports (20/04/2017):

The Guardian, Daily Mirror and others have announced this afternoon that Gerard Coyne, Len McCluskey’s main challenger for Unite General Secretary, has been suspended by the union from his position as a regional organiser.

coyne

Suspended Unite challenger Gerard Coyne

Unite‘s press office was unable to offer a comment at this time, but the SKWAWKBOX understands from union sources that the suspension may be connected with the alleged data breaches broken by this blog and the excellent Evolve Politics and will last while a formal investigation is carried out.

The SKWAWKBOX is awaiting confirmation from the union of the impact the suspension will have on his candidacy. Although Coyne is considered to have little chance of victory, voting in the contest has now closed so it may be that the contest will be allowed to run to its natural conclusion to prevent right-wingers claiming he was suspended because he stood a chance of winning – like this premature conclusion by Progress‘ Richard Angell:

angell coyne.jpg

However, it’s unlikely that Coyne would be able to take up the role in the event that he wins, until the investigation is completed. Should he be dismissed from his organiser role as a result of the investigation, of course, it is unlikely that he would be qualified to act as General Secretary even if he were to win the ballot.

If the suspension is indeed connected to the Labour data use, then yet again, the SKWAWKBOX has broken information with a high-level national impact. No wonder the right has been trying to undermine us.

The SKWAWKBOX is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you found this information helpful and can afford to, please do click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your support so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.

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March tomorrow for the NHS

March 3, 2017 at 8:43 am (campaigning, health service, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity, unions)

From Momentum:

A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn will re-nationalise and restore our NHS, but it really is up to everyone to make sure there is an NHS left to restore. #OurNHS demo this Saturday marks the start of that movement.

Join the Momentum and Labour bloc:

This Saturday, 4th March
12pm, BMA House, 1 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9JP

Coaches are coming from across the country. Click here to find out about coaches coming from your area. And if you’re able to help steward on the day or help make placards tomorrow, please email contact@ournhs.info

ournhs.jpg

So bring your friends and family to join Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and many thousands of others to stand up for our NHS.

Nye Bevan famously said the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. Now it’s time to fight.

 

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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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