If the bankruptcy of the trade union bureaucracy were in any further need of demonstration, then the antics of soon-to-depart GMB general secretary Sir Paul Kenny over the European Union (EU) referendum adds a new chapter.
First, Kenny orchestrated a motion to the TUC Congress, which would have pledged the trade union movement to campaign for Brexit if David Cameron extracted some concessions from other European powers on the working time directive, agency workers and other workers’ rights. The key phrase was: “Congress gives notice that it will campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum if these rights and protections are removed.”
After some behind the scenes horse-trading, Kenny withdrew the resolution in favour of TUC general council statement. This softened the stance, warning the prime minister that “you will lose our members’ votes to stay in the EU by worsening workers’ rights”. It added that if British workers’ rights were further undermined, the “pressure to put TUC resources and support in the referendum behind a vote to leave the European Union will intensify dramatically”.
Kenny spoke to the resolution and rhetorically repeated his threat in the Congress debate on Tuesday 15 September. He said: “If Cameron secures the sort of cuts to workers’ rights he is seeking — will you be able to stand up and say to members and beyond that ‘yes — we know your protection under the working time directive and rights to proper earning on holiday pay are going, yes — we know crucial rights for agency workers are going, that health and safety laws designed to protect the work life balance are being denied to you, that free trade agreements threaten your job and your public services. But forget all that — We want you to vote yes to support these attacks.”
Second, Kenny made a similar attempt at Labour Party conference on 28 September. This time the GMB motion was composited, with Kenny moving the resolution so as to add his own caveat. Actually the motion stated: “Conference supports the membership of the EU as a strategic as well as an economic asset to Britain and the Labour Party approve of UK membership of the EU”, adding that “Conference recognises that Europe needs change, but notes that the path to reform is working with our allies across Europe”.
Kenny put his own spin on it, stating that “Free movement of labour has become the right to exploit workers in one member state by employment of people through the now notorious umbrella agencies”. He chastised Labour Party leaders who “by blindly embracing a Europe at any price, merely encourage Cameron and the CBI to push for even more attacks on working people”.
Kenny penned a crass justification of his position, published in the Morning Star on the same day. Kenny criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to vote to stay in the EU in the referendum and fight for reform. Kenny opined: “This retreat on the European Union is a big mistake. The EU needs reform. All those ideals of a social Europe, of solidarity and raising pay and conditions to a standard, have been lost. The EU has become an exploiters’ charter.” Apparently, because Cameron is going around Europe trying to sell off working people’s rights “Jeremy’s original ‘wait and see’ position was correct. So why give them a blank cheque? That’s bad negotiating tactics.”
Kenny pretends he is conducting negotiations, when in fact he’s not even at the table. It is no blank cheque to commit to staying in the EU and pledge, as Corbyn has, that a future Labour government would overturn any opt-outs that Cameron secures. In fact such a position is more likely to persuade other European leaders not to give ground to Cameron. Even if Cameron were able to extract some concessions, it would take workers in Britain back to the situation in 1993, when the UK belonged to the EU but the Tories opted out of the social chapter. Most unions then were for staying in, for good reason.
Instead of seeking to fight alongside workers across Europe to level up rights and protections, Kenny appears to think that if his poker game fails, somehow leaving the EU will be okay for workers. What Kenny fails to explain is how leaving the EU would strengthen workers’ rights. A Tory-driven “leave” campaign might topple Cameron, but only to replace him with someone more right-wing like Johnson. And a Eurosceptic-led Tory party would immediately slash workers’ rights even further in pursuit of trade deals and concessions with world markets. Kenny’s position is strategically wrong and tactically completely inept.
Kenny then makes a classical sleight of hand, exclaiming “And Labour wants us to fund the In campaign, to stand on platforms next to Tory bastards and then to convince our members to swallow it?” To campaign alongside the Tories, he warns, would be “as bad a mistake as it was in Scotland. Worse.”
This is nonsense. The “quit EU” camp, will be dominated by reactionaries such as Lawson, Farage and quite probably a few current Tory cabinet members. The risk of being pulled behind them is not hypothetical. Already the anti-EU Pledge campaign, driven by right-wing Torie, has roped in the RMT union (briefly) and Labour MPs such as Jon Cruddas, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins, and Ronnie Campbell.
The composition of the two camps does not determine the working class policy: socialists and trade unionists must make our independent stand based on the best assessment of working class interests.
Kenny also echoes Tory anti-migrant talk. The EU is simply “transporting people with lower living standards to new places in order to further lower living standards”. He told the Stalino-nationalist Morning Star that “he’s pleased that so far, the social conflict this can cause has not got out of hand. But he’s in no doubt that that’s thanks to unions, not politicians”.
This is a mealy-mouthed way of saying the problem with the EU is too many migrants and that the only way to protect “British” labour is to put up the border controls. Kenny dissolves internationalism with this stance: workers in Europe, migrants or refugees are irrelevant to his main concern: namely, British workers.
Beneath the veneer is a callous narrowness, a shameful chauvinist sectionalism, that can have no place in the labour movement. His anointment by the British ruling class brings his career in the trade union movement to a fitting conclusion. But no workers should follow his abysmal counsel.
By Ewan Gibbs and Nathaniel Blondel (at Left Futures)
The reaction to John McDonnell’s announcement that he would aim for a balanced current account, whilst maintaining borrowing for capital investment, revealed a recurrent fault line within left-wing economic thought. At its most banal McDonnell was accused of signing up to George Osborne’s ‘austerity charter’, whilst more sophisticated critics argued such policies would weaken demand and harm economic growth. This article will not address the technicalities of figures and whether Labour should borrow limited amounts rather than aim for a balance (see a critical account here). Instead we will focus on the key political division the fallout from this announcement has revealed, and what it says about the character of ‘Corbynomics’, and the barriers it faces.
During the last thirty years of political setbacks, socialist economic policies have taken a particular battering. This has been very apparent in the predominant responses to the onset of austerity since 2008. Rather than proposals for a fundamental restructuring of the economy, the main left response has been both defensive, and grounded in an argument for why “ideological” cuts are unnecessary and harmful. Invoking mainstream Keyensian economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, the argument has gone that government could stimulate an economic recovery through borrowing at cheap rates. Insofar as it went this was welcome, but it was a more or less passive argument that could unite trade unionists, and political forces of the ‘centre-left’ from Labour, to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. At best, the Keynesian approach amounts to a tepid intervention and stimulation of demand. Read the rest of this entry »
Terrible news from Marxist Revival:
Shahrokh Zamani, the well-known labour activist imprisoned in Karaj’s Rajai Shahr prison, has died “suddenly”.
According to HRANA, the Human Right Activists News Agency, on Sunday September 13, his cell-mates found that Shahrokh was dead when they tried to wake him for his morning walk in the prison yard.
Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network is deeply saddened by the news of Shahrokh Zamani’s death and sends its heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and comrades.
Although the Iranian regime’s authorities claim that Shahrokh has died of a stroke, his cell-mates have said that he had “black and bruised” areas on his body. His corpse has now been transferred to the coroner’s officer for a post mortem examination. We demand that the results of the autopsy are made available to international experts who have an impeccable professional reputation and a consistent track record of solidarity with labour activists.
The responsibility for Shahrokh’s death, whether due to a genuine stroke or any other so-called ‘natural’ death, lies with the Iranian regime and its policy of systematic persecution of labour activists and socialists. To put it simply: Shahrokh and all other labour activists and socialists have not committed any crime and therefore should not be in prison. The slightest mishap that happens to any of them while in prison is this dictatorial regime’s responsibility.
In addition to being incarcerated and being kept away from family and friends, activists like Shahrokh are forced to go on hunger strike many times to defend their basic rights, to resist solitary confinement, frequent transfers, denial of medical care, denial of visits and a whole range of other petty measures that the regime thinks will break their spirits. These all add to our suspicion as to the official cause of Shahrokh’s death.
Shahrokh Zamani was arrested in Tabriz on June 4 2011, and without being made aware of the charges against him, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. During his second hunger strike, which lasted 50 days, he lost 24 kilograms in weight. The Iranian regime would not even allow Shahrokh to attend his mother’s funeral or his only daughter’s wedding! The particularly harsh treatment of Shahrokh Zamani was undoubtedly due to his uncompromising belief in the Leninist concept of the vanguard party of the proletariat.
Sadly Shahrokh is no longer among us. We will, however, remember Shahrokh every day when we struggle to free every single jailed labour activist and political prisoner.
Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network
13 September 2015
Shahrokh Zamani’s statement from jail
Imprisonment and maltreatment of Shahrokh Zamani and other trade unionists in Iran
Shahrokh Zamani transferred to Rejai Shahr prison’s infirmary
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Say no to anti union laws!
On Wednesday 9 September activists campaigning for the right to strike, and against the Trade Union Bill, will take a high court judge to the offices of Sajid Javid at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 1 Victoria Street, London.
At 6.00 pm activists will serve Mr. Javid with a high court injunction banning him for his political office, as he was elected with only 38% of the electorate(1), when the Trade Union Bill which he is sponsoring would require trade unions to gain 40% of their electorate.
Trade unionists from many different unions will join the high court judge to make sure that Mr. Javid gets the message.
“Trade union rights are democratic rights,” said Ruth Cashman of the Right to Strike campaign . “No other voluntary organisations in society face as much interference in their internal affairs as trade unions. It is the height of hypocrisy for a government elected by just 24% of the public to tell us that we need a minimum turnout to carry out our democratic decisions. If they want to make trade unions more democratic they introduce legislation to allow us to have workplace ballots and electronic ballots.”
Right to Strike(2) invites media outlets to send reporters, photographers and to video the event.
Contact: Gemma Short on 07784641808 or Ruth Cashman on 07930845495, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/842189349235316/
Above: former T&G leader Bevin and Prime Minister Atlee in the 1945 Labour government
By John Rowe
Introduction: In the wake of the General election disaster we need an honest and clear-sighted assessment of the left’s response to austerity. At present the loudest voices of the anti-austerity movement persist in agitating for the Labour left and the unions to abandon the Party for some, as yet ill-defined alternative – a New Party (NP). These notes are a contribution to this debate. In them I argue our starting point needs to be the organising a truly social democratic tendency within the Labour Party. In putting forward this case I start by looking at the arguments of the NP left.
The NP view of New Labour
The NP left is not a distinct grouping. Rather it is a loose tendency defined primarily by a negative; the call to break from Labour. Inside this tent we find two very different visions. Some understand the new party as the beginning of a mass revolutionary party, a view held by socialist groups within it. Others, mainly trade unionists, view it more as a refounding of Old Labour. Within each sub-set there are myriad different perspectives.
The premise on which NP advocates call for a break with Labour is common to all and founded on a seemingly powerful point: New Labour’s record and policies made possible, according to the NP advocates, by its ability to function largely independently of the unions. Such an analysis is not just factually wrong; it enables its proponents to reduce all the political problems confronting the working class to a simple matter of representation (i.e. the Labour Party), rather than this being just one element in the systemic crisis of labourism encompassing ideology, the unions, and the method by which ‘the movement’ has sought to advance working class interests. Nor are they willing to confront the root cause of this malaise which is located in the changing working class composition.
Rather than starting with New Labour’s record a more pertinent question is what forces enabled New Labour (NL) to dominate? To answer this we need to consider how the Labour Movement functioned and why it is unable to continue in the same way today. In fact any analysis of Labour’s record needs to start not with the Labour Party but with the unions
The decline of union power
Within a decade NL had replaced social democracy as the Party leadership, enabling it to evolve in two complementary ways: while its policies embraced neo-liberalism organisationally the Party machine came to dominate and determine internal Party life. At first sight one of the most astonishing successes of NL was the eclipse of social democracy, replacing its polices with pusillanimous pronouncements about mitigating the worst excesses of Neo-liberalism and trading in its traditions and ideology with a repackaged social liberalism. Read the rest of this entry »
Say no to anti union laws!
Union branches call for huge mobilisation against Trade Union BillTrade unionists in branches across different unions have come together in a ‘Right to Strike’ campaign which aims to defeat the government’s Trade Union Bill, and fight for the repeal of existing trade union legislation.
Branches of unions including Unite, Unison, and PCS have signed up to the campaign, which is urging the TUC to call a national demonstration against the bill.
The government’s bill proposes turnout thresholds for strike ballots, an ‘opt-in’ system for union political funds, tighter picketing restrictions, and limits on time reps spend on union duties.
“Trade union rights are democratic rights,” said Ruth Cashman of the Right to Strike campaign committee. “No other voluntary organisations in society face as much interference in their internal affairs as trade unions. It is the height of hypocrisy for a government elected by just 24% of the public to tell us that we need a minimum turnout to carry out our democratic decisions.”
“This is an ideological move designed to push legitimate trade unionism outside the law. We need to start talking about what our responses to this law will be, starting with a huge trade union mobilisation to defeat it,” said Edd Mustill, a branch official in the Unite union. “We are working with others in the movement such as the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom to make sure the unions take a real stand.”
The Right to Strike campaign is organising regional meetings and local actions against the bill in the coming days and weeks.
The Right to Strike campaign was launched by a number of union branches in June 2015 to campaign against the government’s proposed Trade Union Bill. It has received rank-and-file support from across the trade union movement and its Facebook page, ‘Right to Strike,’ reached 1000 ‘likes’ in a week.
The campaign can be contacted at email@example.com and by the following phone numbers: 07455158249, 07930845494, 07505514610, 07784641808.
Adapted (by JD) from an article by Theodora Polenta (at Workers Liberty):
Up to Friday 26 June the Greek government of Syriza-ANEL was very close to reaching an agreement with the eurozone leaders. It looked set to abandon its last “red lines” and accept 90-95% of the conditions for a new bailout, including direct wage and pension reductions and explicitly maintaining the framework of the last five years of Memorandum.
The Greek government had accepted the logic that increased tax revenues would be based on VAT increases and the preservation of the regressive property tax; the principle of zero deficit for the financing of the pension system; the gradual withdrawal of the Pensioners’ Social Solidarity Benefit (EKAS), and the extension of the retirement age to 67.
In the end no deal was reached. On Saturday 27th, after a long cabinet meeting Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum. The eurozone leaders would not even cede enough to make a “honourable compromise’ for the Syriza parliamentary group and Syriza’s rank and file and electoral base.
The only talk of debt restructuring the eurozone leaders would accept was a vague reference to a debate on the Greek debt in the future based upon a framework sketched with Venizelos and Samaras back in 2012.
The drama of the negotiation for the last five months has been largely the refutation of the Syriza leaders’ central illusions, of a return to progressive development achieved through rational negotiations and by exploiting the “internal contradictions” within the creditors’ camp. The government’s negotiating team had the illusion that the eurozone leaders were sure eventually to back down, even at the eleventh hour, and concede a poor but nonetheless manageable political agreement, because they feared the economic cost of a rupture and because of their internal contradictions.
The eurozone ministers, accustomed to the servility of Papandreou, Samaras and Venizelos, thought that Alexis Tsipras was a puppy that barked but would not bite.
Read the rest of this entry »