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.
What follows is a statement drawn up by myself. It is based in part upon the AWL’s statement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I have not discussed it or “cleared” it with anyone. Critical comments are welcome -JD:
To massacre ordinary workers enjoying a drink, a meal, a concert or a sporting event after work, is a crime against humanity, full stop.
What cause could the Islamist killers have been serving when they massacred 130 or more people in Paris? Not “anti-imperialism” in any rational sense — whatever some people on sections of the left have argued in the past — but only rage against the modem, secular world and the (limited but real) freedom and equality it represents. Only on the basis of an utterly dehumanised, backward looking world-view could they have planned and carried out such a massacre. Such people are enemies for the working class and the labour movement at least as much as the capitalist ruling class – In fact, more so.
Modern capitalism includes profiteering, exploitation, and imperialism, but it also includes the elements of civilisation, sexual and racial equality, technology and culture that make it possible for us to build socialism out of it.
Lenin, the great Marxist advocate of revolutionary struggle against imperialism, long ago drew a dividing line between that socialist struggle and reactionary movements such as (in his day) “pan-Islamism” [in our day, Islamism]: “Imperialism is as much our mortal enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism.”
We, the socialists, cannot bring back the dead, heal the wounded, or even (unless we’re present) comfort the bereaved. What we can do is analyse the conditions that gave rise to the atrocity; see how they can be changed; and keep clear critical understanding of the way that governments will respond. This must not be mistaken for any kind of attempt to excuse or minimise this barbarity or to use simplistic “blowback” arguments to suggest that it is simply a reaction to the crimes of “the west” or “imperialism.”
Immediately, the Paris massacre is not only a human disaster for the victims, their friends and families, but also a political disaster for all Muslims, refugees and ethnic minorities in Europe. The backlash against this Islamic-fundamentalist atrocity will inevitably provoke anti-refugee feeling and legislation, attacks on civil liberties and hostility towards all people perceived as “Muslims” in Europe: that, quite likely, was at least one of the intentions of the killers. The neo-fascists of Marine LePen’s Front National seem likely to make electoral gains as a result of this outrage.
The present chaos in the Middle East has given rise to the Islamic fascists of ISIS, and their inhuman, nihilist-cum-religious fundamentalist ideology.
Throughout the Middle East, the rational use of the region’s huge oil wealth, to enable a good life for all rather than to bloat some and taunt others, is the socialist precondition for undercutting the Islamic reactionaries.
In Afghanistan, an economically-underdeveloped, mostly rural society was thrust into turmoil in the late 1970s. The PDP, a military-based party linked to the USSR, tried to modernise, with measures such as land reform and some equality for women, but from above, bureaucratically. Islamists became the ideologues of a landlord-led mass revolt.
In December 1979, seeing the PDP regime about to collapse, the USSR invaded. It spent eight years trying to subdue the peoples of Afghanistan with napalm and helicopter gunships. It was the USSR’s Vietnam.
The USSR’s war had the same sort of regressive effect on society in Afghanistan as the USA’s attempt to bomb Cambodia “back into the Stone Age”, as part of its war against the Vietnamese Stalinists, had on that country. In Cambodia the result was the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge, which tried to empty the cities and abolish money; in Afghanistan, it has been the Islamic-fundamentalist regime of the Taliban. In Iraq the West’s bungled attempts to clear out first Saddam’s fascistic regime and then various Islamist reactionaries, and introduce bourgeois democracy from above, have been instrumental in creating ISIS.
Western governments will now make a show of retaliation and retribution. They will not and cannot mend the conditions that gave rise to this atrocity, conditions which they themselves (together with their Arab ruling class allies) helped to shape. Ordinary working people who live in war-torn states and regions will, as ever, be the victims.
Civil rights will come under attack and the efforts of the European Union to establish a relatively humane response to the refugee crisis will be set back and, quite possibly, destroyed.
These blows at civil rights will do far more to hamper the labour movement, the only force which can remake the world so as to end such atrocities, than to stop the killers.
Public opinion will lurch towards xenophobia. Basic democratic truths must be recalled: not all Middle Eastern people are Muslims, most Muslims are not Islamic fundamentalists, most of those who are Islamic-fundamentalist in their religious views do not support Islamic fundamentalist militarism. To seek collective punishment against Muslims or Arabs, or anyone else, is wrong and inhuman.
The first, and still the most-suffering, victims of Islamic fundamentalist militarism are the people, mostly Muslim, of the countries and regions where the lslamists are powerful.
The only way to defeat the Islamists is by the action of the working class and the labour movement in such countries, aided by our solidarity.
Refugees seeking asylum in Europe do not in any way share blame for this massacre. In fact, many of them are refugees because they are fleeing Islamic-fundamentalist governments and forces like ISIS. To increase the squeeze on already-wretched refugees would be macabre and perverse “revenge”.
We must remake the world. We must remake it on the basis of the solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality which are as much part of human nature as the rage, hatred and despair which must have motivated the Paris mass-murderers.
We must create social structures which nurture solidarity, democracy and equality, in place of those which drive towards exploitation, cut-throat competition and acquisitiveness and a spirit of everything-for-profit.
The organised working class, the labour movement, embodies the core and the active force of the drive for solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality within present-day society. It embodies it more or less consistently, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how far we have been able to mobilise ourselves, assert ourselves, broaden our ranks, and emancipate ourselves from the capitalist society around us.
Our job, as socialists, is to maximise the self-mobilisation, self-assertion, broadening and self-emancipation of the organised working class.
We must support the heroic Kurdish forces who are fighting and defeating ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq, opposed by the Turkish government. We must demand that our government – and all western governments – support the Kurds with weapons and, if requested, military backup: but we will oppose all moves by the governments of the big powers to make spectacular retaliation or to restrict civil rights or target minorities or refugees.
By Ann Field (also published at the Workers Liberty website)
Unsurprisingly the recent Scottish Labour Party conference voted unanimously to oppose the Tories’ Trade Union Bill. But the motion, from Unison and three Glasgow Constituency Labour Parties, had its weaknesses, saying, for instance that trade unions are “good for business”. But if unions are good for business, why do so many employers derecognise them?
The motion called for ongoing campaigning against the Bill, including organising rallies and further weeks of action. Unfortunately more specific proposals for campaigning disappeared in the course of compositing. Even so, the motion provides a basis for trade union and Labour Party activists in Scotland to ramp up campaigning against the Tories’ plans to shackle the unions. We need to make sure that the campaigning actually take place and feeds into the national campaign against the Bill. One immediate focus is the lobby of the Scottish Parliament called by the Scottish TUC for 10 November, when Holyrood will be discussing the Bill. It is on a weekday at short notice. Rank-and-file activists can make a crucial contribution to the turnout on the day. They also need to make sure that the role of the lobby is not one of simply being “claqueurs” for the SNP’s anti-Tory verbiage. Campaigning against the Tories’ attacks on the unions’ right to engage in political campaigning needs to go hand-in-hand with campaigning against the SNP’s decision to attack the unions-Labour link.
According to reports in the Scottish Sunday press, the SNP will be asking Scottish union leaders to switch their unions’ funding from Scottish Labour to the SNP. This is based on the lawyer’s argument that because the Scottish Labour is now “autonomous”, those unions affiliated to the Labour Party are not thereby affiliated to Scottish Labour. Instead, with the SNP having won 56 of Scotland’s Westminster seats (goes the nationalists’ argument), unions should switch their political funding to the SNP. But this — deliberately — confuses how individual trade unionists vote in a particular election with how trade unions, as collective organisations, decide to pursue their political strategy. It also ignores the organisational ties between affiliated unions and the Labour Party. And with Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader, the answer to the question of whether trade unions should stick with — or re-affiliate to — the political party which they created, or whether they should switch to the SNP, is straightforward.
Labour Party shadow chancellor John McDonnell turns up on picket lines to support them. SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney crosses them. The SNP is not interested in a united trade union fightback against the Bill. Its parliamentary amendments to the Bill are that it should not apply to Scotland. English workers can look after themselves. And in Scotland itself it now targets the unions-Labour link. Nothing could better illustrate the poisonous divisiveness of the SNP. With the union-Labour link under full-scale assault from the Tories, the SNP is launching its own attack on the link!
By Ann Field (at Workers Liberty)
Two hundred and seventy jobs are directly at risk after Tata Steel announced plans to “mothball” its Dalzell and Clydebridge plants, the final remnants of the Scottish steel industry after the Tories’ de-industrialisation of the 1980s.
Hundreds more jobs in local communities which depend on the plants and their workforces are also at risk.
The Scottish Labour Party has responded with a range of slightly confusing demands on the SNP government in Holyrood:
– Use public procurement powers to ensure that Scottish infrastructure projects place orders with the two plants.
– Support short-time working (but Tata, not the Scottish government, is the employer).
– Temporarily bring the plants into public ownership (but why only “temporarily”?).
– Cut Tata’s energy costs by putting pressure on Scottish Power and SSE (but why can’t we all have cheaper electricity?);
– Consult with “workers and the industry” to develop a government-led steel strategy (but why allow Tata to be involved if the industry is to be taken into public ownership?);
– Provide support for those who will soon be out of a job (which suggests a certain lack of confidence in the other demands).
Scottish Labour also demands action because of the “iconic” status of the Scottish steel industry. This is not a persuasive argument. Razor-gangs in Glasgow on a Saturday night also once enjoyed an “iconic” status. But this hardly justified their preservation.
However confused and inconsistent such demands might be, they reflect a genuine commitment to try to protect jobs in the residual Scottish steel industry. Local CLPs have also been campaigning on the streets to save steelworkers’ jobs.
SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the two plants last week. A government-led taskforce has been set up to try to find an alternative buyer for the plants. According to Sturgeon, “nothing is off the table”, including public ownership.
The SNP, Scotland’s patriotic party, can hardly point to its record of supporting Scottish steel jobs. In 2012 it awarded all steel contracts for the new Forth crossing to China, Poland and Spain. Not a single one went to Dalzell or Clydebridge.
While any steps to save jobs are to be welcomed, more is needed than either Scottish Labour or the SNP are currently proposing.
And far more is certainly needed than anything the notoriously right-wing leadership of the Community trade union – the biggest union in the steel industry – has to offer by way of a ‘campaign’.
The job losses in the west of Scotland are part of a bigger wave of job losses in the British steel industry, hitting Tata workers in Scunthorpe, SSI workers in Redcar, and workers employed by Caparo Industries.
Jobs have also been lost or are now at risk in the steel industry throughout Europe and elsewhere – including China. These losses are a product of the unregulated and globalised nature of steel production and supply.
China and other major steel-producing countries (such as South Korea, India and Russia) have massively increased steel output in recent years, while global demand has been stagnant or declining.
The result is a typical capitalist crisis of overproduction. But, in the context of a globalised economy, it is a crisis on an international scale: in line with the logic of capitalism, excess steel output is sold cut-price (‘dumped’) in the international marketplace.
One ‘answer’ to globalisation – whether it be in the steel industry or any other industry – is nationalism: Put the blame on a particular country (in this case: China), demand controls on imports from that country, and retreat behind tariff barriers, national borders and trade wars.
This is the often unspoken ‘logic’ at the heart of the SNP’s demand for independence.
But why, in an independent Scotland, would the steel industry, with a current workforce of less than 300, be better able to compete against the more than 800 million tons of steel produced each year by China, and the 100,000 workforce of the biggest Chinese steel company alone?
The socialist answer to the anarchy of capitalist production – which produces too little of what people need, and too much of what can find a buyer in the marketplace – is not economic autarky, when states and nations try to wall themselves off from the world market and strive for economic self-sufficiency.
Our answer is the socialisation of the means of production: democratic planning; production to meet need not profit; work-sharing with no loss of pay; and environment-friendly production processes.
This campaign to saves jobs in the steel industry throughout the UK should be a part of an international campaign which brings together steelworkers and their unions to fight for such demands, backed up by industrial action.
The labour movement unites workers across national borders. Nationalism divides workers according to their national identities. In the fight to save steelworkers’ jobs – whatever their country, and whatever their national identity – the labour movement internationally must take the lead.
The Morning Star’s coverage of the EU has always been rabid little-Britain nationalism dressed up with a few “left wing” phrases about “social dumping” and the like. It recently reached a nadir with this shameful letter and this disgusting editorial.
So it came as a refreshing change to read something sensible and recognisably left wing on the subject of the EU; even so, the editors gave the piece a thoroughly misleading title, which I strongly suspect wasn’t chosen by the author, ‘Corporate campaign worries labour right’; and I doubt that this strap-line was chosen by him, either:
SOLOMON HUGHES finds even the Blairites are concerned about the businessmen that have come to dominate the official In campaign
THE Britain Stronger In Europe campaign for an In vote at the EU referendum has jumped straight into a strategy that I heard even top Blairites say is doomed to failure. They’ve made ex-M&S boss Stuart Rose campaign chief, cementing the bad strategy into the heart of the organisation.
It looks like both the main pro- and anti-EU campaigns think that because the EU is an economic union, then this is a question of “economics” which is best addressed by “businessmen” lecturing us about what “business” needs.
So the EU debate is going to be a lot like a bad episode of The Apprentice, with people rushing around talking about “business” and “markets” and “sales.”
It’s hard to think of a worse voice for Europe than Rose. He is currently on the advisory board of Bridgepoint Capital, an investment firm profiting from NHS privatisation by its ownership of leading health contractor Care UK. Rose is also a senior adviser to HSBC European — he works for a bank busy trying to blunt EU regulation of finance.
Britain Stronger In Europe is fronted by businesspeople such as Rose, Karren Brady and Richard Branson. Their first video was all about “deregulation” and “business benefit” and “consumer benefit,” although — blink and you miss it — there was a brief reference to the EU-backed right to maternity leave and holidays in their promo video.
But at the Labour conference I heard Chuka Umunna argue: “If we are going to win this debate it has got to be a grassroots campaign. And actually it will not be won by the CEOs of companies that make up the members of the CBI writing letters to the Financial Times and the Times, telling people from on high about what they need to do when the referendum comes.”
Chuka also said — ironically from an all-male, all-posh panel — that “those making the argument also need to reflect modern Britain, so we need to make sure we have all of the regions (and) both genders” making the case.
Chuka argued that the In campaign “mustn’t be a Westminster or corporate elite telling everybody what they should do, because if it looks like that we are going to lose.”
It looks like Britain Stronger In Europe took Chuka’s warning as a recommendation and decided that lectures from business execs was a good idea.
Similarly Emma Reynolds MP — one of the refuseniks who left the shadow cabinet when Jeremy won — argued from another panel that the pro-EU campaign should be about “getting the message out through local people, not just us on the top table.”
The top table she was on was about as Establishment as it could be. She was speaking at a fringe meeting organised by Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank deeply wedded to the status quo. The meeting was paid for by Citibank, who had its man on the platform too.
Which points to the big weakness of the pro-EU campaign. They know that if it is all business-y it might lose. But they just can’t help themselves. So Reynolds calls for a grassroots campaign from a platform paid for by Citibank, a company that helped blow up the world economy with self-destructing financial investments and now fights against EU banking regulation.
Similarly, when Umunna gave his speech about an EU campaign not being a “corporate elite” campaign, he did so from a platform funded by the City of London Corporation. He spoke next to the City’s chief lobbyist for deregulation, Mark Boleat, and Peter Mandelson — who used the occasion to give a big speech in favour of the TTIP trade treaty.
There is a social bargain at the heart of the EU — capital can move freely within the EU borders, but so can labour. Money can move freely inside the EU, but so can people.
Equally the EU imposes some deregulation, but it also imposes some regulations. The EU encourages privatisation of services but it also imposes some regulations of working hours and holidays. The EU limits some government social spending, but it also directs some EU funds to deprived areas.
Arguably it is a pretty bad bargain, which is weighted much more to capital than labour.
There are two responses on the left — either argue for a better bargain, Syriza-style, and say: “Another Europe is possible.” Argue for an In vote and change within Europe. Or say we can strike a better national bargain for working people by breaking with the EU bureaucracy.
Personally I favour the former, because I think that the Out campaign is so dominated by the right it would direct how we leave — any exit as it stands would be shaped by the right, who would exit in favour of worse migration rules and a faster race to the regulatory bottom. It isn’t a great choice.
But I do think that we can make the choice better by shifting the debate from rival “businessmen” lecturing us on whether we can have less regulation and more bigotry inside or outside the EU. And, oddly enough, Umunna and Reynolds agree.
Even though they are thoroughly keen to do what capital wants, they know that in current circumstances people won’t just sit and be lectured by “businessmen.”
There might be room for a less-corporate In campaign under Labour Yes — except that is run by Alan Johnson, who was so thoroughly committed to New Labour’s business-friendly consensus that it is hard to see him making any noise.
Johnson didn’t really think another Britain was possible when he was a minister, so it is hard to see him arguing another Europe is possible.
This leaves a lot of room outside the supposedly official In and Out campaigns to argue that precisely because the EU is an economic institution that the debate should not be led by businessmen.
It’s an opportunity, but also a responsibility. We need to make the case that economics in the EU means how we run our schools or hospitals or welfare state. It means how we regulate banks, not how some ageing executive pleases the banks while lining his pockets.
- Follow Solomon Hughes on Twitter @SolHughesWriter.
JD adds: Comrade Hughes should sign up with the Campaign for a Workers’ Europe.
Maria Exall, Communication Workers Union and chair of the TUC LGBT committee spoke to the AWL’s paper Solidarity in a personal capacity
What are the factors behind the “Corbyn explosion”?
It is a response to the Tory victory. Anyone who has half a socialist thought in their head will have been shocked by that, would have thought “we are stuck with this lot for another five years, they are going to do so much damage to welfare, the unions.”
What is exciting about it, especially as this includes a lot of young people, is people thinking how politics does matter. Jeremy’s campaign came along and they were inspired by the necessity of politics, at different levels.
The second element is people who were once Labour Party members and who have come back. Plus existing Labour members, are realising that the Blairite era is well and truly over.
Ed Miliband was a bit half-and-half. People backed him wanting something different and they got half of something different. Now people are thinking, what is the Labour future? Maybe other candidates in the leadership contest didn’t present something so future orientated. The Corbyn campaign was seen as a new paradigm.
The third element is that things in Labour politics are quite different when in opposition than in government. There is more room for recasting politics. Maybe that was an element in the unions’ thinking because it was surprising that they supported Corbyn. All the time that I’ve been active in the unions and attending Labour conference on behalf of my union, it’s been about “how can we win power” and “what will be acceptable”. That’s important actually, because it’s about convincing the majority of the British people. However to be always constrained by this imperative, as it was in the New Labour era, was a problem.
Now things have gone the other way and people are coming out with all sorts of ideas. In any party that should represent the labour movement and the working class we should gather up all these ideas. But we also need to think about how to convince people to vote for Labour. There has to be a strategy for the future.
The new political direction needs people to go out and convince people, street activity, door knocking..
Yes that’s right. But we also need to develop the Labour left. There has been some residual left in the party over the last ten years, people voting for left candidates etc. but it has been suppressed. We need a united democratic organisation to support this shift in politics.
People should get involved in their constituencies and their union’s political organisations to ensure this develops. Of course it raises democratic questions about who decides what policies get pushed and so on.
What were your impressions of this year’s Labour conference?
There were obviously some people who were really pissed off that Corbyn had won. There were people who had voted for Jeremy as well. But also a whole lot of people who didn’t vote for him but wanted to give him a go. I would say they were in a majority.
People responded very well to John McDonnell’s speech even though he made it very clear that he wanted to take Labour on a different political route. Jeremy’s speech was received very well. I think though a whole lot of people will be coming in and changing things, they are not so very different from the people who have been involved before. There is a difference but it is not as great as has been said.
A majority of people went along with the Blairites, but that’s all it was — going along with. Doesn’t mean that they thought in the same way as those people controlling the party machine. The Blairites got just 5% of Labour Party members’ vote this time [votes for Liz Kendall]. After all most Labour Party members don’t go to meetings and those that do might, just go to, for example, a selection meeting.
It’s as Tony Benn always used to say, there are the members, the activists and the Parliamentary Labour Party. They are all different people. It’s still the case. The problem, and political time-lag we have now is with the PLP. It’s very important now for the trade unions to encourage people to stand, to have candidates who represent working-class people and push campaigns.
Do you think the unions are going to try to capitalise on Corbyn’s victory? Getting local branches to affiliate, pushing policies forward?
There will always be a tension in the union movement between control from the top and what happens at the base. That may become an issue. For example, getting working-class candidates. It means unions have to go out and find people, educate them. More than just going through the motions of supporting this, that or the other campaign.
To organise effectively we need to take people, coming into the party, from where they are. Their experiences won’t be identical. But if people aren’t empowered, or shown how to get involved, then they won’t. People may get involved because they have been inspired. But there is a difference between being a member of a political party and being part of single issue campaign. With the former you are part of a project to win people over to a political viewpoint. And that is quite difficult. It requires you to think differently.
There is a big necessity for political education…
Yes, that is what we need. It needs to involve the trade unions as well. For instance, how many people understand what’s wrong with the Trade Union Bill? It seems to be an abstract democratic question. Unless you know how things work on the ground you won’t understand that the Tories are pushing back the unions in the workplace. Plus if you hear about what is happening on the ground, then solidarity becomes a bigger possibility.
How would summarise your thoughts and feelings about Corbyn?
I think it is a massive opportunity to push forward socialist ideas in Britain. And for the Labour Party to remake itself with a more pro-worker and grounded agenda on all the big issues about political economy, and trade union rights.
Personally I think the domestic agenda is more uniting; if you want relate to people on issues that really matter in their lives that is the direction to go in. We all have our important single issues, enthusiasms. But what this is about is trying to build connections in communities and workplaces. That has always been the strength of the Labour Party compared to other political formations.
Because it is a mass political party, of half a million people, you have the opportunity to be rooted in working-class peoples’ lives. If you are socialist of any sort and want to motivate people on a class basis then you have to take that seriously. The priority for the moment is to pick things that really chime with people, tell people how to fight back against the Tories and make clear that the labour movement is on peoples’ side.
On the issue of Trident, while I support the abolition, it is a problem. You are picking a hard issue there. A bit similar to Republicanism. For rebuilding the Labour Party in the immediate term we have got to be clear that we have a leadership that fights for people in their workplaces and communities.
There are some issues you can not avoid; that’s true of the Trade Union bill. But on other issues you can pick and choose. We have to chose the main things — housing, rail. I would hope we can take policies on these issues further. Public ownership of the rail is an easy issue; it’s not so easy on the other utilities. But we have to tackle that. The same arguments apply to other utilities as to rail. A campaign on rail is an opportunity to make people political about public ownership. I would hope there is more space to make similar political arguments.
The same on the trade union issue. In the Blairite years the arguement always had to be balanced between unions and employers. Why? I would hope there is more opportunity to get beyond that. To talk about, for instance, who actually creates the wealth. It should be about drawing out the basic socialist arguments.
Anyone who is a socialist activist needs to get active.
It’s now about rebuilding the sinews of the movement. Politics isn’t about having an opinion, it is about doing something about having an opinion. The collective approach is not just about debating and voting it is also about building support for campaigns, to work with others to achieve something.
And we are going to have to have big fights. In local government for instance, where democratic accountability has almost disappeared, and it’s now all about directly elected Mayors, it will be a big task to reverse that situation.
I’ve been quite privileged to be quite rooted in an active labour movement structures, a union branch and as a member of the Labour Party. I can see things with a more long term perspective and that a continuity of working in those structures is important.
Statement from the Blacklisting Support Group:
As you may know Blacklisting was in the High Court on Thursday 8th October and after 6 years of denying everything, that the High Court trial is getting close, the blacklisting wretches have revised their legal defence, finally admitting their guilt. The 8 largest firms have run up the white flag and the ongoing negotiations between the lawyers are now just drawing up the terms of the surrender. The lawyers representing the blacklisting contractors are still huffing and puffing about their desire to go to court to fight the issue of ‘quantum’ and ‘causation’ (ie: how much compensation they need to pay) but this is just for show. The blacklisters will do anything to avoid the spectacle of a High Court conspiracy trial, which is still set to start in May 2016 and last for 10 weeks. BSG position is that we still want to see the directors of these multinational firms being forced to give evidence under oath at the High Court about their active involvement in this human rights scandal. Buying us off with a few thousand pounds is not justice.
The Blacklist Support Group would like to go on record to thank the stirling work carried out by all of the lawyers on our behalf. We could not have done this on our own. But we would like to particularity praise the work carried out by JC Townsend, Liam Dunne, Sean Curren and the rest of the legal team at Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors who have been working on the High Court conspiracy claim completely unpaid since 2009. Without their initial support, hard work and the resources allocated by GCR over the past six and a half years, we would not be in this position today. Blacklisted workers salute you.
Below is the statement issued & written by PR spin-doctors Graylings on behalf of the 8 largest firms:
On 7 October 2015 we, the eight companies that comprise the Macfarlanes Defendants*, submitted a Re-Amended Generic Defence to the Court. In this document we lay out clearly a number of admissions; these admissions are also covered in the accompanying summary which, we hope, will provide interested parties with an easily accessible reference. Both documents contain a full and unreserved apology for our part in a vetting information system run in the construction industry first through the Economic League and subsequently through The Consulting Association; we recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families.
We are making these admissions now as we believe it is the right thing to do; we are keen to be as transparent as possible and to do what we can to simplify the High Court hearing scheduled for mid-2016. We hope that the clarity this brings will be welcomed by the affected workers. Indeed, ever since the closure of The Consulting Association in 2009, we have been focused on trying to do the right thing by affected workers. This was why we set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS) in 2014 to provide those who felt they had been impacted by the existence of the vetting system with a fast and simple way of accessing compensation. Currently, we have paid compensation to 308 people who have contacted TCWCS and we are processing 39 ongoing eligible claims.
We remain committed to TCWCS. We are approaching the High Court hearing in the spirit of openness and full transparency and continue to defend the claim strongly in relation to issues of causation and loss.
– Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI PLC
(This article also appears on the Workers Liberty website and in the AWL’s paper Solidarity)
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.
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 »