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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Pimlico Plumbers case and the gig economy

February 11, 2017 at 3:23 pm (campaigning, Jim D, law, solidarity, Tory scum, unions, workers)

Image result for picture charlie mullins pimlico plumbers
Above: boss Charlie Mullins in characteristic pose

The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that a plumber who claims he was sacked following a heart attack, was a ‘worker’ and thus entitled to some work-related rights, according to the decision in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith.

The judgment has important implications for so-called ‘gig economy’ companies that claim their workers undertake services on a self-employed basis and so have no employment rights.

Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers from 2005 until 2011. The agreement between the company and Mr Smith described him as a “self-employed operative”.

The wording of the contract suggested that he was in business on his own account, providing a service to Pimlico Plumbers.

Smith was required to wear Pimlico’s uniform displaying their logo, use a van leased from Pimlico (with a GPS tracker and the company’s logo), and work a minimum number of weekly hours.

However, he could choose when he worked and which jobs he took, was required to provide his own tools and equipment, and handled his own tax and insurance.

There was no express term in the agreement allowing Mr Smith to send someone else to do the work.

Pimlico Plumbers did not guarantee to provide Mr Smith with a minimum number of hours. Following the termination of this arrangement, Mr Smith brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The employment tribunal found that he could not claim unfair dismissal because he was not an employee.

However, the tribunal decided that he could claim disability discrimination as a ‘worker.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed with the employment tribunal, and the Court of Appeal has now dismissed Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal.

Unlike recent high-profile judgments involving Uber drivers and CitySprint couriers, this ruling is binding on other courts and tribunals.

Pimlico Plumbers boss and prominent Tory donor Charlie Mullins, decorated his fleet of vans with pictures of Margaret Thatcher on the day of her state funeral. He says there is a “good chance” he will take the case to the Supreme Court, but so far he’s lost every round of the legal fight.

The Appeal Court decision is likely to be a key authority in any forthcoming cases on employment status in the gig economy. However, it is important to note that this decision did not find that the plumber was an employee of Pimlico Plumbers.

People categorised as workers have a right to minimum wage and to paid annual leave, along with some other procedural rights, such as a right to be accompanied at any form of disciplinary meeting, but they do not enjoy the full range of protections given to employees and are not subject to the PAYE system applicable to employees.

Frances O’Grady of the TUC said: “This case has exposed once again the growing problem of sham self-employment.

“Unscrupulous bosses falsely claim their workers are self-employed to get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks.

“But the best form of protection for working people is to join a union in your workplace.”

The GMB is currently supporting a group of Deliveroo food couriers in Brighton currently classed as ‘independent contractors’, who have given two weeks notice of industrial action for better pay and more hours.

The GMB’s Paul Maloney said: “We stand with the riders against Deliveroo, another company trying to duck its obligastions and responsibilities by making its workforce ‘independent contractors’.”

The government has only now, after more than a year’s delay, released a report warning that “unscrupulous” employers were in a position to exploit low-paid and low-skilled workers.

Other gig economy cases

Uber is appealing against the high-profile employment tribunal decision that the drivers who brought the claim are workers rather than self-employed.

A similar finding when the Uber case goes to the EAT would be bad news for the company, as it could lead to it having to radically overhaul its contractual arrangements with its drivers.

In another recent case about employment status in the gig economy, the employment tribunal found that a CitySprint courier is a worker rather than self-employed.

In both cases, the employment tribunals were highly critical of the contracts that the workers were asked to sign.

The employment tribunals saw the contracts as drafted in a deliberately complex manner to mask the true nature of the working arrangements.

There are also a number of other forthcoming legal challenges against courier companies including Hermes, Addison Lee, Excel and eCourier.

  • For more details of the GMB’s Brighton Deliveroo campaign, contact Paul Maloney on 07801 343 839 or Michelle Gordon on 07866 369 259

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What does Trump’s slogan ‘America First’ actually mean?

February 4, 2017 at 10:40 pm (economics, fascism, populism, posted by JD, Trump, United States, workers)

From the US SocialistWorker.org website (nothing to do with the UK SWP):

Trump has won some support among workers and even unions with his proposals around trade, but is this billionaire really on their side? Lance Selfa explains why not.

PERHAPS IT’S foolish to take anything Donald Trump says as an articulation of core principles or beliefs. But this passage from his inaugural address hit many like a bolt of lightning:

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body–and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.

This appeal to economic nationalism is very much in line with his “Make America great again” campaign theme. But for those whose political memory goes back a little ways, “America First” means something very specific and very problematic.

In the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration was increasing its support for an interventionist foreign policy that would assert the U.S. on a world level. After the Second World War started in 1939, the administration lent massive amounts of military aid to Britain, with the intention of drawing the U.S. into the conflict.

From the late 1930s up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941, a substantial sentiment against U.S. intervention in the European war developed. While on the whole sincerely opposed to a repeat of the imperialist slaughter of the First World War, the anti-intervention mood also intersected with an isolationist, rather than internationalist, approach to the coming conflict.

So when a number of college students–including future Republican President Gerald Ford, future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and future Democratic vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver–along with leading capitalists issued a call to form an “America First” committee to keep the U.S. out of the European war, hundreds of thousands responded.

America First also called for a U.S. military buildup to defend the continental U.S.–a policy that came to be known as “Fortress America.”

The banner of “America First” was also embraced by supporters of the anti-Semitic “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin, along with fascists and sympathizers with the Nazi regime in Germany. In speeches for the America First committee, the aviator Charles Lindbergh contended that Britain and Jews were the main advocates for U.S. intervention in the war, and that the interventionists’ main aim was to defeat Germany.

Other mainstream political figures–like Joseph Kennedy, ambassador to Britain and father of future U.S. President John F. Kennedy–shared the “America First” outlook. He contended that Germany was too strong, and that Britain and U.S. should make peace with the Nazis.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent U.S. intervention, America First organizations collapsed. The U.S. emergence from the war as a global superpower marginalized support for the “American First” outlook of staying out of foreign entanglements while building a “Fortress America.”

In the 1990s and 2000s, far right, anti-Semitic pundit and presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan carried the “America First” torch for a while. Then Trump came along.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THIS BRIEF history of “America First” politics provides a context for Trump’s rhetoric. It also shows that, far from being a common sense advocacy for ordinary people in the U.S. versus global elite, the slogan drags along more than its share of historical baggage. It wasn’t accidental that Trump’s presidential proclamation on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention the genocide of European Jewry.

Trump’s America First policy asserts that “[e]very decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

That rhetoric sounds radical, especially when compared to that of the last generation’s status quo, when most decisions on trade and foreign affairs did little for U.S. workers and their families. For most of the last generation, politicians–both Democratic and Republican–have told us that global trade is like a force of nature, which the U.S. economy can only adapt to, not control.

This notion of globalization operating outside the influence of the world’s most powerful government was always false. U.S. state policy undergirded the bipartisan regime of free trade and the U.S. global military projection. As that purveyor of “flat-world” banalities Thomas Friedman once put it, “McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.”

If Trump’s tumultuous first week showed anything, it showed just how much governmental action can shift the terms of engagement and debate on these questions.

Given that decades of corporate, governmental and institutional practices are invested in the neoliberal regime, it remains to be seen whether any or all of Trump’s actions will be sustained as new policies for the long run. But in the immediate term, they present our side with a tremendous set of challenges.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE FIRST of these is assessing whether they are reality-based or not. Millions of people–among them supporters of Bernie Sanders–would agree with the sentiment of protecting “our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,” whether or not they agree with Trump’s rhetoric.

Yet the empirical evidence that trade arrangements–like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO)–are the main culprits in the decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs and workers’ standards of living is thin.

The liberal University of California-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong calculates that of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 1971 that is greater than that experienced by other industrial powers undergoing similar structural economic shifts, only one-tenth of even this extra amount can be attributed to NAFTA and trade with China.

Nevertheless, we know that during the same period, living standards for workers in the U.S.–and not just those in manufacturing–stagnated. In real terms, the median U.S. household income is no higher than it was in the early 1970s.

Clearly something is wrong in the U.S. economy, and no amount of statistical modeling is going to convince people that they should just accept it. So when figures as diverse as Trump and Sanders point to global trade deals as the culprit for declining living standards, they at least have the merit of relating to people who know–unlike the Friedmans and the Clintons–that not all is right with the neoliberal world.

Trump promotes the notion that other countries are “ripping off” the U.S. through unfair trade deals. But this inverts reality.

One drastic effect of NAFTA has been the destruction of small farming in Mexico when that sector was forced into unfair competition with U.S. agribusiness. By some estimates, more than 1 million farmers have been driven from the land. Many of the victims moved to Mexican cities or crossed the border into the U.S. without documents to find work.

“Free trade” agreements like NAFTA are engineered for the benefit of U.S. business, as levers to pry open sectors of other countries’ economies to investment and services in the first instance.

Second, they allow for the free movement of capital across borders, but not the free movement of labor. In fact, the era of NAFTA coincided with a huge increase in “border security” and repression that produced a record number of deportations–more than 2 million–under the Democratic Obama administration.

That aspect of “Fortress America”–repression at the border–is already in place. Trump proposes to increase it. But the record should show that free trade policies didn’t put out a welcome mat to immigrants, either.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OUR SIDE will continue to analyze the economic ramifications of Trump’s policies, but we’re faced today with what to do about the political challenges they represent.

In this case, there is a more complicated test for the left. Trump’s protectionism and rhetoric about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. have already won praise from union leaders like Teamsters President James Hoffa. Hoffa and other labor officials likewise hailed Trump’s executive order aimed at restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects that activism forced the Obama administration to shelve.

After a White House meeting with Trump, North American Building Union President Sean McGarvey declared, “We have a common bond with the president” and that “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

In speaking to reporters, McGarvey and Laborers President Terry Sullivan–whose unions both endorsed Hillary Clinton for president–pointed out that they had never been invited to a White House meeting in the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

But there’s something else besides the Democrats’ neglect behind the labor leaders’ cozying up to Trump and his America First program: It gives them an alibi for their failures to do much of anything to reverse the long-term decline of their organizations and to protect their members from worsening conditions.

Those problems stem from anti-union U.S. employers and anti-labor U.S. politicians, not overseas competitors or immigrants.

Hoffa, for example, has a long record of cooperating with employers while bargaining away the rights and benefits of rank-and-file Teamsters.

For the likes of Hoffa, it’s much more convenient to blame international competition or Mexican truckers for eroding wages and conditions than to confront U.S. employers–even ones, like UPS, making record profits. Joining with Trump under the banner of “America First” won’t change Hoffa’s behavior at all.

Labor leaders like Hoffa give Trump the cover to paint his economic program–which in reality is based on tax cuts for the rich, allowing corporations free reign, and selling the U.S. as a low-wage economy–as “populist” and pro-worker. And they lend legitimacy to an administration intent on attacking whole sections of the working class, including immigrants and the undocumented.

Any labor union or worker who signs up with Trump’s “America First” program will find out that–rhetoric aside–Trump will put them last.

Thanks to Joe Allen for help with this article.

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Brexit threat to workers’ rights

February 2, 2017 at 10:13 pm (Europe, law, posted by JD, reformism, unions, workers)

 Steve Bell 010217Illustration: Steve Bell (Guardian)

By Prof Keith Ewing

(This article first appeared in – of all places – the pro-Brexit Morning Star, on January 31 2017)

It’s not possible for the Tories to both protect workers’ rights and satisfy their red line demand that the European Court of Justice should have no legal effect in Britain, writes KEITH EWING


NOW that Brexit is inching closer, a number of questions are becoming more urgent. Not least is the question of workers’ rights.

What is to happen to the great body of labour law that derives from the EU?

Social Europe may be dead but there is an inheritance to protect. The Tories have promised that workers’ rights will be guaranteed. But they also promised that Brexit would ensure extra funding for the NHS. How equally hollow is the promise on workers’ rights?

Hard Brexit will expose workers’ rights on three fronts. In the first place, it means that any new rights that are developed at EU level will obviously not apply in Britain (or to those parts that voted Remain).

There is not much in the pipeline at the moment. But there are, nevertheless, proposals in the admittedly weak European Social Pillar for the protection of workers in the new tech industries for better transparency in the employment relationship and for EU unfair dismissal laws. These will not apply here.

A second consequence is that even if Social Europe is dead, rather than dying, there is still the framework of existing rights and the opportunity to develop them through litigation and access to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

For those on the left, there is of course the haunting impact of the Viking and Laval cases, placing the rights of business above the rights of workers; the right to freedom of establishment trumping (in every sense of the word) the right to strike.

We are also traumatised by the recent Usdaw case in which the Collective Redundancies Directive was narrowly interpreted to defeat claims by workers who had been employed by Woolies, and before that the Alemo-Herron case in which the Acquired Rights Directive was narrowly applied in the interests of business where public services are outsourced. As a result, workers lost the right to the continuing protection of collective agreements that had previously applied.

But while all that may be true, there have also been important victories. On equal pay, it was the ECJ that established in Britain the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. And on discrimination, it was the same court that swept away the arbitrary and artificial limit on damages that had been imposed in domestic law. On working time, it was the ECJ that established the right of all workers to holiday pay, removing the Blair government’s denial of holiday pay to Bectu members employed on short-term contracts.

Also on holiday pay, it was the ECJ that addressed the problem of employers basing holiday pay entitlement on part rather than all of the worker’s normal wages, and the other problem of employers preventing workers in some cases (notably illness) from carrying over holiday pay from one year to the next.

It stamped out other working time abuses, such as employers not treating as working time the periods spent on call at the workplace, and employers not paying holiday pay because it is already rolled up in (inadequate) monthly or weekly wages.

True, it will not be a disaster if we are denied access to the ECJ, but it will be a significant loss all the same. If the existing EU rights are “novated” into British law as part of the process of the “Great Repeal Bill” promised by the Tories, the substance of these rights will be determined by the British courts whose decisions led to many of these successful challenges in the ECJ. It will lead inevitably to a two-tier system of employment law in which our EU origin rights will as a result of litigation fall behind those operating in the EU 27.

Brexit thus means more power for the British courts and more opportunities for British judges to protect workers’ rights.

There may be some on the left who are content as a result. If so, they have a poor grasp of history.

But this of course is not the end of it. A third consequence of a hard Brexit is that there is nothing to stop the Tories chipping away at EU origin employment rights, while retaining the basic structure. What is to stop the Tories restoring the restrictions on holiday pay that were ruled unlawful in the Bectu case?

And what is to stop them revisiting Beecroft and reinstating the limit on compensation in discrimination cases? The answer is nothing.

After the “Great Repeal Bill” this will all be British law, albeit EU origin British law, and it can be changed with impunity.

The Tories can keep the agency workers’ regulations, but respond to business demands that they should provide even less protection. They can keep redundancy consultation but follow Vince Cable down the path of limiting the obligations on employers.

Should these or other steps be taken, there will be no right of access to the ECJ to put a brake on the government. If, as seems likely, our economy is to be tied even more closely to that of the US — as the May government begins to look across the Atlantic rather than the Channel — the prospects of continuing deregulation on a serious scale are by no means unrealistic. But about all that is left to deregulate are the rag bag of EU employment rights whose future existence now relies on the slender thread of a promise by May and David Davis.

That promise is built on a contradiction: it is not possible for the Tories simultaneously to protect workers’ rights and satisfy their red line demand that the ECJ should have no legal effect in Britain. A choice has to be made. The right choice is clearly set out in the Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill 2016, recently presented to Parliament by Labour and SNP MPs, which in a Schedule reveals the breathtaking scale of our dependence on EU law for protection in the workplace.

Not only does that Bill seek to preserve these rights post-Brexit as a platform on which a future progressive government could build, but it does so by requiring that in “all legal proceedings [before the UK courts], any question as to the meaning or effect of any EU Worker Right shall be determined in accordance with the principles laid down by and any relevant judgment of the ECJ.”

The latter is an essential feature of any future settlement. But it is unlikely to be the choice made by May and her hapless government.

  • Keith Ewing is is professor of public law at King’s College London and president of the Institute of Employment Rights

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Corbyn’s Brexit capitulation – and the curse of consumer-politics

January 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm (campaigning, capitulation, Champagne Charlie, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, reformism, socialism, stalinism, workers)

Image result for picture Labour Party logo

Corbyn’s decision to support May’s plans for triggering article 50 is a craven capitulation to nationalism. It also won’t work: hard-line Brexiteers and racists will remain unconvinced, while to the rest of Joe and Joanne public it just looks like a combination of panic and opportunism – which it is. Even in Stoke Central, the so-called “Brexit capital of the UK”, my local contacts tell me that Brexit isn’t the key issue: the overall state of the party and the credibility of its local campaign, is.

This shambles also calls into question the kind of advice that Corbyn is receiving from the cabal of politically illiterate Stalinists in his inner circle.

It needs to be stated loud and clear that the referendum result represents no fixed-forever “decision of the British public” which obliges Labour to give away the rights of migrant workers (and British workers and young people who want to work, study, or live in Europe) by abandoning the EU and freedom of movement. In fact, since some Leave voters wanted something like EEA status, even on 23 June there was probably a majority for keeping freedom of movement. Plebiscitary democracy — democracy via referendum snap votes, on questions shaped and timed by the established powers — is the thinnest form of democracy. Usually it just serves those already in office. This time a strong sub-section of those in office (Johnson, Gove, etc.) were able to surprise Cameron, in a public debate which was essentially Johnson-Tory plus UKIP versus Cameron-Tory, with Labour voices weak and unconvincing (Corbyn) or ignored by the media (Alan Johnson and Labour’s official Remain campaign).

That does not make it more democratic. The referendum excluded 16-17 year olds, excluded EU citizens living in the UK (though they can vote in local authority elections), was run on poor registers missing out seven million people; and such a narrow snap vote is no democratic authority to deprive millions of freedom of movement and probably impose new borders between England and Scotland and between Northern Ireland and the South.

All but the thinnest democracy includes a process of the formation, refinement, revision, and re-formation of a collective majority opinion. Without such a process, and without organised democratic political parties which collectively distill ideas and fight for them, democracy means only rule by whatever faction of the rich and well-placed can sustain itself through judiciously-chosen successive snap popular votes. It has almost no element of collective self-rule.

Labour should oppose Article 50 and demand a second referendum, at which we advocate remaining in the EU.

Whether Labour activists should ally themselves with the newly-formed Labour Against Brexit remains to be seen, and largely depends upon whether it turns out to be a right wing campaign to simply get rid of Corbyn: something that isn’t as yet clear.

Finally, a frank word to those good comrades who are talking about resigning from the party over this: we are not in politics as consumers who simply buy into a political party when we like the look/sound of what’s on offer. The uncritical adulation of Corbyn in the early days of his campaign and leadership was as silly as the claims now of being let down and the suggestion in some quarters of dropping out of the Labour Party.

Labour under Corbyn was always going to have crap politics, because Corbyn himself has always had crap politics – as demonstrated by his half-hearted stance on the EU and willingness to endorse the Morning Star. Most of the PLP have crappier politics still. We are arguing and mobilising for socialism in a world where politics is shifting to the right and British politics is dominated by questions of Brexit and national identity, which is simply not the terrain on which to build class politics, in the way that the NHS, workers’ rights and inequality is.

Our job is to rebuild Labour as a working class party. That process is only just beginning and will take years. People need to get stuck into their branches, CLPs and Momentum (whatever its faults). Serious comrades need to get their hands dirty delivering leaflets and travelling to Stoke and Copeland.

On article 50 Corbyn is clearly wrong, and we should say so. But instead of getting bogged down on the minutiae of the Brexit process, we need a laser-like focus on the NHS, housing and workers’ rights. Workers need inspiration and hope: maybe Corbyn can’t give it but a mighty battle against tory destruction of the NHS can in a way that article 50 never will.

Finally, socialists should be in the Labour Party now and for the foreseeable future, just as we should have been (and some of us were) under Miliband. What’s crucial is the party’s class nature, not its leadership at any given time. If there was a better Labour leader with better politics we could elect tomorrow I’d be in favour of doing so. But there isn’t and we can’t. We must not follow the example set the right wing Labour MPs who are resigning their seats to cause by elections as a strategy to get Corbyn out. If socialists throw up their hands in despair  because things are not coming up roses just at the moment, how the hell do you think we’ll ever overthrow capitalism?

(NB: thanks to comrade Dave for the closing rant).

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Brenda Sanders RIP

January 13, 2017 at 11:34 am (good people, posted by JD, RIP, Unite the union, women, workers)

Brenda Sanders

Above: Brenda

From Martin Mayer:

It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of Brenda Sanders, our first and only woman Chair of the T&G Executive Council. She died in hospital on Saturday after being poorly for some time.

Brenda was a calm and firm woman with strong convictions and steely determination, very often under-estimated by those who did not know her well. She was at the head of the T&G Executive Council in its final period of existence prior to the historic merger with AMICUS to form UNITE in 2008. This was a tense and difficult time for the Executive members as the merger plans developed. She always ensured that the views and concerns of T&G Executive Council members were heard by both General Secretaries – even when that was unpopular!

Brenda was proud and honoured to be the first woman Chair of the union’s Executive Council. It marked a very important stage in T&G women’s fight for equality in our union. She was certainly a credit to her T&G sisters who helped to create some of the most progressive equalities structures in any union.

Brenda we remember you with immense pride and a great deal of sadness.

Martin Mayer
Chair United Left

The Funeral will take place on the 26th January at 1.30pm, at St Hillary’s Church, Wallasey Village
then 2.30pm at Landican Cemetery

It will only be family flowers. Contributions can be made to a charity – to be confirmed.

Cards and letters of condolence are to be sent to:

10 Primrose Grove
Wallasey
CH44 7AS

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Three arguments against free movement, and three responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The demand relies on two assumptions: one, that migrant labour necessarily has a depressing effect on the pay, terms, and conditions of domestic workers. And two, that employers deliberately and directly hire migrant workers in order to drive down their costs, because migrant workers will work for less.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Argument Two: “We need fair immigration controls”.

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

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

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Why Labour should support free movement and oppose Brexit

December 3, 2016 at 3:03 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, democracy, Europe, labour party, populism, posted by JD, workers)

Labour must seek to persuade Leave voters, but make no concessions to nativism

By Martin Thomas

It is conceivable that within a year or so there will be no European Union, or not much of an EU, for Britain to quit.

In Italy, Salvini’s right-wing nationalist and anti-immigrant Lega Nord may be able to seize the initiative after the likely defeat on 4 December of prime minister Matteo Renzi in Renzi’s referendum on increased executive powers. Or it may be the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, who has tacked left sometimes but who greeted Trump’s election with right-wing bombast. Trump, Grillo said, had defeated the “journalists and intellectuals of the system, serving the big powers. Trump has screwed over all of them — Freemasons, huge banking groups, the Chinese”. The Lega Nord wants Italy to quit the euro, though not the EU; so does Grillo; so does Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia.

In Austria, also on 4 December, neo-Nazi Norbert Hofer may win the presidency. Next March and April, Marine Le Pen of the Front National could win the much more powerful French presidency. She is way behind in the polls at present, but then so was Trump for a long time. She wants France to quit the EU as well as the euro. Her likely second-round opponent, François Fillon, is not quite a “call out the border guards” type, but he is a social conservative, a Thatcherite, who rejoices that “France is more rightwing than it has ever been”.

The Netherlands also has elections in March 2017. Since Britain’s Brexit vote, Geert Wilders’ anti-immigrant PVV, which wants the Netherlands to quit the EU, has usually led the opinion polls. Maybe none of these dislocations will happen. 65 years of European capitalist integration, since the Coal and Steel Community of 1951, have created a web of connections with staying power. But even one upset, in Italy, France, or the Netherlands, could unravel an already-shaky EU.

Probably, in the short term at least, a looser free-trade area would survive, rather than a full return to frontier fences, heavy tariffs, and high military tensions, but “Brexit” as such would dwindle to a detail. If the EU survives on present lines, its anxieties and tensions will work against easy terms for Brexit. They will make “hard Brexit” probable whatever the Tories want.

Already many of the Tory ministers positively want “hard Brexit”. That will be regression. A break-up of the EU would be worse regression. It would increase divisions between the working classes of different countries. It would threaten the rights and security of 14 million people in Europe who live, currently as EU citizens, outside their countries of origin.

The new border barriers would make things even harder for refugees from outside the EU. The break-up would sharpen competitive pressures on governments to squeeze their working classes, and reverse the mediocre and patchy, but real, processes of social levelling-up which have come with the EU. It would expose each country more to the gusts of the world markets. Foolish is the idea, circulated in some parts of the left, that a break-up or partial break-up of the EU would be good, because all disruption of the existing system must be good.

Salvini, Grillo, Hofer, Le Pen, Wilders will not replace the EU’s neoliberalism by anything more generous. They will only add anti-immigrant and nationalist venom. The mainstream left, the “centre-left” as it shyly says these days, is alarmed, but unable to respond with flair.

In Austria, the Social-Democratic SPÖ has a coalition government with Hofer’s neo-Nazi Freedom Party in the Burgenland province. In Italy, the Democratic Party, the main remnant of the once-huge Italian Communist Party, is led by Renzi, whose drive for strong executive powers and anti-worker policy has given the right their opening. In France, on 25 October a poll found only 4% of voters “satisfied” with the record of Socialist Party president François Hollande, whose latest move has been to slash workers’ rights with a new“Labour Law”.

The choice, not just between progress and stagnation, but between progress and rancid regression, depends on the clumsily-emerging new forces on the left, like the Corbyn movement in Britain. We must stake out political ground, win arguments, rally people to principles, remobilise the labour movement at ground level, pull together into political effectiveness young people who still overwhelmingly reject the new nationalism and racism.

Neither the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership of the Labour Party, nor Labour’s biggest left grouping, Momentum, is doing well on this. In the run-up to the June 2016 Brexit referendum, John McDonnell said, rightly, that: “One of the fundamental rights the EU protects for its citizens is freedom of movement. I think this is critical. The right of working people to live and work where they choose is a hard-won gain of the labour movement… We should stand foursquare for freedom of movement in Europe. The right to travel and seek employment is a fundamental one”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Isaiah Dreads and the Left’s fatal flaw

November 29, 2016 at 5:04 pm (class, culture, history, left, music, solidarity, workers)

Related image
Above: what sort of accent would he have had?

Guest post by Robin Carmody:

In October 1984, early in the season that ended with Bradford and Heysel, there was a major fire at Norwich City football ground. You’ve almost certainly never heard of it, because it didn’t happen during a match and so nobody was killed. But it very easily could have done; football grounds had been allowed to decay, partially out of a Tory belief that the conditions in which working class people had to live didn’t matter, so badly that Bradford, like Hillsborough, could have happened to multiple other sets of fans at multiple other times. It is, in fact, a wonder that they didn’t.

But imagine if that fire had actually killed as many Norwich fans as Bradford or Liverpool fans were killed in the disasters that did happen. How would the Left’s response have differed? Could it – would it – have responded with as much empathy and fellow feeling for the dead and the bereaved? Might elements of it, even, have felt that those who died were en masse class traitors, unworthy of equal levels of support?

The unfortunate situation that continues to prevail on much of the English Left is that when many Leftists say that they support working class people who do not speak RP, and the right of those accents to be heard and not discriminated against and perceived as a badge of stupidity, they only mean working class people in areas, and the accents of those areas, which were largely made by the industrial revolution and have experienced heavy non-white settlement since 1945. When it comes to working-class people in areas, and especially the accents of those areas, which were largely unaffected by the industrial revolution and have not had such levels of immigration (other than, in a much more concentrated period the reaction to which has now had disastrous political consequences, from Eastern Europe), they are often capable of the most obscene levels of prejudice, discrimination and the treatment of entire forms of working class speech as badges of stupidity.

It hurts much more to hear this sort of thing from the left in the same way that, even after Maxwell had withered away the paper’s soul and got rid of everyone from Pilger to Waterhouse, it hurt much more to see the Daily Mirror run covertly racist and anti-Semitic lies about the Beastie Boys in 1987, or to equate modern Germans with Nazis in 1996, than if it had been The Sun; you simply expect better, and expect more, from those who portray themselves as against prejudice and discrimination. Portrayal of people with, say, Scouse accents as thick – a partial factor in the Hillsborough disaster (and over-compensated for by the constant tabloid references to “Jamie” Bulger, a name never used by his family, as if they could only counterbalance the years of dehumanisation with an equally insulting faux-chumminess) – comes pretty much entirely from people who do not deny their prejudice, but flaunt it, boast about it, wallow in it. You don’t expect anything else from them. Portrayal of people with West Country or East Anglian accents as thick, on the other hand, comes disproportionately from people who make a great point of how immune they are from prejudice, how even-handed and equal their treatment of others is (eg leftie comedians on Radio 4). But in this field they completely abandon those rules and are, quite often, guilty of some of the most obscene, incontinent and just plain unpleasant abuse and mockery of other people I have ever come across. It is, by those criteria, far more actively disappointing.

And what makes it worse is that the prophecy is self-fulfilling. While accents with left cred, such as that of Liverpool, have strengthened and enhanced, those without are in the process of withering and dying. Worse, leftists from regions such as south-west England have, in many cases, internalised such rhetoric and believe it applies accurately to themselves; in my direct personal experience, they frequently do not speak up against negative stereotyping of their regions and actively join in with it themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fidel Castro’s legacy: Cuba as a class society

November 26, 2016 at 9:34 am (Cuba, history, Marxism, national liberation, posted by JD, revolution, stalinism, workers)

 Castro leads his victorious troops
Castro leads his victorious troops (photo: History Archive/Rex/Shutterstock)

Pablo Velasco and Sacha Ismail examine Castro’s legacy in an article written in early 2012, largely informed by  Cuba Since The revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment, by Sam Farber.


The 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro and his 26 July Movement to power was a bourgeois revolution which smashed Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, but replaced it with their own Bonapartist regime.

Half driven by US hostility and half by choice, this government opted to become a Stalinist state in 1961, adopting the model of the USSR and similar states.

Farber calls this a “bureaucratic system of state collectivism”, in which society’s economic surplus “is not extracted in the form of profits from individual enterprise, nor is it realised through the market. Instead, it is obtained as a surplus product of the nation as a whole. The surplus is appropriated directly, through the state’s control of the economy”. Cuban workers and peasants received their means of subsistence in the form of largely non-monetary rations — low cost or free food, housing, education, health and other welfare facilities. However the surplus product pumped out of the direct producers is controlled and allocated by the ruling bureaucracy — “without any institutional constraints by unions or any other independent popular organisations”.

Cuba’s achievements and failures “resemble those of the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam before these countries took the capitalist road”. Part of this was Cuba’s receipt of “massive Soviet aid from the early sixties to the end of the eighties… even the most conservative estimates would place it well above Cuba’s calculated losses from US economic aggression during that period”. Between 1960 and 1990, Cuba received about 65 billion dollars of Soviet aid on very favourable terms.

The “systematic repressive nature of the Soviet-type regimes made it politically difficult to build enduring oppositions within those societies”. In Cuba there was “certainly no lack of physical brutality… particularly during the first twenty years of their rule. There were thousands of executions, and there was large-scale imprisonment, throughout the revolutionary period, of tens of thousands of people under typically very poor living conditions and physical mistreatment.”

Who rules Cuba?

The state bureaucracy that developed out of the revolution is still in power.

The state owns the means of production and the bureaucracy “owns” and controls the state. The “one-party state” is in fact a no-party state, since the bureaucracy rules directly through the myriad of state and state-sponsored “mass” organisations.

The bureaucracy has privileged access to consumer goods through special stores, separate hospitals, recreational villas, and trips abroad. The armed forces and security services have their own medical facilities. Since the two-tier economy of hard currency and pesos was legally established in 1993, more conventional inequality has been unleashed.

The political ideal of the Cuban elite has been summed up by current head of state Raúl Castro as “monolithic unity” (2009). Although there is enforced mass participation in Cuba’s polity, there is a complete absence of democratic control. Cuba has had a variety of ruling institutions, but none function democratically. The Communist Party was formed in 1965 and has only had six congresses in over 50 years. The Popular Power assemblies were not established until 1976 and allow only vetted candidates to stand on their biography, with those “elected” able only to rubber stamp decisions taken elsewhere by the bureaucrats.

Cuba does not have the kind of impersonal rule of law and citizens’ rights against the arbitrariness and capriciousness of the state which exist in some bourgeois societies. This is evident in the crimes of “social dangerousness”, and “antisocial behaviour”, and the use of imprisonment, electric shock treatment and psychiatric institutions for opponents. Fidel Castro has admitted that there have been 15-20,000 political prisoners in Cuba and Cuba currently has 531 prisoners per 100,000 people, the fifth highest rate worldwide.

What about the workers?

The idea that Cuba is ruled by its workers is laughable. In 1959, the Cuban working class “was not socialist in any meaningful sense of the term, nor did it lend its own distinctive character to the Cuban revolution”. Fidel Castro himself has admitted as much on numerous occasions.

The working class was certainly not passive during Batista’s dictatorship. Despite the shackles of the state and business-gangster trade unionism, sugar workers, rail workers and bank workers fought militant reformist struggles around pay and conditions. The 26 July Movement had its own trade unionists who did organise successful strikes on a number of occasions after the rebel leadership landed in Cuba in 1956. But the general strike they called in April 1958 was a failure and workers’ action only an adjunct to the main, guerrilla warfare strategy for taking power. Read the rest of this entry »

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