Saturday, January 19, 2019
There may well be a General Election on the way.
We need to prepare for this possibility as it becomes a probability.
Labour needs to prepare to campaign for a majority Labour Government.
In doing this we need to understand that “Brexit” is not the only – nor even the main – issue confronting working class people in our everyday lives (albeit, of course, both the issue of “Brexit” and the consequences of the outcome of the 2016 referendum have implications for many of the issues which do matter).
We need a Labour Government that will strengthen our trade unions to reverse the decline in our living standards.
We need a Labour Government which will invest in our health service, and defend it from privatisation.
We need a Labour Government which will reverse cuts in public services and rebuild our Welfare State.
We need a Labour Government which will bring our rail services back into public ownership.
We need a Labour Government which will encourage and enable the struggle against racism.
We need… (well, I could go on for some time, but you get the point).
Labour needs to prepare a campaign which focuses upon the interests of working class people – we don’t want a General Election in which “in or out” of the European Union becomes the main issue.
Whenever and wherever an issue which is not, fundamentally, an issue between the working class and the ruling class becomes the main political issue, that inhibits the organisation of our side in politics.
(Look , for example, at the politics of the occupied six counties in the North of Ireland throughout the twentieth century, or the impact upon Scottish politics when the question of independence moved to centre stage).
Therefore we need to prepare for a Labour campaign in a forthcoming General Election which does put the interests of the working class front and centre. That cannot be a campaign which puts either the word “Remain” or the word “Leave” in its title.
If we present ourselves as – essentially – a “remain” Party we may alienate many “Labour leavers”. If we present ourselves as – essentially – a “Brexit” Party we will alienate the larger number of Labour supporters who oppose Brexit.
That said, however, we obviously need a point of view about the question of the European Union (as we do about many questions) – and therefore we need to understand what the interests of the working class are in relation to this question.
There is – in the current circumstances – no “leftwing” exit from the EU for the UK. Any route out of the EU threatens our class in the UK, without – of itself – offering any benefit in terms of socialist possibilities.
Labour’s approach to “Brexit” over the past two years – based upon the “six tests” - has been and is a sensible way to structure our response to a question which we would sooner not be asked around the interest of the people our Party was established to represent.
Having structured a response in this sensible way we have to be prepared now to arrive at an answer – and the answer is that, if forced to choose, in the interests of the working class, we know that leaving the EU, in current circumstances, is against the interests of our people.
But that doesn’t make EU membership the single, or most important, issue in any forthcoming election – it is only the single, and most important issue, in the current disintegration of the political Party of our ruling class.
Saturday, January 05, 2019
As 2019 begins we live in a country where national politics appears to be dominated by something (“Brexit”) which is not even a proper word, and has no agreed meaning.
In fact, of course, everyday life is not entirely dominated by the argument within our ruling class about which fantasy version of life-after-Empire is to be preferred.
Our real lives are instead dominated by the various consequences of the domestic and international defeats suffered by our class since (and before) the 1980s.
High levels of employment aren’t producing an increase in working class living standards because our trade unions have not recovered from those defeats, exemplified by the defeat of the Miners in 1985.
We live in the midst of a housing crisis because of the impact upon the supply of social housing of “right to buy”, and upon local government of the series of attacks of which ratecapping and the Poll Tax were examples.
All our public services are staggering because of a generation of privatisation and underfunding.
In the absence of both a meaningful domestic challenge from our class and a global alternative to capitalism, our rulers have not felt the need to invest in social peace as they did in the generation after the Second World War.
Our trade unions remain generally stagnant and inactive (in the thrall of a bureaucracy which prioritises survival over effectiveness) because they (and we) have no strategy to respond to these circumstances in the workplace(s).
The failure of the leadership of the big trade unions to take on the Government over public service pensions after the enormous strike action on 30 November 2011 demonstrates both the failure of that leadership and inadequacy of the left-wing opposition to that leadership.
Our Labour Party has grown – and gained support – since 2015 because, under our current leadership, we can inspire hope that there is an alternative to the post-Thatcherite reality of everyday life.
The most important political priority for socialists must be to secure – and then support – a socialist-led Labour Government which will further encourage our class to unleash our potential for social transformation.
However, the argument between the “big business” and “Little England” wings of the political party of our class enemies is nevertheless taking place in front of us, and is therefore an obstacle on the path to our objective. We cannot ignore it.
There are those in our ranks who want to take sides in the battle between Tory factions.
The smaller, sadder, group are the “Labour leavers” and “Lexiteers”, some of whom have not updated their views since the 80s and others of whom appear mistakenly to believe that anything which disrupts the capitalist economy must benefit the working class.
The larger, and now more vocal group are those who would prioritise keeping the United Kingdom in the European Union over any other objective (including the change of Government our class needs).
They, of course, include many of those who held sway in our Party over the years in which we alienated and failed to defend the interests of many of those who went on to vote to leave the EU.
The politics of Hilary Benn, Stephen Kinnock and Chuka Umunna are not the politics of opposition to Brexit – they are the politics that helped to produce a majority for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
Both those two groups (the “Lexiteers” and the Europhiles) are wrong. As socialists it is our role to represent the interests of our class, the working class – not to choose sides in an argument amongst our class enemies.
That said, we cannot ignore the actual political context in which we seek to represent the interests of our class. “Brexit” is, overwhelmingly, the project of the hard and far right politically. As an expression of nationalism, it is plainly racist.
There may be a hypothetical world in which a socialist Government of the UK, with mass popular support, sought to implement policies in the interests of our class and was obstructed by the EU.
We are not living in that world now. The political conclusions which we might draw in that counterfactual reality tell us nothing about what we should do now.
In 2019, if the UK were to leave the EU (on any terms) this would disrupt our capitalist economy with no benefit to the working class. It would empower and embolden the political forces of nationalism (and therefore, with a nationalism built on the ruins of Imperial power, of racism).
“Brexit Britain” would not be a nation in which the views of Kelvin Hopkins, Dennis Skinner or the Morning Star held any sway, still less those of the parties of the far left – it would be a nation in which, under the authority of the Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees-Moggs, the vermin of UKIP and the EDL would thrive.
Most importantly, the departure of the UK from the EU in the circumstances of 2019 would magnify and legitimise popular racism (to a greater extent than the referendum result of 2016, which itself provoked a spike in racist attacks).
Not only would this pose a direct and immediate threat to all Black and ethnic minority workers in the UK, it would also create an environment far less conducive to the victory of socialist politics, as the divisions in our class along racial lines would be emphasised and augmented.
The most important political task of socialists in the United Kingdom at the beginning of 2019 is to do all that we can to secure a socialist-led Labour Government. Unless and until we achieve this, neither we (nor the Labour leadership) can determine what takes place in relation to “Brexit”.
That said, no socialist can support the departure of the UK from the EU in the real circumstances of 2019, and to the extent that we are able to influence events in a way consistent with our wider political objectives, socialists should support any step which makes “Brexit” less likely.
The call for an immediate Special Conference is inappropriate and premature (since the Labour Party has clear Conference policy relevant to current circumstances).
However, socialists should make clear that there are no conceivable circumstances in which Labour MPs should vote, in early 2019, for the departure of the UK from the EU – and should there be a further referendum, there would need to be a Special Conference to agree any position other than the “remain” view taken in 2016.
Friday, December 21, 2018
The best day of my working life was 30 November 2011, when I led (locally) the largest and most solid strike I had ever been involved in, as our public service trade unions took united action to defend our pensions. (Though not everyone approved…)
The eventual settlement of that pensions dispute was not something which I was happy with (albeit it was – eventually - supported by ballots of members of most of the unions involved – including UNISON).
Without doubt, part of the reason why members voted for the settlement was because those who were close to retirement were protected (in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) by the “underpin”). Given the higher trade union density among older workers, the trade union leaderships counted upon older workers to protect themselves at the expense of their younger colleagues.
Today, firefighters – and judges (!) – have won a legal case against the age discrimination implicit in protecting from adverse changes to pensions the older workers (who were least impacted) and not the younger workers (who were hardest hit).
The obvious implication of this decision of the Court of Appeal (which the Government will surely seek to appeal to the Supreme Court) is that younger members of public service pension schemes (who were excluded from “transitional protections” as the unions conceded detrimental changes to our pension schemes in 2012) could bring age discrimination claims.
This poses challenges to our trade unions who may be asked to support cases which implicitly criticise the settlements arrived at following ballot results in 2012 – but surely trade union support for claims of age discrimination would be better than leaving the field clear to “no win no fee” solicitors?