Archive for the ‘labour’ Category

What is Blairism and how do we fight it?

June 10, 2020

I became active in left politics in 2004 – angry at the Iraq war, I joined the million plus people marching in Hyde Park. The largest demonstration in British history. But the Stop the War Coalition had no real strategy of how to oppose New Labour, it made no difference to the policies of Blair – no threat to the system. Demonstrating is important in raising our spirits, in realising our collective strength – but unless we harness that power – either by forming a political party to challenge the status quo, or using the power of the unions to strangle the bosses’ profits at source – leaders can ignore democracy.

I joined what was the Socialist Party – I thought that, in small way, I needed to get involved in building an alternative to New Labour. I was persuaded of the need for revolution as opposed to gradualism, which was an important step in my political awakening – previously, I would have described myself as Old Labour.

Labour was formed, in 1900, as the Labour Representation Committee, a party of the trade unions, bringing together Britain’s left wing parties, including Marxists, in order to represent the interests of the common people, as opposed to the interests of the bosses. Keir Hardie was its first leader – Keir Starmer, in claiming to be socialist, said that he was named after Hardie. This morphed into the Labour Party in 1906.

Labour’s peak was the Attlee government of 1945-51, the post-war deal which brought in the welfare state, the NHS and nationalised much of the economy – but crucially didn’t go far enough, for example leaving the banks under private control. This radical change was brought about by huge anger at Churchill’s government, particularly by the armed forces, who returning to Britain, voted overwhelmingly for Labour.

The architects of this victory leant on Clause IV of Labour’s constitution, “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”. This crucially called for the economy to be brought under state control. This came out of a similar desire for change after World War I, in 1918. In 1959, the right-wing Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell attempted to remove this from the constitution, but was blocked by the trade unions – which at that time, still had a say in the Labour Party.

The predecessor to the Socialist Party, Militant, had a policy of entryism within Labour during the 1980s. This meant that they could not openly organise within the Labour Party and meant campaigning for right-wing Labour MPs. On the plus side – a big plus, we saw the election of Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall as Militant MPs, reflecting the huge anger against Thatcher in working-class Liverpool, Coventry and Bradford, which had seen Britain’s manufacturing industry decimated by the Tories and campaigned for decent public housing, and investment in schools and services. Militant also had control over Labour Party Young Socialists, the youth wing of the Labour Party, and a sizeable membership of around 8,000 at its height. 1990 saw an important victory in the defeat of the Poll Tax, and the demise of Thatcher.

Neil Kinnock sowed the seeds of Blairism when he expelled Derek Hatton, deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, removed Labour’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, began the process of watering down Clause IV, and attacked Militant. By 1992, the leadership of Militant had been expelled, causing a split between those who wanted to remain within the Labour Party, and those who saw the need to build a new party of the working class. The majority, under Peter Taaffe, decided to form the Socialist Party.

Tony Blair introduced what was euphemistically called The Third Way – social democratic policies, a mixed market economy, and supported militarisation and cuts to services. He rebranded Labour as New Labour – Any commitment to socialism was scrapped. Thatcher famously described New Labour as her greatest achievement. Blair massively reduced the power of the trade union movement at conference, and made conference decisions non-binding. Labour became a safe pair of hands for the capitalists. Blair saw a decline in Labour membership. “Blair, in common with all modern party leaders would have liked a mass membership, but had no desire to delegate any form of responsibility or power to it”. Gordon Brown brought in PFI which has strangled our NHS and led Labour, after Blair’s resignation in 2007, to electoral defeat.

In response to Blair, the railway workers’ union and fire brigade union both disaffiliated from New Labour. The late, great Bob Crow led the fight for a new workers’ party, supporting TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) – this later suspended electoral activity in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

It was a fluke of politics that brought Corbyn to leadership – desperate to restore funds to Labour, Milliband ruled that you could become a registered supporter of Labour for less than the price of a pint (later increased to £25 by the right-wing Labour NEC in time for the 2015 leadership ballot) – and it was fortunate that a few right wing MPs such as Frank Field, actually nominated Corbyn to be on the ballot in 2015, in the expectation that he would be crushed.

But Corbyn made mistakes – he was too accommodating: not expelling right-wingers, but attempting to keep the Labour Party “united”, this only emboldened them; campaigning for a second referendum on Brexit; going along with the constant media cries of anti-semitism, even being apologetic for it and not speaking out against the witch-hunting of left-wingers; not appealing to the wider movement enough, not calling for strike action to bring down the Tories and relying instead on Parliamentary democracy. Corbyn also failed to nominate a successor, which paved the way for the right to win back control of Labour.

So this brings us to Keir Starmer, who has talked of a national unity government given the coronavirus pandemic, has put forward no real opposition to the government’s policies, only mild criticism at best, and every indication is that there will be a return to Blairism. The crying need for a new workers’ party re-emerges.

Find out more about the fight for socialism here – http://www.socialistalternative.net

Brexit Blues

August 7, 2018

Tories they are in meltdown, they’re going round the bend
The Tories are in meltdown, they’re going round the bend
When we voted for Brexit, seismic shockwave we did send.

It was felt all the way to Dublin, and far-off Athens too
It was felt all the way to Dublin, far-off Athens too
Syriza caved in to Brussels, and the Greeks were feeling blue.

That damned Lisbon Treaty, Thatcher’s proudest boast
I said, that damned Lisbon Treaty, Thatcher’s proudest boast
It privatised our railways, and privatised our post.

Their flag may be blue in colour, but it ain’t got no soul.
Their flag is blue in colour, but it ain’t got no soul.
The posted workers’ directive, chucked thousands on the dole.

I ain’t gonna be no hamster, ain’t nobody’s guinea pig.
I ain’t gonna be no hamster, ain’t nobody’s guinea pig.
Sinking deep in Eton mess, this problem’s way too big.

There’s one man who can pull us out, and he is called J C
I said, there’s one man who can help us, his name it is J C
But this ain’t no second coming, it ain’t no epiphany.

Let’s chuck out Blairite turncoats, they are not our friend.
Get rid of Blairite traitors, they’ve never been our friend.
We need a socialist Europe, we need austerity to end.

Should Ken Livingstone be expelled from the Labour Party?

May 14, 2018

The furore over alleged “anti-semitism” in the Labour Party stems from accusations following Labour MP Naz Shah sharing a facebook post, suggesting that Israel be relocated to the United States, as this would save the US billions in defence expenditure, in other words pointing out that Israel is a client state of the US. Shah apologised for any offence caused and after a period of suspension she was readmitted to Labour.

Ken Livingstone stepped into her defence in a radio interview with Vanessa Feltz. After this interview, John Mann, a Blairite Labour MP, angrily confronted Livingstone, hectoring and bullying him. If you watch the televised coverage of their argument, Livingstone is admirably restrained in his response. He says “it is a matter of historical fact”, “should I apologise for saying that the Normans invaded England in 1066?” and he does not deny that the Holocaust happened. Yet, he is accused of being mentally ill, “you have lost the plot”, “you need some help”; of being a Nazi apologist and of being a conspiracy theorist – he is guilty by association!

Livingstone claimed that there was a secret meeting between Nazis and Zionists, at the time of the Nazis coming to power, to discuss the removal of Jews from Germany. He points out, in a later interview, in 1935, Hitler banned flags from flying in Germany, except the Zionist blue and white flag and the swastika. He said that Naz Shah was “over the top”, but she was not being anti-semitic, adding that, in over 40 years of membership of Labour, he personally had not encountered anti-semitism. There is a medal with a Nazi insignia on one side and the star of David on the other:- http://northshorenumismaticsociety.org/little-known-medal-marks-nazi-zionist-co-operation-in-1933/

Livingstone explained, “Hitler was a monster from start to finish”. But, however unpalatable it may be to the Labour right, there is strong evidence that the Nazis engaged in secretive deals to relocate German Jews to Palestine (the Haavara agreement of 1933). You can argue that this may have not been the most diplomatic argument for Livingstone to pursue, but he has facts on his side, even if he was slightly muddled in the details, having being pounced on by Mann. Hitler was not above accommodating those who he vehemently disagreed with; the infamous Hitler – Stalin pact is clear evidence of this.

For pointing out these links, Livingstone was accused of not knowing his historical facts, being anti-semitic, a holocaust denier, believing in conspiracy theories and being a Nazi apologist. Who is behaving like a school bully, bringing the Labour Party into disrepute here? Isn’t this a calculated effort by a Blairite MP to bring down one of Corbyn’s most articulate allies?

This is an important attack, not just on Corbyn, Livingstone and the Labour left, but also on freedom of speech. It is not anti-semitic to criticise the Israeli government’s policies, to point out the American defence budget contributions, and the way that the state has attacked unarmed Palestinian protestors.

Ken Livingstone should be reinstated as a Labour party member. John Mann and the other Blairite MPs, who have constantly sought to undermine Corbyn at every opportunity, are the ones who should be subject to deselection, as they have “brought Labour into disrepute”.

A Tale of Three Cities

May 6, 2016

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Picture: Nick Chaffey (Southampton Socialist Party)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Labour have, against the odds – after the Collins Review, which was based on the assumption that the electorate in the UK are right-wing and agree that austerity is a necessary evil; on the Blairite assumption that you have to moderate your demands to the very mildest squeaks of protests against the Tories to be “electable”; on the assumption that the Left and trade union movement were finished, so that it was now safe to open up the Labour leadership election to anyone who could stump up the price of a pint – elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He stands against cuts, for peace and socialism and for a new kind of politics.

So why are the majority of the Labour Parliamentary Party and Labour councillors at odds with their own leader? He has been mandated with 6o% of the vote – their most popular Labour leader in decades. He has the potential to win over the mass of the electorate who don’t vote, because they have no-one who stands up for their interests. the only choice on offer is of three parties made up of professional politicians who see their calling as a career, not as a privilege, most of whom were educated at private schools and who would happily take backhanders from private companies, in addition to their generous pensions, expenses, second home allowances and Parliamentary salaries.

By way of example, I take you to the first of our cities – Coventry, in the heart of England – a once thriving beacon of industrialism, which was home to Britain’s engineering and transport industries. The factories stand idle – replaced with zero hour contracts and low paid jobs. There, the former socialist MP Dave Nellist (1983-92) stood and is still standing for a different vision, against Thatcher’s winner-take-all mentality, for community, socialism and a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage. He stood firmly against war and for basic principles of solidarity with ordinary people, that a representative in Parliament or on the council chamber is a shop steward for those who elected them, a voice for the dispossessed. Yet Labour still oppose the stand of TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) and actively campaign against socialists – why do they not target Tory seats in the city?

We then travel to our second city, Southampton – where faced with the closure of a local swimming pool, two councillors, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, opposed the ruling Labour council. For their principled position, they were kicked out of the Labour Party. They stood as Independent Councillors against Cuts and were comfortably re-elected. Yet Labour still stand in opposition to them. In last night’s local elections, the ward of Coxford gained another socialist, independent councillor, Tammy Thomas, the daughter of Don, who follows in his footsteps, fighting for a working-class political voice. Yet Labour campaigned hard against her.

Finally, in the town of Warrington, the former Labour councillor Kevin Bennett was forced out of Labour due to opposition to cuts. Yet the local Labour leaflet pleaded with voters not to indulge in gesture politics, but to stick with Labour councillors who were wielding the Tory axe to public services. Against a backdrop of boundary changes, a media blackout for TUSC, and a spirited campaign to keep his seat, he achieved a massively creditable 921 votes, just 76 short of being elected. Three Labour candidates, with a much larger national ‘machine’ behind them, unfortunately pipped him to the post. But why just one of them could not have stepped down, in order to make way for Kevin, is beyond me.

TUSC has the principle of bringing together all those who oppose cuts, whether in the Labour Party, or without, whether they come from different socialist traditions or not. We are trying, from a small base, to build a new mass workers’ party – to represent the interests of the 99%, not a tiny minority in society who own most of the wealth. We are not beholden to big business and support workers in struggle. We are glad that Corbyn has won the leadership of the Labour Party and hope that it can be won over to the ideas of socialism. But would it be too much to ask, in the handful of seats where they have a real chance of winning, for the Labour Party to stand aside and not challenge socialists? This would be a hallmark of a party that is serious about transforming itself – after the dark days of Blairism – into a force that opposes all cuts, is truly democratic and casts aside any compromise with Tory austerity?

Instead, we have a Labour party at war with itself – plots to oust Corbyn, backbench rebellions and Labour councils which pass on Tory cuts. Corbyn should call a conference – with representatives of the 400,000 people who joined Labour to fight against cuts, of the trade unions and community campaigners. He should join with left forces outside the Labour Party, rather than fighting against those who share his aims.

Instead, sadly, Corbyn has sought to placate the right-wing of Labour – by suspending Ken Livingstone, by backing down on the EU, by not whipping MPs on Syria. Blairites need to be replaced with class fighters, otherwise Corbyn’s promises of equality and socialism will forever be a distant mirage.

 

The Crisis of Working-Class Political Representation, the Labour Party, and Jeremy Corbyn

June 14, 2015

The Labour Party was set up at the turn of the twentieth century by socialist groups (the Social Democratic Federation) and trade unions, to provide a political voice for the working class. Previously there was no choice, other than Tories and Liberals – the bosses, landlords and aristocracy had political parties, but there was no representation for ordinary people. Prior to the struggle of the Suffragists and Suffragettes, and the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave men over 21 years old, and women over 30 years old the vote, you had to be male in order to vote.

The Labour Act 1906 made strike action legal, giving trade unionists more power. Trade unions switched from supporting the Liberal Party to the new Labour Party.

Clause 4 was introduced in 1918, as the leadership of Labour felt themselves under pressure from the working class to deliver socialist ideas, at least in theory. This was due to the end of WW1 and the Russian Revolution. It was printed on membership cards: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”.

However, savage austerity measures, “the Geddes axe”, followed in the early 1920s. In 1926, with the defeat of the all too short general strike, the Trade Union movement suffered a blow – the mineworkers’ union heroically stayed out a whole year until they too were defeated by starvation.

After the Second World War, a victory for Labour brought the most left-wing government Britain has ever had. The welfare state was introduced and around 20% of the economy was nationalised – steel, coal, railways, etc. The NHS brought previously unaffordable medical care to the working class. These reforms were again given under pressure from below, with armed troops returning to Britain. With the end of WW2, the UK economy was on its knees, requiring socialist policies to kickstart it, with a huge injection of cash from the US. The government built millions of council houses. It is nonsensical, given the current deficit “crisis” to say that we cannot afford government expenditure. After World War II, the country’s debt measured 248% of GDP – dwarfing today’s figure of just 80%. However, these gains have been eroded ever since.

Hugh Gaitskill, a right-wing Labour leader in the 1950s tried unsuccessfully to do away with Clause IV and expel leading left wingers, such as Michael Foot, from the Labour Party. At that time, Labour was still relatively democratic, with a working-class base and the trade unions had a strong voice, so the left won this battle, but their victory was temporary.

The 1970s marked a high point in industrial struggle – the Tories were defeated in 1974 by the miners. The end of the decade brought the “winter of discontent”, and the collapse of Callaghan government in 1979. Workers had a high level of union organisation, with 13.5 million people in trade unions. The demise of Labour and the victory of Thatcher was not inevitable, had the leadership of the Labour Party and trade unions not been lacking.

In the 1980s, Thatcher brought in the anti-trade union laws and started a process of privatisation of industry, which has been ongoing ever since. There was a series of magnificent defeats for the working class – the printers succumbed to Murdoch in Wapping; the miners’ strike from 1984-85 was ultimately divided and lost. Militant in Liverpool from 1983-87 built thousands of council houses, leisure facilities and provided thousands of jobs. If this had been linked up with fighting Labour councils across the country, the outcome could have been different – unfortunately only Lambeth and Liverpool took the fight to the Tories at the time, and isolated, the Labour Party moved against its own left wing. At the time, Militant controlled the Labour Party Young Socialists, and had 8000 members.

Tony Benn was tipped to be Labour leader in 1983, but lost his seat in Bristol. The next challenge to Kinnock  was unsuccessful for the left in 1987 – this was the last time a left candidate got onto the Labour Party ballot paper, such is the undemocratic nature of the party today.

1989 brought the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, which had an impact on left-wing parties worldwide, and hastened their capitulation to neoliberalism.

1990 saw the Poll Tax, and a mass campaign of non-payment, involving 14 million people, which defeated Thatcher.

Militant was expelled from and eventually left the Labour Party in the early 1990s. John Smith’s short reign as leader was succeeded by Tony Blair, who revoked Clause IV 1994, with the birth of “New Labour”.

The 1997 election of Blair saw a continuation of privatisations and cuts, with academy schools and foundation trusts in the NHS. The use of the Private Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnerships was expanded by New Labour. The Labour Party did not repeal any of Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws or bring any former public services or industries back under nationalisation. It is little wonder that Thatcher said her greatest achievement was New Labour.

1997 also saw the launch of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, but this unfortunately was undemocratic and sectarian in its outlook and has failed to match its potential.

In 2003 2,000,000 people marched against Blair’s invasion of Iraq – there was a huge opportunity for the left to form a new party, but this sadly ended up with the communalist politics of RESPECT.

In 2006, the Socialist Party launched the Campaign for a New Workers Party.

The worldwide financial crash in 2008, not long after Gordon Brown famously said he had abolished boom and bust, was and still is used as an excuse for more attacks on trade unions, with further cuts and privatisations – the most indebted part of the private banks were nationalised and are now being sold back, at a huge loss to the country.

2009  saw the Launch of the National Shop Stewards’ Network, an important vehicle for rank and file trade unionists to campaign together, supporting workers in struggle nationwide.

TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition was launched in 2010. The same year as John McDonnell made an unsuccessful attempt to run for leadership as he could not get the required backing of 30 MPs – his support passed over to Diane Abbott, who offered no real left alternative.

The RMT formally backed TUSC in 2013 – this is appropriate since their forerunner, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants was pivotal in the formation of the Labour Party back in 1906.

We have seen the rise of anti-austerity party in Greece, with Syriza; a collapse of support for ruling parties in Ireland, with advances made by the AAA and Independents. Social democracy is unable to find a solution to the problems inherent in capitalism and workers will look for alternatives, provided a viable left alternative is given.

In 2014, Labour’s Falkirk fiasco resulted in UNITE’s favoured candidate being deselected for MP because they were seen as being too left wing. This resulted in the Collins Review, with Labour cutting off its nose to spite its face. This gave “transparency” of trade union funding, in other words union members now have no voice in Labour Party policy or leadership; and they have to pay as individuals £3 to have a vote in the leadership debate. The threshold increased to support from 15% of Labour MPs (or 35) needed to qualify. The Labour party has also long ignored conference decisions where these do not reflect the agenda of New Labour, such as conference decisions to renationalise the railways and Royal Mail.

Over 5,000,000 working class votes have deserted Labour since 1997 – some have gone to UKIP, many do not bother voting at all. There has been a huge defection in Scotland to the SNP, due to its “anti-austerity” posturing and Labour being implicit in the No campaign along with the Tories.

This brings us up to date and in 2015, with the resignation of Miliband – all the leadership candidates, except Jeremy Corbyn are Blairites. Unfortunately, with Corbyn on 23 nominations, he remains very unlikely to win (the bookies are offering odds of 100/1), but perhaps he could just reach the required threshold to at least be on the ballot. Socialists should give critical support to his campaign, saying that it is good that he is running, but due to the undemocratic and corrupt character of New Labour, he has little chance of success. If he is unsuccessful in his bid for leadership, but is serious about campaigning for socialism, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that he should leave the Labour Party and help form a new mass workers’ party.

The direction of events in Europe will inevitably come to Britain also, and we will need huge struggles by the trade unions aligned to a political voice of our own, against the Tories’ attempts to introduce even more draconian anti-trade union laws. The 40% threshold that would be required for strike action is rich, coming from a government elected with just 24% of the popular vote. We need to build a fighting alternative – the trade union movement and socialists need to come together once again to form a new, mass working-class party, just as it did in 1906.