Posts Tagged ‘brexit’

How can we get rid of the Tories?

February 2, 2019

The Socialist Party campaigned in the EU referendum to leave the EU. Our slogan was to “vote OUT the Tories”. Correctly, we predicted that a leave vote would cause a crisis for the ruling party of capitalism, and would undercut support for the far-right.

We also said that Jeremy Corbyn should use his position and authority to lead the Leave campaign, and, as part of TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) applied to the Electoral Commission to be the official Leave campaign; for no taxpayers’ money to be given to the Tories or UKIP as the officially sanctioned campaign. We attempted, with our limited resources, to counter the racist rhetoric on both sides of the referendum campaign. We pointed out that international workers’ solidarity was needed against EU attacks on the people of Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland. We explained that Corbyn would not be able to carry through socialist policies without coming into collision with the Lisbon Treaty.

The Leave vote caused Theresa May to lose a parliamentary vote by the greatest margin ever. She is clearly incapable of running the country. By any normal measure, she would have resigned by now, and there would be huge pressure to have a general election. So why is she still clinging to power?

The opposition is no longer (as it was under Blair) a “safe pair of hands” for the capitalists. They are terrified that a left-wing Labour government would raise expectations of working-class people (not that Corbyn’s manifesto is more than mild reformism, with only piecemeal renationalisation of the railways for example, not as we would demand, expropriation of the railway franchises under workers’ control, with no compensation for fat cats). The bosses are afraid of the latent power of the trade unions, if Corbyn were to repeal the Tory anti-trade union legislation. They are afraid for their profits. The last thing they want is for a Corbyn-led Labour Party to be pushed further to the left by mass pressure from below.

Yet, Labour too is split. There is a rump of Blairites, predominantly councillors and MPs who seek to sabotage Corbyn and his supporters. We are calling for them to be deselected. Instead, socialists have been expelled for the nebulous charge of “bringing the Labour Party into disrepute” and have attempted to smear Corbyn with false claims of antisemitism. The majority of Labour councils are still carrying through the Tories’ dirty work, cutting services and jobs without protest. However, there is a beacon of hope – Islwyn and Enfield North councils have voted to set no-cuts budgets and fight back (it remains to be seen how this works out in practice). The Socialist Party (as Socialist Alternative) will be standing against Blairite cutters in a number of seats across the country, to put forward an alternative to austerity.

What are the chances of democratising Labour into a fighting mass party of the working class? We would argue that Corbyn has been too timid in capitulating to and seeking reconciliation with the Blairites. We have asked to join Labour, but our requests have been rebuffed with the retort that we should not have stood against Labour in elections – we asked for a debate, to discuss co-operation and affiliation on a federal basis, but so far we have not been successful in re-joining Labour (our leading members were expelled in the early 1990s). There are some hopeful signs of change, however, with a new layer of activists coming through and a trickle of deselections.

One factor that has been absent in getting rid of the Tories is the organised working class. If Corbyn had campaigned energetically and the TUC had mobilised its members for the recent march against austerity, using it as a springboard for co-ordinated strike action; if there was mass, spontaneous civil disobedience (as is the case in France) – May’s government would face oblivion.

One Tory backbencher commenting on May’s leadership said “stamina is not a strategy”, recognising the desperate situation she is in. On the one hand remainers are demanding a soft Brexit, or to remain, on the other, Eurosceptics want to break with the EU, and the DUP are threatening to withdraw support over the border in Northern Ireland. The situation has reached a critical impasse, and evidently there is no Plan B. The EU has said its deal is non-negotiable, so May is scuttling round Labour Leave MPs offering cash bribes for their support (just as she did with the DUP).

This shows, as we have argued consistently, that the money is there in society to fund public services. The Tories are carrying out an ideological attack, affecting the most vulnerable disproportionately. Yet, this is also an extremely weak and wobbly government – all that is lacking is the political will to bring it crashing down.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the coming weeks and months. One possibility is that the Blairite left and Tory right will split, to form an SDP Mark II-style party, but holding them back is the likelihood of electoral oblivion.

A no-deal Brexit is still possible, despite the vote in Parliament to the contrary, if a deal cannot be brokered. This would be a blow to ordinary people, with uncertainty around jobs, increased inflation and chaos around our ports.

The right wing of Labour and the Lib Dems are calling for a second referendum, a “People’s Vote” – we say that a real people’s vote is a general election. The Lib Dems would certainly use this as a bargaining chip in return for support for a coalition government, should we have a hung Parliament in the event of an election. To go down the road of calling another referendum would alienate the majority of the working class, drive up support for UKIP and result in a backlash against immigrants. It would be a disastrous climbdown for Corbyn, who has rightly said that he would honour the referendum result.

Any companies under threat of going under should be nationalised under workers’ control, to protect jobs. We would use Brexit to launch an appeal to workers across Europe, to rise up against the rotten capitalist system which enslaves us. We point out the racist nature of EU legislation – the withdrawal of rescue vessels in the Mediterranean, the razor-wire border fence erected in Hungary. We do not blame immigrants, we blame the bosses. We would close tax loopholes and use the revenue generated to invest in our public services which have long been starved of resources. If there was a flight of capital, we would take control over the money supply.

Although this may sound like a socialist flight of fancy, meanwhile in Tory Britain homeless people are freezing to death, the disabled are suffering under Universal Credit, people are in insecure jobs and on zero hour contracts. It doesn’t have to be this way! We cannot afford to wait until 2022 for another general election.

During the election campaign in 2017, with the leaking of the Labour Party manifesto, this resulted in a huge groundswell of support. May’s gamble (on a snap election to pave the way for a majority for her version of Brexit) failed disastrously for the Tories. Despite a huge lead in the opinion polls at the beginning of the campaign, she has barely clung to power since. If we forced another general election now, the Tories could easily be defeated, if Labour were to pose a bold, socialist programme.

The Socialist Party, at this stage, is a small party, but we have a track record of winning gains for the working class. Locally, we played a central role in the campaign to save the Glenfield Children’s Heart Centre. We won millions of pounds of concessions from Thatcher for Liverpool, building council houses, leisure centres and schools. We led the mass non-payment campaign that led to the downfall of Thatcher and defeated the poll tax. Central to our strategy is the belief that workers are the most powerful force in society. We are the ones who create wealth for the capitalists. By withholding our labour, this can be stopped at its source, and they would have no choice but to capitulate. We are the ones with the knowledge and expertise to run society. We can build a new socialist society, based on equality and solidarity rather than profit and greed. We are part of an international movement seeking to overthrow capitalism, worldwide. If you agree with our ideas then – join us!

(Speech to Leicester Socialist Party meeting – 2/2/19)

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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.

We want nationalisation, we want workers’ control. We want union freedom, and the Tories on the dole.

May 21, 2017

For a “weak”, “unelectable” leader, Jermy Corbyn seems to be packing crowds in wherever he speaks. Labour are rapidly closing ground on the Tories in the opinion polls. Could it be that their policies – of a living minimum wage, to end zero hour contracts and to renationalise the utilities and railway network, might just be proving popular?

Labour have promised to bring back the railways under public control, but only as the franchises expire. They have promised “cradle to grave” free education, with the abolition of tuition fees. They are opposing austerity – though this has yet to be put into practice by Labour councils.

Opinion polls show overwhelming public support for socialist policies – 52% support public ownership of the railways, 65% support higher taxes for those earning more than £80,000/yr, 54% of people support more council house building, 71% of people support the scrapping of zero hour contracts. The Labour manifesto promises a Britain “for the many, not the few”. How much more inspiring than vague right-wing promises, which have failed to deliver. No surprise then that millions of, mostly young voters, are registering to vote.

The Labour manifesto can be criticised for its climbdown on Trident and for nationalised energy, for example, to be run alongside private utility companies. Surely it would be better to acknowledge that Trident is a white elephant and that the only way to plan and invest in renewable energy would be to renationalise the whole industry at one stroke, and to have democratic control of industry.

However, it is a huge step forward compared to the Blairite mantra of the Third Way, of public-private partnerships and PFI, which have continued Tory plans to get rid of our control over the public sector. The NHS has rapidly been privatised, so this election is in effect a referendum on whether we still want a national health service – not that the Tories want us to know that!

However, their manifesto also misses a target in failing to renationalise the banks. Lack of public control over the banking sector has been shown in the failure to prosecute RBS over that bank’s failings.

The right wing press complain about the expense of nationalisation – but it needn’t cost us a penny – rather big shareholders should receive no compensation whatsoever; they have held the public to ransom for far too long.

Tyneside Labour Party Young Socialists came up with a song in the 1970’s which sums up the situation (to the tune of the Blaydon Races) –

“Aye lads, we all want nationalisation
But not the kind they’ve got in the mines
Or in the railway stations.
We want workers’ control and not participation,
And then we’ll be on were way – to the socialist transformation!”

The reference “not the kind they’ve got in the mines or in the railway stations” is due to the post-war Labour settlement which ended up with the same coal owners still in charge in the National Coal Board, and which still shut workers out of control.  However, even this top-down, limited nationalisation would still be preferable to the present situation!

In contrast, there is a classic example, from the 1970s, of Lucas shop stewards being asked what they could do with the skills in the British Aerospace industry – they came up with long-life batteries, and dialysis machines rather than making weapons for the defence industry. Similarly the GLC, in 1981, before its abolition by Thatcher,  Mike Cooley, sacked from Lucas for his activism, was appointed Technology Director of the GLC’s new Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB). A series of Technology Networks were created. Anticipating FabLabs today, these community-based workshops shared machine tools, access to technical advice, and prototyping services, and were open for anyone to develop socially useful prototypes.

Technology Networks aimed to combine the ‘untapped skill, creativity and sheer enthusiasm’ in local communities with the ‘reservoir of scientific and innovation knowledge’ in London’s polytechnics. Hundreds of designs and prototypes were developed, including electric bicycles, small-scale wind turbines, energy conservation services, disability devices, re-manufactured products, children’s play equipment, community computer networks, and a women’s IT co-operative. Designs were registered in an open access product bank. GLEB helped co-operatives and social enterprises develop these prototypes into businesses.

However, it is wrong to say that Corbyn’s manifesto is simply a return to the 1970’s. Then, 13 million people were members of trade unions, there was an element of democratic control in some workplaces with “closed shops”, where the union would be able to decide who was hired and fired. There was more equality, cheaper housing, more council housing, better job security, an 80% top rate of income tax – and key industries were nationalised (albeit on a top-down, Stalinist model, inherited from the gains of the 1945 Labour post-war government).

Fast forward 40 years – we have zero hour contracts, the race to the bottom with our terms and conditions being eroded, wage freezes for public sector workers and insecure jobs.

A programme of nationalisation could begin to reverse decades of underfunding and Thatcherite economics. With advances in technology and robotics, we could have a shorter working week without loss of pay (at the moment automation is being used as a tool to drive up profits at our expense).

One drawback is that Corbyn, welcome though his reforms are, is trying to improve workers’ rights and transform society, without actually taking power out of the hands of big business. There will undoubtedly be a retaliation. There are questions over how he will force his programme through. 100 Blairite MPs have already signalled their intention to form a breakaway party, should Corbyn lose the general election, but remain in charge.

The answer to this is to have mandatory reselection of MPs and re-democratise the Labour Party, with more influence for the 500,000 members who have joined as a result of Corbyn’s shift to the left. This has happened in Aberdeen, where 9 Labour councillors were recently suspended for going into a local coalition with the Tories!

Brexit, would allow Corbyn the freedom to break with EU treaties which enforce competition and the internal market. Dave Nellist has dubbed this “Thatcherism on a continental scale”. It would allow trade unions the freedom to campaign for better wages for migrant workers, levelling wages up, rather than the practice of “social dumping”, where EU regulations have meant the ripping up of negotiated agreements and allow companies to employ workers on less than the UK minimum wage, a practice analogous with the use of “flags of convenience” on board ships. Corbyn needs to campaign for a socialist Brexit. Theresa May, on the other hand, would use Brexit to rip up what little protection Europe offers the UK, in terms of the working hours’ directive, for example.

In summary, the general election is a golden opportunity, the first time in my lifetime that I will be able to support a Labour government offering an alternative to cuts. It lifts our aspirations and will encourage millions, whereas all the Tories have to offer is a continuation of drab, grey austerity Britain, where millions rely on food-banks, where people are terrified of putting their head above the parapet for fear of losing their jobs, where the disabled and homeless are victimised, rather than supported. We need a return to the fighting spirit of the 1970s, rather than a return to Victorian conditions and the 1870s.

(This is a speech I gave to Leicester Socialist Party meeting, May 2017 – on the topic – “Nationalisation – is Corbyn taking us back to the 1970s?”)