Principal speaker Felicity Dowling writes
Left Unity is proud to defend free movement: to support workers’ right to choose where they live and work. Support for all workers living and working in this country is crucial to the strength of the working class, to community cohesion and peace. It is crucial to our hopes for a better future. We live in a cruel globalised economy, an economy Left Unity wants to change fundamentally, to an economy that respects human need. These are the facts of 21st century economics. It does no politician any good to pretend some minor policy change can fix this.
Victorian working practices have been brought back in huge British warehouses, wages have fallen, health and safety regulations are at risk, classed as “red tape”, regularly rubbished in the media, and vulnerable to be abolished as ‘pesky’ EU regulations.
This week more ship breakers in Pakistan have burnt to death at work. Non-union ship breaking operates on the River Mersey too, in competition with Pakistan. Liverpool will picket the docks this week because neither the non-unionised workers on the docks nor the hundreds of (unionised) drivers servicing the docks have adequate toilet or eating facilities. These are the cruel workings of 21st century capitalism, which is not going to reform itself but to get more cruel, more blatant, as workers are forced by benefit sanctions and caps to accept any level of wages or be homeless.
Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent step back from support for free movement and support for the rights of migrants who have moved within Europe, will weaken any struggle against these appalling employers and fuel divisions based on race and nationality. Corbyn, more than anyone else, has the platform to speak the truth about bosses’ practices and about the need to defend the NHS and the welfare state. Corbyn, by standing for community solidarity and against hate speech and division, could galvanise the country. Already his ideas are affecting attitudes. Corbyn could be reaching out to workers across Europe to end the race to the bottom in wages and conditions and to stand up for human rights and the rights of global migrants, to make the case against war and for climate defence. In doing so Corbyn’s voice could be heard not just in the UK but in Europe, and across continents.
The old Labour right’s ideas with its anti-migrant mug, were defeated at the polls, defeated in the referendum, and defeated in the labour party internal elections. They offer no future.
At home, supporting campaigns for fully funded, democratically controlled schools, campaigns for the NHS, for the welfare state and for council spending would take the wind out of the racists’ and nationalists’ sails. Meetings called by Corbyn across the country on the NHS could be a game changer in defending the NHS.
We live and work in a global economy, one in which workers’ rights survive only when there is strength in organisation to defend them. Even the Academies project in schools is part of a global strategy of multinational companies. The NHS is being refashioned to suit global health companies. Workers cannot organise in just one nation, nor can organisation work if some workers are excluded by race, religion or nationality. Organisation needs, now more than ever, to be international and inclusive, and often to start small in each workplace, each community struggle.
Modern 21st century capitalism pulls workers into large urban areas, especially in the richest countries. Industry and finance are international. Only huge movements of workers can defeat this and create economies that develop all areas, not just the great urban centres of the ‘global north’.
The migrants who work here to support families back home are now sending significantly less money home because of the fall in sterling and many may not be able to afford to stay, leaving gaps in key workforces like the NHS.
The Conservatives as the representatives of the very rich are in confusion about Brexit, because big finance capital requires membership of the EU, yet the petty nationalists will not accept this, risking still more economic chaos. This is signalled by the drop in the pound and the rush by international capital to buy shares made suddenly cheaper (in euros, dollars, or yuan) on the UK stock exchange. Corbyn could challenge this chaos.
There are not just millions of workers here, from the EU but there are millions of UK citizens in Europe. Many are living on limited UK pensions, now worth significantly less because of devaluation of the pound. They may not be able to continue to afford live in Spain or France for long, even if they retain the right to do so.
Removing protection from EU workers will not help the appalling conditions of migration placed on non- EU migrants, nor the horrors of Yarl’s Wood detention centre and violent deportation. Instead it opens these conditions up to more of our friends, families, mates, colleagues and school or college friends.
Our next steps are clear and this is Left Unity’s commitment: defending free movement, defending state investment in infrastructure and the welfare state, defending trade unions and the environment – to build a huge powerful movement for change.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Sat 2 Mar, 9.30-17.00
Confronting the Rise of the Far Right, European Conference
Organised by Transform UK.
Bloomsbury Central, 235 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8EP.
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