This government is inflicting a cruel criss-cross of poisoned wounds on ordinary people in their day-to-day lives, writes Left Unity’s National Secretary Felicity Dowling. Some of these wounds like Universal Credit, inadequate social care, child poverty, trade union laws and NHS cuts cause immediate damage. Others like privatisation, intensely competitive curricula in schools, and neglect of the environment – including fracking, air pollution, and the damage to the soil – are longer term. This government is also inflicting lasting damage on those aspects of state functions like transport, local authority services, water provision, flood defences, power supply, criminal justice and more, that are necessary for people’s lives.
Brexit is a crucial aspect of the same strategy, chosen by an extreme right wing section of the Conservatives. Their success over previous decades in defeating working class interests seems to have made them careless. They failed to understand the nature of the damage Brexit could do to the globalised British economy, in manufacturing, in banking and in financial services, and have found themselves in one of the greatest political crises of recent years. This crisis has the potential to spiral out of control. The threat to the car industry is severe, according to Unite the Union. The threat to living standards is severe. The Conservative Right, around Fox and Rees-Mogg, seem still to believe that they personally or as a group can make a profit from chaos.
Huge profits, sufficient to build business empires, were made from other conjunctions of chaos like the ending of the Soviet Union, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war. Quietly, fortunes are being made by privatising the NHS. This chaos capitalism is well documented, for example by Naomi Klein.
There are divisions in the ruling class about the EU with one lot going down the totally free market option, another content to ride the chaos, and others supporting staying in the EU for the sake of the large market and international political leverage. The first and second are about taking the working class in the UK to the bottom and the third is also optimistic about further robbing the working class but retaining some trappings of social democracy.
Warnings about the extent of the damage from Brexit are numerous and well-researched. Food prices rising by 10% is just one of these warnings. Austerity is a chosen policy of the Conservative Government. It never was and is not now necessary. Austerity has done significant damage across public services, for short-term profit for the very rich. In rail transport, in local government services, and in our precious NHS, the damage will be hard to repair. The regulation of public procurement is utterly inadequate in major projects, civil and military, hence the problems with Cross Rail, PFI hospitals, Interserve, Academies and more.
The environment is at great risk, from fracking, from air pollution, from industrial scale agriculture, from the deterioration of our soil and from burning carbon best left in the ground. The 12 years to stop global warming at 1.5c has given renewed energy to the green movement and opposition to climate change. Huge popular opposition to this is utterly ignored by the Government. The heroines and heroes of the anti-fracking campaigns, especially at Preston New Road, and Extinction Rebellion, show the potential for these campaigns. Removing EU regulations on the environment will cause harm
The wider ruling regime covers its tracks, disguises its motives, using the media. It relies on spreading lies, poison, feelings of helplessness (“There is nothing we can do about it anyway”), and on division within our communities. It is hard to grasp the enormity of the damage being done, because it is rarely explicitly described by media or by establishment politicians. It is seen by each of us in different ways, depending on the services we use.
The press report the situation as though the government is “making a mess of things”. Sadly, this is not entirely true, Brexit might be a mess but things are going just right for the wealthy. The rich are getting much richer, but workers are working for lower money wages. Lower wages create in the short term higher profits, longer term makes crises more likely making profit ever greater, and workers are accepting a lower social wage, through the loss of public services. Millions of people accept the foul anti-migrant, anti-benefit claimant, anti-“expert” myths pumped out endlessly by the media.
The very rich have done very well recently. There are more billionaires than ever. Globally the very rich hold sickening amounts of total wealth. The UK is the finance capital of the world, so is implicated in helping produce this inequality. The rich are richer than ever and some would rather not have the problems about Brexit that they are now facing. London is the finance capital of the world and home to some of the wealthiest individuals, and in the City has a significant part in huge international financial power. Cameron let a genie out of the bottle by agreeing to the referendum to appease a section of his right wing.
The United Kingdom is far from homogenous – there are wealth and geographical divisions. There is a significant North South divide; there are pockets of extreme poverty in seaside towns. In the pit villages, there has been little to reinvigorate the economy since the pits closed decades ago. Even the jobs that were available to some women in the pit towns seem to be dying out.
Rurally, transport and housing are major problems and since the abolition of the Agricultural Wages boards pay, always low, is an even bigger problem than once it was. Growth has been focused on the banking and service sector and in the South East. London is the centre of prosperity in the South East but has its own extreme divisions of wealth and poverty, and an extreme housing crisis for ordinary people while speculative blocks stand empty
Unemployment is also regionalised:
“The highest unemployment rate estimates in the UK for July to September 2018 were for the North East and Yorkshire and The Humber, both at 5.0%. The next highest rate was seen in the West Midlands at 4.9%. The region with the lowest estimated unemployment rate was the South West at 2.9%, followed by the East of England at 3.2%.”
Reports say 75% of 18-24 year olds voted to stay in the EU, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. Some big cities like Bristol, Leeds, London, Liverpool, Manchester voted to remain. Higher unemployment seems to link to Leave sympathies.
Many areas of the UK have serious problems of personal poverty and of communal poverty with high streets full of charity shops, betting shops and nail bars. Levels of investment in industry, services, banking and finance, transport and infrastructure are all different across the UK. The UK like other globalised economies has centres of growth and centres of decline. Not all remain cities though are wealthy.
Migration to the UK has consistently been higher from non-EU countries, than from EU countries. Leaving the EU will not “solve” the issue of migration, which Leave supporters tell us, is a genuine cause for concern. We disagree. Blaming migration for the ills of our society is dangerous. Migration will remain a toxic weapon of the right after any Brexit.
Left Unity believes free movement of people is a basic human right. Capitalism sees migration as a source of labour, preferably cheap labour. We are more than just workers. We have the right to family life, to fall in love, to study, to travel. We are not serfs tied to the land our lords and masters own. We live in a globalised economy. Within that, there are global cities that pull in workers and peripheral area that tend to send workers. “Cities that are more central to the world urban system have larger, more diverse immigrant populations than less-central cities. World cities are not only key sites for corporate control of the world economy and for business and tourist flows; they are also central ininternational flows of immigrant labour”.
Between and within countries there are movements of workers, and movements of people for other purposes, some patterns and routes of movement have existed for hundreds of years. Cities like Liverpool and Bristol were built by waves of migration from slavery, to the Irish famine, to the pogroms in Eastern Europe, to workers from Europe who came to fight and work in the anti-fascist struggles of World War 2, to post-war Asian and West Indian migration. Liverpool remembers how post-war racist migration policies sent Chinese husbands far from their families without notice. Migration and Racism is not just to do with to Brexit, or Europe.
British bosses practice unilateral class war. This is the root of poor working conditions and wages. Their blacklisting war with the building trade unions was of monumental scale and had the assistance of the full state apparatus.The abolition of the Agricultural wages board is another example.The UK and the USA governments and employers, not Europe developed “flexible” low paid working model. British wages did not share in the growth recovery in the economy after the crisis, in this time of “austerity”. Women’s wages have especially suffered in the era of austerity.
EU migrants have made a huge contribution to the whole of society, especially but not exclusively in the NHS. British employers used the availability of migrant labour for their own interests.The then high value of the pound made employment in the UK attractive especially to people from the newer areas of the EU.The exchange rate differential for money sent back home for the children or family, meant money sent home was worth more than had those wages been from the Euro area. This difference has been largely lost now with the drop in the value of the pound. The TUC reported that the rate of pay growth has slowed in the already low paid agricultural sector, and many less workers are coming to the UK to do this work.
Agricultural work needs significant reform. Seasonal Migrant agricultural workers are not settled, and use temporary accommodation. Settled workers cannot afford housing in most agricultural areas. In all fields of employment, many settled and migrant workers experience tough conditions in factories and in the fields.Some migrant workers have joined the unions. More workers, settled and migrant, need to join unions to fight for better conditions and pay.”Less than eight percent of workers aged between 16 and 24 carry a union membership card;”
The bosses are not going to give them more pay from the kindness of their hearts. Power concedes nothing without a demand. These workers, unionised or not, migrant or local, are part of the working class in the UK.
The posted worker loophole has been closed by trade union and European parliament pressure. Campaigns in Europe defeated TTIP. However other dangers remain in all trade negotiations including deals Britain is likely to join post Brexit. Contractors from one country can bring their own workforce to complete an installation in another country. This can have negative results, especially where there are great discrepancies of pay. This is as true for the British working abroad, as foreign contractors here. Having workers on different contracts, based on nationality or race, based on permanent and agency, in one workplace, spells danger for the power of the workforce. It is not impossible to organise trade unions in such a situation but it will take extra work.
The Conscious Hostility policy towards those migrants not covered by the EU treaty conditions sees them face terrible injustices. Windrush cries out for justice for Albert Thompson, for those deported, those who lost jobs, homes and those left bereft. Yarlswood, the hated detention centre holding innocent people must go. Activists who stopped deportations at Stansted airport of people later found to have the right to be here are still on trial facing dreadful charges. Charges for migrants to use the NHS are really damaging people, and especially mothers giving birth. The whole migration system is deeply damaging and cruel.
EU citizens living here are facing hostility and racism, to add to the uncertainty inflicted on their lives in a decision in which they were allowed no say. They had been protected from the horrors of Theresa May’s “Conscious Hostility” but with Brexit they would have far less safety.
Ireland is deeply affected by Brexit. Ireland is a member of the EU. Ireland will stay in the EU after Brexit. Ireland’s economy though is intertwined with the UK economy, especially for smaller businesses, the supply chain is seamless between the two. They are the UK’s fifth biggest trading partner, we export more to Ireland than to China, India and Brazil multiplied by 2. Grocery stores, banks and aviation are all integrated. All of Ireland’s’ electricity grids are with the UK. For more details see here. The North has been ignored by the Brexiteers until the Conservatives needed support from the DUP. The huge financial and political price paid to the DUP is significant. The North voted remain, even though the republicans did not vote in large numbers, so some of the unionists must have voted Remain. The Conservatives took no notice of Ireland, nor of the needs of the North in the decision to go for a referendum, nor in the immediate period after it. Only when it dawned on them that Ireland is a sovereign state with interests in the decision did they begin to consider it. The Secretary of State was found to be woefully ignorant The North is in ferment about Brexit including support for a second vote and talk of reunification, not just from staunch republicans. It is important to defend the peace process. A poll indicated that Brexit supporters in the North believe that losing the peace process is a price worth paying. The economic effect is important too. Uncertainty about the future Ireland remains as this is written.
Gibraltar, technically a British Overseas Territory, is in reality economically and socially integrated with Spain. People live in Spain and work in Gibraltar or live in Gibraltar and work in Spain. A hard border there would cause real social economic and political damage. For now that problem has been shelved, with a deal de facto leaving it in the EU.
Blame the migrant, or the claimant: the Conservatives are using Conscious Hostility against claimants, as well as against migrants. Benefit claimants, pensioners, the poor, single parents, have all been demonised, and sadly, such stories have taken root with some people, even when these myths speak against their own interests.
The Conservative Party seems to be breaking up. The far right is regrouping around UKIP and the EDL, who are well-funded, cocky and dangerous. Rees-Mogg, Hunt and Fox increasingly seem to represent disaster capitalism, believing that further profit can be made from disaster and chaos.
Austerity has inflicted great misery on the British people, and especially on women and children. This misery is creating deep, though yet inchoate, anger. A quarter of British adults have no savings and many spend more than they earn, living on credit cards, for basic bills. The reality for many people is tough. There are poor wages and high debt levels, there is much-neglected mental ill health among the population, and there is a challenge to save our environment, the challenge to feed our children, to give young people hope and inspiration, to provide decent homes for all. People, are fighting for basic rights, and others are fighting to provide some solidarity support in combating damage to the lives of those hardest hit
Is worse than austerity to come? Austerity has been harsh, cruel, and misogynistic. The impact on children is unforgivable. Bad though austerity is a section of politicians and big capitalists internationally are planning worse. They seem to have lost what little respect they may have had for democracy and are attempting to create undemocratic, racist and “populist” regimes, to allow them to further rob the states’ wealth, and to fundamentally damage the ability of workers to organise to increase their wages.
Leaving the EU means workers’ rights, enshrined in EU laws, will have to be fought for again in the UK. So far, there is little sign of the trade unions preparing for this, even at awareness raising levels. This blog indicates some of the issues. It says, “The TUC is very worried that ministers opposed amendments to make it harder for future governments to water down these rights. And we’re not alone – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also raised the alarm about the lack of legal guarantees for EU-derived equality laws after Brexit”
The trade union movement needs to be speaking in detail to the membership now about the need to protect these rights, laying the groundwork for industrial and social action if needed. High-vis jackets are worn in the UK as well as in France.
Working class communities, trade unions and socialists are not utterly defeated. A wave of action has started: groups fighting to defend the NHS, fighting for housing rights, including justice for Grenfell, fighting against the harm done to thousands of families by Universal Credit. People, especially those who are disabled, are fighting for basic rights, and others are fighting to provide some solidarity support in combating damage to the lives of disabled people. Trade union struggles on the railways, in shipbuilding and in social care, on the buses, and potentially in the car industry, and in some schools, shows that the unions are still a real presence in our communities and in the economic sphere.
Tens of thousands are active members of trade unions, campaign organisations, Labour Party branches and other radical parties. This makes up a sizable, though not coordinated opposition to all the Conservatives are doing. It would be really helpful if Labour Councillors, AMs and other representatives actively joined the fight against austerity and resisted the cuts with all their power – both political and organisational. Whilst they do not, this resistance will have to be organised against council cuts too. If we cannot organise resistance to local authority cuts the idea that “there is nothing we can do” grows.
Slavery was the law once too! People will, and do already, struggle to defend their living standards, their environment, their communities, their rights and oppose racism and xenophobia ideas, and give strong internationalist support. It is utterly wrong or people elected on a working class ticket to say in effect “There is nothing we can do about it, we have to make cuts, your vulnerable will just have to suffer or die, that’s the law”.
There is deep simmering anger over how young workers are treated at work and like the apprentices’ strikes of old, this could suddenly blow up into action. We have seen some good reactions from fast food workers. Worker militancy does not just suddenly appear out of the oven, it starts with a prior commitment or burning grievance, which can rapidly be developed into organised collective action. The engine for this though is also a radical left connection to take the arguments forward.
The deep anger against the establishment recruited votes for Brexit, beyond its racist and nationalist base. That anger has not dissipated. It has deepened. Corbyn may well be able to win these people to voting Labour in a General Election, if people come out to work for Corbyn in even greater numbers and if there are opportunities to discuss and debate with the new people coming into activity. Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas, “For the Many, Not the Few”, could prove a material factor in the next election. But it is doubtful that the record of Labour councils will have the same impact. Local authorities are in crisis, cuts to social services for children and our elders have been cut way beyond reason. Northampton has gone way beyond bankruptcy, but this is after inflicting damage to ordinary and vulnerable people. Bristol warns of trouble too. The movement has to stand with the hardest hit and defend our services, if we are to build the kind of mass movement we need to change the government, let alone the world. Labour did not do well when it tried to distance itself from the poor.
A second referendum requires a genuine attempt to converse with all the diverse working class communities without giving in at all to racism and anti-migrant rhetoric. There are two Brexits, the Brexit from the people who are in power, and who will implement it, and the Brexit in the minds of the section of decent people, as opposed to the racists, who voted for it. This “kinder Brexit” wanted to give the governments of Britain and the EU a kick up the backside, wanted to protest the grievous treatment of Greece, protest Fortress Europe’s treatment of refugees, even protest global trade policies, and the undemocratic nature of EU policies and structures. But the issue of migration became the litmus test. Were the EU migrants the cause of the problems? Do you stand with them in this situation? Even now, this migrant blaming is still bubbling away.
Going back to all the people who voted and discussing the new situation is both democratic and good defence of our rights.
Far right fascist forces are organising. They have already killed Jo Cox MP, and seriously plotted against Rosie Cooper MP. The Pro-Trump demonstration in July 2018 showed the scale of mobilisation that the far right could muster, though by no means all on that demo were fascists. Yaxley-Lennon, and his link up with UKIP, could be dangerous. Neil Faulkner writes of “this essential lesson of the historical experience of the 1930s: in a capitalist crisis, people’s lives are torn apart, the centre cannot hold, and fascism and socialism engage in a direct struggle for the allegiance of the suffering masses.”
Our slogan must be No Pasaran: ‘They shall not pass’. If we do not oppose and expose the fascists now they will threaten all our rights.
The extreme right in the Conservatives, the “moderate” Conservatives and the neo-liberal wing of Labour, all pose real though distinct and different dangers to working class communities, to trade unions, to those fighting for the environment, to women, to children, to people, especially those with disabilities. The extreme Right though, is a particularly dangerous case. There are similar or related threats across Europe, in Brazil, in the Philippines, and with Trump in the USA.
We see Brexit as the next step for the Right after austerity; we link it to other attacks across Europe and across the world. We make no common cause with the right wing of Labour, who carry huge blame for austerity, nor the Liberals. We deeply disagree with the Lexit (left brexit) idea.
The EU is undemocratic and so is the UK. Left Unity works with the European Left Party to fundamentally change the EU. But we acknowledge that the UK system of Government is also undemocratic in many ways. An unelected monarch rules us, we have an unelected second chamber, an electoral system distorted by the two party system, a hugely powerful City which is not accountable to the people, a hostile, pro-capitalist print media which is not even British owned, and TV with programme after programme belittling the poor, and utterly biased. Both Britain and Europe need fundamental reform.
The push to globalisation and privatisation came first from the UK; it was not forced on Britain by Europe. The “flexible labour/low pay” model is an Anglo-American, not European, model. UK wages have failed to grow since the crisis, much more so than in the rest of Europe and Europe did make this happen. It is a home-grown problem. Privatisation and the destruction of public services and public facilities are far worse in the UK than in most of Europe. “British” big corporations are rare. Most iconic British labels are foreign-owned. International companies are immensely powerful. British owners supported by the government, not by Europe, decided on this globalisation.
Modern production methods are international. Our cars are made jointly by factories across Europe, as are planes, pharmaceuticals and more. Our peoples for years have been able to move between countries, to study, to work, or to form families. We fundamentally disagree with blaming migrants or migration for the ills of the British working class, Globalisation involves migration. There is no globalisation without migration. Globalisation reflects the existing technological levels of production. There is no solution, no fundamental improvement, no moving on from globalisation in one country. Globalisation must be responded to by joint action of workers across the world, matching the global organisation of the bosses. ‘Workers of the world unite’ is as relevant now as it was a hundred years ago.
The current Brexit deal allows free movement of goods, services and capital but not free movement of people. There was a time when poor people were not allowed to move within their own country. Since the UK joined the EU, there has been freedom of movement for people across the whole area. Now “employees” chosen by the employers might be allowed to come and work in Britain but not someone’s partner or lover, not a roving actor or singer, not the poor agricultural workers hoping to make better money than at home. British building workers might not be allowed to travel, of their own volition, for work, but only with an employer to go to, damaging their ability to bargain with the employer. It will restrict our youngsters seeking adventure or people going on holiday. Our elders with aching bones will no longer have the right to settle in warmer climes to make their aches and pains less damaging. It will work fine for the wealthy but the ordinary folks will suffer.
UK citizens settled in Europe also face uncertainty, though; we hear anecdotally, that many have had a kinder reception and explanation of their rights than EU citizens here. Before Brexit Britain already had the horror of skype parenting, where people are told they can take part in raising their families via skype. Brexit puts the working class, migrants, women and children in real and present danger.
We oppose Fortress Europe and reactionary attitudes to all migrants and refugees. This has been costly and ineffective. Routes of travel which are centuries old have been blocked and visas enforced; travel by plane and train restricted to visa holders. This forced people into the hands of smugglers and caused deaths. It was Cameron though, who first raised the idea of withdrawing search and rescue from the Mediterranean. Britain too is culpable.
Migration is a world issue. “One in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee. Around the world, someone is displaced every three seconds, forced from their homes by violence, war and persecution.”
“At the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million people forcibly displaced worldwide – an increase of 300,000 from the previous year. Meanwhile, the global number of refugees stands at 22.5 million. More than half of these (55%) come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.”
Turkey hosts most refugees, with Pakistan second, and Germany the only European country in the top ten countries. Despite this, the level of overall world migration is relatively stable, over time, at 3% of world population, although climate change and war may change this. The UK’s migration and refugee policies are appalling, made worse by the policy of Conscious Hostility.
Since the end of the Second World War, there has been peace in western Europe. As the war-time generation passes, those like Harry Leslie Smith leave behind a real warning not to engage in such wars again.
We can change the world. It is far from easy but it can be done. We believe to change the world the power of the organised working class must be mobilised. The European working class is the third largest in the world. The European working class is, despite its current problems, the best paid, the best unionised, with the best welfare provisions, pensions and environmental protections in the world. It is a latent but formidable force. Of course, we want to link to other great sections of the working class globally, but Europe is a bit closer to home.
Labour’s policies on Brexit are hard to fathom. Socialism has a long history of political education for the ordinary member. If there is possibly to be, as Labour seems to be saying, a second referendum, then there needs to be a programme of citizens’ assemblies, and popular meetings across the country, to explore the Brexit situation in detail the, and how the EU could be changed. Ignorance and prejudice should have no place in the running of a socialist opposition. Denying the importance of Brexit, and refusing to speak of the issues for European citizens, just will not do. Accepting “concern about migration” as a valid political position means that the issue will not end with Brexit; there is a slippery slope to racism. A serious attempt at political discussion on the matter should be put in train with local well-resourced meetings across the country, on the globalised economy, on migration, on freedom of movement, on trade policy, on international solidarity links.
The reality is we will leave the EU on 29 March unless something stops it. What comes after that is anyone’s guess. The wild Brexiteers want a Singapore model but Finance wants nothing of the sort.
“Dropping regulations” will damage workers’ rights and environmental conditions. Unless the wider labour and trade union movement organises, and organises very swiftly, the working class will have little say in what happens next. There is huge pressure for a second vote, especially from the young. There are some dangers in another vote, unless working class organisations have a say in the wording of the question, and unless there is demonstrably a fair chance for people to discuss and learn about the intricacies in the meantime. A general election, which swept out the Conservatives, would be the best option, followed by new negotiations with Europe. This could allow a far less toxic debate and more useful second vote.
The impact on Europe of a left Government in the UK, one approaching the EU demanding democratic reforms, linked to movements in Spain, France, Italy, Greece and more would ignite Europe, making the Greek struggle appear to be a mere foreword in the main story. The EU would have to change, and the movement to the right could be halted. A key to making this real could be an attack on the politics of austerity across all countries. Sadly, there is little sign of this so far in Labour’s position.
There are currently threats to parliamentary democracy. Conservative Brexiteers are implying that parliamentary government is less democratic than a referendum, and implying that their anger is at parliament itself, as parliament refuses to cooperate with May’s deal. There might well be better forms of democracy in the future, but we must defend the democracy we have against the concept of rule by referendum or rule by strong men. Chaos is a common forerunner to a coup or strong man politics.
The far right and the fascists are attempting to capitalise on Brexit, and will attempt to call a major demonstration on Sunday 9th December, claiming Brexit betrayal. The far right feeds off division and on building anger and hate. The rump of UKIP and Yaxley-Lennon’s thugs are superseding the murderous lunatics that killed Jo Cox and tried to kill Rosie Cooper MP. They are well funded and are linked to global right-wing forces.
There is a serious need to contact working class people who could be fooled by this movement, just as people had to be convinced that earlier right-wing movements were dangerous. Mosley built a dangerous movement in the 1930s and it was a significant task to defeat his ideas. Such forces are growing across the world. These ideas must be opposed with every ounce of our strength (and all our wit and humour).
A better world based on meeting human need is possible, and the communities of workers across the world are the force that can build this.
Unity is strength.
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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