What price workers’ unity? Thoughts on the election and the future

David Landau writes: Rarely has the question of workers’ unity, the united front, been presented as so crucial yet so problematic as in the aftermath of this election. On the one hand we have a government led by a confident and dangerous prime minister, requiring maximum resistance as he launches offensives against the working class, whilst presenting himself as a friend to workers of the towns (not the cities) and the ‘red wall’. On the other hand substantial sections of the class who traditionally voted Labour, voting Tory.

OK, the media and many commentators present this as a stereotypical caricature where the working class Leavers feel betrayed by Labour and all desert to the Tories. I am sure that millions of workers voted Labour in these places. And the turn to the Tories was not down to disaffected workers alone. I am sure the petty bourgeoisie played a part. And it was not all about Brexit. It was about years of neglect and decay; heralded by Thatcher. These towns were on the front line against the ruling class during the miners’ strike, the struggle against steel closures and the rest. The promises of a new beginning under Blair were soon seen to be of no substance and it was then that the rot set in which under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was still not properly addressed.

But there is not getting away from the split in the working class right now, leaving us weakened and demoralised in the face of an onslaught from Johnson.

It is truly ironic that Jeremy can be attacked for throwing away Blair’s huge majority in Sedgefield. Can you imagine how much worse it would have been if Blair had the Sedgefield seat in this election? Blair standing on his totally uncritical ultra-remainer, neo-liberal programme. He would have been totally humiliated.

The anti-Corbyn forces in the Labour Party are divided on this. Hodge and Blair calling for his head whilst having a version of remain which would have led to an even greater loss of seats versus Nandy and Flint (Nandy isn’t as anti-Corbyn as some others) saying that the party had failed to listen to their supporters and done what Jeremy said in the first place – reluctantly respect the referendum vote instead of going towards remain and a people’s vote. This was an extra betrayal on democratic grounds and the party had not understood it.

Of course, we in Left Unity were for Labour to stand on a remain platform. Our position was based on principles not calculations of electoral and parliamentary arithmetic. Brexit was born of a nationalistic, xenophobic and racist-led movement. Second, as internationalists wanting to build a pan-European opposition to capital it was important, and others were for a united fight for another Europe. But I don’t think we really took in the potential catastrophic electoral consequence of Labour being associated with remain, let alone actually standing on a pro-remain platform.

Marx in reverse – Johnson, first a buffoon, second time a bloody tyrant. A clever tyrant too. Eventually he is bound piss off his new found Labour supporters. But right now he will be careful and try to give them concessions to maintain and choose targets like migrants to attack, where he might strengthen his popularity among some sections of all classes, but in particular the working class because he does not want them to turn against him.

Despite everything we need to fight for workers’ unity against Johnson, across the Leave/Remain divide. But we have to drive carefully. ‘Listening to what people are saying’ and ‘healing the division’ are important but they’re a formula which in the hands of Nandy and Flint can mean making concessions on immigration and freedom of movement. We must hold the line whilst working for unity and the united front tactic remembering that migrant workers are an essential part of the class.

So, for example, in a campaign on the NHS we must raise the demand of free health care for ALL regardless of immigration status, support for Defiance not Compliance by health workers (or Docs not Cops). Such a stance will be tough in the places where Leavers voted Tory. The Flints and Nandys (I think, certainly the Flints) will say we are mad, and we will often loose, but we go on fighting for the demand anyway.

And if there is an anti-deportation campaign in say, Sedgefield, Barnsley or wherever, we support it; we demand the trades council supports it, that the Labour Party supports it, just like we always have but with double the determination across the divide.

And we fight for the rights of EU Citizens.

There are other dimensions. I have not mentioned Ireland or Scotland. Things look a bit more hopeful. Progressive forces seem to be on the rise. Unionism on the decline. Working class unity should leap across all borders. But I am not sure what that means in practice right now.






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