World and British politics, Part 2 - Britain's future, Labour and the working class movement
by Simon Korner
How can Britain as a single country challenge the increasingly dangerous US? The likelihood looking ahead is of Britain becoming even more submissive to America, but we could instead chart a different course, looking east, and south. Johnson surprisingly faced down Trump over Huawei, which revealed the strength of the British pro-China lobby – led by Osborne, Cameron, head of the UK-China Fund, and Theresa May – as well as economic realities. But any playing off of China against the US would come up against the hard-line anti-China Atlanticists around Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs committee and armed with his China Research Group of hard right MPs, and former MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, now on the board of a US oil company. This lobby, combined with increasingly intense US pressure, has pushed the government to ban Huawei 5G, even at the cost of delaying important technological advance.
The majority of the establishment will push for the closest possible relations with Europe, to offset the influence of the US and China. They will try to delay Brexit, reverse it if they can – perhaps using Starmer to do so. But given the EU’s lack of internal solidarity during Covid, even Varoufakis says the single market effectively no longer exists, and is arguing for a no deal Brexit. Pushing re-entry will thus be a harder sell.
LABOUR AND THE MOVEMENT
While Starmer is working hard to neutralise Labour, the party is not yet safe in establishment terms as an alternative government, should public and backbench anger erupt against the Tory leadership. Despite his right-wing internal appointments, his cooperation with the Blair Institute and his provocative sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, Starmer has yet to assert complete control over the NEC, where there’s a narrow right-wing majority and upcoming elections. He has the left-wing CLPs to contend with, and the Socialist Campaign group of MPs and councillors. At the same time, the left’s level of organisation and unity has yet to ensure a united left slate for the important NEC elections, and the recent change in the NEC’s voting system has made achieving a left majority harder. With Forward Momentum gaining control of Momentum – advancing the influence of the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – calls to re-join the EU are likely to become louder, accompanied by yet more anti-semitism smears against pro-Palestinian members. It is possible, therefore, that we will see further disunity, as policy disagreements emerge among the ‘left’. A coalition is needed, but one built on clear principles: no return to Full Remain; no outsourcing or cover-up of the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) report; no purge of leftists on spurious grounds of anti-semitism; no sinophobia; and a clear defence of workers in struggle. Uniting the left in the party, as Don’t Leave, Organise is trying to do, is of the utmost importance, at a time when the government could, should, be in real trouble.
Corbynism created a mass base that experienced a sense of collective strength until very recently. 10 million people voted for Labour’s radical policies in 2019. Despite the weaknesses of the party’s Brexit policy and its retreat on accusations of anti-semitism, there is still potential to develop socialist ideas and organisation within it, especially with the rise in political consciousness around Black Lives Matter. Political education and organising the left in the party, above all in the red wall seats, are vital. This will be in the teeth of Starmer’s moves to disenfranchise the membership through suspending inner party democracy, using Covid as a pretext.
Outside the party, union recruitment is rising. TUC pressure helped push Sunak to extend the furlough scheme. Some gig economy workers have organised themselves, for example, forcing Wetherspoons to pay its staff. The rail, postal workers and bakers’ unions gained various safety measures in workplaces, and there has been an attempt at a rent strike campaign among private renters, organised by Acorn and the Renters’ Union. The education unions played an important role in resisting reopening schools – under media fire for insisting on health and safety, always a good sign. Without the schools reopening, the economy can’t open fully. Another positive sign has been the presence of various union leaders in discussions on the way forward for the left.
All this shows potential but it’s not nearly enough. There’s still a need for unions to organise unorganised workers and the unemployed, and to defend their employed members’ interests more effectively. Unison’s links to the staff identified in the internal Labour GLU report showed how out of touch they are. Construction work continued largely unchecked throughout the lockdown. Unite and other unions have yet to mount a militant defence against major private sector job losses – particularly in manufacturing, crucial for any working class revival. We’re facing a public sector pay freeze and a threat to the triple lock on pensions, which will set the old against the young. Plus Transport for London fare rises, which are a tax on workers. Universities are in funding chaos, and UCU has been unable to push back sufficiently. None of this has been made easier by the fact that the Labour Party leadership is anti-union – Adonis and Blunkett coming out against the teachers, backed by the new Education Secretary. A deeper weakness is Labour’s fixation with parliamentary and inner-party processes, which tend to preclude the development of active campaigning in support of working class struggle.
On the other hand, the government has been forced into some embarrassing U-turns, almost without a fight, showing its weakness and divisions and what we could achieve were our movement united. Black Lives Matter arose with surprising rapidity and exposed truths about British colonial crimes, complicity in slavery and more broadly imperialism – producing a new generation of protestors.
Capitalism is fighting for its continued existence, but as ever it’s on the offensive, using increased unemployment to discipline the working class. It will be in resisting the attacks – and seizing the moment to make demands that have a real chance now of cutting through – that things can change. And that can happen very quickly indeed.
Despite the weaknesses of the party’s Brexit policy and its retreat on accusations of anti-semitism, there is still potential to develop socialist ideas and organisation within it, especially with the rise in political consciousness around Black Lives Matter.