’No time to lose’ to organise against austerity
"I can’t remember any other party conference where the leader has been so publicly reprimanded by so many of his senior frontbenchers," (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer).
There is a concerted attempt – not hidden or kept secret – by Labour’s right, cheered on by the poisonous capitalist media, to completely undermine the effects of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory and what it represents.
Mass rejection of austerity was widely echoed at the massive TUC demonstration in Manchester at the weekend.
This was preceded by an angry march of junior doctors on Westminster days before, indicating that the circle of discontent with the government’s unremitting austerity agenda has spread from the working class to growing sections of the middle class. They also made up a lively contingent on the Manchester demonstration.
Corbyn was elected by a landslide which represented a stunning rejection of the policies of the undemocratic parliamentary cabal and their discredited Blairite policies.
Even the Labour Party conference was not a true reflection of the new mood, particularly of the recent joiners. Delegates to the conference were elected before the leadership contest. Just 7% of delegates voted to discuss the crucial issue of the renewal of Trident. Yet even some of these became enthused as the conference cheered every call to reject austerity.
Attacks from Labour’s right
But even during the conference, in what became a retreat a day, the radical anti-austerity policies of Corbyn were savaged and attacked by the Labour right in concert with the capitalist media.
Opposition to Nato, rejection of the brutal neoliberal capitalist EU, nationalisation of the energy companies and railways, etc., must all be cast aside by Corbyn in the cause allegedly of ’credibility’ and ’electability’.
Now, it seems, his pledge to abolish tuition fees has been transformed into just an ’option’ by his shadow minister for higher education, Gordon Marsden.Yet this was a crucial factor in Corbyn’s leadership victory because of the enthusiasm among young people which it generated.
The Labour Party parliamentary right hope to achieve this, through a ’review’, not conducted by young people and new members. Instead, a Labour parliamentary clique will probably examine the proposal and no doubt conclude that this and many of Corbyn’s other pledges are ’unaffordable’.
One issue upon which Corbyn intends to stand firm, it seems, is on opposition to the renewal of Trident, Britain’s bogus ’independent nuclear deterrent’.This led to shrieks from the media that Corbyn ’refuses to defend us, he won’t press the nuclear button’.
The Labour right weighed in, led by shadow ’defence secretary’ Maria Eagle, her sister Angela, and Hilary Benn (whose late father Tony consistently opposed the acquisition and threatened use of nuclear weapons like Trident).
Socialists and Marxists are not pacifists; they have always been prepared to defend the democratic rights of working people, if needs be with arms, against the threat of fascism, whether in this country or from abroad.
Trident is not an ’independent deterrent’. Its use is contingent on the US, in particular, giving permission and support. Moreover, it is a peashooter compared to the massive nuclear arsenals possessed by Russia and the US.
Also, with the diminished power of British imperialism many of the top military brass had concluded that the ’country’ could no longer afford it.The £100 billion saved from scrapping Trident could make a significant dent in the savage austerity being meted out by the Tories.
Answer the fear that Trident workers will lose their jobs by proposing an alternative plan, along the lines of Lucas Aerospace workers in 1976, guaranteeing all jobs while making socially useful products.
The same approach should be adopted in relation to the economic and social disaster revealed in the collapse of what remains of the British steel industry on Teesside.
This complex, with all the skills and experience of an educated workforce, should not be allowed to collapse.It should be kept open through nationalisation, as the Tories were compelled to do by mass pressure in 1972 with Rolls-Royce. The cruel indifference to the fate of thousands of workers on Teesside gives the lie to the claim of the Tories that they are now the real "workers’ party". However, they are only able to do this because the concept of a distinct workers’ party was undermined by right-wing Blairism.
The Tory Chancellor Osborne hopes to win over the ’strivers’ with his false proposals for a ’living wage’ of £9 an hour from next year onwards. However, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has already torpedoed his schema by showing that what is given with the left hand will be taken back and more by the right – through the implementation of eye-watering household credit cuts next year.
The cuts proposed will reduce the income of families by up to £1,300 per year.
Union leaders’ comments
The fear of mass redundancies resulting from the immediate scrapping of Trident undoubtedly prompted Paul Kenny of the GMB union and Len McCluskey of Unite to publicly oppose Corbyn on this issue, with Kenny even opening the door to the right by suggesting that he could be removed as Labour leader.
There is a precedent for this in Labour history. Former Labour Party leader George Lansbury was removed in 1935 on the similar issue of peace and rearmament.
Len McCluskey hailed Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the conference as ’inspirational’. However he lined up with Kenny on BBC’s Newsnight programme in opposition to the removal of Trident. Trade union leaders have to defend their members’ jobs, he said.
But ’pragmatism’ is a catch-all phrase which has been used by right-wing trade union leaders to retreat and let their members down. It can signal a reluctance to fight against a vicious class-based government by seeking a rapprochement with it. This while the Tories are still putting the boot into the working class. There can be no compromise on crucial class issues like the anti-union bill.
Therefore it is unfortunate that Len McCluskey indicated on the BBC’s Andrew Marr TV programme his preparedness to discuss with the government on this issue, even accepting, it seems, a priori the 50% limit on industrial ballots, so long as it is accompanied with the introduction of online voting, votes in the workplace, etc.
It should be a cardinal principle of the labour movement that the state, the capitalist state in this instance, but all states, have no right to interfere and infringe on the democratic rights of trade unions.
Even if we had a socialist government tomorrow, the trade unions would both support this government but also maintain their independence from it.
Instead the unions should prepare a programme of action, including a 24-hour general strike, against the anti-union bill!
Workers’ party needed
Len McCluskey was elected on a left platform and has backed workers who have gone on strike. However, along with other trade union leaders, he and Unite have dragged their feet on the issue of a new mass workers’ party.
The Corbyn surge reflected what has existed for a long time; a pronounced mood for change, indicated by the spontaneous 5,000-strong demonstration in Bristol just after the election and the huge turnout on the 20 June anti-austerity demo.
This is as yet more of a mood, rather than an organised movement. It can dissipate if a huge potential force – outside and inside the Labour Party – is not forged to defend the radical agenda of Corbyn’s campaign.
There are some reports of a doubling of attendance at some Labour party meetings. There are others which show that the right wing at local level is stubbornly excluding new members on the left who are looking to develop the fight against austerity.
The Corbyn surge is a potential new mass party in formation. It is not at all guaranteed it will succeed if the resistance from the right is not fought and defeated.
The massive cuts that are coming are the defining issue. Labour councillors should heed the words of John McDonnell at the Labour Party conference: "Austerity was a political choice not an economic necessity." Don’t implement cuts, draw up a needs budget.
If a significant number of councils defy the government on this issue, they will receive mass backing.
This needs to involve a movement embracing all left forces – including the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and particularly the trade unions – seeking to give an organised expression to this movement. This should include, at local level, urgently convening conferences of all those who want to fight the cuts to discuss the way forward. Events are moving rapidly, there is no time to lose.