The Supreme Court ruling that Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful has, for now, knocked the dramatic events preceding it at Labour Party conference off the top news spot. This swirling of events is the expression of the instability of capitalism in crisis.
There will be attempts to use these dramatic developments to cloud the central tasks of the working class today – removing Johnson and all the Tories and fighting for a general election to elect a Corbyn-led government on socialist policies. But that is exactly what is necessary.
The Labour conference debate on the party’s position on Brexit was a defeat for those who wish to remove Jeremy Corbyn.
The vote is part of the ongoing civil war in the Labour Party. The civil war cannot end while the party remains two parties in one with the two sides ultimately representing opposing class interests.
While many rank-and-file trade unionists and Labour members who support a Remain position are motivated by genuine opposition to the ‘Little Englander’ nationalism of Boris Johnson and the Tory Brexiteers, the Blairite MPs and right-wing trade union leaders like Unison’s Dave Prentis, who fought for Labour to adopt a Remain-in-all-circumstances position, ult-imately represent the majority interests of big business.
The bosses, the capitalist class, face a crisis of political representation due to the meltdown in the Tory Party, and are forced to consider whether they could wear a Labour government. They therefore are attempting, through their Blairite political representatives, to make the Labour Party as safe for them as possible, including on the EU.
Labour adopting an all-out Remain position would alienate millions of working-class people who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum in a cry of rage against the austerity status quo.
Historically Corbyn opposed the EU bosses’ club. But in a mistaken attempt at unity with the Blairites he supported Remain in the 2016 referendum.
This is the main contributing factor to workers and young people not seeing how a Remain position serves the bosses and is no substitute for working-class international solidarity with those fighting austerity, war and capitalism across Europe and internationally.
Cutting through that confusion requires a socialist programme that shows how the interests of the 99% and the environment can be safeguarded.
The National Executive Committee position, which conference voted in favour of, is for a Corbyn-led government to negotiate a deal and then put it to a confirmatory referendum with the option to vote for Remain.
When the Remainer MPs argue it won’t be easy to explain this on the doorsteps, this again shows their contempt for working-class people. What they really fear is that Corbyn is an unreliable defender of capitalist interests.
However, Corbyn could have made the class lines a lot clearer by explicitly committing to fighting to remove the pro-boss EU rules such as restrictions on nationalisation and state aid. This would help to reveal the reality of the EU as a bosses’ club.
As we have also explained previously, these talks should be transparent and accountable to the labour and trade union movement, and visible to workers here and across Europe. The impact of the EU pro-privatisation, pro-austerity, and anti-worker rules being challenged would be huge.
Other aspects of the Labour conference will not have reassured the bosses that the party is safely moving in its direction.
Dave Ward, leader of the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), was given a standing ovation when he called for support for postal workers’ balloting for strike action against bullying privatised Royal Mail.
The measures announced by John McDonnell, trailed by Corbyn at the TUC the week before, included a return to collective bargaining, steps towards a 32-hour week without loss of pay, outlawing zero-hour contracts, ending Universal Credit and scrapping the anti-trade union laws. These have the potential to start to cut through the Brexit fog and offer a glimpse of the alternative to austerity and the Tories.
However, McDonnell is not preparing the working class for the battle that will be necessary to achieve these measures. He has argued that higher taxation will cover the spending costs.
But as Deutsche Bank’s Oliver Harvey explained, “any market-unfriendly policies instigated during a Labour government” need only be “temporary”. They do not plan to live with an anti-austerity government for long.
It is a mistake by McDonnell to give the impression that workers’ interests can be served within the framework of capitalism.
The first step needed is to extend the commitment to nationalise the utilities and post to include the banks and major corporations that dominate the economy, in order to move towards a democratic socialist plan for the economy. Only that will put the interests of the 99% and the environment in front of those of capitalists seeking profit.
Also a mistake, is the continued talk of ‘unity’ with the Blairites. This does not help to clarify the way forward for the working class. When Tom Watson says he defends Labour as a ‘broad church’ he means he and his pro-austerity capitalist co-thinkers dominating the party to reflect the interests of the boss class.
The struggle against austerity needs a political voice to back up the struggles in the workplaces and the communities.
Corbyn must take action to transform the Labour Party into a mass socialist party that represents working-class interests and not the bosses.
That starts with deselection of the Blairites, returning the trade unions to their central role under the democratic control of the members and a socialist programme based on fighting for working-class power – not just a seat at the table.
Huge pressure is going to come on the labour movement and socialists to limit our demands and our programme. It is an indication of the enormity of the upheavals and social explosions that these events foreshadow, that the Financial Times was forced to ask on its front cover, ‘does capitalism need to be re-set’ as the inequality in society spirals.
But the attempts to make the working class pay for this crisis caused by the banks and the billionaires, which has resulted in rising inequality, will not be fixed through a ‘re-set’ but socialist change.
Average chief executive pay in the FTSE 100 in 2017 was 145 times higher than that of the average worker, up from 47 times in 1998. The wealthiest 10% have 290 times more in total assets than the poorest tenth of the population.
The legacy of the financial crisis means annual real wages are over £1,000 lower than they were a decade ago with young workers especially impacted.
Following the Supreme Court’s announcement that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful, Corbyn took to the stage to call for an election to elect a government that respects democracy, that respects the rule of law and brings power back to the people, not usurps it in the way Boris Johnson has done.
But Corbyn needs to follow this up with mobilising the trade unions and all those opposed to ongoing austerity to fight for an immediate general election.
Labour conference showed its support for the CWU. Corbyn should link up with the left trade union leaders to build a massive autumn national demonstration around the call for a general election, an end to austerity, and nationalisation of Royal Mail and the likes of British Steel, Thomas Cook, and failing retail chains, to save jobs and communities.
Corbyn must give backing to trade unionists fighting for the democratic rights of members. Unison members will have seen their leader Dave Prentis breaking with their conference’s democratically agreed position to back the Blairites’ pro-capitalist position. Those members need to build a powerful left to challenge him by fighting for a socialist programme in the union to beat austerity.
A warning must also be issued against the idea that the institutions of capitalism such as the Supreme Court can defend our class interests. And there must be no truck with any idea of ‘national unity’ with the capitalist politicians who have delivered and supported austerity.
Yes, there is an emergency that requires urgent and decisive action – that emergency is austerity and the destruction wreaked by capitalism on our lives and environment.
The decisive action that is needed is for the working class to build a mass movement and independent political voice to act in our interests against the 1% – that means a fight for a socialist transformation of society.
■ General election now to kick out Johnson and the Tories
■ No unity with austerity-supporting politicians
■ For an anti-austerity, Corbyn-led government with socialist policies
■ No to the bosses’ EU
■ For an EU exit deal that defends jobs and workers’ interests