The Communist Party Executive Committee met over this historic weekend and debated the radical shift in British working class politics. Read the full version of CP Trade Union Organiser Graham Stevenson's Political Report.

 

We now know and celebrate the result in Labour’s leadership election …every negative hurled at Jeremy Corbyn seemed only to serve to strengthen him! Undoubtedly, this is a definite shift of great significance but it is just the start that reflects real, if largely spontaneous, changes in our class – albeit channelled in a specific way.

In discussing the once vexed theoretical issue of the role of the individual in history, Engels wrote that they gave form and speed to events otherwise forced by the shifting of the tectonic plates of economic and material factors, such as class interest. The degree to which personalities can influence history has often been subject to the `great men’ notion but the truth has always been much more banal. 

But what form! What speed!  Who can now doubt that Corbyn, with his calm message of hope, has electrified potential mass support for Labour, a shift always potentially there - if not immediately obvious, given the nature of the British working class, as our analysis of Britain’s Road to Socialism has always implied.

Congratulations to the comrades at the Morning Star for the first Sunday paper since 1929! And for every single one of those editions over the summer that captured the rising mood. Is it even possible for our paper to get better?  Congratulations to our editor for breaking into Andrew Marr’s private reverie with a taste of reality. 2015 is definitely NOT the early 1980s.

And congratulations to our Party’s team at the TUC. More comrades there than for a long time; more and better editions of Unity! And a magnificent new pamphlet, Kill the Bill.

It is said that the turning point in the leadership contest was the Labour front bench abstention on the Welfare Bill. Just as important was the decision of the Unite EC to back Jeremy when it had been expected that Burnham would get the nomination. It is still the case that the organic link with unions was decisive and that connection is likely to get stronger. We need to begin discussion and debate about the rights of affiliated members, perhaps initially in the context of historical lessons. 

The campaign began and ended with the criticism that Jeremy Corbyn has little chance of winning the 2020 general election. The only way that didn’t apply to the other candidates, it seems, was the degree to which they agreed with the Tories! Labour’s inability to provide a loud and proud alternative to Conservative policies explains why so much of its base switched to SNP, UKIP, and the Greens at the election.

It’s not Corbyn whose head is on the block - Labour must either win back the seats it once held in Scotland, implying a left turn, even if only in perception, or it must beat the Conservatives by 12% of the poll to form an overall majority. Boundaries, eligibility, and other changes all work against that. Being more like the Tories was always a doomed strategy. Winning more voters back, adding to the electorate by more registration are two key factors that only enthusiasm and confidence can deliver.

As it turned out, it was only Corbyn who demonstrated an ability to provide convincing solutions for support for a Labour Party led by someone who stands for something relevant and helpful to ordinary people. The very idea that a party clearly prepared to abandon its core values to make electoral gain might be considered inspiring is now seen to be laughable.

The Communist Party Executive Committee met over this historic weekend and debated the radical shift in British working class politics. Read the full version of CP Trade Union Organiser Graham Stevenson's Political Report.

 

We now know and celebrate the result in Labour’s leadership election …every negative hurled at Jeremy Corbyn seemed only to serve to strengthen him! Undoubtedly, this is a definite shift of great significance but it is just the start that reflects real, if largely spontaneous, changes in our class – albeit channelled in a specific way.

In discussing the once vexed theoretical issue of the role of the individual in history, Engels wrote that they gave form and speed to events otherwise forced by the shifting of the tectonic plates of economic and material factors, such as class interest. The degree to which personalities can influence history has often been subject to the `great men’ notion but the truth has always been much more banal. 

But what form! What speed!  Who can now doubt that Corbyn, with his calm message of hope, has electrified potential mass support for Labour, a shift always potentially there - if not immediately obvious, given the nature of the British working class, as our analysis of Britain’s Road to Socialism has always implied.

Congratulations to the comrades at the Morning Star for the first Sunday paper since 1929! And for every single one of those editions over the summer that captured the rising mood. Is it even possible for our paper to get better?  Congratulations to our editor for breaking into Andrew Marr’s private reverie with a taste of reality. 2015 is definitely NOT the early 1980s.

And congratulations to our Party’s team at the TUC. More comrades there than for a long time; more and better editions of Unity! And a magnificent new pamphlet, Kill the Bill.

It is said that the turning point in the leadership contest was the Labour front bench abstention on the Welfare Bill. Just as important was the decision of the Unite EC to back Jeremy when it had been expected that Burnham would get the nomination. It is still the case that the organic link with unions was decisive and that connection is likely to get stronger. We need to begin discussion and debate about the rights of affiliated members, perhaps initially in the context of historical lessons. 

The campaign began and ended with the criticism that Jeremy Corbyn has little chance of winning the 2020 general election. The only way that didn’t apply to the other candidates, it seems, was the degree to which they agreed with the Tories! Labour’s inability to provide a loud and proud alternative to Conservative policies explains why so much of its base switched to SNP, UKIP, and the Greens at the election.

It’s not Corbyn whose head is on the block - Labour must either win back the seats it once held in Scotland, implying a left turn, even if only in perception, or it must beat the Conservatives by 12% of the poll to form an overall majority. Boundaries, eligibility, and other changes all work against that. Being more like the Tories was always a doomed strategy. Winning more voters back, adding to the electorate by more registration are two key factors that only enthusiasm and confidence can deliver.

As it turned out, it was only Corbyn who demonstrated an ability to provide convincing solutions for support for a Labour Party led by someone who stands for something relevant and helpful to ordinary people. The very idea that a party clearly prepared to abandon its core values to make electoral gain might be considered inspiring is now seen to be laughable.

Modern Capitalism in the UK

Across four decades, Labour strategists have tried to conceal the obvious fact that the more you accept your opponents’ policies, the more legitimate you make them and the harder it is to make success against them likely.

The Iraq war was just the topping on a mixed dish of NHS marketisation, PFI, a dash for authoritarianism, support for US global belligerence, the destruction of a viable labour market, the collapse of decent housing and benefits for ordinary people.  New Labour ushered in an era of a sick housing market which has caused renting in England to now cost half of tenant’s average take-home pay. 80% if you are 16-24. Younger workers face a life of unstable work, an absence of rights, and targeted hostility to them as a group. No wonder that we are now seeing the fading of adherence to the con-trick that is austerity.

The longer Labour kept repeating the same mistakes, the more remote its chances of election got. Admittedly, union leaders were slow to come around but they had nowhere else to go and once won for it, all else followed. The turning point, without any doubt, was when the Unite EC unexpectedly ditched Andy Burnham and went for Corbyn.

It’s clear that the age of “Look-alike, sound-a-like, think-a-like” politicians is on its way out. Panorama’s coverage was typical. A focus on one out of four candidates. Whatever happened to journalistic balance? In contrast, almost the first words of the new leader were to laud trades unions.

If the task in advance of the general election was to breathe life back into politics, that hurdle had been well and truly leapt over.  Fully one-third of Labour’s new members are under 30 years. The Millennium Generation, which came of age during the Iraq war, has finally got its voice in mainstream politics. Within 3 days of the election of a Tory government, 20,000 new members had signed up.  The initial surge surpassed even that of 1997, which astounded even then, yet it shows no signs of stopping. 18 long years ago, Labour could have been called the “Anyone But Tories Party” and won. Blair made sure it didn’t last and his legacy has been a labour market characterised by jobs at companies like Sports Direct, best known for keeping its 20,000 staff on zero hours contracts with greater than usual insensitivity. In the face of shareholder concern, it claims not to operate “Dickensian practices” but staff face a “six strikes and you’re sacked” policy of punishment for sickness, excessive talking and toilet breaks. Whilst more than 200,000 people a year are dying prematurely because of social inequalities. The current life-tax on the poor means they die on average seven years sooner than the rich and can expect to become disabled 17 years earlier.

Modern capitalism is voracious. In 1970 shareholders reived 10% of profits, leaving the bulk to go to investment; nowadays shareholders get 70%. Whilst the share of total income received by the top one per cent of Britain has almost doubled from 1980 to about 13% in 2011. In contrast, over 8 million parents and children live below what is needed to cover a minimum household budget, up by more than a third from 5.9 million in 2009.

Given all this, inevitably, much of this report will focus on domestic issues. But in that context, attitudes to the EU are now clearly under review as unions feel internal pressure from increasingly sceptical members.  For those of us who have always been critical of the EU, it has been an odd experience. We have striven to bring the issue up the agenda and suddenly, for whatever reason, leading trades unionists have been muttering concern.

The Trades Union Congress 2015 and the EU

The TUC tried its usual facing all directions but the stark reality that David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away employment protection rules made textual acrobatics harder than ever.

The rot set in as Greece saw its sovereignty overturned, when forces in Britain that had previously been – and in many cases still are - wedded to the fiction that the EU is a machine that could be bent towards progressive policies began to be aware of the instability of their position.  It may not have even been the fact that this was the first time the EU has driven elected governments from office. The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiated in secret has been a serious problem for the pro-EU camp, and this now to be followed by a similar treaty with Canada. Other treaties and directives enforce free market policies based on privatisation and marketisation of our public services and utilities.

As is now blindingly evident – but once was hard to argue – the needs of German exports have forged a currency that prevents other EU countries getting an edge. Whilst Britain now no longer has a separate seat in EU negotiations at the World Trade Organisation but must sit as part of an EU delegation. Those British manufacturing trades unionists who miscalculate that EU membership safeguards EU exports have been just as blinded by their employers’ hopes as they were when they clamoured for the UK to join the Euro. We need more briefing material focused on this issue.

The aerospace industry is much quoted as a sector likely to lose thousands of jobs if we leave the EU. But that’s already happened. In 1990, there were over 200 companies in 1990 in the sector employing more than 100,000 people, producing £25 billion worth of manufactured goods each year.  Less than a quarter of them remain a quarter of a century later as independent British businesses with foreign ownership almost tripling. It’s the USA that is dominating the global market. Short-term profit now always trumps not jobs, as the UK majors in technology light and poor productivity. Low corporation tax makes buying ready-made, pre-assembled technology most attractive. But these are not the jobs that currently remaining defence workers will have in a decade or two’s time, if any.  

The EU can now been seen to be part of a larger strategy of the allied ruling classes of many nations. Their response to the period of militancy seen in the early 1970s was the `dollarisation’ of the globe. This fuelled a relentless growth of trans-national monopolies, amidst the proletarianisation of the so-called middle class, as work became automated and increasingly driven by information-based activity.  This labour-hostile, micro-chip driven renovation of capital has been based only upon the delivery of a profoundly anti-democratic surge; what one might call the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

The Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie

It is the interlinked problems of class, gender, and sexual identity that have beset Labour politics for a generation.   On their own, the latter two factors have been awkward but feasible to assimilate. But allied to class, these questions of identity and consciousness assume potentially revolutionary import. The rights of woman should not be predicated upon the passing of warm words of empathy, as New Labour was skilled in uttering, but upon obligations on society to respect rights at work, in training, and in caring, backed by real economic support.  Impose flexibility on them – the ruling class - not on our class … let’s see an end to the `reserve army of labour’ and the beginning of real rights for all.

I make no apologies for failing to assess the impact of intra-British nationalism in detail, save that in its feeling of detachment from the machine politics of the Westminster elite, I suspect the good folk of Nuneaton feel as distanced as do those of Dundee.  Nonetheless, the SNP is clearly discomforted! Another push for independence may divert attention from their poor economic policies but increasing Labour’s democracy and involvement will do a power of good in this context.

Indeed, the problem has been the failure to champion the democratisation of the electoral system, to control the power of the billionaire media machines, to reform parliament and local government so that they connect with real life, The fix-it mentality that passed for internal democracy forced on Labour as the so-called `soft left’ realigned with the right, has alienated the movement’s natural rank-and-file leaders for long enough!  

It is perhaps now clearer to those beyond the scope of readership of the Morning Star that these factors dominate what is an open class war being waged by the elite, their politicians, and media voices against the working class.

Take the Trade Union Bill, which would make trade union activity ineffective if not impossible if enacted.  This is not just about having an independent workers organisation but there are politics of the world as well as the workplace involved here. We’ve had this before. Ted Heath’s ill-fated attempt made it to the statute books in the form of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. The several unofficial general strikes before the imprisonment in Pentonville jail of 5 dockers led to the TUC calling an official one; before that the government capitulated. Mass action made the act inoperable.

The long period of Tory government before New Labour saw the introduction of anti-union laws that changed the landscape, mainly in the private sector. Blair’s US-style union recognition laws, a sop to unions in his first term, has hardly made a dent in the rising level of non-unionism, as have the best efforts of union organising departments.

Now the Tory Party and their mass media lectures us once again but it is they who disregard international conventions and covenants on workplace rights. At root, trade unions give workers a voice in the workplace that would otherwise be denied them in what we might tentatively term the dictatorship of the boss, who can hire and fire with ease, refuse pay adjustments, and discipline as they will in the absence of workers solidarity. But they also engender collective confidence and often lead to greater understanding and deeper consciousness levels.

It’s no accident that Sajid Javid’s Bill has some remarkable similarities with the 1970 Industrial Relations Bill. Writing at that time, Communist Party National Industrial Organiser, Bert Ramelson, called it the most vicious piece of politically motivated class legislation since the Combination Acts of the early 1800s.   

A class response to the Tories would call for restrictions on the ’rights’ of management to close down whole workplaces and throw hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers on the scrap heap. A level playing field would see the financial link between the Tories and business broken. Boards would have to obtain the agreement of company AGMs to have a political fund. Businessmens’ facility time would be strictly regulated. Strike-breaking, or to give it its technical name, scabbing, would be criminalised.

Oddly, there are no provisions in the Bill which insist that employers should inform the union of what measures they intend to take to defeat a strike; or require the police to pass this on to a union. Union leverage campaigns on the supply chains will now be illegal as ‘causing fear and intimidation’ but threats to close down a business unless a workforce does as they are told will receive industry awards.

Unlike the early 1970s the leadership of the movement, including the TUC, has made clear its outright opposition to the Trade Union Bill and has called for the widest possible protest even if an RMT motion called for “the possibility of assisting in organising generalised strike action should legal action be taken against any affiliate in connection with these new laws” was queried as being insufficiently clear.   

The Anti-Monopoly Alliance

It’s now possible to see that a popular and democratic anti-monopoly alliance, led by the labour movement, can be built.  The Morning Star is likely to be at the centre of the Kill the Bill campaign. Now is the time for it to link up with union branches. But also, full support by all Party organisations should be given to the TUC “No to austerity, yes to workers’ rights” national demonstration in Manchester as the Tory Party Conference begins on October 4th – and the ensuing week of People’s Assembly activity. Similarly, we should mobilise our own members for the TUC mass lobby of Parliament on November 2nd. Every member has an MP of some stripe they can write to and ask to meet in the day to give them their concerns. Even Tory MPs! Both days of action– can be building blocks for further action.

The Welfare Bill is the other side of a single coin aiming to weaken the working class movement. We either break the ruling class or we pass under the shadow of the most reactionary laws this country has seen in many, many decades.

There are allies and tool aplenty. The Living Wage Foundation has an online facility to work out who pays it. 64 employers in the West Midlands for example, leaving plenty of targets to embarrass! Bolder or stronger Party branches could select one to campaign against. The launch of PA petitions to start local boycotts might be possible. Plenty of organisations in civil society could be found to support such campaigns. Try it? If your Party branch has tried it and failed then we’ll know the measure of the problem. But I think the mood is there.

Indeed, I doubt we have yet seen the full flowering of the true spirt of the 21st century. Those who passed out water and sweets to refugees in central Europe have shown that humility and compassion are the hallmarks of civilisation. Is there perhaps a decisive shift in public opinion now? I think so, but what are other comrades’ experiences? Is the mood similar to that which has fuelled the most positive aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s exceptional campaign? Can we extend this sense of humanity to the stark fact that 2,380 people died within a year of DWP fit-for-work assessments?

With campaigners gearing up for a struggle against the Welfare Bill, this is a going to be fight to Kill the Bills, plural. But more than that. The bedrock of the EU has always been the free movement of capital. The onset of neo-liberal strategies has seen the aim of weak unions and low labour costs added to that. All is reliant upon the just-in-time flow of imported raw materials and finished goods. Everything fed by a mechanism of perpetual bloody wars, both internal and interventionist. 

In contrast, a growing new humanitarian mood could encompass not only increasing scepticism about the 21st Century EU as the labour movement faces up to the need for a policy that confronts reality but also the feeling of positive solidarity with those dispossessed by the conflicts. A genuine internationalism of spirit should see trades unionists link up with the 90% of the nation whose interests coincide with migrants and asylum seekers to make common cause.

As a Communication Workers Union amendment put it, we have seen the “negative portrayal” of the migration issue to “generate a xenophobic mind-set thus deflecting attention away from the EU being redesigned to the detriment of workers”. 

There can be no British involvement in any escalation of war in Syria! Full support for a humanitarian and diplomatic approach is only possible. The recent re-energising of the British Peace Assembly could be an important step in the unfolding refreshing of a campaign against imperialist intervention. As thus process unfolds, we need to consider how best to link the growing British anti neo-liberal movement up with the global peace movement. 

Whether fleeing persecution focused on their identity, or territory ravaged by imperialist aggression, or even seeking after a better life, modern migrants are posed by the information media in a negative light. Yet our culture, heavily influenced by that of the United States, sees those who rushed to the Americas, or elsewhere, as heroic pioneers, even when that meant killing the locals to steal their land.

Build the CP and the YCL

Whatever you do, not only read but sell the new Party pamphlet. Ask anyone you know to fill in the standing order form, especially those who say they can’t join the Party because Labour has got better. The special Solidarity Fund will help us rebuild the Party’s leading role in trade unions by helping young Party and YCL activists become better involved.  

The Young Communist League (which boasts a majority of members who are actually in work!) is increasingly active and there are exciting new possibilities for unionisation in the fast food sector.  Our first weekend school for Young Workers was an important step in our trade union cadre development programme, with a dozen activists drawn in to a team that aims to develop educational resources, such as podcasts, even short films, tutors’ notes, all of which could be used to reach out to a new generation of potential activists. 

New international briefings in the Communist Party series, Needs of the Hour, are now available to view and download online. We are now developing others for domestic policy and would positively welcome suggestions and drafts for trade union briefings. Volunteers to write material would be a good practical outcome here.

The Party is looking to see how our members can be better co-ordinated in their activity in the many Retired Members Associations and other pension’s campaigns groups. Volunteers with a particular knowledge of pensions’ matters, especially workplace pensions, can a collective of members offer themselves for this task? If so, see me afterwards!

Sadly, only one twentieth of CP members are under 35 years of age. It should say here `pause for effect’ but I think I astound myself, let alone you.  The rejuvenation of our Party is long overdue.  It is a myth that our Party has always been an aged one, borne only of the failure to recruit an entire generation during and after the Thatcher years. In the year I was born, our Party’s EC had six members older than 60 years. You’ll guess their names. The average age of an EC member outside of that small group was 30 years old.

Any Party renewal must start from the simple maxim that everything we do, everything we say, everything we read must be conditioned by the desire to maximise proximity to ordinary people. Every petty conflict, personal grudge, carelessness, or perceived slight that we take to heart about our life in the Party has to be judged by that test. How much do we know about the lives of others; those in our class but not in our party? The real test of a theoretically sound comrade is not the length of shelving read but whether they understand just how hard it is to be in today’s working class.  

The nature of work today is fragmented and some unions are not interested in organising out of the way and difficult to service individuals or groups. There are even CP members who are not yet in a union. Let’s get all who can join into a union! And, while we are at it, let’s recruit, organise, and train a whole new generation of activists who we can be proud of in building a new and more vigorous profile for Communist trade union work.

Is this a period in which it can be said that finally, the left is in the ascendancy in the labour movement? Our own Constitution makes clear that we aim for a socialist Britain: “in which the means of production, distribution and exchange will be socially owned and utilised in a planned way for the benefit of all.  We do not waver from this – our flag is forever red. Our Party and YCL stand proud, ready for action in this developing new chapter of working class experience. A movement without the Communists is inconceivable. A class without Communists is weakened beyond belief. Build the Party, boost the Star, win and train for the YCL.