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Brexit, deal or no deal concept. United Kingdom and European Union flags on dice, black background. 3d illustration

Workers’ anger increases against austerity while parliament remains paralysed

By ISL – IWL-FI section in the UK

Uncertainty and instability continue more than three years after the EU referendum took place.  The chaos results from divisions within British capitalism and imperialism over its declining position on a European and world level, and as the Labour leadership refuse to fight for a workers Brexit.

The referendum took place in order to resolve the division inside the British imperialist bourgeoisie over the EU and Cameron called the referendum because he was convinced that “Remain” would win.

Nearly 74% of the 650 parliamentary MPs, campaigned and voted to Remain. Since then Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Greens and Liberal Democrats have blocked the path to leave the EU.

But many millions of workers breaking from the influence of the Labour party voted to leave the EU, which was decisive for the result. Intolerable conditions of life in the UK for many workers and oppressed pushed that vote.

De-industrialisation has taken place for nearly 50 years, while the myriad financial “services” blossomed in the 1980s. This parasitism of British capitalism, symbolized in the City of London, accounts for 12% of GDP. It was directly linked to the crash of 2008 and the subsequent austerity.

Workers now experience wide-spread poverty, disintegrating public services, disappearing safety nets and precarious work on a massive scale. The UK is a country of food banks, homelessness in every town and city, and zero hours contracts – all of which have become “normalised” by the establishment and the trade union leaderships.

This is why the Financial Times warns Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, the vote against Brussels came from the “pent-up fury” that exists in the hard-hit working class against austerity and the legacy of industrial decline in many areas, which no government has addressed.

At the same time the TUC and Labour Party leadership act powerfully to prevent mass and united struggles on the streets and that helps the confusion of many workers on how to fight austerity.

The clash of imperialism

The power centre of the EU has always contained inter-imperialist struggle between Germany, France and Britain. They have agreement on pushing down working and living conditions, increasing casual work, building a fortress Europe that kills and oppresses immigrants and forcing semi-colonisation of the smaller nations to the south, east and west of the central EU powers.

But they also have deep differences over financial services, trade, imperialist re-colonisation and around the “special relationship” between US and UK. The EU and UK imperialism are in conflict over African resources markets (and the rest of the world) and who should control them.

They are in a bitter struggle between themselves while the USA, in full conflict with China, no longer defends a German led Europe but want the EU to disintegration. They take advantage of Brexit for this reason and to gain further influence over the declining British economy that is still one of the world’s richest.

The vast majority of British corporations and multinationals in the UK are opposed to withdrawal from the EU. They prefer to Remain – just listen to the Confederation of British Industry and the Financial Times. For many big businesses making profits in the EU is easier than it would be if they left.

A minority section of British capitalism want to leave such as those who run hedge funds and other financial international casino clubs, rich tax dodgers, some manufacturers like Sir James Dyson and the richest person in the UK, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who owns 60% of Ineos, one of the world’s largest chemical producers and significant in the oil and gas market.

The UK faces recession and further economic decline. It is one reason that sections of manufacturing and finance capital want to be free of any EU regulation on manufacturing, agriculture and financial “products”. That means they want no restrictions on how profit is created and realised.

The pro-Brexit Tory MP’s European Research Group (ERG) is the political face of extreme parasitism and are closely linked with financial operations such as: private equity, investment banks, hedge funds, foreign exchange dealings and spread betting companies. Hedge funds are part of the world-wide casino in betting on movements of shares, currencies such as sterling and shares and can make a fortune from economic shocks including Brexit. Recently prominent US financiers including Steve Cohen and Nelson Peltz expanded in London.

The ERG is also against what limited banking and finance regulation the EU introduced since 2008 because, in their opinion, it favours the big French and German banks. Some financial services are moving a small but significant percentage of their staff mainly to Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin.

Parasitism flourishes in the European banking sectors, but for almost all financial services London is the European centre (and to a large extent matches the New York world financial  system).

Brexit will significantly reduce the EU’s global footprint in capital markets. Today the EU is the second largest capital market in the world with a combined share of 21% of global activity. That is nearly half the size of the US, but a significant lead over its nearest rival China. The departure of the UK will reduce this share of global activity to 14% – around one third the size of the US and roughly the same as China.

Private equity companies asset strip companies, sack workers and lower wages and conditions if any jobs remain. Sitting next to Johnson at  the United Nations General Assembly in September, Trump said, “We can quadruple our trade with the UK.”  The USA is looking to seize as much as it can including the NHS (even though Johnson said it would not be part of the trade deals and while NHS privatisation is increasing today), remove restrictions on food (as epitomised by the infamous US chlorinated chicken – banned in the EU). It will seek removal of environmental restrictions on fracking and pollution.

They have agreement to remove workers’ rights and impose greater precarity on workers, already at record levels (officially 4.1 million workers in the UK).

A great danger for capitalism in the converging conjunctural crisis of the EU is that the hatred of European workers of the EU will connect with the determination of many British workers to leave while they oppose austerity, and the USA and Johnson’s social war.

 

Left remainers

Because of the politics of the TUC bureaucracy and the Labour leadership, who say that the EU defends workers’ rights – as if precarious work and privatisation does not exist in EU countries, there are many on the left that call for Remain and Reform. But they never discuss how the European Commissions, the ECB and the IMF control can be reformed. They ignore the social destruction that the EU is responsible for. There are workers who mistakenly also think that the EU will protect them from austerity and Tory governments.

The TUC leadership completely ignore the continuing attacks against the working class in countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, France or Eastern Europe. They ignore the Yellow Vest mass struggle and the rebellion in Catalonia for the right to self-determination while the EU gives full support to the repression of the Spanish State.

Very few left-Remainers even consider the fourth stage of rail privatisation that has been driven by Germany, France and Britain in the EU. The European commission has dictated the immediate beginning of privatisation of all European rail. Those countries who delay these plans will be hit by the EU. In 2019 the EU Commission demanded Denmark, Ireland, Greece, the Netherlands, and Poland comply with these privatisation plans or risk being taken to the European court of Justice (sic).

Many on the British left identify the European working class and internationalism with the European organisations that oppress them!

A workers and socialist Europe can only be built by removing and smashing the capitalist and imperialist EU.

 

Contradictions of parliamentary Brexit

The delay over implementing the referendum vote highlights the weakening international position and internal decay of British capitalism.

The long-lasting decline in many parts of the country and the desire for change is in stark contrast to the idea of a “people’s democracy” being enshrined in parliament – such an idea is in tatters.

The toxic parliamentary language and strain in relations between and inside the Tory and Labour parties reveals their increasing impotence, they cannot rule in the old ways and their two-party parliamentary system is breaking apart.

Such a delay created by these parties gives the Tory right-wing, led by Johnson, the possibility of posing as the “people’s champion”. And he follows in the footsteps of Nigel Farage of the Brexit party, who tries to create the same image.

Johnson’s reactionary utopian dream is to create a new Great Britain that “rules the waves”, or at least exploits Africa and the ‘south’ with Foreign Direct Investment and force and becomes an equal partner with the USA.

In this process he may make their power even weaker, the deep political crisis is undermining the old gains for British imperialism in Scotland and northern Ireland where the political crisis is increasing the feeling to create an independent united Ireland (the border vote) and Scotland (a second referendum).

In mid-October the Loyalist paramilitary groups (clearly the peace process did not remove these paramilitaries) in northern Ireland threatened to start mass civil disobedience if Johnson gets a deal in parliament that draws a customs border down the Irish sea. While concessions to the EU on Ireland will push the Scottish SNP to demand further concessions in any leave deal.

 

The EU a war machine against workers and people

There is no capitalist solution that will benefit workers, the poor and oppressed by staying in the EU. The EU is based on a social war against the workers and people of Europe and the smaller nations.

Today, the EU drive to implement austerity, its rapidly developing privatisation of European rail, its murderous practice against immigrants (new and old) and the subjugation of the smaller nations into semi-colonies continues unabated.

But the unions and political parties that called for some kind of workers Brexit from the EU hardly got beyond the limits of their own organisation after the referendum. That is a central problem of the Communist Party, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party and the four unions such as the rail workers and bakers’ union. They should have called for and agitated much more for an alliance to leave on a workers and socialist basis. There were times over the last three years when a massive movement could have been built.

But all of these leaderships call on the Labour party and Corbyn to lead the fight to leave! In all the uncertainty it is certain that Corbyn will not lead a fight for a workers and socialist exit.

On this the Socialist Party and the others are completely wrong. Certainly, some of their members do not believe in such a position.

 

Labour and the TUC

The great chaos and confusion in the working class is principally caused by the leadership of the Labour Party and the TUC. The only road to unite the working class is to come out fighting to leave the EU for workers’ rights and a workers and socialist programme, that links with the struggle against austerity.

But Corbyn is not going to do that. Right-wing labour have a majority in parliament party, the Labour councils and the party apparatus.

Corbyn’s position in answer to this biggest question is to be “neutral”. At the same time his own team such as John McDonnell (shadow chancellor) says he will campaign to Remain, while others say they will campaign to leave. So, Labour has three public positions and will have if there is a general election.

Another Tory attack on workers, austerity, is implemented by Labour councils on instructions from the Labour leadership. Even new ‘left’ councillors do not vote against the cuts as they know to do so would mean expulsion! They sell their soul for as little as £12,000 a year as a councillor. No Labour councillor in England and Wales votes against cuts, and they are terrified to oppose Corbyn’s leadership from the left.

This approach is not based, as Corbyn says, on an attempt to unite the class but it is the result of determination to keep Labour as a broad church (trying to unite all in one party including the Blairites). But behind that is McDonnell’s oft quoted remark that, Labour is “business friendly”. They want to unite workers with capitalists, they think there is one interest – the “national” interest.

The idea of a political unity of Labour with the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems has been expressed for months in the name of a national unity government, which carries forward the “Broad Church” to a national unity capitalist government.

A report recently in The Guardian confirmed that the bankers would quite like a Labour government, and as the bankers told the paper, they could get rid of it should they wish.

That means they see Labour as a way to make profits and to hold the working class back with a few reforms and many empty promises.

Corbyn has demanded a general election for years, but when Johnson became Prime Minister and kept on losing parliamentary votes, he challenged Corbyn to support a general election on two occasions. He refused – a decision also pushed by Labour’s right-wing.

Labour are scared of a general election and think Johnson will dominate it, they are well behind in the polls after ten years of Tory austerity and while the Johnson government can only win votes in Parliament with transitory agreements with the Irish DUP, expelled Tory MPs or Leave wishing Labour MPs. The Tory government is very weak held in place by the procrastinations and conflicts inside Labour

The Corbyn surge has started to abate. The lefts inside the Labour Party Congress in September cried “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” (actually to drown out calls for a card vote on a European motion), but the fervour is much diminished.

Neither the Labour party nor the TUC leadership call for mass action and a general strike. They will not try to unite the rising number of strikes such as the postal, rail, steel, education and precarious workers. All these sectors are planning or balloting for strikes or building actions.

The Labour and union leaders at the end of a Labour Congress may sing about keeping the red flag flying, but the idea of socialism and how to get it does not infuse their thinking or programme. They continue the historic line of the Labour Party: Everything within parliamentarism, nothing outside it. Everything with the TUC bureaucracy and nothing without it.

Social justice is what they want – without the overthrow of capitalism. It is not new, Rosa Luxemburg over 100 years ago wrote Reform or Revolution against the social justice schemas like Corbyn has. She devastated the arguments of Eduard Bernstein, who is a forerunner of Corbyn. As she explained socialism cannot be introduced by winning a majority in parliament nor can it come about by an objective development of capitalist society. But reform is all that Corbyn has, and he does not challenge the power bases of capitalism.

The left who want to leave

For Corbyn parliamentary reform is everything, so why do the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party say that the Corbyn road is a socialist road and even use the phrase a “Corbyn revolution”.

The “Corbyn revolution” does not exist. In a recent article the SP said, “Imagine how differently the debate around the EU would have developed had Corbyn stuck to his previous position of, correctly, opposing the neoliberal character of the EU bosses’ club and its policies,”

One can imagine anything, but it is an illusion to think Corbyn can build a socialist road or lead a revolution, his opposition to the EU and British capitalism is through words and not mass action on the streets and a general strike. The SP and SWP keep telling the working class that Corbyn’s road can be a road to socialism. While the SWP are always boosting the image of Corbyn in meetings.

But as he is not trying to unite worekrs in mass struggle on the streets. In fact, with his policy Labour will not even win the next election.

The necessity to build a revolutionary party remains the most important question in Britain today and that will not be built or helped by Labour, except as workers reject the idea that Labour can build socialism.

Working class begins to rise

Parliament has become a farce for all to see. But what is happening in the militant working class?

Since the time of the referendum vote there has been the beginning of a rebellion in two TUC unions (the UCU – university union, and the PCS –state workers union), which got rid of two bureaucratic long standing leaders, one of them in the PCS was the main trade union face of the SP.

There has been a rise of strikes in the new unions (IWGB and UVW) who organise precarious workers. The membership of the UVW has nearly doubled from January 2017 to October 2019 to over 2600, the majority of members and strike leaders are women, the majority of members are Black and immigrant workers. The number of sectors has increased from one to eight. They have made some historic wins with small groups of workers – the TUC has never won such a thing.

Now they are organising coordinated strike actions in the following sectors in seven workplaces including hospitals, universities and in eight royal parks (!) for the London Living Wage and against precarity.

National strikes can happen soon with postal workers union and university workers, while rail workers and others are organising many local and regional strikes. What happens will be determined by the struggle by the rank and file against the bureaucratic leaderships of TUC unions.

General strike and General Election

The hatred of the EU, the Tory government and austerity is widespread in the working class. The problems we face can only be dealt with by uniting all the strikes taking place and planned into a general strike with all workers whether they voted to leave or remain.

Neither Labour, the TUC, the SP or the SWP are fighting for a general strike to build the struggle to end austerity and demand a general election.

The TUC and Labour say they want rid of the government but pose no concrete way to do that, while Labour refuse to meet Johnson’s challenge to call a general election.

If a general election is called we will say to workers, the unions and left political parties to call neighbour committees of unions and social struggle to build a programme against austerity and to choose leaders for the election who want to and will fight.

For a workers and socialist exit out of austerity and the EU

Place workers’ rights at the centre of the struggle to leave the EU. No to Remain, no to Johnson’s Brexit, no to austerity, no to privatisation and oppression.

The increasing onslaught by the EU and its governments against workers shows that the EU cannot be reformed. It can only be smashed and broken up.

British workers in fighting austerity and the EU will have to combine their struggles with all workers in struggle across Europe.

Only in this way can a socialist united states of Europe be built that advances workers’ rights and the right of self-determination.

We say:

For a workers and socialist struggle to leave anti-worker EU!

TUC Unite all struggles for general strike to bring Tory government down!

For a general election now!

End austerity by government and council implementation – set a class needs budget!

For nationalisation based on workers and users control of big industry!

Immigrants welcome! No scapegoating!

Tax the rich and big companies!

Build a revolutionary party of workers and all who want to put an end to the Tories and capitalism!