Refusing to Break with the Ruling Class Led to Refusing to Carry Out the 2016 Referendum Mandate and Produced the Current Disaster
- Editorial of
- Labour Internationalist
- Issue No. 2
- December 2019
The facts are clear and indisputable. Electorally speaking, the Conservatives have recorded their best result since Thatcher’s victory in 1983. More important is the fact that this time, the Labour Party has suffered its worst defeat since 1935, when Labour voters punished the party leadership for agreeing to participate in a government of national unity. Even more important is that this time, the Labour Party has seen its historically rock-solid strongholds crumble.
Twenty-four constituencies broke their decades-long tradition of not voting Tory. The new Conservative majority in three of these is more than 20 points: Dudley North (31.1%) Bassetlaw (27.6%), and Great Grimsby (22.2%). In the 2016 referendum, these seats voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, by 71.4%, 68.3% and 71.4% respectively. The seat with the longest history of voting Labour, Rother Valley, had elected a Labour MP since 1918. It voted Leave in 2016 (66.7%). Don Valley (68.5% Leave) and Leigh (63.3% Leave) had both been Labour for 97 years, while Wakefield (62.8% Leave) had been Labour for 87 years. Labour losses were concentrated in Leave areas, with the party losing 53 constituencies that voted to Leave the EU. The Tories benefited directly from this, gaining 56 seats in Leave-voting areas – half of which voted Leave by more than 60%. The damage wasn’t limited to the North of England: Labour strongholds in the Midlands and Wales – all of them Leave-voting – were also lost to the Tories. Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire (68.3% Leave) saw the biggest swing from Labour to the Tories – a massive 18.4%.
Why such an outcome? Was it predictable?
Although the results caused a shock, they are not really a surprise. As we wrote in the editorial statement of the first issue of this bulletin, “By trampling on the democratic decision taken in 2016, the Labour Party has largely ruined its chances of gaining a majority”.
In all previous elections, whatever the character of the policy put forward by the LP leadership – in many cases directly opposed to the interests of the working class – the Labour Party as such appeared as objectively being the party of the whole labour movement in opposition to the official party of the ruling class, the Conservative Party, because of the way the Labour Party came into being historically, as the political expression of the trade union movement.
This time, as many have emphasised, politically speaking the Labour Party appeared as the Remain party due to the position it took in favour of a new referendum. This is the key factor that explains what happened.
Who is responsible?
The answer to this question is clear: the top leadership of the Labour Party and the trade unions who decided to back the European Union and who built up the possibility of “no deal” as an absolute disaster. This is why we will not condemn those who abstained or did not vote Labour. It is the leadership that bears the responsibility for the election result.
Of course, as is usual after an election, the leader of the defeated party will be targeted as the main culprit. But the causes of this defeat contain far more elements, which cannot be reduced honestly to one person’s responsibility. Today, some sectors of the Labour Party, including Corbyn himself, are presenting “the leader” as a victim of a hate campaign and vicious slander. It is of course true that this campaign took place. But it had already been launched in 2017, and it did not prevent Labour from making new gains then. And crucially, all the LP candidates stressed at the time that they would respect the decision taken in 2016. Similarly, there has been criticism that Corbyn was unable to connect personally with working-class communities in the north of England and elsewhere. Maybe. But that was also the case in 2017.
But what is at stake goes far beyond the questions of personality, psychology and character. All of the leading layers of the Labour Party – those responsible for running the party machine, the parliamentary Labour Party, the right and the left of the party leadership, and its leader Jeremy Corbyn – refused to address the issue of implementing the democratic decision of the 2016 referendum. They acted in this way because in this case, respecting democracy was in contradiction with the vital needs of the British ruling class. The refusal to break with the ruling class led to refusing to carry out the 2016 mandate and brought about the current disaster.
This is the crux of the struggle of the OCRFI and its British supporters: Breaking with the ruling class
The crucial element in the Programme of the Fourth International, which is the basis of our fight, is the fact – one vindicated by wars, crises, the spread of poverty, the widening gap between the super-rich and the great mass of the world’s population – that the capitalist system based on private ownership of the means of production and on exploitation cannot be reformed. This has been demonstrated once again by the fact that simply agreeing to the 2016 vote created a dead-end crisis for the capitalist system and its institutions. In spite of all the rhetoric displayed by Boris Johnson, the agreement he established with the European Union in practice retains all the anti- working-class regulations that the majority of the workers rejected when they voted Leave. What stands out is that in a different way, the top leaderships of the labour movement did not break with the limits set by the ruling class.
The political struggle in Britain cannot be separated from the fight for a workers’ international based on the international struggles of the world working class, of which we have many examples today (1). It is in this context that an international conference of the sections and groups of the OCRFI will take place in November 2020.
The first preparatory document for that conference emphasised that it is necessary to give a clear answer to the question of what our orientation is in each country to build a revolutionary party, and not just in general terms. The document went on to say: “The answer to this question, whatever the size, history and traditions of our organisations, and whatever the national conditions, must definitely include answers to the following questions: What is the orientation of independence in the class struggle, particularly on the line of setting up workers’ committees constituted by the workers themselves in whichever form – strike committees, factory committees, workers’ councils, delegates? What is the axis for defending the organisations and gains of the working class?”
What does this mean in Britain today?
Of course, B. Johnson’s government will attempt to deliver new and serious blows to the organisations of the working class, to its rights and conditions.
At the same time, it is clear that although the election results strengthen the ruling class’s resolve to impose even more drastic conditions than those that exist today, they do not fundamentally change the conditions of the class struggle. The working class will fight back to defend its specific interests.
The first item of business for the new Tory government will be to approve a new Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which largely reiterates the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but inserts additional provisions that will consistently allow “Ministers of the Crown” to change existing legislation in certain areas by issuing regulations without parliamentary scrutiny. To provide legal continuity, the 2018 Act enables the transposition of all directly-applicable EU law since 1973 into UK law. This means that, for example, the anti-working-class provisions of the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which impose “free and undistorted competition” and prevent state aid and clear public ownership, will remain as UK law.
As a result, the task of the trade unions will be to organise the struggle for a full break with the EU and its policies, in order to be able to satisfy each and every trade union demand, which are all antagonistic to the provisions of the EU’s laws, rules and regulations.
This fightback will include the defence of the working class’s organisations. This especially means defending the trade unions. But it also means defending the existence of the Labour Party, including against the pro-EU forces who were instrumental in pushing the Corbyn leadership into backing a second referendum, and who today are happy to blame Corbyn for the election defeat while working to totally recapture the party leadership.
This is not contradictory with the judgement we have just made about the policy pursued by the leading layers of the Labour Party. On the contrary, it is precisely that policy which today threatens the very existence of the Labour Party as it has functioned since its creation: a party that exists as a workers’ party because it depends on the existence and activity of trade unions. Despite the leadership’s policy, it is increasingly difficult to accommodate such a party within the framework of capitalism’s political system. This was the meaning of the Blair offensive to create a “New Labour Party”, and this is what is being expressed by the disintegration that has been triggered by the LP Leadership’s unconditional support for the European Union.
So the fight to defend the working-class organisations, in order to achieve the broadest possible unity in an effective struggle against the ruling class, means – in the deepest sense – reclaiming control over all those who speak in the name of working people. It is at the level of the union branch, the LP ward, the shop floor, the local community or the district that this battle must be fought.
This bulletin aims to be a useful tool for co-ordinating and developing that struggle, and to facilitate the discussion among all those who wish to act in defence of the independence of the working class, internationalism and socialism.
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For Class Independence from Capital and Its National and International Institutions
- Editorial of
- Labour Internationalist
- Issue No. 1
- November 2019
The comrades in Britain associated with the Organising Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International (OCRFI) have decided to publish a monthly bulletin under the title Labour Internationalist.
The OCRFI represents the continuity between today’s struggles against capitalist exploitation and the fight begun almost a century ago by Leon Trotsky to defend Marxism against the destructive politics of Stalinism as well as against all forms of class collaboration promoted by the reformist leaders of social democracy.
The perspective that determines the orientation and the positions taken by both the OCRFI and its British group is that the capitalist system of exploitation can only lead humankind to the worst of disasters, and so destroying that system is necessary for a progressive future. Only the working class can lead this fight. Therefore, on all questions, the OCRFI takes a stand that is determined by the class interests of the exploited.
We have taken the decision to publish a monthly bulletin in a period when the working class of Britain and the whole labour movement face serious challenges and are in a difficult situation.
The ruling class in Britain and its various political expressions are in total disarray. The confusion that exists at the top of the political representation of the British imperialist ruling class is of course linked to the general and deepening crisis of the world capitalist system. But in the case of Britain, it is also linked specifically to the continuous crisis created by the result of the 2016 referendum: the decision taken by the majority of the electorate, including a majority of the working class, to leave the European Union. That result was brought about by the British working class mobilising in its own interests through demonstrations and strikes against the ruling class and its destructive policy of austerity, which led to a clear Leave majority. It was as a political result of that class movement that the Corbyn leadership gained a majority within the Labour Party.
So, the fact that the situation today, more than three years later, seems to be stuck in deadlock is not because of any inability by the working class to fight back.
The main factor which explains the present situation is that the Labour Party leadership and the top leadership of the TUC have refused to act in line with the mandate which had been given to them. As we all know, because of the policy of its leadership, today the Labour Party is regarded as the Remain party.
These days, we often hear about “fake news”. It can be said that the whole debate on Brexit has taken place in a deep fog of fake propaganda. But the basic reason for the uncertainty and confusion among the working class’s ranks is the fact that the main vehicle for that fake propaganda has been the leaderships of the Labour Party and the TUC.
For instance, a hoax was built up around the notion of “No deal”. It was repeated again and again that to leave the EU without a deal would bring about apocalyptic disaster, as if the British economy would suddenly lose its world position, and as if no trade deal with any country would be possible without the approval of the EU authorities. The British people decided to leave; any agreement with the EU and any of its components should have proceeded from that fact. Any other way of raising the question left it up to the European Union to decide what was meant and not meant by Leave.
Another theme of the fake propaganda was to present the Leave vote as an expression of petty British nationalism opposed to internationalism, with the European Union being labelled as an expression of co- operation between different nations, and even as a defender of workers’ rights.
Let’s not forget that from the very beginning, the left- wing forces within the labour movement were opposed to the “European project” because they rightly saw it as a weapon to be used by capitalist forces, both internationally and in every European country.
For example, in the 1975 referendum on UK membership of the European Communities, Jeremy Corbyn opposed Britain’s membership of the EEC. He also opposed ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, saying:
“The whole basis of the Maastricht Treaty is the establishment of a European Central Bank which is staffed by bankers, independent of national governments and national economic policies, and whose sole policy is the maintenance of price stability. (…) That will undermine any social objective that any Labour Government in the United Kingdom – or any other Government – would wish to carry out. (…)
“The Maastricht treaty does not take us in the direction of the checks and balances contained in the American federal constitution. It takes us in the opposite direction of an unelected legislative body – the [European] Commission – and, in the case of foreign policy, a policy Commission that will be, in effect, imposing foreign policy on nation states that have fought for their own democratic accountability.”
In 2008, Jeremy Corbyn opposed the Lisbon Treaty, in 2011 he backed a proposed referendum on British withdrawal from the EU, and he rightly explained that in the 2015 crisis in Greece the EU allowed financiers to destroy the Greek economy.
We are now hearing talk of “remain and reform”, based on the spurious logic that if, for example, we want to improve a situation where the EU’s framework and directives allows employers to hire workers on zero-hour, fixed-term and temporary contracts instead of permanent contracts, before we do anything in the UK, we have to convince 27 other EU member states to repeal the directives which make insecure work easier to impose. How likely is that to happen? When did the EU ever volunteer to grant genuine labour rights, rather than making exploitation easier? The fact is that every one of the working class’s gains has been the result of class struggle – in the UK, the rest of Europe and around the world.
Internationalism lies in the struggle against the European Union by the workers of all the countries of Europe, opening the way through that struggle to a United Socialist States of Europe.
Experience has vindicated this stand. The EU has permanently acted against the gains and rights of the labour movement and has been the framework for devastating austerity plans.
Internationalism does not lie in the EU but in the struggle against it.
It has been stated repeatedly that the main division is not between those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain, but between “the few” and “the many”, between the exploiters and the exploited. This is indeed a fact. But does this change anything regarding the question: is it in the interest of “the few” or “the many” to support the European Union?
Finally, another argument as part of the fake propaganda was that the question of Brexit was divisive, and that therefore it should be put aside until a Labour Party government comes to power.
Facts have answered that argument. By trampling on the democratic decision taken in 2016, the Labour Party has largely ruined its chances of winning a majority today.
The coming elections
The Labour Party leadership has finally agreed to support the decision to hold a general election on 12 December. Whilst claiming that the Johnson government had no legitimacy, the Labour Party leadership stubbornly opposed holding a general election until the EU gave it the green light.
What is our position on the election?
In no case should anyone vote for the parties of the ruling class: the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or the far-right candidates who are pretending to be the genuine defenders of Brexit.
We understand and support those in the labour movement who will vote and call for a vote in favour of the Labour Party. They will give a class content to that vote, in contradiction with the wishes of the Labour Party leadership: it will be a vote against the rule of the capitalist class and all its representatives, it will be a vote against the European Union.
If the Labour Party wins the election despite of the policy of its leadership, not only would that increase the disarray in the ruling class, it would also strengthen the struggle for a Labour government implementing Brexit in the interests of the working class.
We will not condemn those who will abstain. It is the leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions who bear responsibility for this, because of their commitment to the EU and therefore to the stabilisation of capitalist rule.
What are the immediate aims of the struggle of the British working class?
After the 2016 referendum, the activists who had fought within the Labour Party and the trade unions to vote Leave stated: “The democratic decision taken by the people of this country on 23 June to leave the EU was a victory for the nurses, for manual workers, for railworkers, for the millions of low-paid workers, for the two million workers and youth on zero-hour contracts and all those who wanted to protect their rights.”
These words remain true.
The workers voted in favour of Brexit because they were demanding:
- Renationalisation of railways and of the privatised public utilities
- Stop all privatisations
- Scrap zero-hour contracts
- Repeal all the anti-trade union laws
- Defend and save the NHS from creeping privaatisation
- Massive sector public investment in education
- Free movement of labour to suit the workers, not the bosses
- Stop military interventions! Britain out of NATO!
Elections are important, they are one of the battlefields of the class struggle. But by themselves they are not decisive. For genuine measures in favour of the working class to be implemented, the independent and organised force of the working class must come into play at all levels.
The latest experiences and the Brexit crisis have proved once again that no solution can be found within the present structure of the leadership of the labour movement.
As was stated in the founding programme of the Fourth International, the working class takes the road towards revolution again and again, “but each time, they are blocked by their own conservative bureaucratic apparatuses”. That is why “of all the parties and organisations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name, we demand that they break politically with the bourgeoisie and enter the path of struggle for the workers’ and peasants’ government.” The first step on that road today is a clear break with the EU and all its reactionary institutions.
It is up to the working class, starting at the grassroots – at the level of the workplace, the trade union branch and the CLP – that the fight must be organised to reclaim our organisations.
This bulletin will of course present the views of the OCRFI and its British supporters. But the part it wishes to play is not limited to this.
This bulletin intends to help in co-ordinating all the forces that share the goal of reclaiming our organisations and want to express it in the forthcoming struggles. It will act as a forum for all those who are committed to working- class political independence and to internationalism.
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- La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune)
- Issue no. 219 – 18 December 2019
- International Chronicle
Britain: Double Trouble
By François Forgue
The result of the general election on 12 December is clear and conclusive. With the threshold for an absolute majority set at 325 seats, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won 365 seats, 48 more than in the 2017 election. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party won only 202 seats (60 fewer than in 2017).  This was the Conservative Party’s biggest electoral success since Thatcher’s victory in 1983, while the Labour Party suffered its worst defeat since 1935, when its voting base punished the party leadership for agreeing in 1931 to participate in a government of national unity.
Unlike all preceding elections since the Labour Party was set up, in which Labour appeared first and foremost as the political representation of the labour movement, whatever the nature of the policy followed by its leadership, in opposition to the Conservative Party, the traditional party of the capitalist exploiters, in December 2019 this objective distinction was blurred by the attitude taken by the Labour Party leadership regarding Brexit, and by the issue of respecting the democratic decision taken in the 2016 referendum. 
For months, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s spokespersons had hammered home the message that the issue on the agenda was electing a Labour majority in order to put an end to austerity and the Conservative government, and to form a Labour government that would undertake a vast programme of reforms. To do so, the Brexit issue – which was divisive – would have to be left in the background. In fact, by declaring itself in favour of “a second referendum”, the Labour leadership was denying the legitimacy of the June 2016 vote and presenting itself as the “Remain party”.
The result is clear: through the agreement that Boris Johnson wants to reach with the European Union, the UK will remain subject to all the anti-working-class rules of the European Union. And it will be Boris Johnson’s reactionary government that will oversee their application. Double trouble, so to speak.
One British working-class activist, who was one of the organisers of strikers’ wives during the big Liverpool dockers’ strike in 1995, wrote the following to us regarding the election result: “The lesson: do not insult the intelligence of the working class.”
Those responsible for the situation, the ones who violated their mandate, are not irremovable. We can count on “the intelligence of the working class” to ensure that organising the resistance to Boris Johnson’s government will be accompanied by the demand for democratic control by the workers and activists over those to whom they give a mandate.
(1) The abstention rate was 33 per cent overall, and much higher in working-class constituencies. We will come back to this in the next few issues of La Tribune des Travailleurs, where British labour activists will have their say.
(2) On 23 June 2016, a majority of voters (52 per cent) in a referendum voted in favour of the UK leaving the European Union. This wish was expressed most convincingly in working-class constituencies with Labour Party members of parliament, to an extent that the Financial Times saw it as “Britain’s most class-based vote of recent decades”.
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International European Committee
We Support the ELC
The European Liaison Committee (ELC) Against Privatisation, Deregulation and Insecure Work was set up on 11 May 2019 in Strasbourg (France), the seat of the European “Parliament”, during an international rally in which labour activists from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and Turkey came together to declare: “This Europe is not our Europe! This Europe is the Europe of big capital and war. It is the Europe of privatisation, of insecure work, of the witch-hunting of immigrants and of repression! It is a tool for serving the interests of the powerful, of the big multinationals, of the US administration and its military arm, NATO!” The Committee, which we invite you to join, has the ambition to prepare in each country the indictment of the policy of privatisation, and to circulate in a newsletter – under the responsibility of the comrades from Germany – information and news on the resistance by the workers and youth in each country.
The statement reproduced below was approved by the European Liaison Committee, including: Doreen MacNally, Unite Community Branch, Liverpool; Tony Rimmer, Merseyside Pensioners Association, Unite Branch 567, Liverpool; Sheila Coleman, Liverpool, Unite Regional Community Coordinator; and Stefan Cholewka, Secretary, Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils (GMATUC) – all four in a personal capacity.
Contact: HW Schuster, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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European Liaison Committee Against Privatisation, Deregulation and Insecure Work
The 23 June 2016 mandate to leave the EU must be respected!
When a referendum takes place in a country, and the overwhelming majority of the people and the working class vote in favour of this or that position, the workers have a right to expect the organisations that speak in their name to defend the mandate which they overwhelmingly voted for.
So, the workers of Europe were astonished to hear the leaders of the Labour Party in Britain (beginning with Jeremy Corbyn) and the TUC resolutely declare themselves against any implementation of what the workers and people of the United Kingdom voted for on 23 June 2016: leaving the European Union.
We even heard the main leader of the Labour Party speak in favour of an alliance government between the Labour Party and the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie, based solely on agreeing to keep the UK in the European Union!
They are being supported in calling the vote of 23 June 2016 into question by all the advocates of reaction in Europe, the European Commissioners, governments and others, all of them daring to shout about a “denial of democracy” when the British Parliament is suspended…but who have had nothing to say when the supposedly sovereign vote by a people was called into question over the course of three years, just like the vote by the people of Greece in July 2015, the vote by the peoples of France and The Netherlands in 2005, the vote by the people of Denmark in 1992, etc.
It is an absolutely indisputable fact that Boris Johnson and his many and varied “sovereignist” acolytes are implacable enemies of the working class, and the fact that they called for a “Leave” vote for their own reasons in June 2016 does not change their nature.
But it is just as indisputable that by refusing to defend the most elementary principle of democracy, namely that the will of the people must be respected, and by working furiously to chain the British workers to the chariot of the European Union when they want to break with it, the leaders of the Labour Party and the TUC are violating the mandate that was given to them.
On 23 June 2016, millions of workers, unemployed people, pensioners and trade unionists in the United Kingdom, who had been hit hard by the privatisations, deregulation and job insecurity imposed in their country – like the whole of Europe – by the European Commission, voted “Leave” in order to put an end to that capitalist policy.
We, labour activists of all political tendencies, having formed the European Liaison Committee Against Privatisation, Deregulation and Insecure Work in Strasbourg on 11 May 2019,
- once again express our solidarity with the British workers;
- declare that the mandate of 23 June 2016 must be respected; and
- reaffirm our commitment to fighting back together throughout Europe, in order to put an end to the European Union of privatisation, deregulation and insecure work, and for a Europe of the workers and democracy.
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Other Voices on the Meaning of the 12 December Elections
It Was Never Going to Be Easy
By Ronan Burtenshaw, Tribune
(13 December 2019)
— Excerpts —
Labour lost this election not because it was too much of a working-class party, but because it was too little of one in too many places.
At a moment when class is re-emerging as a central feature in Western societies and we can talk about capitalism again, the task for Corbynism was clearly to rebuild Labour as a working-class party, one which was not captive to the liberal sections of the business elite, was seen as an insurgent force against Westminster and which, fundamentally, the working-class majority of this country, the people who rely on their wages to live, believed could improve their lot.
It failed in this. All of us who were part of it failed in this. But Tribune did make an attempt, after the European election, to hold back one of the most damaging concessions — the turning of Labour into a party which stood against the democratic mandate on Brexit.
The criticism we made in the wake of the European election — that we were leaning into progressivism, “a project to build majorities by uniting those with progressive social views” — was not because we were critical of those views. It was because they are not the basis for class politics. That is an effort to bring together a majority on the basis of material conditions that unite them, not divide the society into smaller and smaller segments and try to cater to each.
No False Consolations
By Richard Seymour, Salvage
(13 December 2019)
The bottom line is that at least 3 million people who voted Labour in 2017, simply didn’t vote in 2019. That was the big shift. Not to the Liberal Democrats, not to the Greens, not even to the Brexit party, many of whose votes would otherwise have gone Tory. We lost millions to abstention.
What should we learn? For most of the Labour left, the main line of analysis is that we screwed up on Brexit. By opting for a second referendum, we were too easily portrayed as betraying a democratic mandate. Several weeks into the campaign, it was noticeable that people like Grace Blakeley were sending out warning messages about the collapse of Labour’s support in the north. I dare say the Brexit party’s campaigning helped the Tories here. Not by taking a lot of Labour votes per se, but largely by amplifying Tory messaging: namely, that Labour had betrayed Brexit.
At a certain point, with regard to Brexit, constructive ambiguity ceased being constructive. There was a need to outline a definite agenda for Brexit. Labour went into the European elections barely campaigning, and running on the idea of reuniting our divided country. Which was not the mood. We then went into the general election with a second referendum position, decided on quite abruptly after three years of saying no second referendum. And we only clarified the position – that Corbyn would be neutral – mid-campaign. Several MPs refused to say, when asked, which side they would back, knowing either answer would be a trap.
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Why We Lost, How We Win
By Paul O’Connell, LeFT Campaign Working Group *
(12 December 2019)
In truth, the decisive reason Labour lost the election is that over the last three years it shifted from being a party committed to respecting the result of the Brexit referendum, to being a party of Remain in all but name. There were, of course, a number of other important reasons, ranging from the undisguised bias of the mainstream media, the pessimism ingrained by more than thirty years of neoliberalism, and a concerted campaign of character assassination against Corbyn, carried out over the last four years, often with the support of many Labour MPs and disgruntled Blairites in the media.
But Labour’s changed stance on Brexit proved decisive as this was the key issue for many voters in the election, formed the core of the Tory election message (dutifully parroted by the media) and is reflected in the Leave voting constituencies which Labour lost to the Tories. Indeed, partway through the election campaign it’s clear the Labour leadership recognised that this issue was hurting the campaign and pivoted to Leave voting constituencies in the North and Midlands, while keeping arch-Remainers like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer out of the media spotlight. This, unfortunately, proved too little, too late.
The shift in Labour’s position was brought about by a concerted campaign led by the worst remnants of the Blair years (Mandelson, Campbell, Blair, Watson and co.), with the support of most in the media and the wider political class. Once Labour was successfully manoeuvred into backing a second referendum, the electoral logic of this position was to try to capture the disgruntled middle classes, who form the social base of the second vote/Remain block, and to hope that working class communities that had voted Leave in the referendum could be won over with promises of a brighter material future under a Labour government. In order to pursue this strategy, Labour had to try to make the election about everything but Brexit, but this was a naïve strategy, that never stood a chance.
The election, then, was lost because Labour chose to privilege the politics of the middle class, over that of large sections of the working class on the defining issue of Brexit.
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(*) LeFT stands for Leave-Fight-Transform
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BACKGROUND: The Left Exit (Lexit) Stance Against the EU
(dossier published prior to the Brexit Referendum of June 2016)
Workers Tribune #4 – Editorial
Vote Leave to Break with the EU and to Defeat the Cameron Government!
In a few days the response to the question whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union will be known.
The outcome is not unimportant, quite the opposite! So every effort must continue to be made to finish corralling the votes for a victory of the Leave position. For a victory of the Leave position would considerably loosen up the straitjacket the working class feels itself in, it would shake up to its roots the whole current anti-working class framework, both in Britain and in all of Europe, it would open up a new era in which the working class could start reclaiming its rights and advance a programme in its interests.
But whatever this outcome, the political crisis of the ruling class will continue to deepen, the problems the working class is confronted with will not have gone away, notably because of the shameful position of the leadership of the Labour Party and of the Trade Unions Congresses in favor of Remain, which amounts to a last-ditch effort to rescue Cameron and his government, and thus the fight will go on.
Up to the very end of the campaign, workers, employed and unemployed, young and less young, will have been treated to a mostly inept discourse about the possible consequences of their vote in the referendum on Thursday June 23rd: the powers that be have enrolled journalists and economists to agitate the spectre of an economic and social catastrophe, a true Armageddon, should British people vote to leave; Barack Obama and the other European heads of state have threatened them; the leadership of Labour and the TUCs have sided with them in the name of allegedly protecting workers rights and guaranties; the ETUC and other European Unions have stepped in, bringing pressure to bear in favour of Britain staying in; and the defence of British identity has been invoked up to kazoo. But the real day-to-day deteriorating situation of British workers and their families, whether born in Britain or not, as the consequence of plans that have long been implemented, and most lately aggravated by the Cameron government, fully in line with the EU’s injunctions, that has been ignored.
Workers however have not been duped.
Contrary to the claims of the leadership of the labour movement, Corbyn et al, they feel deep down that the European Union is not there to protect and guarantee their rights when they see for instance how in France and elsewhere the EU demands “structural reforms” be implemented that dismantle labour codes, generalise precarious work, increase poverty.
They feel deep down that the European Union is not there to promote growth and employment when they see for instance how Ireland, Portugal, Greece have reeled under austerity plans that have thrown into unemployment a quarter of the people and more than 50% of the youth.
They feel deep down that the European Union is not for peace when they see for instance how on its watch Ukraine has been carved up and Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria torn by wars that have displaced millions of refugees and thrown them on the road to exile.
They feel deep down that this European Union is not their Europe, but a Europe at the service of the big bosses, the capitalist class. And they know workers throughout Europe feel likewise, just as this Polish worker who declared at a London Lexit rally on June 13th: “You will have the opportunity to inflict a lethal blow to the EU. I urge you to do it.”
They feel deep down that the vote to leave the EU is a class vote, a vote of their class as the best way to put a stop to the EU’s destructive policies and to get rid of the Cameron government that implement them, that is introducing more and more anti-labour measures dictated within the framework of the European Union, that has multiplied the zero hours contracts, that is sapping the NHS, that is cutting back on local budgets and that has stitched up a shameful agreement with the EU aiming at depriving migrant workers of basic social rights, a first step to deprive the whole working class of these rights. And they are fully justified in saying that the struggle against their own government requires them to do everything they can to defeat the machine for destroying workers’ rights that is the European Union.
The choice Thursday will be difficult when they see that those who pretend to be the leadership of the working class have deserted their cause, claiming the EU means jobs and rights, and that they are left with raving racists and xenophobes to take the lead of the Leave campaign. Fortunately some unions such as the bakers union (BFAWTU, RMT, ASLEF) have called for a Leave vote, and in doing so they have also saved the honour of the labour movement.
Workers will know what to do and they will start preparing for the next phase.
We call on them to vote Leave and regroup within their unions, within the Labour Party, on this axis. This bulletin is aimed at helping in this process. This is why we have helped build an internationalist rally in Paris on May 28th in support of workers calling for Britain to leave the European Union. This is why we are actively involved in building the Open World Conference Against War, Exploitation and Precarious Labour in Mumbai on November 18-19-20.
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“All British Workers’ Conquests Are Superior to the Alleged ‘Social European Law’ — and They Existed Before the European Union”
Important Members of Parliament (MPs) of the Labour Party and Leaders of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) Reply to the False Arguments of the Pro-European Union Lobby
“The letter sent out widely by top union leaders on 6 June looks like an act of desperation. Some of the statements are surprising. Most workers’ rights mentioned therein originate in whole in UK law, such as paternity leave. Other rights or laws of the United Kingdom are already much more extensive than the minimum granted by the European law, as is the case of maternity leave. It is also true that many important workers’ rights — such wage equality — existed long before we joined the European Union. . . . If the EU is so favourable to workers, how is it that the entire Tory government, including Cameron, Osborne and a whole series of banks on a world scale, are campaigning madly for Britain to remain in the EU?”
* Kate Hoey, Member of Parliament, Vauxhall
* Roger Godsiff, MP, Birmingham Hall Green
* John Mills, President, Labour Leave
* Brendan Chilton, Secretary General, Labour Leave
* Enrico Tortolano, Unionists Against the European Union
* Paul Embery, Secretary, FBU (Bakers Union) for the London Region
* Steve Hedley, Deputy General Secretary, Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT)
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“The Opportunity Is There to Deal a Huge Blow to the European Union; Seize It!” — Jacek Szymanski, Polish Immigrant Worker
LONDON, Monday, June 13 — A rally organized by Lexit (Left Exit), held under the banner of “London Says #Lexit; The Left Case Against the EU,” opened before a crowd of 300 activists in Camden Center, in the heart of London. All came together to support the “Leave” campaign in the June 23 referendum.
Activists from the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT); locomotive drivers (ASLEF); firefighters (FBU) in London; Labour Leave campaign activists; Alex Gordon, former president of the RMT and Secretary of the Lexit campaign, were in the room. But this was also internationalist meeting, as two of the featured speakers were a Polish immigrant worker and a French activist in the railways trade union movement.
Mick Lynch, deputy general secretary of the RMT, opened the meeting:
“Our union has always opposed the EU. We are ashamed of the position of the leaders of the official left. We must not forget that it was the Conservative Prime Minister Heath that made us join the EU. And it was Thatcher who worked on the implementation of the Single European Treaty.”
Caroline Tacchella brought to London the greetings of 85 French railroad unionists involved in the fight against the El Khomri Law, which is aimed at dismantling the French Labor Code, at the behest of the European Union. “This law is neither amendable nor negotiable,” she explained. “If the French government does not announce the withdrawal, then the issue of waging a continuous strike until the withdrawal of the Law is posed. This is what is being debated in the French labor movement. We support fully the vote to Leave. We are for the free union of workers and people throughout Europe!”
The writer and filmmaker Tariq Ali replied to the lies and conscious misinformation: “It is strange to see how the pro-European Union media are suddenly silent on what is happening in France or on events that took place in Germany at the U.S. bases against the strikes by the drones.”
Jacek Szymanski, a Polish immigrant worker, received a loud ovation when he told the gathering: “The Polish economy is based on low wages, a very high unemployment rate, and millions of precarious work contracts. It’s been 12 years since Poland joined the EU, and the assessment is that 3 million Poles have left their country, thrown out of their homeland by despair. . . . The opportunity is there to deal a huge blow to the European Union; I beg you to seize it!”
Alex Gordon, Secretary of the Lexit campaign and main organizer of the rally, concluded with the following remarks:
“There are two main reasons why we must vote Leave: First, it is an internationalist vote, because the EU is an international institution of Capital; it is imperialist institution that relies on NATO and practices a colonial policy in its bilateral agreements.
“The second reason is that vote Leave is the best way to get rid of this Conservative government. The Cameron government is in crisis; the Leave vote is the best way to bring a final blow to him and to his anti-worker policies.”
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The vote to “Leave” is also a vote against the framework of the European Union, which ratifies the division of our country
Patrick O’Leary, a trade union member of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) and socialist and militant Irish Republican, explains why he has taken a position to vote “Leave”.
“NIPSA exists only within six counties of Northern Ireland. Members of NIPSA therefore will vote on June 23 because they are part of the UK,” O’Leary explains.
“But, and this is very important, NIPSA is affiliated to the trade union confederation of the Republic of Ireland (Southern Ireland) and not the British TUC, which is a very important point of support for those of us who are Republican socialist militants fighting for the reunification of our country.
“Of course, NIPSA took a stand to Leave the EU because it is the only solution for the defense of the rights and demands of its members against the club of wealthy patrons which is the European Union. And this in a situation where Northern Ireland is struck hard by the reduction of public spending privatization and generalized austerity — with the proliferation of precarious employment contracts and also because it is the best solution to get rid of Cameron and his government.
But taking a position to leave the EU, is to stand for sovereignty against the framework of the European Union, which ratifies the division of our country.
And it is from this perspective that I think one has to consider the political scope of the position taken by NIPSA. The NIPSA’s stance is very important for the socialist Republicans who, like me, are continuing the struggle for the reunification of Ireland. . . .
A Leave vote would be a point of support for all trade unionists in the UK, but because is affiliated to the Irish Confederation is also a point of support for all trade unionists and workers of the Republic of Ireland in their struggle against the consequences of the plans imposed by the EU.
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“The struggle of the French workers demonstrates that the only way to protect workers’ rights in the UK is to leave the European Union” — Arthur Scargill, president of the International Energy and Mineworkers Organisation (IEMO)
Press Release, June 2, 2016
ARTHUR SCARGILL President of the International Energy and Mineworkers Organisation (IEMO) said today that the current unrest in France is due to workers’ rights being taken away following pressure from the European Union. The determination to take away workers’ rights – none of which were given to them by the EU but won before the EU even existed – demonstrates that there is no protection for workers’ rights in countries which are members of the European Union.
Arthur Scargill expressed support and solidarity with all French workers and said, “Their struggle demonstrates that the only way to protect workers’ rights in the UK is for Britain to leave the EU. I call on all people to vote to come out of the European Union in the Referendum on 23 June.”
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“The European Union Is in Favour of Capital and Against the Interests of Workers”
Joint appeal issued by the railway workers’ union (RMT), locomotive drivers (ASLEF), and bakers (BFAWU) to vote “Leave” to exit the European Union
“We support the vote to leave the EU in the next referendum because we are convinced that the EU is in favour of capital and against the interests of workers.
To even suggest that the EU has allowed workers to gain rights is a fiction. The near totality of laws which have protected workers in Britain were adopted in the country. They were won thanks to the campaigns and struggles waged by trade unions and the labour movement in this country.”
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Who We Are, What We Stand For
We believe that the working class needs to rely on its own efforts, both at home and around the world, to defend its interests against a capitalist system that is determined to extract maximum profit regardless of the human and environmental cost. We believe that the capitalist system, based on private ownership of the means of production, cannot be reformed and has to be abolished by means of a proletarian revolution that will introduce socialism.
We stand on the founding programme of the Fourth International, the Transitional Programme, which says in particular: “It is necessary to help the masses, in the process of their daily struggles, to find the bridge between their current demands and the programme of the socialist revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands which stem from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class, and invariably lead to the same conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”
The working class’s struggle against the capitalist system – on its own account as well as on behalf of all of the oppressed – needs to be united and based on class independence from capital and its national and international institutions.
This means defending the organisations which the workers have built, and helping the workers themselves to build new forms of organisation to carry out their struggle in ways which they decide on freely and which they control.
Often, this also means opposing those in the labour movement who ignore the mandate of their membership and co-operate with capitalism’s plans, at the workplace, institutional or State level. Labour Internationalist aims to be part of the fight against that process of integrating the working- class organisations into capitalism’s plans. Labour Internationalist therefore focuses on helping to advance the struggle by the working class in its own interests – locally, nationally and internationally.
Consistent with this view, Labour Internationalist defines itself as a forum of class struggle that is open to all individuals, groups and currents in the labour movement that are committed to political independence of the working class and to internationalism.
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