The EU Referendum and TTIP

There is a progressive case for voting to leave the EU at the referendum in June and the Communist Party backs it. It relates to recognising what the EU is really about. The treaties creating the Union are bereft of aims to enhance democracy and promote the interests of working people. They are concerned about granting businesses four Fundamental Freedom, the freedom to:

provide services;

establish new businesses;

move capital; and

move labour

within the Union. Nothing of comparable importance attaches to workers’ rights, nor is there much emphasis on improving democracy across and within the EU. In consequence the European Parliament is toothless and is likely to remain so and there is no pressure on national governments to democratise what remains of their powers or to devolve them to local government. Thus the scandal of media ownership, corrupt representative democracy and the absence of workplace democracy in the UK has continued unchallenged and unabated.

In a thoughtful piece by John Hendy QC The terrible tale of the EU and Trade Union Rights   he describes the limited scope of social measures in EU treaties and what little they do for trade unionists in particular and workers in general. The Community Social Charter for the Rights of Workers adopted in 1989 proclaimed, amongst other things, the right to freedom of association, to negotiate and conclude collective agreements, and a right to resort to collective action including the right to strike. Mrs Thatcher duly called it a “Marxist Charter” (as if!) and, after much bitter opposition, it was afforded no more status than that of a “solemn proclamation”. A Social Charter Action Programme was subsequently adopted which led to modest Directives on workplace safety, work equipment, personal protective equipment , VDUs, manual handling, proof of the employment contract, posted workers, pregnant workers, young workers, and working time. The Maastricht Treaty in 1992, gave greater prominence to what was called the Social Chapter to which the UK Tory government promptly secured an opt-out. Amongst other things the Social Chapter provided for European level collective agreements between the “social partners” to be enforced as EU law. In fact very few such agreements have ever been reached because of resistance by employers. By the time Labour was elected and the UK opted back in again only four Directives had been adopted under the Social Chapter: on European Works Councils, parental leave, part-time work and burden of proof. The Treaties underpinning the EU were tweaked by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2000. As John Hendy concludes, they gave the illusion of a greater social dimension but little of substance.

This is thin gruel for those of us seeking more power and a better deal for ordinary working people. But we are nevertheless confronted with two problems in voting Out at the forthcoming referendum. The first is the right wing element dominating the Out campaign. A more unsavoury bunch than Nigel Farrage, Ian Duncan-Smith and Boris Johnson would be hard to find, and their appeal to latent racism is difficult to stomach. The second is that a vote to leave the EU would probably lead to the break up of Great Britain if, as seems likely, the Scots and possibly the Welsh voted to stay. It would surely have been much better for the referendum to have required unanimity across England, Scotland and Wales and for the referendum in Northern Ireland to have been about whether to remain an appendage of Great Britain (whatever the result of the other referendums) or to join the Republic.

All, however, is not lost for the progressive Out campaign. There is no need yet to throw our lot in with the Corbyn Labour leadership and accept that the potential loss of jobs means that we must stay in the EU and campaign inside it for reform. As appealing as that that may appear to some, it won’t halt the EU’s continuing secret negotiations with the USA over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP). The impact of this could be worse that those predicted if we leave. TTIP will cost at least one million UK jobs, undermine our most treasured public services and lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ in food, environmental and labour standards. For the first time, huge US corporations will be able to sue the UK government over democratically enacted laws. A vote to leave the EU should enable us to escape TTIP, although a Tory government might still try to sign the UK (or just England) up to it. With a barrage of scare stories expected such as the headline in the Observer today (“Brexit would spark decade of ‘economic limbo’ claims top Tory”), perhaps the best response would be a slogan along the lines No Vote for In if it means a vote for TTIP. Let the In Campaign chew on that.

Report on Branch Meeting on 18 February 2016

Prompted by the finding in the ONS English Housing Survey 2013-2014, that house ownership in England had declined to 1989 levels, the Croydon Communist Party at its branch meeting yesterday (18 February) discussed the housing crisis. It concluded that home ownership would continue to decline, as would the provision of secure, rented accommodation. The Tory government’s Starter Home Initiative under which the private sector would be ‘encouraged’ to build 200,000 supposedly affordable homes (costing up to £450,000 in London up to £250,000 elsewhere) would only make matters worse. Not only were young workers now expected to live with their parents or rent for the rest of their lives (generation rent), they were to be left to the tender mercies of unregulated private landlords whose primary concern was property speculation.

In discussing solutions, there was support for regulating private landlords to ensure they offered secure tenures and fixed long term rents. The tax breaks they received should be curtailed. If these measures brought property prices tumbling down, including those of owner occupiers, so be it – provided home occupancy rights were protected rather than the interests of mortgage providers. This would require  curtailing the rights of mortgage providers to evict. Such a housing strategy would succeed provided it was accompanied by an extensive programme of building high quality social housing for rent, preferably democratically accountable council housing. Some of this might be acquired ready built from the private sector, but a large building programme would also be called for. This would generate jobs and boost incomes. It was suggested that high rise should have a significant role in such a programme, but it had to be amenity rich and well maintained. As the rush by the affluent to buy expensive high rise apartments in Central Croydon demonstrated, the problem with high rise in the past had not been the height, it had been the lack of amenities and maintenance and the misuse of such property for social segregation and dumping.

Demise of The Independent

News that The Independent is to close in March, lingering on only as a phantom, digital only, newspaper, should shake any lingering view that we enjoy in the UK a free and independent press. But how significant is this development?

The Independent has long since dropped from its masthead the claim to be “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The former claim was always problematical – a free press in this country demands some political bias as a counterweight to that exerted in favour of the Tories by most of our media, including the BBC. The latter claim was clearly unsupportable after the newspaper was acquired in 2010 by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev who also, by then, owned the London Evening Standard. Although following Lebedev’s acquisition  The Independent never sunk to the level of anti-working class vindictiveness employed by the Standard, it failed to respond to the opportunity presented for progressive politics by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader and it has failed to take the lead in opposing the government’s attacks on working class interests such as trade union rights, housing, education and the NHS. With the Guardian mired in Blairite nostalgia, it has been left to the tiny (but perfectly formed)  Morning Star to lead on this. It could therefore be argued that the loss of The Independent doesn’t really matter. There is, however, another way of looking at its pending disappearance.

The Independent has around a 5% share of the readership of printed newspapers. Assuming this is acquired pro-rata by the remaining newspapers, it will leave 73%  controlled by four multi-millionaires: Rupert Murdoch (Sun and Times), Lord Rothermere (Mail and Metro) both with 29% each; Richard Desmond (Express and Daily Star) with 10%; and the Barclay Brothers (Telegraph) with 5%. Of these, only Richard Desmond lives in this country – yet they all exert tremendous influence over the UK government and its social policies and tax regime.

In any other situation where 73% of the market was controlled by four individuals, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), successor to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), would step in and the result would probably be enforced divestment. This would, however, require evidence of exploitation of market power and this is notoriously difficult to prove with newspapers as the benefit of ownership is not in the dividends received. Billionaires, even ones called Rupert, don’t make their billions from owning newspapers, they own newspapers to protect the billions they have made (or, in the case of Lord Rothermere, inherited). Lebedev’s closure of The Independent was not because it has not been yielding him sufficient monetary dividends, it was because it was no longer yielding him enough political dividends.

Regulatory agencies will never intervene to provide the truly free press we need. It can only be provided by government action to require national newspapers to be owned collectively by their readers. If the Morning Star can do it, so can the rest. But such government action will never be forthcoming under a Tory, or even a social democrat government. The remedy, as always, is a socialist government or, best of all, a social revolution led by the communists.

TRUMBO

It’s very rare for any film to show communists in a sympathetic light. The excellent Trumbo, currently on general release, does this. It is an excellent film and is highly recommended.

The film recounts the life of Dalton Trumbo, a celebrated screenwriter and open communist who was forced to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about his membership of the Communist Party. Refusing to give evidence and to name fellow communists, he was jailed for 10 months and blacklisted. After release, he worked for peanuts without having his work credited while remaining loyal to his fellow communists and helping them too to survive. Almost hounded to destruction, he clings on and, in the end, his genius as a film writer is recognised and he is re-habilitated by winning an Oscar.

One scene particularly caught the attention. Aware of the anti-communist hostility mounting around the family, Trumbo’s daughter asks him, “Are you a communist?” to which he replies “Yes”. She continues “Is Mummy a communist?“ to which he replies “No”. Finally she asks “Am I a communist?” to which he responds with a question:

 

“If you see a fellow classmate at school who doesn’t have anything to eat, what do you do? Do you ignore him, or perhaps do you offer him a loan at 6% to buy some food?” She responds “I would share my lunch with him.” Trumbo smiles at her and says “Then you’re a communist”.

 

It’s very rare indeed for any film, especially a Hollywood film, to put the communist case so succinctly. Such a film can expect to attract plenty of criticism in the capitalist press. This film is no exception. According to the film critic in the Guardian, it “fails to challenge Trumbo’s unrepentant communism”. True: it celebrates it. Other critics have tried to undermine the film for technical reasons such as the supposed dominance and integrity of the central character, Dalton Trumbo. The despicable Economist magazine even tries to argue that Trumbo, while working twelve hours a day to survive by producing anonymous scripts for peanuts, was doing rather well out of his blacklisting. For them working people should apparently be grateful for whatever crumbs fall from the table of the rich and powerful.

The quality as well as the politics of this film are nevertheless undeniable. Bryan Cranston has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo and it’s well deserved. Ignore the negative comments and don’t miss this film.