Bring it on

Having jumped the gun last week and been recalled to the starting line, Angela Eagle finally left the starting blocks today in her bid today to oust Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader. If the intention of those behind the unrest in the Parliamentary Labour Party really is to replace Jeremy with someone more “electable”, they could hardly have found anyone less suitable. Their real motive is, of course, money. The plotters fear that Corbyn won’t deliver the needs of Big Business, on whom the careerists in the Labour Party depend and whose interests they represent. If Corbyn cannot be kept off the ballot paper (an issue that may be resolved by the NEC tomorrow) and the ballot cannot be rigged, their Plan B will be to form an SDP Mark 2 comprising Labour MPs, managed by the existing Labour office staff and funded by Big Business. This new party will, however, require a more “electable” leader than the hapless Angela.  Whatever the outcome, her leading role is likely to be very temporary.

The outcome of the EU referendum came as a surprise to many commentators and has been blamed by the plotters on Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to join Project Fear, the Tory led attempt to frighten electors into voting to stay in the EU. The conspicuous absence of a similar strategy to block Theresa May from becoming Tory Leader and, by default, Prime Minister, on similar grounds is significant. The difference between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn is that the former will act in the best interests of Big Business and the latter cannot be relied on to do so.

What the referendum vote to leave the EU actually reflected was the growing gulf between the middle classes and the working class. This gulf has been growing apace under ‘austerity’, the policy pursued by the Tories and, until Corbyn was elected leader, by Labour. Under austerity social spending benefitting the working class and the taxes paid by Big Business are both cut. That this is the explanation for the significant working class vote for exit has escaped much of the liberal intelligentsia. Their spokespersons – the likes of Will Self and the hacks at the Guardian – have not blamed Corbyn  – instead they  have turned on the working class itself, attributing their support for Exit on endemic racism.

What the liberal intelligentsia overlook is that it is easy to be liberal about the free movement of labour when you gain from the arrangement. For the middle classes it provides lots of well paid jobs for UK graduates and professionals across the EU. Together with a rather woolly feel-good attitude about European togetherness, the EU also provides them with cheap building labour, cheap, unchavvy nannies and cheap fruit picked in the UK by sweated labour. If, on the other hand, you are not a member of the middle class and are denied access to further education, or can acquire it only at the cost of incurring crippling debt, the glittering job opportunities in Europe are irrelevant. The attractions of cheap, unskilled labour are also diminished when it’s you who have to compete for the zero hours jobs on offer. If you are in a trade union, the EU’s failure to recognise and respect collective bargaining and its opposition to trade union solidarity is also a major concern. To be told by those who are unaffected by these issues that you are racist is insulting. There is nothing inherently anti-racist or honourable in supporting the free movement of labour when you happen, personally, to gain from it at the expense of your fellow citizens; and there is nothing inherently racist or dishonourable in opposing the free movement of labour when it damages the collective interests of your class. The liberal intelligentsia need to wake up to these facts and, like the Communist Party, show the working class some respect.

The liberal intelligentsia could also usefully follow the Communist Party in rallying to the defence of Corbyn. This does not mean that the CP is going to indulge in mass entryism which, according to the Guardian today, Labour HQ claim to fear. This is simply scare tactics on their part. Had Labour HQ ever read the Communist Manifesto, they would know that communists “disdain to conceal their aims and views”. What was true in 1848 is true today: communists don’t do entryism. We will, however, openly and defiantly campaign, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement, including those represented by Croydon TUC, with ordinary Labour Party members and in the pages of our newspaper, the Morning Star, to see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected. Bring it on.

 

MOTHER SUPERIOR JUMPED THE GUN*

It was nauseating to see the serried ranks of well fed, self-satisfied Labour MPs failing to rise to defend their own Leader when Cameron used Prime Minister’s Question Time this week to engage in what amounted to bullying Jeremy Corbyn. In attacking him in the most personal and unpleasant manner, Cameron, himself on the way out, quoted Oliver Cromwell’s address to Parliament in 1653: “In the name of God, Go!” As Robert Wilkinson pointed out in his letter published in the Morning Star today (Labour Coup), neither Cameron nor the silent Labour MPs sitting behind Corbyn appeared to be aware that Cromwell’s instruction wasn’t addressed to a leader facing problems with his own side, it was addressed to The Rump – the mass of corrupt MPs in 1653 who represented no one but themselves. Check it out here. Labour MPs, who are now, with only a handful of honourable exceptions the modern day equivalent of the Rump, should be ashamed of their cowardice and ignorance. If they survive long enough to stand again as Labour Party candidates or, more likely, as candidates of a new party (the Social Democrats Mark 2?), their treachery will not be quickly forgiven or forgotten by the electorate. If they should prevail , the Labour Party will experience the same fate as their fellow Blairites in the Scottish Parliament : total oblivion.

The Labour Party can, nevertheless, still be saved provided Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t crack under the immense strain imposed on him by his ‘colleagues’, and provided the unions don’t weaken in their support for him. With the support of Labour Party members and supporters, and the moral and campaigning support that the Morning Star and the Communist Party can provide, he can win again. In this he should be assisted by the publication of the Chilcot Report next week. Although it’s bound to be something of an establishment whitewash, it will be difficult for Chilcot completely to cover up Blair’s mendacity and evidence of criminality and conceal the spinelessness of his cabinet and ministers, from whom the most likely leadership contenders, including Angela Eagle, are drawn. Could this be why, when she jumped the gun on Thursday, Angela Eagle had to be recalled? I wonder who whispered in her ear “Angela, Darling, I think you may have overlooked something”.

* The Beatles, from Happiness is a Warm Gun, The White Album

Jeremy Corbyn and the Trade Union Bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election has been warmly welcomed by the Communist Party although, given the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party, no one in our Party expects his task to be an easy one. The immediate resignation of six members of the Shadow Cabinet and the universally hostile reception he received in the capitalist press and the BBC (with little to differentiate them these days) illustrates the difficulties he will face. Yet on his first day in Parliament as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will lead his party’s opposition to the Trade Union Bill. If the dissidents in the Parliamentary Labour Party cannot rally behind him on this issue, they will expose themselves for the Tories they are. Mass mandatory re-selection of MPs will be the only solution.

The Bill is pernicious. It will allow agency workers to be drafted in to strike break whether or not they are competent to do the job. Amateur train drivers? Longer notice of strike action must be given to employers of impending action (fourteen rather than seven days) and, more significantly, unions will have to publish, fourteen days in advance, a written plan of any intended protest and specific details about it, including social media use. Demonstrations will be severely circumscribed and simple majorities will no longer be sufficient to authorise strike action. In effect, and unlike other elections including those for parliament, an abstention will count as a vote against. On that basis, Scotland voted for independence and the Tories lost the last general election.

Yet there are trade union law reforms that are needed. Electronic voting by union members in the workplace would greatly enhance workplace democracy; firms that engage in blacklisting should be prosecuted; and police spying on trade unionists and left wing activists should end immediately. That the last activity is still going on was revealed by Dave Smith, a victimised trade unionist and author of Blacklisted (New Internationist, 2015), to Croydon TUC on Thursday.

Dave’s revelations did not come as a surprise to the significant number of Communist Party members at the Croydon TUC meeting. Anyone who knows our Party’s history knows that systematic efforts were made in the past to penetrate and spy on the Communist Party.  There is even evidence that the sanctity of the voting booth was systematically broken in order to identify and report the names of those even daring to vote for Communist Party candidates. Given the reduced scale of the Party’s electoral activity in recent  years, necessitated by the need to re-build the Party more or less from scratch in the 1990s, and the obstacles faced by smaller parties in parliamentary elections (the dominance and bias of our mass media including the BBC, the high cost  of lost deposits, the undemocratic nature of first-past-the-post  etc), it is unlikely that Special Branch expend much effort these days on this particular nefarious activity but other forms of spying on trade unionists, activists and communists continue and will continue until they are exposed and our reluctant authorities are forced to abandon them and legislate accordingly.

Now those would be sensible reforms! No doubt Jeremy Corbyn will propose them on Monday. Good luck, Jeremy!

Free Education and the Future of the Labour Party

The recent finding from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that more than half of UK graduates are in non-graduate jobs is more a reflection of our slow and partial recovery from the recession triggered by the 2007 financial crash than it is a reflection of the quality of university education. It does, however, leave most graduates – i.e. those without parents in the top 1% wealth bracket who pay for their education and subsequent internships – with a burden of debt.

The Labour government of 1945 can take much credit for promoting the concept of free education open to all. The view that education is simply the route by which the wealthy secure the best paid and most congenial jobs for their offspring came, perhaps for the first time, under pressure. This advance received its first set back when the Wilson government, having introduced the Open University as a route into degree level education for workers who missed their school-based opportunity, required it in 1970 to charge modest fees. As Tony Simpson has argued, this was a critical mistake that opened the door to tuition fees across the board. First Thatcher froze grants and introduced loans, then in 1998 Labour abolished mandatory student grants and introduced £1,000 tuition fees. Despite Labour’s pledge in 2001 not to introduce top-up fees, they allowed them to rise to £3,000. Under the subsequent Tory government under Cameron, unrestrained by their Lib Dem partners (a treachery that cost them dear), fees have exceeded £9,000 per annum and even an OU degree now costs over £15,000.

There can be no better way of cementing the position of the top 1% on our country than to heap the cost of education on students. Not only does it secure the best jobs for the kids of the wealthy, but it encourages our universities to focus on a neo-liberal worldview and to think of themselves as multi-national businesses, not national centres of learning and research with responsibilities to educate citizens. It is no coincidence that the decline and disappearance of Marxist studies in universities has coincided with this development. To the extent that Marxist studies continue in the UK, it is through such voluntary initiatives as the Communist University in South London https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/, not in our colleges and universities.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour Party leader has been the commitment he has given to scrapping tuition fees and restoring student maintenance grants. In his first major policy announcement of the campaign he said that they could be funded either by a 7% rise in national insurance for those earning over £50,000 a year and a 2.5% higher corporation tax, or by slowing the pace at which the deficit is reduced. His proposals received a negative response from the other candidates. Yet it is a modest price to pay for such an essential reform.

Should Jeremy Corbyn fail to be elected, or, if elected, should the Parliamentary Labour Party seek to block his proposals for scrapping fees and restoring maintenance grants, such is the importance of this issue that it is difficult to see how Labour can avoid the fate that befell it in Scotland. How this issue pans out may well be the key to their future.

New Labour Hubris

The Blairites were supposed to be masters of controlling democracy, having eliminated it first from their party conference, then from party policy making and finally with changes to the procedures for selection and de-selection of MPs. Local government democracy was supressed by the simple ploy of turning Labour councillors into full-time, relatively well paid employees, positions more suited to careerists rather than political activists. The influence of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) was so successfully marginalised within the Labour Party that most ordinary Labour Party members were unaware of its existence when its founder, Vladimir Derer, died last year. So what went wrong? The answer is surely hubris. They came to believe their own propaganda about a silent, middle class majority. Triangulate on them and all would be well. What they forgot was that the silent majority are just that – silent. They don’t participate in politics. Meanwhile, there is a large, progressive minority who do. People like us: people who go on marches against the war and against austerity; people who join Palestine Solidarity, CND, Cuba Solidarity etc. Even a growing number who are joining the Communist Party – although in our case we are not recommending our members to vote in the Labour Leadership election. We have a long standing and proud tradition against entryism. As Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto,

Communists fight for the attainment of immediate aims, for the enforcement of the current interests of the working class, but in the movement of the present they also take care of the future of that movement…They labour everywhere for the union and agreement of democratic parties…Communist s disdain to conceal their views and aims…They openly declare that their ends can be obtained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.

 

Sound principles in 1848 and sound principles today.

25 Years of live music in the garden

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On Saturday 11 July we will be celebrating 25 years of live music in the garden at Ruskin House. The Communist Party in Croydon is supporting this event with enthusiasm and is encouraging local members and comrades from further afield to attend. We are planning to have a stall selling Party literature and the Morning Star will be on sale.

Ruskin House is not only the Party’s  national administrative centre, it is also one of the few labour and trade union centres left in the country. Its survival when many other labour clubs have folded is something to celebrate. This survival cannot, however, be taken for granted. Profits from the day will be donated to the Ruskin House Restoration Fund, much needed to fix leaks in the roof caused by the theft of lead and to repair window frames and brickwork.

Ruskin House is owned collectively by the local labour movement. This means that Labour Party branches as well as trades union branches share in the ownership. Historically, the former have not been particularly supportive – unlike the trade unions they provide no funding and in the past have supported moves to sell the building and pocket the proceeds  – moves that were only defeated by a combined effort by local trade unions. The Labour Party has, however, a chance, perhaps its last chance, to turn away from such discreditable behaviour by rejecting the three pseudo-Tories standing for Leader and electing Jeremy Corbyn, the Left candidate. In addition to the CP stall and the Morning Star sales, both supportive of Mr Corbyn, Jeremy’s supporters will be present in large numbers to state the case themselves. This need not be just a fun day for all the family, it could also represent a great political opportunity. Be there!

CROYDON TUC CONVENES A CROYDON ASSEMBLY on 15 NOVEMBER 2014

The government has been trumpeting that economic recovery is under way: according to figures published by the Office of National Statistics, unemployment in the UK fell by 121,000 in the three months to May; the rate of unemployment fell to 6.5% from 6.6% in the three months to 31 March, l the lowest level in nearly six years; the number claiming jobseekers allowance has fallen to 1.04 million; and more than 78% of men and 68% of women are now in work.

The Tories are desperate to persuade enough of the electorate, or at least enough of the electorate who can be bothered to vote, that the economic crisis triggered by the bank collapse in 2008 is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

After four years of austerity, government borrowing remains more or less where it was following the banking collapse. But reducing government borrowing was never what the coalition’s continuing austerity programme is about. It is an attack on the living standards of working people and it is succeeding. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, after inflation, the real, hourly pay of workers under the age of 30 has collapsed by 11% since 2008; and their household incomes are down 15%. Meanwhile, rents are up and the property market for buy-to-rent is soaring.
Every capitalist state requires a large pool of unemployed workers in order to subdue the rest and keep profits rolling in. This could be achieved with an even lower unemployment rate than we are currently experiencing – provided further measures are put in place to cow workers. This is why Cameron is threatening to further restrict trade unions and workplace rights and why there will be further tightening of unemployment and other benefits. These measures ensure that workers can be pressed into employment at rates of pay that scarcely provide for their subsistence and ensure that their kids will never be in a position to enjoy even this modest level of subsistence or have families of their own.
The solutions are obvious. We need the government to promote trade unions, not attack them. We need solid financial support for our young people before they enter employment, not student loans. We need a living wage, not the derisory minimum wage. We need security of tenure for tenants and a huge council house building programme. Only with a bedrock of social housing will the private sector curtail its exploitative behaviour. We need generous social security benefits and an end to attacks on claimants. We need a media that doesn’t attack the unemployed and foreigners, not one owned by billionaires who fund the Tories and yet don’t themselves pay tax.

The Labour Party, or at least a significant element within it, once supported all these measures. These days they believe in “equality of opportunity” and seek to appeal to upwardly mobile “hard working families”. Don’t they understand that for every family on the way up, there is one on the way down, and that working class families have kids and these kids won’t be in a position to start families if nothing is done?

If enough pressure is brought to bear on the Labour Party, it could be brought round again to progressive policies. This is the idea behind Croydon TUC’s recent decision to launch a Croydon Assembly, bringing together workers, special interest groups and local activists in the area. A meeting of the Assembly has been called for Saturday, 15 November at Ruskin House, South Croydon. The Communist Party gives this initiative its full support. Whether Labour can be shifted from the secure middle ground that offers it the prospect of winning, or at least sharing, power at the general election in 2015 as the ‘least worst option’ remains to be seen. One thing is clear. This is the last opportunity to attempt this. If Labour takes power and continues with further austerity and more neo-liberal policies, or indeed, if it loses the election having stood on a platform of such policies, we will have to conclude that, as they say, the party’s over.

The Public Sector Strike on Thursday and Democracy

Croydon TUC received encouraging reports on Thursday that the national one day strike by public sector workers that day had been well supported in Croydon. We await more detailed reports from the unions involved (Unite, GMB, PCS, FBU, Unison and NUT), but it was clear from reporting by the BBC that the strike had been too big for them to ignore. Failing to report anything that might disturb the current cosy Westminster consensus has, of course, become the BBC’s default position of late as witnessed by their news blackout of the recent Peoples Assembly demo.

Labour, in the form of its leader Ed Miliband, failed to support the strike. No doubt he didn’t wish to upset that part of the electorate which reads the Daily Mail. Cameron’s response on the day of the strike itself was to proclaim that the Tory Party manifesto for the forthcoming general election will include further restrictions on trade union rights. In particular, it will call for a simple workplace majority in a postal ballot to be no longer sufficient to call a strike – a majority of everyone eligible to vote will be required, whether or not they actually vote.

No one, of course, expects a Tory Party manifesto to written by anyone outside a small cabal around The Great Leader. Unfortunately, following Blair’s ‘reforms’ to the Labour Party in the 1990s, we have come to expect the same from the Labour Party. Cameron’s announcement does, however, throw into sharp relief the limitations of parliamentary democracy – limitations which are growing ever more apparent.

At the last election only 65% of the electorate voted. This enabled the Tories to harvest 307 seats in parliament – enough to cobble together a coalition government for five years – with the consent of only 23.5% of the electorate. Yet this is the Party that is proposing that workplace ballots must secure 50% of their electorate before a strike can be called – or rather before the many other restrictions around calling a strike can be addressed.

While the hypocrisy behind Cameron’s proposal is breath-taking, it does draw attention to more fundamental issues about the nature of democracy under capitalism. The ultimate aim for communists is a state in which citizens rule themselves, rather than be ruled by a wealthy minority. Parliamentary democracy is a mere shadow of what we mean by ‘democracy’. In a parliament of 600+ seats, less than 100 are likely to be decisive in any one election in determining the outcome. In the 500 other seats, our votes will make no difference whatsoever to the overall outcome. Proportional representation can improve this situation slightly, but it cannot fix the system. The same can be said about better selection of candidates. More women, more workers and fewer lawyers and wealthy individuals with outside jobs would help, but it won’t fix the problem. To achieve the aim we have set ourselves, democracy must be local, participatory and spread across every institution of society, including the workplace and media such as the BBC and the venal, offshore-owned, capitalist press.

The Crisis of Capitalism – banks and housing

The collapse of the banks in 2008 and the cuts then implemented by the coalition government to bail them out is only one aspect of the crisis facing capitalism. Another is housing.

It should not be overlooked that the banking crisis was itself triggered by reckless mortgage lending in the USA housing market. These dodgy debts were then packaged up and sold to banks and other financial institutions across the world. Whatever the shortcomings of New Labour – and they were many – the banking crisis was not due, as the Tories would have us believe – to excessive spending on the NHS and social services.

Returns on those who invest in property to rent using mortgages from these same banks have been, so far, insulated from the financial crisis. These returns are estimated to have averaged 16.3% over the past eighteen years – a period that spans the banking crisis. They have been generated by inflated rents: in May these averaged £765 per month in England and Wales and are still rising. Such rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable by those who must work for a living. In response, the government paid out £35 billion in 2013-14 in housing benefit – money that goes directly to landlords and supports the banks that provide the mortgages. The increase in rents that supports this edifice has only been made possible by an almost total lack of regulation and control of private landlords and the absence of security of tenure for tenants.

Once upon a time, ordinary working families could turn to Council housing. This was undermined by ‘right-to-buy introduced by Thatcher and continued under Labour. By 2013 up to a third of all council houses purchased under ‘right-to-buy’ had been sold on to rich landlords. A shocking example is provided by the son of Ian Gow, the Tory minister who presided over implementing Thatcher’s policy. He is now a housing tycoon, owning more than forty ex-council houses in one London estate alone! What remains of the council house stock is now subject to lengthening waiting lists, hardening criteria, diminished security of tenure and now the bedroom tax.

With people on average salaries and wages unable to afford mortgages even at current interest rates depressed by so called quantitative easing, i.e. printing money to support the banks, the housing prospects for the working population in Croydon and elsewhere across the country look bleak. Even those of us currently enjoying good housing can have little confidence that the next generation, i.e. our kids, will be so fortunate. Jobs are becoming less secure, unions are shackled, and well paid jobs are only accessed by those who can bear the huge burden of debt from student loans – bankers and those whose parents are wealthy enough to pay them off. Only the wealthy elite can flourish in such a world, albeit behind gated communities.

The solution? Mere tinkering advocated by the Green Party and, modestly and belatedly, by Labour is no longer enough. Regulation of landlords and abolition of the bedroom tax would be welcome, but cannot address the mess we are in. Tory and Tory-Light (i.e. Labour) solutions such as assistance for first time buyers will simply add to the inflation of rents and make buying by the rest of us even less accessible. The only recovery under capitalism will involve, as Thomas Picketty argues in his well publicised book Capital in the Twenty First Century, greater inequality and eventually the impoverishment of the entire working class – i.e. everyone except the super-rich. But while Picketty appears to believe that capitalism can be reformed, the only viable path out of the mess we are in will involve the appropriation of the wealth of those who exploit us. In a word – communism.

Martin Graham

CUiSL looks at the life and work of Ralph Miliband

On 5 November Dr Peter Latham gave a paper to the Communist University in South London on the life and work of Ralph Miliband. Peter drew on his experience as a former student of Ralph Miliband at the LSE in the 1960s and on his research for his book The State and Local Government (Manifesto Press – £14.95 – available at www.communist-party.org.uk). Go to http://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/ to read the paper.