Two major demos in the next four weeks is a fantastic opportunity to hardwire our politics to the street, argues Lindsey German
It’s been a week where the sorry state of British capitalism has been on display – and it’s not a pretty sight. The appalling privatised rail system, unable to even provide a timetable much less stick to it, has seen the boss of Thameslink resign. The universal credit system, which is penalising some of the poorest in society, has been pilloried as unfair and unworkable. Rolls Royce has announced 4000 job losses in Derby, while Jaguar Landrover is moving its Discovery production to Slovakia. The Pimlico plumbers case was a victory for workers in the gig economy who can now expect greater rights. There is a bitter row inside the Tories over the extent of NHS funding, just as the 70th anniversary approaches. And a report on social mobility shows there isn’t any… and it would take generations to get going again.
The commemoration of the Grenfell anniversary most poignantly brought home the contrast between private greed and government complicity on the one hand, and the co-operation and selfless behaviour which the residents and all those who supported them showed.
Yet despite public outcry, and the very forced apology which Theresa May had to make for her lack of support and solidarity, there is a sense of paralysis at the heart of government and in wider society which means that the problems of social housing, privatised industry, poor working conditions and growing poverty and inequality are simply not addressed. Instead, the sell-off of council housing continues. Private rail bosses continue to make huge profits. Working conditions are not improving. Jobs are under attack in a number of industries. For millions of people in work, living conditions are still close to the breadline.
None of this exercises most of our politicians very much. Their obsession and that of most of the media is the continuing fiasco of the Brexit discussions. This fiasco is itself a sign of British decline. It is also an object lesson in what happens when the popular vote goes against the wishes of the majority of MPs and – more importantly – against the wishes of the vast majority of the British ruling class. The answer is a combination of wilful refusal to accept, blocking manoeuvres, demands for a second referendum, or votes by the unelected House of Lords to continue in the EU in all but name.
Most shameful in this respect are the Labour MPs who are fronting this operation, and who really should know better. They backed Tory Remainers who – as predicted last week – stood by their party in the end. They staged a very big rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn, clearly aimed at weakening his leadership. They have no respect for democracy and are willing to do anything to stay in the EU. Even many right-wing Labour MPs have been forced to distance themselves. People like Caroline Flint in Doncaster know that there is growing unease in many Leave areas, often sites of deindustrialisation and decline, as Labour voters demand to know why nothing has happened and why politicians at Westminster are betraying them.
The Labour MPs arguing for remain have no answers to this extremely pertinent question, nor do they have any answers to the issues raised above. They support a slightly more humane way of managing capitalism than the Tories, but fear real fundamental change as much as every other member of the establishment.
This is why they fear and detest what Corbyn stands for, and cannot quite countenance why his ideas have so much of a wider resonance.
So the attacks on him continue, most recently with this rebellion but in many different ways. Yet it is these Blairite politics which not only have little resonance with most working class people, but are also in danger of helping the right to grow. It is easy to see how the far right will use issues from jobs being cut to underfunding of the NHS in order to build support by scapegoating others. Any move towards a second referendum or staying in the EU will also help fuel UKIP and worse.
This is not an idle fear, when we look at what is happening across Europe. The right is being fuelled by the worsening conditions under which working people live, and the scapegoating of migrants and Muslims which is daily fare from politicians and media. We saw last weekend the demonstration in support of Tommy Robinson.
Right wing politics need to be confronted directly, as do fascist and far-right organisations. But that is only part of the story. The left also has to provide answers to the crisis of housing, jobs and poverty. It has to be rooted in localities and organising on every level and around every issue to change things for the better for working people. It is this which helps create an alternative to fascism.
The dangers for Labour’s left are there too. Jeremy Corbyn did well in last year’s election because he spoke honestly, addressed the real problems of working class people, and was prepared to go outside the arena of Westminster and Whitehall. Since then, there has been much less of that approach from Labour. Yet the danger of the right shows that politics cannot be conceived in a narrow way – it is something that has to be fought for in the working class movement and in working class communities. There isn’t enough of that going on.
The two major demonstrations in the next month – in support of the NHS on its 70th birthday, and in opposition to the visit of Donald Trump - are vitally important in this context. Politics is not about asking people to vote for you every few years and then leaving it to the ‘professionals’, it is about organising to change things. It’s also the case that when people begin to do this, they develop a sense of their own collective power.
Murdering fascists: tell it like it is
While on the topic of the far right, it seems to me astonishing that more is not made of the growth of fascist killings in this country. It is two years since Jo Cox MP was murdered by a far right sympathiser. There is a trial underway where fascists plotted to kill another woman MP with a machete. The Finsbury Park attack last year was aimed at killing Jeremy Corbyn. Mohammed Saleem was murdered by a Ukrainian fascist five years ago. These killings and plots would, if they were carried out by Muslims, receive much more attention and be much more likely seen as linked. Instead, they are almost treated as separate from politics.
The fascist march last week involved demonstrators attacking the police, obviously in a violent and deliberate manner. If it were students, strikers, or Muslims, there would be questions asked in parliament, editorials in the Daily Telegraph and demands to arrest the culprits. I haven’t heard anything. About time we raised the profile on what the right-wing populism really leads to.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- When working-class women fight back: Made in Dagenham review
- Marxism, the family and women's oppression - video
- Marxism and feminism - Marxism and Women's Liberation extract
- Tiers of a clown – weekly briefing
- Engels: giant of the socialist movement - video
- Engels: a working class hero
- No money for school meals but Johnson found £16.5bn extra for the military