Lindsey German on XR, strikes, Brexit vacillation and Turkey’s latest assault on the Kurds
There’s a very strong contrast between politics on the ground in Britain and what is happening in parliament. Which is really just as well. The Extinction Rebellion protests have once again received widespread support, highlighting one of the most pressing issues facing humanity. The movement is international, with protests across the world. Here in London, I have been involved with the XR peace grouping, focussing on the connections – which are many – between war and climate change. Other groups have foregrounded healthcare, feminism, racism, air travel, and the banks. Probably hundreds of thousands have taken part in some protest for these two weeks and over 1000 have already been arrested.
While there has been some coverage of the issues on mainstream media, it is fairly low level, focussing on inconvenience to motorists or repeating the line that protestors have the temerity to shop/eat/drink while at the same time professing to save the planet.
But while the climate protestors have attracted the ire of Tory Lords roused from their beds by drumming, and Spectator journalists horrified at them buying sandwiches in Pret a Manger, we can be sure that this will be nothing compared to the wrath generated by future industrial action. Yet this may be what we are going to see more of in the coming months.
Communications workers will find out this week if they have voted in sufficient numbers for strike action on a national scale. The CWU campaign around the ballot for strike action has been exemplary, involving large numbers of rank and file workers in action. According to union activists, there is a very strong feeling that management has gone too far and that enough is enough in terms of attacks on conditions, increases in workload and general bullying. In this, they represent millions of British workers, who are facing the same generalised attacks, and who feel that they have had a rough deal since the financial crisis over 10 years ago and from which their wages have still not recovered. At the same time, the wealth of those at the top of society keeps growing and there is continued contempt for the concerns of working people.
So there are a number of other plans for future strike action, including by university workers, rail workers and various groups in the gig economy. There is no guarantee of course that the ballots will be won, or more likely that they will win but not reach the 50% threshold that makes them legal under this government’s particularly draconian laws. If, as the CWU expects, it announces a high turnout and big majority for yes this week, the dispute will then go to negotiations. In other cases, a good vote may be used to get a deal. These will represent at least partial victories on the original offers, but almost by definition fall short of what could have been won.
In addition, the experience of strike action is an important source of education and strengthening organisation for working people. Where it is even partly successful, for example with the university lecturers’ pensions dispute last year, it forces the employers onto the defensive and increases the confidence of trade unionists to take on other issues and fight future battles. In Britain, we have historically very low levels of strike action – and I’m not suggesting that is going to change overnight – but these proposed actions are signs of combativity which is hugely important.
They will also, if successful, mark a move from the political arena to the industrial.
The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership contest four years ago was the expression of a wider and deeper discontent with politics as usual and a determination to reassert the strength of the left. The continued dominance of the left in Labour – despite the best efforts of Corbyn’s enemies – testifies to the fact that such a mood is still there.
Indeed, the failure so far of Labour to move forward, the constant antics of much of the PLP, and the impasse in British politics over the whole Brexit issue, may mean that left politics is finding its expression in movements outside of the mainstream political structures. One could argue that this is certainly the case with the climate movement, both with XR and the climate strike last month. But it is also increasingly looking like the case in a small but important number of industrial actions.
This certainly needs to happen if the power of working people is going to reassert itself. In this process, movements will arise in different places, as will campaigns and strikes. And of course when they happen people begin to make the links between the different issues. Which is why the climate movement and industrial action are not separate entities but should be seen as different fronts of the same fight. It may be that the climate protests are largely middle class and sometimes individualistic, but it is working class people and the poor who will be hardest hit by the impact of climate change.
And trade unionists and socialists have been some of the main campaigners for environmental change historically. Think of health and safety laws, campaigns against industrial diseases, campaigns for shorter working hours, public transport, whistleblowing about dangerous workplaces. The climate movement would benefit from this kind of input, and from both sides making the links on the need for system change.
Stop moving the goalposts
Another week and another range of options about deal/no deal. Not for much longer it looks. Next Saturday, Boris Johnson puts his Brexit deal to parliament, if he has one. As far as we can see, it's pretty much what he voted down earlier this year and it will result in a border down the Irish Sea i.e. between Britain and Ireland, not within Ireland. Will the DUP and Tory ERG wear it? It certainly looks like Jacob Rees-Mogg is urging compromise, so we shall see. Unless significant numbers of Labour MPs vote with Johnson – which there is really no case for – the deal probably will not go through.
Meanwhile, there’s a pretty appalling amount of backsliding going on inside Labour’s ranks about shifting to a fully Remain party. In particular, shadow cabinet members are increasingly arguing for a referendum before a general election. This is a capitulation to the People’s Vote argument, whose extreme centre leadership fears an election because of the possibility of a Corbyn victory. Every concession given by Labour in their direction has been followed by further demands as goalposts move ever further.
Rebecca Long-Bailey claimed she had been on a journey about this. Was this the journey from Brighton where only three weeks ago Labour’s conference decisively rejected a referendum before an election and rejected the ultra-Remain position?
Jeremy Corbyn is right to resist this pressure and should be served better by those like Long-Bailey and John McDonnell who are rushing to make concessions to the centre. There will be further pressure this weekend with another large People’s Vote march – the liberal middle classes in protest, and claiming they will get a million marchers, which I doubt. But even if they do, that will be less people than the number killed through Tony Blair’s and Alastair Campbell’s war in Iraq. Which is why, pace John McDonnell, the answer to whether Blair is a war criminal, is yes – and so is Campbell.
Labour MPs should be ashamed to delay a general election and allow this rabid Tory government yet another day in office. We were told in September, wait till October, now we’re told wait till next year and another referendum. That delay would only weaken the left. Whatever our problems, we should take the fight to the Tories, mobilise those from climate protesters to CWU members to WASPI women, and challenge the endless Brexit agenda. It’s time to end parliamentary manoeuvres and fight on the only issues where Labour can win – those of class politics.
Turkey’s monstrous war
There are a number of points to be made about Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria in the latest monstrous sequel of its persecution of the Kurds. I will just make two here. The first is that Turkey is a Nato member, and a very important one given its geographical location. Nato is therefore sanctioning this attack. We should be putting as much pressure as possible on our government to end its support including military and logistical, as well as arms sales, for Turkey. The Kurds should expect no support from these people, or from Donald Trump. But they will get support from the trade unions, from the left and from the international solidarity movement.
The second point is that much of the ground fighting in the attack on the Kurds is being carried out by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This is the outfit which repeatedly urged western imperialist intervention in the Syrian war. The Stop the War Coalition was repeatedly attacked by some on the left who backed this demand and accused those who opposed it of being pro-Assad – a complete lie. Now these forces are trying to destroy the Kurdish autonomy in north eastern Syria, the left liberal interventionists are remarkably quiet.
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’.
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