Lindsey German on plumbing new depths and solidarising with striking rail workers
Just imagine what the NATO summit would be like if it weren’t for the election. The original plan was to bolster the Tory government and promote various spending plans and initiatives from the MOD which would justify the extra defence spending that Johnson has earmarked as part of his determination to stick close to Trump. The two men would have had press conferences, photoshoots and endless sound bites posing as the two world leaders of the right. Trump would also have felt free to insult London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
None of this is now supposed to happen. The election is narrowing, Labour is closing the gap and the Tories fear that any intervention from Trump will harm them. It’s hard to imagine Trump refraining from any comment, especially given his hatred of Khan and Muslims in general, and against the background of a London terrorist attack.
The demonstrations against Trump come at a very important time therefore, enabling activists to show their opposition not just to his policies but to those of Johnson who repeatedly uses militarist and nationalist attacks on the left. These policies sometimes have a resonance but their only point is division and scapegoating. The more we can puncture those lines of attack in the next ten days the better Labour can do.
I really don’t remember an election campaign which was so low down and dirty as this one. The attacks on the Labour leader are endless, denouncing him for everything imaginable, twisting perfectly reasonable words to mean something else, and with so little pretence at ‘balance’ or ‘impartiality’ that is supposed to exist during election campaigns (although it is largely a fiction, especially when broadcast media takes its line and publicises the priorities of the right wing papers).
Meanwhile, the prime minister, a patent liar, racist and fraud, is allowed a very easy ride by people who may well despise him in private but who prefer his victory over that of someone who has radical left wing policies which threaten big business, and whose election will raise levels of expectation among working people.
One of the lowest aspects of this so far is the way in which Boris Johnson has used the London bridge terrorist attack for his own political ends. David Merritt, the father of one of the victims, made a moving statement about his son Jack, which included the plea that his death should not be used as an excuse for draconian sentences or detaining people unnecessarily.
What a fantastically good response to an unimaginably horrible event which has taken your son and changed your life forever. It is impossible to imagine how he and his family must feel. But Boris Johnson has simply ignored that plea and has chosen to make as much political capital as possible from the tragedy. How despicable in relation to this family and other victims’ families, and how damaging in terms of trying to find solutions to terrorist attacks.
Demanding life sentences and throwing away the key negates the whole notion that we can explain criminal behaviour, means that there is no attempt to look overall at the failure of the whole justice system and means that no money is put into rehabilitation and other alternatives to prison.
Johnson’s approach may play well in some areas, as a means of shoring up right wing support. But many people can see through it and see it as the latest example of Johnson’s behaviour which underlines his reputation as a thoroughly dishonest chancer. The rich and unaccountable Tories despise working people but believe they can win them with these simplistic slogans. No one should fall for it.
Striking is a basic right
Good luck to the strikers on South West Trains who are under attack for striking for 27 days in December. It seems to me trade unionists can’t win. They have to go through endless hoops to be allowed to strike in the first place and then when they do they are under attack even from supposed liberals. Strikes involve hardship, loss of income, threats of victimisation and require real courage. No one undertakes them lightly and everyone experiences fear or hesitation when doing so. But what alternative do they have when employers refuse to accede to the most reasonable demands? If they didn’t have the weapon of striking they would be even more under attack.
So everyone should support the strikers. We should show solidarity and encourage more groups of workers to take action. And we really have to insist on the right to strike. The right to withdraw one’s labour is a basic human right. If we don’t have that we are nothing but wage slaves. Politics isn’t just about fine words - it’s about working class people organising to change the world for the better. And the right to strike is a central part of that.
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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