General election: Don’t vote – fight for socialism!

Parliamentary road to socialism

In the run-up to the general election on 8 June, socialists will have to decide either to campaign in support of the Corbyn-led Labour Party, or to oppose it because it remains a racist, imperialist and war-mongering party. The Revolutionary Communist Group is clear: we are facing a global crisis of the capitalist system that is threatening humanity with war and destruction. It means that there is only one choice: we have to build a working class movement that can challenge the ruthless, predatory British ruling class. We have to fight for socialism. Corbyn and his supporters are actively preventing this development. They spread the illusion that a Labour government can make radical and progressive changes while in practice they divert or block resistance where it emerges.

Labour in power will have to satisfy the ruling class that it will protect Britain’s imperialist interests. To do this, it will continue the wholesale attack on working class living standards regardless of what Corbyn and his supporters might say they want. Our conclusion is that socialists should not participate in this parliamentary charade, or create fantasies that Labour in government can meet the needs of the working class. It has never done so in the past and will not do so now. We have to oppose the Labour Party and stand for the interests of the working class and oppressed throughout the world.

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Copeland and Stoke by-elections: another nail in Labour’s coffin

The results of the Copeland and Stoke by-elections which took place on 23 February mark a further step in the steady break-up of the Labour Party as a significant electoral force, with opposing wings of the Party trading excuses for the poor results. Although Labour retained Stoke by 7,853 votes to UKIP’s 5,233, it was a result that should never have been in doubt: UKIP leader Paul Nuttall was exposed time and again as a liar. To lose Copeland on a 6.7% swing to the Tories after seven years of austerity and with NHS services under threat from the local Sustainability and Transformation Plan is even worse: the result shows how little the working class believes Labour is committed to representing its interests.

Asked if he felt in any way responsible for the results, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said ‘no’. This has a superficial level of plausibility: both Labour candidates made sure that they kept their political distance from Corbyn. Gareth Snell did so because he is on the right wing of the Party, adorning his campaign literature with the St George’s Cross to emphasise his patriotism and Copeland’s Gillian Troughton did so because she was selected to fight the constituency against Corbyn’s preferred candidate. Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear power was a further political embarrassment for Troughton: the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant with 10,000 workers is a major employer in the constituency. However, Corbyn is responsible for the fact that the Labour Party still fails to defend the working class, despite Corbyn’s two leadership election victories and a great deal of rhetoric about a new political agenda. Corbyn knows that challenging his reactionary opponents within the Labour Party would inevitably split the Party and result in its disintegration. Determined above all to preserve Labour’s unity, Corbyn’s leadership has ensured that the Party remains what it always has been: a reactionary, anti-working class force, loyal to British imperialism.

Labour’s right wing is in no doubt about the implications of the Copeland defeat: rent-a-quote John Woodcock, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness where Trident replacement submarines will be built, says that Labour is on course for a ‘historic and catastrophic defeat’ at the 2020 general election. Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who has played a central role in supporting recent moves against Corbyn, states ‘Unless something drastic happens, Labour are on course for their worst defeat since the 1930s with terrible consequences for this country ... this is not sustainable.’ The problem for such critics is that no change in Labour’s leadership will restore the electoral credibility that has been seeping away over the last 20 years: in Copeland, Labour’s majority had fallen from just under 12,000 in 1997 to just over 2,500 in 2015 before Corbyn became leader. After years of Labour support for austerity, councillors are now bound by Party rules to continue implementing savage cuts locally. No one believes Corbyn’s apparently radical anti-austerity posture; all they see is a completely ineffectual figure. A replacement leader would fare no better even if one could be found: he or she would still be caught between anti-austerity rhetoric and pro-austerity practice.

Corbyn’s supporters inside and outside the Labour Party maintain their delusions as to what he represents, blaming the by-election results on the right wing. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says criticisms of Corbyn aired by Tony Blair and Lord Mandelson just before the by-elections contributed to the results by undermining Party unity – as if there is anybody who takes any notice of these wretched traitors any more. More abject were those outside the Labour Party who have tied themselves to Corbyn and the Labour Party. The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) welcomed the defeat of UKIP at Stoke, choosing to ignore the xenophobia in Labour’s campaign or its racist record, and went on to argue that:

‘Corbyn has to break from the right. But crucially there has to be more of the type of struggle that gives a sense that society can change. Big demonstrations against Trump and racism and in defence of the NHS are a start. Corbyn can turn Labour’s fortunes around if he’s prepared to break from the right and put Labour at the heart of that struggle.’

The idea that we should want to put this anti-working class party at the heart of any struggle is completely reactionary: it would doom any progressive movement to disaster. The SWP’s craven support for Corbyn has led it to argue that socialists should not stand against the Labour Party in May’s council elections since this would drive Corbyn supporters towards the right; instead we should have ‘patience’. The Socialist Party (SP) echoed McDonnell by claiming that the ‘relentless anti-Corbyn campaign by the Labour right was a big factor in the by-election results themselves. Tony Blair's personal intervention, attacking Corbyn and setting out a case to reverse the EU referendum result, was a deliberate act of sabotage.’ The SP claims that the anti-Corbyn campaign is not just about his electability:

‘The reality is that this is about the far more fundamental question of what the Labour Party is for – in whose class interests it should stand. The New Labour project was designed to break any influence which working class people were able to have over the party - to make it a “safe pair of hands” for the capitalist class. Corbyn's leadership, and the huge support that it generated, threatens to fatally undermine this project.’

This is wishful thinking. The working class has never had any influence over the Labour Party – from the outset it has always been a ‘safe pair of hands’ for the ruling class: 100 years ago there was no doubting Labour’s absolute hostility to the Russian Revolution and the threat it posed to the British Empire. The SP presents a picture of Labour as ‘two parties in one’ where, according to representative Hannah Sell, thousands of new joiners ‘would respond to a clear call to transform the Labour Party from Blair's “New Labour” into a real socialist anti-austerity workers’ party.’ This nonsense is used to justify an unconditional alliance through Corbyn with the Labour Party: whatever criticisms the SP may have of Corbyn’s concessions to the right, it spreads the illusion that Labour is a fundamentally progressive party.

Both the SWP and SP championed withdrawal from the European Union, lining up with the little Englander Tories and UKIP. They both tried to give their stance a progressive content by arguing that Brexit would weaken the ruling class. The RCG has forcefully argued against this position: it amounts to taking sides in what is essentially a dispute between sections of the ruling class over what would be for Britain necessarily totally reactionary outcomes – part of a European imperialist bloc or becoming an offshore centre for usury capital under the umbrella of US imperialism (see FRFI 251).  Neither Brexit nor Corbyn’s election as Labour leader has changed the balance of class forces in favour of the working class at all: there is still no struggle against austerity or mass opposition to war and racism. There is no short cut: we have to build an independent, socialist, anti-imperialist working class movement and bury the Labour Party whoever leads it.

Opposing austerity, challenging racism and fighting for socialism means destroying the Labour Party

The central question we face is how can we build a movement to turn back the tide of reaction epitomised by the victory of a populist and nationalist Brexit campaign, the election of Trump as US President, and the possibility that the racist populist Marine le Pen wins the French presidential election in May? Such a movement has to challenge imperialism, and make both the possibility and the necessity of socialism central to its political message. It must break with, and oppose, the forces of opportunism whose purpose is to isolate and destroy any independent movement of the working class. In Britain that means a relentless struggle against the Labour Party and its apologists on the left. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader led some to argue that the Party could now become a progressive force and lead the fight against austerity. The evidence shows the opposite: Corbyn is absolutely determined to maintain the unity of the Labour Party and make any concession necessary to that end. Robert Clough reports.

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Sacked for fighting poverty pay

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 138 - August/September 1997

In FRFI 137, NIGEL COOK described the barbaric conditions of employment and slave wages forced upon him and other workers at M&S Packaging in Blackburn, who package CDs for PolyGram, through the implementation of the Jobseeker's Allowance. In this issue, he reports on developments in the campaign against poverty pay.

Within hours of seeing the last issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the management of M&S Packaging suspended me from work and two days later sacked me.

Production manager Richard Ware contacted me at home and said 'You are suspended and we want you to come in on Wednesday because Mr Munn [the administrator] wants to have a word with you.' When I asked why, he simply replied 'Mr Pye [a manager of the multinational PolyGram] does not want you on his soil'.

I contacted the administrator's office immediately and asked if I could have my Union officer present at the meeting, only to be told by a Mrs Coardingly that: 'it was not fair on Mr Munn to spring it on him at such short notice, that you want to have your legal representative present', as he 'did not have enough time to arrange his legal team'.

I reminded Mrs Coardingly that I had been woken, having just worked a 12-hour night shift, and without any notice told I was suspended from work and that Mr Munn wanted to speak to me. She would not tell me why he wanted this meeting.

The next day I reported my suspension to my union. Jim Bowie, District Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, faxed Mr Munn a letter asking why I had been suspended and, if there had been any allegations or complaints of bad conduct against me, could he tell us what they were. Jim Bowie also asked if he could be present at the meeting.

The next morning, the day of the meeting, Mr Munn phoned Jim Bowie. He did not offer any reasons why I had been suspended, told him that the meeting was just an 'amicable chat' and after some persuasion grudgingly told Jim he could come.

Present at the 'amicable chat' were Mr Munn, Mr McCarthy (M&S director), Jim Bowie and me. Mr Munn started by arrogantly saying that there was nothing to compel him to allow my union officer to be present and that I should be grateful for him being so good-natured. Mr Munn then outlined his role as administrator: describing PolyGram as the 'sole customer', he emphasised that he did not want his lob made more difficult' by someone 'stirring up trouble'.

Mr McCarthy, clutching his copy of FRFI, then started quoting from highlighted parts of my article. He said that my article was not 'wholly accurate' because whilst it correctly mentioned the closed circuit cameras in the works and canteen areas 'it did not mention the cameras outside' and the fact that 'employees need permission to go to the toilet is for health and safety reasons'!

It was at this point that Mr Munn politely interrupted McCarthy, probably to spare us all this embarrassingly pathetic sight, and said that it was his intention that during the course of this meeting he would sack me. I asked him for the reason for my sacking, to which he proudly boasted that 'current legislation is such that I do not have to give any reason for dismissal'. He refused to give any reasons when asked again by my union representative.

The following day the union faxed a letter to both Munn and McCarthy asking for the reason for my sacking. To date neither of them has replied. This did not stop Munn informing the dole I had been 'dismissed for misconduct', in an effort to get my benefit stopped. However, when I told them that Munn had refused to give me a reason for my dismissal and I had been sacked for union activity, they let my claim go through.

My union submitted an application to the Industrial Tribunal on the grounds that I had clearly been sacked for my union activities. The day before my hearing, we received notification from the tribunal that the hearing could not progress because of a legal technicality. Apparently, under Section 11(3) of the Insolvency Act 1986, during the period for which an Administration Order is in force (as is the present situation with M&S) ‘... (d) No other proceedings and no execution or other legal process may be commenced or continued, and no distress may be levied, against the Company or its property except with the consent of the Administrator or the leave of the Court and subject (where the Court gives leave) to such terms as aforesaid.'

The union's legal advisers were unaware of this fact, and it was the solicitors acting for McCarthy and Munn who brought it to the attention of the chairman of the Industrial Tribunals. The chairman then 'stayed' my hearing for four weeks.

The union's national legal department, having assessed my case, have now appointed a local firm of solicitors, at the cost of £2,000, to seek 'leave of the Court'. My case is to be heard on 25 July.

The solicitors have said that the case could well end up in the House of Lords as there is, to their knowledge, no legal precedent. As it stands, this legal loophole effectively allows employers to sack workers without reasons, regardless of length of service, and the same sacked workers have no immediate redress to an Industrial Tribunal.

How PolyGram conducts business - ssh!

In the preparation of my case the union have now obtained a copy of a letter from a PolyGram manager, dated the same day as my suspension, that clearly instructs M&S to keep me off ‘PolyGram's premises'. The letter, referring to the FRFI article, attempts to distance PolyGram from the appalling conditions at M&S when it reminds McCarthy that ‘terms and conditions you offer to employees are your responsibility'. It goes on to state their concerns about people's 'impression of how we conduct business'.

The campaign

I contacted the GMB union convenor at PolyGram, Barry Eatough, and told him of my sacking; he agreed to meet with me and other M&S workers at the union offices to discuss ways in which PolyGram workers could help improve conditions at M&S. He never showed up and has refused to answer our telephone messages and letters. It became obvious that any effective campaigning against the increasing tide of sweatshop firms paying crap wages would have to be built by those directly affected. It cannot depend on those workers who enjoy relatively good working conditions and wages.

So I, along with members of my union, local supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Group and other progressives have formed a campaign calling for my reinstatement. Other demands of the campaign are Fight Poverty Pay!, No to Slave Labour! and End Casualisation! The campaign has two priorities to win support: writing to union branches and other organisations and individuals and campaigning on the streets and in the communities.

The response from organisations so far has been good, with many union branches, trades councils and other groups affiliating to the campaign, sending donations and inviting speakers to their meetings. And our street work has been very well received by the thousands of people forced to work in lousy jobs. At our weekly street stall in Blackburn town centre we regularly meet people telling us of their experiences. One woman, a care assistant, was being paid £2.50 per hour and another guy was being paid £1.50 per hour. We have been told of a cleaning firm in Preston paying just £1.00 per hour. There are over 50 job agencies servicing Blackburn and the surrounding area. We also leaflet outside the JobCentre, highlighting the role of the Employment Service in forcing JSA claimants into appalling jobs.

We hold regular campaign meetings in the central library, where we encourage everyone who supports the aims of the campaign to get involved. Unfortunately, the local Socialist Workers Party and New Communist Party have not attended any of our events. We held a very successful picket outside PolyGram, to publicise their use of sweatshop firm M&S Packaging. More than 30 people attended, including representatives of Bury Unemployed Workers Centre, Preston Radical, trades councils and various union branches. The picket received good coverage in the local press.

The campaign has agreed that we should use any means necessary to publicise the scandalous work conditions that are now becoming the norm in this country. So I raised the issue of my sacking and the growth of racketeering job agencies with the local MP, Jack Straw. I met with him at a recent surgery and explained my situation; when I mentioned PolyGram, he expressed familiarity with the name. Perhaps he was already aware of the recent appointment of PolyGram Chief Executive Stuart Till as a co-chair of the government's Film Working Group. Film workers beware — zero hour contracts and poverty pay, coming your way soon!

Straw did say that he would write letters to M&S and PolyGram about my sacking, and that he believed a minimum wage would go some way towards curing the problem of the job agency racket. He also promised to contact Ian McCartney (Labour Minister for the Labour Market) and inform me of Labour's plans to combat casualisation. We wait to see if he keeps his word.

Victory against victimisation of union organiser by Deliveroo

Following a publicity campaign by the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), Deliveroo have dropped their investigation against IWGB union organiser and FRFI supporter Ben, and have invited him back to work. On Monday 11 December, the IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch made public the fact that Ben, a key organiser of the ongoing struggle for improvements in pay and conditions, had been told that he was under investigation for the crime of ‘riding a cargo bike’ and would not be able to work whilst this was carried out. Alongside this, the IWGB revealed a leaked image of Ben’s employment profile from the Deliveroo internal system, making clear that his employment was ‘terminated’ and that before speaking to him, any members of staff should contact Sebastian Gilbert, the Head of Driver Operations in Britain and Ireland. On the same day the Financial Times Alphaville blog included a comment piece by Ben, exposing this to a wider audience and making clear that  Deliveroo workers would not be intimidated by such clear political victimisation. This campaign has forced Deliveroo to back down. Ben has now received an email from Deliveroo's Director of Operations, David Scott stating:

‘Dear Ben,

We have been carrying out an investigation into the cargo bike incident described below. During this investigation, you were not offered any work as your account was placed on hold while the investigation was ongoing.

We've looked into the matter regarding the cargo bike, considered your response below, and the investigation has drawn to a close. No further action will be taken on this occasion.

In order to ensure the safety of our riders, we insist that any rider using a cargo bike has been properly assessed, and I'd like to remind you that you should not use a cargo bike as you have not received that training.

Please contact me if you wish to arrange further work with Deliveroo.

Kind Regards,

David Scott’

This is what organisation, collective bargaining, and political campaigning can achieve. No doubt Deliveroo will think twice before targeting union organisers again.

No to victimisation!

Victory to the Deliveroo workers!

 

For more on the Deliveroo struggle, and the wider context, see:

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/economy/4545-tgf071216

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/labourtrade-unions/4525-dd0711216

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/labourtrade-unions/4446-dd191016