Prospects for a Fighting British Labour Party

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By ANN MONTAGUE

On December 12th, 10.3 million people voted for the left Labour Party platform and for radical social change. But the numbers were significantly less than in 2017, which brought Jeremy Corbyn in as leader of the Labour Party. However, this smaller number was still much greater than the number of votes that the center/right Labour Party received in 2005, 2010, or 2015. The huge numbers this month were a clear rejection of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “New Labour” which had forced unions out of the party and promoted the neoliberalism of austerity and war. Earlier in the year Tony Blair led 11 Members of Parliament (MPs) in leaving the Labour Party and formed “The Independent Group” which later changed its name to “Change UK.” A core part of the Labour Party platform this year called for renationalizing rail, mail, water and electricity, something that is anathema to Tony Blair and the centrists. All 11 of them lost their seats in the December election.

Despite significant losses in the north of England and the Midlands there is no indication it was a rejection of the Labour Party’s radical Manifesto. In fact the largest private sector union, UNITE had polled 75,000 of its members. They found large numbers of voters were still undecided two weeks before the election. The union’s suggestion to the Labour Party volunteers: “emphasize the radical policy manifesto to win over workers in the north and Midlands.” Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

The mass movement that swept Corbyn into power in 2017 has enormous potential but the test going forward for Labour is whether they will stand and fight. There are two parts of the Labour Party. The Parliamentary Labour Party consisting of the MPs in the House of Commons and the Constituency Labour Party, which are party members throughout the country. The Parliamentary Labour Party is basically irrelevant. The Conservative Party, Tories, has a large majority and controls the Parliament. One major change brought in by the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party has been to empower the constituencies. Now the critical test before them to organize and mobilize this base. There will be plenty of opportunities to join forces with mass campaigns that already exist like the anti-austerity and climate change movements. But it is also time to take the working class platform used in the election out of the realm of Parliament and into the workplaces and the streets. 

The ruling class fight has already been launched by the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson whose campaign specifically attacked the union rights of rail and transport workers. This is a frontal attack on one of the most powerful unions in Britain, the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport). This union quit the Labour Party after Tony Blair supported British participation in the invasion of Iraq. They still call for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes. The RMT returned to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, partially because of the pledge to renationalize rail transport. They have been conducting intermittent and ongoing strikes against eight rail franchises since April 2016 in coordination with the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Fireman (ASLEF) and the transport section of UNITE. Johnson is also attacking all unions by calling for restrictions on picketing, elimination of check off and enabling the government to use scab labor during strikes.

The Trump US/Britain Free Trade Agreement

For two years the Conservative Party has been negotiating in secret a free trade bill to prepare for when Britain leaves the European Union. It first became publicly known when Johnson was meeting Trump in the United States. Trump openly claimed that opening up the National Health Service (NHS) to U.S. markets would be an important part of a “magnificent trade deal”. The people throughout Britain recoiled in horror at the idea that their precious NHS would be offered up to US business interests. They were also concerned that full access of U.S pharmaceutical companies to the U.K. health service market would create soaring prices. Boris Johnson fervently denied the NHS would be involved in such a deal. The rallying cry of “Hands Off Our NHS” could be heard around the country.

Meanwhile in the U.S. preparations continued for a post Brexit deal. Vice President Mike Pence spoke before the Chamber of Commerce, which represents three million corporations and businesses. He repeated to thunderous applause President Trump’s mantra, “The minute that Britain leaves the EU, we will begin trade talks.” Within days of that speech to the business community, the U.S Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of service industries published a document with details that they want to see in a trade agreement.

The document shows that they want the UK to be open to U.S. markets and they want vast swaths of Britain’s economy to be less restricted by red tape, government and union rights. Specifically, they want tighter restrictions on publicly owned utility companies. In Scotland the government is currently in the process of creating state run utility companies. This also runs counter to the Labour Party’s current proposals to renationalize mail, rail, water and gas. Trump and Co. want U.S. tech companies to have more rights to move Britain’s data around the world. They do not want the BBC to be exempt from opening up to U.S. media, television and advertising industries. They want to stop all regulations against foreign owned pharmacies. U.S. business wants to be able to sue if they feel they are being discriminated against. This is all similar to the summary of negotiation objectives from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Currently the focus in the Labour Party is the election of the next leader. Unlike the Democratic Party, the Labour Party is a member-based party that is democratic. The vote will be one member, one vote. Although the centrists will try to regain power, it is doubtful they will be any more successful than they were in the recent election.

More important than all the expected internal Labour Party maneuverings is starting to organize the coming fight. Those people who are integrated into the Parliamentary system generally have a difficult time thinking beyond their legislative environment. It will be up to the ranks of the Constituency Labour Party’s 700,000 members. They are union members or workers who need a union or are struggling to find affordable housing or a decent minimum wage. The Labour Party cannot be just someone speaking at a rally or a picket line. They need to organize and fight because the class struggle is about to become what politics is really all about.

Socialist Action News

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