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But Labour remains a party divided, with the Blairites ceaselessly undermining Corbyn at every turn. Even at a time of unprecedented crisis in the Tory government, rather than build a united movement to defeat them, the Blairites’ instincts are to sow hatred and division amongst workers.
Indeed, Labour’s so-called “progressives” have been all over the media in recent weeks pledging their commitment to Britain’s white, or traditional, working class. Craig Murray, the former ambassador turned viral blogger, writes that the Blairites “are now clutching at racism like a drowning man clutching at a straw.”
This is nothing new, however. Many will remember Labour’s anti-immigration mug, released in the run up to the 2015 general election. Or Sadiq Khan’s fawning open letter to the right wing Daily Express appealing for UKIP supporters to return to Labour (for all the wrong reasons) after New Labour’s appalling local election results in 2014. Khan’s words bear repeating:
“We know we made mistakes. We’re determined to put them right.
“Take immigration. In the past, we were too quick to dismiss concerns about immigration, or even worse – accused people of prejudice.
“We all remember Gillian Duffy. We were wrong. We are sorry.
“So what are we offering now? Learning the English language will be a priority.
“We will change the rules on child benefit – so that it’s no longer paid to children outside of this country.”
Those with an even longer memory, will recall the 2009 dispute at Lindsey Oil Refinery, North Lincolnshire, where migrant labour was deliberately brought in (under the EU’s Posted Workers Directive) to undercut union negotiated rates. The response from the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to call for “British jobs for British workers” – a phrase straight out of the BNP’s manifesto!
The Single Market
But as well as attempting to ramp up anti-migrant sentiment, the Blairites have also courted media attention in recent weeks over their unyielding commitment to the EU Single Market.
For some, this appears like a contradiction. How can they support an apparently progressive and internationalist institution such as the Single Market whilst simultaneously attempting to divide the working class along racial or national lines?
And Murray epitomises this view:
“It is worth noting – and is a symptom of the Labour right’s hopeless state – that the immigrant knocking plan is at odds with the Chukka [Umunna] single market plan, which entails freedom of movement. It is also extremely peculiar that the sixty MPs who defied the whip to vote for the single market correlate very closely with the MPs who voted to launch bombing and destruction on Syria. You need a warped mind to reconcile those views.”
For Murray, this is a symptom of the Blairite’s “bewilderment”, their “hopelessness”… their inability to grasp the dynamics of the current political situation.
But the truth is that there is no contradiction between the Blairites’ support for the Single Market, even free movement, and their opportunistic decision to stoke the flames of racism. The Single Market is, at root, an agreement between the different capitalist classes of Europe to create the largest possible market, in order to maximise their ability to exploit the working classes of Europe.
And one of the principal functions of free movement, such as it exists within the EU, is to provide conditions beneficial to the rule of big business – where migrant labour is used to undercut union negotiated rates.
Not only does this help the bosses drive down wages through increased job competition, it also provides the conditions for the spread of racist and nationalist ideas, dividing workers against one another. All it takes is for the Blairites, or any other capitalist politicians, to sprinkle their rhetoric about supporting the “white working class” or “British jobs for British workers”, and the situation can turn ugly.
But, historically, the working class has mounted heroic campaigns to against this sort of division.
The Posted Workers Directive
An interesting case study of this phenomenon was seen in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, during a 2016 dispute between construction workers and a Croatian firm called Duro Dakovic TEP, who were subcontracted to build a biomass power station.
The dispute was caused by Duro Dakovic who avoided paying industry rates to British workers (£16 to £64 per hour) by using a migrant labour force which, because of EU free movement legislation, they were only required to pay at minimum wage in the host country (roughly £7 per hour). This legislation is called the Posted Workers Directive.
An EU report concerning this directive states that
“Member States shall… guarantee workers posted to their territory the terms and conditions of employment… which, in the Member State where the work is carried out, are laid down… by law, regulation or administrative provision.”
Amongst other things, these regulations concern maximum work periods and minimum rest periods; minimum paid annual holidays; and the minimum rates of pay, including overtime rates.
In other words, posted workers only need to be paid at the legal minimum wage of the host country.
Those who think that EU free movement is permitted for the benefit of workers would do well to look at the dispute in Rotherham, where free movement was used to drive down wages and pitch workers against another.
But the response from workers at Duro Dakovic was heroic, demonstrating what real internationalism is all about. The construction workers in Rotherham, attempted to unionise the migrant workers to better both of their conditions.
This is what real internationalism looks like – an alliance of workers against the bosses.
The number of “posted” workers currently employed in Britain is shrouded in mystery, a fact which has prompted criticism from even the right wing trade union leaders, including the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The second quarter of 2008 put the figure at nearly 200,000, but studies have shown that this number is likely to be far higher today.
The main professions effected by the Posted Workers Directive are overwhelmingly working-class, including construction and freight handling. Little wonder that British workers are so angry.
Democratic workers control
As evidenced by the actions of the Duro Dakovic workers, any meaningful form of socialism must be internationalist in outlook. That said, socialists are in favour of immigration, but not on the terms laid out by the ruling class. It is essential, therefore, that we separate what the capitalist EU means by “free movement” from what socialists mean by it.
The Single Market is fundamentally about establishing a free market, opposed to regulation. Socialists, by contrast, argue for a planned economy, where the means of production is in the direct democratic control of the working class. This applies to the free movement of goods, services, and capital, but also to the free movement of labour – what the Single Market refers to as the “four fundamental freedoms.”
Since its inception, the workers’ movement has not supported capitalist “free movement”, including of labour, which undermines and drives down workers’ conditions and consequently aggravates racism and nationalism. Rather, the labour movement has fought to maximise workers’ control of conditions at work, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.
This is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace – a very concrete form of “border control” not supported by the capitalists.
It is a correct approach, therefore, to oppose the EU’s version of free movement as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has done, and to argue that employers should have to be covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining before they can recruit labour abroad. This is arguing for an increase in the democratic workers’ control over hiring, and a decrease in the control of big business.
And to be clear, if workers were in control of hiring, or if Britain was to in effect become a closed-shop, then there would be plenty of jobs to go around — for British workers and for migrants. Employment and immigration, in this case, would be democratically planned for the benefit of human need rather than private profit. And there is clearly much that needs to be done to ensure that human need is met.
But where does this leave EU nationals?
For EU nationals currently living in Britain, only a successful socialist Brexit would guarantee them the right to remain without facing the scourge of racist discrimination. To leave the EU but remain in the Single Market would be to continue to perpetuate the conditions which lead to division and sectarianism.
Internationalists who remain committed to the principles of the Single Market, even those who claim to oppose racism and nationalism with every fibre of their being, are doomed to reproduce the conditions in which racism and nationalism grow.
What next for Corbyn and the Labour Party
Corbyn was absolutely correct to sack the three Blairite saboteurs from the Shadow Cabinet, who defied his call to abstain from voting on an amendment for the UK to stay in the single market after Brexit. But these were just 3 of 49 MPs. The problem is much more widespread than the shadow cabinet. It’s solution, therefore, must be more far reaching.
Corbyn must fight for a workers’ Brexit. This means supporting the rights of EU nationals to remain in Britain, whilst opposing the EU’s divisive notion of free movement, whether of goods, services, capital, or labour.
But in order to achieve this, Corbyn must first deal with the irreconcilable conflict in his own party. As Murray writes:
“Rather than being grateful for the very well paid job the Labour Party has landed them, Labour MPs remain convinced it is they who are important and they should have a key role in determining party policy. Years of determined Blairite/Progress activity has given them a firm grip on party machinery. Most of the party’s paid staff are very right wing indeed. Jeremy Corbyn, at the moment. is in a much more powerful position within the party than he was six months ago. But the right will be digging relentlessly to undermine him again, starting now. Corbyn and his supporters need now to show a ruthless streak in purging their party structure of the Blairites, asserting membership control of policy and executive power, and of course introducing compulsory deselection and reselection of MPs.”
The Tories are weak and wobbly, and the Blairites have no mandate for their policies. Corbyn supporters have everything to gain by going on the offensive now.
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