Friday, August 31, 2018

No to another EU vote!

 The campaign to reverse the decision of the 2016 referendum on the European Union (EU) is now zeroing in on Labour Party conference in Liverpool in September.
Historically, the purpose of EU referendums is simply to get the public to endorse what has already been agreed by those who called them in the first place. If that fails the results are immediately questioned to back demands for reruns. This has been the chosen method of the Eurocracy to reverse decisions they didn’t like for many years.
The Europhiles in all the parliamentary parties, who see the ruling class’ interests best served by working hand-in-glove with Franco-German imperialism, began preparing the ground for another vote immediately after they lost the referendum in 2016.
The fifth column within the Labour Party is now working to mobilise the Europhiles within the Corbyn camp to join them in a concerted effort to commit Labour to a second referendum on EU membership. They say this is not a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and they claim that the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign now reflects the overwhelming wish of the electorate.
The Blairite backbenchers, who have made repeated attempts to unseat the Labour leader, began bleating for a second vote immediately after the referendum result was declared. And whilst the Corbyn leadership is committed to honouring the 2016 decision to leave the EU there are many within his own camp ready to sell out to the Europhiles.
Last week Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said that a second referendum was possible, declaring that “all options should be on the table”. John McDonnell, Corbyn’s number two, was disturbingly ambiguous when he told the BBC that: “It is not Labour party policy to have another referendum. We respect the past referendum, But we recognise that, when the government comes forward with its proposals – if it does, I’m worried we might be in a no deal situation – but when the government comes forward with its proposals, parliament will decide the next step. So we’re not taking any options off the table when that debate happens.”
The Europhiles can count on social-democrats of all persuasions who believe that “Another Europe is Possible” and peddle the nonsense spread by left social-democrats, and revisionist circles that still pose as communists in some parts of Europe, who argue that the EU can be reformed to serve the interests of working people. They can also rely on the support of the dinosaurs in the trade union movement who claim that the anti−working class ‘directives’ and ‘rulings’ can be reversed.
For years the Blairites and the majority of the leaders of our unions have elevated the EU as an instrument for social progress and economic advance whilst turning a blind eye the bitter experience of the millions of unemployed workers forced onto the breadline in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy by the austerity regime that Franco-German imperialism has imposed on the rest of Europe. They ignore the poverty that has forced millions of Poles and other workers from eastern Europe to seek work in Britain, France and Germany, and they say little about the anti-union legislation that is the backbone of the EU’s ‘Social Chapter’.
They say that the EU is becoming more representative through the authority of the European Parliament and establishment of regional autonomy. But the EU with its toothless parliament, ruritanian regional governments and farcical referendums that only count when the vote agrees with what has already been decided by the powers that be, hasn’t been reformed. Nor can it ever be under the Treaty of Rome. We voted to leave the EU in 2016. That’s what we must do.

US history: The Great Textile Strike of 1934

By Chris Mahin

In a Northern state, the governor declared martial law after striking workers armed with rocks, flower pots, and broken headstones from a nearby cemetery battled troops armed with machine guns. In a Southern state, the governor declared martial law and then ordered the National Guard to arrest all picketers in the state, holding them in a former First World War prisoner of war camp for trial by a military tribunal.
September marks the anniversary of the Great Textile Strike of 1934, the largest work stoppage in the history of the USA at the time it took place. Although this nationwide walk-out was defeated, it ultimately helped pave the way for some of the most important laws enacted during US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration.
The textile strike of 1934 stretched from New England to the Southeast. It involved more than 400,000 workers. Whilst it included workers in the worsted mills of Massachusetts and the silk mills of the Mid-Atlantic region, the strike’s centre of gravity was located in the cotton mills of the Southeast.
The textile industry had started moving South in the 1880s. By 1933, Southern mills produced more than 70 per cent of the cotton and woollen textiles of the USA. These mills were more modern than those of the Northeast. The owners of these mills relied on the South’s large pool of dispossessed farmers willing to work for 40 per cent less than Northern workers.
The Great Strike of 1934 was the culmination of processes that had been at work for many years. The demand for cotton goods declined sharply after the First World War ended, leading to a crisis of overproduction. The owners attempted to resolve this crisis by squeezing as much work as they could out of each worker. This procedure was known as the ‘stretch-out system’. The ‘stretch-out’ involved speeding up production by increasing the number of looms assigned to each factory worker, limiting break times, paying workers by the piece and increasing the number of supervisors (who pushed the workers incessantly).
The ‘stretch-out’ system sparked hundreds of strikes throughout the Southeast. It led to more than 80 strikes in 1929 in South Carolina alone. Almost all of these strikes were spontaneous walk-outs, without any formal leadership. The year 1929 also saw the massive strikes that began in Gastonia, North Carolina and Elizabethton, Tennessee. Both were violently suppressed by local police officers and vigilantes.
The stock market crash of October 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. This had momentous consequences. The Depression bankrupted some manufacturers. Those who survived laid off many workers and increased the amount and pace of work for their remaining employees even further.
In response, textile workers all over the East Coast engaged in hundreds of isolated strikes, despite the fact that thousands of unemployed workers were willing – even eager – to take the strikers’ places.
The victory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 US presidential election seemed to present an opportunity for labour. In June 1933, a Roosevelt-supported measure, the National Industrial Recovery Act, was passed by the US Congress. This measure called for “co-operation” between business, labour and the government, and established “codes of conduct” for businesses. It created the National Recovery Administration (NRA).
Despite all the rhetoric surrounding its formation, the NRA soon proved itself to be toothless. The National Industrial Recovery Act did, however, contain a provision that seemed to legitimise unions. Even this ambiguous language – which only implied the possibility of a right to join a union – was inspiring to many desperate industrial workers. After the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the main union representing textile workers – the United Textile Workers of America (UTWA) – dramatically increased its membership. The union had at most 15,000 members in February 1933; by June 1934, the UTWA contained 250,000 members, half of them cotton mill workers.
The National Recovery Administration issued a code for the cotton industry that regulated workers’ hours and established a minimum wage. It also set up a committee to study the problem of workloads. The employers responded to the new minimum wage by speeding up the work. When the labour board decreed a 40-hour work week, the mill owners simply changed the rules to require that the same amount of work be done in those 40 hours as had been done in the previous 50–60 hour week.
By August 1934, textile workers had filed 4,000 complaints to the labour board protesting “code chiselling” by their employers. The board found in favour of only one worker.
Tensions in the mills mounted, as union supporters lost their jobs and found themselves blacklisted. In May 1934, the mill owners reduced the cotton mill employees’ hours still further without raising their hourly rate. (This was done with the blessing of the NRA.)
The UTWA called a special convention in New York City on 13th August 1934 and drew up a list of demands for the industry as a whole. These included: a 30-hour week; minimum wages from $13 to $30 per week; elimination of the ‘stretch-out’; union recognition; and reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.
The delegates – especially those from the South – voted overwhelmingly to strike the cotton mills on 1st September 1934 if these demands were not met – and to bring out the woollen, silk and rayon workers at a date to be set later.
After the employers refused to even meet with the union, the strike swept through the Southern cotton mills. Within a week, more than 400,000 textile workers nationwide had left their jobs and the textile industry was shut down. Within days, governors from Maine to Georgia were calling out the National Guard.
The strikers displayed great determination. At the Victor Mill in Greer, South Carolina, the union staged a brief sit-down strike on the company’s railroad siding, preventing the mill from unloading coal at its own boilers. At one point in the 22-day conflict, about half of the textile workers in North and South Carolina and about three-quarters of those in Georgia were on strike.
Despite the bravery of the workers however, the strike’s weaknesses soon became apparent. The UTWA had only shallow roots in the South and just a few regular organisers there. In the South, local governments refused to provide any relief assistance to the strikers, and there were few sympathetic churches or other unions willing to help. Although the union had pledged before the walkout to feed the strikers, it was utterly incapable of keeping that promise.
Gradually, workers began to drift back to work. Struck plants began reopening, even if only with skeleton crews. Then, the mediation board that President Roosevelt had appointed in the first week of the strike issued its report. The report equivocated. It called for further study of the problems in the industry and suggested that the president create a new Textile Labor Relations Board. Roosevelt quickly announced his support for the report. He urged the workers to return to the mills and the manufacturers to accept the commission’s recommendations.
The UTWA responded by declaring that the strike had been won and by organising a number of parades to celebrate the end of the strike. Despite this bravado, the strike was a stunning defeat for the union, especially in the South. The union did not force the mill owners to recognise it. The UTWA did not obtain any of its economic demands. Employers in the South refused to reinstate strikers; thousands of workers never returned to work in the mills.
The bitter memory of blacklisting and defeat soured many Southern textile workers on unions for decades. It would take more than 40 years for unions to win major organising drives in the South.
Although the 1934 textile strike ended in defeat, that strike and a series of other strikes in 1934 by truckers, rubber workers and dock workers helped to pave the way for major changes in the way labour and the employers dealt with one another. A section of the capitalist class of the USA eventually realised that its interests would be better served if there was class peace rather than outright industrial warfare on the factory floors of the USA.
In 1935, the US Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This law made unions legal in the USA and created the modern grievance and arbitration procedure. The passage of the NLRA marked the beginning of a social contract, an unspoken agreement between labour and the employers of the USA. That agreement said that if workers worked hard and played by the rules, they could have an opportunity to obtain a good life – at least some workers in the largest and most important industries could.
That social contract prevailed for several decades but today it is being destroyed. The textile factories that began moving to the South in the 1880s have now largely left the USA entirely. De-industrialisation and the rise of electronics are creating a poverty greater than that which inspired the 1934 textile strike. In this environment, we need new tactics, a new spirit and new forms of organisation. Without romanticising what happened in the 1934 textile strike or covering up the mistakes made, we should learn from the fighting spirit of the Great Textile Strike of 1934. We need that spirit again as we face the challenges of today.

The White Working Class – What Everyone Needs to Know


By Ben Soton

The White Working Class – What Everyone Needs to Know, by Justin Gest (2018). Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780190861407; paperback, 208pp, £10.99.

This book by Justin Gest is an academic study into the plight of the white working-class  in Britain and the USA. There is renewed interest in this group, which is interesting because 20 years or so ago we were told that the working class would soon cease to exist. A narrative espoused by the Blairite Extreme Centre; a grouping more extreme than centrist. Recent studies have focused on derogatory characterisations such as Chavs, Pikies and White Trash; although this study avoids such negative terminology.
Chapter one concentrates on definitions of both white and working class. Being white is simply a reference to those of us of European lineage and the author goes into the history of how this terminology developed from the 18th century onwards. Guest views class in terms of social and educational factors, therefore missing the point – many call centre operatives with limited job security have degrees but earn less and have worse terms and conditions than say a docker in the 1960s or 1970s.
To Marxists, class is about relationship to the means of production; the working class are those who sell their labour, namely wage earners. This definition may become blurred in the case of, for example, heart surgeons or film directors, but there is little to distinguish call-centre workers from the factory workers. Class is not some cultural lifestyle choice but about pure hard economics.
Gest covers issues of mass immigration and the decline of manufacturing industry in both countries. The book is full of the results of surveys on the attitudes of white workers towards immigration and welfare. Some of these surveys, although they show the subject group sometimes taking a tougher stance, are not at huge variance with the rest of the population.
Working-class people sometimes take a harsher view of benefit claimants, namely those who do not work., and terms such as Chav and Pikey are just as likely to be used as terms of abuse between working class people than at them. Such attitudes as well as being fuelled by tabloids may well have their origins in 19th Century values such as thrift, punctuality, hard work and respectability.
The book discusses the impact of mass immigration of poorer communities. Gest correctly points out that historically, many migrants in low-skilled employment are often over qualified for the jobs they are initially forced to take. This means that they are sometimes in a position to both undercut the native poor and have better chances of upwards mobility. This shows the need for trade union organisation amongst all workers. He also makes the valid point about working-class people being made to feel guilt for the past actions of our rulers, such as the slave trade and imperialism.
Gest discusses how the far-right on both sides of the Atlantic have managed to tap into some elements of working angst. Donald Trump proved successful in parts of the so-called ‘rush belt’ of the USA, whilst in Britain the former EDL [English Defence League] leader and self-styled ‘journalist’ Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) poses as some kind of working-class hero. It should be pointed out that Mr Yaxley-Lennon is in fact a small businessman who owns a tanning salon, a business that will only attract custom from white people.
Research perhaps needs to be done into what attracts some working-class people to the far-right. Many of these people are essentially small ‘c’ conservatives who believe in an ideology that never existed for their benefit. Unfortunately, when it ceases to work for them, rather than rejecting the ideology they demand more of it and, as a result, moving farther to the right. This is not helped if the alternative is a Labour Party dominated by the Extreme Centre.
In the section Why do working class people vote against their interests?, he raises the question of why some working-class people vote for reactionary parties. Although it may be against their interest to vote for Donald Trump, UKIP or the Tory party there is that crucial area where the many on the left missed a trick. Yes…Brexit. By campaigning for a Remain vote some of the left pushed many working-class voters into the reactionary camp. Labour effectively finished off UKIP in 2017 however, by agreeing to honour the referendum result. Remainiacs on both the right and left of the Labour Party are handing the far-right an opportunity on a plate by calling for a second referendum.
Gest poses the question: “Was the White Working class ever on Top?” This is a question only Marxist-Leninists can answer. The Second World War saw the victory of the Red Army over fascism, stronger communist parties and a powerful trade union movement. The ruling class in the developed world lived with a degree of fear, hence the need to give concessions. In Britain we saw the NHS, The Welfare State, Social housing and various opportunities for self-improvement.
Since the 1980s these gains have been undermined; the process continued during the Blair–Brown era when neo-liberalism further eroded the welfare state, education and social housing. Meanwhile the far-right have managed to tap into some of this frustration.
The ruling class is not afraid of the far-right. One of the first publications to support the so-called Football Lads Alliance (FLA) was the rather well-heeled Spectator. The left now has an opportunity to turn the tide and win over or at least neutralise those who may have been tempted by reactionary politics. Lets just hope that Corbyn can see off the fifth column of Zionists and Remainiacs.
Unfortunately Gest advocates a rather worn out Blairite narrative, which includes calls for so-called meritocracy combined with suggestions for improved education. At no point does he suggest that capitalism might be the problem. He rejects definitions of Left and Right, but instead politics should be viewed in terms of Open and Closed. Sounds a bit like the Third Way to me.