Wages, Migrants and Protecting Workers’ Rights:
A Programme for a Corbyn-Led Labour government
Migrant Workers and the EU Referendum
Migration: the Facts
Brexit: the Facts
Trade Union Principles – the Fight for Unity
The Economy and Migration
Making the Labour Market Work for Us: a Programme for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government
The Contract of Employment
The Worst Abuses we Need to Correct:
Zero Hours Contracts
Other Reforms Needed:
Trade Union Action
Company Law Reform
The Minimum Wage
Our Programme of Employment Rights for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government
Britain is booming, we are told. A record 31.7 million workers are in employment. That’s not all. The UK economy is greedily drawing in migrant labour to satisfy the needs of production. Compare this with the wretched employment record of continental countries such as Spain and Greece, where nearly half of their young people are unable to find a job. That is the tale that the Tories are spinning us.
There is a dark side to this. There has been a wholesale casualisation of the jobs market in the UK, a massive decline in security and conditions of employment here. The UK has experienced no rise in real wages and working class living standards since the Great Recession struck in 2008. And productivity, output per worker-hour, has remained virtually stagnant all that time.
Part of the reason for this debasement of the dignity and respect due to labour is the protracted deindustrialisation which has afflicted the former industrial heartlands of this country. Whole regions have seen relatively secure well-paid jobs disappear as the coal mines, steel mills and great factories closed. Nothing like them has taken their place. Instead a generation of desperate people, anxious to grasp any opportunity however precarious and badly paid, has emerged to work in call centres, fast food outlets and supermarkets. Long established trade union traditions have been eroded in the process.
The Great Recession has accelerated these trends enormously. It provided a spur for bosses to seek out ways of squeezing more and more out of their workforce in return for providing less and less. Workers are now seen by their employers as disposable items.
Britain is being steered in the direction of a low wage, low skills economy. How low can we go? Of course it is utterly unrealistic to envisage Britain, formerly the workshop of the world, being able to compete with the starvation wages of the third world – even if that were desirable. But capitalists in Britain don’t have a strategy for a long term future for the country, only an instinct as to how to make money in the here and now. And they want to drive wages down.
Polly Toynbee (Guardian 02.08.16) gives the example of the road transport industry:
“This is what market failure looks like. There’s a shortage of HGV drivers in an economy that relies on moving mountains of heavy goods. Road haulage companies complain bitterly that they can’t recruit; operators are turning business away for lack of drivers.
Yet at the same time there are large numbers of the unskilled, especially the young, who need training to get a job, or an upgrade from zero-hours, low-paid work to something better. Easy, you might think, to connect the two – but it’s not happening, according to last week’s report from the House of Commons transport committee.”
What is happening instead is that the road haulage companies are recruiting drivers from abroad, mainly from Eastern Europe, and are able to drive down workers’ conditions wholesale in the process. If the firms were to spend money on training, they fear their drivers would be poached by others; so everybody aims to poach and no training gets done. This is the road to ruin, and in Britain it is happening in one industry after another.
Naturally at the time of writing the CBI employers’ federation is opposing a Tory proposal for a minimal apprenticeship levy, despite the fact that any improvement in standards of training would benefit employers in the long run. Should we really leave these people in charge of British industry?
‘Labour market flexibility’ means that workers are under the hammer. It is also a formula for long term industrial failure.
Migrant Workers and the EU Referendum
So are migrant workers really being used to undercut ‘British’ rates of pay? Many feel that this is the case. The June 2016 vote for Brexit was driven in large part by fears about migration. It is completely understandable that millions of workers feel left behind when they can see that others in Britain have prospered mightily over recent years. But it is a dangerous illusion to identify migrant labour as the enemy.
The vote for and against departure from the European Union (EU) was mixed. There were different votes by age, by region, and by people’s usual voting intention.
• Young people were more likely to vote for ‘Remain’.
• The big metropolitan centres generally voted to ‘Remain’. These areas tend to have the highest level of migrant workers, but they also are generally more prosperous, so migrant labour is seen as less of a threat to jobs, wages and conditions.
• Regions such as South Wales and the North-East of England voted heavily to ‘Leave’. These regions are parts of the country with low levels of migration. But they are areas of longstanding industrial decline and the folk there may well feel ‘left behind’. Living standards here are not threatened by an influx of migrants, but by the lack of jobs to replace their traditional industrial employment. Such jobs as are created are low-paid and insecure.
• It is generally the case that the majority of those who voted to ‘Leave’ were Tory or UKIP voters; nationally about 60% of Tories and presumably almost all UKIP voters were Brexiteers; while almost two-thirds of Labour and SNP supporters voted to ‘Remain’. Though there was a left vote of protest against the EU, it was dwarfed by opposition to European Union membership from normally right wing voters. It is simply not the case that the majority of those who voted to ‘Leave’ were disaffected working class voters from distressed former industrial areas.
• Traditional agricultural areas such as Boston in Lincolnshire (which voted strongly for ‘Leave’) faced different problems again regarding migration. They have received a very significant influx of migrant labour recruited for fruit picking and other agricultural work during the growing season. As a result public services may well be overwhelmed, particularly since the local authorities are usually controlled by the Tories, who are utterly uninterested in the plight of working people whether ‘native’ or ‘foreign’. For the most part, particularly in agricultural work, these migrant workers are seasonal and go home when the work is done.
We shall show that some of these migrant workers are deliberately recruited in order to drive down rates of pay in the UK. A chain of supply which extends from UK-based employers to labour market intermediaries operates across EU borders and is organised to take advantage of the EU rules on freedom of services. This is deliberate undercutting. Migrant workers are the victims, not the enemy.
All the same the evidence is that the overall effect of migration on living standards is marginal as a recent report entitled ‘Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK’ from the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics shows that EU immigration has benefited the UK overall
http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/pa015.pdf):” title=“read here”>read here
“Second, because EU immigrants are more likely to be in work and are younger and better educated than the British born, they pay more in tax than they take out in welfare. So immigrants have helped subsidise the NHS and other public services for British people…. Finally, people born in the UK who live in areas of the country that have had big influxes of EU migrants have not suffered lower wages or job opportunities… To many people it seems obvious that migration is bad for jobs as we all know stories of how a friend has gone for a job and a migrant got it. But there isn’t a fixed lump of jobs. Migrants have to live, sleep, eat and drink so they increase demand and this increased expenditure creates new jobs. This means that the net effect of immigration in an area turns out to be zero.”
The Report continues:
“Median real wages for those born in the UK were growing from the late 1990s until the global financial crisis. Since then, wages have fallen by about 10%. Such falls in real wages are unprecedented in the post-war period. The story of the latest recession was not that many more people lost their jobs, but that most people’s wages fell. (Figure 6) confirms that this fall happened while EU immigration was rising – but equally the big gains in real wages for UK workers were experienced at a time when EU immigration was also rising. So the cause of the fall of wages is the impact of the Great Recession – not immigration.”
This is confirmed by the most recent ‘2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study’, a Report issued by the Department of Trade and Industry every few years. The first part is entitled ‘In the Shadow of Recession’ (since the crash of 2008).
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/336651/bis-14-1008-WERS-first-findings-report-fourth-edition-july-2014.pdf)” title=“read here”>read here
• The Survey found that 41% of employers had responded by freezing wages,
• 28% were not filling vacant posts,
• 25% had implemented ‘changes in work organisation’ (to be looked at in more detail later),
• 13% had made compulsory redundancies.
The next section of the Report is called ‘More Work, Less Pay? Employees in Recession’, to which the simple answer to the question is ‘Yes’.
In other words the recession produced a huge shake-out at work, a shake-out that hit working people hard.
The Great Recession was the biggest collapse in output and employment since the Great Depression which struck in 1929. Its effect on national economies all over the world, and in the world of work, is incalculable and dwarfs any effect of migration upon wages.
The effect of migration on wages is in any case part of a much wider process involving a downward spiral in wages and conditions. This is a deliberate strategy from the boss class. They are concerned for their profits, which collapsed in the 2008 crash and have barely recovered since. The only way they see to revive their profitability is to launch an onslaught on the living standards of the working class.
The Tories, who have been in power since 2010, are hand in glove with this strategy. Their answer to the crisis of the bosses’ system has been to heap austerity upon the rest of us. In doing so, they have launched huge attacks on the welfare state and public services, the most precious gains of working class political campaigning and the biggest achievements of past Labour governments. The Tories’ aim is to load the entire burden of the crisis onto the backs of working people. Tory-led governments since 2010 have imposed vicious austerity policies on the NHS and local government services, while consistently cutting taxes for the rich and big business.
• Your local school is overcrowded
• You have to queue for the doctor or a hospital appointment
• You can’t find an affordable house for sale or rent
Blame the Tories and the system!
• They have viciously cut funding to local authorities
• They have starved the NHS of funds
• They have been systematically destroying social housing, creating an unsustainable house price bubble in the process.
The enemy is austerity and the system of production for profit, not migrant workers!
Migration: the Facts
The CEP Report quoted earlier begins:
• “There are now over six million working age adults in the UK who were born abroad. This proportion doubled between 1995 and late 2013: from 8% to 16%. Immigration has fallen in previous recessions. This did not happen in the latest downturn.
• European Union (EU) countries account for 28% of the total immigrant stock.
• Immigrants do not account for a majority of new jobs. The immigrant share in new jobs is – and always has been – broadly the same as the share of immigrants in the working age population. “
A detailed study of the effects of migration published by the ‘Resolution Foundation’ in August 2016 concluded
http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/what-might-lower-migration-mean-for-workers-employers-and-government-policy/):” title=“read here”>read here
• “Net migration has been above 200,000 since the enlargement of the EU in 2004. This has taken the share of migrants in the population from 10% in 2004 to just below 16% in 2016.
• While the growth in the share of migrants in the population did not affect the earnings of native workers overall, it is wrong to say they had no effect. Increased migration did drag on earnings in some sectors (by between 0.5-2.0%), but these small effects do not explain and were in fact dwarfed by the general pay squeeze experienced during the same period (4.7-9.7%). In the next few years a fall in migration will do little to ameliorate the squeeze on wages for native workers.”
In other words migration is generally beneficial to British people, but it is possible that migrant labour may be used to reduce the living standards of some working people. We discuss later what we should do about that.
These conclusions are repeated by many other academic studies. For instance the Bank of England concludes, after drawing mainly positive conclusions about the impact of migration, warns
http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/research/Documents/workingpapers/2015/swp574.pdf):” title=“read here”>read here
“We find that the immigrant to native ratio has a small negative impact on average British wages… Our results also reveal that the biggest impact of immigration on wages is within the semi/unskilled services occupational group.”
Highly skilled workers migrating to the UK had no effect on ‘British’ workers’ wages for the simple reason that they were not in competition with locals. Their skills were not available in the UK labour market.
Relatively unskilled workers’ wages and conditions are more at risk from the deliberate use of migrant labour to drive down standards. But, as the CEP Report indicates, the more likely result of restrictions on migrant labour is that strawberries, cockles and other commodities will simply disappear from the shelves, because native-born workers will not take over these jobs:
“The evidence from research shows that:
1) Immigrants and native-born workers are not close substitutes, on average (existing migrants are closer substitutes for new migrants). This means that native-born workers are, on average, cushioned from rises in supply caused by rising immigration…
2) The less skilled are closer substitutes for immigrants than the more highly skilled, so any pressures from increased competition from jobs is more likely to be found among less skilled workers… These effects appear to be borne out by other studies, but the effects are not large…
3) There is no evidence that EU migrants affect the labour market performance of native-born workers.”
At present we have no idea how the level of migration will be affected by the decision to leave the European Union, since negotiations have not really started at the time of writing. We know that Norway and Switzerland, though outside the EU, have to allow free movement of EU nationals within their borders as a condition of their trade deals with the European Union.
The CEP Report (quoted earlier) supplements the Resolution Foundation’s analysis:
Though the Report mentions the number of migrants in the country, it must be remembered that not all of these are from the EU.
• “In 2015, EU net immigration to the UK was 172,000, only just below the figure of 191,000 for non-EU immigrants.
• EU immigrants are more educated, younger, more likely to be in work and less likely to claim benefits than the UK-born. About 44% have some form of higher education compared with only 23% of the UK-born. About a third of EU immigrants live in London, compared with only 11% of the UK-born.
• New evidence in this Report shows that the areas of the UK with large increases in EU immigration did not suffer greater falls in the jobs and pay of UK-born workers. The big falls in wages after 2008 are due to the global financial crisis and a weak economic recovery, not to immigration.
• EU immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and the use of public services. They therefore help reduce the budget deficit. Immigrants do not have a negative effect on local services such as crime, education, health, or social housing.”
How do we explain the Resolution Foundation’s conclusions of “small effects” on wages in some sectors? There is no doubt that migrant labour has been used by employers to deliberately reduce wages in some cases.
Law Professor Simon Deakin comments (‘Social Europe’, 20.06.16):
“The movement of labour into the UK is not spontaneous; it is organised along a chain of supply which extends from UK-based employers (many of them multinationals and/or listed companies) to labour market intermediaries operating across EU borders and taking advantage of the rules on freedom of services. In its extreme form this consists of labour trafficking of the kind which until recently was thought to exist only in certain developing countries.”
This can and must be stopped.
Brexit: the Facts
The negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU have begun. We have no idea how they will end but we must fight like lions to get the best deal for working people. Despite the claims of Theresa May that she wants all sections of society to have a say in the Brexit negotiations, we should be under no illusions - the Tories will be driven entirely by the various (and sometimes competing) demands of big business. In response, the trade unions and the Labour Party need to draw up demands based on the needs of workers; defending jobs, wages, pensions and public services. The labour movement must also set out a clear programme of defending migrant workers from exploitation or attack.
Much of the hostility towards the EU was fomented by right wing politicians who used the issue of migration and its alleged effect on working class living standards to campaign for a ‘Leave’ vote. What will the effect of Brexit be on migration? As we have pointed out, Switzerland and Norway still have free movement of labour, despite not being members of the EU. Unless negotiators opt to ‘pull up the drawbridge’ and go for an isolationist strategy for the UK then they are likely to have to make a similar concession. If they did prioritise restrictions on migration, this would inevitably impact on free trade with the EU and damage the livelihoods of workers involved in producing exports there – which is a little less than half of all Britain’s exports.
There were some valid reasons for socialists, trade unionists and working class people voting to ‘Leave’ the EU. The fact remains that negotiations with the EU over Brexit will be in the hands of hard right, anti-working class Tories who will try by every means possible to minimise the protections for labour that exist at present.
Workers’ rights did not fall from the sky. They had to be fought for. Some were won in struggle before Britain entered the EU in 1973. Equal pay for women (still very far from being a reality, of course) was passed by an Act of the Labour government in 1970. It was accompanied by trade union struggles like those of the Trico workers in Brentford in 1976 and that of the Ford machinists in Dagenham in 1968, celebrated in the film ‘Made in Dagenham’.
It is also the case that, despite the neoliberal drift of the governing institutions of the EU, some legislation does provide minimal protection for workers. Maternity and paternity pay and rights for part time workers were introduced through legislation from the EU. Other examples are the Working Time Directive, which imposes restrictions on maximum hours worked, and the Temporary Agency Workers Directive, which attempts to protect conditions for agency workers. Both of these Directives were resisted by the New Labour governments of 1997-2010 in the interests of the UK employers. Indeed, any examination of the role of UK governments in the EU demonstrates that the UK has been the most consistent advocate of neo-liberal policies pushing privatisation and de-regulation. On this score, the main enemy of UK workers has not been in Brussels but is firmly based in Westminster.
David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson are all right wing Tories who would love to use the negotiations to shred workers’ protection. We must be vigilant in doing our best to stop them.
Trade Union Principles – the Fight for Unity
Trade unions are based on the ideas of unity and solidarity. We understand that we are weaker on our own and that through organising together workers can be stronger and can defend themselves better against attacks from the employers.
But for as long as workers have attempted to organise themselves by building unions, employers, governments and other forces have sought to disrupt and wreck workers’ unity and solidarity. One of the most powerful weapons which has been used against us has been the attempt to create and institutionalise divisions on grounds of race and nationality or between migrant and indigenous workers.
These arguments are not new. They have been around in Britain for more than a century and a half. The migrants who were accused of ‘undercutting’ wages in the past were Irish, then Jewish. Jewish workers fleeing persecution in Tsarist Russia and elsewhere were greeted with immigration controls in the form of the Aliens Act 1905 and a flood of antisemitic demagogy. The ‘Manchester Evening Chronicle’ wrote at this time, “that the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land”. Later migrants from the West Indies and from the Indian sub-continent faced similar discrimination. More recently migrants have largely been from Eastern Europe or other EU countries.
For trade unionists, there is a major problem in the arguments against migration and free movement of labour. Every time these arguments have gained ground, our movement has not been strengthened, it has been weakened. Our movement has been weakened because these arguments actually set worker against worker rather than directing our energies against those who really cause low wages – the bosses. In other words these arguments completely cut across the principles on which our movement is based, the principles of unity and solidarity.
We have no intention of passing judgement on which way readers may have voted in the EU referendum. Voters elected to ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ for all sorts of reasons. But it is a fact that there has been a spike in racist hate crimes since the referendum result was announced. Right wing elements have used the result to stir up hatred against ‘foreigners’. This weakens us all and sets working people against one another. It is completely unacceptable and must be resisted strongly by the working class movement. Our watchword must be ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’.
The Economy and Migration
It is clear to any trade union member in Britain today that workers have been suffering the effects of austerity. Real wages have fallen, pensions for millions have been attacked and public service jobs have been destroyed by the hundreds of thousands. It is also the case that there are large numbers of migrant workers in the UK. But in looking at what we should call for we have to consider the issue of causation; what causes a particular thing to happen. This issue lies at the heart of the claims of the Brexiteers that immigration causes low wages. Therefore we need to consider the general economic background to migration as well as look at what has actually happened in the UK economy in recent years.
Watching the TV news or listening to most politicians would create the impression that ‘the economy’ exists in order to create jobs and improve living standards. It truth the key driving force in the capitalist economy amounts to one thing: profit. Investors engage in the production of goods and services in order to return the maximum profit. It is this need for profit on the part of firms and corporations which drives the entire economic process; investment, production and the sale of goods and services through the market.
The competitive process by which firms and corporations produce and sell their products is ruthless, chaotic and unplanned. The economy does not develop through smooth growth but with endless ups and down and fluctuations. Throughout the history of the modern capitalist economy there have been regular cycles of growth and recessions – and periodically there have been significant periods of economic downturn or depression, such as the one through which we have lived since 2007/8.
This chaotic market process provides the background to the history of migration. The economic process requires investment to provide raw materials, tools and factories. It also requires one further fundamental ‘input’ – it needs workers. Therefore alongside markets for goods and services, there is a market for labour. In the labour market workers are taken into employment and made unemployed. At times wages increase relatively fast. At other times wages are squeezed or even fall. At times the length of the working week has been reduced. At other times employers have been able to increase it.
Bosses, and the bosses’ system as a whole, do not know how many workers are needed at a particular time. All they know is that they need employees at hand when required. In other words they need an industrial reserve army. In the past they have picked labourers up from the farms as needed and then dumped them back when surplus to requirements. In the twenty-first century British capitalists can call on the international labour market, raiding lower wage economies as required. Of course for workers this creates a life of perpetual insecurity.
The chaotic, unplanned and cyclical nature of the economy means a permanent tendency exists for workers to be taken into particular industries or sectors of the economy and thrown out of employment elsewhere. These endless changes may be due to the strength or weakness of the economy at a particular time, to shifts in demand for products (for example the growth of the mobile phone market), or to technical change (e.g. a new production process needs fewer workers). This unevenness in the labour market means that there is a constant movement of workers; in and out of work and between industries. The economy declines and workers are laid off. At other times labour shortages arise and employers seek to fill the gaps. Migration is one of the ways in which such gaps are filled.
Ever since the modern industrial economy emerged, there has been an endless process of migration. This has included a huge shift from the countryside to the towns and cities. Workers have migrated within countries and between countries, largely in response to the demand of the labour market in the receiving country.
This brings us back to the issue of causation; what causes what? It is the drive for profit which creates employment, but which also creates unemployment. It creates a labour market which experiences fluctuations like every other market. Sometimes this means workers have been able to win improvements in wages and conditions and at other times (particularly during periods of recession and depression) wages and conditions are attacked. This process takes place regardless of migration. The cause of attacks on wages is not migration but rather originates in the profit-driven basis of the economy and the regular cycles of growth and recession which result from this process. If the labour movement does not analyse these issues accurately, we will end up aiming at the wrong target.
It is in the interests of employers, and of those who defend the system outlined above, to create divisions among workers. Employers and their political representatives have long realised that the greatest threat they might face is from a united and well organised working class movement – especially if such a movement could recognise and begin to address the fundamental causes of poverty, unemployment and inequality. As a result there have been regular campaigns against immigrants and against migrant workers. It’s called ‘divide and rule.’ It is well known as a strategy and it has a long history. What is alarming is that some within our own movement do not understand it; to the degree that they repeat arguments which originate with those who seek to divide our movement. This is a slippery and dangerous road.
Making the Labour Market Work for us: a Programme for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government
We know that the power of workers and trade unions, their natural representatives and defence in the workplace, have been tremendously weakened in recent decades. How can we reverse that process? How can we stop bosses using migrant labour to further undermine standards at work?
This process of weakening of the trade unions has significantly shifted the balance of power in the workplace from workers to their bosses. This has been assisted by various political and trends.
• Deindustrialisation: the destruction of traditionally well organised industries such as mining, steel making and manufacturing has played a significant role in the decline in the numbers of workers in trade unions. Total numbers have declined from about 13 million in 1979 to 6.4 million in 2014.
• Legal and political attacks on trade unions: the Thatcher government launched a huge legal attack on the rights of workers and their unions. This was backed up with specific attacks on targeted sections of the labour movement – most notably the miners in 1984/85.
• Capitalist globalisation: In the years immediately after the Second World War, capital could not move freely around the globe. The nation state tried to control capital in the country in which it was based. For instance most countries had exchange controls, which limited the ability of firms to export capital. Margaret Thatcher was the first to abolish exchange controls in 1979, thus signalling a world where capital dictated what it wanted to national governments. Other countries quickly followed suit. Capital became increasingly footloose and fancy free. This process is often called globalisation.
Firms could move operations from where workers were well organised and wages were relatively high to places where workers were defenceless and wages were low. Globalisation thus boosted the power of the bosses over working class people.
• Deregulation: After the Second World War capitalist economies were subject to quite extensive state controls. This was a natural result of a war economy. Because of the devastation of war, the state had to step in and nationalise some basic industries, not only in Britain but all over Western Europe. Privately owned businesses were heavily regulated. Naturally capital chafed at these regulations, which restricted firms’ ability to make profits. Under big business pressure widespread deregulation took place in the economy.
Publicly owned firms were handed to private owners, regulations were scrapped wholesale and a widespread outsourcing of work took place. All this weakened the power of trade unions and organised labour, as it was intended to do. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were prominent in advancing this trend, which was an important aspect of the neoliberal agenda.
Let us be clear: working people, including migrants, have every right to do what is best for themselves and their families. They are entitled to move to better their conditions. We would do the same. We oppose immigration controls and say: ‘Migrant workers are welcome here, but they must get the rate for the job.’
What is the rate for the job? That is the problem. In 1980, when trade union membership peaked in this country, more than 80% of workers were covered by sectoral collective bargaining. That meant that if you worked in the building industry as a plasterer, bricklayer or electrician you received a recognised hourly pay rate wherever you worked. Now less than 20% of workers are covered by sectoral collective bargaining agreements. With the decline in trade union density (because of the endless assaults on union rights) most contracts of employment, if they are not just imposed unilaterally by employers, are agreed at a workplace rather than industry-wide level.
This provides bosses with an opportunity to embark on a race to the bottom. They feel that, if they cut wages lower than their rivals in the industry, they will gain a competitive advantage and be able to sell cheaper. Now this shows that business people can’t see further than their own noses, but it is a natural reaction to the anarchy that exists in the wages market. If sectoral collective bargaining were restored, then that incentive on employers to continuously cut wages would largely be eliminated. We would still have plant level bargaining to deal with local conditions, but only as the icing on the cake.
How do we achieve this? The ‘Institute of Employment Rights’ (IER) has recently produced ‘A Manifesto for Labour Law’ , which has been broadly endorsed by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and is likely to be the core of a new deal for workers in a Corbyn-led Labour government. The Manifesto is very wide-ranging and we shall only take up a few of its proposals here.
The IER proposes:
• A Ministry of Labour. The Ministry would be responsible, among other things, for establishing a National Economic Forum (NEF).
• The NEF in turn would set up Sectoral Employment Commissions. They would set up negotiations between employers and the trade unions to negotiate the rate for the job in the relevant industry.
• In addition the IER proposes a Labour Inspectorate and a Labour Court made up of the present Employment Tribunals, the Central Arbitration Council and the Certification Office.
In short, shorn of the institutional details, the IER proposes a return to the ‘corporatist’ structure of industrial relations which has been progressively torn up in the ‘neoliberal era’ since 1979. The corporatist era was institutionalised during the First World War. The structure included a number of councils, often called Whitley Councils, to sort out disagreements between labour and capital through negotiation without open industrial conflict.
It included a series of Wages Councils, which gave minimal protection to the lowest paid and most insecure workers. The Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales was abolished by the Tory-led government in 2013 in a vindictive move even Thatcher had been unable to achieve. Perhaps the Tories should be reminded that Winston Churchill was one of the instigators of the Wages Councils system.
The Contract of Employment
What are the main features of the modern labour market that we have to reform? How shall we achieve it?
There are three main categories of people in the labour market, according to English law. These are workers, employees and the self-employed. All have different rights, and different periods when these rights start to kick in. Naturally unscrupulous lawyers have used these loopholes on behalf of the bosses to deny workers justice. We accept that there are a small number of independent contractors who enjoy their status as self-employed. Others need flexibility in hours worked, for instance if they are engaged in full time study. But, for most, this is a slippery slope into insecurity and poverty. We want all three categories to enjoy the same rights, and to be entitled to them from day one.
Ian Mearns’ ‘Zero Hours Contract Bill 2014’ was not passed in Parliament, but it points a way forward. It provides that a “worker is a person who is employed” and “a person is employed for the purposes of this Act if he or she is engaged by another to provide labour and is not genuinely operating a business on his or her own account.” These definitions should provide protection for those categories of workers that the law currently deprives of their rights.
Let us be clear. Casualisation, and the brutalisation of the UK workforce it causes, does not just happen by chance. It is organised. We need a transformation in the labour market so that working class people can benefit from the ever-increasing wealth they produce.
That is why we need a Labour government that fights for working people to turn around the balance of power at the workplace and in industry. We need legislation to protect workers’ rights.
The English common law has never accorded positive rights to trade unions, as the representatives of workers. At most it has grudgingly allowed ‘immunities’, for instance by admitting that an invitation to workers to strike is not actually “a breach of their contract of employment” which is “unlawful” and invites dismissal. Even these immunities are constantly under threat from hostile legislation and judge-made law.
Though English contract law regards the contract of employment as an agreement between equals, the reality is quite otherwise. It conceals a profoundly unequal relation of one person over another. The classic statement on this is as follows:
“This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent….
On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the ‘Common or Garden Free-trader’ with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.”
(Marx, Capital Volume I, p.280, Penguin 1976)
The Worst Abuses we Need to Correct
Zero Hours Contracts (ZHCs): There are currently 1.8 million ZHC contracts, and 800,000 workers covered by them. (Some workers are on more than one ZHC.) The number of these contracts has doubled over the past five years. Most workers in Wetherspoon pubs, in McDonalds and at Sports Direct are currently on zero hours contracts, though there has recently been a movement of revulsion against them. In particular the campaign against Sports Direct has drawn attention to the abuses inherent in the system.
ZHCs were given a big impetus by the Great recession of 2008. As reported by the ‘2011Workplace Employment Relations Study’ quoted earlier:
“There was also a doubling in the percentage of workplaces that had some employees on zero hours contracts2 between 2004 and 2011 (from 4% to 8%), though incidence remained low. There were increases in the use of zero hours contracts in larger workplaces. In 2004, 11% of workplaces with 100 or more employees used zero hours contracts, increasing to 21% in 2011.”
As the name of the contract implies, the employee is not entitled to any guaranteed hours of work. In this situation the worker is completely insecure, unable to contemplate putting down a mortgage on a house, or even a car, and in many cases not sure where their next meal is coming from in future weeks. Moreover, because they don’t have defined terms of employment they may not be entitled to holiday pay, petition entitlement etc. This is a job with no future!
Labour MP Ian Mearns introduced a Private Member’s Bill in 2014 (Zero Hours Contract Bill 2014) to introduce a guarantee of minimum hours and rights that other workers are entitled to for ZHC workers. The provisions in this Bill could provide the basis of a legislative safeguard for these super-exploited workers.
Zero hours contracts can be stopped. They have already been made illegal in New Zealand.
Self-Employed Workers: There are now officially 4.6 million workers who are regarded as self-employed in Britain. In the first quarter of 2016, 9 in 10 new jobs taken on counted as self-employed. On average the self-employed earn £207 per week, only half what those in employment get.
We regard much of this ‘self-employment’ as bogus. To give one example, employees for the ‘gig’ (electronic platform) firm CitySprint have to clock in and wear uniforms. They don’t feel self-employed! Yet they are deprived of the rights other workers are entitled to.
Bogus self-employment has been deliberately used to reduce workers’ wages and conditions. Nowhere is this clearer than in the construction industry. After the Second World War there was an urgent need for housebuilding. As a result construction workers’ skills were in demand and employment boomed. Trade unions in the industry managed to achieve organisation rates of 40-45% among building workers. Strike days lost in construction went from a low of 24,000 in 1946 to 233,000 in 1954. On some well-organised building sites, shop stewards were able to impose a closed shop.
The employers responded by demanding that workers sign up to Labour Only Sub-Contracting , the ‘lump’. Rather than being directly employed by the building firm, workers were signed up to the main contractor or a sub-contractor. This was a legal fiction. Building workers still had to clock in and take instruction from the construction firm.
From 1965 to 1970 the number of construction workers on the lump went up from 160,000-200,000 to 400,000 and trade union density in the industry fell. The safety record on building sites worsened as a direct result of the rise in workers on the lump.
For decades conditions for workers in construction were regarded as unusually casual and dangerous. It was a ‘cowboy’ industry. Now it has become a template used by employers to impose insecure and ill-paid employment on workers everywhere. (from T. Austrin - The ‘Lump’ in the UK Construction Industry, in T. Nichols (ed) - Capital and Labour: Studies in the Capitalist Labour Process)
The growth of self-employment, for instance among mini-cab drivers, seems to have grown because of the dearth of proper, secure jobs out there. Since 2008 in particular many workers have lost jobs they regarded as secure and have had to scuffle round to make a living as best they could, such as mini-cab driving.
There is a particular problem with electronic platforms (sometimes called ‘gig’ firms) such as Uber. These link customers and providers, who are not regarded as employees of Uber. As one self-employed person commented, “We still do have a boss. It just isn’t a person. It’s an algorithm.”
Electronic platforms such as Uber and CitySprint have enormous power over their operatives, since they are the ones who put them in contact with customers. They can threaten their workers with exclusion from the electronic platform, thus depriving them of their livelihood. Using this leverage they are able to progressively reduce the rates of pay of workers. Deliveroo, which uses cyclists to deliver meals from restaurants, is just the most recent example of ‘platform capitalism’ striving to drive down rates below the minimum wage and getting protests and unofficial strikes from their operatives as a result. In August 2016 Deliveroo were beaten back, but the pressure remains to push to continually ratchet down rates in favour of profit.
It is ironic that a genuine technological advance allowing us to match users with those who can provide a service to them is being used as a vehicle for super-exploitation.
Uber does not feel the need to provide its drivers with the rights most workers are entitled to because they are supposed to be self-employed. Uber is also able to dodge the regulations imposed on other cab operators by local authorities for perfectly understandable reasons. For instance Uber feels no need to provide for disabled passengers, as regular taxi companies are obliged to do. No doubt they regard this as a ‘burden’ on their activities. Likewise Uber, along with other electronic platform companies, is a notorious tax dodger.
We will change the law to give the bogus self-employed the same rights as other workers.
Agency Workers: There are between ½ million and 1½ million agency workers in Britain today. Gangmasters involved in notoriously low paid occupations such as food and drink processing and packaging, agriculture and shellfish gathering are a category of agency labour. The problem for agency workers, in terms of English law, is that their contract of employment is with the agency, not with the firm where they are actually working.
For instance, in a 1983 case O’Kelly v Trusthouse Forte, agency workers employed at the Grosvenor House Hotel were unable to claim for unfair dismissal when they were dismissed for trying to join a trade union. The court explained that they lacked the “mutuality of obligation” with the firm where they were working because they were actually in a contract with the agency. This judgement provided carte blanche for the dismissal of agency workers.
In addition Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group has been unable to seek a remedy against Carillion which blacklisted him from the construction industry because the blacklist was technically reported to the agency that he was “no longer required”, not to the place which actually denied him a job. This is pedantic rubbish, which has allowed employers to commit crimes against workers and ruin their lives for the sake of greed.
Sports Direct workers are not just on zero hours contacts; most of those employed at their Shirebrook headquarters are hired from two agencies – Transline and Best Connections.
Sports Direct used this combination of zero hours contracts and agency work to impose a regime of fear described by a Parliamentary Select Committee as ‘Victorian’. It seems one female worker was driven to give birth in the toilet for fear of losing her post. Billionaire owner Mike Ashley admitted before Parliament that his firm was illegally paying below the minimum wage. Workers were searched after their shift in case of theft. These searches can be quite intrusive and last on average 15 minutes – unpaid. Workers are fined 15 minutes loss of pay if they arrive one minute late to clock on.
Agency workers should be offered the same protection as other workers.
Other Reforms Needed
There has been a big decline in the number of workers organised in trade unions over recent years. In 1979 there were about 13 million workers unionised; now it is about half that number. As we have seen there has been a similar fall in the numbers covered by sectoral collective bargaining agreements. In 2015 there were only 170,000 days lost to strikes. This is the second lowest level since 1891, when records began. Compare this with the 11.3 million work days lost to stress and depression last year, often work-related.
This decline in strike days lost is no accident. It coincides with what is often called the ‘neoliberal era’. From 1979 Margaret Thatcher’s governments waged a systematic war on organised labour in the interests of capital. Her governments passed law after law to restrict union activity. They followed the maxim that effective trade union activity should be made illegal. None of these anti-union laws were repealed in the 13 years that New Labour governed. Tony Blair boasted that British labour law is, “the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world.”
The present government has intensified the one-sided war on the unions with the Trade Union Act 2016. Balloting for strike action is already ridiculously complex. The new Act demands in addition a threshold turnout of 50% to make as strike ballot valid. Very few of our MPs would be elected to Parliament if such a threshold were imposed on Parliamentary elections.
The anti-union laws must be abolished completely and replaced by a law protecting the rights and freedoms of trade unions and their members.
Apart from anti-union laws the unions have been hamstrung by mass unemployment. The period after the Second World War up to 1974 was characterised by virtually full employment in Britain. This gave favourable bargaining conditions to organised labour. Workers’ living standards rose steadily year on year. By contrast the ‘neoliberal era’ after 1979 was one with long periods of mass unemployment, in part deliberately used by the Tories and the bosses to weaken the unions and boost profits at the expense of wages.
The long term decline in the number of trade union members and the legal framework which has weakened the protections of trade unionists has inevitably affected the state of unions on the ground. Trade unions were built by workers organising together in the workplace. But the past thirty years has also seen a decline in the numbers and influence of shop steward and other workplace union reps.
The starting point for re-building our unions and improving wages and conditions at work must include a detailed assessment of the setbacks we have been through. It must also include a sober and serious assessment of the real position facing workers today. Workers are not ‘social partners’ with their employers. Instead workers need independent organisations which understand the brutal realities of work in the 21st century. Trade unions cannot simply involve powerful structures at national level. Mass trade unionism was built from the bottom up and the re-building which is necessary today needs to be done in the same way – starting with the re-building of our shop stewards and workplace organisation.
Jeremy Corbyn has promised that, as Prime Minister, he will abolish the anti-union laws. This is welcome, but not enough. The proposals for a Ministry of Labour and the restoration of sectoral collective bargaining with unions playing a key negotiating role should serve to shift the balance of power on the shop floor towards labour. For too long the bosses have had the whip hand.
We have seen that the common law is not an adequate protection for working people. In Britain there has never been a definitive right to strike. Yet the right to strike is recognised as a precious democratic right, enshrined in the constitution of many countries. It is also a feature of international agreements and treaties, such as those of the International Labour Organization, to which Britain is a signatory. Rather than relying on common law ‘immunities’ and the eccentric way these can be interpreted in the courts we need a clear, positive statement . There is such a provision advocated by the Trades Union Congress and John McDonnell for many years: it provides the basis of such a legal protection.
It is the Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill It makes the following main provisions:
• Workers involved in lawful industrial action should be legally protected.
The IER in their Manifesto has established criteria to define what is ‘lawful industrial action’.
• Notice of industrial action should be for 7 days only.
• Complicated rules on balloting should be scrapped.
The rules on strike balloting and the notice period required were deliberately designed to make industrial action as difficult as possible and provided a happy hunting ground for lawyers.
• The ban on supportive action should be loosened.
The anti-union laws define all industrial conducted against a firm that does not directly employ the workforce as ‘secondary picketing’ and therefore unlawful. In view of the prevalence of outsourcing and subcontracting in industry, this ban should be reviewed
• Agencies should not have the right to send workers in to scab on a lawful industrial dispute.
Trade Union Action
It is quite right for workers to call for protection by the law. For far too long the law has been used to advance the interests of the bosses at the expense of workers. But ultimately the labour movement will never be adequately protected unless working people defend their own interests through trade union action.
This is happening. In July 2016 Nico Industrial Services provided people to work at the Fawley Oil Refinery in Hampshire. The workers they supplied, mainly Italians and Bulgarians, were being paid just £48 per day. Workers already on site realised that the rate for the job was £125 a day. As a result 24 hour strikes were called and an overtime ban implemented. The strikers are not against bosses employing ‘foreigners’. They are against them being used to cut wages and conditions. These workers deserve the rate for the job. This was an inspiring act of international solidarity and the way forward to defeat the attempts of employers to drive down wage levels by recruiting migrant labour.
Some similar issues arose during the strikes at Lindsey Oil refinery and elsewhere in the engineering construction industry in 2009. The Lindsey dispute involved the award of a construction contract to an Italian firm IREM which employed mainly Italian and Portuguese labour at lower rates of pay. This posed a potential threat to existing national agreements (NAECI) within the sector. There were immediate attempts by sections of the press to turn the dispute into one about ‘British jobs for British workers’. The battle was actually over ‘the rate for the job’.
The media and elements of the far right attempted to gain influence among the workers but were not successful. The shop stewards’ committee, grappling with very difficult issues, developed the following demands:
• No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.
• All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement (the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry)
• Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members
• Government and employer investment in proper training / apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers
• Migrant workers to be unionised.
• Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers - via interpreters - to give right of access to Trade Union advice - to promote active integrated Trade Union membership
The Lindsey dispute could have been the start of a very nasty and divisive period in our movement. Fortunately, and thanks to the exemplary leadership of the shop stewards on the ground, this did not happen. The conduct of this dispute shows the way forward.
Company Law Reform: Not only is labour law heavily skewed against the working class, British company law also defends the unfettered right of owners to run their firms how they please, ignoring the interests of the workforce, company pensioners and any other consideration. This must stop.
A classic example of the consequences of British company law is what happened at BHS. This sorry tale begins in 2000 when Philip Green bought the chain of shops for £200 million. Green and his wife Tina, who conveniently lives in the tax haven Monaco, were the majority shareholders. They owned the chain lock, stock and barrel. Over the next fifteen years they systematically divested the firm of £586m in dividends and rent that they paid themselves. After sucking BHS dry they sold it on to Dominic Chappell, a man who had been declared bankrupt three times. The firm’s ruin was complete. The livelihood of 11,000 innocent workers has been destroyed. The fate of 20,000 company pensioners lies in the balance.
The point is that all of this was completely legal! It should not be. The rights of workers, of company pensioners and that of other interest groups or stakeholders, such as consumers and the environment, must take precedence over private greed. In order for that to happen, company law must be reformed.
Employment Tribunals: There has been a collapse in the number of cases referred to Employment Tribunals since 2013. Employment Tribunals are a relatively fair way of settling industrial disputes. Traditionally they have a tripartite structure with representatives from trade unions and employers with an ‘independent’ chair, usually a lawyer.
In 2013 stonking fees were introduced, such as £1,200 for a claim of unfair dismissal. No wonder Employment Tribunals no longer work. Obviously workers unrepresented by a trade union cannot afford the fees, and fewer workers have union representation at work. The imposition of these fees is a vindictive attack on workers’ rights. This is justice denied. The next Labour government must reverse the measure.
Blacklisting: In 2009 the Information Commissioners raided the offices of The Consulting Association. They found irrefutable evidence of industrial-scale blacklisting. In fact this had been known about for a long time but there was no hard evidence to hand till then. Construction firms, in cahoots with the police and security services, had deprived workers of employment for decades, on the grounds - often spurious - that they were ‘militants’. The blacklisters ruined people’s lives in the process. It is quite clear that the existing law on blacklisting is inadequate. It should be treated as a crime, with the sanction of imprisonment where appropriate.
The Minimum Wage: The present minimum wage is not a wage that people can live on, certainly not a wage that workers can bring up a family on. The present rate for workers over 25 is £7.20, £6.60 for 21 to 24 year-olds and £5.30 for those who are 18 to 20. The Tory government itself has admitted this is inadequate. The living wage they introduced is £8.25 per hour and £9.40 in London, but only for workers over 25; 22% of workers are below that level. We need a minimum wage of £10 per hour.
In addition to the miserly level at which the minimum wage is set, it is not adequately enforced. The minimum wage is supposed to be policed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which has seen drastic cuts in the number of workers employed. It has been estimated that HMRC staff could only visit workplaces once every 250 years to check that the minimum wage has been implemented. Grotesquely HMRC in Liverpool has been facing industrial action from its cleaners, who are not being paid the minimum wage because they are hired from an agency!
One huge advantage of a living minimum wage is that it stops the rest of us in effect subsidising super-exploiting employers. At present the taxpayer bill for in-work benefits is £11 billion per year according to a survey by Citizens UK in 2015. In the New Labour years Gordon Brown extended a whole range of benefits and tax credits, making them available to low-paid workers. Their families have become dependent upon these tax credits and benefits to rub away the sharpest edge of poverty and insecurity. We can’t just take these benefits away. But employers have also used these benefits as an excuse to pay poverty wages. This must stop. Why should we have to subsidise greedy bosses?
Our Programme of Employment Rights for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government
• End austerity now. We need a massive public investment programme.
• Establish the rate for the job. Bring back sectoral collective bargaining.
• Abolish zero hours contracts. Give workers security.
• Give the bogus self-employed the same rights as other workers.
• Protect agency workers.
• Abolish the anti-union laws. A charter of rights for trade unions.
• Cut back the bosses’ unfettered rights over companies. Enfranchise employees, consumers and environmental protection as stakeholders in the company.
• Bring back free access to Employment Tribunals.
• Make blacklisting a crime. Treat blacklisters as criminals.
• For a minimum wage of £10 per hour.
The need to Democratise the Trade Unions
Co- Authors of this document: Steve McKenzie and Keith Henderson
The Undermining of Jeremy Corbyn
It has become clear, that in the eighteen months or so, since Jeremy Corbyn first announced he was seeking nominations to stand in the first labour party leadership election, that barely elected and unelected trade union bureaucrats have conspired to undermine thwart and unseat him.
Relying on their bureaucratic machinations, and their control of the full time apparatus (that has served to maintain their well healed positions in the trade unions), they have used their influence, time and again, to maintain a status quo in both wings of the labour movemen
. A status quo that is no longer viable as the so called centre ground collapses. The rejection of neo liberalism and globalisation and it’s institutionally corrupt establishments in countries around the world is clear for all to see. Apart from those with a vested self interest that is. There is none as blind as those who do not wish to see.
Nowhere is this clearer than the election of Trump and the rejection of Hilary Clinton and the Democratic party in the United States. The Brexit vote in relation to big businesses pro European establishment in Britain. This included the defunct old new labour project that was seen as part of the liberal establishment.
Despite this the discredited forces of the liberal left try desperately to cling to power.
The pitiful coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn last summer inspired by the discredited war criminal Tony Blair. The subsequent farcical electoral challenge of Owen Smith. The election of Corbyn for a second time, with an increased mandate, despite the outrageous purge of his supporters and the cynical manipulation of the rules. All of this was a reflection of the fact neo liberal capitalism is being totally rejected.
The anti austerity movement itself and the massive surge in Labour party membership since Jeremy first stood for the leadership is also a reflection of this fact.
However as is clear from the continuing sectarian behaviour of entryist groups like the misnamed Progress. The open hostility of the so called Labour First group, the antics of Blairite MPs in the parliamentary Labour party, most significantly the behaviour of the right wing trade union leaders and their placemen in the Labour party apparatus and on controlling bodies like the NEC, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the whole anti austerity/ social movement that their leadership represents, is in danger of being throttled in its infancy.
The British establishment’s greatest fear at the present time is a Corbyn and McDonnell led anti austerity/ socialist Labour government. It is a realistic possibility if the message gets through and our movement is united.
The behaviour of the Blairite MP’s and their fellow travellers. The Labour party under the notorious General Secretary Iain McNicol. Above all the unelected, barely elected and unaccountable trade union bureaucrats, conspires to ensure that this will not be the case.
Those in pursuit of their vested self interest in both wings of the British Labour movement have been, are and will continue to be used to do the establishments bidding to ensure that the manifestation of a united Labour movement behind Jeremy Corbyn never comes to fruition.
There are certainly those Blairite MPs in the PLP who would rather Labour lost than see a Corbyn led Labour government. The behaviour of the 172 Labour MP’s who participated in the coup attempt suggests that there may be more than a discontented handful of Blairite fanatics.
As well as the weakling MPs who were bullied into attempting to bully Jeremy into standing down, there were and are unelected and barely elected officials in the trade union movement who want to conspire to bring about Jeremy’s demise and indeed there were even those who participated in this farcical coup and subsequent leadership challenge. Openly coming out in favour of Owen Smith.
While they clearly want a labour government, they do not want one that is led by Corbyn and McDonnell. If another coup isn’t on the cards in the immediate future because a general election is called in 2017 they will back a campaign to get Jeremy elected, on the surface at least, but they will ensure that he is deposed if the election is lost and Labour ends up with less seats that it had going into the election.
The Failure of the Left
The failure of the left to organise effectively, if at all, in the major trade unions affiliated to the Labour party, over the years, has given the right wing carte blanche to operate exactly as they pleased, with no fear of being held to account and with no opposition for years. Since Jeremy was elected the chickens have come home to roost with a vengeance and the utter disruption and havoc caused by right wing trade union bureaucrats and their placemen in Labour party has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory after last year’s Brexit vote and the resignation of Cameron with the Tory party hopelessly split. The Machiavellian manoeuvrings to ditch Jeremy played into the hands of the establishment and the Tories and by the end of the summer, when Jeremy was returned as leader with an increased mandate, it was the Labour Party that was split and trailing dramatically in the polls.
The GMB trade union has been publicly described as institutionally corrupt by a former General Secretary who was forced out of his job after winning a rare general secretary election in that union.
Serious left organisations have either been strangled at birth by the bureaucracy of the GMB. Alternatively genuine left organisations that have been in existence in other trade unions that have been taken over by the GMB and it’s predecessors have been ruthlessly crushed.
Serious socialists and genuine unionists have been sacked expelled and slandered.
Only if you have been compromised by, or are in the pay of, the bureaucracy of the GMB, and even then only if you do as your told are you even allowed to function in the union. Then only to present a left façade if ultimately you do not as your told, on the issues that really matter the screws will be tightened and you will do as your told because ultimately the job and the lifestyle you have become accustomed to depends on it. It is from this base that the fifth column operates and creates such splits divisions and chaos in the movement as a whole, but particularly in the political wing, the Labour party.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has scratched beneath the surface that the current General Secretary of the Labour Party, Iain McNicol was formally the GMB political officer. He was manoeuvred into position by Sir Paul Kenny, the unelected General Secretary of the GMB in 2012.
From an establishment right wing perspective allowing Jeremy to get enough nominations to stand in the first place was a fundamental error. As an illustrious tool of the establishment once pointed out to the author of this document “the trouble with elections is that people don’t always vote the right way”
This was not a mistake that would have been made had the right wing not been taken unawares, at a later stage every effort was made to reverse this error by attempting to ensure that Jeremy would not get onto the ballot sheet when the second leadership election was forced. The tactic of ensuring potential candidates in leadership elections do not get the necessary nominations to stand was perfected in the GMB trade union.
Having made utter fools of themselves in the first Labour leadership election the three old new labour candidates were crushed by Jeremy in the first round of voting.
The first thing that Jeremy did in his acceptance speech was to thank Iain McNicol and the full time staff at the Labour party for the way they had conducted the ballot.
As we all know Blairite luminaries stamped their little feet and refused to serve in a shadow cabinet that they hadn’t been invited to join. The most cowardly bullying and intimidation of Jeremy followed, at PLP meetings, with Blairite MPs texting the Tory press from inside the meeting so as Jeremy could be vilified in the mainstream media the following day. Constant anti Corbyn stories in the visual media assisted by right wing Labour MPs who would make sensational comments like stabbing him in the front instead of the back and so on, appeared on an almost daily basis.
Then there was the almost entirely bogus anti Semitism witch hunts with ludicrous, stage managed, pre arranged performances between the likes of John Mann and the television channels when Ken Livingstone was verbally assaulted over alleged anti Semitic comments. (Factual historical statements he had made on a radio show)
. It was around this stage that the old GMB methods started to be put into operation by McNicol and a department in the Labour party he was responsible for, sinisterly named compliance unit. Livingstone was suspended for what were factual comments. This meant he couldn’t remain in his position on the Labour party NEC, (where he supported Corbyn) yet John Mann’s thug like behaviour only warranted a mild rebuke.
The bogus anti Semitic witch hunts then took off with gusto with good socialists being suspended left, right and centre. This created a perception of a split party and piled pressure on Jeremy to silence support for the Palestinian struggle.
Close on the heels of the bogus anti Semitism witch hunts came false allegations of abuse and intimidation and now, not only were good socialists being suspended from the party, on the basis of bogus allegations, entire local parties were being suspended, Brighton Wallasey and South Shields
Of course the local parties in question were supporting Jeremy Corbyn, much to the embarrassment of their MP’s, this of course, we are expected to believe, had nothing to do with it whatsoever. The compliance unit did what was ever necessary to spare the blushes of the parliamentary elite.
Bureaucratic machinations, as already alluded to, making false allegations for the purpose of having someone suspended and getting them out of the way was not a tactic that was exclusive to the Labour party itself. It was an underhand manoeuvre that had been used in institutionally corrupt organisations for years.
These outrageous machinations were reaching their crescendo as the ridiculous chicken coup was put into operation. The argument being used to justify the coup attempt was that Jeremy apparently hadn’t campaigned hard enough to remain in Europe.
Whether it was this or hoping to divert attention away from the outcome of the Chilcott report, that was about to be published, or a bit of both, Blair and his creatures had launched a coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn prematurely.
This was to have dire consequences for the right wing in the PLP, the Labour party apparatus and the right wing bureaucracy of some trade unions. But a premature coup attempt that was very beneficial for the Tories when they were at their weakest point, that served the establishment very well.
Corbyn Stands Firm
Despite the co-ordinated mainstream media/Blairite PLP staged resignations from the shadow cabinet and the most outrageous bullying, Jeremy Corbyn stood firm and refused to stand down.
It became clear that as well as a very kind leader we also had an extraordinarily brave leader. One that can be frustrating in his reluctance to throw a punch but one who can take punishment that would crush most people.
Following the failed chicken coup an even more farcical leadership challenge was launched involving members of the parliamentary Labour party whose wooden performances made a 1950 amateur marionette show look real to life.
It was around this stage that the GMB placeman Iain McNicol and the Labour party apparatus really swung into action. First in an attempt to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from getting onto the ballot paper by forcing a situation whereby he would have needed the nominations of 51 MPs or MEPs before he could have become a candidate. It was a question of trying to turn back the clock and use a method that had been so successful in protecting the vested self interest of the likes of Sir Paul Kenny in the GMB union who had only ever stood in one General Secretary election in that union, in which he was comprehensively defeated and yet he had been the General Secretary of the GMB for over a decade. In which time he should have faced two other elections. The fact that no-one ever received enough nominations to get onto the ballot sheet to stand against him was surely no coincidence.
The fact that his placeman Iain McNicol was now attempting to engineer a situation where Jeremy would not have been able to get enough nominations to stand in the second leadership election was surely not a coincidence either.
A hastily called NEC meeting of the 12th July 2016 was primarily designed to ensure that Jeremy was going to be forced to obtain a number of unobtainable nominations to ensure that he could not get on the ballot sheet.
Following a seven hour meeting and conflicting legal advice and sterling work by Unite delegates, the right wing attempt to thwart Jeremy was itself thwarted. The position where the elected leader did not have to get nominations if they were challenged carried the day.
After this was decided several NEC members left the meeting, having got Jeremy onto the ballot sheet automatically they assumed that the job had been done, the right quickly shifted into damage limitation mode, after all their jobs and lifestyle could depend on the outcome of this.
A decision was taken that members of the Labour party who had joined after 12th January 2016 (who would inevitably consist mainly of Jeremy supporters) would not be allowed to vote in the leadership election. It was also agreed (in a decision that dramatically backfired on the right, to increase the fee for registered supporters from £3 to £25) This was clearly designed to minimise support for Corbyn. It had the opposite effect given the outrage that the right wing’s transparent machinations were creating. It will come as no surprise that the mover of the resolution was one Cathy Speight a delegate from the GMB union. Coincidently the unelected political officer, which was the very same job that the General Secretary of the Labour party Iain McNicol used to do.
The right hadn’t quite given up on preventing Jeremy from getting onto the ballot sheet though and one of their rich backers took legal action at the high court to try and get the NEC decision overturned.
McNicol was involved again as it was he who was the general secretary of the Labour party who would be defending the NEC position in the high court. The right were outmanoeuvred when Jeremy was able to send his own legal team to defend his position, to the high court, effectively ensuring that legal machinations would not be able to be used to overturn the NEC’s decision
The purges and the witch hunts now started in earnest, originally to unseat Jeremy, and in the later part of the campaign to minimise the scale of his victory. The sinisterly named compliance unit were suspending members of the party, and thereby denying them their right to vote, on the most spurious grounds. Tweets and posts on social media that unelected apparatchiks of the party deemed offensive were enough to warrant suspension. Words like Blairite and traitor were deemed offensive. Support for other parties on the left in the past were enough to warrant suspension. It was clear that the data protection act was being blatantly breached but the full time unelected apparatus that the General Secretary, and former GMB political officer, Iain McNicol was responsible for did not appear to give a damn.
The tactic of suspending people on spurious charges to ensure they do not hold a position in the party, or representing the party or being able to vote in its internal elections is nothing new.
The right wing bureaucracy in the unions and the Labour Party have been using this tactic to crush political opposition for decades.
Their problem in 2016 in the labour party leadership election was that they were facing a mass movement of hundreds of thousands of energised members. Not picking off one or two socialists or genuine unionists who were a thorn in their side.
Despite the best efforts of the establishments fifth column in the Labour movement Jeremy won the election with an increased mandate.
To this day the victims of the witch hunt are still seeking redress.
However despite all of this those responsible remain in their unelected positions (their wages paid by Labour party and trade union members subs) and the witch finder general Iain McNicol remains in post despite everything. This demonstrates the level of control that the establishment still wield in our party through one or two unions that it has under total control and one or two that it has under partial control.
That coupled with the more recent entryist work of organisations like the big business backed and financed, misnamed progress organisation has conspired (literally) to ensure that control is wielded through the built in trade union vote on the National Executive Committee of the Labour party. Control of the full time apparatus of the Labour party and some of the affiliated unions. All of which culminated this year in the outrageous behaviour Iain McNicol and his employees in the compliance unit.
Unfortunately for those who derive a very lucrative living from the Labour movement, who seek to ensure that the status quo is maintained, the mass movement, represented by Jeremy Corbyn, that started in 2015 after the general election defeat took them completely by surprise. Incapable of political perspective or analysis the majority of hired hands in the Labour movement were unable to understand, at least initially, that the so called centre ground was crumbling beneath their feet.As neo liberalism and globalisation were being rejected in one country after another, with polarisation to the right, and to a lesser extent the left, its manifestation in Britain was the Brexit vote to the right and the rise of the anti austerity movement, personified by Corbyn to the left. Our well healed hired hands floundered, lacking the political clarity to understand what was going on around them.
As centre establishments on the so called liberal left were being crushed (the US election being the election of Trump and rejection of the Clinton dynasty and the Democratic party) our bureaucrats in the Labour and Trade Union movement continued to try and hold on to the goose that laid the golden egg as they perceived things. The centre ground had been the ground upon which their livelihood had depended for so long it’s abrupt disintegration disorientated them in the first instance. However the more astute began to see the ground moving to the left so they stepped quietly to the left professing their support for anti austerity and Jeremy. The degree to which this was genuine or a façade was dependant on the union. Unite and Len McCluskey may have been sceptical in the first place but events have hardened Len McCluskey’s support for Jeremy. It is fair to say without that support Jeremy would have been brought down already by the fifth column. There can be little doubt about that. The barely elected bureaucrats of Unison have supported Jeremy through gritted teeth for fear of their own membership and it would be foolish in the extreme to expect anything except a volte face at the earliest opportunity from these individuals if the Unison left fails to get itself organised. Some of the most right wing elements in the unions were openly supporting Owen Smith in the leadership election, with Sir Paul Kenny, the ex General secretary who few GMB members knew had been replaced, came out half way through a consultative ballot of GMB members to call for support for Smith. Among uproar among those members who were aware of what was going on with many claiming they had not been given an opportunity to vote in the consultative ballot, this union backed Smith. Incredibly in Unite, the union that has provided staunch backing for Jeremy Corbyn.
In the Labour party leadership election their ineptitude, despite almost total control of the Labour party apparatus, and the unethical organisational manoeuvrings (that had been perfected in right wing unions) was no match for the hundreds of thousands that had flooded into the labour party to back Jeremy.
However the damage they have done in splitting the party and undermining the elected leadership has been enormous. At a time when the Tory party was at it’s weakest just after the Brexit vote. At a time when the prime minister had been forced to resign. At a time when the Tories were hopelessly split, the establishment’s fifth column chooses to launch the chicken coup and the idiotic leadership challenge.
Accident of design, the readers can draw their own conclusions.
False Unity Calls - Naïve or Disingenuous
It is absolutely clear that the calls for unity with this ilk is grotesquely infantile. It would clearly be unity of the graveyard. If a general election is called in 2017 that could well be the case unless a campaign independent of the poison of McNicol and his minions and Blair and his sycophants can be organised. Unless this is the case disaster looms.
Only once these elements have been vomited out of the Labour movement or at least been made accountable to the members of the labour party and the trade unions, is there any chance of unity behind Jeremy Corbyn and for the anti austerity social movement becoming an anti austerity socialist movement.
As already said it is clear that elements of the Labour aristocracy are becoming more astute and are adapting to the new realities.
They organised to ensure they had control of the Labour party conference held in Liverpool in September. They manoeuvred to get the NEC extended to enable representation from Scotland and Wales thus ensuring a built in majority for the right. They enshrined into the rule book rules that make it a breach of rule for labour councillor to oppose cuts to council budgets effectively.
In short they ensured they had the maximum amount of delegates they could muster, they were organised in the use of their positions of power and disciplined in ensuring their people were in the right place at the right time for the appropriate vote or televised speech.
In contrast the left had not organised effectively to ensure it had the maximum number of delegates, was neither effectively organised or disciplined on the floor of conference and was in reality all over the place.
There is perhaps a certain inevitability about this given that the anti austerity movement is still relatively new at this level. The prohibitive cost of attending the conference in terms of accommodation and subsistence makes it virtually impossible for working class people to attend. An utterly ridiculous situation for a political party purporting to represent the interests of the working class. In short unless you are an MP or a trade union bureaucrat on expenses or an all expenses paid member of the labour party or affiliated union staff you are financially barred from attending the Labour party conference.
That is of course unless you are from a middle class background and can afford to make the sacrifice. There is no doubt that it is a sacrifice and hats off to comrades from that background who make the effort.
However this would help to explain the disorganisation and lack of preparation that allowed our expenses paid well healed elements of the right to dominate the conference.
Whether the right, through entryist organisations like progress, or through groups like Labour first, or unions like the GMB are organising a reargued action, to maintain their positions in Parliament, through continued bureaucratic control of local parties, their domination of conference, or whether they are organising another challenge against Jeremy, or all three, time will tell.
Whether a general election is called in 2017 will have a large bearing on how all of this plays out.
Regardless of this the left must start getting organised. Getting involved in local parties, taking up positions in the party, including councillor positions, getting delegated to conference. In short getting organised properly in the labour party structures. But perhaps even more importantly than this is getting properly organised in the trade unions.
DEMOCRATISE THE UNIONS
Most of the thirteen unions affiliated to the Labour party are viewed as if they are the property of, and are owned by the unelected and barely elected trade union bureaucracy. This isn’t just the case as far as the right wing and the well heeled hired hands of the trade union bureaucracy are concerned. Unfortunately it is also the perception held by many on the left of the Labour and trade union movement.
The defeats of the trade union movement in the Thatcher era and the de industrialisation of Britain, coupled with the introduction of anti union legislation that was integral to the liberalisation and globalisation of capitalism. Integral to it’s need to drive down wages and condition and privatise services, increasing profitability and inequality as wealth flowed to the elite.
The decline in the strength of the trade unions in terms of the halving of their membership, in terms of the density of trade union membership in workplaces, and the number of workers covered by trade union agreements has had a demoralising effect and has led to an erosion of democracy and the rise of an unaccountable trade union bureaucracy that has disfigured many unions, almost beyond recognition.
The concept of collective consciousness and decision making of the members actually being the union is alien, not only to those who derive a living off of the labour and trade union movement, but many of those who agree with the principles of trade unionism and at least see that those employed by the trade unions should be providing effective representation for the members.
The idea that a trade union is some type of an industrial insurance society has taken hold on the right and even in many sections of the left in the labour movement.
Even many members themselves have been sold on the idea that the union that they have joined is some sort of an industrial insurance society, experts in the world of work, when an issue arises with their employer your union man will be there. The worst cases manifest many of the worst aspects of a capitalist insurance company. Sold by a snake oil salesman, subscriptions paid on the dot, in reality no-one ever there when the member wants advice or representation.
Even some of the better organisations, given the erosion of employment legislation, the best advice they can give in most circumstances is that the member has no case, or the case is not worth pursuing.
The Increasing Bureaucratisation of the unions
The repeated defeats and setbacks in collective disputes over the past generation, coupled with the abject failure to provide effective individual representation in the overwhelming majority of cases has led to a demoralisation and alienation of the unions membership which in turn leads to a strengthening of the bureaucracy.
The levels of turnout in elections for senior positions in many unions is testament to this process. The fact that many elected bodies in many trade unions who should be holding the full time apparatus in those unions to account are themselves bought and paid for and under the control of the bureaucracy, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on what union we are talking about, is testament to this reality.
So far has this process gone in some unions that descriptions such as institutionally corrupt, have been used in public arena’s to describe the degenerate state of affairs that have developed.
The bureaucratic control of the unelected and the barely elected in the industrial wing of our movement has been reflected in recent events in the political wing of the movement and particularly since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.
There was the attempt to manufacture the situation where Jeremy would not have been unable to get onto the ballot paper in the second leadership election.
There was the retrospective ruling of the NEC to debar over one hundred thousand new members from voting in the leadership election if they had joined the Labour party after 12th January 2016.
There was the attempt to prevent many registered supporters from voting for Jeremy by increasing the registration fee from £3 to £25.
There was the attempt of a rich backer from the right to use the courts in an attempt to overturn the decision of the NEC to allow Jeremy to stand in the election without having to secure nominations on the basis that he was the existing leader and it was only incumbent on the challenger to secure a requisite number of nominations. The subsequent thwarted machinations to ensure that Iain McNicol as the general secretary was the sole defendant who was supposed to be defending the NEC position and the decision they had made, saved Jeremy
The purge against Corbyn supporters, thousands of who were suspended on the most ridiculous charges and prevented from voting in the election.
The machinations of the right at the Labour Party conference after Corbyn had won the second election with an increased mandate despite all of the organisational manoeuvres that the right wing apparatus had deployed against him and his supporters. Extending representation on the NEC to include a delegate from Scotland and a delegate from Wales to ensure the right wing maintained their majority and could continue to undermine Jeremy at the highest level of the party structures between conferences.
Most of these right wing organisational manoeuvres deployed by the Blairites in the PLP. Their misnamed progress entryist organisation. Their allies in the Labour first organisation, but above all the right wing trade union bureaucracies and their placemen and women within the Labour party apparatus and supposedly representative bodies like the conference and the NEC. Most of the tactics employed by these elements are nothing new to the unelected and the barely elected bureaucrats in the unions. They have been employed to silence the voices of socialists and genuine unionists within the trade unions for decades.
The details of the worst abuses of power by the unelected bureaucratic elites of the trade unions is currently being written and would be superfluous to requirement for the purposes of this document.
The need for workers not yet in unions to join in their masses is self evident. The need for workers currently in the unions and all of those serious about transforming society and supporting Jeremy Corbyn to get organised in the unions is self evident, but is not enough.
In some of these unions there has been no serious left opposition for decades. In others the left plays an entirely tokenistic role incapable of even uniting behind a common candidate in the general secretary election. In other unions the left has operated in a semi effective way and has achieved results. That is not to say that the pendulum will not swing to the right, which it inevitably will unless the left is strengthened.
Whichever way any genuine comrade looks at it the left must start getting itself organised more effectively in the affiliated trade unions.
Starting from the premise that the members are the union, solidarity, unity and a determined approach must be taken with a view to democratising our unions wielding our power in the genuine interests of the movement as a whole.
With this overall object in mind there is an unanswerable case for the LRC to make every effort to launch LRC trade union caucuses with a view to assisting in that process.
Each union will have it’s own specific priorities. A union that has a pro Trident, pro nuclear, pro airport expansion and pro fracking policies has policies diametrically opposed to the LRC. LRC members who are in that union getting organised to challenge these policies as effectively as they can within the democratic framework of that union is so obviously the correct move to make that the motives of those opposing such a move would have to be questioned.
Other unions may have more progressive policies on paper and the priority here may be more to do with breaking down the façade to facilitate organisational change that would see policy put into practice. Once again LRC members coming together in a caucus to develop approaches and a strategy for achieving that aim could surely not be opposed.
The prime objective should be helping to transform top down unions, run like a business, into a bottom up ones where members decide, the union apparatus provides, the service it is employed to provide. Bridging the massive divide between the leadership and the members by returning all unions to where they belong with the members has to be the key objective.
The LRC trade union caucuses will discuss the appropriate approach to the election of all union officers who should be accountable to democratically elected bodies of lay members at a national and regional level. For the devolvement of resources from a national and regional level to a workplace and a local level. The precise mechanism will vary depending on the particular union
However the basic must be to make trade unions a bottom up organisations and not a top down institutions and this requires some fundamental changes.
The objectives should be established following discussion in the LRC
Draft Platform: for discussion
A) For regular elections and right to recall of all full time officials, shop stewards and branch officers
B) Union branches being properly funded by getting 25% of their members subs going back to the branch
C) For rank and file control over all negotiations and industrial action through mass meetings and elected strike committees
D) Union branches having a branch political fund in every union
E) Striking workers to be given strike pay
F) For militant action, strikes and occupations, to stop all cuts against working class people
G) Setting up shop stewards committees
H) For defiance of the anti-union laws, wherever they are invoked to prevent workers’ action, for solidarity strike action with any group of workers or union that is prosecuted under these undemocratic laws
I) For the right of the rank and file to veto all management decisions and workers’ control
over all aspects of production, including hiring and firing, for workers’ control over and
nationalisation without compensation of all firms sacking workers in the interests of profit
J) Ending all the anti-union laws
K) For the rights of all women, black, lesbian, gay, disabled, migrant and undocumented workers to caucus in the trade unions and voice their own demands, against any discrimination at work
L) Full employment rights for everyone from day one of employment
M) Workplace democracy
N) Delegates to Labour party conference from trade unions should be elected by the union membership and not decided by the union bureaucracy
O) Members of the Labour party NEC from trade unions should not be decided by the union bureaucracy as there should be a vote of the entire union membership on who represents them on the NEC
The LRC elected a new set of office holders at its annual conference at the end of October 2016
The new membership secretary should be tasked with organising what LRC members are in what union in the first instance.
Furthermore on the basis of prioritising the unions whose LRC membership display the most willingness to convene such a caucus a date agreed and room should be booked in the new year to make the launching of the first LRC trade union caucus a reality.
The membership secretary will be given the full support of the national committee and the national officers in undertaking this task.
A full report back to the national committee will be given once this and other caucuses take place.
Brexit – where do we stand?
By Mick Brooks
The referendum vote on June 23rd that the UK should leave the European Union came as a shock to most commentators. It was widely believed that a vote to ‘Remain’ was in the bag, including by the then Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron miscalculated massively, and had to go.
For the labour movement the referendum campaign was unnecessary and a diversion. Cameron had promised the referendum in 2013 in order to prevent Tory voters going over to UKIP, and to placate his own Eurosceptic MPs. In other words the referendum was intended to fend off a threat from the right. The campaign itself was dominated on both sides by big business and conservative interests. It was utterly uninspiring. The ‘Remain’ campaign relied on sowing a fear of the unknown in the case of withdrawal – ‘project fear’. The ‘Leave’ campaigners resorted to outright lies – such as that Brexit would allow £350 million a week that the UK allegedly currently sends to Brussels to be spent extra on the NHS. In the media coverage of the debate Labour hardly had a look in.
For the labour movement, which side to support was a fine tactical decision. We were neither unthinking ‘Europeans’ (though some Labour MPs were) or committed isolationists and nationalists. It was necessary to consider the consequences of Brexit under a Tory government. Having secured a vote to ‘Leave’, right wing Tories would use the opportunity to tear up the inadequate protection of employment rights (and consumer and environmental protection) that EU law currently affords. For this reason the majority of trade unions supported Jeremy Corbyn’s line of ‘remain and reform’. Equally there were sound socialist reasons to quit the EU, which is very much a capitalist club.
Whether we voted to remain or to leave is now neither here nor there. The decision is done and dusted. Britain is now set to leave the EU on terms negotiated by the Tories, our class enemy. On the other hand Theresa May’s government is insecure, with a small majority in Parliament. It is clear they are clueless as to what will happen next.
What does the decision to leave mean? The problem with a referendum on such a broad issue is that different meanings can be read into the vote. The Tory government under Theresa May asserts that it shows that migration must be controlled more tightly. In fact no such inference can be drawn, but that is the Tory agenda in any case.
There has been some gloating from members of the ‘Leave’ campaign that some of the wild predictions of the ‘Remain’ camp that the UK would immediately be precipitated into recession have not taken place. This gloating is premature. The future remains very uncertain. It is definitely the case that decisions such as whether to relocate factories from the UK to the EU, which is entirely possible when Britain is no longer a member of the single market, will take time to work through the economy.
The Tories have landed themselves in a mess. It is no secret that prominent Brexiteers like Boris Johnson were motivated entirely by the intention to advance their careers within the Conservative Party by tapping the Euroscepticism of their backwoodsmen. Britain has been a member of the EU for more than forty years. Almost half our trade is with our partners in the single market. Untangling this will be a huge task for the government negotiators. Now they are lumbered with years of haggling over such stuff as phytosanitary certificates (these are certificates on the health of plants).
There is a vast mass of EU regulation that has been incorporated into UK law since 1973. What is to be done about this? Much of this is to harmonise best practice within the single market; regulations to improve the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners is an example. Other regulations are intended to harmonise sales across the EU. Rules on electrical plug sockets and voltage are one of an infinite number of such regulations. EU rules have also dictated cleaner beaches in the UK. Do we really want to be swimming in shit? Is this what the Brexiteers meant by “taking back control”?
More seriously the Tories have no serious plan as to what they want out of negotiations and what they may be able to achieve.
The consensus of informed opinion is that the UK can’t have unrestricted access to the single market without allowing free movement of labour. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are quite clear on this point. Free movement of labour is one of the four fundamental freedoms of the EU, along with free movement of goods, of capital and of establishment (the right to set up service provision anywhere in the EU).
• We stand four square in defence of the UK’s need for unrestricted access to the single market. If that is lost, there is no doubt that jobs will disappear here.
• We also defend the right of workers to move wherever they think is best for them. Nobody is proposing restrictions on the power of capital to move where profit opportunities are best, whether inside or outside the EU. In that situation supporting restrictions on the movement of labour is equivalent to tying one arm behind workers’ backs in the battle with capital. It is ironic that right wing Labour MPs such as Chuka Umunna, who were enthusiastic supporters of ‘Remain’, including free movement of people within the EU, are now calling for controls on migration to Britain.
The labour movement needs to draw clear red lines right away. Melanie Onn, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, has made a start in introducing a bill on Workers’ Rights into the House of Commons. She is arguing that the UK should adopt the current standard of rights, set by the European Union, as a minimum for employee protection in this country. Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a shadow minister for Brexit to keep a watchful eye on what the Tories are up to.
One disturbing feature of post-Brexit Britain has been a spike in hate crimes, particularly against Polish workers. This must be condemned in the strongest terms. There have already been demonstrations in support of migrant workers.
As negotiations begin two immediate questions will loom:
• The first is the future of 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, has said that EU nationals living in the country have been “left in limbo” since the referendum. There is no doubt that prominent Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage played the race card during the campaign. This has stirred up anti-migrant feeling across the country. Theresa May has been accused of using the EU citizens here as ‘hostages’ in negotiations with the EU. Are they just to be thrown to the wolves, and issued with deportation orders after Brexit is accomplished?
• The fate of 1.2 million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU is also in question. Many of these are elderly retirees who have been used to receiving health care in their host country in the same way that EU workers here can access the NHS. What will happen after Brexit? Will these mutual arrangements be torn up?
While we are still in the EU, the labour movement must continue to press its own demands. One reason the RMT urged its members to vote for ‘Leave’ was because EU rules back privatisation and make it difficult for national governments to renationalise the railways – which a majority of the British people support. Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear that we need the reform of EU rules on state aid if Labour is to continue to support the principle of a single market.
As negotiations proceed, there will be a blizzard of legislation introduced into Parliament, usually smuggled in as statutory instruments rather than being openly debated in the House. This will require careful scrutiny, but offers opportunities to the labour movement to improve conditions in the UK as well as to beat off threats.
The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU has been widely and accurately derided for its huge waste of money. Here is an opportunity to make the case for a reform of agricultural subsidies. To take one example, wealthy landowners in the UK get subsidies from the CAP for the upkeep of grouse moors. Since a day’s shooting is likely to cost £3,000 these subsidies cannot be argued as necessary to provide affordable food for the poor. Grouse moors are ‘managed’ by burning off the heather. This is not environmentally friendly. Endangered birds of prey such as hen harriers are shot or poisoned by gillies – all in order that aristocrats and their hangers-on can have their fun by slaughtering the grouse. One such parasitic laird is Paul Dacre, editor of the Eurosceptic ‘Daily Mail’. He has received £460,000 from the CAP since 2011. We suggest reform of such payments is overdue.
Likewise the Common Fisheries Policy has been blamed for overfishing and for obvious absurdities such as discard (throwing dead fish overboard because they’re the wrong sort of fish or because quotas have already been exceeded).There is no doubt that small fishing communities have been hard hit by the CFP. Jeremy Corbyn has exposed the real problem:
“The Prime Minister will be very well aware that reforms that were made three years ago actually put the power back into the hands of member states, and it is the UK Government who have given nearly two thirds of English and Welsh fishing quotas to three companies, thus excluding the small fishing communities along our coasts.” (Hansard)
Some have been calling for a second referendum. As we tried to show earlier a broad ‘Yes-No’ response to a complex interlocking set of issues can never provide a satisfactory political response to the situation. A second referendum is likely to raise as many questions as the first. In addition a demand for a second referendum will also inevitably be seen as an attempt to defy the express wishes of the people.
There has also been a debate about triggering Article 50 of the European Treaties. This is the provision that begins the process of quitting the EU. The labour movement has no power whether to trigger Article 50 or not. That is up to the government - subject to the pressure the Tories will inevitably be under from our former trading partners within the EU to settle the uncertainly involved in negotiation as quickly as possible.
We need at least the outlines of a satisfactory deal before we opt to support the implementation of Article 50. Otherwise Labour should vote against. We don’t want to buy a pig in a poke! We should use delaying powers as much as we can to prevent the Tories rushing ahead with a squalid anti-working class settlement. This is their mess. Let them lie in it.
The pamphlet produced by UNITE entitled ‘Brexit on Our Terms’ calls for, “no triggering of Article 50 until we see what exit from the EU will look like and what the alternatives are.” The union correctly perceives that, instead of treating all our trading partners in the EU as potential enemies as soon as the decision to leave was taken, the UK government should have negotiated the likely terms of future trading arrangements with them before triggering Article 50.
Once Article 50 is triggered, two years of fantastically complex negotiations on the terms of exit on every subject under the sun will follow. Until that process is completed two years later there will be no opportunity to even begin drawing up new trade deals. If Theresa May’s timetable is taken seriously, by 2019 the government will have nothing in front of it on trade agreements except a blank sheet of paper.
There is no doubt that a section of the Conservative Party and the ruling class have a vision of Britain’s future outside the EU, however evanescent. It is one of a low wage, offshore tax haven where standards of all kinds – environmental and consumer standards as well as working conditions - are driven down to the bottom. This is not what we want. It is hardly credible in any case that a country of almost 65 million people can become an island sweatshop, a tax haven for international criminals and a safe house for oligarchic money.
The High Court judgement against the government’s wish to push through the implementation of Article 50 is completely correct, despite the hysteria of the Brexiteers. Their slogan was “taking back control”. It is therefore ironic that the terms of exit are to remain a closed book to the British people, and that exit is to be achieved by use of the royal prerogative rather than the will of Parliament.
They should be reminded that Charles I, who was excessively addicted to using the royal prerogative rather than Parliamentary approval, was cut down to size as a result. Davis, Johnson and Fox are flying blind, as is Theresa May. Parliament is an imperfect expression of the popular will, but it’s all we have. The High Court decision is not a spoke in the wheel for Brexit; it opens up a debate on the terms and the kind of exit that Britain will make. It represents a opportunity for Labour to defend its own people and expose the vulnerability of the Tory government at the same time.
In or out of the EU the labour movement needs to present an alternative vision of Britain in the future.
LRC AFFILIATION FORM
We should like to affiliate/renew our affiliation to the LRC (suggested rates below):
£500 National Trades Unions
£250 Trades Union regions
£50 TU branch (large)/CLP/other
£25 TU branch (small)/Branch Labour Parties
REGISTRATION FOR LRC ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014
10am-5pm (registration from 9.15am)
Friends’ Meeting House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
We wish to send … delegate(s) to 2014 LRC Annual Conference & AGM (£25 fee per delegate)
Delegate rights: 20 – national unions, 10 – union regions, 5 – CLPs, large union branches & other organisations, 2 – Branch Labour Parties & small union branches.
I also include a supporting donation of £___________
I enclose a cheque, payable to Labour Representation Committee, for a TOTAL of £_________
Please list the names of your delegates on the reverse of this form.
Delegates can also register on-line at: http://l-r-c.org.uk/shop/#conference (Choose delegates option)
A free crèche will be available all day but it is necessary to register for places in advance. Please contact us – ideally by email to email@example.com – as soon as possible to register for a place. We shall need your child’s name and details of any special needs they may have.
LRC MEMBERSHIP FORM
I would like to join the LRC / renew my membership of the LRC* (*delete if not applicable)
It would help us if you were able to complete and return the Standing Order mandate, for a solidarity sum of not less than £2 per month. Alternatively to renew:
□ £10 - waged □ £5 – unwaged □ £1 – youth/student
REGISTRATION FOR LRC ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014
10am-5pm (registration from 9.15am)
Friends House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
I wish to attend 2014 LRC Annual Conference & AGM
□ £15 – waged □ £10 low waged □ £3 – unwaged/outside London
I also include a supporting donation of £___________
I enclose a cheque, payable to Labour Representation Committee, for a TOTAL of £_________
Payments can be made through Paypal/Credit Card on our website: http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/shop
A free crèche will be available all day but it is necessary to register for places in advance. Please contact us – ideally by email to firstname.lastname@example.org – as soon as possible to register for a place. We shall need your child’s name and details of any special needs they may have.
NOMINATIONS FORM 2014
This form is for all nominations for positions to be elected at LRC Annual Conference 2014.
In all cases you MUST have obtained the consent of any nominee prior to nomination.
LRC NATIONAL OFFICERS
Only individual paid-up LRC members can be elected to the LRC’s Officer posts (shown below). Please fill in the name(s) of your nominee(s) as an LRC National Officer below:
Vice Chairs (1)
LRC NATIONAL COMMITTEE (NC)
All LRC members can nominate candidates for the National Committee in Section B – Individual members.
Members of each LRC equalities caucus can also nominate for the relevant places in Section D – Equalities seats. Please fill in the name(s) of your NC nominee(s) below:
Name(s) of Nominee(s)
Section B: Individual members
Section D: Equalities seats
LGBT members: (1)
BME members: (1)
Youth members: (1)
NOMINATORS - please provide your details below. All nominations must be supported by at least 2 fully paid-up individual LRC members (not the nominee), or affiliated organisations.
Membership Number Full Name/Organisation Signature & Date
LABOUR BRIEFING EDITORIAL BOARD
Please fill in the name(s) of any nominee(s) for the Labour Briefing Editorial Board in the grid below. You MUST have obtained the consent of any nominee prior to nomination.
Name(s) of Nominee(s)
Only individual LRC members can nominate other individual LRC members to be elected as the LRC’s Auditors. Please fill in the name(s) of your nominee(s) in the grid below:
NOMINATORS - please provide your details below. All nominations must be supported by at least 2 fully paid-up individual LRC members (not the nominee)
Membership Number Full Name/Organisation Signature & Date
ALL NOMINEES MAY ALSO PROVIDE A 100 WORD PERSONAL STATEMENT
1. Further copies of this form are available to download from the conference section of our website: www.l-r-c.org.uk
2. Any nominee may also provide a personal statement of up to 100 words maximum.
3. Completed nomination forms and any candidates’ statements must be received no later than 3pm on Saturday 1st November 2014. Please return to:
c/o PO BOX 2378
Alternatively, you can email your completed nominations form to: email@example.com Please ensure that you title any such email “Nominations for 2014 LRC Conference”.
LRC ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2014: SATURDAY 8TH NOVEMBER 2014
The LRC Annual Conference 2014 will take place on Saturday 8th November at Friends House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ. This one-day conference will run from 10am to 5pm, with registration opening at 9.15am.
To encourage attendance from those on low incomes or from further afield, we have held Conference fees at previous years’ levels: just £3 unwaged/outside London, £10 low waged, or £15 waged. There will be a free crèche at the conference, but we do need to be notified of your childcare needs in advance. If you wish to book a place in the crèche, please reply as soon as possible including your child’s name and details of any special needs they may have.
Below is the conference registration form, which also allows you to renew your LRC membership if appropriate. In order to nominate for, vote in and contest elections, as well as fully participate at Annual Conference, you must be a current, paid-up LRC member. So, if your LRC membership has lapsed, please renew your membership of the LRC now. (http://l-r-c.org.uk/shop/#membership)
Annual Conference decides the LRC’s campaigning priorities, hears guest speakers and elects a National Committee to run the organisation for the coming year. There are also direct elections for the LRC’s National Officers. These officers are Chair, Vice Chairs (2), Treasurer, Political Secretary, Administrator, Membership Secretary and Web Manager. In conjunction with the nominee please use the nomination form and ensure that the individual/s accepts the nomination.
Elections for seats on the National Committee also take place at Annual Conference. There are 8 Individual Members’ seats – to represent individual members such as you – and 8 equalities seats (2 LGBT members, 2 BME members, 2 disabled members and 2 Youth members). As the LRC now hosts Labour Briefing magazine, Conference will also elect 6 people to sit on the Labour Briefing Editorial Board. The LRC encourages all its supporters to subscribe to this magazine, See also www.labourbriefing.org Lastly, Conference will also elect two auditors.
To stand for election for any of these positions, as well as being a fully paid-up member of the LRC, you must also be nominated by at least two other paid-up LRC members. Candidates may submit a personal statement of no more than 100 words, which will be distributed to all registered delegates.
Personal statements should be sent – ideally by email to firstname.lastname@example.org – to arrive before 3pm on Saturday 1st November 2014.
Further details of confirmed speakers, resolutions, amendments and other conference information will appear on the LRC website www.l-r-c.org.uk over the coming weeks.
We hope to see you at LRC Annual Conference on 8th November 2014.
For the “Your Britain” Labour Party policy review the LRC Labour Party Liaison Unit have drafted the following submissions. The cut off point is 6th March and submissions can be made online. Please click on each link to see the individual submissions.
How to make a submision to the Labour Party “Our Britan” policy review using LRC model submissions.
The deadline for submissions of up to 600 words is 6th March 2013.
Submission site: www.yourbritain.org.uk
First of all Log-in using your membersnet sign-on or register if you are a first time user
1. Place mouse over “Join the Debate” and click on “Find a Discussion”.
2. Click on subject required (e.g. “Housing”).
3. At right hand of screen click on “Make a Submission”.
4. Click the “Continue” button.
5. Make a submission of up to 600 words (Cut and paste where appropriate).
6. Click “Submit” button.
7. The first line of your submission will appear on the right hand side of the Labour Party website screen.
8. You will get an email confirming your submission has been successful - click on link on email to view your submission on Labour Party website.
Here are some draft submissions which can be used as a basis for your own. They are in pdf format – right click if you wish to save a copy.
Local Government pdf
Health & NHS pdf
Tax fairness pdf
In a series of articles the LRC has asked key campaigning organisations to explain how the cuts will impact upon particular communities, entrenching disadvantage.
* 75% of disabled women and 70% of disabled men are already at the bottom end of Britain’s income distribution scale living in poverty
* A tenth of disabled women have incomes below £31 per week and a tenth of disabled men have incomes below £59 per week including earned income and benefits
* Already 30% of disabled people live below the poverty line and 1 in 4 families with disabled children cannot afford heating
* The median level of total wealth for households headed by an employee is £217,500 compared to only £21,100 for households headed by someone who is sick or disabled
* Under the coalition government’s economy drive disabled people are set to lose at least £140 per month through direct cuts to disability benefits (initially devised to pay the extra costs of being disabled) alone
Download the DPAC paper
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) has published its Pensioners’ Manifesto 2010. The NPC is also organising the ‘Defend the Welfare State and Public Services’ demo on 10th April.
The LRC has launched a pamphlet for the General Election 2010 - A People’s Agenda. The idea of the pamphlet is to generate the real political discussion we want at election time.
As LRC Chair John McDonnell MP, writes in the Introduction:
“As we go into the 2010 General Election, it is clear that much of the electorate feels it has no choice - with all the three major parties offering the same prescription for the UK: there will be cuts to your local services and to your pay - and quite possibly your job too.”
“This document sets out some broad ideas for the society we want. But we want your ideas and responses to”.
The Socialist Education Association (SEA) has published its priorities for the election manifesto on education.
Download the document and have your say.
The March 2010 LEAP Red Papers: Breaking the Cuts Consensus were published just prior to the March 2010 Budget Statement.
In this edition of the papers, John Grieve Smith argues that the pre-election cuts consensus is driven by misplaced obsession with the budget deficit, and that such cuts would be damage the economy. The ‘misplaced obsession’ could be countered by an international, government-led mechanism for pricing and trading public sector debt, argues Gordon Nardell.
An alternative to the cuts consensus, based on tax justice and public ownership, is argued for by Andrew Fisher, while Gerry Gold explains why neither the solutions offered by neoliberals nor Keynesians can solve the global crisis.
Graham Turner argues that the crisis in the UK is exacerbated by the decline of manufacturing, on contrast to other countries that have had a clear manufacturing strategy, while Jerry Jones tackles another election issue – migration – arguing that trade union rights are the solution to exploitation and under-cutting.
As John McDonnell MP concludes, no party is adequately addressing these issues because none want a more democratic system
The LEAP Red Papers - December 2009 - The Cuts contain the following papers:
• Graham Turner on Britain’s macroeconomic situation
• Gerry Gold on whether we need a finance sector
• Jerry Jones on reviving Britain’s manufacturing industry
• Andrew Fisher on the cost of asset sales and the private sector
• Richard Murphy on the cost of public sector cuts
• Dave Wetzel on why the UK needs a land value tax
• John McDonnell on an alternative to cuts
Peter Purton, author of “Sodom, Gomorrah and the New Jerusalem: Labour and lesbian and gay rights from Edward Carpenter to today” writes on the future of the struggle for LGBT equality.
Download Where now for LGBT equality?
In line with our 2008 LRC Conference policy, the LRC is supporting campaigns for, and fostering debate on, social ownership:
Download Why we need a campaign for Social Ownership by Martin Wicks. This paper looks at the recent ‘nationalisations’ and argues for a campaign for real social ownership.
You can also buy the LEAP publication Building the New Common Sense - social ownership for the 21st century.
Download Sources of Union Power by Professor Gregor Gall. This paper looks at the sources of union power in a world of neo-liberal globalisation and puts forward some ideas for discussion about the potential for using that power.
Download A Market Economy based on Common Ownership by Jerry Jones. This LEAP discussion paper proposes a new, more equitable economic system that makes more efficient use of the world’s natural and financial resources, technology, and people’s labour power.
LRC policy is democratically decided by our annual conference. All LRC affiliates are entitled to move a resolution at conference, which is then voted on by the whole conference. The National Executive Committee http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/officers-elected-at-2016-lrc-conference/ is elected each year by annual conference, and this is responsible for the day-to-day running of the LRC between conferences.
You may also be interested in the LRC Constitution.
In the Euro elections Labour experienced catastrophically bad results with its lowest share of the vote in a nationwide election since 1910, when the Party was only four years old. Labour polled substantially below 20% and finished 3rd behind UKIP. Download the LRC analysis of the European election results.
In the Local Elections, Labour lost control of all four counties it was defending: Derbyshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire. With all results in, Labour has 328 fewer councillors than it won in 2005 (includes by-election defeats and defections in the interim) and maintains only 170 councillors. Download the LRC analysis of the Local election results.
Download the Introduction by Mike Phipps, Chair of the LRC Anti-War Commission.
The papers on Palestine are:
More papers to follow. You may also be interested in these short films by Maggie O’Kane on Gaza War Crimes Investigation.
Michael Calderbank of the Electoral Reform Society puts the ‘Left Case for Proportional Representation’
Download the Introduction by Mike Phipps, Chair of the LRC Anti-War Commission.
The ‘Afghanistan: Time for Military Withdrawal’ papers are:
Download the Introduction by Mike Phipps, Chair of the LRC Anti-War Commission.
The ‘Iraq: Justice and Withdrawal’ papers are:
The LRC policy document is available as a colour booklet or the full document.
Published in advance of the 2005 General Election, this full colour booklet is a shortened version of the policy document presented to LRC conference 2005: LRC policy booklet
If you would like a printed copy of the policy booklet please send a cheque or postal order for £1, along with your name and address, to LRC, c/o G10 Norman Shaw South, House of Commons, London SW1A 2JF.
This is the full LRC policy document is the policy document as presented to LRC conference 2005.
The full ‘Programme for a Real Labour Government’ can also be downloaded in four parts for users with a low bandwidth:
The New Left policy papers are co-sponsored by the New Left Unions and the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. The final policy papers are the outcome of policy forums that have brought together trade unionists, MPs, academics and activists to agree a set of policies on which to campaign.