Letters

Face it

If there has been a problem with Jeremy Corbyn, it is this: he has put party unity above principle, when he should have gone to war with the party right and put his own uncompromising socialist programme forward. He should never, for a start, have switched to a pro-European Union position and campaigned for ‘remain’. Forty years of Labour left opposition to the EU and its predecessors was ditched overnight to placate the Blairmainers.

Corbyn was fortunate that Brexit won anyway; otherwise Labour would already be finished and the UK Independence Party would be the popular opposition to a Cameron/Osborne Tory government.

Let’s face it: in 2020 Labour will be down to 40 or 50 seats, maybe fewer. All those seats will be held by the more leftwing MPs because nobody is going to vote for the New Labour coup plotters, knowing they would refuse to form a Corbyn-led government in any case. That is going to happen, so Corbyn might as well start fighting now and then, after 2020, the Labour Party can be rebuilt on a principled, radical socialist basis.

David Ellis
Leeds

Mad?

In a recent online discussion about a mentally ill comrade, I argued that actually the mentally ill get their opinions from the same sources as we do and usually come to much the same conclusions. It is their behaviour and rhetoric that separate them out. In this particular case, when you reduced the rhetoric of the disturbed comrade to ‘normal speak’, he was broadly in agreement with the Brexiteers and Trump voters: the working class needs protecting from foreigners (even though the foreigners are working class) and socialism has nothing to offer humanity.

You can hardly describe the viewpoint of millions of people as the product of mental illness, even if the result of Brexit or Trump will not produce what they expect. Which brings us back to the common source of information: TV, radio and the press. Are they mad or deliberately propagating false information without being challenged by competing sources? You would be toying with insanity yourself if you were to go down the ‘mad’ route. Yes, there are occasions when straight untruths appear in the media, but this is not what distinguishes it.

What distinguishes it is a viewpoint that sees everything in a similar light. A consensus based on a lot of evidence, but biased in its interpretation by self-interest: the self-interest of capitalism. Typically neither the journalists nor others in the media (except for the owners) are bourgeois. But they support those owners politically and share their ideology. It is not just a question of who pays the piper. Most politically conscious working class views are largely unheard. Historically, at least in Europe, the left has had mass-circulation national papers, but no more. We need an independent voice that only the Labour Party can supply.

The free movement of people means, to capitalists, lower wages and higher unemployment - not the right to flee poverty, but, in practice, to spread it. You can’t blame the Brexiteers for noticing the obvious and rebelling. The media never mentions the need to create full employment - in this country, let alone in places like Poland and Lithuania - but, if we want to protect the working class right to free movement, then we also need to campaign for full employment right across Europe and to propose a way of making it happen.

The European Union is a bosses’ club and we should get rid of it. But not retreat to our ‘own’ bosses’ club here in Britain. We need a democratic, working class United States of Europe. We need to unite with our class comrades and take the fight to capitalism.

I mentioned in passing the refusal of the Labour Party to create an independent working class voice. The right wing has no wish to. It consciously rejects socialism and is part of the middle class, pro-capitalist, class alliance. Corbyn and Momentum are involved in a hopeless task to find a common position with the majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party and, as for winning the next general election … dream on! Labour policy must consist only of shifts in emphasis compared to current Tory policies. Promises not to be quite as beastly aren’t what the circumstances demand - especially as they leave the impression that Labour won’t be quite as competent, let alone united.

Rank and file opinion has moved sharply to the left in the Labour Party, but the Parliamentary Labour Party hasn’t - who believes that Corbyn will still be leader after the next election? No, what the rank and file in the Labour Party needs to do is take control, so that it can defend the class in what promises to be tough times ahead.

Phil Kent
London

Fraud

In response to René Gimpel (Letters, March 2), my point is not the Weekly Worker’s criticism of the major politics of leaving the EU, but the ongoing praise of the EU state and how wonderful it all was. If the majority of writers in the paper take that position, why didn’t it call for a ‘remain’ vote rather than a boycott? My point is that it is a total contradiction to call for a boycott and then moan that we left.

The EU is a deeply undemocratic structure. Voters do not vote for policies or politics and no government or programme is elected. Instead, MEPs go basically as individuals and represent no-one but themselves. They have no popular mandates on anything.

The ministers are appointed, the commissioners are self-appointed and they in turn dance a jig to the tunes of the EU bank and the IMF. By what democratic mandate did the EU and the bankers abolish democracy in Greece or force the abolition of key features of social welfare and pensions and workers’ rights and conditions? The EU is not a democracy and isn’t meant to be.

The British parliamentary system is a fraud too, of course. It also dances to the tune of international capitalism, but the ‘out’ vote wasn’t their agenda. As you say, ‘out’ wasn’t supposed to win, and they could still, by fair means or foul, block it. In this sense people feel they have exercised control and not simply done as they were told by our betters.

David Douglass
South Shields

Percentages

Eddie Ford wrote: “Yet what did [the Liberal Democrats] get in the by-elections? In Stoke, their vote only went up 5.7% (to 9.8% - at least they saved their deposit this time) and it was pretty much the same in Copeland - only increasing by 3.8%, putting them on 7.3% of the total vote” (‘Tories winning Brexit battle’, March 2).

That is not right. In Stoke the Liberal Democrat vote share went up by 5.7% points, which is not the same as 5.7%. In fact, their vote share rose from 4.1% to 9.8%, which is actually an increase of their share of their vote of 139%. Similarly, in Copeland their vote share rose by 3.8% points, but this is an increase in their vote share of 109%.

Arthur Bough
email

Budget for rich

We have now had austerity for nearly 10 years, and it is devastating people’s lives. This week’s budget deepens the attack on our services, jobs and quality of life. It is disgraceful and will cause even more suffering to those already unable to cope in Tory Britain.

The £2 billion extra announced for social care, spread over three years, is far too little, far too late. The 2% rise in national insurance contributions for millions of often low-paid self-employed workers will push more people into poverty, whilst raising the higher rate tax threshold to £50,000 is a giveaway to the top 15% of earners. National health service cuts have not been reversed and there is no extra help for cash-strapped schools.

Whilst ordinary working people, the poor and the vulnerable lose vital services, the bosses of Britain’s largest public companies enjoyed a 10% pay rise in 2015, according to the High Pay Centre, while wages for workers rose just 2%. Leading company bosses now typically earn 129 times more than their employees. The wealthy can cope with service cuts - the rest of us can’t. They are not affected by austerity.

There is no need for austerity: it is a political choice. There are other ways of dealing with the country’s deficit, including a 5% wealth tax on the richest 10%, which, alone, would resolve the country’s debt. Governments could reclaim the £120 billion per year of unpaid tax that rich individuals and companies avoid or evade. Banks and building societies could be nationalised, and their massive profits could be used to maintain and improve public services.

Looking at public services in detail shows the true state of affairs:

Education: The Tories can find an extra £340 million to build 140 new free and grammar schools - selective schools disproportionately filled by pupils from wealthier backgrounds (only 3% on free school meals compared to 15% in other state schools), whilst state schools report a £3 billion shortfall in funding with less money per pupil, shortage of teachers and crumbling buildings.

Welfare: There have been massive cuts to benefits over the last five years, including cuts to personal independence payments to save £3.7 billion by ensuring fewer claimants qualify. Child benefit and most universal credit rates have been frozen: with inflation rising towards 3%, these are real-term cuts. Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition sees the suffering locally on a regular basis outside the job centre.

Government departments have been told to cut 6% to save £3.5 billion. Hundreds of thousands will lose their jobs. Services will be further decimated.

Local government budget cuts have already led to the closures of libraries, and 25 million fewer books than in 1996; fewer disabled children can get council help; cuts to domestic violence refuges; closures of youth clubs, fire stations and children’s centres; more people sleeping rough; adult eligibility to social care has been restricted; far fewer elderly people are eligible for care at home.

Social care is in financial turmoil with 23,000 allegations of abuse against carers working in people’s homes due to cuts to council budget, according to the UK Homecare Association.

Health: £30 billion to be cut by 2020 through ‘sustainability and transformation plans’ - we know that is going to decimate health provision locally and nationally.

Basically, local councils are close to insolvency. Health services cannot cope, hundreds of thousands will lose their jobs and those who cannot work, including the disabled, are being pushed into abject poverty through benefit cuts and sanctions. None of this was mentioned in today’s budget - a budget which does nothing to address these facts and, in many ways, will make the situation worse.

Pete McLaren
Rugby Tusc

Heroes

BBC news this week rewrote history in its coverage of the events of March 7 1987, when the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry overturned in the Belgium port of Zeebrugge and 191 passengers and crew members lost their lives. According to the state broadcaster, the deaths were the result of a crew member failing to close the bow doors, as it departed from the port. This led to water flooding into the ferry and overturning it.

So no mention of the fact that the ferry owners, P&O, had ruthlessly reduced the turnaround times between docking the ferry and its return to Dover, with crew members forced by management to work to an almost impossible time schedule. All, of course, designed to cuts costs and boost profits. The ferry - and others operated by P&O - often departed with its bow doors closing rather than departing after the doors had been fully closed. The result was a tragedy, in which it should not be forgotten that many crew members - including plenty who died as a result - were heroes, as they ignored their own safety to rescue as many passengers and fellow crew members as possible. The BBC coverage must have left those crew members who are still alive today extremely hurt. It left me feeling very angry.

P&O, of course, expressed regret for the tragedy, but nevertheless pushed on with trying to maximise their profits by cutting jobs, lengthening the remaining workers’ hours and cutting their pay. On February 6 1988, 2,300 seafarers, all members of the National Union of Seamen, began strike action against a company that had just announced record profits of £51.7 million. For almost two months P&O ferries lay idle. But when the NUS leadership were threatened with an injunction of the union’s funds if they balloted all its 21,000 members for strike action, they climbed down.

Then, during Easter 1988, the company announced that it had derecognised the NUS and was pulling out of the industry’s National Maritime Board agreements. Sealink NUS members in Dover, recognising that this was an attack on the union in general and the rights of seafarers to defend themselves, decided not to cross the P&O picket lines.

It was thus Sealink management who took the NUS to court for secondary picketing, as NUS Sealink members across the country escalated their actions and all Sealink ships came to a standstill. The key now was to stay out and get others out. Flying pickets were needed to take the message to all ports throughout the country.

The courts ordered the sequestration of the NUS assets. At first, with his members supporting him, NUS leader Sam McCluskie threatened not to comply, and the potential for mass defiance of the anti-trade union laws opened up.

But, after just nine days - and only three days after a 2,000-strong supporters’ march in Dover - the union purged its contempt and ordered Sealink workers back to work. Sealink workers reluctantly agreed, leaving P&O workers on strike on their own. The workers were not prepared or able to disobey their union leadership.

Ultimately, this was the key point in the strike as a threat to all ferry operators in Britain became replaced by a dispute between an increasingly isolated workforce and a confident anti-union, international employer, supported by the government, police, media and courts.

Strikers continued picketing, money continued to be raised for families and to maintain the support kitchens operating in the Dover area; speakers continued to raise the issues at meetings and demonstrations. Yet the strategy to win the dispute remained absent. Indeed, many strikers seemed reluctant to even ask ‘how to win?’ as the dispute dragged on until it was formally abandoned by the NUS after 16 months. A few years later, in 1991, the P&O executive chairman, Sir Jeffrey Stirling, was made a baron in Margaret Thatcher’s resignation honours list. He still sits today in the House of Lords.

Mark Metcalf
email

No prosecutions

Stop prosecutions for solidarity with Palestine and for opposition against the military dictatorship in Egypt!

We are aware that a group of deputies of the Freiheitliche Partei, an extreme rightwing racist party led by HC Strache, has initiated a parliamentary inquiry against the Austrian section of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, as well as against the leading organisation of the Egyptian migrants in Austria.

Referring to solidarity slogans chanted at an anti-racist demonstration in Vienna on November 26 2016, in support of Palestine, as well as slogans which supported the resistance of the Egyptian people against the military dictatorship, the parliamentary deputies of the Freiheitliche Partei have called for the federal ministry of the interior to officially investigate these two organisations with a view to taking legal steps against them. Irrespective of our perspectives about the future of the Palestinian, as well as the Egyptian people’s struggle for liberation, we protest against holding a parliamentary inquiry and we also oppose any state investigation and prosecution against these organisations.

Please send a short protest letter by email to the Austrian parliament (medienservice@parlament.gv.at) as well as to the Austrian ministry of interior (pressestelle@bmi.gv.at). Please forward this email also to us: rcit@thecommunists.net.

Laurence Humphries
RCIT in Britain