I am one of three million European Union citizens whose future in the UK is uncertain following the outcome of the EU referendum on June 23 last year.
Many of my friends say: “Of course you’ll be fine. Nobody is going to deport you.” That may or may not end up being true, but the fact remains that for the last eight months we have been left with uncertainty and anxiety, as Theresa May and her Tory government refuse to give us any guarantees.
Embassies, unions, employers and immigration lawyers are recommending that we should apply for a permanent residence card (permanent residence is a status granted under EU law after living in a country, usually, for five years and meeting certain other treaty requirements). There are two problems with that. Firstly, about a third of applications are refused because of technicalities (which affects students, stay-at-home parents, retired people and those caring for sick relatives). Secondly, PR is EU legislation, so it won’t offer us any legal guarantees once the UK has left the EU.
What we need is for Theresa May to unilaterally guarantee that EU immigrants who have made their home and life in the UK can continue to live here under the same rights. I would argue that this should have happened as soon as possible after the referendum. It would have set a confident and positive tone for the coming negotiations, would have made the UK look caring and compassionate, and would have put pressure on the other EU countries to follow the example. Pressure groups of Britons in other EU countries share our demands of guaranteeing our rights. In contrast, Theresa May has taken the stance that she can only guarantee the rights of EU citizens if other EU countries guarantee the same rights to Brits in their countries. And the EU is adamant that those negotiations can only begin once article 50 has been activated.
British and EU citizens on both sides of the Channel have become the bargaining chips in the gamble between two ever hardening players.
It was frustrating when MPs recently rejected the amendment to the Brexit bill to protect EU citizens in the UK, and even more disappointing to see Jeremy Corbyn impose a three-line-whip to prevent Labour MPs from voting against the amendment.
Many EU citizens no longer feel at home or welcome here in the way they have done prior to the referendum. Speaking for myself, a year ago I saw myself as a Brit with a German passport. Now, after months of being labelled as an immigrant - who, allegedly, is the cause of pressures on health, housing and education - I am beginning to think of myself as an immigrant too. For the first time in all my years in Britain my (British) husband and I talk about the possibility of moving to Germany. Not my first choice, because I have made Britain my home. Here is where my work, my friends, my social networks and my family are - indeed my whole life! Here is where I have put down my roots. I love this country, the people with their quirky sense of humour, the English language and British culture. Returning to Germany would really be the very last resort.
The rise in general xenophobia and racism since the referendum is well documented. I’d argue that the rhetoric and general attitude towards immigrants of the present government has played a role in emboldening people to express xenophobic and racist views.
When you listen to EU citizens being interviewed, you often hear statements like ‘I have lived here for X amount of years and I have always paid my taxes’. To me this is indicative of people feeling the need to justify their existence and to ‘prove their worth’. Theresa May states that “EU citizens make valuable contributions to society”, but I challenge the idea that only our financial contributions are of value.
We all contribute to British society in many ways. So, it shouldn’t matter whether we have been here for three years or 33, whether we are cleaners or consultants, whether we are married to Brits or not, whether we hold some official public office or are parents at the school gate. Arguably, it also should not matter whether we are from an EU country or a non-EU country (I have learned in the last eight months how much more difficult the requirements for non-EU citizens are).
I would like to see us fight for fair and compassionate treatment for all immigrants in the future, but I think of our present fight for a different cause: it is the fight to ensure that the rights of those EU citizens who are already settled in Britain are guaranteed. We are adamant that we are human beings and not bargaining chips and we will continue to put pressure on MPs and peers to push this issue. If you want to find out more, check out www.the3million.org.uk.
I thought the Weekly Worker took a reasonable position in calling for a boycott of the EU referendum, as, given the circumstances and arguments, neither ‘stay’ nor ‘leave’ were positions you could support.
Since the referendum, however, I am fed up reading in the Weekly Worker how disastrous the out vote was and what a progressive idea the EU state is, that regardless of the single currency, single market and autocratic dictatorship, we clearly should have stayed in. I am also getting fed up of being told what a narrow vote the out vote was. In fact, this was the biggest vote by far in the history of the island, and the highest turnout in any election ever.
If ‘stay’ and ‘out’ had been political parties, ‘out’ would have won two thirds of all constituencies and parliament would have returned a landslide ‘out’ government. It also sticks in the craw to be told in a paper, which on all other issues claims democracy is the bottom line, that MPs ought to ignore the vote of the people who elected them and just do their own thing.
We are offered the example of hanging. If most of the population voted in favour, would the individual MPs who opposed such judicial murder be bound to follow the mandate or just vote with their conscience? Well, I see this as no different than being a workers’ elected delegate, as I was for over 30 years. Your job is to reflect the wishes and sentiments of the workers you represent. I can honestly say in all my time as a delegate I always received the mandate I agreed with on all principled issues, even if that meant arguing and thumping the table and slagging it out in stormy mass meetings. Had I, for example, received a racist resolution and it looked like being passed, I would have made it clear that I would resign rather than carry it out, and someone else would have to take this forward, making it a vote of confidence and making workers aware that this issue couldn’t be isolated from my leadership and practice of everything else, as well as including their day-to-day issues. In no case, would I ever speak against the views of the branch once it had decided, even when I lost votes on strikes and shift schedules, for example. My job was to reflect their strengths and weaknesses. Not to do so would mean the so-called representatives represented no-one but themselves.
Pro-‘remain’ MPs in ‘out’ constituencies make it clear what their own opinions are, but vote according to the constituency or else resign and fight a by-election as an independent around the issue. Democracy is a bottom-line principle and something I have fought for under several National Union of Mineworkers leaderships, who, once they got behind the big desk, though it was their job to tell us what to do.
I feel I must take issue with some of Tony Greenstein’s statements in his article last week (‘Slow moving car crash’, February 16).
Comrade Greenstein correctly criticises Jeremy Corbyn for his failure to take on the Labour right, particularly over the fabricated ‘anti-Semitism’ offensive. But parts of his latest article can be characterised as left social democratic, in that they seem to advocate a better form of capitalism rather than working class rule. Take this section, for instance:
“There has also been a complete policy muddle. Corbyn should have made it clear that the railways would be nationalised within the first six months of a Labour victory and that compensation would be capped. Instead there is the absurdity of waiting for 15-year contracts to expire, by which time a Tory government would have reversed his partial nationalisation.”
So Tony is advocating not a rail industry run by its workers and users, but something like what it used to be: ie, like Labour’s post-war administration, a Corbyn government would buy out the current rail companies (although, of course, “compensation would be capped”) in order to allow the industry to be run by the state. Tony rightly says that after 15 years a future Tory government could well have “reversed [Corbyn’s] partial nationalisation”. But surely the same could be argued in relation to immediate, full-scale nationalisation. Under capitalism neither nationalisation nor privatisation in themselves alter the overall mode of production or necessarily advance the programme for working class rule. Both can be reversed relatively quickly.
It is, of course, totally correct to place a series of demands on the bourgeoisie in line with what workers need right now, including on Conservative or even more rightwing administrations. But this should not be confused with the programme we put forward for working class rule: ie, the programme that a socialist-led Labour Party should advocate. In fact, there is a strong case for arguing that Labour should reject any governmental participation in the absence of such a programme and the likelihood of being able to implement it.
Then there is the section of Tony’s article dealing with Brexit.
He writes: “The result of pulling out of the single market will be a serious decline in working class living standards .… Access to the single market, both for manufacturing and financial services, is crucial. London faces the prospect of losing its role as the world’s leading financial sector to New York, Frankfurt and Paris. Companies which are located in Britain because of tariff-free access to Europe will simply move.”
This is totally in line with the arguments of the rightwing ‘remainers’. If ‘we’ abandon the current arrangements, the outcome will not be ‘good for Britain’. ‘We’ will lose ‘our’ role as “the world’s leading financial sector”, while businesses could relocate elsewhere if their owners believe that Brexit would mean lower profits for UK-based companies. This is about as far from a working class argument as it is possible to advocate.
Comrade Greenstein continues: “What should be the position of Corbyn? He should be implacably opposed to withdrawal from the single market and the ending of free movement of workers, as it will have a devastating effect on the welfare state, or what is left of it. Socialism is not best served by advocating policies that lead to a recession.”
Surely it could be argued that a whole range of radical working class demands - such as nationalisation with minimal compensation - could “lead to a recession” if implemented in individual states within the current capitalist order. After all, if the working class makes real gains, that will surely damage business interests and capital will be withdrawn - companies will “simply move”. Think of all the lost jobs! But for us what matters is posing a series of immediate demands in order to advance our overall programme.
Tony concludes by saying that “socialists have a duty to oppose withdrawal from Europe”. Like him we are internationalists and we are fully aware that the existence of the EU has advanced the possibility of working class unity across borders within Europe. But that does not mean we should have advocated a ‘remain’ vote in the referendum.
We are for a working class, socialist Europe, but unfortunately that was not on offer on June 23. The choice was between the current European Union of the bankers and bosses, and a United Kingdom of the bankers and bosses. The left should have united in opposing the whole referendum charade.
Labour national executive committee member Ann Black was at the Eastleigh Constituency Labour Party meeting on February 15. Ann had the support of the left in the NEC elections last year, but it then transpired that she had supported putting Brighton CLP into special measures and using the £25 payment for registered supporters and the cut-off date for voting rights to gerrymander the 2016 leadership race.
She began by saying that she was happy about Corbyn’s initial nomination and that things under his leadership had been going fairly well until the EU referendum, with by-election and London mayoralty wins. She also said she believed that Corbyn was not responsible for either the outcome of the EU referendum or the divisions within Labour on this issue. Ann pointed to the fact that under Blair, Brown and Miliband, members had been told not to mention Europe in campaigning.
Things then took an inevitable turn for the worst. We were told that there was no coup attempt. After all, coups require a plan for a new leadership, proper organisation among the instigators and should lead to a successful outcome, whereas none of these had been present. This was a frustrating line of argument, to put it mildly. There are, of course, unsuccessful coups, as imprisoned Gülenists in Turkey will be able to tell you. They had no vision or viable leadership contender, but the goals of the Parliamentary Labour Party right were negative: they simply wanted rid of Corbyn.
Ann went on to criticise the manner in which suspensions had been handed out during the last leadership race. She pointed to the absence of justice in the proceedings and the fact that members weren’t being told what they were accused of. She argued the polarisation that had taken place in the party was dangerous and that the EU vote had led to new rifts along different lines to the pro-Corbyn/anti-Corbyn divisions.
The first member’s contribution related to the Chakrabarti report, and Ann was asked what she thought of the suggestions raised regarding suspensions and expulsions. She reiterated that she opposed suspensions where members were not told what they were accused of and that suspensions should only be used where absolutely necessary - eg, if a member hit another member. Ann also argued that members should be given the evidence used in any investigation when they received the decision. As to the allegations of anti-Semitism, she said the party did have a problem. She said that anti-Zionism was different from anti-Semitism, but that members should refrain from language that other members find offensive.
The next contribution was about the conduct of some MPs undermining the work of ordinary members as well as the leadership. Ann replied that the behaviour of “serial disloyalists”, such as Frank Field and John Mann, was frustrating, but there was nothing the NEC could do. I would suggest that what she and the rest of the NEC could do is support mandatory reselection and democratisation within the party generally.
I then asked Ann where she stood on the question of lowering the threshold for nominating the next Labour leader. Surely it isn’t right that MPs could vet the candidates and deny the members the right to elect a leader who represented their views?
Ann responded by reminding us that in fact Corbyn did get nominated under the current rules. Nothing to worry about then! She also pointed out that she voted against Corbyn needing to seek nomination for a second time in the last leadership race. We were promised that “if three quarters of her mail bag” was full of requests to lower the threshold in the event of a vote, she would oblige.
Others present pointed out the obvious: Corbyn (or anyone on the left) would struggle to meet the 15% threshold for nomination if required in the next contest. Rightwing MPs who allowed him onto the ballot realise their mistake and they would not allow it to happen again. One long-time member argued we needed to radically transform the party and subject MPs to party democracy in the same way that the leadership is subject to the members.
Ann then raised doubts about whether Labour could mount a real electoral challenge on a Corbynist platform. The implication being that the unchecked influence of the members would be dangerous for our electoral chances - an unconvincing argument and thoroughly undemocratic. Predictably, we were then told not to forget about the Labour voters who disagree with Corbyn.
I agreed with Ann that where Corbyn is in terms of his ideas is not where most people in the country are (not that this is a reason to abandon socialist principles). Regardless, it ought to be the membership that decides party policy and who leads. If the right don’t like where the party is going, then is it not incumbent on them to win the argument and change people’s minds, instead of relying on undemocratic party structures to win back control?
Ann responded to the question she would have liked to have been asked by saying the Labour Party needed to produce better (presumably rightwing) leaders (presumably to change the minds of the membership). We were told that we need to hear more about the good work of MPs like Yvette Copper and raise the profile of our current MPs (who have proved to be implacably opposed to socialism and the will of the members).
On her way out, Ann assured us that she would ask members for their views should a vote take place in the NEC over changing the nomination threshold, and act according to feedback. I, like other members, have my doubts.
No discussion of the forthcoming Grassroots Momentum networking conference was allowed at Momentum’s Teesside branch meeting on February 21.
As the branch secretary, I put it on the agenda under general Momentum issues, alongside the various other topics that members had requested, as has been our convention until now. Except where it had already been collectively agreed to dedicate a meeting to a specific topic, we have always managed to accommodate motions and topics requested by members without prejudging their acceptability.
But, as soon as we’d got introductions out of the way, a member, in what had the appearance of being a pre-arranged move, objected to agenda item 7(c) - the Grassroots Momentum conference - being allowed at all.
The vice-chair, newly elected NCG member John Taylor, and treasurer Maureen Taylor agreed with the objection, saying that the branch had already accepted the new constitution, so it would be divisive to allow any discussion of this. The chair, John Haw, said he’d been in touch with Momentum HQ, who were “in complete agreement” with him that the people arranging the Grassroots conference are “the enemy”. It was an anti-constitution event and was therefore unconstitutional - so it shouldn’t be discussed at all! He ruled it out of order.
I challenged this, as did the other vice-chair, Barbara Campbell. The chair said that was his ruling and he wasn’t going to allow a discussion of the matter. I, and other comrades, challenged again and called for the ruling to be voted on. Having already allowed three people who agreed with him to voice their objections without permitting a counter-argument to be heard, comrade Haw insisted on a vote without any discussion and made it clear that he would resign as chair if he lost.
The chair won the vote by 10 to seven to disallow the agenda item, so it was not discussed.
It was an unnecessarily discordant note to start the meeting with, given the topic was simply listed as one of five sub-items near the end of the agenda anyway. In reality, we’d almost certainly have merely noted it when we got to that topic and rapidly moved on, as it was clear there wouldn’t have been support for the branch electing delegates to attend the conference. All this brought out the political tensions in the group early on, with several first-timers in attendance.
Sadly, the Teesside branch appears to have moved from being a group that encouraged members to put forward proposals and debate them, and which showed an awareness of other developments in the anti-austerity movement, to one where topics can only be allowed if a section of the branch leadership and Momentum HQ already agrees with them. Last year the branch had lively debates on issues such as freedom of movement for labour, electoral reform, housing policy, the Labour purge, mandatory reselection for Labour candidates and democracy within Momentum itself. Now it seems that some of these issues are off limits.
One doesn’t expect to win every debate, but we’re unlikely to be in a position to challenge bureaucratic obstruction within CLPs if we replicate the same behaviour ourselves. Socialism without a democratic culture isn’t socialism at all.
Steve Cooke (personal capacity)
The cuts to our national health service have become clearer now that all local plans have finally been published - or have they?
The plan for Coventry and Warwickshire, released as a ‘sustainability and transformation plan’ (STP), like all the proposed changes nationally, states that the local STP has “Benefits for our communities” - this is actually a section heading on page 8 of the report. How can cuts of £267 million in our area alone be a benefit to our local community? The STP makes it clear there will be fewer hospital admissions, closure of maternity and paediatric units (they call it “consolidation into fewer sites”), the probable closure of accident and emergency departments - George Elliot’s is rumoured to be most at risk - and cuts to stroke care units. The report also admits there will be fewer nurses and doctors, as it plans to cut agency staff without any commitment to employ additional permanent health workers.
These outrageous cuts are mirrored nationally, as the government plans to save up to £30 billion through cuts to the NHS. We must oppose them at all levels. The problem is that, despite the Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust consistently promising ‘engagement’ or consultation, as they have been telling the Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition ever since we first inquired about these cuts last August, there has been no consultation at all. Yet “Consultation” is one of the key aspects of our STP, according to page 12 of the local report. This is simply a lie - all local NHS chiefs have been sworn to secrecy by the government, which is deplorable.
The STP report is jargon-ridden and almost impossible to understand, no doubt deliberately. We all have a duty to demand clarity, meaningful consultation and the reversal of any planned cuts to health services. Once lost, they will never be restored by any Tory or Labour government. We can start by demanding local MPs make the same demands - or face the consequences.
Every BBC news presenter now asks, how do we pay for the crisis in NHS, how do we pay for care for the elderly and how do we pay for homes for the homeless?
I want to see BBC broadcasters ask, how did you allow this crisis to happen, why did you not build sufficient homes and why are elderly people having to stay in hospital beds?
We are paying for the crisis created by bankers. We can find enough money to build Trident, we don’t chase multinational tax dodgers and we can massively subsidise private train operators. All of this was done via taxpayer money, yet we cannot find money for the sick, the elderly and those on local authority housing waiting lists.