Owen Jones: cheerleading for Labour racists

Owen Jones

In a Guardian Comment article on 21 April, Owen Jones openly called for a Labour vote to stop the cruel society being built by the Tories. The extremes of austerity, he said, would be challenged by Labour's £50bn spending promise. Never mind Labour supporting benefits sanctions, anti-immigration laws and refusing to meet the £8bn gap in NHS funding. Never mind that the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a dramatic fall in schools funding under both main parties. We can have austerity-lite. Pepsi instead of Coke. But Jones went further than that and credited Labour with following the demands of a mass movement by pledging to abolish the bedroom tax. He paints a picture of trade union 'activists' and 'dogged NHS campaigners' forcing Labour into progressive campaign promises, making struggles under a Miliband government more winnable. Under the Tories, he argues, resistance has 'no chance' of success. The reality is very different: Labour has consistently failed to respond to the needs of working class people who have been at the receiving end of the ConDem government’s austerity programme. On the contrary, it has promised to continue the attack. All that Jones does is offer a feeble excuse for spineless trade unions and covers up for the reactionary role of Labour councils while ignoring the victories of the Focus E15 Mothers and other housing campaigners in winning the right to stay in London because they don't fit his opportunist model.

Read more ...

Labour: fighting for imperialism

The last Labour government waged war against Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. It remains just as bellicose:

  • The assault on Libya, 2011. Only nine Labour MPs opposed Ed Miliband when he supported the NATO ‘no-fly zone’ amidst a hysterical climate demonising Colonel Gaddafi.
  • Intervention in Syria, August 2013. Although Labour voted against a motion to join the US in launching airstrikes on Syria, it did not oppose military action provided it had UN blessing.
  • Airstrikes on Iraq, September 2014. Labour supported airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq with just 23 of its MPs opposing a return to war. Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said Labour’s support for extending operations into Syria would not be conditional on UN authorisation, declaring that ‘the UK’s moral compass is not set in Moscow and Beijing’.
  • Sanctions against Russia in 2014: Alexander has been equally belligerent over the Ukraine crisis, stating in July that ‘Labour has called for further economic and diplomatic measures to ensure that Russia feels both the costs and consequences of its continued aggression towards Ukraine’. He has urged Russia’s expulsion from the G8, the suspension of military and civilian co-operation, and questioned whether Russia should host the 2018 World Cup. In February 2015 he supported the despatch of 75 British military advisers to the Ukrainian army.

Joey Simons

A Labour imperialist

There is no better testament to the rotten, imperialist core of the Labour Party than its leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy. Murphy served as Miliband’s Shadow Secretary for Defence between 2010 and 2013. A notorious supporter of the original invasion of Iraq, he is an ardent Zionist and former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and a member of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society. In September 2013, he tabled a Labour amendment to the Defence Reform Bill to make it a ‘specific criminal offence’ to ‘attack members of our Armed Forces’. In two years he has claimed nearly £40,000 in expenses renting a flat in London while letting out one he bought earlier with public money.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 244 April/May 2015

Labour: one tweet away from a crisis

The reaction to a tweet sent on 19 November by the former shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry on the day before the Rochester and Strood by-election demonstrates the crisis facing the Labour Party. Committed to austerity and the interests of the City of London, Labour is as much a ruling class party as either the Tories or the LibDems. It cannot represent the mass of the working class: the abject implementation by Labour councils of a fifth round of local council service cuts proves that its loyalties lie with the maintenance of a decaying and rotten capitalist system. Its fear of upsetting the ruling class is so great that it will not commit to undoing these cuts if it wins the 2015 general election, nor will it restore lost NHS funding or end the PFI contracts that ruin its finances, or even take the very elementary and massively popular step of renationalising the railways.

The Thornberry tweet, a photograph of a Strood house draped with three St George’s flags and with a white van parked outside, was deemed to be ‘disrespectful’ by leader Ed Miliband, adding ‘This is a party that was founded for working people, this is a party that I strive every day to make the party of working people. That’s why I was angry, that’s why it is right she has gone.’ Thornberry had resigned after refusing to apologise for sending the tweet: Miliband later said ‘It’s not the view we have of that family. Labour’s never had that view of disrespect and I’m afraid her tweet conveyed a sense of disrespect – that’s not my view, that’s not Labour’s view, it’s wrong, it never will be our view and that’s why I think it was right she resigned.’

The issue was never about the tweet itself but the crisis engulfing the Labour Party in general. Only days beforehand up to 20 Shadow Cabinet members were believed to be prepared to support a bid by arch-Blairite Alan Johnson to challenge Miliband for the leadership. Johnson declined to stand. Miliband lost further credibility when in a live interview he proved unable to defend Labour’s proposed Mansion Tax against minor celebrity Myleene Klass’s absurd claim that £2m would not buy a garage in London. Latest opinion polls put the Labour Party just three points ahead of the Tories at 33%. With the possible haemorrhaging of Labour seats in Scotland to the SNP at the general election, Labour MPs are panicking. Its support at the Rochester by-election plummeted by 11.7 percentage points to 16.8%. Although it retained its seat at the earlier Heywood and Middleton by-election on 9 October, UKIP came within 2.2% of the Labour vote.

Labour can only win a general election outright if it assembles a broad enough electoral coalition. The votes it can get from the mass of the working class are insufficient: it has to maximise the electoral support of sections of the middle class and of the better-off sections of the working class, especially those threatened with proletarianisation. Such votes are vital in the so-called swing constituencies. Labour cannot offer such sections anything of real progressive significance: to do so would be to breach its backing for continued cuts in state spending and forfeit the support of the ruling class. Hence it chases after the support of these better-off sections with proposals for further reactionary attacks on migrant workers (see front page) and state welfare. These layers in their majority regard state welfare as too generous and too easy to obtain.

Leading the charge on state welfare is Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves, one of several Labour Shadow Cabinet MPs who receives sponsored support from accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers which has been exposed as organising tax avoidance schemes on an industrial scale. The stated aim is to make welfare benefits more conditional on national insurance contributions (NICs). The first step is to strip JSA entitlement from 100,000 18-21 year-olds who do not have Level 3 NVQ qualifications, and to lengthen the qualification period for higher rate JSA from two to five years of NICs. In practice this means that those most likely to need higher-rate JSA in the past – those working in casualised conditions – will no longer be entitled to it.

Labour will also continue with existing workfare policies and add a new one: 18 to 24-year-olds out of work for a year will be offered a state-funded job for six months – with those who refuse losing benefits. Claimants will have to work at least 25 hours a week on the minimum wage. It will be no more than a subsidy for poverty-pay companies. Benefit sanctions will remain in place although Reeves says Labour will abolish the system of unofficial Jobcentre targets. Labour will abolish the bedroom tax, but, its support for the overall benefit cap remains unchanged, as does its support for an overall cap on state welfare spending; there is no proposal to undo any of the Coalition caps on housing benefit levels.

The problem for Labour is that as it panders to the backwardness of these better-off layers so it has to intensify its attacks on the mass of the working class. Its refusal to offer even a shred of resistance to the appalling service and job cuts in Labour-run councils will lose it any support from those experiencing the brunt of such cuts, as they hear once again the litany of excuses from Labour councillors for what they are doing. Scotland shows the political frailty of the Labour Party at the moment: it will continue to remain one tweet away from another crisis.
Robert Clough

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015

How to support Labour and hope to get away with it

• Owen Jones, The Establishmentand how they get away with it, Allen Lane, hardback, 358pp, £16.99

Owen Jones has become a celebrity on the left with his newspaper columns, first in The Independent and more recently in The Guardian. He is a major figure in the People’s Assembly, and can command substantial audiences when he speaks on its platforms across the country. His new book is a polemic against what he calls the Establishment, and it reads like an extended newspaper column in that it contains myriad useful facts and sharp observations for those wanting to fight back against austerity, but ultimately lacks real substance. His method is idealist: he cannot tie his Establishment down to the realities of British imperialism. As a result his conclusion, that Britain needs a democratic revolution to undermine the power of the Establishment, not only underestimates the scale of the struggle that this would require, but also fails to point to the agency for such a change. Furthermore, his failure to deal with the reactionary Labour Party leads the reader to conclude that however radical his politics seem, he will join those calling on us to vote Labour at next year’s general election.

Read more ...

Building solidarity with Palestine –despite Labour attacks

Recent protests for Palestine have produced new forces that are keeping up the pressure against support for Israel in Britain. These new forces have been forced to organise outside the structures of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) because its leadership will not organise the mass direct action that is needed. The PSC values its friends in the Labour Party above all else.

Round up of protests

In Newcastle, FRFI supporters have consolidated Palestine Action Group (PAG) and are working alongside a new organisation, Response North East. On 16 August activists from PAG, FRFI and Response staged an all day picket of the local branch of HSBC, which underwrites the Israeli state budget. Despite a violent counter-protest by the EDL, the picket forced the bank to close its doors two hours early. FRFI, PAG, and Response have collaborated in other actions, including pickets of Marks and Spencer (M&S).

Liverpool Rise for Palestine (LRFP) was established by activists frustrated with the failure of their local PSC associate, Liverpool Friends of Palestine, to launch any serious boycott campaign. For two months, LRFP have organised pickets of businesses involved with the Zionist state. It also door-stepped Labour mayor Joe Anderson for prevaricating over council contracts with G4S which works for Israel – getting front-page coverage in the Liverpool Echo. Anderson tried to protect himself by making claims of thuggery and intimidation against LRFP, but the response was simple: the real thuggery and intimidation in Liverpool are his cuts in local services and jobs.

In London, FRFI campaign Victory to the Intifada (VTI), has attracted lots of new people to its weekly pickets of the M&S flagship store on Oxford Street. Unison – Britain’s biggest trade union – has identified M&S as a key boycott target on its current Palestine campaign leaflet. Once again Zionists have mobilised to defend M&S – evidence of its strong links with Israel. Within weeks the Zionists backed off in the face of a dynamic VTI picket.

Manchester: Labour council and police attack protests

Manchester has recently seen some very effective Palestine solidarity actions, and campaigners have suffered determined attacks. New activists have joined FRFI and others in building consistent protests. On 16 August, four protesters were violently arrested outside Barclays. A day later, five more were arrested outside Israeli cosmetics shop Kedem. There have been more arrests since, with police using bail conditions to ban protesters from the city centre. Defence solicitors had these conditions thrown out. A political defence campaign has begun.

This harassment is part of a premeditated political attack by Labour councillors. From 26 July Labour councillor Pat Karney led a smear campaign in the Manchester Evening News accusing the protests of anti-Semitism and calling demonstrators ‘extremists and revolutionaries’. Karney organised a Market Street ‘assembly’ to ‘defend shop workers’ from what he said was intimidation. Seven people turned up, all managers and supervisors. His true concern for workers is clear – more than 3,000 council workers have lost their jobs through cuts imposed by the council.

At least another five people are being forced to appear in court on Public Order Act charges as a result of further protests. Police have served a Section 14 Public Order Act notice on the Boycott Kedem campaign, limiting numbers to 15 people in a police pen. We urge all supporters of democratic rights and Palestine to help build the defence campaign. If Manchester Labour council and their police get away with this, there will be consequences for all campaign groups.

Defend the right to demonstrate!

See report on Palestine, p16, and Events on p15 for dates

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014