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From the archives

India: The struggle for independence – part 2: 1931-1947

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Robert Clough explains how British imperialism was able to ensure that the struggle ended with a neo-colonial solution, where political independence masked a continuing domination by imperialist rule, and how the conduct of the Labour Party was critical to the outcome. Read more >

Monopoly: ‘the death-knell of capitalism’

The Myth of Capitalism cover blur min

We review a new book on economics which exposes the symptoms of capitalism's terminal sickness.

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The Labour Party: a ruling class party

The Labour Party is a racist, imperialist, anti-working class party. It always has been, and always will be.* Its purpose is to defend the interests of the British ruling class, an entirely parasitic layer whose enormous wealth is obtained through the ruthless robbery of the rest of the world engineered by the City of London. Labour represents the interests not only of the ruling class but also of better-off sections of the working class, a labour aristocracy which in the past was made up of skilled manual workers but now consists predominantly of degree-educated public sector workers, as well as the trade union bureaucracy.

A tiny proportion of the proceeds of the ruling class’s global plunder is directed to providing this layer with material privileges to guarantee its allegiance to British imperialism. The labour aristocracy looks to the Labour Party to sustain this system of naked bribery. Robert Clough reports

No one can seriously dispute that the last Labour government was a government of the ruling class. Unending war, slavish adherence to the needs of the City of London, a legislative programme which introduced over 3,500 new crimes, the continuation of all the anti-trade union laws, persecution of asylum seekers, its record was one of unceasing brutality. This has not changed. It has agreed with the ConDem coalition on the fundamentals of every major issue whether it be the attack on state welfare, privatisation of state services, immigration or foreign policy. With a general election looming in May 2015, however, its supporters are painting Labour in very different colours. Their concern is with their own self-interest, not with the mass of the working class who will be offered continued impoverishment and oppression.

This explains why Unite the Union general secretary Len McCluskey was prepared to stand reality on its head in telling the union’s conference in June: ‘So let there be no doubt. Unite stands fully behind Labour and Ed Miliband in the increasingly radical agenda he has outlined. It is a people’s agenda and this union will be proud to fight alongside Labour to secure it.’ On the same day, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls made any future Labour government’s position quite clear: ‘I have said since 2012 there should be pay restraint in the public sector. We have to be committed to fiscal discipline’ (Daily Telegraph, 30 June 2014). Who should we listen to, McCluskey or Balls? Only in April McCluskey had argued that if Labour supported a cautious ‘austerity-lite’ policy, it would lose at the general election and Unite might consider supporting a separate party ‘representing the interests of ordinary people’. This was hot air: the trade unions have proved that they are not prepared to take on the ruling class. Cowering behind the anti-trade union laws, they are not prepared to sacrifice their positions of privilege and influence for the sake of the mass of the working class.

Defending the ruling class through austerity

Balls’ position received a ringing endorsement from Labour’s National Policy Forum held on the weekend of 19/20 July 2014. A proposal for Labour to drop its austerity policies was defeated by 125 votes to 14; the party is committed to the ConDem coalition’s spending plans for 2015/16. Balls’ plans are not ‘austerity-lite’. He told the Policy Forum that ‘We will balance the books, deliver a surplus on the current budget and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament.’ This will be devastating for the working class: balancing the books means even deeper cuts. Throughout the life of the present government, Labour councils have implemented swingeing cuts in jobs and services and willingly administered attacks on state welfare; not one has challenged the government’s austerity programme. Labour leaders could not bring themselves to support public sector workers when they took strike action on 10 July against an effective 20% pay cut over the past four years.

The last Labour government acted first and foremost to protect the interests of the banks and the monopolies. Balls will continue this. Boasting that Labour ‘started and supported successive cuts in corporation tax over the last 15 years’, he is now against reducing it from 21% to 20%, but has pledged to keep it the lowest of all G7 countries. The drastic cuts in local government spending – 30% since the ConDem coalition came to office, with the loss of 520,000 jobs – will not be reversed.

Balls’ slavish devotion to the interests of the City of London is evident in his opposition to renationalising the railways. This was a swiftly-jettisoned pledge of the incoming Labour government of 1997. Ed Balls has dismissed the proposal as ‘ideological’ when there is glaring evidence of the inefficiency and high cost of the current privatised and fragmented system. Since 1997 the government subsidy for the railway system has increased five-fold to £5.2bn per annum, £136 per passenger compared to £67 in France and £101 in Germany. Fares in the UK are 30% higher than in France, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Operating costs are 40% higher because of the fragmentation. Yet railway companies have still been able to extract £6.2bn in profits and dividend payouts. Balls talks deceitfully of the need to develop a ‘long-term investment policy’ when the current franchise bidding system is anything but, as the Department of Transport shows in its current focus on seven-year deals. All that Labour will countenance is the possibility of the government participating in bids for franchises as and when they come up for renewal – the worst of all possible worlds but one which it hopes will keep the monopolies on side.

A warmongering party

Labour has always defended the world-wide interests of British imperialism, in pursuit of which it was responsible for four wars between 1997 and 2010 – against Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Labour leaders attempted to distance themselves from the Iraq war during the leadership election in 2010, their instinct is determinedly militaristic. In 2011, they supported the NATO onslaught on Libya, Miliband telling Parliament ‘it would be quite wrong given what is happening in Libya for us to stand by and do nothing.’ Although Labour voted against unilateral intervention in Syria in August 2013, Miliband made it clear they would support military action if it was endorsed by the UN. He stands full-square behind the ConDem coalition policy over Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. He has backed the current Zionist onslaught on Gaza, telling the Policy Forum ‘I have seen for myself the fear in Israel from the unjustified and appalling rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza ... I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks.’ There is of course no right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves against illegal occupation, blockade and terror. A future Labour government will be no different from any in the past, or indeed any Tory government.

Attacking the working class: cutting state welfare ...

In 2009, Labour planned to slash £70bn from state spending. In early 2010, Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling told the Financial Times that halving the public deficit in four years was ‘non-negotiable’. Once the ConDem coalition announced its own accelerated programme of cuts, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Douglas Alexander proudly claimed that ‘many of the government’s current [welfare] reforms build on what [Labour] set in train’ (The Guardian, 9 November 2010). Labour, he said, would support cuts in housing benefit, reduced access to disability living allowance, temporary changes to the uprating of some benefits, and testing the availability for work of incapacity benefit claimants.

Attacking the government’s overall benefit cap of £26,000pa for being insufficiently stringent, Alexander’s replacement Liam Byrne in July 2013 claimed that ‘ministers have bodged the rules so the cap won’t affect Britain’s 4,000 largest families and it does nothing to stop people living a life on welfare.’ 4,000 is a tiny proportion of all families receiving benefits, yet Byrne used them as a rod to beat all claimants. In his determination to be seen as hard on those he calls ‘shirkers’ he echoed the most vindictive and hate-filled attitudes of the tabloid press towards the poor.

Byrne’s replacement, Rachel Reeves, is no different. She explicitly agrees with the overall benefit cap. In October 2013, days after she became Shadow Secretary of State, she echoed the tabloid prejudice that being on benefits is a lifestyle choice: ‘Nobody should be under any illusions that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour government. If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits, and that is really important…We would be tougher [than the Conservatives]. If they don’t take it [the offer of a job] they will forfeit their benefit…we will not allow people to linger on benefits’ (The Observer, 12 October 2013).

But Labour’s solution – the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee – is no more than workfare under a different name. Under-25s will be offered a job after one year of unemployment, over-25s after two years. It will require claimants to work a minimum of 25 hours a week for the minimum wage on pain of losing benefits. They will be worse off since they will have to pay for travel to work, and will lose Council Tax Support. In a further effort to show Labour as tougher than the Tories, Ed Miliband announced in June that a future Labour government would stop JSA for 100,000 18-21-year-olds and replace it with an allowance, means-tested according to parental income. However, a claimant would not be eligible for this allowance unless s/he had achieved a Level 3 qualification – excluding 7 out of 10 in this age range. In addition, Labour will limit eligibility for the higher rate JSA of £71 a week by requiring claimants to have paid National Insurance for five years, instead of the current two.

As the general election approaches Labour will make much play about its intention to abolish the bedroom tax – if it is still in place as the Lib Dems opportunistically intend to force a vote on it in the autumn. However, on no other significant aspect of the ConDem coalition’s attack on state welfare does Labour have any difference.

... the NHS

Labour is not to be trusted with the National Health Service. It has said that it will repeal the ConDem’s Health and Social Care Act and stop the ‘fast-track privatisation’ of health services. Yet the last Labour government prepared the ground for privatisation through the introduction of the internal market, its determined support for Private Finance Initiative funding of new hospitals, the establishment of Foundation Trusts and the introduction of Independent Sector Treatment Centres. Even as the Health and Social Care Bill wound its way through parliament, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley constantly taunted his Labour opponents that he was only continuing along a path they had set. Labour had no answer: all it could argue was that Lansley was going too far, too fast.

The critical state of the NHS is revealed in a report by the Nuffield Trust, Into the red? A report on NHS finances which shows that ‘One pound in every five spent by PCTs on community health services in 2012/13 was spent on care provided by independent sector providers, an increase of 34% in one year alone. Similarly, funding for independent sector mental health service providers increased by 15% in real terms between 2011/12 and 2012/13 alone, while funding for NHS-provided mental health services decreased by 1%.’ These are contracts worth £3bn a year which have to be added to the £1.6bn being spent each year on privately-run hospital services. Labour will not give a commitment to terminate these contracts, or to stop new ones being agreed, or to put an end to PFI despite the huge burdens that they place on NHS finances, for fear of upsetting the multinational corporations.

The Nuffield report is clear that the NHS faces meltdown in the coming years as more and more hospital trusts go into deficit. This is as much the outcome of the £20bn savings plan imposed by the last Labour government as it is a consequence of further privatisations. NHS inflation runs at about 4% per annum – this is what is required to meet the cost of rising need, new drugs and treatment. Over the last three years NHS funding has stood still, further adding to the pressure on the service. Labour has refused to make any commitment to restore lost funding and is only considering the possible of raising National Insurance contributions to cover future increases, the most regressive option.

And education …

Wherever we look, the story is the same. The last Labour government started the process of dismantling state education, marketising whatever service could be sold off. It set up the original academies programme which removed schools from the control of local education authorities and allowed them to set pay, terms and conditions for their employees. The programme has been massively expanded by the ConDem coalition, but Labour has reserved its criticism only for controls at some free schools. It is certainly not against the principle: shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has said ‘I am in favour of parent-led academies which are going to be good parent-led academies. And we will keep the good free schools when we get into government.’ (The Guardian 13 October 2013)

Fewer houses ...

Even Labour’s much-vaunted promise to build 200,000 houses a year by 2020 turns out to be a damp squib. This is fewer than were built annually between 2004 and 2007. There is no commitment for a minimum number of social housing properties, nor to end the so-called ‘affordable rent’ scheme whereby social landlords can charge up to 80% of local market rents for new properties. In many places this pushes tenants on benefits through the overall benefit cap. As it is, social housing rents rose by 15% between 2010 and 2013 (The Guardian 18 March 2014). Labour’s proposed rent controls policy for privately-rented accommodation allows a six-month probationary period on a tenancy during which landlords can evict tenants if they want to put up the rent. It certainly does not fit the Tory accusation that they would be akin to ‘Venezuelan-type rent controls’.

A racist party: listening to immigration ‘worries’

However, in order to win a general election, Labour also has to win back the support of better-off sections of the working class and middle class which it lost in 2010. It is to these layers, ones which are facing proletarianisation as a result of the crisis, that Labour leaders are pitching when they talk about the ‘squeezed middle’ or ‘hard-working families’. It is to these layers that they are pitching abject apologies about past immigration policy – not because of its brutal and ever-widening attacks on asylum seekers when it was in government, but because it let in too many migrant workers from Eastern Europe. It was Gordon Brown who as prime minister spoke about ‘British jobs for British workers’ – allowing David Cameron to say that he had borrowed the slogan from the BNP. It was David Blunkett who accused children of asylum seekers of ‘swamping’ schools, and it was Labour who locked them up in detention centres.

Now the constant refrain is that Labour was ‘wrong when we dismissed people’s concerns’ on the subject; shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper says the government ‘is right to look at’ so-called benefit tourism – although there is no evidence it exists. Tristram Hunt has blamed the failure of poor British white boys in school on uncontrolled immigration from Eastern Europe – again without a shred of evidence. Labour is prepared to pander to racist prejudice because unless it does this it will not win support from the most politically backward layers of the working class.

No support for Labour

Len McCluskey may be spearheading the campaign to promote Labour’s election chances, but he will be joined by many others on the left. His ally in the People’s Assembly, Guardian columnist and Labour Party member Owen Jones frets at Ed Balls’ domination of Labour economic policy. When Balls said in 2012 that Labour would have to keep all the ConDem cuts, Jones wrote ‘Ed Balls’ surrender is a political disaster. It offers vindication for the Tories’ economic strategy, even as it is proven to fail’ (New Statesman 15 January 2012).

Jones went on to argue that ‘If a broad coalition of Labour activists and trade unions united around a coherent alternative and put concerted pressure on the leadership, this surrender can be stopped in its tracks.’ Two and a half years later that has not happened, and it never could. The outcome of the Policy Forum shows the irrelevance of Jones’ Labour activists to determining policy. The only thing to date that trade unions have stopped in its tracks is serious working class resistance. McCluskey could not bring himself to demand the repeal of the anti-trade union laws in exchange for his support. It leaves Jones wishing pigs will fly: ‘it will be a coherent and inspiring alternative that will deliver Labour electoral victory.’ (The Guardian 30 June 2014). We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by the wishful thinking of those determined to defend their privileges. Labour remains what it was when it was in government: a racist, imperialist anti-working class party. We have to oppose it.

* This article forms the final chapter of a second and fully updated edition of Labour: a party fit for imperialism which will be published in the autumn.
For further information contact Larkin Publications, BCM Box 5909, London WC1N 3XX or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014

 

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