Post-Brexit Britain is facing a fresh set of challenges that the left must be prepared for, says Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.
A HEAVY responsibility falls on the two main conferences of the labour movement over the coming three weeks.
This week’s TUC will agree the policies of Britain’s trade unions on several vital issues. Then the result of the Labour Party leadership contest will be announced on September 24, before the party spends the following four days determining its position on a number of crucial matters.
Together, these events will either allow the Tory government to continue setting the political agenda or mark the beginning of a united political fightback in the interests of workers and their families.
Whoever wins the Labour leadership battle, there will be disatisfaction with the winner. But half a million party members and supporters will have decided the result democratically, in accordance with the rules.
Any MP who refuses to respect the democracy of the party, however imperfectly overseen by the national executive committee, should be told that they face deselection and replacement by a new parliamentary candidate who does not hold the party, its members and its democracy in contempt.
In particular, the spectacle of past and present Labour MPs running to the anti-Labour media with shoals of scurrilous allegations has to end.
This does not mean that MPs have to abandon long-held beliefs or cease constructive criticism of the party’s leadership. But they should understand the dire need for unity at a time when the Tories and big business are planning a fresh round of attacks on the welfare state, the NHS, comprehensive education and — regardless of the EU question as before — trade union rights.
The working class and peoples of Britain cannot afford further subsequent bouts of Labour blood-letting.
That is why what happens in the Labour Party is of wider concern, not least to communists who have comprised the Marxist party of the labour movement for more than 95 years.
The Communist Party is unwavering in its work for socialist revolution and its belief that only an extra-parliamentary mass movement led by the organised working class can bring it about.
Nonetheless, we recognise the unique position of the Labour Party with its trade union affiliations as the main electoral party of workers and their families. Our programme, Britain’s Road to Socialism, puts forward the perspective of a Labour, socialist and communist government of the left as a necessary step towards socialism.
Today, developing a programme of alternative, popular policies will create the best basis for re-establishing unity in the labour movement.
Progressive taxation, public ownership of public transport and energy, a massive public-sector housing drive and an extension of workers’ rights would be welcomed by millions of electors.
It will not be possible to achieve unanimity on the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system. However, if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected leader with a clear mandate to continue campaigning for the abolition of Trident, unions and MPs should help to maximise unity around such a policy.
This means emphasising the need not only to safeguard employment for workers currently engaged in the arms industry but also to use their skills for other valuable purposes, including conventional defence.
In their 2015 joint report, Trident and Jobs: the Case for a Scottish Defence Diversification Agency, the Scottish TUC and Scottish CND showed how the Barrow and Clyde yards could be used to build ultra-fuel-efficient freight ships and deep-water oil exploration vessels.
Huge investment in the design and manufacture of marine energy turbines and vehicles would also boost jobs and exports in related industries, such as steel and engineering.
The labour movement should be championing this low-carbon, green-energy and humanitarian alternative to the renewal of Trident.
Why should be it be an occupational qualification for the post of prime minister that the aspirant is — or pretends to be — prepared to commit the mass murder of millions of civilians in what would be a pointless act of retaliation?
Furthermore, the prospect of a Labour government bold enough to spark a fresh round of international nuclear disarmament would take some of the hot air out of the SNP’s sails.
Together with a clear commitment to a federal Britain of equal nations, sharing a redistribution of wealth from the capitalist class, this could relaunch Labour in Scotland, where the the next general election may well be decided.
Yet there is one other issue which, above all, requires unity across the labour movement. The EU referendum campaign, dominated on both sides by the right, reopened a fault line on the left.
The labour movement must now forge a new position based on new realities.
One such reality is that the people have made their decision democratically. It must now be implemented. Anything less plays into the hands of the powerful and wealthy minority who fear or scorn the prospect of rule by the people, for the people.
Nor will unity be rebuilt with the mistaken, divisive notion that the English (and presumably Welsh) working class is predominantly stupid, reactionary and racist because a majority voted to leave the EU.
While both official campaigns played the anti-immigration card, the Ashcroft polling suvey shows that national sovereignty was the most important issue for half of all Leave supporters. Only one-third put control over immigration first.
One-third of black and ethnic minority voters opposed EU membership. Almost half of voters (45 per cent) described either capitalism, globalisation or both as a force for ill in society, the majority of them opposing EU membership.
On the Remain side, many supporters voted for progressive, internationalist reasons — not for those proposed by the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Bank of Engand, the IMF and Nato.
Unity can be rebuilt on a Labour programme of left policies. These should include an alternative agenda for the EU exit negotiations.
Firstly, there should be no assumption that Britain must try to remain a fully paid up member of the European single market.
After all, this is the “free market” that allows EU steel imports (seven times larger than those from China) to threaten the future of the industry in Britain, while also prohibiting any emergency measures to limit imports or prevent the flight of capital and jobs.
Britain trades with the US and major emerging markets without any necessity for a “free market” agreement under which big business is free to do as it pleases.
If a trade agreement with a reasonably flexible approach to tariffs, quotas and state aid cannot be negotiated with the EU, then the option of trading under WTO rules is available.
Beneficial regulations and programmes that rely on EU legislation should be maintained. The freedom to reduce or abolish VAT rates should not be bargained away before it has even been regained.
Residency and travel rights should be protected for all, but the “right” of monopoly corporations to superexploit migrant workers cannot continue.
All those European Court of Justice rulings against trade union and government action to enforce equal rights for imported workers can now be consigned to the scrapheap.
Moreover, we should unite behind the efforts of the Indian Workers Association (GB) and others to reverse the racist immigration controls imposed as part of the EU’s “Fortress Europe” strategy.
While security co-operation must continue in order to protect citizens from terrorist violence, leaving the EU should also mean leaving the European common foreign and defence policy.
Campaigning for an EU exit that serves the interests of workers and their families is not only in our own interests here in Britain.
Socialists and communists in Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and elsewhere are watching to see whether and how a progressive EU exit can be achieved.
At the very least, it requires labour movement unity and, before 2020 if at all possible, the election of a left-led Labour government.