People new to political activity and the Labour Party should help strengthen trade unions and trades councils in workplaces, towns and cities as the only guarantee against austerity and the Repeal Bill transferring all EU pro-market, pro-big business legislation into British law, writes Rob Griffiths
Many millions of people voted not only against austerity cuts and privatisation in last month’s general election.
They also voted for a positive alternative: for public investment in health, education and housing; for higher taxation of the super-rich and big business; for decent pensions and benefits; and for public ownership of railways, energy and the Royal Mail.
The Communist Party’s decision to stand down its own candidates, call for a Labour vote everywhere and reject any misnamed pro-EU “progressive alliance” with the Lib Dems was vindicated.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people are marching for the genuinely progressive and left alternative to Tory austerity, which can only be a left-led Labour government.
Nobody should be fooled by the dance of the damned between Tory and DUP politicians. The DUP claimed credit for dumping some of the most unpopular policies in Theresa May’s election manifesto.
Thus there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of Tory plans for a wealth tax on people with dementia, or for secondary modern schools in every town and city, or for an end to free school meals for infants, or for means-testing winter fuel payments, or for holding down the state retirement pension.
For all the world, DUP leader Arlene Foster was posing last week as some latter-day Rosa Luxemburg or Sylvia Pankhurst.
Much less publicity was given to other Tory manifesto items dropped from the legislative programme presented by Elizabeth Windsor to her loyal subjects in Parliament.
Gone was the pledge to cap household energy prices. Gone, too, was the commitment to spend an extra £8bn a year in real terms on the NHS by 2019. Also missing was the promise to secure a million new homes by 2020 and another half million by 2022, with local authorities free to build their own social housing.
Ms Foster did not claim any credit for burying these more populist policies, which had no doubt served their purpose of fooling at least some of the people for some of the time, up to polling day.
But their disappearance indicates that austerity will continue until we, the people, stop it.
This has already been confirmed by the House of Commons vote against lifting the 1 per cent cap on public sector pay rises. Our firefighters, ambulance staff and police officers may be praised to the skies as heroes by Tory ministers — but that doesn’t mean they deserve a real wage increase.
No, Theresa May and her Cabinet of the living dead have other priorities.
That’s why she announced during the Queen’s Speech debate that corporation tax on big business profits is still on course to be cut further, from 19 per cent to 17, over the next three years. Britain already has the lowest profit tax rate of all the leading capitalist countries in the G7 and the second lowest level in the European Union.
As every one-point decrease in corporation tax loses the Treasury almost £2bn a year in revenue, Chancellor Hammond will have to plug the gaps left by that and the abandoned manifesto policies.
Yet the Tories have no popular mandate for yet more austerity and privatisation. Their “weak and unstable” administration is teetering on a knife-edge. A defection or two, a by-election or three, a rebellion of seven or fewer Tory or DUP MPs could sound its death knell.
All the more reason, therefore, to step up and maintain pressure through popular, industrial and parliamentary action.
It was the convergence of extraparliamentary campaigning by the People’s Assembly, the anti-war movement and trades unions opposed to pay and pension cuts that propelled Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership of the Labour Party. This created the popular and still growing mood across Britain for a change of government and policies.
Had it not been for the antics of those Labour MPs who put their loyalty to the EU, Nato and monopoly capitalism ahead of any loyalty to the working class and the Labour Party, the election result on June 9 would have been even better.
Unfortunately, up to 50 Labour MPs seem hell-bent on continuing this divisive course.
By voting for Britain to stay in the European “single market” on Thursday, they rejected Labour’s election manifesto, which declared: “As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.”
They rejected the compromise offered by the Labour whips to abstain on the vote.
But they also voted to shackle any future Labour government to the neoliberal, free market, monetarist rack of the Single European Market and its rules.
Whether in the European Economic Area or the customs union, Britain would have to allow the free movement of capital, goods and labour.
Britain’s capitalists would continue to be free to shift production facilities overseas and investment could not be directed into particular industries or nations and regions of Britain.
Emergency measures to protect strategic industries such as steel would continue to be outlawed. No trade deals could be negotiated with non-European countries, even though they now account for the bigger share of Britain’s trade.
Action by the London, Edinburgh and Cardiff governments or by trade unions to enforce equal employment terms and conditions for super-exploited imported workers would continue to be outlawed. So would public-sector contract clauses demanding fair and equal pay, union recognition and other guarantees in return for public money.
The writ of the anti-union EU Court of Justice would still run large.
Britain would continue to be bound by EU rules on government borrowing and debt, hamstringing anti-austerity expansion. Labour policies to promote nationalised industries, issue publicsector investment bonds and zero rate VAT would be outlawed.
Of course, the Tories recognise that membership of the single market and the customs union is difficult if not impossible after Britain’s exit from the EU, especially if sovereignty over trade and immigration is to be reestablished.
But they and their big business bankrollers want to negotiate an EU treaty that is as near to it as possible. That’s why the government has just established a Brexit business advisory group comprising the Chancellor, the Business and Brexit secretaries of state and representatives of the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Engineering Employers Federation and the Federation of Small Businesses.
That’s why, too, the proposed Repeal Bill will aim to transfer all EU promarket, pro-big business legislation into British law before locking it into transitional and post-exit treaty arrangements with the EU.
They fully realise that this will make it much more difficult for a future Labour government to pursue policies of economic planning, public investment and progressive taxation.
The coming months will see the political class struggle intensify in Britain, France, Greece and across Europe. It’s the people and the working class movement versus big business and its politicians.
Here, we need to build People’s Assembly campaigns in every community possible. People new to political activity and the Labour Party should help strengthen trades unions and trades councils in workplaces, towns and cities.
We must reinvigorate the campaign against the madness of nuclear weapons and the threat to murder millions of civilians when deterrence has failed and we are already under attack.
The Morning Star deserves to win thousands of new readers from among those — workers, pensioners, people on benefit, campaigners — whom it supports every day.
And the left leadership of the Labour Party will be enhanced by a growth in both the Labour left and the Communist Party. When people are in action, the left advances, including Britain’s contingent of the international communist movement.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto
This appears in today’s Morning Star