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The growth of movements for real change have been a long time coming

Corbyn SandersLast week Tony Blair professed bafflement at the rise – on both sides of the Atlantic – of popular movements by people who in Blair’s view choose to “rattle the cage”. I think this is a mischaracterisation. Those who have been energised into supporting Sanders, Corbyn and movements such as Podemos and Syriza want to break the cage, ending the failed policies that continue to dominate and distort so much of our national discourse. What these movements represent is a desire and hope for something better. I don’t think that is baffling at all.

In two weeks the Budget will see another repeat of the regular farce of Osborne announcing old targets missed (again), new targets no one expects to be met and earnings growth forecast that will fail to materialise. There will be a series of promises in his speech that will make headlines and prove to be empty – claiming a ‘march of the makers’, that the economy will be rebalanced and there will be higher wages when the reality is that manufacturing output is significantly lower now than in 2008. The truth is that jobs are being sucked into London where employment is nearly 12 per cent higher than 2010 but just 0.3 per cent in the rest of the UK. Real wages continue to be worth £2,270 less than in 2008.

Osborne’s cuts have consistently failed, over and over again, to deliver for ordinary people in this country. And while Tory austerity is a particularly ghastly and brutal novelty, what it rests on sadly is not. For too long in this country the deep structural problems in our economy– lack of investment underpinning a declining manufacturing base, low productivity, geographical imbalances and a growth in insecure working and low pay as trade unions were shackled – have survived successive governments. It has meant stagnating and falling wages, yawning inequality and an escalating housing crisis.

Osborne and Cameron are content to retreat from tackling these problems, pursuing policies that continue to only work for the benefit of powerful, wealthy interests. This was inadvertently laid bare by his now infamous tweet claiming Google only paying ‘mates rates’ on their tax obligations was a success. It is an outlook that allows powerful economic forces to sweep all aside, no matter what the human cost.

In contrast to this, Unite has been urgently calling on government to ‘take a stake’ in the future of key industries, such as steel, to save not just the jobs of thousands of steelworkers, but their local communities and a whole industry that can play a productive role in improving our infrastructure in the years ahead.

Since 2008 the Tories and the politics of austerity sadly dominated the political scene until this year. Growing numbers of ordinary people have been wracked by a feeling of insecurity about their future, about their children’s future. There’s a deepening pessimism that the country could ever be better and a cynicism that politics can truly be an instrument of change for ordinary people has been tangible. That there is now a challenge to this, fuelled by the hope that things can be better, is an opportunity that should be grasped.

That Health, Homes, Jobs and Education are essentials we all should have and can be delivered if only there is the political is at the heart of the upcoming People’s Assembly demonstration. Through the unglamorous day in, day out work of door knocking, leafleting, telephoning, high street stalls, organising and representing workers we have seen a movement grow. This offers opposition to the Tories’ austerity agenda and has sown the seeds for the transformation in British politics, with the Labour party becoming a party standing as an alternative to austerity.

Attention is now turning to how to deliver real change. In this, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has been proactive in creating an alternative discourse to austerity, arguing for investment in an economy that works for the people of this country.

This has involved the work of his economic advisory committee, meeting with businesses, noted economists and trade unions to develop new ideas about how to invest in our economy so that it delivers better living standards and security for all, alongside the ‘New Economics’ events series.

The Labour leadership has set themselves the project of rethinking what the country as a whole should spend its money on, such as investment in building council homes for social rent rather than allowing large amounts to be consumed by private landlords as housing benefit. Then there is how as a country we earn our money –investing in economic growth and decent work rather than promoting speculative casino-style economics.

The OECD and IMF are among the organisations losing faith with austerity and instead looking at greater public investment as the motor for economic growth. This is why we need a Labour government to deliver on the ideas and vision of how we can all be better off – not just the one per cent.

Investment in housing, public transport, communications technology can be the source of decent work, with collective bargaining and provide the resources to fund an even better, publicly-owned NHS with a workforce respected and rewarded rather than bullied as we have seen with the junior doctors. It is a vision that the trade union movement embraces wholeheartedly and I am looking forward to chairing a pre-budget event with John McDonnell where we will be discussing some of these issues.

Labour is being bold, developing detailed new thinking in the full glare of an unremittingly hostile media, and against the backdrop of upcoming local elections where a fed-up electorate will doubtless deliver their verdict on cuts. The conditions in Scotland and Wales are nothing if not challenging, too. Then there is the London mayoral and Assembly votes where in my home city, a Labour Mayor in Sadiq Khan will make a positive difference to the lives of millions of people – and help pave the way for a Labour government.

None of this will be easy and there will undoubtedly be hiccups and challenges along the way – but that does not change the end goal, namely a Labour government that will transform our society.

Having seen both the desolation that poor employers and insecure work can cause and the growth of movements for real change is not baffling – it is a long time coming.

Steve Turner will be chairing the ‘Better off with Labour – the Alternative to Osborne’s cuts’ Labour Assembly Against Austerity event with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP on March 9th, 7pm, House of Commons. You can register for the event here

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity national march for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education is on 16 April and there is transport from across the country. You can find more details at www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk

Steve Turner is Assistant General Secretary of Unite and co-chair of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity

26 Comments

  1. David Ellis says:

    Capitalism is collapsing, the class struggle is intensifying, politics is polarizing. Unfortunately the first beneficiaries of this leftward movement of the proletariat are the left opportunists who have been thrown into the vanguard greatly to their own surprise. Naturally they are doing all they can to maintain unity with the old openly class collaborating leaders and trying their best to soften the polarisation and neuter the new politics. Hence the decision of the Labour Left to suddenly embrace, after forty years of principled opposition to it and its predecessors, the bosses EU alliance and vote for Cameron’s anti-working class reforms in the name of unity with the New Labour sect. It is a decision that will cost the Labour Party very dear indeed and may well see the mantel of people’s opposition to the Westminster establishment pass decisively over to the far right in the coming period.

  2. Sid says:

    Capitalism is collapsing like it was in 1968 1977 and 1983…

  3. John Penney says:

    It is quite true that if the Left , in its currently dominant radical “Corbynist” Left Keynsian form (and that’s all that is on offer at this stage of the class struggle, David, despite your incessant ultraleft posturing), “drops the political ball” by failing to move forward decisively against Austerity, and for a radical Left transformational economic agenda – then the Far Right (as in France) will step in toxically to fill the ” anti Austerity resistance space” left vacant.

    However the current period is one requiring nifty tactical political manoeuver by the Left – not the ultraleft impossibilist ultimatist posturing that your posts usually display. That Jeremy and John and his core team have had to “tack to the political wind, in the midst of an overwhelming pro-EU PLP and Shadow Cabinet , and Trades Union bureaucracy majority, is, I think the only tactical “realpolitique” stance the currently isolated Corbyn leadership can take.

    One can’t deny that Jeremy and his team have taken every opportunity repeatedly to denounce the neoliberal reality of the EU , whilst giving faint hearted support to the official pro EU position ,surely ?

    You have consistently written off the unexpected “Corbyn insurgency” in Labour from day one, David . (As did I initially, until his astonishing level of support in the Leadership contest showed that the Europe-wide Left surge was, amazingly, being manifested via the UK’s very own PASOK Party – the Labour Party). That is the luxury of all ultralefts – ignore the facts of mass political consciousness today – indeed sit out the actual struggle, ignore the specific realities of the militancy, or not, of the working class at any one time – in favour of unchanging “Dave Spart-style” ultimatist “Revolution NOW !” posturing,

    The rest of us are keen to actually participate in fighting within the ongoing undeclared civil war in the Labour Party – to support Jeremy and his comrades in their epic struggle to shift Labour from a party hand in glove with the neoliberal consensus – to a political and organisational vehicle for Left advance.

  4. David Ellis says:

    You have consistently written off the unexpected “Corbyn insurgency” in Labour from day one, David

    Fucking liar.

    1. John Penney says:

      Oh, is that so, David ? I’m the “fucking liar” (sic) ?

      Who said this then on this site in his post of October 5th 2015, only a few short weeks after Jeremy’s Leadership victory ?

      ” Corbyn and Co are the new right of the party and it is in political opposition to their rather feeble outlook that a new manifesto for socialism must be forged.”

      And this was only one of innumerable posts writing off the Corbyn Surge from its inception.

      Well …. It was YOU , David Ellis !

      You must try and get at least some grip of reality, David. Fantasy ultraleft politics is bad enough – but denying your own recent writings (still up and available in the past posts and articles on this site) is positively bizarre !

      1. David Ellis says:

        I supported with all the necessary warnings the Corbyn inurgency from Day One even saw it coming. However, it was only a very short time after his election that Corbyn began to back track on previously held beliefs.

        1. John Penney says:

          Riiiiiiiight, David. So sad . Everyone always let’s you down don’t they. Surprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t take your advice and “necessary warnings” and overnight with 12 fellow Left wing MP’s amongst the overwhelming Blairite PLP , turn New Labour into the Revolutionary Party.

          So disappointing for you … given that you’d given Jeremy .. oh, a week or so to carry out your revolutionary demands, before denouncing him as a sell-out.

      2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        For the record and I’ve also been here from day one as well and I even voted for Corbyn myself; Ellis, (with whom I have issues almost as often as I broadly agree with him,) has not written off Corby from day one, (has done anything but,) but has like me and only after having given him every possible benefit of the doubt concluded that he’s an already become an utterly irreverent side show to the real business and the interests of the entrenched, Blair period place-men,” who control, (Blair’s, “levers of power,”) the utterly self serving, opportunist and professional labor party.

        The simple fact that my own CLP have put a highly dubious candidate like Jim McMahon, (who apparently supported Liz Kendell,) to replace the late Micheal Meacher, (who nominated Jeremy Corby,) tells it’s own sad and sorry story about whats actually happening on the ground, completely regardless of the now completely marginalized JC.

        The Labor party is fucked.

        1. John Penney says:

          ” only after giving him every possible benefit of the doubt… ” ! A joke surely ? You, like Ellis, were denouncing him within mere WEEKS of him becoming Leader – in the most unexpected , and significant win for the Left in generations , man !

          So, he failed, in a few weeks, to turn neoliberal Labour with its huge neoliberal PLP majority, and Right Labour dominated Labour Party machine – and overwhelmingly Right Labour local Councillors, into a radical socialist party. What a loser ! And after you, like Ellis, put in so much effort, J.P.C-W – ie, £3 and a moment voting online.

          So , having written Jeremy’s victory off – you could slide back effortlessly into your passive despair and pointless anti Labour online Trolling. Enjoy – but why do you waste our time with this nonsense ?

          1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            Jeremy’s victory?

            To me and to many other people it looks more like a right wing hoax.

          2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            You don’t much care for being contradicted do you mate, even when you dead wrong.

    2. James Martin says:

      You’ve got to admit David (although you probably won’t) that you do manage some amazing flip-flops without it seems the slightest embarrassment. I mean it wasn’t that long ago that you used to attack anyone on this site that opposed the EU as being little Englander nationalists, now you attack anyone who doesn’t support Brexit!

      1. David Ellis says:

        Please provide details and context.

      2. David Ellis says:

        You might be talking about my opposition to the Labour Party going into the last general election promising a referendum on Europe. To clarify I felt the position of the party should have been to say that they believed another europe was possible and that whilst they would not withdraw from the EU they would seek to re-negotiate a new arrangement with willing governments with the same ideological outlook but that in the meantime they would not enact any EU directives detrimental to the working class. I felt it would have been daft to promise a referendum, get into government and simply provide the means for that government to be bought down. This here is a referendum. We are being asked a direct question: for or against the EU and Cameron’s `reforms’. Of course we are against and who so ever that votes for however they rationalise it will be for.

  5. David Ellis says:

    `One can’t deny that Jeremy and his team have taken every opportunity repeatedly to denounce the neoliberal reality of the EU , whilst giving faint hearted support to the official pro EU position ,surely ?’

    Thereby delivering the very worst of all possible worlds. He gets the blame if Cameron wins and he gets the blame if Cameron loses. Should have stuck to the Labour left’s principled opposition to the EU and its predecessors of over forty years. Now they have embraced it like New Labour and believe this mechanism for permanent war on the European working class can be turned into vehicle for socialist transformation even whilst they vote for Cameron’s `reforms’ that take the EU even further away from the EU they claim to want to see and make it substantially more of a battering ram against workers rights.

  6. Danny Nicol says:

    There’s a PLP “agreement to differ” on bombing Syria and on Trident, and there could have been one on the EU – even more easily given the precedent of the 1975 referendum when Labour figures went their own sweet way. It just isn’t possible to have a “movement for real change” within the strictures of the EU for the reasons set out here.

    https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2016/02/29/danny-nicol-is-another-europe-possible/

  7. Bazza says:

    It’s difficult for Jeremy and John at the top surrounded by a significant number of lumps of wood in the PLP.
    They are doing good things at the top but the communication of this needs to be vastly improved – why don’t Jeremy and John do fortnightly or at least monthly e bulletins to all members -we have the top and the grassroots which is a pretty strong position.
    We need to get over to everyone including the public what we are doing and what we are planning and to communicate this simply, clearly and effectively. Yours in solidarity!

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      See my own response above to John Penney in response to David Ellis above.

      Where I live it’s as if JC had never even existed.

  8. Karl Stewart says:

    We need to campaign for a ‘Left Exit’ from the EU. The EU is a multinational organisation dedicated to privatisation, neo-liberalism and attacking workers’ rights.

    The EU cannot be ‘reformed’ into a left-wing and progressive organisation – ask the Greeks.

    We need to Exit-Left and urge other member states to Exit-Left with us.

  9. Karl Stewart says:

    The rights workers have were won by struggle of workers – not from the EU.

    Before we joined the EU, we had the strongest trade union movement in Europe, if not the world.

    The union movement has become weaker, not stronger, as a result of EU membership.

  10. John P Reid says:

    The labour leave campaign in Dagenham and Havering have had 2 and 5 street stalls respectively

  11. David Ellis says:

    One thing a left Brexit campaign must not be is some Stalinist or chauvinist imperialist shit about how `we’ would be better off alone, we can compete outside the EU, we … we… we… and all that chauvinist crap so beloved of the labour and trade union bureaucrats. It must be anti-Eu but pro-Europe, radical, progressive and openly socialist and it must make explicit its socialist vision for a post-Brexit Britain and Europe which certainly does not include having the European working class tramping round the Continent in search of ever crappier wages and ever more meager welfare. It should include a Europe in which every member nation operates a regime of full-employment and pays the minimum of a Europe-wide trades union living wage. There must be no mixing of banners with the Tory Right or UKIP or even the chauvinist Labour Brexiters.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Interesting points there David. So are you calling for some kind of anti-EU Popular Front?

      1. David Ellis says:

        United Front. As I said the campaign must not mix banners with hostile class forces. We are not Galloway or Hoey: prisoners of the far right.

  12. Bazza says:

    We should stay and fight for a reformed EC which is bottom up, grassroots led, and serves the working class/working people in Europe and not big business and one in which we kick Neo-Liberalism out and left wing democratic socialist forces fight for similar things (internationalism) plus the same in every country in the World.
    The only World hegemony I want is that of the working class/working people – left wing democratic socialist forces independently in every country.
    Capitalism in its latest form is Neo-Liberal and international and we need to be international too including through trade unions and by unionising migrants.
    The PAPER LIONS (Little Island One Nation ‘Socialists’) are out in force tonight but present no global socialist internationalist vision.

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