Workers Hammer No. 207

Summer 2009


Forge a multiethnic revolutionary workers party!

Unions must defend immigrant workers! Down with chauvinist construction strikes!

We publish below an edited and abridged version of a presentation given by comrade Julia Emery at a Spartacist League public meeting in London on 4 April.

The ongoing world capitalist recession is having a tremendous impact on the British economy and inflicting severe hardship on working people. Across Britain the rate of home repossessions is rising while the number of job losses is enormous. The crisis has demonstrated quite openly the bankruptcy and irrationality of the capitalist system and what the leaders of all capitalist countries agree on is that working people will be made to pay for it. It also confirms the Marxist understanding that ultimately there is no answer to the boom-and-bust cycles of capitalism short of proletarian socialist revolution that takes power out of the hands of the capitalist ruling class and replaces it with a planned, socialised economy. Only the achievement of a world socialist order can eliminate the age-old problems of poverty, scarcity and want. We seek to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party to overthrow capitalist rule. Our starting point is the understanding that the working class cannot wield the capitalist state for its own interests, that the state must be smashed and replaced by a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

At the G20 summit in London, world leaders underscored “the critical importance of rejecting protectionism”, ie measures that are designed to give preference to the industry of one’s own country. But in the face of world recession, protectionism is increasing. Obama included a “buy American” clause in his “rescue” package for American industry and tensions between capitalist governments within the European Union (EU) have been exacerbated. Nicolas Sarkozy for example proposed that in return for a government bailout, French car makers should shut down plants in Eastern Europe and produce in France.

For the bourgeoisie, “free trade” and protectionism are options they can debate, but for the working class protectionism is poison. It serves to channel discontent over job losses into hostility towards foreign workers and immigrants while building illusions in the benevolence of one’s “own” capitalists, who are responsible for the destitution of the working class. Protectionism ultimately leads to trade wars laying the basis for war between imperialist powers for control of markets and spheres of influence. It’s worth recalling that what got the world out of the Great Depression wasn’t Roosevelt’s New Deal, but World War II. It was when the imperialist governments in Britain and the US mobilised their economies for WWII that they fully adopted Keynes’s programme of deficit spending for “public works” — battleships, bombers, tanks and finally atomic bombs. The labour movement must oppose protectionism and fight for international working-class solidarity. Production itself is socialised and international in scope and the international working class must be mobilised across national and other divisions.

Reactionary strikes

Since January a series of reactionary and virulently chauvinist strikes and protests have taken place on building sites at Britain’s power stations and oil refineries. Building workers at Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire went on strike against the fact that foreign contractors hired workers in their home country to work in Britain. This sparked widespread protests at other sites centred on the demand “British jobs for British workers”, a protectionist slogan long identified with the fascists and recently used by Gordon Brown. These protests were in contrast to the occupations at Visteon plants in Belfast and London in April where workers fought for better redundancy packages when the factory closures were announced.

The Lindsey strike was not intended to secure more jobs, but to redivide jobs in favour of British workers. In such situations we demand the highest rate of pay and benefits no matter who does the work, and equal pay for equal work. The settlement at Lindsey pledged that 102 jobs previously expected to go to Italian workers would be offered to British workers. Similar protests at Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire and at the Isle of Grain in Kent against Spanish and Polish workers have featured placards saying “British jobs for British workers” as well as “Stop excluding British workers” and “Fairness for British workers”. Derek Simpson, co-leader of the Unite union, supported these protests and was photographed beside the Union Jack, the racist emblem of the Empire in colonial times, symbol of the subjugation of Catholics in Northern Ireland today and of the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

These reactionary protests, which have been enthusiastically supported by the BNP, can only fan the flames of racism and help drive immigrant workers off the building sites. The campaign has sent a chilling message to all immigrants and minorities: during the Lindsey strike, racist strikers told the Italian workers to “go back to your own country” and there has been an outcry in the London Evening Standard against foreign workers working on the Olympics construction sites in London. What’s needed is to mobilise the multiethnic working class in a fight against the Labour government. This requires a political fight to replace the Labourite union misleaders with a class-struggle leadership. Such a leadership in the trade unions would oppose the racist “war on terror” and fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Labourites whitewash chauvinism

Scandalously, Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party played a leading role in the Lindsey strike and hailed the Lindsey settlement as a victory, while working overtime to peddle the lying claim that the strikes were not anti-immigrant, even though at one Staythorpe protest in February a section of the workers could be heard chanting “foreigners out” on a YouTube video. The Taaffeites made a lot of the fact the BNP had been excluded from the protests. But why did the BNP want to join them in the first place? The Socialist Party, whose member Keith Gibson was on the strike committee, wrote the strike demands, which merely replaced the slogan “British jobs for British workers” with a call for “union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members”. In other words, jobs would be filled by “local”, ie British, workers.

The Taaffeites’ uncritical enthusing over the strikes was shared by the Morning Star and by George Galloway’s Respect coalition. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) at first criticised the Lindsey strike as being based on the wrong slogans and targeting the wrong people, but it didn’t take them long to capitulate to the Socialist Party and the trade union bureaucracy. They began circulating a petition to the TUC which opposes the slogan “British jobs for British workers” but goes on to say “we support the demands of the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike committee”. This is a huge concession to social-chauvinism. Other groups such as the Alliance for Workers Liberty, Permanent Revolution and the Communist Party of Great Britain likewise claim to oppose the slogan “British jobs for British workers” but support the demands of the strike.

For the Labourite left, support to protectionism is not new. When BMW announced it was pulling out of Birmingham in 2000, the trade union bureaucrats organised a demonstration based on vile anti-German slogans such as “Save British manufacturing industry!” and “Save British jobs”. The demo was welcomed by the SWP as the “great jobs revolt”, and the Union Jack flew prominently on the march which also featured grotesque slogans such as “We won two world wars — let’s win the third.”

The Socialist Party and SWP follow the political tradition of the social democrats of the Second International who lined up behind their own bourgeoisies at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. We stand in the tradition of Lenin who fought to win over the working-class base of these parties to the Bolshevik programme of proletarian revolutionary internationalism through a political break from the social-chauvinist camp in the workers movement.

Any meaningful fight against the massive job losses we face today must be based on Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Programme, the founding document of the Fourth International, which outlined a strategy for revolutionary leadership of the proletariat in the face of tremendous defeats, stating that:

“The Fourth International declares uncompromising war on the politics of the capitalists which, to a considerable degree, like the politics of their agents, the reformists, aims to place the whole burden of militarism, the crisis, the disorganization of the monetary system and all other scourges stemming from capitalism’s death agony upon the backs of the toilers.”

The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the Fourth International

To fight unemployment, a class-struggle leadership in the unions would demand jobs for all through a shorter work week at no loss in pay; divide all available work among the entire workforce, not only at equal pay but with a sliding scale of hours and wages. The unions must organise all non-union workers, especially immigrants. The struggle against unemployment, poverty and worsening conditions must be linked to the overthrow of the capitalist order and the conquest of state power by the proletariat.

Workers of the world, unite!

Significantly, both the General Confederation of Italian Workers (CGIL) and the Spanish Metal, Construction and Allied Workers Federation (MCA-UGT) issued statements of protest at the impact of these strikes on their members working in Britain. This shows the need for international collaboration between construction workers across European countries. The contrast between the great miners strike of 1984-85 and today’s construction strikes couldn’t be clearer. The miners came up against the full force of the capitalist state, and became a tribune of the oppressed layers of society, including women, black and Asian minorities as well as gay and lesbian organisations which recognised that they were fighting the same enemy. In contrast to the vile nationalism at Lindsey and Staythorpe, the miners strike inspired magnificent displays of proletarian internationalism from workers around the world: French trade unions gave money as well as practical assistance to miners’ families, and unions elsewhere including apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union sent material aid.

The workers movement has seen several examples of trade union solidarity against the capitalists’ attempts to use low-wage immigrant workers as a club against the unions. In Dublin in 2005 workers demonstrated against Irish Ferries — and in solidarity with immigrant workers — when the bosses tried to hire East European workers at a fraction of Irish workers’ wages. As our comrades said in a leaflet calling for the working class to defend immigrants: “Unions must organise immigrant workers! Full wages and benefits for immigrants!” Another example was the Heathrow strike in 2005 when, in response to the sacking of low-paid catering workers and replacing them with immigrants at even lower wages (which did not happen in the construction sites at power stations), the workforce at British Airways staged an immensely powerful wildcat strike that crippled BA’s international operation. But the union leadership under Tony Woodley ended the strike without obtaining the reinstatement of the sacked workers.

While the Socialist Party played a leading role in the Lindsey strike for “British jobs for British workers”, which had the backing of the bourgeois press, they are not so militant when it comes to organising strikes in the civil servants union PCS, where they occupy leading positions. The Taaffeites in the PCS were instrumental in accepting a rotten deal that meant workers joining the civil service will have to work five more years to qualify for their pensions. With the world’s largest carmakers announcing tens of thousands of redundancies around the world, the Unite union bureaucracy is calling on the British government to bail out the car manufacturers in Britain. As Marxists we are opposed to a bailout of the auto bosses, which will be purchased through the further destruction of the jobs and livelihoods of working people as we are seeing with the bailouts of the banks.

The Unite union launched a “Unite for Jobs campaign” at a press conference in March, featuring union leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson as well as Digby Jones, former chief of the Confederation of British Industry and government minister (who knows more than most about grinding down British manufacturing) and the CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers along with Labour MP John Cruddas. This campaign seeks to bring together “leading figures in business, politics and academia with the country’s biggest union” to propel Britain “out of recession” ( This is the essence of Labourism — class collaboration with the capitalist bosses, rather than class struggle against them. For the time being, British industry belongs to the bloodsucking capitalists. The working class has no country!

What kind of workers party?

Labour’s track record in office since 1997 doesn’t stop the reformist left from voting Labour in elections: in last year’s London mayoral election, the AWL, Permanent Revolution, Workers Power and the SWP all voted either first or second preference for Labour’s Ken Livingstone who fully backed the racist “war on terror” and ostentatiously backed the Metropolitan Police following the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes on the Tube. As top boss of the Tube network, Livingstone also called on RMT members to cross their own picket lines in a Tube strike.

The Socialist Party’s role in the Lindsey strike gives a pretty accurate picture of what the new mass workers party they call for would look like. Their programme includes support for counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union and loyalty to “democratic” British imperialism and its state. In August 2007, the Socialist Party hailed a strike of prison officers over pay and conditions; in January 2008 they supported a London march by some 20,000 cops demanding better pay. Prison officers and the police are not part of the working class, but of the armed fist of the capitalist state. Strikes by the repressive forces of the state are for better pay and conditions to carry out their job, which for prison guards is to repress and brutalise the prison population; for the police it means arresting and brutalising black and Asian minorities and breaking strikes. Try telling the families of the dozens of blacks and Asians who have died in police custody, or any miner who was at the battle of Orgreave during the strike, that “socialists” ought to support better pay for the cops to carry out their job!

The Socialist Party refuses to call for British troops out of Northern Ireland and in March took part in a pro-imperialist march in Northern Ireland organised to condemn the Republican killings of two British Army soldiers and a cop. These killings of members of the forces of the British state and the Orange statelet were not crimes from the standpoint of the working class and as such we defend the perpetrators against state repression (see “Defend Irish Republicans against state repression!”, Workers Hammer no 206, Spring 2009).

The Socialist Party, SWP and all of the reformist left adhere to old Labour reformism, based on the myth that socialism can be achieved by legislation in parliament nationalising industry without smashing the capitalist state. The commitment to “common ownership of the means of production” enshrined in Clause IV of the Labour Party’s constitution (and abolished by Tony Blair in 1994) was introduced amid a revolutionary tide sweeping Europe in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. The Labour leaders adopted this clause to dupe the working class into thinking socialism could be achieved through parliament without the need for a revolution.

As for nationalisations under capitalism, they’re not by any stretch of the imagination a step towards socialism. In the context of British imperialism’s decline after WWII, the extensive nationalisations of coal, steel and other industries by the Clement Attlee Labour government were in reality giant capitalist bailouts designed to help British capitalism to compete in the world market. In that sense the post-WWII nationalisations were no more “socialist” than the bailout of the banks being carried out today by New Labour (and for that matter by the Bush/Obama regimes in the US).

Revolutionary internationalism v “little England” nationalism

As proletarian internationalists, we’re opposed to the EU, which originated in the 1950s as rival European imperialist powers sought to consolidate their alliance against the Soviet Union through closer economic co-operation. Today the EU is an imperialist consortium designed to improve the competitiveness of the European bourgeoisies against their American and Japanese rivals at the expense of the working class in Europe, including its minority component, and of the neo-colonial peoples elsewhere. We also opposed the eastward expansion of the EU to include the former deformed workers states of Eastern Europe which was designed to open up those countries to further imperialist penetration and provided the West European bourgeoisies with a vast supply of cheap labour. At the same time we’re opposed to all work restrictions by West European governments on workers from the recent accession countries.

Our programme has nothing in common with the opposition to the EU expressed by Labourite “little England” nationalists. The latter is represented by the “No2EU” coalition founded in March to contest the June elections to the European parliament. Headed by RMT leader Bob Crow, with the active participation of the Socialist Party and the Morning Star, this campaign is based on support for the reactionary construction workers strikes. The No2EU platform rails against EU legislation that curbs civil liberties, but makes no mention whatsoever of the “war on terror” or the draconian restrictions on civil liberties by the Labour government in Britain. The No2EU campaign’s claim to oppose the BNP has to be taken with a grain of salt given that the “British jobs for British workers” crusade on building sites, which the component parts of No2EU support, has given an enormous boost to the fascists.

A statement on the No2EU website calls on people to: “Vote No2EU Yes to Democracy to resist the EU turning human beings into commodities to be shunted around Europe while local workers are excluded from being able to provide for their families.” Once again, for “local workers”, read “British workers”.

The eastward expansion of the EU resulted from the capitalist counterrevolution that swept Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1992, creating massive unemployment and social immiseration in those countries and amounting to an enormous defeat for the working people and oppressed of the entire world. As Trotskyists who uphold the programme of the Russian Revolution of 1917, we are the only tendency on the left that fought to the end for defence of the Soviet Union. In spite of its degeneration under the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy that usurped political power starting in 1924, the Soviet Union remained a workers state based on the collectivised economy that issued out of the revolution, the greatest achievement of the working class to date. We applied the same programme to the workers states created in Eastern Europe in the wake of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis in WWII. These states were qualitatively the same as the Soviet Union after its political degeneration. We stood for unconditional military defence of these workers states against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution; at the same time we fought for proletarian political revolution to replace the Stalinist bureaucratic caste with a government of workers soviets committed to proletarian internationalism. This is what we fight for today in the remaining deformed workers states of China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam.

In a historic gain for the working class internationally, capitalism was overthrown in China by the 1949 Revolution which led to the building of a collectivised economy. Despite the “market reforms”, China’s economy is still dominated by the state-controlled banks, the core elements of the economy remain collectivised and state-owned enterprises are still dominant in the strategic sectors. However China is by no means insulated from the crisis in the capitalist world and large numbers of workers have lost their jobs since the start of the economic crisis.

The reformist left supported every counterrevolutionary force that contributed to the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, from Solidarność in Poland, the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s to Yeltsin in the Soviet Union. The SWP described the counterrevolution as a “fact that should have every socialist rejoicing”, while the Socialist Party and Workers Power were on Yeltsin’s barricades. Today they support provocations against the Chinese deformed workers state waged under the slogan “Free Tibet”, which means they are for a Tibet dominated by the imperialists and the Dalai Lama’s feudal theocracy.

The US imperialists are bent on restoring capitalist rule in the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, and for this they have a two-pronged strategy: military encirclement combined with capitalist economic penetration. Obama wants to extricate US troops from the Iraq quagmire in order to aim the US military at more strategic and long-term targets, not least China. At the same time, the Democrats, backed by the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, have been in the forefront of pushing anti-China chauvinist protectionism. Obama is completely committed to continuing Bush’s “war on terror”, including sending an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, where Gordon Brown has pledged to increase the number of British troops. We call for all US/British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan!

British imperialist crimes were often conducted under old Labour governments, such as the horrific communalist slaughter that accompanied the partition of India in 1947 and the sending of British troops to Northern Ireland in 1969. The present bloody mess in the Near East is the legacy of the carnage, savagery and divide-and-rule machinations of British imperialism when it was the dominant world power. Recent claims that MI5 was complicit in the rendition of “terrorism” suspects are hardly surprising: the British capitalist state has routinely used torture, from India to Africa, to Northern Ireland. Today in Iraq the British Army boasts about its expertise in “counterinsurgency” obtained during four decades of subjugation of the oppressed Catholics in Northern Ireland.

We fight to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party, forged in political struggle against Labourism, which has served to tie the working class to the capitalist exploiters for over a century. A Leninist vanguard party will be built on the understanding that workers can defend their own interests and those of all the oppressed only through the mass mobilisation of the working class, independent from all capitalist parties and their agencies, which culminates not in another version of parliament, but in Soviets or workers councils. Our perspective is that the bourgeoisie must be expropriated in favour of a planned economy which will open the road to a socialist future.

The working class, in the course of struggles and through the intervention of a Leninist-Trotskyist party, must be won to the programme of Marxism. We don’t base our programme on the existing level of consciousness but on the material needs and historical interests of the working class, and on the experience of the workers movement at the high points of revolutionary struggle. Our model is the Russian Revolution of October 1917, led by Lenin and Trotsky, when the Russian workers took power into their own hands, expropriating the bourgeoisie and establishing a workers state.