Monday, 20 May 2013

United with Labour = United with the Tories

How late it was, how late. And not just late, but lame. 

Gordon Brown's attempt to help Scottish Labour distance themselves from their conjoined twins and bedmates in Better Together, the reviled Tories. 

Gordon Brown - intellectual arrogance and political stupidity

The launch of 'United with Labour' was a cynical attempt to appease the growing nausea in the ranks of the trade unions in particular, and the wider working class, at Labour leading the anti-independence 'Better Together' campaign with the Tory/Lib Dem partners in crime at Westminster. 

The recent STUC conference was a warning to Labour's high heidins that they will reinforce the growing openness to independence amongst workers every time Alastair Darling speaks on behalf of this Tory-funded triumvirate.

A tory campaign "led" by Labour left a bitter taste in the mouths of trades unions

As we predicted in a previous blog (23 April) Labour was obliged to try and put 'a distinctive Labour case for devolution' - which is camouflage for Labour trying to con workers into believing that by voting 'No' and staying part of the capitalist British state, their lives and living conditions will improve. 

Nostalgia for post-1945 Labour reforms 

Hence Brown's attempt to resurrect the mass support of older generations for what was achieved 60-70 years ago, when the post-1945 Labour government constructed the welfare state, including the NHS.

But a total con-trick it is. 

Those far-reaching reforms, marked also by the extension of public ownership (albeit monstrously bureaucratic) to a peak 20% of the British economy, were part of an international strategy by capitalism designed to stave off the threat of revolutionary movements across Europe in the wake of World War 2.

It was in part funded by the USA Marshall Aid programme, where the mighty imperialist power poured hundreds of billions of EuroDollars into western Europe to prop up capitalism, in the face of encroachment of their 'territory' by the Soviet Union in eastern Europe. 

The threat of spreading 'communism' - despite it's monstrously bureaucratic and viciously dictatorial form - scared the wits out of western capitalist leaders, and combined with the militant demands of their own working class, pressured the likes of Clement Atlee's Labour government to make serious inroads into the untrammeled rule of the capitalist market.

Put another way, after the Hungry Thirties and the privations and mass slaughter of War, workers in the UK demanded a greater share of the wealth they produced, and the trade unions affiliated to Old Labour helped socialists in the party at the time to win the giant concessions of the NHS; welfare benefits; wholesale construction of council housing for those confined to overcrowded slums and unable to afford mortgages; comprehensive education; and a reduction in the levels of poverty and inequality. 

Reforms, in the proper sense of improvements in the lives of millions of people, were affordable then precisely because of the unprecedented upswing in capitalist wealth production globally for the 30 years up until the first simultaneous capitalist economic crisis in the mid-70s. 

Change, utter change

I only refer to these features of the past to show how things have changed since; utterly changed. From the mid-70s onwards, capitalism as a system of exploitation has gone through its classic pattern of booms and slumps. 

As Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown had the intellectual arrogance and political stupidity to claim New Labour had banished the cycle of booms and slumps in their period of government from 1997-2010. 

Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of workers who have been chucked out of work, left to rot in the permanent 'mass army of reserve labour', only then to be demonized by successive Labour and Tory/LibDem governments as 'skivers', 'scroungers' and 'benefit cheats' - background music to justify crucifying cuts to those same benefits. 

How changed, how utterly changed, compared to the 1950s, when even the Tories did not seek to dismantle the safety net of welfare benefits, and subscribed to the aim of full employment! 

Labour counter-reforms

A whole generation experienced the limitations and downright disappointments of Old Labour in government. Governments led by Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan in 1964-70 and 1974-9 came in with raised expectations amongst working class people, with radical promises of 'a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people', and with even Labour arch-right wingers like Denis Healey threatening to "tax the rich 'til the pips squeak"!

But as a party wedded at the top to capitalism, these governments of Old Labour never broke the chains of capitalism, and were held to ransom by big business with threats of 'a strike of investment' - and even plots of military coups on the fringes of the ruling class, especially in 1974. The result: not reforms, but counter-reforms: savage cuts to public expenditure in the 1970s as they obeyed the diktats of the IMF; brutal wage cuts under the wage restraint policy of the so-called Social Contract signed by the Old Labour government and the top union bureaucracy; and eventually a revolt of low-paid workers against this assault on their ability to survive, with a wave of strikes against the Old Labour government in 1978-9 - the oft-mentioned Winter of Discontent. 

Labour paved the way for Thatcher

Mass disgust with Old Labour's actual track record turned Labour voters away in their droves in 1979, with massive abstention allowing the hated Thatcher to take power and proceed to systematically slaughter many of the gains for working people of the post-1945 generation.

Thatcher's was a government of counter-revolution, unbridled capitalism, unashamedly slashing the social wages and democratic rights of the working class majority. 

For 18 dark years they waged war for their own class with a battery of vicious and union laws; extensive privatisation; the virtual elimination of major industries like coal, steel and shipbuilding; the stripping away of workers' hard-won rights in the print industry and elsewhere; conscious preparation for 'the final showdown' with the heroic miners and their communities, in a class-driven civil war that unveiled the naked brutality of state forces in defending capitalist interests...and the ultimate assault that was the poll tax. 

New Labour's record 

That government above all confirmed that the days of advancement for the working class majority within the confines of capitalist rule had crashed to a shuddering halt. 

But the same, critical point was proven even more decisively by the experience of the subsequent 13 years of Labour Westminster rule, from 1997-2010.

Under both Blair and Brown, New Labour demonstrated that the British capitalist state had by then exhausted all its radical potential. 

Gone were the days of even modest taxation of big business and the rich to fund social provision. Rather than extending public ownership and control they privatized vital assets. I recall vividly the way Labour's Helen Liddell joined with National Savings Bank workers and their union in Glasgow in strident condemnation of Tory plans to privatise it just weeks before the 1997 general election - only to then sell it off to German multinational Siemens a few weeks after Labour won a landslide election victory! 

Under the utterly capitalist project that is New Labour, benefit cuts bit deeper, single parents were demonised to justify this assault, and welfare turned into warfare. 

Not a single Tory anti-trade union law was repealed. 

The national minimum wage was conceded under sustained pressure from trade unionists and socialists (the one and only demo calling for a national minimum wage was organised by the SSP 's predecessor, the Scottish Socialist Alliance!). But it was pitched at such a low level that it on several occasions led to employers cutting their existing wage levels to drag them down to the legal Minimum Wage! And it had more exclusion clauses than the worst dodgy insurance policy. 

Poverty - and getting filthy rich

Under the Labour governments of Blair and Brown, inequality and child poverty both escalated massively. Inequality grew faster under Labour than it had under Thatcher and Major's previous Tory governments. Inequality actually reached its highest levels since 1886! 

After peaking in the mid-1970s, wages as a share of national weath plummeted to their lowest since records began in 1956... a trend that continues to this day. 

Peter Mandelson blurted out New Labour's core philosophy with his pithy sneer that he was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich".

And far from sustaining the marvellous gains of the NHS, part-privatisation, pay cuts for staff, and cost-cutting hospital and ward closures that provoked the revolt of thousands in small towns were the hallmarks of Labour in power from 1997-2010. 

New Labour carried on like converts with the Tory PFI schemes, authorizing most of the 700 completed projects; schemes that mortgage future generations with public liability for repaying roughly £6 back to private profiteers for every £1 borrowed off them for public sector projects, with leases mostly lasting 30 years. 

From welfare to warfare

Foreign policy is a natural extension of domestic policy - sometimes implemented by brute military force. So it was no surprise to socialists that the nakedly capitalist New Labour government of Blair and Brown proceeded to send young working class soldiers to the slaughterhouse of Iraq, joined at the hip to George W Bush and his blood-stained imperial ambitions, leading to 200 corpses returning to these shores, dwarfed of course by the slaughter of at least 120,000 Iraqi civilians, with the total death toll estimated at 'somewhere between 500,000 and a million'. 

It was no idle boast when Maggie Thatcher claimed her greatest legacy was New Labour. Millions of people will have felt like puking or smashing the TV when David Cameron used the death of the hate figure of the 1980s to claim "we are all Thatcherites now". But the kernel of truth in his boast is that in terms of the major mainstream parties and their ideology, he is right - at least on fundamentals, if not in every policy detail.

Distinctively Labour cuts

So when Gordon Brown is wheeled out to show how different Labour is from the Tories for the purposes of defending the British capitalist state from the threat of Scottish independence, let us remind the Scottish working class majority of some basic real-life facts and experiences.

Brown trumpeted that the national minimum wage, NHS and benefits are illustrations that we are ''better together'...but in a 'distinctively Labour way'!

United with Labour, Johann Lamont, and other - more leftist - Labour figures try to varnish the case for Westminster rule with talk of 'a redistributive Britain'. 

They should all be challenged to justify the glories of the minimum wage to those hundreds of thousands of Scottish workers who live on or just above £6.19 an hour as prices collide with astronauts in the stratosphere. 

They seem to forget the NHS is devolved, and despite all its many shortcomings, the Scottish government has certainly not conducted a crusade to slaughter service levels, conduct wholesale closures, or privatize and decimate the NHS in the manner currently gathering pace down south at the hands of Westminster. That is the grisly future if Scotland votes 'NO' in 2014.

United with Labour gloss over the fact it is Westminster which ushered in the hated Bedroom Tax, as part a package of £18billion benefit cuts - and no matter how 'distinctly Labour', devolution would leave the power to punish the poorest through such measures in the hands of the Westminster razor gang, regardless of how Scotland voted in the 2015 Westminster elections.

Factions of capitalist rule

In another lame attempt to throw a sop to the anti-Tory clamour and the questioning of the case for the unequal capitalist state amongst workers, Scottish Labour's Johann Lamont floated the idea of devolving income tax to Holyrood in the event of a No vote. 

She was slapped down by the UK Labour leadership. And in any case, even if this was conceded - "to kill nationalism dead" as Labour put it when they reluctantly granted a Scottish parliament in 1999 - it would still not give a Scottish government control over the 'commanding heights' of the economy. Income tax only accounts for about 25% of total government revenue. 

And Labour (unfortunately backed up by the STUC) are explicitly opposed to devolving Corporation Tax - potentially a major source of public funding for the public good - let alone devolving the powers to take energy, construction, the banks or big business into democratic public ownership. 

And which of the four big parties down south do Labour have in mind for taxing the rich; closing loopholes that rob society of £120 billion a year in taxes on big business and the rich; or raising expenditure on the NHS, education or public transport? The Tories? LibDems? UKIP?! New Labour? These are just different factions of the same capitalist party. 

Prospects under Labour

Labour's Ian Smart blurted out in his recent tweet, "Better 100 years of Tory rule in the UK than independence". 

Gordon Brown and United with Labour try not to be so crass, especially given the views on the Tories within the Scottish working class they seek to dupe into voting against determining their own future, their own government, and therefore ultimately their own conditions of life. 

But Labour fail to answer the real amd present danger that it's arguably just as likely Westminster could face a Tory/UKIP Coalition as a majority Labour government - in flagrant defiance of how the Scottish people vote in 2015. 

But even if Labour was to win the keys to 10 Downing Street, what are the realistic prospects of reforms, improvements, for working class Scots? 

Gordon Brown never once chastised nor disagreed with his then chancellor Alastair Darling when in 2010 he warned voters that in the event of Labour winning the Westminster elections, they would carry out public sector cuts "far deeper even than those of Margaret Thatcher's government". 

The poster boy of Better Together was never going to be contradicted by the brooding Heathcliff of United with Labour; after all it was Brown himself who earned the eternal wrath of low-paid civil service workers when he declared plans to slash 100,000 jobs on 12th July 2004! 

Labour in Westminster has absolutely no intention of scrapping the anti-union laws ushered in by Thatcher, retained by Labour for all 13 years when they had the power to repeal them. 

They have a no intention of scrapping Trident and diversifying defense workers' jobs into peaceful, socially useful activity. 

History proves they would rely on some newly-labelled version of PFI and PPP to fund the remnants of the NHS, rather than transforming it (including the pharmaceutical industry) into a fully publicly-owned service with democratic control by staff representatives, patients' groups and the government - funded by taxing the rich.

Millionaires and millions

Regardless of which of the four parties vying for power down south wins in 2015, working class people will certainly not be 'together' with the millionaires and 88 billionaires that bestride the wealth of these islands. 

We certainly won't be 'Better together' with the class of parasitic bankers and tax-dodging businesses that Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and the rest of New Labour fete and favour. 

So instead of being conned by catchy phrases like 'United with Labour', the working-class majority population in Scotland need to seize hold of their own future, vote Yes to self- government, with the realistic prospects and full-blown powers to then elect a government of the left, demanding a root and branch transformation of where the power and wealth lies. 

Independent socialist Scotland

United with Labour is above all a cynical ploy to breech the growing obstacles to Better Together's overtures to the organised trade unions, as well as generally seeking to confuse Labour voters into thinking a vote for independence is a vote for the SNP, or more narrowly for Alex Salmond. 
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It is a mythical promise of better living standards within the UK, based on the lie that Labour is fundamentally different from the Tories.

Socialists are best placed to counter this, in a manner pro-big business nationalists like Alex Salmond are unable to do. 

The SSP, and broader campaigns within the trade unions like Trade Unionists for Independence (TUFI), need to confront the myths underpinning 'United with Labour'. 

Facts, stubborn facts, about Labour's real-life track record since the 1970s should be enough to shred Labour's lies about the wonders of Westminster rule, and prevent them dragging the name of the trade unions into the Tory-infested swamps of British unionism.

A socialist vision for an independent Scotland - alongside spelling out the stark, dark prospects under the heel of capitalist Westminster rule - is needed to counter the late, lame attempts by Gordon Brown and New Labour to woo workers into thinking they are best 'united with Labour' - which in fact amounts to being 'united with the Tories'.

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