The Brexit election and the birth of the Workers party

As Boris prepares a fresh assault on the trade unions, what does the election result mean for workers?

Lalkar writers

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George Galloway has launched the Workers Party of Britain on a pro-Brexit, anti-imperialist platform, offering the chance to create a truly mass, working-class organisation in Britain for the first time in a generation.

Lalkar writers

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Get Brexit done” was the battle cry of the Tory party in the general election of 2019, whilst Labour was prepared to offer anything but this one simple demand.

That three-word slogan was enough. A decisive victory for the Tories, who now have an 80-seat majority, seems to have finished off Project Corbyn and smashed a hole in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ of Labour-held northern parliamentary constituencies.

In a bizarre display of triumphalism, The Times proudly declared that the Tories were now the party of the working class:

“Boris Johnson’s election victory has transformed the Conservatives into the party of the working class, opening up double-digit leads among the poorest families in Britain.

“The Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn became the preserve of the well-off and well-educated.” (General election results: Working class switched to Tories by Matt Chorley, The Times, 17 December 2019)

Clear majority

A majority of 80 seats gives the Conservatives a “stonking mandate”, to quote Boris Johnson. Labour won its lowest number of seats in the House of Commons since 1935.

The Tories were the main beneficiaries from the 60 seats Labour lost, although the Scottish National party captured six from Labour in Scotland, strengthening the SNP and leading, inexorably to renewed calls for a new referendum on Scottish independence.

The Financial Times reported:

“The Tory gains are nowhere near the 108 seats in 2010, but this result still represents the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987. It gives Mr Johnson the clear working majority he needs to deliver Brexit by 31 January.

“In a stark illustration of the effects of the UK’s first past the post electoral system, the Tories gained the extra 49 seats with only a 1.2 percentage point rise in the share of the vote since the last election.

“Labour’s share of the vote decreased significantly – by nearly 8 percentage points – but the party still retained a higher share of the vote than they had in both the 2010 and 2015 elections. The LibDems registered more than a 4 percentage point increase in their share but still ended up with a net loss in terms of seats.

“At 67.2 percent, turnout held up quite well in the UK’s first December election since 1923, in spite of wet weather on polling day, a drop of 1.5 percentage points from two years ago, but still higher than in every other general election this century.

“Three factors stand out on the new electoral map. In the north of England, the Conservatives took seats from Labour that had not returned a Tory for decades, if ever. The big winners of the night after the Tories were the SNP, who took 48 out of 59 seats in Scotland.

“The result is not quite at the level of the 56 MPs returned at the 2015 election but it still represented a gain of 13 from 2017. In northern Ireland the election produced a historic moment as nationalist parties overtook unionists as the region’s largest group at Westminster.

“The Conservative strategy of fighting the election on Brexit, targeting Labour-held leave-voting seats in the north and Midlands was vindicated. Fourteen of the Conservative gains were secured with majorities of over 10 percentage points from Labour, including Bassetlaw, Great Grimsby and Sedgefield, the former seat of Labour prime minister Tony Blair.” (UK general election results at a glance by Amy Borrett, Keith Fray, Alan Smith and Chris Campbell, 13 December 2019)

IndyRef2

Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party, having gained 45 percent of the vote to secure 48 seats (a total increase of 13) wasted little time in campaigning for another referendum on Scottish independence, the so-called ‘IndyRef2’. Sturgeon said the votes for the SNP were an indication of the Scottish people’s desire to break away from the UK after she built her campaign on a pledge to hold a second referendum on independence.

Speaking on BBC Scotland, newly elected SNP MP Kenny MacAskill was of the view that it was better to remain in the European Union imperialist bloc than get closer to the US:

“As well as building the base for IndyRef2, we have to protect the values that we cherish and that were built in this country by our parents’ and our grandparents’ generation.”

Mr MacAskill added: “I think by the time we get to next year the people of Scotland are going to realise the direction of travel that Boris Johnson is taking Britain on.

“The only way to avoid being taken into becoming the 51st state, a country where the welfare state is being dismantled before our very eyes, is to vote for independence and to become an independent nation in the European Union.” (New Scottish independence referendum won’t be ‘any time soon’, says Kenny MacAskill by Scott Macnab, The Scotsman, 23 December 2019)

Former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway was quoted by a number of national newspapers in unusually favourable terms for putting the opposing argument to Mr MacAskill’s. He said: “If you want to be independent, why would you leave a union in which you have a considerable say to join a union in which you will be tiny dot on the map?

“Why would you leave a union with whom you have more than 300 years of common experience, a common language and a gigantic market for your goods and services?… Why would you do that in order to hook up with Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria … with which you have absolutely nothing in common, either historically, culturally linguistically or economically?” (George Galloway brilliantly breaks down what will happen if Scotland leaves the UK by Svar Nanan-Sen, Daily Express, 23 December 2019)

Independents and republicans

Caught up as the country was in the war between Brexit and remain, Tory vs Labour, there was even less space than usual for independent candidates to break through – even those who have proved popular before or who were sitting MPs when the election was called.

George Galloway and Chris Williamson, who stood in West Bromwich East and Derby North respectively, won less than a thousand votes each, whilst incumbent Labour MP Roger Godsiff (deselected in Birmingham Hall Green for representing constituents opposed to the teaching of same-sex relationships to four-year-old children) could muster no more than 4,000-odd votes, whilst Labour’s anointed man breezed through with more than 35,000.

In the wake of these defeats, the positive victories on the night for revolutionaries and socialists were made by republicans in the north of Ireland.

The Irish Times reported on the historic significance of the defeat of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader Nigel Dodds and the election of Sinn Féin’s John Finucane:

“Northern Ireland has returned more nationalists than unionists for the first time after DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds lost his seat at Westminster in the UK general election … As a result, although the DUP remains the largest party, it holds fewer seats than Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

“Mr Dodds had become a power broker during the Brexit talks, when the DUP propped up the minority Conservative party government after the UK general election of 2017.

“His defeat completed a humiliation for the party, which said unionists were betrayed by the eventual deal Mr Johnson struck to leave the European Union.

“Mr Dodds lost his seat to John Finucane, the son of one of the highest-profile victims of 30 years of sectarian bloodshed that was largely ended by the Belfast Agreement peace deal of 1998.

“Mr Finucane is the first Sinn Féin MP returned in North Belfast. He was aided by a pact between Sinn Féin and the SDLP that saw the parties agree not to compete in some areas to avoid splitting the remain vote. Northern Ireland voted 56 percent to 44 percent to remain in the Brexit vote.

“Mr Dodds’ party colleague Edwin Poots said the deputy leader’s defeat was very damaging for unionism. ‘Ultimately, if we are going to protect the union, enhance the union and secure the union, then we’re going to have to have people voting unionist,’ Mr Poots told BBC Northern Ireland.” (North returns more nationalist than unionist MPs for first time by Freya McClements, Irish Times, 13 December 2019)

Johnson in – what next?

Workers can be sure that regardless of who sits in Number 10, the general direction of British economics has been mapped out: continuing privatisation, continuing export of capital, a growing gap between the richest and the poorest in our society.

Britain, whether inside, outside, or one foot in one foot out, will continue to seek to maintain a close imperialist alliance with France, Germany and the EU imperialist bloc, as well as with the USA and Nato. These facts of life will remain unchanged.

Already there are clear signs of fresh attacks on what remains of workers’ rights.

The Queen’s parliamentary speech included plans to prevent rail unions from being able to make effective strike action, with a bill that will seek to ensure ‘minimum service levels’ on ‘key’ transport networks such as railways and bus routes.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps asserted: “The ability of a few people to prevent everyone from being able to earn a living has to come to an end.

“The new law will prevent London being brought to a standstill, with all the additional environmental damage done by people reverting to cars.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash responded: “Banning strikes and denying workers the basic human right to withdraw their labour has been the hallmark of hard-right, authoritarian regimes throughout history.

“Instead of attacking rail workers fighting to defend safety and disabled access, any responsible government would be tackling the scandal of private profiteering on Britain’s railways, which has reduced services to chaos.”

Train drivers’ union Aslef also utterly condemned the plans. Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “This is nothing less than a declaration of war on transport workers.

“No trade unionist takes industrial action lightly, but we need that option to prevent bad employers riding roughshod over our working conditions and safety.

“This shows that this right-wing and authoritarian Tory government sees transport workers as the enemy, not stakeholders.” (Boris Johnson has issued declaration of war on railway workers, unions warn by Marcus Barnett, Morning Star, 17 December 2019)

It is precisely the outlook of Mr Whelan which has castrated the British working class these last 30 years. An ideology that teaches workers they are ‘stakeholders’ and not workers; that they are to be ‘consulted’, thrown a few quid and then ignored.

What is desperately needed by workers is a return to class politics; the abandoning of the ‘stakeholder engagement’ with capitalism and the return to fighting it. Such is the content of the real struggle for socialism rather than the phony struggle for a ‘socialist’ Labour government.

Birth of the Workers party

It is with this in mind that the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) welcomed the announcement made by George Galloway in the days following the general election.

This formation of the Workers Party of Britain (WPB) represents a genuine effort to break a section of workers away from the stranglehold of the Labour party, which has once again shown itself incapable of leading the British working class to socialism.

The Corbyn period of leadership was the period which should once and for all kill off the myth that with a ‘socialist’ at its head the Labour party can deliver for working people.

Though communists may recognise the truth of the above statement, as yet thousands of well-intentioned workers do not. These sections of the working class are unable to take the necessary steps alone; they need to be guided, as any student must, in drawing out the necessary conclusions from their own practical experience.

The Workers party has the potential to assist in this process, which is of historical importance for the British working class.

Lalkar extends its congratulations to the CPGB-ML and to Joti Brar, one of CPGB-ML’s vice-chairs, who was elected the deputy leader of the Workers Party of Britain at its founding congress. This meeting also elected a large 40-person members council with strong working-class representation.

It is the job of the Communist party to pay serious attention to tactical questions. Tactics deal with the forms of struggle and the forms of organisation of the proletariat, with their changes and combinations. Tactics may change several times, depending on the flow or ebb, the rise or decline of the struggle.

Any communist party that follows at the tail of the Labour party is doomed to be an adjunct of imperialism; to assist in the sowing of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois illusion in the ranks of the workers. Any communist party that looks in awe upon the apparent strength of the social democrats, and, failing to find a way to attack this power, tries instead to reconcile the workers to it, shall also be remembered bitterly by history.

Only those who take the strategic line of defeat for social democracy and apply it to the given concrete conditions as they change and develop can be said to be acting as communists. Only such an approach can win to the banner of revolutionary Marxism Leninism the hundreds of thousands of workers who have been denied a revolutionary political education.

More than ever, the political analysis of Marxist-Leninists is needed by workers in Britain. Our job is to defend principles whilst wedding Marxism to the workers.

We hope that all those whose left-social-democratic illusions now lie in tatters will join the Workers Party as a positive step towards their total political redemption; there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.