Updated: Mar 26
Since being appointed Prime Minister in July Boris Johnson has been subjected to one defeat after another in Parliament, culminating in another humiliation with the passing of an amendment requiring him to ask the EU for another extension to Brexit.
His latest deal represented desperate, last minute compromises made by Johnson to the EU on the issue of the Irish border, in order to meet his pledge to leave the EU on October 31. This was never going to be agreeable to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on whose vote he was relying. Through gritted teeth Johnson has been forced to write to the EU for an extension to Brexit. However, this letter was quickly followed by one explaining that he did not want the EU to grant this request.
The EU27 have expressed an intention to grant this extension. They clearly want a deal and don’t want to be seen as the ones causing Britain to crash out of the EU with none. What does all this mean for working class people supposedly represented by this dysfunctional parliament?
This crisis ridden government means more confusion and uncertainty. It means more paralysis and inaction whilst more time is taken up by parliamentary manoeuvring on the part of both sides of the Brexit debate. Meanwhile, the real concerns of ordinary people are ignored; the ongoing effects of austerity; cuts to real wage levels; attacks on benefits; health and education services chronically underfunded and understaffed; the climate crisis. These are the issues we need action on.
Even Johnson paid lip service to the urgent need to address these problems in the Queen’s Speech. Of course the empty promises to tackle the social care crisis, build more hospitals and prioritise crime prevention, are not backed up by any genuine proposals of funding commitments to make this happen. Johnson knows that part of the success of his Brexit campaign was down to his claims of freeing up vast amounts of money for the NHS.
Whoever is in power when we finally come out of the EU will be expected to deliver on this. No Tory deal will benefit the working class The Tories are certainly not to be relied on to push through policies which would genuinely benefit the majority in society. Johnson’s Brexit deal would be a disaster for the working class. It entails a ‘flexible approach’ to workers rights and environmental protection, meaning any future trade deals post-Brexit could run roughshod over the already inadequate protections in place.
The NHS is looking more vulnerable to US big business intervention than ever. It also risks further inflaming already growing sectarian tension on the island of Ireland. Who would win a General Election? If Johnson’s deal doesn’t go through he will be eager to push for a General Election soon in the hope that the result would give him a majority and a mandate to get out of Europe. If his deal does pass he may still be keen to go for an election, expecting to reap the rewards of ‘getting Brexit done’.
This could backfire on him with a rise in electoral support for the Brexit party in the former situation. In either case Labour could also make gains if they focus on a manifesto calling to defend workers jobs and rights against the bosses’ attacks. A demand for the re-nationalisation of the privatised public services, energy and transport sectors would have huge support. Labour’s policy proposals at their recent conference show some promise – with a call for the redistribution of the assets of private schools, a 32-hour working week with no loss of pay, investment in benefits and social care and the creation of a state owned pharmaceutical company to make medicines more cheaply available to the NHS.
The private manufacturing industries are also under threat with the economy going into a slow decline and recession around the corner. Corbyn needs to call for the likes of the car industry to also be brought into public ownership. Workers’ jobs can be protected with their skills and technology used to make things for which there is a need in society. Pressure on Corbyn The problem now for Corbyn is that he is being pressured by the Blairites, and more recently even by the left (the likes of John McDonnell and Diane Abbott) into taking a Remain position on Brexit and calling for another referendum.
A second referendum on EU membership would be a mistake. Whatever the outcome it risks creating further division in society and emboldening the far right. Labour’s inability to take a clear position on Brexit has sowed confusion. It has meant working class people are being lined up to support either the Remain or Leave section of the capitalist class rather than looking at what is in their own best interests as a class.
In the ‘real world’ outside of the Brexit debate workers are entering into struggle. The CWU (Communication Workers Union) have just announced a tremendous 97.1% vote in favour of taking strike action, which will take place in November. The UCU (University and College Union) are also in the process of balloting for action, which could potentially be coordinated with the CWU. We are seeing the beginning of an upsurge of localised and national union struggles taking place also, amongst hospital workers, rail workers on Merseyside, lecturers in colleges around the country, and many more. If a larger union like Unite stepped up in solidarity with the others to coordinate national action to defend jobs and conditions, it could begin to transform the outlook of workers here and mobilise in support of Corbyn.
Appeal to ranks
The only way Corbyn can make a breakthrough is by an appeal to the rank and file members who support him in the Labour party and to those outside looking to Labour for an answer to the misery of austerity and a Tory government. He can gain nothing through parliamentary alliances and constitutional tinkering. A split away by the right wing of the Labour party is likely if Corbyn and his supporters take a bold pro working class position, but this would actually leave him in a far better position to really begin to build a movement capable of improving the lives of ordinary people.
What all of this chaos has shown is the crisis all the parties of big business face, and the failure of parliament to meet the challenge. The EU has also shown itself as only interested in protecting the interests of the bosses of the countries involved. They fear the breakup of their club and are desperate not to do the UK any favours and inspire the people of other countries that are questioning the benefits of membership.
As socialists we call for a mass movement to link up workers’ struggles across all borders. We need to fight together with the millions of oppressed people across Europe to tear up the capitalist rules the EU was founded on. Instead we need to build a different kind of union – one where we run society in the interests of the majority not for the profits of an elite few. This should be a Socialist union of the peoples of Europe in a voluntary and democratic confederation of socialist states, with full national rights for all the oppressed such as the Catalans.
What we fight for
No to a Tory Brexit. No trust in Johnson or any other Tory politician No to a second referendum on EU membership. A second vote would be divisive and quite possibly inconclusive
General election now. For an anti-austerity Labour government led by Corbyn
An incoming Labour government to renegotiate Brexit on the basis of opposition to the EU’s anti-working class, pro-privatisation agenda and a socialist appeal to the workers of Europe
For a Socialist Europe based on public ownership and workers’ control