Paul Callanan, London Socialist Alternative
Today at Birmingham University, Jeremy Corbyn launched Labour’s election manifesto. In his speech he highlighted the past 9 years of austerity and how the pledges in the manifesto would be deemed “impossible” by ruling elites who don’t want to see change as the “system is rigged in their favour”. He also pointed to how 1/3rd of billionaires have donated to the Tory Party and contrasted this with Labour which is now “on your side”.
Indeed, relative to the past 10 years of austerity and past three decades of neo-liberalism carried out by successive Labour and Tory governments, this manifesto is radical. Just like the 2017 offering it represents a further break with the orthodoxy that there is no alternative to untrammelled free markets.
It is also true to say that it is “full of popular policies”. Polls have repeatedly shown that policies like nationalising rail, mail and the utilities, ending cuts and privatisation in the NHS and scrapping tuition fees are huge vote winners.
The promise to create 1 million Green Jobs can tap into the anger and willingness young people have shown to fight in the recent climate strikes. It will also be welcomed that Labour’s plan for a zero carbon economy includes plans for a ‘just transition’ - that workers in the gas and oil sectors will be offered alternative employment, for their skills to be put to use.
The policy that has been hitting the headlines most recently, that of nationalising BT’s Openreach service and providing free high-speed broadband to all homes and businesses in the UK, is another indicator of some of the radical thinking in this manifesto.
However, Corbyn’s speech did also serve to highlight some of the inadequacies in the Labour leader’s approach.
Corbyn was correct to point out that “Johnson wants to high-jack Brexit to unleash Thatcherism on steroids” and again point to trade discussions with the US where opening up the NHS to US businesses was clearly on the agenda. However, his own position was yet again unclear as he failed to outline what kind of Brexit he will attempt to implement instead opting for fluffy rhetoric like “take Brexit out of the hands of politicians”.
He talked of an “investment blitz” to fund infrastructure projects. The manifesto restates the policy of setting up a National Investment Bank to fund this and public services. However, as we have pointed out previously, this will not provide anything like the level of investment required.
The biggest gap in the manifesto is the lack of a pledge to nationalise the big banks. This is not just vital for funding Labour’s plans. Corbyn correctly spoke about the hostility this manifesto will receive from the right and powerful but that hostility will not just take the form of words.
Every tool at their disposal will be used to prevent radical, anti-austerity policies from being implemented and the banks will be key to that. A Labour government is going to need to prevent their programme from being sabotaged, by for example means of investment strikes by the rich, where money held by those banks will be removed from the country. To do this, it means nationalising the banks under democratic workers control and capital controls to prevent that money being withdrawn.
It is also not enough to say that just the supply arms of the ‘Big 6’ energy companies will be nationalised. This leaves private companies still in control of huge swathes of the energy sector. In order to implement any programme on public ownership in the energy sector it will be necessary to nationalise those companies and their assets outright.
We call for the nationalisation of the top 100 monopolies that control 80% of the economy. Left in private hands many of them will move jobs abroad in order to avoid the tax rises and living wage pledges if Labour come to power. If taken into public ownership we can ensure workers are paid a living wage. We can also use the wealth and resources of those companies to democratically plan our economy to provide for the needs and wants of society as a whole.
During his speech Corbyn said that “all you need to do is vote”. This will not be the case. Labour far exceeded expectations during the last general election by mobilising a mass campaign of rallies and canvassing sessions. This is what is required if a similar turn around is to be secured this time round.
Furthermore, strikes in Royal Mail, education and low-paid cleaners striking for £15 per hour show what is required to fight for Corbyn’s programme. As do the climate strikes that have been taking place up and down Britain and across the world this year. They also point to the kind of mass mobilisations that will be needed after the election, whether Corbyn wins and faces sabotage from the ruling class, or in the case of another Tory government on another austerity rampage.
We need to mobilise now to kick out the Tories on the 12th December. The Labour manifesto does have the potential to generate enthusiasm and spur people out into the streets and in workplaces to fight for it. But we also need that movement armed with a bold socialist programme to take on the bosses after the election.