In the week leading up to what was to be the UK’s exit from the European Union and for a few days after, the ASH Facebook page was the site of an informal debate about the pros and cons of Brexit. Although there was no agreement on any one position, compared to the previous three years of insults and intransigence in Parliament, in the media and in the street, this constituted a debate that was sufficiently interesting and informative, we hope, to be worthy of transcription here. Contributions are distinguished by the colour of the text but are without names, to protect the anonymity of the debaters.
Saturday, 23 March
Just cycled into town – I hasten to add not for today’s Brexit march – but on the way back I had to take a detour through what politicians call ‘the silent majority’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many middle-class, middle-aged-and-elderly white people gathered together in one place; though I’ve also never been to Ascot or an Elton John concert, so my experience of such gatherings is limited. Never before has the class divide in Brexit been so apparent for those with eyes to see. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a protest march so well-behaved and so silent. But I wrote down a few snatches of conversation I overheard:
– ‘How am I meant to afford my Brazilian cleaner, my Spanish nanny, my Italian cook and my Russian driver? If this goes on much longer I’ll have to pay them the minimum wage!’
– ‘Do you know how much my Islington house has depreciated since this whole fiasco began? It’s like we’re in the last days of Rome. It’s time to bring the army in!’
– ‘How am I meant to afford the new conservatory in our back garden if our Polish builders are all sent home? With the price British builders are asking it’s like the Bolsheviks have taken over!’
– ‘Do you mean every time I go to the Berlin film festival I have to get a visa like everyone else? What do they think we are, coolies!’
– ‘How am I meant to keep my Airbnb apartment in Barcelona going when they expect me to live there? And don’t ask me about our second home in Wales. It’s time to enact a State of Emergency!’
– ‘And my daughter was so looking forward to her gap year in Venice! Now it’ll have to be Minehead Butlins with all those awful people from the humble classes. It’s like we’re back in the 1970s!’
– ‘I don’t think I’ll ever outlive the shame of it. How am I meant to show my face at the Louvre fundraiser for Emmanuel Macron next year? They think we’re barbarians! Oh, la fatigue du Nord!’
– ‘Where will we buy our decaf lattes now? The thought of English food makes one feel positively revolutionary!’
– ‘I say, didn’t I meet you last year at Last Night of the Proms? Wasn’t Hubert Parry marvellous?’
– ‘I’ve ordered 50 hampers from Harrods just in case.’
I don’t like this. I understand you meant to be ironic. Still, I am Italian. Brexit is affecting me and my family massively. I couldn’t vote at the time of the referendum. I was at the march today, and I could hear a lot of European languages being spoken. And yes, we are white. I don’t appreciate how the struggle of 3.5 million immigrants currently in the country plus all those who won’t be able to come (like my disabled brother) is being presented as an issue for the white middle-aged middle class.
You could apply for a visa, like everyone else outside the European Union, like I did when I worked in the USA for two years, like my friends from Australia or Chile do when they wish to work here. I don’t see how a change of immigration laws is the breakdown in civilisation it’s being presented as. What I do see is how the influx of cheap labour into this country has eroded the union and employment rights of millions of working-class Britons, which I have more concern for. There’s a reason working-class jobs in the UK are defined by zero-hour contracts and working poverty, and a request for unionisation is met with the sack. I’m also concerned by the lack of UK investment in, say, doctors and nurses, that can be ameliorated by stripping other countries of their equivalently trained workers. You might consider how our importing of key workers from poorer countries is affecting their economies, or how the fact that 43 per cent of workers in elementary process-plant occupations, for example, are foreign-born affects the British working class, rather than complaining about having to get a work visa. In its absolute disregard for what’s been done to the housing and working conditions of the British working class over the past 10, 20 and 40 years, yes, I see the protest of the Remainers as very much characteristic of middle-class consciousness. This is a page about housing, and my first question when I see hundreds of thousands of people march against a change in trade and immigration laws is: where were they when the Housing and Planning Bill was being debated in Parliament? Where were they when Universal Credit was introduced? Where were they when zero-hour contracts were normalised? Where were they when, between 2010 and 2015, 20,000 people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India were deported from the UK? Where were they when refugees from non-EU countries were imprisoned at Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre? Where were they when 1 in 52 Londoners were made homeless? I think we all know the answer to that: they were counting the appreciation on their house value and posting photos online of what they were eating in a Shoreditch restaurant. I didn’t vote in the referendum and I’m undecided about Brexit, since like most people I don’t know what it’ll mean. What I do know is for the first time since the financial crisis, and before that since the 1980s, house prices in the UK have fallen and overseas and offshore investment in London property has dropped, and that has brought a pause, at least, and hopefully more, to the estate demolition programme that is socially cleansing Inner London of the working class of all countries that live here. The EU is not the defender of human rights, it is the administrator of Neo-liberalism.
First: yes, I can apply for a visa, as well as citizenship. I used to live and work in the US and had a visa there. But one of the reasons I moved back to Europe was that I have a disabled brother and I thought he could move in with me as our parents age; now I cannot, as I doubt he will ever get a visa. I am not the only one with a similar situation. Second, I don’t feel greater concern for the British working class than for the Italian, Spanish or polish one. People have been moving here because of unemployment, not because of a wish to come and depress wages. And feeling greater concern from a sub-set of working class who happen to be born in the same place, rather than for working class people full stop, sounds a weird right-wing idea (the social right, as opposed to the liberal right), and not far from saying social houses should go to Brits first and all that. Third, indeed this is a page about housing, but you are the one who brought up Brexit first. And fourth, I have been socially active on issues related to housing, refugees and other matters, and so have many of the Europeans I know.
Accusing me of being right-wing is the kind of slur with which the middle-class establishment over the past three years has dismissed the Brexit vote and anyone who questions their allegiance to capitalism. You’re marching to defend your interests, which is what most people do when they vote. Fine, but don’t dress it up as a defence of the international working class. Some of us believe that the concept of a nation and its government is all that stands, or could potentially stand, between us and the multi-national corporations that have no country, pay no taxes, write our laws and have unlimited access to badly-paid un-unionised workers with little or employment rights. Whether immigrants coming to the UK for work ‘wish’ to be a part of that or not is irrelevant. You can dress that up as some sort of anarchist credo about no borders, but the free movement of people is an instrument of international capitalism, not peace, love and harmony between the peoples of the world. And since the British working class feels they did something to build this country and its wealth, they also feel they’d like what they built to go to their children, not the children of their equivalents in Italy or anywhere else. Do you think the UK imported large numbers of Asian or Caribbean or Polish workers into the country and gave them council housing because our politicians were anarchists who didn’t believe in national borders, or to deprive British workers of their capacity to strike for higher wages and better working conditions and thereby reduce their profits? The middle classes don’t have allegiance to place, whether the town they came from or the country they were born in, because they have the financial freedom to move elsewhere. Dressing that up as ‘multiculturalism’ is the ideology of multinational capitalism. But when you rely on your community for the support you need to survive financially, having the resources of that community taken away from you and given to someone else is experienced as a threat to your ability to survive. I don’t know whether Brexit will further impoverish the working class of Britain, whatever their national origins: most major changes to legislation in this country are designed to do just that. But denouncing Leave voters as racist or right-wing is, again, an expression of middle-class consciousness that sees the world through its own eyes and in its own interests.
Love your post, though you didn’t refer to the outrageous treatment of Greece being asset-stripped to the bone. Her Mediterranean port Piraus had to be sold to China to pay off a non-debt, Greece having repaid her EU loan in full – the rest being interest that EU bosses insisted was paid and which threw Greece into a humanitarian disaster of poverty that EU bosses didn’t give a damn about. German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble simply humiliated Alex Tsipras into accepting that Greece had to repay its ‘interest debt’ in full. Capitalism red in tooth and claw backed up by NATO and its armed forces.
This perspective is really important. And yet we shouldn’t forget about the quite other Brexiteer camp which comprises the cronies and sympathisers of Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson, etc. – the highly privileged, often landed, anti-urban, ultra-conservatives who might promote economic liberalism but are intolerant of social difference in all forms – class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It is these people and what they could mean for a Britain outside the EU that I am afraid of.
I agree, and God help us if they form a Government; but how does membership of the EU defend us against them? I imagine a lot of Remainers voted for David Cameron as the closest thing on offer to Tony Blair, their One True God. And in a choice between a post-Brexit Britain under the government of Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees Mogg I’m not so certain they’d choose the former. The urban middle classes are all for liberalism in morals, but not if it means paying higher taxes or seeing the value of their house drop.
Satire works best when it’s grounded in reality. The caricatures you present bear no relation to any of the people I know who were on the march or anyone I met while I was there or any of the many Remainers I have spoken to over the last couple of years (or me). Why people haven’t mobilised over other issues is an important question, but just sneering at your fantasy of Remainers doesn’t take us any further forward.
Sunday, 24 March
After nineteen weeks and nearly five months, the Gilets Jaunes protesters are still getting crowds like they did this weekend across France. We couldn’t get these numbers on the streets of London if Oh Jeremy Corbyn promised to give every demonstrator a kiss on both cheeks. A few weekends ago, having given her a brief and suitably horrific summary of the UK housing crisis, a German academic and lawyer asked me why the English are so content to be shat on from so high for so long without any apparent opposition. It was hard to give her an answer, but I said it had something to do with our centuries-long ingrained class system and obedience to the status quo; our French Revolution-inspired fear of anything with the word ‘socialism’ in the title; the threat it presents to our cherished right of ownership even when 90 per cent of us own nothing; the fact that since Margaret Thatcher there has been no organised working class in this country, just the single-issue campaigns of identity politics administered by the high priests of political correctness; and, finally, that since Tony Blair there has been no political opposition, just cross-party collusion between political technocrats universally committed to monopoly capitalism. The liberals hanging their heads in embarrassment at Brexit have, as usual, spent their outrage on the wrong ‘cause’. The real ‘shame’ of Britain is that we have sleep-walked into the authoritarian surveillance society we are in, and the only response of the middle classes has been to marvel at the ease with which they can post photographs of whatever world cuisine they’re eating on Facebook.
The contrast between the largely urban, largely middle-class protesters marching in London yesterday to demand to remain under the legislation of European Neo-liberalism, and the largely rural, largely working-class protesters marching in Paris under the threat of being shot by the French army to demand breaking from that legislation couldn’t be greater. Like most middle class causes, what began under the cloak of a defence of multiculturalism and anti-racism has by stages been revealed for what it is: a defence of their class interests under monopoly capitalism. Or as the banners declared: ‘Brexit is bad for business!’
The GDP of the world in 2018 was $80 trillion, and over a quarter of that, $20.5 trillion, came from the USA. The argument that a smaller GDP for a post-Brexit UK will increase social inequality is as lacking in substance as the argument for austerity. I have no doubt that the crooks that run this country will use Brexit to further remove what regulations we have and increase their profits, but as we’ve seen from Grenfell the UK has been a cowboy country for some time. To test the idea that greater national wealth means greater equality you only have to look at the USA, the richest country in the history of the world, with no health cover, the largest number of citizens in prison of any country in the world, the highest spending on the military of any country in the world, a totally corrupt political and legal system, and an institutionally racist police force that is free to shoot whomever it wants. If that’s what a quarter of the world’s GDP gets you, maybe we could do with lowering ours. Not that having the 5th greatest GDP of any country in the world has done anything for the 90 per cent of us living under austerity fiscal policies the past decade.
If Remainers cared about social inequality, as they claim, they’d be demanding a socialist government, but they’re not. Quite the contrary. What they’re demanding is their share of a diminishing cake.
I am a European citizen living in Britain, so to me leaving the EU is just pure sadism. The thing is, if someone spoke of or proposed a socialist vision of Brexit I could understand it. That would be a great vision of the future outside the EU, exciting exiting times. But no one (that I am aware of) dared even mention it. The opposite – a hyper-liberal hyper-privatised state – was mentioned repeatedly. But again, the problem is not the EU, the problem is Neo-liberalism.
The EU is how Neo-liberalism is locked into its members fiscal policies no matter who – including Oh Jeremy Corbyn – is in power. You can want to remain in the European Union because you’re a defender of Neo-liberalism, or because you don’t understand the role of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission – which is far more likely; but it’s hard to understand someone wanting to remain in the EU and say they’re opposed to Neo-liberalism. Leaving the European Union won’t in itself mean abandoning Neo-liberalism, especially when our entire political class is committed to its principles; but Neo-liberalism is what the EU is for. Unless, of course, you’ve swallowed all that stuff about human rights and democracy – which will be news to the Greeks.
The advocates of Leave are the likes of Dominic Raab, who was identified as being a member of a private Facebook group that espoused the following: ‘As an Ultra, it is your duty to support and pressure the mainstream of the Conservative Party that such policies as: privatisation of healthcare, the sale of all council housing at market value and workhouses for debtors are right and have found their time to enter Britain.’ Have you heard this monster speak? He opposes the convention on human rights. I’m sure EU Neo-liberalism is a cakewalk as compared to what he has in mind.
I guess it’s a measure of how definitive has been the defeat of the Left in this country that the only way liberals can think to defend themselves from the Conservative Right is to cling onto the skirts of the EU. I have no doubt that the instigators of exit are far-right politicians and capitalists looking to make a killing and finally completing Thatcher’s dream of returning us to Victorian Britain. But in a choice between that and Blair’s vision of the UK as a leader in European Neo-liberalism in saecular saeculorum, I choose neither. If the Left had the balls to form a movement outside the suffocating grasp of the Labour Party it would embrace Brexit as a chance to create a genuine socialist government. But we’re as far from that as we’ve ever been. I can understand that, between Dominic Raab and, say, Tom Watson, liberals will choose the latter. But isn’t that like Sadiq Khan arguing that 35 per cent affordable housing, of which half is for shared ownership, is ‘better than nothing’? Or Labour, as they always do, saying that ‘at least we’re not the Tories!’ The so-called Left, such as it is in this country, rather than making the argument for a socialist government free of EU policy restrictions, has spent the last three years bleating about identity politics. Arguing that Brexit is ‘bad for business’ and complaining about having to apply for a work visa is not the way to prepare the population for a post-Brexit Britain.
Monday, 25 March
A MIDDLE-CLASS REVOLT
Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair the policy and laws on immigration in this country were changed to allow an enormous increase in the number of work permits granted to migrant workers. With the expansion of the European Union in 2004, UK labour markets were opened to workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. This was not done out of a sudden conversion to the politics of peace, love and harmony between peoples, but to drive down the rising cost of the labour of the working-class population of the UK.
As a result, in 2017 foreign-born workers made up 46 per cent of UK workers in elementary process plant occupations (industry cleaning process occupation and packers, bottlers, canners and fillers), up from just 8.5 per cent in 2002; 41 per cent in food, drink and tobacco processing; 38 per cent of taxi and cab drivers and chauffeurs; 31 per cent in food products manufacturing; 27 per cent of security guards, shopkeepers and domestic personnel; 24 per cent of fork-lift truck drivers; 22 per cent of elementary storage occupations; and 20 per cent of metal working machine operatives.
The situation we have today, where a UK worker’s request for unionisation, health cover, a living wage or a contract guaranteeing them a certain number of hours is legal grounds for dismissal, and 4.1 million workers, about 1 in 8 of the population contributing to the economy, are living in poverty, has been brought about on the basis of this flooding of the labour market. When outraged protesters ask how it is possible that Sir Phillip Green, for example, can buy a third luxury yacht with the pensions of 20,000 ex-BHS workers, or sack any employee who strikes for a wage she can live on, they might want to consider where the employment rights, recourse to industrial action and wage bargaining power of the working class in this country went.
Capitalist employers call it ‘competition’, and back it up with eagerly received propaganda in the press, media and entertainment industries denigrating the British working class as lazy, making a choice to live on benefits, and lacking in a work ethic for not accepting the same conditions of employment as Polish construction labourers and Columbian cleaning women. Even these, through non-Labour Party affiliated unions like United Voices of the World, are now standing up and protesting against those conditions. But those same workers who have had the economic value of their labour and skills undermined by the deliberate importing of migrant labour into the UK, who have had their unions made impotent or illegal by successive governments, Labour, Coalition and Conservative, in thrall to the City and the European Commission, and who have seen the social services on which their increasingly impoverished communities rely cut by the politics of austerity, know exactly what it is: the means by which the rich have grown richer beyond avarice and the poor have been driven into greater and greater poverty.
What the middle-class technocrats of monopoly capitalism call ‘multiculturalism’, which has been adopted and propagated as the ideology of our brave neo-liberal world, is nothing more than the unregulated movement of capital and labour through global markets by multinational corporations that have no country, pay no tax, are bound by the laws of no government, concede no rights to their workers, demolish our homes for profit, write our laws to legalise their theft, and determine what government we vote for. And the free movement of people acclaimed by middle-class liberals as the economic realisation of the ideology of multiculturalism is nothing more than the means by which the resistance of workers to their impoverishment has been taken away from them by the influx of a surplus labour force.
In response to all this, which has seen the working class of this country from all nations reduced to political impotence and economic servitude, we now have the lamentations of the European middle classes complaining bitterly about ‘not feeling welcome anymore’ in the UK and proclaiming themselves the defenders of that entirely illusory Britain they have done so much to create, which sees no contradiction in describing itself as built on tolerance, multiculturalism and economic opportunity while presiding over the greatest assault on the living and employment conditions of the working class in this country in a generation.
It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the working class has had to make this political choice in tandem with the racist right-wing of the Leave campaign – which isn’t to say that champions of the Stay campaign weren’t just as racist and right-wing; but it’s not as if UK workers have been offered anything resembling an electable political party that has cast more than a condescending glance in their direction for several decades now – if ever.
But for the politically-correct middle classes to continue to dismiss that vote as based purely on racism and xenophobia, and to ignore its economic determinations, is to play into the hands of the politicians, bankers, international financiers and media moguls who want to drive this country further to the Right, both economically and culturally. More than that, it is a continuation of the political betrayal and economic exploitation of the working class, and the unquestioning embrace of Neo-liberalism, that has been the defining identity of Britain’s London-centric, multicultural middle classes this past decade and more.
I wonder if it is true that some working class are racist, and some middle class aren’t politically correct. There’s a lot of truth in this piece, but also some rather fixed class analysis. There’s huge distance between lower middle-class teachers, for example, and upper middle-class lawyers, ‘technocrats’ and so on. Yet you seem to have a generalised sneer for them all. All classes have their prejudices and biases.
There is nothing illusory about fundamental changes in the constitution of a country, however unjust those changes may be perceived to be. That it may not be deep-rooted is something different, but this country is based on change and layers of invasion and migration.
Blair chose to let in workers from the A8 Eastern European countries in 2004 (unlike most of the existing EU members), which was part of a wholesale change to the shape of Europe (which Thatcher had helped trigger at an earlier stage). For sure, it was at the expense of some British working class, but it had benefits across the continent and this country, and has created all kinds of new interconnections (whether you like them or not). A kinder immigration strategy would have only allowed in specialised middle-class professionals including/plus NHS staff (so easily replaceable working-class positions would have been relatively intact), but then that would have been prejudiced against working class Poles and so on, whose home countries were in disarray in the 2000s economically. The tone and thrust of Brexit have meant many have now left the UK, and so a vacuum has been opened up for UK citizens to fill, though they also have to deal with factory closures and businesses relocating as a result of Brexit uncertainty.
A more socialist alternative to New Labour/Conservatives was offered in 2017, and was rejected. Corbyn and socialism in general is perceived as wet and old-fashioned by a lot of working-class people, who are more motivated by aspirational and demonising (benefit claimants, immigrants) politics/media which paints a zero-sum picture. The fact that Corbyn’s age might make him unelectable is contradicted by the youth cult that has surrounded him, so I think people thought it sounded too good to be true, and were cautious after the last Labour government’s perceived performance.
Also, multinational corporations are still bound by laws to nation-state and region (and can seek to influence them), which is precisely what the EU has done – to define and harmonise how corporations operate in the zone – though there are issues with taxation. Brexit, as defined by the Tory right-wing Brexiteers (who are overwhelmingly the advocates of it, in parallel to Bennites), is about the erosion of those regulations and lowering of taxation. So the EU, whilst somewhat neoliberal in some ways, and allowing social democracy in others, is a bulwark against a full-thrust of neoliberalism, much harsher than anything the Greeks or whoever have experienced. The EU rejected the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. So it is tricky, and we need to guard against the Americans as they presently stand.
What’s missing from above is an understanding of imperialism, that is the UK workers have experienced a certain amount of privileged status in relationship to the more brutal exploitation of the colonies. That privilege cannot be protected/ maintained under any system which is socialist. Other than that, well said. What we understand as even leftist culturalism, British cultural studies and liberal multiculturalism are ideological articulations which are used to whitewash the ongoing structural violence of increased exploitation and the ongoing primitive accumulation that is social cleansing, privatisation of the commons and austerity cuts.
Even amongst the middle classes who have benefitted from Neo-liberalism I think you’d have trouble finding many who think the UK, or Europe, is a better place than it was 20 years ago. Whether they would link that to the implementation of Neo-liberal fiscal policies by the EU I don’t know, probably not, as the debate around Brexit has been dominated by accusations of racism and xenophobia against the working classes and a defence of the EU as some sort of bastion of human rights – as if that’s all they were up to in Brussels. But those parts of the UK and that demographic of our population that have experienced the full brunt of those policies have identified the EU as its source. Clearly the instigators of Brexit on the far right have tapped into xenophobic sentiments amongst these demographics and areas, just as Remainers have appealed to the orthodoxy of political correctness in their homelands, but I’d say the former have a better understanding of our economic reality than the latter, who’s seem to want more of the same thank you very much. I agree that a large amount of Britain’s wealth comes from its investments in global markets and exploitation of foreign workers, but I wouldn’t characterise that as ‘protecting’ the wages of British workers – a protection that is being stripped away by the free movement of peoples between labour markets. Workers produce the wealth, and should have a right to their share of it. Accommodating multi-national corporations moving workers across world markets like pieces on a chess board isn’t going to change that. As you say, only a socialist system can do that, and one that is internationalist in its reach and outlook. Holding up the EU, as Remainers have done, as some sort of equivalent to such a system is one of the most glaring examples of bad faith in the debate around Brexit.
We could and should welcome all workers into the UK, at the same time fighting for 100 per cent trade-union membership, opposition to all prejudice, breaking down social barriers within tenant and other community campaigns etc. That is the alternative to just bemoaning Blair (accidental, actually) allowing EU workers into this place.
There is nothing new about ‘enforced’ multiculturalism in the working class. I used to live in the Old Home Town, aka Wycombe, where Scots and Welsh had come in the 1930s, Poles, Estonians, etc in the 1940s, Irish in the 1950s, and Punjabis and then St Vincentians in the 1960s. The result was that, as a paleface, when I got a job in the factories in 1975 I learned things that I never could have learned in school: that the working class is fierce and diverse, and that it is prejudice and backward ideas that divide us. There were plenty of backward ideas in those days, but also lots of tolerance and learning from one another. Tolerance went a long way. The huge and imposing ‘England will lose’ World Cup football graffiti daubed on the wall of the deep Broom Wade foundry in 1990 said so much. It was later adapted to read ‘England lost, ha-ha’.
All this came in useful in the plastics factory unionisation campaigns in town from 1986 until 2000. There were loads of small injection moulding factories, with mainly Punjabi workforces, working for long hours and low pay. There were some white workers, and some women workers as well. Even when the bosses recruited segregated workforces, or split their shifts by ethnicity to play off one group against another, the answer seemed obvious: sign people up to the union, and demand union recognition and better pay. These firms worked around the clock with just two shifts, working a basic 54 hours a week. Such arrangement were threatened by the workers joining unions, and also by the oncoming EU Working Time Directive.
In the back-street Pinza Plastics strike of 1987, freshly-sacked Punjabi workers joined the union at a meeting at the Community Relations Office that I helped to arrange, and then picketed out the scab workforce that had been hired to replace them. The managers turned up in the car park in the early morning, somewhat inappropriately dressed (it was dark, very cold and and they were just wearing their suits), asking for their workforce back please, based on the basic of £2 an hour plus a 20p an hour increase. As the branch secretary, I politely refused. Because of the strike action, the union’s elderly and lazy district officer went ballistic, but still union recognition was achieved. It helped that I had known the Community Relations Officer for years, that we had met him with another union officer about plastics factory issues previously, and that I had got wind of the strike from him after a Labour Party meeting.
Paraplas Mouldings came out next, workers joined up and recognition was agreed there too, but the bosses did the dirty and closed the factory anyway. By the way, one of the leading pickets at Paraplas later emerged as a leading Punjabi tenant and motivator in the AD 2000 Wycombe housing stock transfer ballot, which was a shocking no vote to management by 8,000 tenants.
There was another place in 1991, the one on the Sands industrial estate where the guvnors split the shifts by ethnicity. Using the initiatory address written by Wally Hannington way back when, I read the workers into union membership en masse at an offsite factory meeting held on a bank holiday. The union officer held a strike ballot by standing outside the factory in the morning with a ballot box (this was a long time ago), and it was a yes vote, but the division of the 3 shifts by ethnicity was the bosses’ trump card on this occasion. That time, we lost.
Then ACTS Mouldings came out on strike in 1994, because the EU was about to restrict working hours, and the employers wanted to move from a 3-shift to a 2-shift system on the same hourly pay rate – i.e. massive pay cuts. There was a strike with robust picketing. It so happened, one day, that the union officers were arranging a sell-out at a factory meeting in the road outside, when three socialist strike-supporters (1 Labour, 1 SWP, and 1 SWP rogue element) arrived, and we helped to turn the meeting around. The strikers began to chant ‘What do we want? Official support!’, and the union geezer jumped into his car and headed back to the office. Then the workers won the dispute. This place was already unionised, and it helped that I had been meeting the shop steward every few months for the past 5 years, talking religion and politics with him, and selling him Socialist Worker. After the strike he turned up to help us sell the paper in the town centre for four or five weeks.
The last one as I recall was Wells Hinton at Amersham in 2000. This was a small plastics extrusion place, with all Asian workers again. Here another union had organised the place, and my union had signed a sweetheart deal to keep the real union out. I turned up on the shop floor at 7am to ask the workers to join the real union, and this was followed by a highly-belligerent union officer attending my branch, threatening to ‘do me for disrepute’, and suggesting that I was ‘using the Labour party like a toilet’. How can one forget such delightful and enjoyable evenings. The officer concerned later resigned from his union post when he was suspended for ballot-rigging, as he had arranged double-voting, and in one case triple-voting, of members on nominations for a right-wing union big cheese.
Thank you for reading so far, the recommendations for the housing campaigns are that we must be tolerant and political, pro working class, stick to the issues, and welcome diversity big time; and that unity is strength.
As I understand, the UK’s Coalition Government went way past what they needed to do in terms of austerity, even by EU recommendations, precisely because the UK wasn’t in that bad a state, compared to some countries. So the EU and other global institutions have set an overall frame, but individual countries operate in certain ways, within the parameters of that frame, and the UK, with its opt-outs, isn’t as conditioned by the EU as other European countries with deeper involvement.
Remainders are highly selective in emphasising the positive aspects of the EU, and even when they qualify that by saying ‘need to be in it, to reform it’, I doubt many would be bothered to do so. And so many MEPs are anti-EU, perversely. Most Remainers couldn’t care less about people trafficking, pedantic laws, or corruption, as long as house prices rise, food is in the shops, and they can travel, study and buy property easily in Europe. Which is the difficulty, since those aspects are a very attractive package to the aspirational/affluent middle and upper classes, and have become synonymous with Europe itself. So to critique the EU is to undermine the very notion and value of Europe. And most sane people do not want to return to the history of Europe pre-1950s.
I am absolutely done with this narrative. The whole immigrant workers versus traditional working-class people in a workplace divide is not only harmful but also counterproductive. Why not having a conversation about low number of strikes, low union membership, or consequences of Trade Union Act instead?! As a low paid, working class person, I seriously doubt workers’ rights will improve one bit after Brexit. Also, I believe that freedom of movement is wonderful thing my parents and grandparents never got to experience and for me and many of my friends, especially those who are from poorer backgrounds, is the only opportunity to travel. And leave’s xenophobia would be easier to dismiss for me personally if I didn’t have to experience consequences of it. Racism, Islamophobia, overall spike in hate crimes are not some theoretical problem, they are real-life issues for minorities.
I’m sorry to hear you’re ‘done’ with this narrative, which isn’t a good point of departure for a debate, and echoes the lack of rational argument that has dogged Brexit from the start. You may be done, but as you can see the working class of Britain are not, which is why they voted in record numbers, rightly or wrongly, to leave the EU. I agree that there are other reasons for the immiseration of the working class in the UK, and in fact I do have conversations about the lack of unionisation and the effects of the Trade Union Act 2016, as I also do about the effect of EU laws on the possibility of striking for workers’ rights. I am not blaming immigrant workers, I’m discussing the role their immigration has played in the British economy and labour legislation. Denying that in the name of being able travel across Europe without a visa is not an argument. Whether you like it or not, millions of workers in this country, including first- and second-generation immigrants, understand their working conditions to have been undermined by immigration of cheap labour and the pro-business legislation that has allowed. If you want to argue that the EU wasn’t set up after the war to combat the threat of socialism to the capitalist economies of Europe, and since the 1970s used to make any deviation from neo-liberalist orthodoxy among its member states all but impossible, I’d like to hear it, as I’m sure would the workers of Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland. But claims that staying in the EU will somehow stop the rise of racism isn’t that argument.
I am really surprised to repetitively read this ‘immigrants are taking British jobs’ and ‘immigrants are driving wage decline’ fallacies here. This right-wing and social nationalist rhetoric is not only missing entirely the point, but also presenting anecdotal and opinion as fact. There are so far, no evidences that show that this is actually the case.
Here is a study by Jonathan Wadsworth from the London School of Economics: ‘There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small. One of the largest impacts of immigration seems to be on public perceptions.’
Here is a working paper by Stephen Nickell and Jumana Saleheen from the Bank of England: ‘We find that the immigrant to native ratio has a small negative impact on average British wages.’
Moreover, a study by Ottaviano, Gianmarco and Giovanni Peri (‘Rethinking the gains from immigration: theory and evidence from the U.S.’, Journal of European Economic Association, 2012), as well as a study by Manacorda, Marco, Alan Manning, and Jonathan Wadsworth (‘The impact of immigration on the structure of wages: theory and evidence from Britain,’ Journal of European Economic Association, 2012) shows that more recent immigration has the biggest negative effect on the wages of previous immigrants.
There are also other non-profit companies which are interested in fact checking. Such as fullfact.org who summarise the debate as follows: ‘The available research also shows that any declines in wages are likely to be greatest for resident workers who are themselves migrants. This is because the skills of new immigrants are likely to be more similar to the skills of migrants already employed in the UK than for those of UK-born workers. Declines in the wages and employment of UK-born workers in the short run can be offset by rising wages and employment in the long run.’
Finally, comparing immigration to natural disasters (i.e. ‘flooding’) is exactly the kind of language the Daily Express or the Sun usually employs and again not aiding any meaningful debate.
The impact on ‘average’ wages is not the point. The 2014 literature review on low-skilled migration, by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee, found that it had little or no impact on average wages, but ‘The majority of these studies find that migrants increased wage growth at the top end of the wage distribution but reduced wage growth at the bottom end.’
‘Flooding’ of the labour market is a perfectly suitable metaphor to describe a periodically-reached moment in labour relations where supply outstrips demand. And floods are most often man-made, not ‘natural’, and generally caused by greed. The EU also speaks highly about the privatisation of the railways in the UK, and promotes it as a model other member states should follow; but that won’t make our trains run on time and at lower costs. I don’t understand how you or the sources you quote can argue that there has not been a negative impact on real wages and labour conditions in this country over the past 15 to 40 years when there clearly has been a drastic reduction in both. Reducing that to ‘immigrants taking British jobs’ is equally clearly a reduction of the complexity of labour markets under the Neo-liberalism of EU and UK policy. In fact, of the four sources you’ve quoted, even they have admitted a ‘small’ negative impact on the wages of less skilled workers, a ‘small negative impact’, a ‘negative effect on the wages of previous immigrants’, and that the greatest impact will be on migrant workers already employed in the UK. But the question is not whether immigrants are to blame for these negative impacts, which are anything but small and more accurately described as catastrophic, but how immigration has been used as an instrument of neo-liberal fiscal and employment policies that have got us to the place we are. Yes, the ideal – the aim, if we had a shred of will to socialism in this country – would be to welcome in every immigrant and under organised labour improve the rights and wages of every worker in the UK and across the world. But that isn’t going to happen from a denial of the mechanics of Neo-liberalism, which relies upon the free movement of capital and labour to avoid paying both workers and taxes. As for arguing that declines in the wages and employment of UK-born workers in the short run will be offset by rising wages and employment in the long run, that’s easy to say from behind the comfort of a desk. Go tell that to the unemployed grandchildren of Nottingham miners, Newcastle dockworkers and Sheffield steel workers, or to the immigrants tied to arm bands that track their every movement through Amazon warehouses.
Tuesday, 26 March
CONTRADICTIONS OF CORBYNISM
There’s a reason Oh Jeremy Corbyn has been so reluctant to come out on the side of the Remainers, which presumably is that his key policy promises, such as the nationalisation of the railways and utilities, a central bank to fund government spending through quantitative easing, and new labour laws in favour of workers rather than business – though not, significantly, his housing policies, which are Neo-liberal through and through – are constitutionally prohibited under EU law. Which raises the question what pro-Corbynite Remainers think they’re marching for. The only answer I can see is that, much like that other bizarre phenomenon, Anarchists for Corbyn, their apparent politics are in fact merely identity politics, and have zero basis in, or desire for, economic change. Not that, even post-Brexit, even if the Labour Party was elected to government, and even if Corbyn was Prime Minister, the Neo-liberals we’ve elected to represent us in Parliament – Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats alike – would ever dream of voting for such legislative changes in the first place. But since Corbynism has been built on dreams anyway, I’d like to know how even these dreams were meant to surpass EU law. Dreams may come from unconscious desires, but even they are subject to the Law of the Father.
Please could you provide evidence on the statement about EU preventing nationalisation. I understood that to be a false Lexit notion. The EU has no rules which prevent the state from either taking over an existing company or setting up a new state-owned company.
In 1994 the EEC/EU signed the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This provided for a ‘ratchet-effect’ privatisation model (once privatised, provision could not be re-nationalised, but existing state enterprises would be left alone unless and until they were privatised), making Corbyn’s plans futile within the EU (which is why I suspect he tends towards leaving). As the EU was the signatory, and not the UK, a post-Brexit Britain would not be bound by any GATS provisions unless it chose to sign up for GATS as part of a negotiated trade deal.
GATS is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) provision, predominantly covering the international trade in services. The key criticism of GATS is that it’s definition of ‘services’ is so broad that it seems to cover nearly all of the public sector. All members of the WTO are party to GATS however, including the UK in its own right (as well as through EU membership), so leaving the EU would not exempt the UK from its provisions. Leaving the EU could however leave the UK more vulnerable to enforcement action through the WTO by a foreign state or company because of a loss of influence, trust and support from other countries.
This is from an article on renationalising Britain’s railways: ‘The key EU rule governing how member states run their railways is that the management of infrastructure and rail services must be separate. Another is that where a rail route has spare capacity, available time slots to run new services should be open to any operator to purchase. Notable services using this mechanism are the Eurostar and Heathrow Express. These two key requirements stand in the way of recreating a unified rail monopoly. But, as other EU member states show, the majority of Britain’s railways could be brought back into the public sector. The EU Commission argued that greater competition on the railways will improve services and reduce fares for passengers. For the past three decades, it has applauded Britain’s railway privatisation and encouraged others to follow Britain’s example.’ Whilst state ownership of some things may be allowed, nationalisation is not. Even then, it is not guaranteed that the ECJ will permit such ownership nor that the EU will not continue to move strongly in the direction of privatisation.
As I understand it many EU countries run nationalised rail and other industries, many of which own our own and use the profits to run theirs. I’m no defender of the EU as an institution, but the Brexit argument – in this regard – doesn’t make a lot of sense. It seems to be more about UK governments’ lame and self-serving interpretation of EU law than any genuine obstacle. On the Wikipedia page it reads: ‘While the overall goal of GATS is to remove barriers to trade, members are free to choose which sectors are to be progressively “liberalised” (i.e. marketised and privatised); which mode of supply would apply to a particular sector; and to what extent that “liberalisation” will occur over a given period of time. Members’ commitments are governed by a ratchet effect: commitments are one-way and are not to be wound back once entered into. The reason for the rule is to create a stable trading climate (i.e. a market). However, Article XXI allows members to withdraw commitments, and so far two members have exercised the option (US and EU).’
I’m no expert on GATS either but what I have gleaned so far is that the existence of a rule means nothing if the will is not there to enforce it. If you scroll down on this link (it’s all mainly about health service), there is this paragraph: ‘Another example. The British government sold off the national railways some years ago. One of the many new companies thus created maintains the track – the railway or railroad itself – throughout the country: other companies run the trains. But in 2002, RailTrack went bankrupt (despite millions of public money being poured into it), and the British government effectively renationalised it. It is now run as a not-for-profit company. Britain has actually broken GATS rules – because the EU listed maintenance of rail track under GATS as open to competition. But as far as I’m aware, no country has lodged a complaint with the WTO about this, either because no company based outside of Britain was involved in maintaining the tracks – or because there’s no money to be made in Britain’s railways so why bother.’ So from that we can assume that renationalisation is possible so long as SNCF etc don’t complain- I can see why they might but avoiding that, I guess, will come down to politics.
Wednesday, 27 March
THE STRANGE FACTS ABOUT BREXIT
Thank you for the many answers to the questions I’ve tried to raise about Brexit on this page these past few days, contradictory and incompatible though the answers have been! Though I have some expertise in UK housing, I know little about EU law, which I feel we all should after three years of wall-to-wall coverage in our media at the expense of almost any other issue. It’s a shame the ‘debate’, if one can call the perpetual slanging match that, about Brexit in our national propaganda hasn’t been at this level and on these matters, rather than the contemptuous accusations of racism on the one hand and the obvious lies and deceptions on the other. Although, even if it had, I’m not certain the complexity of EU and international law with regard to such issues as nationalisation or government spending or labour laws would have been clarified. It seems to me that we are little closer to ‘the facts’ about Brexit, as Remainers call them, than we were when we listened to the obvious lies of Farage and Johnson.
Yesterday I was in a conference of lawyers who spent the entire day talking about the terrible effects of financialisation on housing across the globe, in Brazil and Spain, in Chile and Canada, in India and Australia, and, of course, in the UK. Yet when I pointed to the elephant in the room and recalled that on the weekend a million people had marched to remain in the primary instrument of neo-liberal legislation in Europe, nobody wanted to go near the question. I was even asked, after my own presentation, about the possibilities of re-nationalising housing in the UK, to which I replied: ‘I was hoping someone in this room could tell me!’ The room was full of professors of law from around the world, including Raquel Rolnik, the EU envoy who wrote the highly critical report on UK housing, and nobody had an answer.
The point of my posts about Brexit, that have met with so many exasperated responses that came close to accusing me of being right-wing and xenophobic, was to raise these sorts of questions and try to address what is actually at stake in Brexit from the position of housing, rather than from the false discourse that conflates liberalism in attitudes (multi-culturalism, anti-racism, pro-immigration, political correctness, identity politics, etc) with the policies of neo-liberalism (globalisation, marketisation, privatisation, anti-unionisation and financialisation). From the historical materialist perspective I share, the former is the ideological form of the latter, and any discussion about the pros and cons of EU membership has to begin – at least begin! – by separating them. That hasn’t even begun to happen, not in our public debates, barely on this page. This is, of course, how ideology works – what it is meant to do, and why so much money is spent on its industries; and after forty years of Neo-liberalism under successive Conservative, Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments, there is perhaps no more ideologically hegemonic country in Europe than the UK.
Until now. Whatever its consequences for us – and it seems to me that they will depend on what we do after we leave the EU – Brexit has opened a wound in the hegemony of Neo-liberal capitalism. This accounts, I’d suggest, for the almost exclusively and overwhelmingly emotive character of the reaction to it, like we’re religious fanatics who have been told our God is dead and it’s time to find a new meaning to our lives. Personally, I’m a great believer in killing gods, which is the point of departure for the self determination of the working class kept servile by their worship. The apparent firm conviction that, free from the maternal embrace of Europe’s fulsome breast, we will automatically fall into the paternal grasp of our evil fathers, shows just how childish and subservient we’ve become as a nation. If we’d spent half the effort we’ve squandered over the past three years arguing to remain in a system of Neo-liberalism that is quite clearly destroying this country and the world instead working to create a socialist alternative, we could be on the verge of a period of genuine political and economic change. We’re not. But that work starts now. I’m in. Are you?
A comment on the radio that articulated my nebulous feelings on Brexit and the rise of improbable demagogues went along the lines of: ‘We are so cynical about broken promises, false hopes and lies, that many of us would prefer a systemic collapse into anarchy, that we may build society anew from the ashes.’
Absolutely, but it’s our whole decision-making system that’s done it for me. Our local political system is completely corrupted. The people in it take their salaries and allowances and push through pre-agreed agendas. Anyone half decent would get out. Which says a lot about the ones left in driving this all forward.
Thursday, 28 March
THE EUROPEAN UNION STRIKES BACK
Yesterday’s vote by the European Parliament to introduce upload filters for internet content that will censor individual users and pass regulation of that content over to internet platforms like Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook is another example of how the European Union enforces Neo-liberal policies through defending capitalist property rights. And again, while many of those – and perhaps even a majority – marching last weekend to remain in the European Union would oppose censorship of the internet, that is precisely what, under the demands of Neo-liberal governments threatened by the use of the internet by movements like the gilets jaunes to organise opposition across Europe, are imposing through EU legislation. None of this, of course, is even discussed in the public forums of Little England, where the Furies of European Union have drowned out all rational debate with their vengeful screeching. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, what we’re witnessing is how the interests of multinational corporations mobilise all the technologies and institutions of capitalist propaganda, including the spectacle of street protest, to mobilise ‘The People’ – the favoured polis of Neo-liberalism – against democracy. In other words, what we’re witnessing is the European Union in action.
Friday, 29 March
Last night, after several games of ping-pong, I asked my friend, who is a senior economist at the Bank of England, about the possibilities of nationalisation along the lines of Corbyn’s promises. My friend earns a living making predictions about the UK economy in order to advise the Bank on setting interest rates, so he knows a thing or two about how the world of finance works; and yet, like the international lawyers I asked this week, he too said he didn’t know. What he did say is that Corbyn’s policy proposals on nationalisation, government borrowing and labour laws are so vague that it’s impossible to make a judgement about whether they are possible or not.
That didn’t surprise me. But what I do find surprising is that, after three years of arguments from Remainers, no-one seems able to answer what for me is the first question about our membership of the European Union, which is how and to what extent it is an imposer of the neo-liberal policies that – and not only in housing – are destroying this country and the world. Instead, all I’ve had in answer is a series of assertions of some causal relationship between our leaving the EU and the rise of racism and Islamophobia in this country.
Now, the UK, like any other country, has always been racist, far more-so outside the enclave of London in which the European diaspora horrified by Brexit largely lives, and especially in the wealthy white Home Counties from which our political class is largely drawn. But the rise of Islamophobia as the official new enemy against which all social problems can be laid can be dated to the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, which itself was a direct consequence of US imperialist intervention in the Middle East and North Africa since the Second World War, to UK imperialism in the same since long before that, and in general back to the Crusades. Islamophobia is not new, but its promotion as official doctrine has definitely increased over the past two decades as the need of Western economies for oil reserves has become more desperate, and our willingness to kill millions of Muslims to get it has become more elastic.
What our membership of the European Union has to do with this I don’t understand, except to the extent that the EU has given its backing and support to every US-led invasion against international law and human rights – and, indeed, has often justified those invasions as imposing those so-called universal rights – in oil-rich Muslim nations. The idea that remaining within the political and financial institution most responsible for signing up European member states to the Neo-liberal agenda that is the financier of Western imperialism will somehow do anything to curb racism is not an argument anyone has made to me with any more sophistication than accusing me of being right-wing and xenophobic.
What has been exposed so harshly after three years of ‘debate’ that has finally brought us to a Brexit that for reasons few of us understand has been postponed, is not only that our political institutions are not fit for purpose, if that purpose is to bring about the political change to an economic system that will reverse the spiralling inequality in the world, but also that after 40 years of Neo-liberal propaganda the citizens of the UK no longer have the political understanding to do more than pick this or that flavour of sweet on the conveyor belt of capitalism.
One thing my friend did say is that, out of the choice of disasters confronting humankind, the biggest and most catastrophic is climate change, and that this is primarily caused by – which is not the same thing as saying it is the fault of – the massive and rapid industrialisation of China, India and Brazil. If the UK is to have any chance of influencing these economies and their governments, he argued, we need to do so as a member of the European Union. You might call this the Yanis Varoufakis – another left economist – view.
The trouble with this argument is that, far from offering by example another model of capitalism based on de-growth and sustainability, let alone some form of socialist economy based on controlled growth and the more equal distribution of wealth, the European Union has instead sought to impose its Neo-liberal fiscal policies and austerity measures on its members, even at the cost of enormous social suffering and poverty in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland – to name just the worst affected – in an attempt to compete with non-European economies. In other words, it has continued to pursue the imperial agendas for which it was created.
Much like the dream of vaguely left-wing liberals that joining the Labour Party and trying to change it from within is the only way to bring about political change in this country, so the idea that remaining in the European Union is the only way for the Neo-liberal UK to change the EU’s Neo-liberal agenda has little or no force of argument, and appears to be based either on bad faith – which is to say, the lies liberals tell themselves to justify their comfortable position within capitalism – or ignorance. Either way, it represents a refusal born of cowardice and conservatism to confront with open eyes the political choices and economic possibilities we’re faced with to continue with the disastrous trajectory we’re on or try and bring about something new – choices with which our children will live for the rest of what’s left of their lives in the world we’ve left them with. The monkeys are not only in Parliament, but in the streets outside.
Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, may not exactly fit your idea of socialism, but they are all more socially democratic than the UK. Many of the European countries you mention are recovering from a period of suffering during Eurozone crisis, including Spain, and slowly, eventually Greece. Not sure if Neoliberalism is the sole, only way to describe the EU. It is a fashionable term, and the UK did impose austerity measures beyond what it had to. Neoliberalism is a philosophy over and above the EU – from the Chicago school, Friedman and Hayek. Thatcher was a proponent, as she was an advocate of what became the EU. But the EU allows different pathways, within its directives, and those that really suffered in 2008-2010 onwards, were countries that joined the Euro at a dis-favourable rate, unlike Germany.
Also, what you term Islamophobia, was somewhat justified in the medieval period, when imperialist Muslims seized the Holy Land, and spent centuries trying to invade Europe, and succeeding up to Spain, Greece, the Balkans and Hungary. WWI represented the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (who had supported Germany, etc), and the French/English redrew the lines of the Middle East.
Corbyn’s polices weren’t that vague. Their 2017 budget was costed. Unlike the Conservatives budget. European member states of the EU were divided about the Iraq war, and the US-UK coalition made bilateral agreements nthat went over the heads of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union. France and Germany were against the war.
In Spain in 1981 the Mortgage Market Regulations Act changed the loan to value relation of mortgages. In 1998 the Land Act allowed developers to build just about everywhere. And throughout this period there was progressive deregulation of banking. As a result, between 1997 and 2007, 6 million new dwellings were built and house prices went up by 220 per cent. Then, between 2008-2016, there were 700,000 mortgage foreclosures and 300,000 evictions. There are now 3.5 million empty homes in Spain, half a million of which are owned by financial institutions that were bailed out by the state because they are too big to fail. House debt, which was 55 per cent of disposable income in 1995, by 2006 was 130 per cent of the same. And since the outstanding debt is payable in perpetuity by the debtor with all their goods and earnings, the defaulters have effectively been sent to a sort of virtual debtor’s jail for the rest of their life. The reason for this extraordinarily punitive law is that the houses for which the banks lent them the money are now worth a fraction of the mortgage, so the banks can’t recover their debt interest. That’s what I understand by Neo-liberalism, which isn’t reduceable to the theories of economists, no matter how influential they were, but includes the policies and practices of immensely powerful institutions such as the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, all of which, as always, are enforced by the military industrial complex of the USA and its vassal states in the UN, the sanctions and invasion of Libya being a case in point, Venezuela another.
That all sounds true about Spain. That’s a longer time period and more specific context than the GDP decline and recovery over past 10 years (which of course is still the dominant paradigm for judging contemporary economics). The invasion of Libya was done by France, the UK and the US. It wasn’t a European Union initiative. The EU applied both sanctions and aid to Libya during the conflict. I think you’re conflating economics, foreign policy, and the degree of influence the US has and needs to have on EU institutions. Perhaps also downplaying the degree of autonomy/sovereignty, EU member states still currently have. What happens if and when the EU army is created is a different matter. Particularly since there is a frost between US and EU relations, during this Trump-era. There does seem more agreement about Venezuela.
I’m not conflating them, I’m making the connections between them. Are you saying that UK economics, EU foreign policy and the US military are independent of each other? That’ll be news to the unfree world!
Yes, not absolutely independent, but not inextricably tied. There is room for manoeuvre in reality, if not in some people’s ideological frames. For example, the IMF have consistently stated that the UK has gone too far, and unnecessarily so with its austerity programme (seemingly all to maintain credit ratings and punish the architects of the New Labour-era). IMF have also latterly admitted that they themselves went too far with Greece. The EU does have a foreign policy, in terms of investment and immigration, but it does not have an army, and does not absolutely control what individual countries do militarily. In the case of Iraq, the EU foreign policy advisor said invasion should only be a last resort. The United Nations were also very cautious, and the US/UK Coalition went against their recommendations.
It’s not only the Muslims that have been targeted but Black people too, there is a war on us. We keep being left out of any discussion so I’m putting us back in.
There’s a similar head-in-the-sand attitude to the increase in deaths of black kids across London. By Conservatives their deaths are a failure to pass the legislation needed to increase police powers of stop and search. By Labour their deaths are a failure of the Government to invest in the police force because of Tory cuts. By the London Mayor their deaths are an opportunity to increase council tax to put more police on the street. By London councils their deaths are an opportunity to demolish the council estates on which many of these deaths occur. By the Right their deaths are a chance to call for a halt to immigration. By Liberals their deaths are a chance to call for more investment in community centres. But what no-one ever brings up is how the economic policies of Neo-liberalism – of the marketisation of housing, of the privatisation of social services, of the destruction of our industrial economy, of cuts to public spending, of de-investment in infrastructure, of turning London into a laundry for global capital – have created the economic and social vacuum in which these kids are growing up and dying, because to do so would be to question the cross-party consensus that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds, and a few dead black kids is no reason to lower house prices.
Yet the same people who are horrified at the rise in knife crime throw their hands up in even greater horror at the thought of leaving the European Union. I’ve yet to read anyone draw a connection between the story about the segregated housing development in Lambeth that has been in the news this week and our membership of the EU. I visited the development this week and the only black people I saw were walking around the back and through the narrow entranceway to the affordable housing block, or on the Ethelred estate on whose previously public land the new private development has been built. These included a father and his child who smiled at me as she went to play in the four-yard-wide strip of land with which the developer had discharged its duty to provide play space for under fives. I’d place a hefty bet that the majority of the young upwardly-mobile hipsters who can afford even to rent the £650,000-plus market properties in the gated community, with its private gym, its exclusive fountains and its architect-designed mirror pool, were on the march last Saturday demanding to remain in the EU. Such are the contradictions of liberalism.
Saturday, 30 March
In the pub last night I met a bloke from Somerset. He was originally from Blackburn, Lancashire (the place with the holes, I said, and he got it), but had lived in the West Country for twenty years. He’d run a 99p shop until Poundland moved in, and competition from the monopoly put him out of business. Poundland, of course, was itself bought up in 2016 by Steinhoff International, a South African retail holding company that is dual listed in Germany, and has outlets in Europe, Africa, Asia, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Now he runs a carpet cleaning company, and works so hard he rarely has a chance to come up to London to see his kids, one of whom works as a tailor on Savile Row. He was in London for the Brexit march on Friday, not against but for. Many of those who came up with him were Somerset farmers, which one might think, based on what Remainers argue, are reliant on EU subsidies to make a living – until you look at what the UK joining what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 did to farming. I know about as much about farming as most Londoners, but Ted Hughes, who was a Devon farmer in the 1970s, wrote of the effects of EU policies on farming in the introduction to Moortown Diary:
‘How rapidly that changed within the next decade, how completely that ancient world and its spirit vanished, as the older generation died off and gave way to sons who were plunged into the financial nightmares, the technological revolutions and international market madness that have devastated farmers, farms and farming ever since. I inevitably belonged, in many respects, to the new wave. We did try some of the novelties, lusted after the exotic, foreign breeds of cattle that poured into England during the 1970s, boosted our palpitations on the regular sales blast of Farmer’s Weekly, with its dazzling propaganda for new chemicals, new machinery, new gimmicks, new short cuts, every possible way of wringing that critical extra per cent out of the acreage and the animals. We were dragged, as bewildered as the rest, into that seismic upheaval which has been, probably, one of the biggest extinctions so far in the evolution of English countryside and farming tradition. Few farmers understood what was happening. Within a very short time the last vestige of grandeur in the real work had vanished, the product itself had become a weirdly scandalous, unwanted surplus, the livestock a danger to public health (and nobody knew better than the farmer what he pumped into them), the very soil a kind of poison, the rivers sewers. This self-reliant if occasionally gruelling way of life had mutated into a jittery, demoralised, industrial service, in effect farming not stock and land but grants and subsidies, at the mercy of foreign politicians, big business conglomerates, bank managers and accountants.
‘Whether we liked it or not, we were in the front line of the first campaign of what felt very much like the Third World War conducted by other means – the EEC Agricultural Policy War. At one point, while we were trying to sell some of the animals I mention in these pages, cattle market prices dropped as low as ever in history. Buying a steak at a butcher’s shop you would not have noticed the tremor in the scales, but at that time a farmer sold a calf and with the proceeds managed to buy a Mars Bar; a local farmer leaving Hatherleigh Market found two unfamiliar calves in his trailer – dumped there by the owner who could neither get a price for them nor afford to take them back home and feed them.’
According to a bunch of urban kids who may never have worked a day in their lives but want their pound of flesh in the butchers for a knock-down price, the guy I met last night has been deluded by right-wing propaganda and doesn’t understand the financial benefits of the UK being in the EU. That, or he’s a racist. I didn’t find him to be either, and listened to what he had to say. You may not like their clothes, or their nationalism, or the company they keep, but I think it’s about time Remainers stopped their ‘But surely you can see I’m right!’ certainties, or posting lists of all the benefits being in the EU brings them, and above all stop casually accusing anyone who disagrees with them of racism, and start listening to people like this. They may have a different story to tell than the one we’ve been fed over and over by the Neo-liberal press and media for the last three years.
My uncle ran a dairy farm in the 1970s but ended up going bankrupt due to the then EEC’s policies. All his hard work, physical, mental and financial investment amounted to nothing due to a bunch of bureaucrats and the ubiquitous capitalist system. In or out, the fat cats will continue to feed. I left Labour in disgust at Corbyn’s spinelessness and watered-down policies and, in my opinion, the only option left to sort this country out is anarcho-communism or something very similar. Obviously, the establishment in this country will never let this happen! People who believe that there’s still an option for a parliamentary route to socialism are totally delusional.
Monday, 1 April
STATISTICS FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF PRE-BREXIT BRITAIN
- 14.2 million people in the UK population are living in poverty, including 8.4 million working-age adults; 4.5 million children; and 1.4 million pension-age adults.
- 12.1 per cent of the total UK population (7. 7 million people, or 1 in 10 of us) live in persistent poverty.
- More than 6 in 10 working-age adults and children who live in families more than 10 per cent below the poverty line are also in persistent poverty. For those less than 10 per cent below the poverty line, the figure is 4 in 10.
- Of the 14.2 million people living in poverty, nearly half, 6.9 million people (48.3 per cent), are living in families with a disabled person.
- The majority (68 per cent) of people living in families not in work are in poverty. For people living in families where all the adults work full-time, 9 per cent are living in poverty.
- Around 2.7 million people are less than 10 per cent below the poverty line, meaning that relatively small changes in their circumstances, such as an increase in they wages, childcare or disability allowance or reduced housing costs, could mean that they move our of poverty.
- There are 2.5 million people in the UK who are less than 10 per cent above the poverty line. Relatively small changes in their circumstances, such as further cuts to wages, benefits, childcare and disability allowances or an increase in housing costs, could mean they fall into poverty.
Telling a single mother who eats every other day in order to be able to afford to feed her kids that leaving the European Union will make her financially worse off is nonsense – as nonsensical as the idea that the UK can’t afford to feed or house its citizens. What we need is an equal distribution of wealth by a socialist government, not the continuation of the Neo-liberal policies that have pushed more than 14 million people into living in poverty in the UK. I’d have a little bit more sympathy for the million Remainers who marched through London a week ago if even one-tenth of them marched to protest against the housing policies that have made 320,000 of their fellow UK citizens homeless, instead of the two or three thousand marchers we get at best, or showed the least solidarity with the four month-long gilets jaunes protests by the French citizens they profess to love so much (as long as they’re serving them a croissant in a Soho cafe). Perhaps, when the middle classes experience some of the threats to their incomes and homes and future they have stood by and watched being inflicted on the working classes by the successive governments – Labour, Coalition and Conservative – they have voted into power, they might put down their smart-phones and start trying to use their education, their influence and their wealth to build a fairer society, instead of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ capitalism they’ve been happy to promote as the best of all possible worlds for as long as it made them rich. The social battle is declared!
Terrible. But my question is how much of this is really to do with the EU and how much to do with the UK – in the latter case, with the forces that keep our income taxes lower than many other EU nations, that have stripped public coffers/ services/ goods since long before the economic crisis, and that wish for a future beyond the EU of even less bridled capitalism/ global trade (with all the implications that carries for the property market, for food, environmental protection, planning, development, etc). It seems to me that, for many Brexiteers of the sort that are in positions of power, the EU represents ‘red tape’ in relation to standards of many kinds. Will that provide a context in which to address poverty, avoid another Grenfell, etc?
Yes, that is indeed the question, to which I don’t have the answer, although we had a good debate about it on this page over the past couple of weeks. But given the lack of response of the British public to these figures, either in the streets of London or on this page, my suspicion is that Remainers in general care very little about the deleterious effects of Neo-liberalism on other people as long as they profit from it, and their protest is not against the worsening of these figures if we leave the EU but expressive of their fears of becoming the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of neo-liberal economics. The very simple answer is to leave the EU and work towards forming a properly socialist government which, unlike Syriza, is not under the yoke of the EU. However, history strongly suggests that that’s only going to happen if more of the UK population suffers more of the poverty and brutality that more and more people are already suffering under Neo-liberalism, whether administered by a Conservative, Liberal-Democrat or Labour government. Of course, what usually happens in times of financial hardship is that the middle classes, the petit-bourgeoisie and sections of the working class move drastically to the political Right, as is in fact already happening. If and when that happens post-Brexit, as inevitably it will in this deeply conservative country, then we’ll see what the liberal protests of middle-class Remainers are really worth: whether they will side with the working-class Left, or run cup in hand to their masters on the Right.
Architects for Social Housing