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Editorial of the Socialist issue 1019
May's government limps on... Corbyn and unions must call urgent, mass action
May's government is on the brink of collapse. The prospect of May getting her Tory Brexit deal through parliament currently appears slim.
The 'confidence and supply' arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has propped up the government since last year's snap election, is breaking down. The Tory hard Brexiteers are running around trying to scrabble together the 48 MPs they need to trigger a confidence vote in an attempt to remove May as Tory leader.
Nonetheless, for now, she is clinging on. It is urgent that the trade unions and labour movement act to demand a general election to kick the Tories out. A continuation of Tory government means a continuation of brutal anti-working class policies.
Even the United Nations has condemned the government's driving of millions further into poverty as "punitive, mean-spirited and often callous" (see page 4). There are now more than 4.5 million children in Britain whose parents cannot afford to feed them properly. We need to get the Tories out.
The trade unions and Jeremy Corbyn should be organising mass protest action to call for a general election, which would be a real people's vote. This should be linked to a clear socialist programme, including on the question of Brexit.
On that basis, it would be possible to build on the snap election last year, where Labour increased its vote by 3.5 million, giving a glimpse of how popular policies like a £10-an-hour minimum wage, mass council house building, free education and nationalisation could be.
It is reported that Tommy Robinson and the leader of UKIP are organising a 1 December protest against 'Brexit Betrayal'. This is a warning that, if the labour and trade union movement don't give lead, right-wing nationalist and racist forces can attempt to fill the vacuum and seek to divide the working class.
The call for a general election should be linked to clear opposition to May's deal, which has been struck in the interests of big business and the billionaires. Corbyn's 'red-line' should be opposition to all neoliberal pro-capitalist rules.
Indeed, negotiations should be reopened on the basis of opposing all EU single market and customs union rules - like those on state aid, 'market liberalisation', or the posted workers' directives - that go against the interests of the working class.
He would then be able to make a call for international solidarity with workers across Europe. This means seeking to build a European-wide campaign of socialists and workers' organisations to use the talks to tear up the current pro-big business rules of the EU bosses' club.
Backed by popular support in Britain, and with solidarity from workers across Europe, he would be in a far stronger negotiating position than May. In addition, a Corbyn-led government would be able to use a programme of nationalisation to take the ability to inflict job losses, closures or reductions in pay and conditions out of the hands of any corporations that move to take that path under the guise of Brexit difficulties.
This approach would be in the interests of the working and middle-class majority. For the capitalist elite, by contrast, a Corbyn-led government with socialist policies and mass popular support is an even worse nightmare than the mess they are in over Brexit.
That is why, while Corbyn is calling for a general election, the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party is either not doing so at all or, in some cases, doing it in such a token way as to make it clear they have no intention of fighting for one.
Britain's capitalists are currently looking on in horror, as events spiral out of their control, with no party reliably representing their interests, leaving them weakened, and humiliating them on the international stage. May's Brexit deal is not what the majority of big business wanted, which was a continuation of EU membership or something closer to that.
Nonetheless, the CBI bosses' club has given support to May's deal because they are frightened of the instability that rejecting it could lead to, including a 'no deal' Brexit and a Corbyn government, and also because it leaves Britain in the Customs Union for an unspecified transition period.
When May spoke to parliament last week the Blairite Remainer head of the European Select Committee, Hilary Benn, asked her to acknowledge that she was proposing to keep Britain in the Customs Union and that this was in the 'national interest'.
It is possible, if the capitalist elite step up the pressure to vote for May's deal on the false grounds of 'national' interest - by which they mean not the interests of the majority but the interests of big business - a section of the Blairites, currently campaigning for a second referendum, could fall into line and prop up May in power. In practice, this would mean the establishment of a kind of informal national government in order to defend the interests of the capitalists.
Corbyn should make clear now that any Labour MP who votes to save May will immediately have the whip withdrawn. This would allow for selection contests in the relevant constituencies so that Labour members and trade unions could choose a candidate who is prepared to stand up for working-class people to contest the next election.
However, even if the Blairites stick to their current position and vote down May's deal, it will not represent a change in their hostility to Corbyn or their determination to prevent him coming to power and implementing radical policies in favour of the working-class majority. Rather, it will be down to a fear of being discredited by association with a bad deal and a doomed prime minister, thus wrecking their chances of effectively sabotaging Corbyn's leadership in the future.
That is why the fight for a general election has to be combined with an urgent struggle to recreate Labour along democratic socialist lines. This must include the immediate introduction of mandatory reselection of MPs.
An emergency labour movement conference should be called, open to all genuinely anti-austerity forces, to discuss how to urgently transform the party.
This should include discussion on: restoring the policy-making power of Labour Party conference - including a democratically exercised role for trade unions; the introduction of a new, socialist 'clause 4', replacing the one introduced by Tony Blair with one committing to democratic public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange; the opening up of the Labour party to all socialist and anti-austerity forces to participate on the basis of a renewed, federal structure.
The Socialist Party would enthusiastically participate in such a conference, including arguing for the adoption of a programme designed to prevent the inevitable attempts of the capitalist class to use economic sabotage to defeat a Corbyn-led government.
Key points would include the nationalisation of the banks and major monopolies under democratic working-class control and management, in order to pave the way for a socialist plan of production to meet the needs of all. This would be linked with a new collaboration of the peoples of Europe on a socialist basis - based on working-class solidarity across borders.
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