Notes from the front – of 11/3/2016

John McDonnell is restoring Labour’s economic credibility

The Labour leadership are seriously addressing the previous weaknesses in Labour’s economic policy, that deprived the party of economic credibility – a major factor in it losing the last general election.

The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is setting out policy that decisively corrects the previous a framework and on 11 March announced a new ‘Fiscal Credibility Rule’, explained by Socialist Economic Bulletin here.

Labour’s new framework is to increase investment, permitting Government borrowing to achieve that, whilst balancing day-to-day spending and income over the medium-term cycle.

This framework is radically different from that of Gordon Brown, Ed Balls and Rachel Reeves. It is an anti-austerity policy to grow the economy, so that additional resources increase government revenues and lower its current spending.

State investment is needed to raise the level of growth and McDonnell is correctly placing this at the centre of Labour’s economic policies.

Stand up to racism – Join the 19 March protest!

In one of their many attacks on the rights of non-EU workers the Tories propose next month to abolish automatic residency rights and to introduce an additional pay threshold.

At present migrant workers on work permits or domestic worker visas can expect to apply for permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain) after five years and for British Citizenship a year later.

But from April low paid migrant workers, earning less than £35,000, will no longer qualify for settlement and will be ordered to leave Britain after six years.

For decades settlement has been granted on the basis of the length of time a migrant has worked in Britain. It has been accepted that people who have lived in the country for five years have made it their permanent home. This new pay threshold will be the first time an economic test on the right to settlement has been introduced in Britain.

Only migrants employed in jobs on an official ‘Shortage Occupation List’, scientists and PhD-level researchers will be exempt from the threshold. The Government has temporarily exempted nurses, who are amongst the low paid, due to current shortages in the NHS, but intends to remove this exemption later.

Approximately 40,000 people who have been working in Britain this past five years are expected to lose their right to remain.

The government is trumpeting this reactionary measure as part of its anti-immigration agenda. Its propaganda campaigns and attacks on migrants, refugees and Muslims aim to whip up racism and distract the population from the Tories’ role in implementing austerity.

The 19 March Stand Up To Racism demonstration is an important part of the fight back against this offensive.

National Demo: Refugees Welcome Here; Stand up to racism Islamophobia anti-Semitism & fascism! – Sat 19 March – Assemble 12 noon – Portland Place London

Europe – populist and far right advances

Anti-immigrant parties have made gains in recent elections in Germany and Slokavia.

In Germany the far right Alternative for Germany emerged as the third-largest party (on 13.2%) in municipal elections in the German state of Hesse on 6 March. The populist anti-Euro party has been increasingly campaigning against immigration and Merkel’s policy of providing residence to refugees. The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party also achieved strong results in some small cities in Hesse, in particular in Leun, where it got 17.3% of the vote.

In Slovakia the neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia (L’SNS) became the country’s fifth-most popular political party in national elections on 5 March. It secured an 8% share of the vote (up from 1.6% in 2012) including 23 per cent of first-time voters, taking 14 seats in the 150-strong parliament.

The L’SNS rejects EU membership, is anti-US, calls for a national militia to protect ethnic Slovaks and advocates stripping minorities of their rights. Its leader dresses up in uniforms modelled on Slovakia’s wartime Nazi-supporting militia, uses rhetoric and symbols drawn from the country’s fascist past, has flirted with holocaust denial and calls for Muslims to be banned from the country. The L’SNS’s recent advance was aided by the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim agenda set by the Smer-SD (social democratic) party prime minister.

Across Europe the huge movement of refugees and other migrants, particularly driven by the chaos across the Middle East and North Africa, is the current electoral focus of parties on the right.

Europe’s big businesses opposes internal EU border controls, so is pushing back against right wing populism’s euro-sceptic anti-immigrant framework and trying to mobilise liberal opinion against the populists’ demands.

Big business wants to reverse the recent restrictions on free movement of people imposed within the EU. Eight countries, since September 2015, have unilaterally established border controls within the Schengen area. The European Commission is campaigning that this adds to the cost of transporting goods, cuts tourism and increases government expenditures on border controls. It argues that border controls within the Schengen area could cost up to 18 billion euros – equivalent to 0.13 per cent of the bloc’s economic output. Big business and the commission are pressing Schengen area states to lift border controls as quickly as possible. For very different reasons, in terms of workers’ rights and being able to move where job prospects or pay are better, socialists and democrats also oppose these reactionary restrictions.


Imperialism intensifying its efforts to overthrow Latin America’s left

The US and its local allies are stepping up their offensive against the left across the Latin American region. Having changed the government in Argentina, won the Venezuelan Assembly elections and the referendum in Bolivia, the right wing is determined to change the regime in Venezuela, eject the Workers Party in Brazil and renew the campaign for regime change in Cuba.

Venezuela’s opposition on 8 March announced its campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro this year. It has a three-pronged strategy: street protests calling for his resignation; a presidential recall referendum; and changing the constitution so that there are immediate elections.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) has called on people to protest for Maduro’s resignation this coming weekend. As with previous opposition street protests violent right wing activity needs to be anticipated. The aim is to grind down the government’s popular support by creating chaos and exploiting the country’s economic problems.

In Brazil efforts to oust President Dilma Rousseff and block ex-President Lula da Silva from running again are intensifying. Opposition lawmakers are threatening to block all legislation until Rousseff is impeached, with nationwide demonstrations being organised this coming weekend. Plus on 4 March police detained Lula for questioning in a dawn raid on his home and he is now being indicted on corruption charges.

The US policy to overthrow the regime in Cuba has not altered, just the strategy has changed.

President Obama has renewed the US’s 20-year-old state of national emergency that enforces the blockade against Cuba. So US-registered vessels and aircraft will continue to be prohibited from entering Cuban waters or airspace without specific authorisation.

Whilst US-Cuba diplomatic relations are being normalised, including a planned visit of Obama to Cuba, the key economic sanctions remain in place and the US is stepping up its interventions to strengthen potential opposition forces within Cuba.