Notes from the front – of 9/6/2016

The ceaseless attacks on Corbyn

Politics in Britain is at present dominated by the EU referendum, as postal voting is currently taking place and polling day is just two weeks away. Despite this vote dominating the agenda, there has been no halt to the right wing’s offensive against the Jeremy Corbyn leadership of Labour and the referendum itself is being used as an issue of attack.

Corbyn has been setting out a clear case for remaining in the EU, campaigning around the country against Brexit, but he is being attacked because it is claimed Labour voters in particular do not know their party’s position. This false charge was whipped up by a Times piece about a YouGov poll, misleadingly headlined as revealing that ‘almost half of Labour supporters don’t know party backs EU’.

The poll asked people to indicate what they know about MPs views on the referendum. Contrary to the Times’ spin, it found the majority of Labour voters correctly identified the positions of Labour MPs.

A majority of both Labour and Tory MPs have declared for Remain. The balance of publicly declared positions of Tory MPs is 164 Remain to 131 Leave and of Labour MPs is 215 Remain to 7 Leave.

In the YouGov poll 43 per cent of Labour voters identified that the majority of Labour MPs want to stay in the EU plus 12 per cent considered that all or almost all Labour MPs want to stay in the European Union. So overall 53 per cent of Labour voters correctly understood the views of Labour MPs.

Labour is disadvantaged in promoting its campaign because the capitalist media has less interest in reporting it. The media of course extensively covers attacks on the Labour leadership, particularly those originating from the Labour right. This Loughborough University study of media coverage of the referendum reports that Labour representatives appeared in 3.9 per cent of TV coverage, and eight per cent of print coverage between 19 May and 1 June. This compares with Tory representatives taking 30.3 per cent of TV coverage and 44.6 per cent of print coverage.

Corbyn correctly refuses to share a platform with the Tories. Labour only damages its own support when it minimises its contradictions with Tories and their policies. The government is driving down living standards, whipping up racism and Islamophobia and is engaged in a war to overthrow the Syrian government. Labour gains nothing from any show of unity with the Tories. The Blairites’ joint campaign with the Tories in Scotland’s independence referendum led to Labour ‘s collapse there, which could take years to recover from.

The constant attacks on Corbyn will not cease because capitalism recognises in him a determined opponent of its reactionary policies – of austerity, racism and war. As previously noted, Labour support has risen this past year despite the right wing offensive. The National Equivalent Vote (NEV) shares of parties at the May local elections saw Labour advance from 7 per cent behind the Tories in 2015 to one per cent ahead in 2016. The elaboration of clear policies to make people better off can further that advance.

Within the Labour Party the contest for seats on the National Executive Committee has heated up. The right wing’s witch-hunt is being stepped up. The centre-left backed candidate Rhea Wolfson was denied the nomination of her home constituency party following a smear campaign suggesting that the organisation Momentum is anti-Semitic. Such right wing allegations of anti-Semitism have nothing to do with fighting racism. Wolfson, who is Jewish and a long standing campaigner against anti-Semitism, is still hoping to get on the ballot paper for this election, so the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance is continuing to seek nominations for her and the other five NEC candidates up to the deadline of 24 June.

US-led slowdown leading to global crises

The OECD is the latest international body to slash its economic growth forecasts, following similar projections by the IMF and others. The slowdown is led by the US, which is expected to growth by just 1.8 per cent in 2016 and only slightly better at 2.2 per cent in 2017.

The UK is expected to grow even more slowly, at just 1.7 per cent. This has nothing to do with Brexit. The OECD expects growth to be much slower in that event.

Contrary to widespread propaganda the source of the ongoing crisis in the Western economies is not China, which could not continue at its previous break-neck speed. The OECD projects China will grow at a 6.5 per cent rate this year, a rate more than 4.5 per cent faster than the US. Since 2007 the US has added $3.5 trillion to the world economy while China has added $7.3 trillion (OECD).

The slowdown in the world economy is the fundamental backdrop to the growing turmoil seen globally in terms of social and political dislocation, from left governments being ousted in Latin America, the refugee crisis, political polarisation in Europe and North America. Western imperialism has ensured that a region of armed conflict and outright wars stretches from West Africa to Somalia and takes in most of North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and into the Ukraine.

The response of all political forces and mass movements lags behind the change in economic circumstances. The current downturn is a new factor, exacerbating existing crises and creating new upheavals. It will radicalise existing political forces on both the left and right as well as throwing up new ones.

French strike wave against reactionary labour laws

Strikes in key French industries have stretched into a second week. There has been major disruption at ports, airports, railways and energy plants. The strikes have been accompanied by big protests in a large number of cities and some have merged with the new ‘NuitDebout’ movement, which has something of the character of Occupy protests. The strikes were initially organised by the Communist-led CGT unions but have drawn in other union federations and student organisations. At least 90 colleges have been occupied.

The cause of the of the strikes is the latest attempt, this time by a Socialist government to impose what are described as ‘Thatcher-style reforms’ on workers. These include fewer job protections making it easier to fire workers, increased working hours, lower sickness and holiday pay and cuts to pensions entitlements. In many cases the strikes against the laws have combined with direct pay or other disputes.

President Hollande and his prime minister Valls pose the issue in terms of regenerating the economy. This is nonsense. The purpose of the attack on workers rights and living standards is to drive up the profits of French businesses at a time of economic stagnation. In Hollande’s case it may also be a last reckless gambit to rescue his bid for a second presidential term in 12 months time, hoping a victory over the workers will revive his popularity.

This is a reckless delusion. The measures are so far-reaching that the National Assembly had to be by-passed and enacted by decree after dozens of Socialist deputies voted against the legislation. A right-wing censure motion against the government failed but a bloc of 56 Socialist, Communist and Green deputies tabled their own censure. This combined left parliamentary opposition is a new factor in French politics.

The Euro 2016 soccer finals are looming and the government may attempt to impose a settlement before they begin to avoid disruption. But the militancy of the strikers has not yet been broken and a new political situation has already been created.

Siding with Al Qaeda

US imperialism’s ‘war on terror’ further lost credibility when Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov revealed on 4 June that the US government had asked the Russians not to bomb Al Nusrah positions in Syria.

This follows the refusal of the US government to consider Russian proposals for joint military action against Al Nusrah, despite this being the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. Former UK Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, told Russia Today that Washington’s request not to target the terrorists ‘is effectively siding with a branch of Al Qaeda in Syria’. He criticised the US government for its ‘obsession with getting rid of Assad and the secular government in Syria’ and for its loss of ‘all moral and practical competencies’.

Inside Iraq the battle to oust ISIS from Fallujah is hindered by the decision of the Iraqi government to prevent the Popular Mobilisation Units from taking part in the battle inside the city. US pressure is thought responsible, as also appears to be the case in the removal of armoured vehicles to Mosul from Fallujah. Last week, Retired Lt.Gen Mick Bedoranek, who commanded the US training mission to Iraq until last year, stated that the training was failing. He said: ‘The Iraqi’s military capacity hasn’t improved that much – part of that is the continuing challenge of recruitment and retention. Our officers train who shows up, and the issue is we are not sure who is going to show up’.

The US clearly prefers Al Qaeda to President Assad.