Issue 185 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
Labour's new statement of aims and its replacement of Clause Four 'rescues the left of centre from a false historical perspective which linked it to a Marxist intellectual analysis'.
So said Tony Blair last month in a speech which also stressed individual responsibility over collectivity.
The 'rescue' amounts to glowing references to 'the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition'.
These words will ring hollow to those protesting over school and hospital cuts, or on the receiving end of sackings at Northern Foods, Midland Bank or Rumbelows.
These have all been victims of the rigour of competition over the last few months.
The adoption of the new clause, due to be voted on later this month at Labour's special conference where it is certain to be agreed, was hailed by Blair as a 'defining moment in the history of my party'.
The length of the clause owes something to Blair's need to keep the 'soft left' on board, but what are the supposedly left wing additions to the clause? One is that the word 'market' was left out of the phrase 'dynamic market economy'. The other more substantial addition is the phrase 'to create... a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few.'
At the moment, of course, power, wealth and to a very large extent opportunity are in the hands of the few, not the many. How is this change to be effected? Neither the new Clause Four nor Labour's leadership has anything to say on this question.
Indeed, Blair and his allies rule out any policies which might do something--in however small a way--to reverse the balance of wealth and power. He specifically rules out a commitment to full employment and refuses to give a figure for a minimum wage, even though figures published last month showed over 1 million people earning £2.50 an hour or less. There is now very little that Labour will commit itself to when it comes to power. When pressed to answer whether Labour would remove the hugely unpopular VAT on fuel Blair would not even make a commitment to what would be a definite vote winner.
How is a government which refuses to make even these sorts of demands on employers going to be able to transfer 'power, wealth and opportunity' into the hands of the many?
The commitment is completely empty--nothing more than words. But the 'modernisers'--so anxious to drop Clause Four because it did not talk about race or gender--have barely even given words to these issues. There is only a vague commitment to 'equality of opportunity' which itself sits alongside a commitment to strengthening the family.
Blair is winning because Labour supporters are desperate to see him elected. After 16 years of Tory rule many people would put up with any wording if it means there is a Labour government. But many of these same people are bitterly opposed to any further encroachment into the public sector, and find themselves wanting exactly the policies Blair is now planning to ditch.
The fight to defend any commitment to public services has not been helped by the feeble opposition of Labour's 'soft left', who have refused to campaign openly against Blair for fear of being marginalised. MP Peter Hain said of the new clause, 'It's not worth going to the barricades over.'
We have been here before. At every point when Labour has moved to the right during the past decade, a section of the left has gone along with the leader on the grounds that this will unite the party and get it elected. Each time the right wing and the media have simply cried for more as they are doing now.
Labour's leadership has made it clear through the attack on Clause Four exactly how little a Labour government will deliver. Increasingly those wanting to defend their living standards will have to follow the actions of those already fighting back against the enterprise of the market and rigour of competition.
The Mexican government announced on 9 March its latest 'shock therapy' plan. Finance minister Guillermo Ortiz decreed that value added tax, which hits the poor the hardest, would be increased by 50 percent. Petrol prices would be raised by 35 percent and social spending would be held to just under 10 percent.
The austerity package received backing from US business and financial leaders who sponsored the $53 billion international bailout plan President Clinton engineered in February. It has not calmed the money markets and is creating discontent among Mexican workers.
It is the price ordinary Mexicans are being asked to pay for the crimes of their leaders. Already 250,000 workers have lost their jobs in the economic crisis, which came to a head when the peso's value plunged in December. Interest rates have risen by 66 percent.
The economic crisis has sharpened the political crisis at the top of Mexican society. The thieves in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are turning on each other. On 13 March former president Carlos Salinas fled into exile in the US following the arrest of his brother Raul for masterminding the assassination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the PRI's deputy leader, last September.
Salinas, once the darling of the US government and the business press for launching 'free market reforms' in Mexico, is now held responsible for running the Mexican economy into the ground.
Mexico's bosses have also been divided on how to respond to the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas last year and to popular demands for greater democracy. The national assembly, under President Zedillo's orders, has approved an amnesty for Zapatista National liberation Army (EZLN) rebels who surrender their arms.
But the amnesty masks the army's conduct of a 'low intensity' war in Chiapas. Hundreds of cases of army torture have been reported.
Working hand in glove with the reactionary Chiapas landowners, the army expelled thousands of peasants from land they had occupied after the EZLN's uprising. Until now the Zapatistas have refused government 'peace' overtures.
The (EZLN) does not have the military strength to hold out against a sustained offensive that involves the Mexican and Guatemalan armies (and US advisers). But the Zapatistas are hoping--and Mexico's bosses are fearing--that the economic crisis in the rest of Mexico will undermine the government's ability to suppress them.
A secret memo prepared for Chase Manhattan Bank in January recognised this threat: 'The Mexican monetary crisis... raises the issue of whether or not the Mexican working class will accept a prolonged period of wage losses and diminished living standards.' The memo's author urged the bank to pressure Zedillo to crack down on the (EZLN) and Mexican workers.
Hundreds of thousands around the country have demonstrated their opposition to the government and their solidarity with the Zapatistas. Workers are fighting back as well. Two major wildcat strikes in January and February--at the TDK and RCA/Thomson plants in Ciudad Juarez--won wage increases above those negotiated by the pro-government unions. Employers at nearby plants closed their factory gates to stop strikers from influencing other workers.
Mexico today is a tinderbox. As Jesus Navarro, a marcher on a recent protest in Mexico City, said, 'The people are against the government. We want a Zapatista administration led by Marcos and his comrades from Chiapas. Chiapas was first to rebel, but all the other states will follow.'
The Tories are using recent reports from the Home Office and the Department of the Environment to try to start a new immigration scare. They claim that proposed European Union laws will lead to a 'flood' of 80,000 immigrants a year. The Tory press has come in on cue, announcing a 'crisis over illegal immigration' and ranting about 'an unstoppable tide'. Michael Howard and John Major have fed the hysteria by announcing a new bill to crack down on immigration.
But the reports bear no relation to hard fact. Though the Tory right and the tabloids have focused on black immigrants, the key question at issue is Europe. Two claims are made: that relaxing passport controls will attract large numbers of EU nationals here, and that non-EU nationals will slip into other countries and head for Britain.
There is no evidence that hordes of Europeans are eagerly awaiting their chance to move to Britain. About half of Britain's 2 million 'foreign status' residents are European, but about two thirds of those are from Ireland, which has centuries old ties with Britain. Britain's welfare system is stingy compared with many EU countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, and of these only Germany has experienced mass immigration.
Immigrants are attracted by thriving economies and settled communities. The main sources of EU immigration are eastern Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa. It is unlikely that groups from these areas will be attracted to Britain.
The DoE report forecasts an annual net inflow of 20,000 citizens in the next few years, although in the past the figure has rarely touched 10,000. Of these, most do not fit the tabloid image of the migrant as poor unskilled worker. Many are highly skilled professional, technical and managerial migrants. The DoE has bumped up projections further by including in its estimates students who come here where previously they were excluded.
On past records, Department of the Environment forecasts are worse than useless anyway. The DoE estimated a net inflow of 51,000 in 1993 but for the year to June 1993--the last period for which records are available--there was in fact an outflow of 11,000 people. The current report is based on a central lie--that the EU as a whole is going to allow free access to non-EU nationals. All EU countries are agreed that, if there is increased mobility within the EU, it should be complemented by a clampdown on immigration into Europe.
It is not even certain that internal passport controls will be lifted. The Tories may manage to retain a clause that allows individual countries to check non-EU nationals.
The current scaremongering is entirely politically motivated. It was sparked by the resignation of Home Office minister Charles Wardle and has been consciously organised by the Eurorebels as part of their campaign against European integration. MPs who have had the whip withdrawn have been lobbying Michael Howard to toughen his stance for months. Howard has happily obliged, and Major and the rest of the party have backed him, rather desperately hoping a nationalist backlash can help them.
Pro-European Tories want free movement for capital and goods within Europe, but not for workers. Eurorebels who claim to be against bureaucratic regulation want tighter controls on the movement of ordinary people. Both sides are prepared to whip up groundless hysteria against immigrants for their own political ends. If they get their way, the victims will be political asylum seekers often facing torture, death and imprisonment at home.
The police cover up of their attack on the Welling march against the BNP in 1993 has been blown apart during a series of recent court cases. There have been over 20 trials of demonstrators so far, all of which have resulted in verdicts of not guilty. During these trials the police lies about their actions have been exposed by video evidence and the release of a startling internal police document which admits that the police tactic of turning and facing the demonstration led to protesters being boxed in.
The document goes further to criticise the absence of loudspeaker equipment to direct demonstrators. Video evidence in court has shown that the police had mounted a huge PA system at this point but didn't use it. The document also reveals that the recommended tactic for officers on the day was to defuse trouble by withdrawing through set police escape routes. This was also ignored, with the police choosing instead to batter the demonstrators. A senior public order officer claimed he was unaware of these orders and advised his officers that the use of truncheons was up to the individual officer's discretion.
The trials so far have been a farce. The police have tried to refute the internal document, still insisting that the route was never blocked in spite of the video evidence to the contrary and the police's own admission in the briefing. One prosecution barrister was overheard to comment that the police went mad and 'biffed' everyone in sight.
Juries have been shocked by the scenes of relentless police attacks on crowds of innocent demonstrators and scenes of people being hit repeatedly by truncheons, edges of riot shields and the fists of police officers. The 74 people the London ambulance service took to hospital on the day were in fact demonstrators.
The video evidence the police have compiled shows that the police staged the demonstration for confrontation. One quarter of the entire London police force--7,000 officers--were in Welling that day to police a demonstration that they claim had only 15,000 people on it, at a cost of over £750,000.
Police cameras were in every road, every house, on roofs and in helicopters. But the police had not bargained for the fact that the video evidence shows every aspect of police violence and so has rebounded on them.
This is despite headlines last year which screamed, 'Can you name these professional rioters?' 'Riot savages,' 'Help to nail leaders of terror rampage,' and 'Name that loon,' and the fact that detectives working on the cases secured a court order to seize 50 hours of video footage and 1,250 pictures from the press. The 27 pictures they issued to the national press were of 80 demonstrators police wanted to charge with riot--a charge carrying a possible sentence of 10 to 12 years in prison.
Teams of detectives then proceeded to travel to every police force in Britain and display the photographs at every police station. The media responded by offering rewards for people turned in on a special hotline which even made it onto televison's Crime Monthly.
Yet when jurors have been shown video evidence of the defendants' actions on the day, the alleged stick or brick throwing pales into insignificance when the defence rewinds the tapes and shows that before this the demonstrator has been brutally beaten by the police.
A senior officer claimed under oath that no officers attacked demonstrators. When shown video footage of an inspector punching a demonstrator and another officer hitting a bystander in the face three times with the edge of a shield he said he could not see it on the screen. Faced with police officers who are prepared to lie so blatantly to the judge and jury, it is not surprising that juries are returning verdicts of not guilty based on self defence.
The police have yet to secure a conviction but this is precisely what they intend to do in the show trials in Maidstone this summer when the final cases will he heard. The chance of a fair trial has been greatly reduced by the photos splashed over the pages of the tabloids calling the demonstrators thugs. Yet there is hope that the jurors will have seen that from Orgreave to Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park and to Shoreham and Brighton the role of the police is to criminalise and brutally attack working class people who want to fight back.
It is unlawful for the police to use truncheons on demonstrators. In view of this, will the Sun--which offered a reward of £1,000 for names of those who 'turned a peaceful protest march into a bloody riot'--be issuing pictures of the police involved?
Last month public figures gingerly opened their post in case they had been chosen to receive a letter from Peter Tatchell advising them--in the nicest possible way--that it might be in their best interests to come out and declare their homosexuality. But is this the way to fight gay oppression?
We should welcome MPs coming out voluntarily, but if in fact all these MPs, assorted bishops and bigots did take Tatchell up and come out of the closet, would this represent a major advance for millions of ordinary lesbians and gays throughout the country? What does it mean for someone who feels unable to be out about their sexuality because of their family, work and schoolmates rather than to protect lucrative careers or seats in marginal constituencies?
There can't be many people in Britain who need any more proof that the Tories are outstanding hypocrites, particularly when it comes to matters of sex and morality, so this can hardly in itself be a justification. Will an out Tory be any more sympathetic to lesbian and gay rights than a closeted one? Tory women can't hide their gender, yet that has never stopped them being hypocrites. They are often the most vehement against abortion rights and for family values. Sex and sexuality do not unite where class divides.
The obsession with outing the rich and famous, who have always been able to live much as they choose, implies that their hypocrisy is responsible for gay oppression, whereas the fact that they have not come out is in itself a result of the oppression of gays in society. Socialists will not shed any tears for ruined ministerial careers, but do we want to see people's sexuality being used as a stick to beat them with, when there are more than enough sticks available as it is? The outing campaign gives strength to right wingers rather than undermining them as it allows them to bash all gay activists regardless of their tactics, and encourages rather than challenges the assumption that being gay is something of which to be ashamed.
Peter Tatchell seems to have cornered the market in media coverage of the fight for lesbian and gay rights, but his politics do not represent a new radical shift. In fact his acceptance and sometime celebration of some of the crudest stereotypes of gays leads back into the ghetto--not out of it.
The Tories' bigotry has been more effectively challenged by mass demonstrations, like those over the age of consent, and working class solidarity than by a publicity campaign that if it came from the right wing media would he condemned by every socialist.
I was recently fortunate enough to view one of your magazines. It was in the possession of fellow death row inmate Gary Sterling.
I am a 31 year old African American who has been sentenced, wrongfully, to death for a crime I didn't commit, by one of the most backward and barbaric judicial systems existing. When you live in a society saturated with racial prejudices, what you have is what victimised me, ie Texas law.
It started approximately nine years ago when my friend Darryl and I were out clubbing one Friday night, on 30 August 1986. About 4am Darryl and I headed for home. On our way home we stopped and used the bathroom on a side street in our neighbourhood. Due to all the beer that we had drunk, there was the need to relieve ourselves on the way home and we did so, but while we were doing this and totally unknown to either of us, there was a murder being committed a few blocks from where we were using the bathroom. When we were through using the bathroom we continued on our way home. I was driven to my girlfriend's house and Darryl went home to his wife.
The following day Darryl was arrested and subsequently charged with the previously mentioned murder. He was arrested because his truck was seen two blocks from the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for Darryl and later for me, Darryl died of a brain tumour. I never knew that Darryl was in jail until after his death. Since the police never let him use the phone, I later found out that he had been in jail for a whole day and a half without being allowed to call anyone, not even his family. The police later called his wife after he died. The police also told his wife how Darryl died and that he died while in custody.
It was soon discovered that I was out with Darryl also and this is what led to my later arrest. I was arrested the following Sunday morning and that was the beginning of the wrongful charge and subsequent conviction and finally being sentenced to death. The police claimed that Darryl and I were the ones who committed the crime. That was just the beginning of the many lies that were told in court.
The police and prosecutors also knew that because I am poor and black I could not mount an adequate defence against the charges, nor could I beat them in their court system, especially since the victims were white and having a black suspect is somehow appealing to the system. I didn't think that an innocent man would be convicted, but then again I was ignorant to the ways of the 'racist white American justice system', which I am aware of now.
Now nearly nine years later I am struggling to save my life. It's shocking and unreal, but it's real enough because I was reassured of this reality last month by them mailing me an execution date. I did manage to get a modification that stayed the execution until 14 November.
I think they want this case finalised, because if they murder me it will be too late for justice then, and they know it. Through the years I still maintain my innocence and sanity hoping that I will find the pathway to return me to freedom. Anyone wishing to help emotionally, financially or spiritually is very welcome to do so. Even a letter of kind words that help comfort me in this place would be most appreciated. Thanks for listening to me.
Brian K Roberson
Ellis One Unit
Huntsville, Texas 77343
'Profits are up yet we've had a wage freeze for two years. We have no alternative but to strike.' That's how one picket in the southern German state of Bavaria summed up the mood among workers in Germany's engineering industry. After 11 days of action in 33 Bavarian factories the giant IG Metall union (with 3.5 million members in engineering) won an effective 5 percent wage increase without strings.
The engineering employers' federation, Gesamtmetal, had made no wage offer at the beginning of the strike and had refused to negotiate unless the union accepted discussion of other attacks on wages and conditions, including cuts in holiday pay and Christmas bonuses, flexible working, and refusing to implement the 35 hour week.
The IG Metall leadership originally demanded a 6 percent rise but made it clear from the beginning that it was prepared to settle for less. The strike vote was 88 percent of all members eligible to vote. This year German workers have to pay a special 7.5 percent tax to finance restructuring in the former East Germany. There have been cuts in real wages in the last two years. Engineering workers needed at least 6 percent to maintain living standards.
Hundreds of thousands took part in warning strikes and rallies in cities across Germany. With many order books full there is no question that workers could have won far more if the leadership had mobilised the full power of the union rather than restricting the action to 25,000 workers in smaller enterprises.
Nevertheless the result is a victory. It was the first engineering strike in western Germany since 1984 and the first in Bavaria since 1954. The union recruited 4,000 new members in Bavaria in the course of the strike.
The bosses' hard line collapsed in the second week as they rushed to negotiate, and the deal in engineering has set a benchmark for other groups of workers. The bank workers' union and the public sector union ÖTV have both upped their wage demands. Workers in the chemical and insurance industries unexpectedly won wage rises above inflation. Above all, many workers have seen that striking brings results.
The deal also threatens to provoke further splits among the employers. Large employers like BMW and Siemens can absorb some of the estimated 5 percent increase in labour costs; most smaller employers cannot.
Medium and small employers account for two thirds of all employment in the engineering industry. One economist at the IDW institute predicted that medium sized employers would 'go berserk' at the settlement. Employers in the state of Nothe Rhine Westphalia threatened not to ratify the deal, in effect breaking from national collective bargaining. Klaus Gottscholl, the chairman of Gesamtmetal, openly criticised the employers' tactics in the negotiations.
Already last year some employers were questioning the value of having a federation and centralised bargaining which is legally enforceable. It is too early to say that the elaborate system of bargaining in German industry will break down in the near future, but the pressure for bosses to go on the offensive is increasing. Higher taxes are also pushing workers to fight for higher pay irrespective of productivity gains.
The government is openly talking about the prospect of a further downturn in the economy. Employers are talking up competition from south east Asia as the higher deutschmark threatens German export competitiveness. As the crisis hits home, the consensus and industrial peace which have characterised Europe's largest economy is beginning to turn into class war.