Defend the Free Movement of People – Stop racist Brexit!
Labour must hold an Emergency National Conference – Bring Down the racist, anti-working class Tory Government
Betrayal! There is no other way to describe Corbyn’s blunt declaration in a Guardian interview on 21st December that, if there is an early election, Labour under his leadership would campaign for Brexit. Movement for Justice condemns this betrayal of the hopes invested in Corbyn’s leadership. Labour’s left-wing, anti-Brexit majority must support the call by Manuel Cortez – general secretary of the TSSA and the foremost trade union supporter of free movement – and demand an Emergency National Conference of the Labour Party.
Corbyn’s unequivocal support for Brexit is a direct consequence of his commitment to ending the free movement of people – which means continuing the racist policy of scapegoating immigrants. Those policies can & must be reversed. They are opposed by the great majority of Labour Party members and supporters. They are opposed by the hundreds of thousands who joined or re-joined the party because they saw Corbyn’s leadership as an opportunity to transform Labour into a democratic force to overturn capitalist-imposed austerity, fight against racism and stop imperialist wars. And those racist Brexit policies are opposed by the great majority of Labour-supporting youth and black, Asian and Muslim people, whose hostility to Brexit has only increased during the thirty months since the referendum.
In September, the Labour Party conference voted overwhelmingly for a motion on Brexit that was an attempt by the membership to push the leadership towards accepting free movement, and taking a more internationalist position towards Europe.
- The motion called for, “A relationship with the EU that guarantees full participation in the Single Market” – ‘full participation’ means, and was understood as, maintaining the free movement of people.
- It declared solidarity with, “All progressive and socialist forces confronting the rising tide of neo-fascism, xenophobia, nationalism and right wing populism in Europe” – in full awareness that Brexit is a major part of that ‘rising tide.’
- It declared that if MPs defeat the government in a Brexit vote, it “Would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government,” which would be an opportunity for, “An immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power” – in reality a call for a motion of No Confidence to bring down the government.
- Nowhere in the motion was there any statement that, in the event of an election, Labour would campaign to maintain Brexit – if that had been proposed in the conference it would have been defeated.
An emergency conference is needed to reaffirm, and where necessary clarify, everything that was progressive in that motion, and to commit the party to fight an early general election, or a second referendum, on a platform of defending free movement and stopping Brexit. It must explicitly reject the measures and language that present immigration as a ‘problem’ and scapegoat immigrants for the inequality, insecurity and poverty that are caused by the neo-liberal policies of the capitalists and successive governments. If Corbyn is not prepared to lead the party on that basis he must resign and make way for someone who will.
The danger of Corbyn’s Brexit policy and the responsibility of the Left
Labour can’t win an election on the basis of Corbyn’s pro-Brexit position, because its effect would be to undermine the forces on which real progressive struggle and a future of equality and integration depend. Racism and xenophobia are the most important political weapon of a ruling class that is determined to impose ongoing hardship on the poor and oppressed. Labour can’t reverse decades of neo-liberal attacks on the working class while, at the same time, continuing the anti-immigration policies that have been an integral part of those attacks.
The growing anti-Brexit Left in the Labour Party and the trade unions gets that connection; it is why they supported Corbyn in the first place. They must fight for a radical change of course now or face a Blairite take-over of the party and an upsurge of the Far Right, which would be a betrayal of historic proportions. The Left must recognise its power and its responsibility, and use that power to reverse Corbyn’s pro-Brexit, anti-free movement policy and Stop Brexit – and build the mass struggle of youth, students, immigrants and the black, Asian and Muslim communities that will unite the struggles against racism and poverty.
Corbyn tried to maintain a position of delays and ambiguity between his commitment to implement Brexit and the anti-Brexit sentiments of his base. That was always unsustainable, and on 21st December he abandoned ambiguity. The Left, identifying Corbyn’s leadership with their hopes for a more socialist direction in the Labour Party, had adopted a similar ambiguity when they built coalitions in an attempt to steer the leadership towards their own views. Now that he has rejected those attempts, the Left must replace ambiguity with clarification. An emergency conference must put the Left and the Labour Party on firm political ground.
Internationalism v. Nationalism
Across Europe, youth and immigrants are at the forefront of growing struggles against the poverty and cuts imposed by every EU government, against racism & the rise of the Far Right and fascism, against detention and deportation, attacks on workers’ rights, on immigrant communities and on the right to education. Our hopes for the future are based on the power of these struggles to defeat the governments of the rich and powerful, to open the borders of Europe and within Europe, to remove the restrictions on free movement and extend free movement to Europe’s non-citizens, with and without papers.
Brexit sets up political and physical barriers to uniting in struggle with the poor and oppressed, the immigrants and working class across Europe, in a united international movement.
Corbyn’s blunt commitment to Brexit is a nationalist betrayal of those struggles. With regard to Brexit, the central political issue facing British society, he has put himself on the right, and as a result he has provided Labour’s pro-corporate Blairite wing with an opportunity to look ‘progressive’ and ‘internationalist’ on the EU, while in reality they are just as committed to ending the free movement of people as Corbyn is, but believe they can engineer that by working with the rightward-moving ruling elites of Europe.
The left-wing supporters of the September conference motion on Brexit understood that Labour has no future except as an internationalist and anti-racist party and must assert that in an emergency conference.
Fighting racism and anti-immigrant prejudice
There is no progressive, socialist future for Britain or Europe except as integrated, multiracial & multinational societies, with full equality and justice for all who live, work and study here, as the people we are. Brexit and the rise of the Far Right pose a direct threat to that future.
The whole history of working class struggle demonstrates that defeat follows wherever and whenever people respond to poverty by relying on some real or imagined privilege – skin colour, national origin, religion, citizenship status – instead of joining with other working class, poor and oppressed people to struggle against their exploiters. That is the story of Brexit.
It is not enough to hope that voting together against austerity, or striking together against low pay will be sufficient to overcome those divisions. The privilege always has a political character – a real or imagined connection with the ruling class. That has to be fought politically. The anti-Brexit Left knows that Brexit is racist but has generally been reluctant to spell it out, for fear of undermining Corbyn. His direct and open commitment to Brexit makes it all the more urgent for the Left to declare directly and openly that Brexit must be stopped because it is racist.
Immigration and racism are the decisive, central political issues for the future direction of British society and for progressive struggles throughout the ‘western democracies.’ In an increasingly unequal world, the free movement of people is the most basic human right – fundamental to workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, the right of asylum and to life itself. The rich and powerful regard free movement as an exclusive privilege for themselves and their money & trade. There is a global labour market for bosses looking for cheap labour, but not for people looking for work and safety. Mass migration is a rebellion against that injustice. Crushing that rebellion would mean barbarism and a resort to Fascism.
To repeat an earlier point, immigrant workers and their families, immigrant communities, refugees & asylum seekers are on the frontline across Europe and in the USA, fighting for justice, equality and human rights, against racism, fascism and poverty. They have opened borders, harbour the fewest illusions in our political system, have the greatest hopes, and have not experienced the decades of demoralising betrayals suffered by the European labour movement. Along with the youth, immigrants are feared by the rulers as the most determined and conscious fighters.
In order to build the fight against racism and Brexit, and for a progressive future, the Left and the labour movement must recognise and turn to these forces as the most important allies, fighters and leaders, because it is only the mass action of an integrated, immigrant and youth led movement that will overcome timeworn prejudices and inspire hope that another and better future is possible.
An emergency Labour conference must be the start of this turn.