Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 49 Number 3, March 2, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Brexit: The Irrationality and State of Denial
of the Withdrawal Agreement Shambles

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis

Brexit: The Irrationality and State of Denial of the Withdrawal Agreement Shambles

For Your Information:
Amendments and Agreed Motion in the House of Commons on the UK's Withdrawal from the EU

The need for the pro-social direction for society:
Latest Merger of South Tyneside and Sunderland Hospital Trusts Part of Corporate-Centred Direction for the NHS

Workers Forum:
Japanese Multinational Honda to Close Swindon Plant

Workers Forum:
Honda: Stay In The UK #savehondaswindon

Workers Forum:
Civil Servants Aim to Break through Government's Arbitrary Wage Freeze Policy


Brexit: The Irrationality and State of Denial
of the Withdrawal Agreement Shambles

With less than four weeks to go before Britain is due to leave the European Union at 11pm on Friday, March 29, the House of Commons is very little nearer to agreeing what the Withdrawal Agreement should be. The Deal agreed between the government negotiating team and the EU leaders, an agreement which has been endorsed by the other 27 EU member countries, has been rejected by MPs. Changes to the Deal have been ruled out by the EU negotiators. Theresa May has attempted to negotiate changes with them without success, while being unable to convince MPs to accept the Deal that has been negotiated.

This situation has been described as a shambles. A shambles dates back to the blood and gore of butchery and the slaughterhouse, a state of total disorder. The more the House of Commons has attempted rational debate on the question of leaving the European Union, the more irrational the situation has become.

Theresa May continues to be in denial that this is the case. She is pinning her hopes on convincing the EU negotiators that the "backstop" can be replaced by "alternative arrangements" and therefore placating the "rebels" in the Conservative Party who are angling for a No-Deal Brexit. This is not an acceptable course of action, even if it were possible. It flies in the face of the movement towards Irish unity, and would be contrary to the Good Friday, or "Belfast", Agreement, which is an internationally-binding peace treaty.

Parliament has shown its dysfunctionality, in that it is incapable of finding any solution to the issue of Brexit. Furthermore, it can bear being repeated that whether to Remain in or Leave the EU was neither the problem to be solved for the people when the Referendum was called, nor did the ruling elite call the Referendum to ascertain the will of the people on that question. It has served only to cloud the issue of what should be the direction for the economy and for society, and to divert the people from taking this orientation and discussing the way forward. The stark reality is that the neo-liberal agenda of the ruling elite in this country has been consistent with the neo-liberal agenda of the European Union. The concentration of wealth and power is certainly a characteristic of the EU, but the call to "take back control" does nothing to empower working people, and has both spread illusions about the nature of Westminster democracy and been used to foment racism.

There have been many and inconclusive debates at Westminster, as the House of Commons has endeavoured to square the circle between those that demand Brexit at any cost and those that see Britain's remaining in the EU as a matter of principle. Whether by accident or design, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland appears to be heading towards the worst of all possible worlds. A "meaningful vote" has been postponed until March 12, and who is to say that it will not be postponed once more, or what it will resolve when it does take place. Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, has commented that a delay to the March 29 Brexit date seems unavoidable. But, as the ball is in Britain's court, and the prospect of a clear outcome in the "meaningful vote" seems itself unlikely, chaos is the most likely result.

Which trade rules is Britain going to follow? What on earth is the meaning of a "sovereign economy" when multinationals rule the roost, and can decide at a whim whether their vested interests are to be served by manufacturing in Britain or not, Brexit or no Brexit? How racist and xenophobic is the ruling elite going to be, using the pretext of "taking back control"? A rules-based international order and the rule of law which the government promote mask a reality which is the polar opposite. Something new is required, recognising that solutions based on an archaic and obsolescent outlook cannot be found. That something new has to be the human factor, bringing to bear the power and initiative of the working class and people. But the weight of the past blocking the future is depriving people of this power and initiative.


Jeremy Corbyn leader of the Labour Party speaking in Parliament for the Opposition

Furthermore, looming large is the threat of "hard power" which the ruling elite puts above everything, as embodied in the present pro-war government. In this situation, even whatever trade deals emerge from the chaos are bound to be part of the pro-war outlook and used as such.

In this situation, it is true that Jeremy Corbyn is manoeuvring to give some opening to his slogan of "For the Many, Not the Few", which goes beyond the division of the polity into "left" and "right", or into Leavers and Remainers. Although the amendment in his name was defeated [see For Your Information article] given the impasse, would Theresa May eventually settle on something close to what Jeremy Corbyn proposed? Jeremy Corbyn has recognised that Parliament has "been pushed to the edge". However, it seems that the government is hell bent on defeating itself and deepening the crisis of credibility of Parliament. It cannot resolve the the contradictions among the ruling elite in society.

What does this indicate for the people's movement? A meaningful discussion has to be worked for with a view to working out what is in the people's interests. Any solution is to be found, not along chauvinist lines, that Britain has to be "independent", but by ending the ruling elite's relations of exploitation internationally and at home. Let us take a stand for our own interests, based on proletarian internationalism and the politics of empowerment!

As Workers' Weekly concluded in its January 26 issue: "In our view, this is what Brexit is calling on us, the working people, to do. We should fight for the New. In the face of the all-round crisis, we should organise for the alternative. What this means is to recognise how Parliament has become completely dysfunctional, not even recognising what its own norms are and certainly not capable of sorting out a way out of the impasse, and instead to take a stand in defence of the rights of all. It is to take a stand in favour of the people's empowerment."

Article Index



For Your Information

Amendments and Agreed Motion in the House
of Commons on the UK's Withdrawal from the EU

On February 27, 2019, MPs debated the motion put forward by the government: "That this House notes the Prime Minister's statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019;

and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing."

The amendment in the name of Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, stated: (a), leave out from "House" to end and add:

"instructs Ministers
(a) to negotiate with the EU for changes to the Political Declaration to secure:
i. a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU;
ii. close alignment with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations;
iii. dynamic alignment on rights and protections;
iv. commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation;
and
v. unambiguous agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases;

and

(b) to introduce primary legislation to give statutory effect to this negotiating mandate.".

It was defeated by 323 votes to 240.

The amendment in the name of Ian Blackford (Leader of the SNP at Westminster) stated: in line 1, leave out from "House" to end and add

"is determined not to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and future framework under any circumstances, and regardless of any exit date."

It was defeated by 324 votes to 288.

The amendment in the name of Alberto Costa (Conservative MP for South Leicestershire) stated: at end, add

"; and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens' Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK's exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement."

It was accepted without a division.

The amendment in the name of Yvette Cooper (Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) stated: at end, add

"; and further notes in particular the commitment of the Prime Minister made in this House to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March and if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50, and if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.".

It was passed by 502 votes to 20.

The amended motion that was passed was:

Resolved,

That this House notes the Prime Minister's statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing; and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens' Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK's exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement; and further notes in particular the commitment of the Prime Minister made in this House to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March and if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50, and if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.

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The need for the pro-social direction for society

Latest Merger of South Tyneside and Sunderland Hospital
Trusts Part of Corporate-Centred Direction for the NHS


Website image on the formal response of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign to the merger

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust Boards agreed a merger in December 2018. They are working with their business case to get approval from NHS Improvement, with their target that the merger will come into operation on April 1, 2019. The Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign is part of the movement among organisations, staff and members of the public who opposed the merger in an "engagement" process last year.

Among the concerns are that the timing of the merger was not a coincidence. It will facilitate the "Path to Excellence", the downgrading and closure of services at South Tyneside Hospital, by removing structures in South Tyneside such as governors and joint union representation that serve to protect staff and services, and that give the people of South Tyneside and Sunderland a louder voice in their respective Hospital services. Also, the overwhelming majority of Unison members, the largest union at South Tyneside District Hospital, had previously voted against the merger during the "engagement" process in an indicative ballot organised by the union. Both Trusts had referred to the merger as "removing unnecessary organisational boundaries" in making changes to services. The concerns on the merger have been ignored, with the Trust CEO Ken Bremner declaring that the merger had been "unanimously backed" by NHS partners.


Local people fund raising to support the legal battle to save hospital services in South Tyneside and Sunderland

What is clear is that there are increasing numbers of Trust mergers and takeovers in the NHS in England, like the one in South Tyneside and Sunderland, which are accompanying the increasing cuts to hospital budgets. These are being led and encouraged by the government, NHS England and NHS Improvement as part of their overall aim for the NHS, and they intend to try to remove all obstacles to this direction of travel. The "long-term plan" for the NHS, which was announced by Theresa May and NHS England on January 7, continues the whole direction for mergers and takeovers of smaller hospitals Trusts by larger ones and says they "will support trusts that wish to explore formal mergers to embed these benefits". The "long-term plan" also said "we propose to remove the Competition and Markets Authority's duties, introduced by the 2012 Act, to intervene in NHS provider mergers."

On January 19, twelve days after this announcement, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) [1] itself responded by publishing an Economics Working Paper entitled "Does hospital competition reduce rates of patient harm in the English NHS [2]". The paper said that "hospital mergers in concentrated areas without offsetting clinical benefits could significantly increase rates of patient harm".

For example, the paper points out: "Our main estimate is that a hypothetical future merger between two geographically proximate hospitals would, on average and assuming no offsetting clinical benefits are unlocked by the merger, result in a 41% increase in harm rates. The magnitude of the effect is significantly greater where few competitors remain post-merger, and smaller when several alternatives for patients remain. This effect is robust to a number of alternative specifications and holds also when we consider in-hospital mortality."

The paper also justified the role played by the CMA in approving and preventing Hospital Trust mergers noting that "A previous merger proposal between two hospitals, The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Poole Hospital Foundation Trust, was prohibited by the Competition Commission in a much debated decision in 2013 on the basis of competition concerns and the absence of demonstrated benefits."

Following this, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) featured an article on February 4, 2019, entitled "Hospital mergers increase death and harm, CMA study says"[3], in which the journalist published the findings of the CMA working paper, saying: "Merging hospital trusts could increase mortality rates by up to 550 per cent and cause patient harm incidents to almost triple, new analysis by the Competition and Markets Authority has suggested."

The journalist goes on to explain that the CMA says its study "contributes further empirical evidence that competition ultimately benefits patients". The article counters this with an interview from Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, who said that whilst "study had found a real effect" in an overall increase in deaths and harm to patients he claimed: "The conclusion that says a merger will increase death rates is completely illegitimate and an overextension of the analysis because there are other factors driving this." However, he does not throw any light on what he thinks these other factors were.

What is emerging from this is the incoherence of a corporate-led direction for the NHS. What the CMA study damningly exposes is that the government's "long term plan" for merging NHS Trusts is harming patient care and patient access to care and is not patient-centred but corporate-centred. The government wants to remove the intervention of the CMA from the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to ensure that these mergers and takeovers continue. But the claim that competition in health is the solution is also part of the incoherence and disinformation in the CMA report. The coherence must come from the people developing their resistance and taking up the responsibility to fight to safeguard the future of the NHS. The NHS needs a human-centred health care delivery system where health workers and people play a decisive role in these decisions as the new direction that must be taken.

[1] The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is a non-ministerial government department in the United Kingdom, responsible for strengthening business competition and preventing and reducing anti-competitive activities. The CMA launched in shadow form on October 1, 2013 and began operating fully on April 1, 2014, when it assumed many of the functions of the previously-existing Competition Commission and Office of Fair Trading, which were abolished. (Wikipedia)
[2]https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/does-hospital-competition-reduce-rates-of-patient-harm-in-the-english-nhs
[3]https://www.hsj.co.uk/policy-and-regulation/hospital-mergers-increase-death-and-harm-cma-study-suggests/7024329.article

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Workers Forum

Japanese Multinational Honda to Close Swindon Plant

Honda has confirmed it will close its Swindon car plant in 2021, with the loss of 3,500 jobs.

Referring to diesel and electric cars, senior vice-president for Honda in Europe Ian Howells said the decision to close Swindon was driven by big changes in the car industry. "We're seeing unprecedented change in the industry on a global scale. We have to move very swiftly to electrification of our vehicles because of demand of our customers and legislation".

This move to electric "has to be in a marketplace of a size for Honda where it makes investment worthwhile," said Howell. "The conclusion coming out of that is that that doesn't include Swindon - the relative size of the marketplace in Europe is significantly different." And not only Swindon: Honda also announced it would stop making the Civic at its plant in Turkey the same year.

Honda builds 160,000 Civics a year in Swindon, 90% of which are exported to the US and the EU. A significant factor in the company's motivation to move to Japan is the new “EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, which came into effect on February 1. This agreement has created the world's largest free trade zone, providing far greater scope for monopolies to move and manoeuvre to serve their own ends. The workers and their jobs are therefore left high and dry by the arrangements of global capital and movements around the world where it suits them best.

The response of Business Secretary Greg Clark, acknowledging the situation with acceptance as "devastating", was to announce his intention to convene a taskforce with local MPs, civic and business leaders, as well as trade union representatives, to "help" Honda workers get new skilled jobs.

Unite Regional Officer Alan Tomala said the scale of job losses was "enormous" and workers felt "betrayed".

Workers were even seen stopping their cars and talking to the media, said that the car industry was so important that the town could become barren like Detroit. Suppliers will be affected, local spending power will be reduced, shops and retailers and smaller businesses will go under. "I've been here 19 years and it's devastating for all involved," said one worker. "You've only got to look across the road at the large warehouses here too. I don't know what the jobs will be replaced with." This plant was built by workers in Swindon over many years. A 1980s enterprise, it came out of an agreement between Honda, British Leyland and the government early that decade. Pressed steel body components belonged to British Leyland, which was state-owned at the time. The collaboration became the hallmark of modern body build and paint epitomised by the famous Triumph Acclaim, which was made by British Leyland, based on the Honda Ballade and fitted with an engine designed by Honda. Honda gained capital in terms of buildings, machinery and social product. Operations in Swindon subsequently started in 1989.

The question is therefore asked: What right have Honda to move this means of production to Japan? It can only be their assumed right as a monopoly, with its narrow competing private interests, trumping the workers' right to a livelihood. Meanwhile, the neo-liberal government will not interfere in what it calls "commercial decisions", regardless of this question and the impact of the move.

The demand should be that production continue in Swindon, regardless of the decision of Honda. Workers need to seriously discuss the question of why the interests of the workers and the economy can be so easily devastated by the self-interested actions of global businesses. These businesses are powerful monopolies who demand arrangements that enable them to act at will. Workers demand a say and to have control over such matters that affect their lives. Keep production running at Swindon!

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Workers Forum

Honda: Stay In The UK #savehondaswindon

To: Honda president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo

We are the workers from Honda Swindon. We urgently need your help.

Honda has said that in 2021 it will close the plant in which we work. 3500 direct jobs and possibly 12,000 jobs or more across the country will be lost as a result.

The fallout will be felt in jobs and communities across the south west and the UK.

But we believe that this economic and social catastrophe can be averted.

Our workforce at Honda are skilled, dedicated and efficient and together with the supply chain we are dedicated to making this company succeed.

Yes, these are challenging times for this industry but with vision and commitment, the UK can be the world leader in the new technology car manufacturing needs to thrive. Honda is well positioned to benefit.

So we are urging Honda to think again.

Honda, do not turn your back on a world-class, loyal workforce determined to bring you continued success.

We have dedicated our working lives to Honda Swindon. Through our hard work this company has thrived - all we ask now is the chance to make our case for the future we deserve.

Please help us fight for - and win - a brighter future.

Article Index



Workers Forum

Civil Servants Aim to Break through
Government's Arbitrary Wage Freeze Policy

On February 6, the national executive committee of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) unanimously decided to hold a ballot of over 120,000 members working in government departments for strike action over pay. The ballot will open on March 18 and close on April 29.

Pay restraint had always been a part of the "social contract" between the representatives in parliament who, in exchange for ruling theoretically "in our name", were supposed to offer security, peace and good governance. In truth, this arrangement has long since gone out of the window, even in theory. Workers are now saying "enough is enough" and "not in our name", while wage freezes are no longer a matter of "restraint" but are imposed arbitrarily.

In the past, social democracy, represented by Harold Wilson's "social contract", restrained wages to support state capitalism and "curb inflation". This and other such attempts failed and were eventually smashed by workers in their struggles over pay. Today, under different conditions, conditions of neo-liberalism in crisis, the policy has been of so-called austerity. Under the banner of reducing the debt and deficit, cuts to the public sector have been and continue to be imposed through arbitrary executive powers, without care for negotiation, beginning with the Cameron coalition's shock-and-awe cuts in 2010. One consequence of this disastrous policy has been a huge widening income gap between rich and poor and a reduction in spending power by most workers.

As a key part of austerity, civil service workers have seen their average pay fall compared to the rest of the public sector by around 10% since 2010. This is not only about cuts, but also part of the restructuring of the state whereby the mechanisms of the civil service and public authority are replaced by a concentration of power in the executive with its arbitrary powers, in the service of private monopoly interests.

The civil service has therefore suffered cuts to departments, staff reductions and falling pay. Civil service pay has consistently lagged behind even local government, health and education, areas which themselves have been experiencing relentless austerity. Despite government rhetoric that that the salary limit had been lifted last year, "a de facto pay cap remained in place," said PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka.

PCS has been campaigning on pay and pensions, pointing out in its aims that a 10% increase is what is needed at present, in contrast to the 1% rise - a cut in real terms after inflation - decided on by the government this year.

On February 15, an analysis commissioned by the union showed that average civil service pay has fallen in value since 2010 by between 9% and 11%, compared to the average salary in the rest of the public sector.

Dr Mark Williams of the University of Surrey said that average annual growth in median pay in the civil service was between 1.1% to 1.9% below inflation since 2010. By 2018, cumulative real pay growth had fallen between 8.6 and 11.4 percentage points behind the rest of the public sector since 2010. The scale of the drop in pay is shown in that, by 2018, median pay in the civil service was between 8.9% and 14.5% lower than it was in 2010 in real terms. This translates to a cumulative loss in pay of between £13,200 and £16,200 since 2010 for a typical employee over this period. [1]

Yet chief executive of the civil service, John Manzoni, told PCS that there is only 1% available for pay increases. The union has responded to this imposition by announcing its decision to ballot in March for strike and other disruptive action short of a strike, to take place in May.

The workers' demands are for a fully-funded pay rise significantly above the rate of inflation and national pay bargaining across the civil service and related areas. If the strike goes ahead, it will be the biggest strike in the civil service for eight years, since the coordinated pensions' strike of 2011.

The ballot will open on March 18 and run to April 29, a period that overlaps with Britain's withdrawal from the EU. "Never has it been more necessary to have a well-paid and well-funded civil service than at a time of great uncertainty over Brexit," said Mark Serwotka.

The "targeted and sustained strike action will have a significant effect on key government departments," he added. "Ministers need to understand the very real anger that our members feel and seek to immediately reward their staff with a pay rise significantly above the rate of inflation."

[1] PCS, "Analysis shows civil service pay well below rest of public sector", February 15, 2019,https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/analysis-shows-civil-service-pay-well-below-rest-of-public-sector
[2] PCS, "PCS to launch industrial action ballot in March", February 6, 2019,
https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/pcs-to-launch-industrial-action-ballot-in-march

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