Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 45 Number 31, October 31, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Steel Workers March on Parliament:

The Workers Continue to Build their
Resistance to the Anti-Social Offensive

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Steel Workers March on Parliament:
The Workers Continue to Build their Resistance to the Anti-Social Offensive

“English Votes for English Laws”
Vindictiveness and Incoherence Directed against Scottish Sovereignty

No to Britain’s Warmongering Intervention in Syria

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Steel Workers March on Parliament:

The Workers Continue to Build their Resistance to the Anti-Social Offensive

On Wednesday, October 28, hundreds of steel workers from Redcar, Tata and Caparo steel plants marched on Parliament to confront the government over the steel industry closures and massive loss of employment. The lobby was organised by the steel unions Community, Unite and GMB. The steel lobby was also planned to coincide with an opposition-led debate on the steel industry in the House of Commons. The motion1 tabled for the debate called for the government to “publish a full Industrial Strategy, including what level of capacity the Government envisages is needed in the steel industry, so as to safeguard this vital strategic asset”. The motion was defeated by 307 to 280 even though only a very low number of Conservative MPs took part in the debate. Yet the fact that an opposition was launched to the wrecking of the national economy has highlighted that an alternative can and must be found, and has underlined that the workers need to continue to build their resistance to the anti-social offensive and to fight for the alternative.

Already, on Tuesday the government Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, Anna Soubry, had told the Commons' Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee that “Redcar is not going to come back ... the priority is securing Port Talbot and making sure that
Scunthorpe survives” but that the government could only act in “areas where government has some responsibility” and this was only “just a level playing field”. This latter comment was related to the visit of Savid Javid, the government's Business Secretary, to Brussels on Tuesday to “lobby” European Commissioners to allow the UK to subsidise energy costs to energy intensive industries (EII) and call for an emergency EU council steel meeting.

During the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Angela Eagle, Shadow Business Secretary, said that “the steel industry is in full scale crisis with a government unwilling before they were pushed to do anything practical to help”. She said that not only in the region of 6,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, are lost at Redcar but the “hard closure” of that site and the steel-making assets there, including what was the second largest blast furnace in Europe, has effectively ended 170 years of steel making in Redcar. Angela Eagle condemned the government for its refusal to intervene, thereby ensuring the destruction of specialist local skills and condemning the community there to a bleak future. Tata Steel’s announcement about the closure of its long products business in Scunthorpe, Dalzell and Clydebridge has cost 1,170 jobs, and effectively ended steel-making in Scotland. Also, she said, the news that Caparo Industries had filed for
administration means that 1,700 more jobs are at risk across the country. The Shadow Business Secretary said that the UK's steel-making capacity “is being sacrificed on the altar of laissez-faire economics” and she drew the conclusion that the government does not have an industrial strategy with a coherent approach to the steel industry.

In spite of being dragged into the Parliament by the action of the workers and their representatives to save the steel industry, the government only recognises the need for a so-called “level playing field”. In other words, the government upholds that the steel monopolies must be free to engage in capitalist competition in world markets with a “level playing field”, creating the illusion that if only competition is “fair” nothing else can be done. As part of this logic, it is said that the problem facing the steel industry is one of “overproduction” of steel particularly by China which allegedly is causing the crisis by “dumping steel” in the European market. But the real reason is that the steel workers and people of Britain do not have sovereign control of their economy which enables the people to engage in mutually beneficial trade with other countries. Instead, the government on the one hand abandons its responsibility to ensure the development of a balanced national economy, and on the other serves
the financial interests that demand a quick score at whatever expense to the public good. While speaking of a “golden era” opening up with China, in reality the government is presiding over an economy controlled by global monopolies engaged in aggressive competition for maximum profits and control of global steel production.

This is shown, for example, when in 2014 Britain's steel monopolies exported 8.6 million tonnes of steel out of a national production of 12 million tonnes2. At the same time, British companies imported 7.4 million tonnes of steel. In other words, the monopoly capitalist economy is a structurally inefficient and unsustainable system with the majority of the steel produced in Britain exported and most of the steel used in Britain imported. In fact, in 2014 Britain imported 4.9 million tonnes of steel from Europe and only 792,000 tonnes from China, an increase on the previous year of 273,000 tonnes of steel from Europe and 391,000 from China. If there were any legitimate charge of dumping, it should be laid at the feet of the EU and not China.

It is the relations of production and the control by private monopoly capital interests that is the cause of the crisis in steel and the fact that the government has continued to wash its hands of responsibility for the steel industry and has allowed this situation to go from one crisis to another since it was privatised in the 1980s. With the present massive closures of steel production in Britain, the costs of closure will be much greater than the amount required to invest in the industry in the long term. By not taking up its responsibility the government will wipe out modern fixed assets of the steel
industry. It will cost the communities hundreds of millions of pounds sterling in lost productive capacity. Unemployment and redundancy further fuel the crisis in the British economy and further decimate whole towns and communities.

The necessity is for a change in this direction, for a sustainable economy where the steel industry supports and complements the social economy and develops mutually beneficial trade with peoples of other countries. This is the way forward. The working class has to be in the driving seat of this new direction to make this alternative happen. The working class movement must continue to assert that public right must prevail over monopoly right. In other words, the demand for investments in the steel industry must come from the perspective of the steelworkers and the people themselves gaining control over the industry and its direction and increasingly limiting the control of the monopoly elite. The steel workers must continue to make their voice heard for their alternative build the Workers' Opposition in the space that has opened up with the anti-austerity opposition and demand a pro-social and anti-war government. The necessity of the time is to continue to build their resistance to the anti-social offensive, hold the government to account, and take up the fight for the alternative.

1 Motion for debate

The following motion had been tabled for debate:

"That this House believes that the UK steel industry is of national strategic importance and should be supported by the Government; notes that the UK steel industry is in crisis, and that the recent closure of SSI in Redcar has resulted in 2,000 direct job losses, with a further 1,000 contractors and 6,000 jobs in the local supply chain lost, the announcement by Tata Steel that they will no longer produce steel plate at Dalzell, Clydebridge and Scunthorpe has resulted in 1,170 job losses, and that 1,700 jobs are at risk as Caparo Industries has gone into administration; recognises that for every direct steel job lost a further three indirect job losses will follow; further notes the vital importance of the steel industry to those local communities it serves, the proud industrial heritage of Britain's steel towns and the very real threat to these parts of the country should the steel industry disappear; and calls on the Government to take immediate action to protect the steel industry, including immediately implementing the Energy Intensive Industry Compensation Package, taking action with the EU Commission on anti-dumping measures, looking at temporary action on Business Rates, reviewing how regulatory frameworks impact the industry, and promoting local content and sustainability in procurement contacts, and for the Government to publish a full Industrial Strategy, including what level of capacity the Government envisages is needed in the steel industry, so as to safeguard this vital strategic asset."
Of course, the way these debates go, the motion was turned into its opposite by means of a government “amendment”. This in itself shows the non-seriousness of the pro-austerity Conservatives in addressing the content of the problem.


Article Index


“English Votes for English Laws”

Vindictiveness and Incoherence Directed against Scottish Sovereignty

On October 22, the Commons voted on the proposed new Standing Orders of the House of Commons known as “English Votes for English Laws”, or Evel for short, moved by Leader of the House Chris Grayling. The constitutional change was passed by 312 votes to 270.

The changes were railroaded through parliament. It has been pointed out that Evel is the biggest change to the legislative process since the 1911 Parliament Act. Yet only three and a half hours were given to the debate, meaning that most of the MPs who spoke were limited to less than five minutes.

Evel introduces an extra stage to the legislative process. Prior to the change, bills introduced into the Commons were debated and voted upon before being passed to the Lords, and vice-versa for bills starting in the Lords. After the change, there is now an additional step in the Commons where any bill deemed specific to England is debated by a new Grand Legislative Committee for England (taking place in the floor of the House of Commons itself), where only MPs representing English constituencies are able to veto the bill preventing its further progress. A similar stage and corresponding committee exist for bills that are considered England and Wales-only, and similarly for bills concerning only England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This stage takes place before the final Third Reading and vote before the whole Commons.

The government pressed for Evel under the pretext of the so-called “West Lothian question”, claiming an unfairness whereby MPs from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are able to vote on matters that affect only England, while MPs from England are unable to vote on matters that have been devolved to the Assemblies and Parliaments of those nations and regions. This issue was not promoted to solve anything, but rather reflects the constitutional mess in which Britain now finds itself and is itself used to further obscure matters and block the various nations asserting their sovereignty and having a say.

The main target at the present time is Scotland. The government announced the plans immediately after the Scottish independence referendum last year, which had not at all gone the way the British establishment had hoped, despite the No to independence vote, and had opened up the whole debate over where sovereignty lies. Since that time, the voice of the Scottish people, expressed in the landslide victory in Scotland of the SNP in the general election, has become a significant factor in the growing opposition to the austerity programme. Further, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader, the government is attempting to place blocks in the way of a united opposition in parliament.

The “fairness” argument does not stand up to scrutiny and has been widely criticised, including from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a key figure in the official No campaign in the Scottish referendum, who pointed out the fundamental size asymmetry between England and the other nations, which would mean the domination by England by virtue of its majority under Evel. Moreover, Scotland is in actuality both historically and in the present unable to exercise its sovereignty, blocked by the British state under the domination of England. Overturning this historical injustice is a precondition for a voluntary union of modern sovereign states that can be considered “fair”. Without this, the new procedures are an instrument of continued subjugation in that they are simply disempowering. As critics have pointed out, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs are reduced to a second-class status.

Compounding this, defining what exactly constitutes a bill that is “England-only in its entirety” is highly problematic in the present context. For example, Grayling suggested that the vote on expanding Heathrow Airport could fall into this category. Yet it is clear that this decision impacts the whole of Britain. Further, it is not difficult to envisage bills deemed England-only that nevertheless have financial consequences outside of England. In general, this question, particularly as it involves determining precisely where devolution applies or not, is likely to be subtle and nuanced.

The new procedures give the role of deciding what bills are England-only to the Speaker of the House of Commons. This gives the Speaker a significant new power over the legislative process. Given the problematic nature of the decision, various people, such as chair of the procedure committee that considered the proposals, Charles Walker, warned of the possibility of legal challenges to the Speaker's decisions. The door is therefore open to these decisions becoming politicised.

Pete Wishart, SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, said that “all Evel does is enhance the case for independence” and pointed out the autocratic nature of the government in making this constitutional change: “There is not one political party in this House that supports these plans other than the Conservatives. There is not one devolved legislature assembly or parliament throughout the United Kingdom who support these plans.” He further warned that the Speaker's decisions could be taken “all the way to the Supreme Court”. He said it was a “dark, dark day for Scottish members of parliament” and that Scottish MPs “have been consigned to second-class status”.

SNP MP for Midlothian Owen Thomson tweeted: “The Tories ended the Union today – not SNP not the people of Scotland – result of this will have a huge consequence for whole UK.”

The Conservatives took “a wrecking ball to parliament” said Ian Murray, Labour's shadow Scottish Secretary, while shadow Leader of the House Chris Bryant called Evel a “charter for breaking up the Union”. “This is not a conservative set of measures,” he said. “It's quite dangerous. It's a bureaucratic nightmare and I think the honourable members will regret it.”

“It is not a Unionist set of measures either,” he said further, suggesting that “it's as if the Prime Minister has decided to fashion a new grievance for Scotland”.

With last year's referendum on Scottish independence and subsequent developments, a space has opened up over the right to decide and the question of where sovereignty lies. The government has sought to occupy this space in the interests of the ruling elite, as well as their own narrow interests as the party-in-power. Their contempt for parliament truly is dangerous and highlights the extent of the crisis surrounding the issue of sovereignty, not only of the nations in Britain, but of the people in general. It is that sovereignty should lie with the people, as indeed put forward in the draft constitution for an independent Scotland, that points the way out of this crisis. It is precisely this proposal entailing a modern sovereign Scotland that the ruling elite seeks to suppress.

Article Index


For An Anti-War Government!

No to Britain’s Warmongering Intervention in Syria

Last week the Prime Minister made a statement to Parliament concerning what he referred to as “the war” in Syria. What was evident from David Cameron’s comments was that his government took no responsibility for this war, nor for the thousands of deaths and millions of refugees it has produced. At the same time he made it clear that his government has the same objective as its predecessor – that is, regime change in Syria, whatever the cost to Syria and its people, or to neighbouring countries. This week the government hosted a meeting of the so-called Global Coalition Against ISIL and Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, paid a brief visit of Britain’s chief allies in the Gulf region – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – ahead of the talks on the conflict in Syria that took place in Vienna. These talks not only included Britain, the US and their allies but also Russia and Iran.

In the last four years, the Syrian conflict has accounted for the lives of over 250,000 men, women and children. There are reported to be 7.6 million people displaced from their homes in Syria and over 12 million – half of the country’s population – in need of humanitarian assistance, of whom over 7 million are children. Some 4 million Syrians have been forced to flee as refugees to neighbouring countries and increasing numbers of these people are making their way to Europe.

There can be no doubt that successive governments in Britain, as well as those of the US and the other big powers, have fuelled the crisis in Syria. The current government refuses to recognise the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and instead gives its support to the so-called Syrian National Coalition, which is fighting against the al-Assad government as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. In addition the government of Britain and its allies have provided military support to what is referred to as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a coalition of those fighting to overthrow the Syrian government. There is now a growing body of evidence that the FSA was always a shadowy entity and that military support that it received was soon transferred to even more sinister organisations such as ISIL. What is evident is that Britain and its allies are in breach of all international norms of conduct and the UN Charter by their open involvement in an internal conflict within a sovereign country. It is this intervention that has destroyed so many lives, produced so many millions of refugees and led to the emergence of ISIL, which the government of Britain and others claim to be opposing.

Regime change was aimed not only at destabilising Syria, a country that has a key geopolitical position on the shores of the Mediterranean, but also aimed to put pressure on its neighbours and allies, particularly Iran and Russia. It is therefore not surprising that the current conflict has assumed the character of a regional war with intervention from many neighbouring countries that see the outcome as key to their own interests. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have all played a key role in supporting the opposition to al-Assad, alongside Britain, the US and France. The interventions of Iran and particularly Russia in the military conflict are themselves being used as justification for even greater intervention by Britain and its allies. It is in this context that there is again talk of another parliamentary vote on air-strikes, or other direct military intervention by Britain’s armed forces in Syria.

The direct military intervention Iran and particularly of Russia has contributed to a new situation in Syria, which makes it even less likely that the regime change desired by the British government will be easily accomplished. The balance of power appears to have shifted and there have even been reports that Iraq’s parliament will encourage the country’s government to invite Russia to extend its air-strikes against ISIL into Iraq. Russia’s air-strikes have targeted ISIL but also others fighting against the Syrian government, much to the concern of the British government and its allies. They issued a statement to the effect that Russia was bombing the wrong targets. The Russian government countered by stating that the air-strikes of the US and its allies, reportedly aimed against ISIL for many months had been ineffective.

The Vienna talks have been designed to re-establish a political solution to the Syrian crisis, an approach that is favoured both by China and Germany, the country that has taken the greatest responsibility for Syria’s refugees in Europe. However, it seems unlikely that the contention between the big powers and their allies will be easily resolved and there remains the danger of an even greater armed conflict across the whole region.

The conflict in Syria, the human suffering it has caused and the dangerous situation it has created are all a consequence of the warmongering and interventionist policies of successive governments in Britain, as well as those of the other big powers. The crisis in Syria cannot be solved by the actions of those who have created all the conditions for conflict, armed and trained the belligerents, and unleashed sinister anti-people forces throughout the region. The government of Britain must cease all intervention in Syria and elsewhere in the world. It is the task of all democratic people to find the means to bring such intervention to an end, to rid Britain of the warmongers who create such death, destruction and human misery and to create the conditions for an anti-war government.

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