The first TV debate between Johnson and Corbyn earlier this week highlighted the Tories’ primary (and only) line of attack in this election: Brexit. Indeed, the mantra “Get Brexit Done” has been repeated ad-nauseum by the Tory leader and his PR goons.
Conservative strategists clearly believe that the question of Brexit is the soft underbelly of Labour’s campaign. The establishment press have also chimed in, pointing to audience laughter during the debate in response to Corbyn’s claims that Labour has a “clear position” on Brexit.
In many respects, these heckling hyenas have homed in on a weak point. Labour’s Brexit position is a fudge, forced on Corbyn as a compromise between the Blairite Remainers in the PLP and the leaders of the big affiliated unions, such as Unite.
It is vital that our movement resists both the pressures of nationalism and of big business. Instead, with only a few weeks to go until election day, Labour must mobilise and unite workers and youth around bold socialist policies.
Blairites and the ‘People’s Vote’
The Blairites have been the most ardent advocates of a second referendum, with right-wing figures such as Tom Watson spearheading the campaign for a so-called ‘People’s Vote’. From day one they have attempted to pressure Corbyn over Europe: firstly to give his blessing to the Remain camp; and then after the 2016 referendum result, to demand another stab at persuading voters to stay in the EU.
Throughout, the focus of these big business politicians has been on defending the interests of the City of London – that is, the profits of the bankers and bosses, whose key concern is maintaining access to their beloved Single Market.
In doing so, however, they have played right into Johnson’s hands, distracting from the class issues facing workers, and allowing Boris and his Tory Brexiteer team to paint themselves as champions of ‘the people’, engaged in a ‘do-or-die’ battle against the schemers in Parliament.
With the Brexit process dragging on for over three years – seemingly with no end in sight – no wonder that many working-class voters are now sick and tired of the whole charade. Understandably, a significant layer just want to see the fiasco put to bed, so that real issues such as housing, jobs, and public services can be addressed.
The way to cut through this disgust and disillusionment is to hammer home the class issues. Continuing to bang the drum about a second referendum, as the Labour right wing do, will only reopen old wounds and push more alienated working-class Leave voters towards the Tories and the Brexit Party, imperilling Labour’s electoral chances in the process.
McCluskey and migration controls
On the other side, influential trade union figures such as Len McCluskey have pandered to reactionary rhetoric over immigration in an attempt to outlank the Tories and the Brexit Party.
“If we don’t deal with the issues and concerns,” McCluskey asserted, “we will create a vacuum that will be filled by a far right seeking to become the voice of the white working class.”
Such demands, however, will do nothing to win over working-class voters in marginal seats in the Midlands, the North, or anywhere else. Instead, language like this only helps to divide the working class along nationalist lines, once again playing into the hands of the racist Johnson-Farage alliance.
McCluskey is not the first labour movement leader to bend to such nationalism. A decade ago, both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and McCluskey’s Unite predecessor, Derek Simpson, were echoing the backward slogan of “British jobs for British workers”. In 2015, meanwhile, Labour under Ed Miliband infamously fought the general election with a key pledge to bring in “controls on immigration”.
In all cases, the bogeyman of a xenophobic “white working class” is deployed in order to frighten Labour into supporting reactionary demands that would split workers along nationalist and racist lines.
The current Unite the Union chief has even disingenuously deployed the words of Karl Marx in the past to justify his support for border controls. But, as we have argued elsewhere, the genuine class – and internationalist – position of Marxists has always been to fight for open borders.
This must be accompanied by a rigorous effort to organise and unionise workers across the economy, in Britain and internationally, in order to struggle together and prevent a competitive race to the bottom in terms of wages and conditions.
This is the only way to unite the working class against the bosses and their attempts to set workers against one-another. Anything else is a gift to racists like Johnson and Farage.
Workers of the world: unite!
Corbyn has correctly refused to split the working class by taking sides on Brexit. As the Labour leader emphasised in his speech at this year’s party conference, we must not be a movement of the 52 percent or the 48 percent, but of the 99 percent.
The task in front of us is to fight this election with bold class-based demands, mobilising and uniting workers everywhere in the struggle for a socialist Labour government.
From there, an appeal can be made to the workers of all countries to unite in the fight for a socialist Europe and a socialist world.
The reality is that – inside or outside of the EU – the future under capitalism is one of continued austerity and attacks for workers and youth. Only the socialist transformation of society can put an end to this capitalist nightmare.