By Dan Jeffery – Vice Chair, Lambeth UNISON (pc)
When I saw that Momentum had shared a video made by the TSSA to oppose railway privatisation I thought this was a positive step. This is before I had actually watched the video. Which, to be frank, was a xenophobic rant, wrapped up in what some say is a joke. I can’t see the punch line myself.
The message in the video wasn’t “take back control” from big business like Virgin, owned by Richard Branson, or from the Tory government. It was take back control from the French, German, and Dutch people, with a dollop of jingoism thrown in for good measure. As one of my friends put it, they might as well have gone the full hog and had a background chant of “two world wars and one world cup”.
At best this video missed the mark, and inadvertently plays in to xenophobic and racist ideas. At worst it is an example of going down a nationalist road, which has been made even more dangerous by the fall out of Brexit. There is no guarantee at all that unions will automatically play a progressive role on such issues, as the dockers marching for Enoch Powell showed, but the left should be arguing for better.
TSSA backed up their video with a statement accusing the government of being unpatriotic. Socialists will never get anywhere through the use of nationalism or patriotism, which just divides workers, it’s not a weapon that can result in a progressive way forward for workers. As it happens over 60% of people in the UK already support the nationalisation of the railways, and there are very easy and persuasive arguments that can be made, from the chaos of the service, to constant delays, overcrowding and lining the pockets of private train companies (which in my view is worse than subsidies going to nationalised rail companies abroad). Indeed there is no mention at all in the video of the corporations and fat cats that are making such profits out of the railways.
Even in recent times, the great Bob Crow, who was one of the best union general secretaries of recent times, had bad politics when it came to migration. On Question Time in 2013, in support of leaving the EU, he said, “By virtue of the fact that economic migrants are coming to this country they are lowering the rates and conditions for those people that are working here. Why should people come to Britain without a work permit?” (and unfortunately cited Australia as an example of where you need work permits, not exactly known for a progressive position on migration). The RMT, and the electoral campaigns ‘No to the EU’ and ‘TUSC’ all had similar positions. I don’t want people to have to have a work permit to come to the UK, as it means that many of those in the most disadvantaged in the world will have no chance of coming to the UK. Indeed migration significantly benefits the UK by increased revenue over spending, more jobs in a growing economy, cultural enrichment and solidarity amongst workers.
There is also no truth at all that migration has any significant effect on wages and conditions, certainly far, far less so than austerity. With the rise of UKIP and general racism and migrant bashing in society we have seen a shift among some in the labour movement against freedom of movement, using very similar arguments as some in the trade union movement argued when trying to stop women coming in to the workplace. We need answers along the lines of a good minimum wages, scrapping the anti-trade union laws and bringing in strong pro-worker and health and safety laws. As well a mass council housing building scheme and a scrapping of PFIs in health and education. Any unforeseen influx that occurs from migration, and temporary and localised strains put on communities, can be overcome through a migrant impact fund. It should also be remembered that the vast majority of migrants from war and poverty are in countries with national wealth far lower than the UK.
Momentum has made a real mistake in promoting this video and would be well advised to take it down and promote a progressive case for nationalising the railways, without mocking people from other countries. We should approach socialist organisations and trade unions in Europe to increase cooperation and common actions opposing austerity, racism, attacks on social and democratic rights with the goal of a united socialist Europe.
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