The UK Left after Brexit: Free Movement and the Unions

by Thomas Fagan

Unite the Union

The issue of free movement of European Union (EU) workers is an incredibly important issue on the Left and in the trade unions in particular. Unite the Union (commonly known as “Unite”)––which is the biggest union in Britain, with 1.42 million members across many industries––has just concluded a brutal election. The candidate of the Right, Gerard Coyne, with the backing of reviled tabloids like the Sun, came within 5,000 votes of defeating the Left incumbent, Len McCluskey. The other Left candidate, Ian Allinson, put in a very decent showing, receiving over 17,000 votes with almost no resources.

Allinson’s position on free movement of EU labour was in stark contrast to that of McCluskey and Coyne. Allinson’s position on free movement was unequivocal: “The question of workers’ rights to move freely and be treated equally is not going away. While the two establishment candidates in the Unite General Secretary election fudge and backslide on it, I have made it an important theme of my campaign.” Allinson in fact moved a resolution at the Unite Conference defending free movement.

Coyne’s position on free movement was bordering on the xenophobic: “Britain’s working classes have been betrayed so rich establishment figures can hire cheap nannies and butlers.”

The position of Len McCluskey is the most interesting of the three candidates, as he positions himself on the Left and had indeed received the backing of most of the traditional Left in this election. The irony of McCluskey’s Left populism, however, is that it’s not that popular after all, given the closeness of his victory and an extreme right-wing candidate failing to win by a whisker. Read More

Brexit, Trumpism, Sanders, and the Decrepit State of Capitalism: Against Political Determinism

by Michael Rectenwald

Published simultaneously in With Sober Senses and CLG News.


There’s a basic article of faith in leftist thought, held especially dearly by most among the U.S. left. It is so entrenched and so seldom challenged that it has attained the status of myth, an unquestioned origin story on par with the Book of Genesis, as the latter must have been regarded within Christendom during the Middle Ages.

The myth goes like this: During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, two arch right-wing and highly potent politicians, rose to power in their respective nations, the U.S. and the U.K. They thereafter began to institute what was for the vast majority a vile and destructive political and economic scheme: “neoliberalism.” Previous to the instalment of this neoliberal scheme, the working class had experienced relative economic improvement, and capitalists seemed happy too (as if we care). But suddenly, and seemingly without cause (although the failure of Keynesianism was apparent in the unprecedented stagflation of the 1970s), these evil political twins, prompted by wizards who formalized the approach, introduced the nefarious ideology of neoliberalism to the world. As cruel and heartless representatives of the capitalist class (which, indeed, they were), they and their supporters caused the Fall from the supposed Paradise of Keynesian reformism that had preceded them. In this mythological version of reality, neoliberalism is understood merely as a set of essentially unwarranted and unusually brutal policies, an ideological and political formation that was hatched in the brains of evil masterminds conspiring in right-wing think tanks, concocted to dupe and punish the vast majority for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

This narrative sounds cartoonish or religious in character, but only because it is – not because I have made it so. It is a typical leftist personification of world-historical forces in lieu of an actual analysis within political economy. It amounts to what I have elsewhere called “political reductionism,” which is similar to what Andrew Kliman has referred to as “political determinism.” Kliman describes political determinism as such: “They [Keynesians and social democrats] think that the capitalists [and/or their political representatives] control capitalism––not the other way around––so that the system can become something it’s not once different people with different priorities assume control of it.” Thus, if only such people as Reagan and Thatcher had never been elected, or better yet, had never been born …
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On Brexit: The Sovereignty Trap

by Chris Gilligan

The debate on the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) future in the European Union (EU) is a confused, confusing and largely negative one. Both the Leave (Brexit) and Remain campaigns have relied on negative scare tactics rather than on positive arguments in support of their case. Both sides are also nationalist in their outlook. This is evident in the case of the Leave campaign. It is also true, however, of the Remain campaign. As Anthony Barnett notes:

While advocating staying in the EU their language is not about solidarity and sharing but about how Britain will continue to be different while profiting from membership. Our “great country” will be preserved by what Cameron calls the “special relationship” he has negotiated, which keeps us at arms’ length from the core of the European Union. Following his lead, the whole Remain campaign is formed by Great British egoism and is fundamentally nationalist conservatism.

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