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LETTERS: To defend jobs and the planet, our unions must do better

This article is over 6 years, 9 months old
Issue 2565
Unite union members struck at BMW earlier this year
Unite union members struck at BMW earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

My gut response to last week’s announcement that new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040 was “too little, too late”.

So it was a shock to discover the leaders of my union, Unite, seem to think it too much, too soon.

Assistant general secretary Tony Burke praised the car industry, especially the “close working relationship” between employers and union.

He said nothing should be done to “jeopardise this hard-won success,” and called for a “national debate embracing employer, Unite and ministers”. He also pointed to Unite’s presence in the oil industry.

But fighting climate change requires action, not “debate”.

And that means leading a working class movement strong and confident enough to make climate demands, not cosying up to the bosses and lobbying against anything that might threaten their profits.

If Burke and Len McCluskey want to fight for car industry jobs they can start by leading action.

Unite members at BMW factories held impressive strikes for pay earlier this year. But Unite left the dispute to peter into defeat.

It also failed to lead much of a fightback at Grangemouth oil refinery in 2013.

Environmental campaigners can sometimes be hostile to fossil fuel workers.

But a big fightback on the industrial front builds confidence among people fighting for the environment, as we saw with the “green bans” by Australian building workers in the 1970s.

So never mind caving in to the bosses. I want my union leaders to lead workers’ fights for every job, and for massive public investment to turn fossil fuel jobs into climate jobs.

I want them to link the call for climate jobs—solar power plants, home insulation and better public transport—to the fight against job losses and low pay.

The working class isn’t just another “stakeholder”. It’s the force that can overturn society, make it fossil fuel free, and run it in our interests, not the bosses’.

Kim Hunter, Scarborough

Be fair on Dunkirk

I’ve just read the SW review of Dunkirk.

It is so crude and unfair that it’s hard to believe the author has even seen the movie.

Of course, it is 100 percent right about the history of the Dunkirk evacuation and the events surrounding it, not least – as the French themselves often claim – the British “fought to the last Frenchman”!

But although the film is not an anti-imperialist critique of the British ruling class’s involvement in the Second World War – and to some extent buys in to the myth of Dunkirk and the heroic British boatmen and women who sailed over to rescue “our lads,” it is not a pure patriotic propaganda either.

Indeed, one of the first scenes in the film is precisely of a young British soldier trying to get through Dunkirk town to the beach and having to climb over the only thing holding up the advancing German army, a barricade defended by a detachment of French Poilus.

There is another later scene showing British NCOs preventing French soldiers boarding a warship returning to Britain while they are being attacked by German fighter planes and bombers and another one where a most of a group of “Tommies” in one scene want to make a sacrifice of a young French soldier to save their own skins.

The ruthlessness and cynicism of Winston Churchill and British commanders is pointed to when on several occasions British soldiers and naval officers ask, “Where is the RAF?” to defend them from German aircraft, the only answer is that that they can’t be spared.

To some extent I share the view that the Second World War was two wars and for a lot of the young soldiers like many of those on Dunkirk beach they were fighting a people’s war against Nazism.

A decent review in SW of Dunkirk should at least acknowledge this perspective in contextualising events represented in the movie and evaluating it as a “work of art”.

I think I remember Paul Foot once complaining that a review of Warren Beatty’s Reds in SW dismissed the film because it didn’t sufficiently stress the need for a revolutionary Leninist Party.

To some extent, the review of Dunkirk falls into the trap that Trotsky warned about of approaching a  ”work of art … merely as a historical document”.

Dunkirk the movie is not a revolutionary Marxist analysis – but neither is it just patriotic propaganda.

Socialist Worker readers deserve a lot better.

Ken Muller, north London

Your article on the myths of Dunkirk reminded me of the sinking of the British ship Lancastria after an attack by the Luftwaffe.

The disaster was so huge that Winston Churchill ordered a media blackout.

My grandad was one of the survivors, and he hated Churchill. Thousands of men died and their families were denied the right of even knowing how or where.

Becca Clarke, on Facebook

lMany accounts of the last months of the Second World War report that “Tommies” became very “bolshie”.

They refused orders to undertake actions that were most likely to lead to deaths.

This wasn’t much reported, but it became clear in the 1945 election. Churchill and the Tories suffered humiliating defeat—and returning servicemen inflicted the biggest blow.

Ray Hall, on Facebook

Opposable thumbs up

Perhaps the latest Planet of the Apes film, reviewed by Saba Shiraz (Socialist Worker, 17 July), is the weakest of the trilogy.

But it doesn’t disappoint politically or aesthetically.

It alludes to barbarism that has scarred human history under capitalism, from slavery to fascism and the Vietnam War.

The apes were in a weakened position and Caesar, their heroic leader, lost his political clarity. For us this showed realism. Struggles go up and down, and no leader is infallible.

The apes’ collective resistance to oppression still brought inspiring moments. And there’s an important exception to Saba’s claim that “female apes play no role and are seen as caregivers”.

We encourage readers who enjoyed the political message of resistance in the earlier films to see this one and judge it for themselves.

Christian Hogsbjerg and Rebecca Townesend, Leeds

Banning opposition to Israel isn’t anti-racism

The Labour council in Haringey, north London, voted last week to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

It brands all opposition to the state of Israel as antisemitic.

Part of the motivation was an attempt by the Labour right to put pressure on the left.

As Jewish, Israeli and Muslim activists made clear on the steps outside, the IHRA definition has nothing to do with fighting racism.

It has much more to do with stifling the campaign to boycott Israel and undermining the support for Jeremy Corbyn.

There was a noisy and angry reception in the gallery when councillors voted, without debate, to accept the motion.

Alan Watts, Haringey Justice for Palestinians

Shame on Trump for trans ban

When Donald Trump was running for president, he tweeted to “the LGBT community” that “I will fight for you”.

Yet now he is stripping away the rights of serving transgender US military personnel. This billionaire conducts his presidency through overt bigotry.

Trump claims that his discriminatory imposition is merely due to the cost to the military of transition-related healthcare. But a study commissioned by the Pentagon found this to be one hundredth of one percent of the military’s healthcare budget.

Chrissy Meleady MBE, by email

Fire neglect is due to racism

The weeks are slipping away and all the signs indicate that the authorities wish the Grenfell fire victims would disappear.

An inquiry will only drain funds away from the victims. It will be a classic fudge—blame all, catch none.

The lack of support for the victims is glaringly obvious. Could it be because the majority are non-white?

Subhash Varambhia, Leicester

Corbyn didn’t really retreat

You said that Jeremy Corbyn “gives ground to the Labour right” over student debt (Socialist Worker, 17 July).

Corbyn never promised to abolish student debt, but to see what could be done about alleviating it.

All the students I was on the stump with recognised this. Why do you repeat the lie that it was a row back when it was simply a restatement of the position?

It might be wrong but it is not a retreat.

Jon Fanning, on Facebook

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