Labour leader Keir Starmer is trying to capitalise on the Islamophobia crisis engulfing the Tories (see pages 2 and 3). He attacked prime minister Rishi Sunak last weekend, accusing him of harbouring “extremists in his party”.
“It’s right that Lee Anderson has lost the whip after this appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst,” said Starmer.
“But what does it say about the prime minister’s judgement that he made Lee Anderson deputy chairman of his party?”
Of course, Starmer is right to say that Anderson is the tip of the iceberg of Tory racism. Yet his posing as a friend of Muslims doesn’t stand up to examination.
Instead, it’s a ploy to win back anti-war support that the Labour leader initially seemed happy to lose.
Labour has been slavish in its backing of Israel’s war on Palestine, which has been the main driver of a recent explosion of Islamophobia.
During the uproar that followed, rather than apologise, he claimed he’d never said the words, even though they were televised.
But Labour’s vilification of Palestinians goes further than one interview and the refusal to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Back in October last year the party’s sent an email to members urging them to “exercise caution” and stay away from protests over the war.
David Evans, Labour’s general secretary, said, “Individuals will not have the ability to control who they are photographed alongside and this risks threatening the Labour Party’s ability to campaign against any form of racism and discrimination.”
That terrible slur on the pro-Palestine movement implied that the marches are a cover for antisemitism. And Starmer was determined to go further still.
He used a visit to the South Wales Islamic Centre in Cardiff last autumn to claim Muslim support for his agenda. His social media posts afterwards implied that he had persuaded those he met of Labour’s pro-Israel position. In fact it outraged them.
Labour’s arrogance, believing that it can speak for Muslims even while justifying their slaughter, stems from generations of Asians supporting the party.
But this might not be the case for much longer. The party’s terrible stance on the genocide in Gaza infuriated many Labour members and supporters—both Muslim and non-Muslim.
British Muslims’ identification with Labour as their “natural choice” fell by 49 percentage points, from 72 percent in 2021 to just 29 percent in 2023.
The party leadership’s initial reaction to the loss of voters and councillors was to claim it as a victory for Starmerism.
One Labour executive member said their exit was “good riddance”. Another Labour source told the editor of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper that the party was “shaking off the fleas”.
But even the most prejudiced in the party are realising a terrible election arithmetic—that the loss of so many thousands of Muslim and left wing votes will cost Labour seats.
That’s why Labour leaders now want to be seen as opponents of Islamophobia and why Starmer spoke out strongly against the Tories.
Yet the party cannot escape from the logic of imperialism and racism. It’s no accident that Islamophobia has grown along side the West’s wars on the Middle East and Asia.
In order to justify the horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine, our rulers have dehumanised “the enemy”. They tell us that Muslims are not “like us” and that their pain is unlike “our” pain.
It is a process that allows wars of the utmost barbarity to be labelled battles for “civilisation”. Labour’s racism doesn’t simply flow from Starmer and the party’s right wing.
It comes from Labour’s tradition of support for imperialism and colonialism that has been hardwired into Labour since birth.
Around 100 activists gathered in Birmingham last week to launch a campaign against the savage cuts proposed by Birmingham’s Labour-run council. The meeting, organised by the three main council unions Unison, GMB and Unite, follows the announcement of the biggest cuts package ever announced by a council.
That’s set to be £300 million over two years. Unison branch secretary Caroline Johnson rejected the argument that the cuts result from equal pay claims from low paid women workers. “The £300 million is partly due to a botched computer system but most of it is due to an increased demand for council services and inflationary costs,” she said.
Caroline added that “one in five councils in England are facing bankruptcy”. Charlotte, a mother of two 13-year-old boys with special educational needs, said further cuts will push people over the edge. She asked how she was going to get two wheelchairs on a bus when it will only take one.
Ann Gallagher, Friends of Birmingham Libraries, said 25 out of 37 community libraries are also at risk. “One billion pounds has been taken from the city since 2010, if that was returned we would have £700 million to improve services,” she said.
The meeting ended with a call to use networks in the city to build a major demonstration at 12 noon on Saturday this week in Victoria Square. This will be followed by a mass lobby of the council at 5pm on Tuesday next week when it is due to vote on the cuts.
Thousands of steel workers are preparing to begin a strike vote against devastating plant closures by Tata bosses. The Unite union, which represents over 1,000 workers at the Port Talbot steel works, was set to begin the balloting process on Friday this week.
The actual voting is scheduled to start on Friday next week and closing on Tuesday 9 April. Strikes could begin before the end of April. The main steel union, Community, has also said it is ready to ballot. But at the start of this week it had not announced dates. The other steel union, the GMB, has made no statement about strikes. Last week leaders of all the unions formally met Tata.
Tata wants to destroy 2,423 steel jobs across Britain, with 1,929 of those at Port Talbot. Bosses have presided over a catastrophic fall in steel jobs, and union leaders have failed to challenge them. Workers should organise to win the strike votes and press for hard-hitting action as soon as possible. It must not become just a token campaign that relies on Labour to deliver in the future.
Housing association workers in London are set to strike for the first time. Bosses only offered the 50 repair workers a 4 percent pay rise for 2023. Unite union has been locked out of collective pay negotiations. It means Sanctuary Housing doesn’t engage in pay negotiations with any union.
The strike was set to begin on Thursday of this week, and continue on Friday of this week and Monday of next in Hackney, east London.
Over 40 parking enforcement workers in Slough, Berkshire, struck on Monday for two weeks until 10 March over pay. The Saba Park Services workers carry out parking attendance, back office support, CCTV monitoring and bus lane enforcement. Slough council outsources the workers, who are in the Unite union, and says it doesn’t have a role in negotiations.
West Midlands Metro tram drivers secured a 13.5 percent pay deal from 1 April without striking. In 2022 the workers, in the Unite union, won a 20.1 percent pay increase for drivers with over a year’s service and 13.7 percent for those with less than a year. Strikes this year could’ve seen a bigger win for the workers.
Some 500 Sainsbury’s lorry drivers in Essex and Birmingham are voting to strike against outsourcing. The workers, who are in the Unite union, are employed by Sainsbury’s. Bosses want to transfer them to Wincanton at the end of April.
M25 maintenance workers employed by Balfour Beatty are voting to put bosses in jam with industrial action. The 150 Unite union members maintain the entire M25 but have only been offered a 3.4 percent pay offer from bosses. The ballot closes on 12 March.
Teachers in the NEU union in England and Wales will start a consultative ballot this weekend, lasting until 28 March, on taking national industrial action over funding and pay. The NEU conference meets the next week from 3 April. If the ballot is successful it will decide on whether to move to a formal strike ballot.
Every activist in the NEU must throw themselves into ensuring the indicative ballot is won with the highest possible turn out. The union will also trigger a parallel indicative ballot of support staff members once the employers’ pay offer for local government is announced.
Support staff are covered by local government negotiations with Unison, GMB and Unite unions also at the table. Last week over 300 NEU activists met in an online organising meeting called by several local districts to discuss how best to win the ballots. And this Thursday the NEU is holding an official all members national Zoom meeting to push the arguments for a Yes vote.
The government’s autumn budget means that if educators do not fight then schools face an avalanche of funding cuts. This will damage already savaged educational provision, especially for the most vulnerable students. Current spending plans point to at best a 1 percent pay rise for teachers from September—another real terms pay cut.
This would claw back half the 6.5 percent teachers got last year after national strikes. Last year’s settlement was not good enough, which was why 15 percent of members rightly rejected the union leaders’ advice to accept. And it’s why hundreds got involved with the Educators Say Now grassroots network.
If the ballot is successful there will be a debate on how quickly to ballot for strikes and on the pattern and tempo of any action. Some will argue to hold off until we see the outcome of a general election later this year.
But with Labour offering nothing to schools a successful indicative should trigger a swift strike ballot and significant action this school year. Then we should announce dates quickly for hard-hitting action for new school year in September, regardless of the election.
The political news continues to be bad. But you wouldn’t know it to judge by the state of the stock markets. The major markets in the United States, Europe and Japan all reached record highs on Thursday last week.
There’s a broad mood of optimism because inflation is falling. Central banks are, therefore, expected to start reversing the huge hike in interest rates they drove through in 2022-3.
But there are uncertainties about how quickly this will happen. The leap in share prices last week was centred on the technology sector that has proved so profitable in recent years.
But the star of the show wasn’t one of the big tech giants, but the previously obscure Silicon Valley company Nvidia.
As the Financial Times put it, “Two years ago, Nvidia made most of its money selling graphics cards. It was a household name only to the most dedicated PC gamers.”
Yet last week Nvidia announced its after-tax profits had risen from £1.1 billion to more than £9.45 billion in the past year.
In response its stock market valuation rose to £1.57 trillion, overtaking Amazon and Google to become the third most highly priced company in the world, after Microsoft and Apple. Why this transformation? Two letters— AI, artificial intelligence.
The biggest recent tech sensation has come from the launch of forms of AI, such as ChatGPT, that use large language models.
Nvidia produces the bulk of the chips that are used to train and run these models. Here we find ourselves dealing with two levels of hype. The first is that ChatGPT and its like represent the moment at which machines begin to match and even to surpass human intelligence.
This is nonsense. What large language models do is to take and process vast amounts of information. This then allows them to predict the best answers to questions put to them.
Noam Chomsky—not just a great anti-imperialist but a theorist of language and mind—calls ChatGPT “sophisticated hi-tech plagiarism”.
He writes, “The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question.”
This then takes us to the second level of hype about the economic implications of AI. Many commentators argue that the likes of ChatGPT will hugely boost productivity and profits by making redundant many white-collar workers who process information—for example, in law, healthcare, and finance.
Indeed, as Matteo Pasquinelli shows in his fascinating new book The Eye of the Master, AI historically has always functioned as a means of appropriating workers’ knowledge and reinforcing the hierarchies of power in production that bosses dominate.
Investment in AI chips has increased massively. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang says that the total value of all the equipment in data centres will rise to £1.57 trillion in the next four or five years.
Other self-interested voices, for example, Sam Altman, the controversial boss of OpenAI, which developed ChatGPT, are also talking up the scale of AI investment. Even if there proves to be some merit in these predictions, Nvidia may not continue to dominate the market.
The tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and Google have started to produce their own chips and chipmaker AMD is already catching up with Nvidia. The whole scene is beginning to resemble the dotcom bubble at the end of the 1990s, which was driven by hype about the internet, then its early days. Enough fibre-optic cable was laid to span the earth several times.
Then the crash came in 2000— an early warning of the much greater global financial crisis of 2007-9.
One tech strategist told the Financial Times, “There is a dislocation between valuations versus fundamentals in some areas. That happened in 2000. It’s a trading casino.”
The British ruling class is pushing a torrent of Islamophobia. It isn’t what has become the grimly usual level of racism and scapegoating—it’s a qualitative shift linked to the movement over Palestine. The long-standing attacks on Muslims have crashed into the mass movement in support of the Palestinians and against Zionism and imperialism.
That movement has mobilised millions in Britain, including hundreds of thousands of Muslims. And Palestine has increasingly become the defining political issue — a test of whether you stand with the oppressor or the oppressed.
We didn’t know the result of the by-election in Rochdale when Socialist Worker went to press. But we can guarantee it will show deep anger with both Tories and Labour.
Millions of people in Britain are standing with oppressed Palestinians. In response, politicians are weaponising Islamophobia to attack the Palestine movement, scapegoating Muslims as “incompatible with British values”.
Politicians are demonising Palestinian activists as terrorists and antisemites, scapegoating Muslims as if they are “an enemy within”. Islamophobia is used to divide up those who accept “British values” and those who don’t, where “British values” mean obedience to the state.
Vile bigots such as Lee Anderson and Suella Braverman are overt in seeing Muslims as backwards and yet sneakily capable of grasping control in society.
But Islamophobia infects every element of the Tory party, including those who, for their own reasons, cannot yet heartily endorse what Anderson and Braverman say.
And remember that Anderson was made Conservative deputy chair to be the rough end of the big business party, the former miner designed to appeal to the Red Wall constituencies.
But Starmer can’t challenge the root of the latest explosion of Islamophobia. He wants to say don’t be nasty to Muslims but, at the same time, cheer on Israel’s genocidal policies in Gaza.
Labour says Anderson is wrong. But a video emerged this week of shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves saying in October that the police should do “everything within their powers” to crack down on anti-Zionists in Britain.
She told a Labour Friends of Israel event that she understood concerns about “the anti-Israeli feeling that is allowed to flourish in some communities in Britain”.
Which “communities” do you think she meant? The audience included Keir Starmer, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy. They applauded Reeves.
The surge of Islamophobia is a real threat to the working class. It will encourage the far right and the fascists.
We need to escalate solidarity with Palestine and to hit back against Islamophobia that flows from the attack on the Palestinian movement. And Starmer’s Labour won’t do that.