For workers’ democracy and free discussion in the labour movement, against falsifications
The international labour movement can live and achieve its tasks only if it recognises the legitimacy of free discussion, workers’ democracy, and the right of all activists, currents and organisations within its framework to freely defend their point of view. The International Workers’ Committee Against War and Exploitation, For the Workers’ International (IWC), which was formed in November 2016 by the Mumbai World Conference in India, is based on these principles. And that is why the IWC considers it its duty to alert working class activists all over the world – in this issue of its weekly Newsletter – about the campaign of falsification being perpetrated by someone called Benoît Lahouze, who is attacking one of the two coordinators of the IWC.
So that everyone can form their own opinion, our Newsletter publishes below: (a) Excerpts of the email sent by Benoît Lahouze (1) to dozens of activists in Great Britain attacking comrade Daniel Gluckstein, editor of the French weekly newspaper La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune); (b) the letter by Daniel Gluckstein that was sent to the British activists who received the email; (c) a first list of British working-class activists who, independently of their various political positions, express their rejection of falsifying methods; (d) the totality of the editorial in Issue No.165 (21 November 2018) of La Tribune des Travailleurs, which is put into question by Lahouze in his email. We are convinced that all readers of this Newsletter will attach the same importance as we do to the struggle for free discussion in the labour movement, and against all falsifications.
Daniel Gluckstein (France)
Nambiath Vasudevan (India)
Co-coordinators of the International Workers Committee (IWC)
(1) Benoît Lahouze wrote on behalf of a European Correspondence Committee whose main initiators are Alexis Corbière, member of French Parliament for France Unbowed, Patrick Hébert, Mélinda Sauger, Pascal Samouth, trade unionists, and Jérôme Legavre member of the ditorial board of ’Informations ouvrières.
a) Extract from a letter sent by Benoît Lahouze to some British activists
I know that you participated in November 2016 to a European rally organised in Paris by the POID (you may have met Jean-Pierre Barrois) against the EU. Those people have repeatedly written in their newspaper that the Yellow Vest movement is kind of fascist and that the leaders of the trade union are right to ignore them (at best, as several times, the CGT leadership also compared it to a fascist mob). See below for one example of what they say.
We consider that this political position is completely reactionary and is very similar to what the leaders of the trade unions say about the Yellow Vests while negotiating with Macron the destruction of our pensions, our contracts in the public sector, the health system.
(Translated by me) That’s where all the deception of November 17th is. Under the yellow vest, the worker remains a worker, and the boss a boss. Not to mention those whose brown shirt protrudes under the yellow vest! Who is responsible for this extraordinary confusion? The worker, the unemployed, the young, thus driven to act, in fact, against his interests, alongside his class enemies? No: those who made this situation possible are responsible. It’s a fact: the « leftist leaders » who have called to vote for Macron in 2017 refuse the united action to block its policy and oust him, respectful they are of the Vth Republic, its institutions, of its electoral calendar … and they add to the confusion today by supporting the « yellow vests ». It is a fact, too: the leaders of the trade union confederations, if they have rightly resisted the pressure to bring them with the yellow vests, still persist to « consult » with the government on the counter- reform of pensions (and others) instead of organizing the united class action to block these destructive attacks.
b) Letter by Daniel Gluckstein editor of the newspaper La Tribune des Travailleurs, to the British activists
To all activists and organisations committed to labour democracy and to free debate inside the labour movement.
Paris, 16 March 2019 Dear Friends, dear Comrades,
Several British labour activists have recently informed me that they have each received an email which makes accusations against me as editorial writer for the weekly labour movement newspaper La Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers’ Tribune] (of which I am Director of Publication), and against the Democratic Inde- pendent Workers Party (POID). We are not dealing here with political disagreements, which are always legitimate in the labour movement, but with falsifications. The email, which is signed by Benoît Lahouze, who presents himself as speaking on behalf of a “European Correspondence Committee”(1), notably says:
“I know that you participated in November 2016 to a European rally organised in Paris by the POID against the EU. Those people have repeatedly written in their newspaper that the Yellow Vest movement is kind of fascist and that the leaders of the trade union are right to ignore them (at best, as several times, the CGT leadership also compared it to a fascist mob). See below for one example of what they say.” [original wording, without corrections]
Here, Benoît Lahouze is engaging in a double falsification.
On the one hand, the passage which he quotes – as anybody can verify (2) – refers to the presence of “some” wearers of brown shirts among the “yellow vests”, whereas Benoît Lahouze claims that we have repeated continuously that the whole of the “yellow vests move- ment” is “kind of fascist”. I challenge Benoît Lahouze to produce a single quote which says that! It is a manifestly incorrect.
On the other hand, using the method of “selective quotation”, which is well- known to all falsifiers, Benoît Lahouze selects five lines from a text that is almost ten times as long, taking great care to leave out the preceding passage which describes the “yellow vests” as a composite heterogeneous movement. We attach to this email the complete editorial, to ensure that this gross falsification is clear to everybody.
Careful readers of all of the POID’s publications – its weekly newspaper La Tribune des Travailleurs, its leaflets and official statements – know perfectly well that we have never characterised the whole of the “yellow vests movement” as “fascists”. We have simply highlighted the fact that the most diverse range of elements are active within this composite movement, including far-right elements, which is an indisputable fact recognised by all observers, and notably by all currents of the labour movement irrespective of their attitude towards the “yellow vests”, with the notable exception of the group to which Benoît Lahouze belongs.
Falsifying the political positions of one’s opponents, using abbreviated quotations, attributing to them positions which they do not hold, indulging in conflation… We regard these methods as being alien to the labour movement and confined to the darkest hours of Stalinism. And yet it seems that Benoît Lahouze and his friends have decided to revive them today.
Each person’s point of view on these political questions is part of the free debate that is necessary within the labour movement. But the methods of falsification, conflation and outright lies have no place in the labour movement, and must be rejected.
I therefore believe that is it essential to warn labour activists and organisations against such falsifiers. I am at your disposal should you want more information.
(1) A “European Correspondence Committee” of which the main initiators are France Unbowed MP Alexis Corbière, trade unionists Patrick Hébert, Mélinda Sauger and Pascal Samouth, and Jérôme Legavre of the editorial team of Informations ouvrières.
c) First responses from Britain to Daniel Gluckstein’s note of clarification
We support Daniel Gluckstein’s letter of clarification
Jane Doolan Unison Nec, Secretary Islington Unison (personal capacity); Mike Calvert Deputy Secretary Islington Unison, Charles Charalambous former President Torbay and District TUC (personal capacity); Terry Luke retired member Islington Unison Branch (personal capacity); Stefan Cholewka secretary Greater Manchester Association of Trade Union Councils (GMATUC), Labour Party member (personal capacity); Doreen McNally Former Secretary Women of the waterfront, Liverpool Unite the Union (personal capacity); Raymond Mennie Communist party, Dundee Unite the union, member Dundee TUC (personal capacity); Nick Phillips Unite the Union London personal capacity, Paul Filby member Merseyside TUC, Labour Party personal capacity; Alan Wylie Islington Unison (personal capacity); Diana James, Assistant Branch Secretary, Islington UNISON (personal capacity); Philip Lewis Camden UNISON Branch Health & Safety officer, John Burgess Branch Secretary Barnet Unison, Margaret K. Taylor, Rochdale TUC, Unite the union, Rochdale Labour Party trade union delegate (personal capacity), Henry Mott Unite the Union Southwark (personal capacity), Mark Hollinrake PCS, Green Party Rochdale (personal capacity); Fiona Monkman, Chair Islington Unison, John Owen Unite The Union Liverpool; Ann Green Unison Leicester, Labour Party member (personal capacity), Tony Richardson Unite the Union, former Labour Councillor Wakefield (personal capacity); Pat Edlin, Islington South CLP (personal capacity); Bobby Haddock, Unite, Islington Joint Works Convenor (personal capacity); Nat Queen University of Birmingham, University and College Union, (personal capacity); John Sweeney Labour Leave (personal capacity); Cllr Mouna Hamitouche, Labour Councillor Islington Labour Councillor (personal capacity); Ian Hodson National President Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) (personal capacity);
d) Editorial Workers’ Tribune Issue no.165
Red is the workers’ flag By Daniel Gluckstein
“Whatever the scale of the mobilisation”, 17 November “risks being marked by great ambiguity”, we wrote in these columns just before the day of road-blocking by the “yellow vest” protestors. The facts that are reported in this issue of La Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune] fully confirm this forecast.
Of course, slogans like “Macron, resign!” reflect an unprecedented rejection in every layer of the population, a rejection of the President-Bonaparte who has fallen off his perch, a rejection that had already disrupted every stage of his “remembrance trip” through the east and north of France at the beginning of the month. And of course, every social layer was represented in the protestors’ ranks, including workers, unemployed people and young people who seized this opportunity to express their rage against the government.
All this is true. But can one just leave it at that, as the “left” and “far-left” parties and organisations are doing as they salute the “success of 17 November”, some of them with tremendous enthusiasm for a movement whose leadership they are contesting with the National Front, and others with more moderate but still real excitement?
For our part, we are biased, as our readers know full well: we address every issue not from the angle of “the people” (a phrase we were showered with all weekend), but from the viewpoint of the social classes and the struggle which sets them in opposition.
Let us analyse the significance of 17 November from this angle. What can we say about the soaring price of fuel and other oil products, which triggered the “yellow vest” operation?
For the blue-collar or white-collar worker whose wages have been frozen for years; for the retiree whose meagre pension the government is intent on slashing; for the unemployed person whose paltry welfare payments are in the line of fire with the government’s reform; for the home-maker who cannot make ends meet, saying “no to the tax increase on oil products” is a way of demanding more purchasing power for wages, pensions and social welfare payments.
But for the boss of the construction company who sent 50 trucks to an agreed roadblock point at the crack of dawn on the 17th (1); for the businesses that are contributing generously to the operation; for the media outlets owned by major capitalist groups that have continuously called for the roadblock protests, and even co-organised them in practice, saying “no to taxes” on fuel and other oil products is a first step which very quickly escalates: no to taxes in general, no to income tax, “the State is taking everything from us” to pay for slacker civil servants, benefits-abusing unemployed, useless public services, scandalously high pensions, and even to help immigrants who “should be sent back where they came from”. And then, the bosses and their yellow-clad acolytes add, “it’s not just taxes: we have to pay for the Social Security healthcare system, for pensions, we have to pay all those social insurance contributions that are strangling our businesses and preventing us from making a profit”. Do the small business owners who are using such language even realise that they are simply echoing… Macron’s programme, against which they are nevertheless demonstrating?
This is the discourse that dominated the roadblocks last weekend, generally expressed by organised and experienced “yellow vests” who were often political activists of the right and far-right, laden with tricolour flags and racist insults, with their methods for instilling terror and their hate for the workers.
But the workers, the unemployed, the retirees and the home-makers need new schools, hospitals and post offices to be opened, not for the existing ones to be shut down! They need their Social Security healthcare system and their pensions!
This is why the whole 17 November operation was a fraud. Under the yellow vest, a worker is still a worker, and a boss is still a boss. Not to mention those people whose brown shirts stick out from under their yellow vests! (2)
Who is responsible for this extraordinary confusion? The workers, the unemployed people or the youths who in practice were led to take action against their own interests alongside their class enemies? No: the people who are responsible are those who made this situation possible.
The fact is that the “left leaders” who called on people to vote for Macron in 2017 have since rejected any united action to block his policies and drive him from power, so respectful are they of the Fifth Republic, its institutions and its electoral timetable…and today, they are adding to the confusion by supporting the “yellow vests”. It is also a fact that although the leaders of the trade union confederations have rightly resisted the pressure that was designed to draw them into working with the “yellow vests”, they are nevertheless persisting in “consulting” with the government over the pensions counter-reform (and others) instead of organising united workingclass action to block those destructive attacks.
The activists of the Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) are in favour of driving Macron from power. They have shown this throughout the “Macron, one year is enough!” campaign for unity, which resulted in a demonstration on this slogan by thousands upon thousands in Paris on 13 May 2018, alongside workers and activists of all political tendencies of the democratic labour movement.
But we are not adventurist. Yes, drive Macron from power, but not to replace him with just anyone. It is down to the workers and the youth, taking action on the class-based battlefield, to drive Macron from power, in order to impose the elimination of the Fifth Republic, the election of a sovereign Constituent Assembly that will break the links with the European Union, and the advent of a workers’ government capable of remedying the suffering that is crushing working people.
From the working-class point of view, the question of purchasing power calls for familiar measures. Do we need to remind ourselves of them? Let us refer, for example, to: repealing VAT (the most unjust of the taxes), the CSG (3) and the exemptions from social insurance contributions granted to employers; generally increasing wages, pensions and social welfare payments in order to claw back the purchasing power lost since they were de-indexed from prices (in 1983); freezing the prices of staple consumer products, rents and rental charges, and energy supply; funding all of these measures through an increase in the tax on the profits of the big corporations, beginning with the confiscation pure and simple of the 100-billion-euro profits made in 2018 by the companies listed on the CAC 40 stock exchange; etc.
Let the “left-wing parties” that were misled into the 17 November action put an end to their promiscuity with the bosses, the right wing and the far right; let the leaders of the trade union organisations stop providing comfort to the government by supporting the “consultation” process, and let them call for mobilisation against the counterreforms; then, beyond any doubt, the conditions will begin to come together, not for the dubious “unity of the people” of 17 November, but for working-class unity in, through and for the class struggle that will sweep out this government and its policies.
The working class’s objective cannot be to shout “Macron, resign!” in the company of those who in reality are calling for Macron to follow through with his policy to its end. The objective can only be to drive that policy from power.
The workers have nothing to gain from putting on a vest that is yellow, the colour of strike-breakers and scabs.
They have nothing to gain from waving the tricolour flag of the Fifth Republic, the same flag waved by the troops of the Versailles government as they shot down 100,000 members of the Paris Commune to defend the bourgeois order. Red is the flag that flew on the barricades in 1848 and 1871, and in the general strikes in 1936 and 1968. Throughout the world, red is the colour of the working class organised for struggle.
Red is the workers’ flag.
(1) Seen on French national news channel BFM TV, 16 November.
(2) The Sturmabteilung or SA, also known as the Brownshirts because of the colour of their uniform, were the paramilitary assault units of Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
(3) An increase in supplementary social security contributions (CSG) came into effect on 1 January 2018, hitting the pockets of eight million retirees.
I join the British activists who reject falsification