Jeremy Corbyn takes the field

Image Elyezer Szturm

The British Labor Party leader's electoral platform recognizes the outrage of the crowds. But instead of stoking their resentment, it beckons with massive social and environmental transformation.

By Antonio Martins*

In a particularly harsh time, when neoliberalism insists on not leaving the scene and, at the same time, an ultra-right emerges ready to capture the sentiment anti-establishment of majorities – what space is left? Making concessions to the financial aristocracy? Take on the defense of the bourgeois order, threatened by the proto-fascists?

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labor Party and an unusual character in institutional politics, has just put on the table an audacious solution, which denies the previous alternatives. ommanifest, the platform with which he will run in the December 12 elections, recognizes the indignation of the crowds, faced with a system that frightens and dispossesses them, and a “democracy” that no longer gives them any voice. But instead of stoking their resentment, in hypocritical rant against the system, it hints at an enormous social and environmental transformation.

It wants to finance it through a tax reform of historic dimensions and a heterodox view on public finances. Corbyn has just three weeks to discount the roughly 15 percentage points lead that the polls give his Conservative rival, Boris Johnson – a sort of English Donald Trump. He has economic power and the media against him. Under these conditions, an eventual turnaround – difficult, but not impossible – will have immense international repercussions and will open new horizons for those who defend and build post-capitalist logics.

Three essential axes make up the core of the labor manifesto. The first is a clash of social rights – something already present in Corbyn's trajectory. In 2015, he departed from near anonymity, defeated the party's old bureaucracy and assumed its leadership by proposing that the old Labour to reassume its status as defender of the majority, against the brutality of capital.

Four years later, it presented a vast and coherent program to transform public services. He wants, for example, the end of fees at public universities – introduced, symptomatically, by Tony Blair, an accommodating laborer. On the other hand, it will put an end to subsidies for private education. It defends the revaluation of the National Health System (NHS, inspiration for the SUS), increasing its budget by 4,3% per year and making public the services transferred, over time, to business corporations.

It suggests a vast urban reform. It wants to restore the social housing system that marked the United Kingdom in the post-war period, offering a million houses in a decade. To help tackle real estate speculation and segregation, he will propose that municipalities be authorized to freeze or even set maximum rental prices. In the program of labor, transport will be reorganized, with the guarantee of a free urban pass also for those under 25 and with the expansion of the fast train network. As a matter of fact, in addition to the railroads, power generation, post office and internet broadband will be renationalized – free for all, in ten years. Renationalization dialogues with the criticism against the generalized deterioration of services delivered to the private sector – a global phenomenon.

A second axis of the Manifesto is of more recent construction. Corbyn champions a solid agenda of environmental change. But, in tune with the Green New Deal proposed by Latin congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, in the United States, also wants to give it a social meaning, articulating it with the idea of ​​guaranteed employment for all. The logic is simple. Breaking with the pachydermic disregard of governments in the face of global warming, the Labor Party intends to drastically reduce CO² emissions by 2025.

But he knows that, for that, appeals to individual goodwill are not enough. It wants to do so through a transformation of the UK's energy matrix. It knows that this will require huge investment in infrastructure. This need can be an advantage: it will make it possible to occupy millions of workers, currently unemployed, in the construction of wind and solar power plants, in guaranteeing electricity to those who cannot pay for it or in adapting 27 million homes to new, more efficient technologies.

The most important development, however, is political. Associating the environmental agenda with the guarantee of occupation for all makes it possible to break down resistance on the part of workers (and, in particular, unions) to ecological causes.

When launching the Corbyn Manifesto, he explicitly referred to workers in the oil industry – which, according to the labor program, should be gradually deactivated. He proposed that they have guaranteed employment; right to retraining for six years; reincorporation into new clean energy plants. The new stance opens up a huge political avenue. Think, in Brazil, of the millions of occupations – from the most basic to the most sophisticated – that would be necessary to clean up rivers, guarantee basic sanitation for all or build subways and railways.

The third central aspect of the Manifesto is the financing of the two previous axes. Corbyn proposes a major effort to reduce inequality, through a tax overhaul. One “gray book” annex to the program explains where the resources will come from to carry out the social and environmental proposals. In opposition to neoliberalism, a significant increase in taxes on large corporations (especially multinationals) is defended; collection of additional taxes from polluting companies; new taxes on assets (large fortunes) and income (up to 50% discount on the highest salaries).

There are refinements: taxes that are not very important in terms of revenue, but with a strong deterrent effect: a “milkshake tax” on sweets and sugary drinks. A tax on packaging intends to oblige producers of bottled liquids to eliminate disposable containers (such as pet bottles) and reintroduce returnable ones.

Although the outcome of the election is uncertain, the path taken by the Labour over the past four years is remarkable. In 2015, in addition to being electorally defeated, the party was experiencing an existential crisis. The workers abandoned him, the militancy grew old. The campaigns that brought Corbyn to leadership and kept him there (he was twice overthrown by the parliamentary caucus and then reappointed by the rank and file) also resulted in tens of thousands of new affiliations. The political ghost has come back to life. In the 2017 parliamentary elections, the Labour obtained a surprising result, which broke the absolute majority of conservatives in Parliament. His return to government seemed a matter of time.

The process was interrupted, however, by the intense controversy surrounding the Brexit. A “new” right – expressed mainly by the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson and by Nick Farage, from the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) – started to point to the European Union (EU) as the cause of the impoverishment of the majorities. The popular sectors agreed with them.

Frustration increased with divisions and Parliament's inability to negotiate the exit from the EU, decided in a plebiscite in 2016. Advised by Steven Bannon, Johnson constructed a simplistic narrative, through which he divides the country between the establishment – who resists separating from the European bloc – and himself, who supposedly wants to guarantee the will of the majority. Its program boils down, in essence, to realizing the Brexit. Its leadership in the polls comes from there.

The Manifesto launched by the workers is also, in this sense, an attempt to rescue the collective debate about the future, to rid it of mystifications and fake news, to restore the space of Politics. So it's not just England's fate that will be at stake in the coming weeks.

*Antonio Martins is a journalist, editor of the site Other words

Article originally published on the website Other words.

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