Once more on EU Post Office Privatisation and the Greens in the European Parliament!

In my earlier article on this question (posted on this blog here) and also posted by Socialist Unity (here) I examined the public statements of the European Greens on EU postal privatisation. This was in order to prove that they did not support privatisation, contrary to the claims of the Socialist Party. The Greens did in fact vote against the EU’s privatising postal services directive in the European Parliamentary vote. However, the Green groups opposition to the directive was often framed in ambiguous language, and its tactics and opposition were not bold enough. Furthermore, while they voted against the directive, they failed to support important  and principled amendments put forward by more left wing socialists. This allows some to continue to claim that the Greens supported privatisation.

UK Green Party member campaigning against postal privatisation

UK Green Party member campaigning against postal privatisation

This sometimes obscure subject matter takes on an even greater importance when we consider its role in the recent UK Euro-elections, where the BNP fascists narrowly beat the Greens by 0.3% to gain a North West MEP seat.  This has ignited controversy on the left because the Socialist Party were taking part in the ‘No2EU – Yes to democracy’ electoral coalition, which had no chance of gaining a seat or stopping the BNP. However, because in the North West this No2EU coalition gained 1.4 % of the vote, many on the left believe it let the fascists in, by taking crucial votes from the Greens, who were the main left wing challengers with a real chance. Thus these allegations against the Greens in an editorial in the Socialist Party’s newspaper in the run up to the election take on a bigger significance. The Socialist Party claimed:

“The Greens are seen as standing on the left, but in reality in the European Parliament the European Greens have supported privatisation – including the Postal Services Directive, which is the law under which Royal Mail is being part-privatised. However, there is a pro-working class slate standing in the European elections. No2EU – Yes to Democracy….”

So lets get to the bottom of this! Which way did the Green / EFA European Parliamentary group (of which the Green Party of England and Wales is a part) vote on the privatising EU postal services directive?

They voted against the directive. That is, they voted against the directive in the main final vote. They did this because they claim that the proposed liberalisation and ‘opening to market’ competition scheme would be bad for public services, postal workers and the environment. All well and Good so far then.

But that is not the end of the matter. For there were also many other votes on different amendments. One of these, called ‘amendment 10’ was a “proposal to reject the common position” – i.e reject giving the directive a second hearing in the Parliament. This was proposed by the European United Left / Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).

The GUE/NGL is the most left-wing grouping in the European Parliament. It consists of 33 MEP’s from the Communist Parties of Greece, France, Italy, Portugal including six from the former ruling Czech Communist party. It also contains the German Die Linke, the Greek Synaspismos , the Spanish United Left and Sinn Fein. While they are not revolutionary Marxists, (and despite their NGL name none are explicitly Green parties either) clearly they are the best and most principled block in the parliament.

The GUE / NGL amendment was based upon a principled socialist rejection of the neo-liberal privatisation of public services. As a socialist member of the Green Party of England and Wales I must state my belief that the GUE / NGL position was the correct one. And GUE / NGL MEP’s gave excellent reasons for their stand: Georgios Toussas of the Greek Communists spoke for amendment 10: “The postal services are being transformed from a public good into a commodity” he argued, declaring that “the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) is opposed to the liberalisation of the postal services and is fighting for services that are exclusively public, modern and effective, and for the protection of workers’ rights”. His Portuguese comrade Pedro Guerreiro also speaking for the GUE / NGL amendment said that the directive was “an attack by the big multinationals on the public postal service, the public ownership of this service and the public administration that has to provide it, as well as on its democratic nature, attempting to wrest from the power of each people”.

Well said.

But unfortunately the GUE / NGL motion never stood a chance. The main groupings of the centre right EPP–ED (conservatives) and the centre left PES ( Party of European Socialists i.e New Labour) were committed to voting down the amendment in their hundreds. They were joined by the ranks of the Liberal Democrats (ALDE), and the right wing UEN. Sadly they were also joined by the majority of the Green / EFA group lead by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and including Jean Lambert. The Greens / EFA split on the issue, with 22 voting against the amendment, and nine voting for.

Those voting for the GUE / NGL amendment included a bloc of around 33 GUE / NGL MEP’s themselves, plus are range of characters from the Fascist right such as the French NF’s Le Penn and also right wing populists such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage. These right wing supporters of amendment 10 declared that while they did not oppose postal service privatisation, it should be up to nation states to decide, not the centralised EU. Other supporters of the amendment included the nine rebel MEP’s from the Green / EFA group and one or two others. But this small and eclectic mix were vastly outnumbered. Caroline Lucas abstained, along with two other Greens MEP’s and four others altogether, one being Robert Kilroy-Silk!

Both the Greens / EFA and the GUE / NGL then tabled a series of other amendments, seeking to resist the directive by placing protections around workers rights and public services. These amendments were again defeated by the massive neo-liberal majority of EPP-ED, PES, ALDE and UEN. Then when the directive was voted on, this neo-liberal majority again steamrollered the second reading of the directive through. Both the Greens / EFA and the GUE / NGL voted against the directive in this final vote.

Clearly the GUE / NGL stand was most principled. Why did the Greens not support the GUE / NGL amendment? I can only speculate at this stage. To be charitable, perhaps the leadership around Danny Daniel Cohn-Bendit imagined they were engaged in clever tactics? Perhaps they calculated that outright opposition would fail, but clever amendments would break the neo-liberal logic of the directive? But the GUE / NGL did both – principled rejection and attempts to amend the directive. Why couldn’t the Green / EFA group follow this lead? And anyway, the Greens must have known that the neo-con / neo-liberal majority coalition would vote down their amendments, making a Green vote against the directive inevitable.

The real answer is probably that the Green / EFA group is lead by contradictory and treacherous elements like Cohn-Bendit, whose German Green Party has been the junior partner in a rotten SPD government which implemented privatising neo-liberal attacks, acts of imperialist war and environmental destruction. Other members of the Greens / EPA include the Czech Greens, again, junior members in a right wing government. Establishing a common position with these people, but also keeping on board grassroots Green activists and more left wing Green MEP’s must require all sorts of tactical compromises and ambiguously worded fudges. Perhaps that’s why the wording is so ambiguous in the Green / EFA position paper document I analysed in the opening article above.

But let us also remember that the Green / EFA group did not vote for postal privatisation. Their tactics may have been tame, legalistic and piecemeal. But they still opposed the directive.

CONCLUSIONS:

I think that the outright opposition of the GUE / NGL was better than the Green / EFA tactics, because even if you cant win

Photos from Green Party Trades Union Group

Photos from Green Party Trades Union Group

inside the parliamentary chamber, clear and principled opposition is needed to help build the social movement and trades union mobilisation for the mass popular direct action that can save public services like the post!

I think that Green Socialists in GPEW should campaign for a new stance for the party in the European Parliament. GPEW should first campaign to pull the European Greens to the left, arguing for consistent and principled opposition to war, privatisation and participation in governments. If this task is found impossible, then we should decamp to the GUE / NGL bloc, bringing as many of the best Green elements along.

Lucas and Lambert should be asked to explain to GPEW members why they did not vote for the principled GUE / NGL amendment no. 10. The strong words issued by GPEW stating its principled opposition to postal (and other) privatisation in the UK must be translated into a similar principled stance within the European Parliament.

The Green Party of England and Wales has in recent years attempted to position itself on the left of the UK’s political debate. It has opposed neo-liberalism, war, and racism. It has also sought to move away from its cranky ‘anti-growth’ feudal romanticism with a new platform of a ‘Green New Deal’ proposing a million new green jobs. It has formed alliances with trades unions and anti-capitalist social movements. These are all moves in the right direction.

But it also lacks a critique of political power. It has no coherent strategy for dealing with the problems of success. What happens when elections are won, and influence grows in council chambers? How will it avoid repeating the fate of the Labour Party, of achieving office, then being forced by capital to attack its own social and electoral base? Similarly, how will it avoid the fates of the German, Czech and Irish Green Parties? After a brief success, the Irish Greens have now gone into electoral meltdown following their disastrous participation in a right wing government. Socialists in GPEW can help the party avoid such a fate. Lets add that Respect and any moves towards a ‘new workers party’ also have yet to grasp that nettle, still being too embryonic to face these challenges. What kind of programme can enable the left to use electoral politics and positions to gain influence, without being made a prisoner of electoral reformist logic? The Green Party of England and Wales is not yet a neo-liberal, pro-privatisation lost cause. Instead it provides a valuable space to create new openings for the left.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Once more on EU Post Office Privatisation and the Greens in the European Parliament!

  1. RobM

    Hi Barry,

    Thanks for dissecting this. I wonder if you can similarly shed any light on the murky world of the Green councillors in Lewisham who either did or did not vote to privatise Lewisham Bridge primary?

    A little background here on the PR site:
    http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/2689

    The thing that caught my attention is the assertion that the Greens voted in favour (and the Socialist party against).

    When I mentioned this on SU the Green councillor Darren Johnson flatly denied the Greens had voted for privatisation and instead he posted the motion they had supported (along with Tories and Labour).
    “This council reaffirms its commitment to addressing the need for additional secondary school places in the North of the borough and the growing demand for primary school places boroughwide; notes that a review of the decision by English Heritage to list Lewisham Bridge Primary School has been sought by the Council; understands the concerns of parents about the impact of the current decant upon their children’s education; therefore calls upon the Mayor to review these arrangements at the earliest possible opportunity; and further calls upon the Mayor to explore all options for building an all through school at Lewisham Bridge.”
    Fair enough, you might think, the motion is not explicit. However, he (Darren) then states: “the Green councillors made clear their continued regret that neither the Government nor the Mayor were willing to pursue the community school option and Greens made clear that they expected the new school to be returned to local authority control by any genuinely progressive future government.”
    So, if the motion they had just voted through- the one opposed by the Socialists- was NOT a green (ahem!) light for privatisation why was there a need to ‘express regret’ and a desire for the school to be returned to the state sector in future?
    Something really doesn’t add up here.
    All the best,
    Rob
    PS great to see the stuff about Lancaster. Is there still an SWP branch up there?

  2. barrykade

    Hi Rob,

    Yes, I’ll have a look around about this. Generally, I think the Greens exhibit the same pathologies of Labour Party reformism, betraying their principles in office. But they face the additional problem of being petty-bourgois radicals without any rooting in organised labour and trades union movement to discipline them and help resist this tendency. ( Not that the unions have had much sucess in disciplining labour, even if they wanted to!). But then I’ve chosen to experiment with life in the Greens, given the dire state of the socialist left. I’ll try and find out the truth about Lewisham, and the treacherous terrain of Green reformism!
    Oh, and greetings old friend – ahem…

  3. RobM

    Hi Barry, yes, of course I know who you are- despite the cunning disguise.

    I am interested in this green stuff mainly because my partner is in the process of setting up a local green party (which I am helping her with).

    I’ll email you soon.

    All the best
    Rob

  4. Greens in Lewisham did not and do not support schools being taken out of local authority control and becoming trusts, academies etc. Along with other opposition parties and a broad community campaign, we supported the campaign for a new school in the borough (which goes back the best part of a decade) and are disappointed that what is now being proposed will be a trust school, not a community school. We would expect any future progressive government to ensure these schools are returned to local authority control. Unfortunately, we are facing the prospect of the next government supporting primary academies, let alone secondary ones, and the current Labour ruling group proposing yet more of our secondary schools become part of hard federations run by outside organisations.

    Where we part ways with the ‘Hands off Lewisham Bridge’ campaign is that whereas we have supported Lewisham Bridge as a site for an all-through school, the campaigners do not and want it to remain a primary school as it is. We recognise that it is not an ideal site, and a bigger site would be better, but we felt it was the best option available to deliver more secondary school places in Lewisham as soon as possible, given the urgent need for them (23% of Lewisham’s secondary school age children currently have to travel outside the borough to go to school). Now the existing Lewisham Bridge School building has been listed by English Heritage, we are waiting for the results a) of the appeal the Council is making against the listing and b)a study into whether a new all-through school can still be delivered on the site incorporating the existing building. At the same time we have also urged officers to look again at alternative sites for a new school, in case this one falls through, and options for increasing primary provision in the area, as the latest figures suggest we are heading for a shortage of primary places too.

    The other main area where we haven’t agreed with the Socialist Party is with regards to the decant of the existing primary school. We didn’t support their motion just before Easter calling for the decant to be postponed until planning permission had been granted, as at that time we believed it was going to planning committee shortly after Easter and that it would be difficult to decant the school in order to start building work in the middle of term. Unfortunately, the ruling group (Labour) chose not to tell us that their was a danger of the building being listed, which happened a couple of weeks later, so the school was decanted but no building work is likely to take place this term. The Socialists submitted an amendment to another motion at the last Full Council meeting, calling for the decant to be immediately reversed. Again, we didn’t feel it was sensible to move the entire school back again mid-term when we still don’t know the outcome either of the appeal on the listing or the results of the feasibility study.

    You can find out a bit more about the whole sage on Darren Johnson’s blog , my blog
    or Gayle O’Donovan’s blog
    .

  5. Richard Searle

    Cde.Barry …

    Having no other way to contact you. I’d thought I’d inform you that we’ve taken up on your suggestion of organising protest at Vestas HQ in Warrington

    details as follows
    —————————————

    Create Green Jobs – Don’t destroy them
    Support the Vestas Occupation
    Solidarity protest at Vestas UK HQ in Warrington

    Saturday 25th July @ 12 noon

    Vestas Celtic UK HQ

    302 Bridgewater Place

    WA3 6XG

    Warrington

    ———————

    Cheers
    Richard Searle
    07760 224 580

  6. barrykade

    Nice one Richard…

    Yes, I am the person you guessed I am!

    Thanks for organising the demo. Have publicised it around Lancaster – and will bring people to future events given notice. If the Vestas dispute / occupation / resistance goes on, perhaps we could have another protest in Warrington!

  7. 21stcenturymanifesto

    Very nice dismissal of Cohn Bendit as ‘ contradictory and treacherous’ – probably the most consistently mendacious and unprincipled politician in the European Parliament. But then he always was.

    I think a more nuanced analysis of the GUE/NGL group is called for. Its internal logic is largely determined by the need to make alliances to take advantage of the rules of the parliament concerning resources and it is thus rather a mixed bag. It does however, include the highly disciplined marxist leninist parties like those of Greece and Portugal aswell as communist parties like the Czech, French etc whose ideological orientation is still in flux.

    What is interesting is how the sharpening economic crisis and the fight against neo liberalism is compelling a return to more intansigent positions. The moves to communist unity on a more principled basis in Italy, the sharpening debate in Spain and in Sweden’s left and the other Scandinavian countries and the strengthening left in central and eastern Europe are all pointers to a more combative future.

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