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Year 2001 No. 115, July 4, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

The Government’s "Active and Engaged Foreign Policy": Tailored to the Needs of Finance Capital and Globalisation

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The Government’s "Active and Engaged Foreign Policy": Tailored to the Needs of Finance Capital and Globalisation

Dynamex Workers and Employment Legislation

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The Government’s "Active and Engaged Foreign Policy": Tailored to the Needs of Finance Capital and Globalisation

On June 22, the new Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, presented his inaugural speech Pursuing an active and engaged foreign policy in the foreign affairs debate on the Queen’s speech in the House of Commons.

As the Labour government has been in power since 1997, it has had to answer increasing criticism of its interventionist foreign policy. It has sought to try and distance it from its colonial, imperialist and neo-colonial history. It has also had to provide justifications for its subservience to US imperialism, to its further compromising of the sovereignty of Scotland and Wales and Britain’s anti-popular integration with the EU, and to its aggression towards Iraq, Yugoslavia and other countries. In the same context, it has attempted to provide a defence of globalisation, to the programme of export of capital, making business successful in the global market, and inward investment in Britain.

The Labour government has done so by attempting to occupy the high moral ground. It has painted its foreign policy and its adventures in humanitarian colours. It has asserted that to make Britain great again means to bring about opportunity for all and the advance of the meritocracy, rather than to recapture its days of empire, but this time in the context of the cut-throat imperialist contention which is summed up in the concept of globalisation.

But, as opposition has grown in step with disillusionment with New Labour, the pretexts and policy statements have shifted their ground. This has also been caused by the developing world situation and the need for the British government to further its geo-political, economic and strategic interests. Thus, Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary in Labour’s first term, explicitly abandoned the justification of an "ethical dimension" to British foreign policy. He replaced it with the justification of "enlightened self-interest" and declared that the cornerstone of foreign policy was to be "Strong in Europe; Strong in the World" – in other words that the pursuit of making Britain "Great" again was to be through strengthening the EU (at the same time as being US imperialism’s Trojan horse) and that, as "ethical" was causing so much trouble, "self-interest" was to become more transparent, albeit that it has to be "enlightened".

The main theme of Jack Straw’s speech in this regard was that Britain must "engage" with the world and reject "isolationism", that following the general election there would be no major changes in foreign policy.

This is a further attempt to recapture the high ground, while being at the same time a declaration that Britain’s intervention and interference in the affairs of other countries and peoples is to be stepped up. In Jack Straw’s words, "if we are to look after our interests at home, we have to be active and engaged overseas". In other words, the link between foreign policy and the domestic "Third War" anti-social offensive is to be made more explicit. It goes without saying that "our interests" means the interests of finance capital and that Britain’s foreign policy is to be tailored to those interests in the context of increasing globalisation.

Much of Jack Straw’s speech was concerned with the EU, following the recent meeting of the European Council in Gothenburg. Describing himself as a "practical European", the Foreign Secretary reiterated the government’s stand regarding the need for "constructive engagement" in the EU, the reactionary organisation of the big European monopolies. He even claimed that Britain’s destiny "now lies indissolubly within the EU", arguing that at the recent general election the electorate rejected what he referred to as the "isolationist approach to Europe". To reject a chauvinist call for the "independence of Britain" is by no means the same as rejecting an "isolationist approach to Europe". The election gave no mandate to New Labour in this regard. Furthermore, opposition to the Europe of the monopolies cannot be equated with myopia and xenophobia.

The Labour government, however, is to continue to champion the enlargement of the EU and the admission of new members, mostly from east and south-eastern Europe. According to Jack Straw enlargement will bring benefits to Britain and heal past divisions in Europe. But in reality the strengthening of the EU as the bloc of European finance capital has led and will only lead in the future to greater contention between the big and lesser powers in Europe and between the EU and the US. The struggle for dominance in Europe and especially in the Balkans has not healed divisions but exacerbated them and led to war in Europe.

So Jack Straw’s point is that the policy of "Strong in Europe; Strong in the World" is to be intensified. The British government dreams that it can be number one in Europe and can then play its foreign policy cards so that the days when the map of the world was covered with British imperialist red can return. However, not only do the other big powers of Europe have other ideas, and US imperialism only regards Britain as a junior partner, but also the immense countries of South and East Asia are gathering their strength. Furthermore, the working class and people are increasingly rejecting such a policy, and taking action against globalisation and affirming their stand for a new society.

In his speech, Jack Straw showed scant regard for the tens of thousand of protesters at the recent European Council meeting and the EU summit with US President George W Bush. Referring to them as a "travelling circus of violent demonstrators", who had "nothing to do with democracy or the concerns of voters", the Foreign Secretary offered the services and experience of the British police for security operations at future EU meetings. While he acknowledged that the Irish people had voted democratically against the Nice Treaty and EU enlargement in the referendum held on 7 June, he explained that ratification of the Treaty would continue "while the Irish government finds ways of dealing with its people’s concerns".

Jack Straw also reaffirmed in his speech that for the Labour government "the US remains our closest ally, and by any measure is our single most important partner", and that "the stronger we are in Europe, the stronger our voice is heard in America". This, if taken at face value, is an interesting change of emphasis and betrays the British government’s delusions of grandeur. At its base, it still remains a call to US imperialism to side with Britain, who will faithfully uphold its interests, particularly as regards delivering to it a united Europe. Thus Britain remains tied to the coat-tails of US imperialism, as the best means of furthering the aims of British finance capital throughout the world and its agenda of globalisation and neo-liberalism. On this basis the British government will continue to engage in the criminal bombing of Iraq, with its leading role in the warmongering NATO alliance and will continue to champion the development of the EU as a military power in its own right.

The Foreign Secretary also took the opportunity to emphasise that the British government will continue with its interference and intervention in Africa, as the new scramble for the resources of that continent intensifies amongst the monopolies. In his speech he stressed that both military intervention and economic interference and domination, through so-called "development assistance", are at the centre of the government’s policy towards African countries. Intervention on behalf of the monopolies will continue to be carried out for alleged humanitarian reasons or for "democratic reform" and so-called "peacekeeping". In this regard it is clear that the government has clear aims to develop its own proxy states in Africa to carry out such intervention. The British government, far from disowning its colonialist past and disbanding the Commonwealth, is also strengthening these links in the interests of finance capital vis a vis the monopolies of other big powers.

Jack Straw’s speech attempted to suggest that Britain’s "engaged" foreign policy will contribute to a secure and prosperous Britain. But this is a Britain in which society is being dismantled and social programmes delivered to paying the rich. Furthermore, the Labour government’s first term in office has contributed to Britain’s increasing isolation in the world, it has contributed to increasing contention between the big powers, to greater conflict and to war.

The continuation and intensification of the British government’s foreign policy brings prosperity only for the financial oligarchy and the big monopolies and presents great dangers for the people of Britain and other countries.

The British working class must not only reject such an interventionist foreign policy which runs counter to its interests, the interests of its class sisters and brothers throughout the world, and to the right of all peoples to build a progressive and democratic society along the path they determine themselves. The class must also actively organise against this foreign policy, against all Britain’s adventurist interventions, and expose this "morality" and Britain’s imposition of "universal" values – i.e. the values of Eurocentrism and Anglo-American imperialism – in the name of humanitarianism and defence of human rights. The working class must tirelessly work to root out the chauvinism from its ranks which the English bourgeoisie has implanted there, and instead plant the new shoots of the alternative and of proletarian internationalism and defence of the sovereignty of peoples.

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Dynamex Workers and Employment Legislation

The 87 workers at the Dynamex Friction engineering company at Caernarfon last week became the first dismissed under employment legislation aimed at protecting workers engaged in taking industrial action.

The 1999 Employment Relations Act is meant to prohibit the arbitrary and provocative act of sacking workers within the first eight weeks of any action, but union officials assert that the Dynamex Friction case proves it gives "no protection" to workers. Despite voting overwhelmingly to strike, the workers were locked out after taking action and received dismissal notices by registered post last week. The workers had already been sent letters calling for agreement by last Tuesday to changes in their working conditions and a return to work on Wednesday or they would be fired.

The workers – all members of the Transport and General Workers Union – began their action at the end of April in protest at 15% pay cuts, the ending of shift pay and introduction of longer working days with no overtime. The T&G said there had been no pay rise at the factory since an American businessman bought it in 1997. According to the union the past two years have seen the closure of the union office and meetings banned on the site, as well as workers being told to change clothes and wash outside working hours.

Jim Hancock, T&G Welsh regional secretary, condemned the conduct of management at the plant which he described as "absolutely disgraceful". General secretary Bill Morris of the TGWU joined him by saying: "I strongly condemn this vicious anti-trade union attack."

Bill Morris said: "These dismissals demonstrate the inadequacies of the current law to give protection to workers engaged in lawful industrial action. We will be asking the government to bring forward a review of the legislation which events show provides no protection against anti-union employers."

As well as demanding such a review, workers should demand that their human right to a livelihood be upheld in law. The right to a livelihood belongs to all workers by virtue of their role as the producers of all wealth in society and as human beings born to society.

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