Howard Beckett, left-wing candidate for Unite the Union general secretary, has been suspended from the Labour Party. This follows a tweet put out by Beckett yesterday, where he denounced the Tory Home Office and their callous attacks on migrants and refugees.
The Unite assistant general secretary was commenting on yesterday’s remarkable events in Glasgow, where hundreds of local protestors successfully resisted a raid by immigration enforcement officers.
The attempted deportation took place on Kenmure Street, in the Pollokshields area of the city – home to a number of ethnic minority communities.
Local residents quickly mobilised, however, surrounding police vans and preventing them from whisking their victims away. “These are our neighbours,” shouted the gathering crowd. “Let them go!”
Word spread, and the street soon became the scene of a huge demonstration. Chants of “cops go home” and “no deportations” rang out, while homemade placards saying “no human is illegal” were hung from nearby windows.
After watching #KenmureStreet reports on TV, I am surprised no report showed the scale of the protest. Here is my unedited WindaesTV report of the detainees’ release #PeopleMakeGlasgow pic.twitter.com/gCx3ZS0HBC— David Millar (@david_millar) May 13, 2021
As a result of this display of mass resistance and solidarity, after several hours, immigration officers were forced to release their targets into the hands of defence lawyers. As they emerged from the van, the two detained men waved to the huge crowd. They were met with applause and cheers of joy from protestors.
This demonstrates the way to fight the Tories and their racist polices: through mass mobilisation and class solidarity. United and organised, working-class communities can fight back against these reactionary attacks.
Commenting on these events, Howard Beckett condemned the Tories for their ‘hostile environment’. In particular, he criticised Priti Patel, the Tory home secretary, who has led the charge against migrants and refugees.
In a turn of phrase, the Unite assistant general secretary remarked that “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees.”
“She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism,” Beckett continued. “She is disgusting.”
This tweet was quickly deleted, and Beckett apologised for any misunderstanding, clarifying that his words were intended as a criticism of the establishment’s racism.
Nevertheless, this comment was pounced upon by the Labour right wing, and Beckett was suspended from the party.
My interview with Sky News this morning. pic.twitter.com/u6pKtRQhAz— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) May 14, 2021
This move is utterly hypocritical. Beckett’s statement was clearly not meant to be literal. As a leading left-wing trade unionist, he has consistently fought against racism, and against the Tories’ divide-and-rule tactics.
The Labour right wing, by contrast, has constantly pandered to xenophobia and anti-migrant rhetoric. From the infamous ‘controls on immigration’ mug under Ed Miliband; to the recent nationalist flag-waving by Keir Starmer: it is the Labour right, not Beckett and the left, who are guilty of dog-whistle racism.
Last November, for example, Starmer and other right-wingers on the shadow frontbench refused to sign a letter from Labour MPs, which called on Priti Patel to halt a ‘Windrush’ deportation flight that was scheduled for Jamaica.
I find it baffling that in two days we've had nothing from @Keir_Starmer, @AngelaRayner or the @UKLabour on the international day of solidarity with Palestine or the illegal deportation of ppl to Jamaica.— Liam Smyth (@SmythLr) November 30, 2020
You can't be tough on racism unless it's all racism. pic.twitter.com/KFrWWCUPt6
Furthermore, when cases of racist bullying were revealed by the leaked Labour report last year, nothing was done to reprimand the perpetrators. Similarly, the saboteurs in Labour HQ and the PLP have never been brought to justice.
As has been seen on countless occasions over the past 12 months – from Starmer’s silence in the face of white supremacist rants; to the Labour leader’s condemnation of activists for tearing down slave-trader statues – it is clear that the Labour right wing are more interested in fighting the left than in fighting racism.
There needs to be a full explanation and apology from Labour's leadership about this diabolical failure to challenge full-blown white supremacism on national radio.— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) December 14, 2020
(Watch this 1:10 in, I nearly clawed my eyes out) pic.twitter.com/kUoCpgAOWP
The fact is that Beckett’s suspension has nothing to do with what he said, and everything to do with his opposition to the Labour right wing.
The Labour establishment clearly feels threatened by Beckett, who has become a point of reference for the fightback against Starmer’s rightward turn.
As Unite’s representative on the Labour NEC, Beckett has been a vocal and visible critic of Starmer and the right wing. He organised an online ‘walkout’ in the face of the right’s bureaucratic manoeuvres; he supported the call for a recall conference, in order to reclaim party democracy; and more recently, he rebuked Keir Starmer for failing to support the union’s campaign against ‘fire and rehire’, and for leading the party to a disastrous defeat in Hartlepool.
Now Beckett stands a chance of replacing Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite – a union that has become a key pillar of the left in recent years, since Corbyn’s election in 2015. And unlike the other candidates in the race, Beckett emphasises the need for political struggle, including militant opposition to the Labour right.
The Blairites, meanwhile, have made it clear that they want to break the influence of the left-wing unions over Labour, in order to accelerate the shift to the right. Recently in an interview, for example, Lord Peter Mandelson asserted that “hard left factions attached to trade unions have got to go” – starting, it seems, with Howard Beckett.
This is the real motivation behind Beckett’s suspension – as revealed by an anonymous Labour source, who responded to this latest attack on the left by cynically remarking that: “Keir is prising McCluskey’s cold, dead hand from the Labour Party.”
This is war
Beckett’s suspension must therefore be seen as part of the wider civil war taking place inside the Labour Party.
This is the latest case in the same witch-hunt that has seen many other leading left-wingers attacked and excluded – not only grassroots activists across the country, but of course Jeremy Corbyn, who has still not had the Labour whip restored, months after his initial suspension.
Left-wingers have a duty to defend Beckett, Corbyn, and all those who have fallen victim to the Labour purge. An injury to one is an injury to all.
Rank-and-file members – in the Labour Party and the trade unions – must mobilise against this latest act of Blairite aggression. As a first step, activists should pass motions expressing solidarity with Beckett, and no confidence in Starmer (as was done in several CLPs last night).
Aberconwy CLP last evening voted no confidence in Keir Starmer, 24:2— Aberconwy Labour Party (@LabourAberconwy) May 14, 2021
Possibly the first to do so in Wales, we hope other Labour members across the UK will help save the Party from this disastrous leadership.
This is war. The left must organise and struggle to remove the Labour right wing. We need a socialist Labour leadership – one that will fight the Tories and their attacks on workers and migrants.
It is Starmer and the right wing who should be kicked out of the party, not Beckett and the left.
- Reinstate Howard Beckett!
- Support Beckett for Unite general secretary!
- No confidence in Starmer! For a socialist Labour leadership!
- Defend workers and migrants! Fight the Tories and their hostile environment!
This CLP expresses its outrage over the suspension of Howard Beckett for his tweet saying that “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees”. Beckett’s remarks were clearly not meant to be literal, but were a criticism of the Tories’ racist policies. He quickly deleted the tweet in question, offered a clarification, and apologised for any offence caused.
As a leading left-wing trade unionist, Howard Beckett has a strong track record of fighting racism. This CLP therefore calls for his immediate reinstatement to the party.
Furthermore, this CLP believes that Beckett’s suspension is the latest example in the witch-hunt against the left. We therefore additionally demand the reinstatement of all those unjustly victimised in this purge, and for the Labour whip to be restored to Jeremy Corbyn.
Instead of attacking the left, our party’s leadership should be attacking the Tories, defending workers, migrants, and refugees, and fighting for clear socialist policies.
MODEL MOTION: REINSTATE HOWARD BECKETT! FIGHT THE TORIES!— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) May 14, 2021
Beckett in! #StarmerOut!
Read more -->> https://t.co/UlkgoPJqFA
We urge our readers and supporters in the Labour Party to pass motions expressing solidarity with Beckett, and no confidence in Starmer. pic.twitter.com/AqJs1hOPkb