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Gary Younge
Letters From the June 29/July 6, 2020, Issue

Labour Agonistes

Re “After Corbyn, After Covid” by Gary Younge [June 1/8]: As an ex–Labour MP and ex-minister for Europe, I would like to qualify the conventional wisdom from him that the UK chose “to leave the European Union in a referendum. A significant section of the [Labour Party] insisted that people didn’t know what they were doing and should vote again.”

It’s true that about one in three of the UK’s registered voters fell for a populist, xenophobic, immigrant-bashing Brexit campaign in 2016.

But in Labour seats in the North—and I represented one for 18 years—while the totality voted for Brexit, most identifiable Labour voters did not. To put it another way, while I rarely got more than 50 percent of the vote, it was enough to make me an MP; racists from the anti-Semitic British National Party or the xenophobic UK Independence Party, as well as the European-hating Tories, split the remainder. When it came to the Brexit plebiscite, which was largely a referendum on immigration, Labour seats but not all Labour voters supported the hate politics whipped up by Boris Johnson in the manner of Donald Trump. But please don’t depict millions of decent working-class Labour voters as anti-immigrant xenophobes. That cliché is simply wrong.

Not all but most of Labour’s 500,000 members wanted to take the fight to the Tories. More than 1 million people marched in London against Brexit last year urging a second vote. Alas, party leader Jeremy Corbyn had not changed his EU-hostile views since the 1970s, a time of left hostility to European partnership.

He boycotted the protests against the rabidly anti-European Tories and their backers in the Murdoch press. The party was confused and demoralized as a result. Corbyn was unelectable for other reasons, notably his appearances on platforms with rabid Jew-haters and various terror outfits and a sense he wasn’t a patriot.

Since 2018 there has been a narrow majority against rupturing links with Europe, as confirmed by the May 2019 European Parliament elections. Sadly, Labour could not speak for the anti-isolationists in Britain because of very poor quality leadership from 2016 to ‘19.

Denis MacShane london

Younge Responds

Denis MacShane perfectly illustrates the two conceits that alienated Labour from much of its base and kept the party divided. First, he infantilizes the broader electorate, assuming to know better than the people what they voted for when they voted to leave the EU. Like him, I backed Remain. But it’s not plausible to support democracy only when democracy supports you. It suggests contempt and breeds the very cynicism that leads to disaffection and support for extremists. Second, he infantilizes the Labour members who twice voted for Corbyn and blames him for everything. The fact is the Remain campaign was poorly run, and Labour voters backed Remain by the same margin as Scottish National Party voters. Could it be that the reason people like MacShane keep ending up on the losing side is that they believe voters are incapable of divining their own interests, both inside the Labour Party and out? “Would it not be simpler,” as playwright Bertolt Brecht once wrote, “to dissolve the people and elect another?”Gary Younge london

No Act of Altruism

The article “Trump’s Gutter Politics Just Keep Getting Nastier” by Sasha Abramsky [TheNation.com, May 26] wildly misrepresents the H-1B guest worker program. It has been widely abused by employers for cheaper indentured labor. It is not an act of altruism; instead, it’s a way for employers to pad their profits while underpaying H-1B workers and undercutting US workers.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have long recognized how the program is abused and have proposed the only sensible reform: higher minimum wages. Senators Bernie Sanders, Dick Durbin, and Sherrod Brown have repeatedly introduced bipartisan reform legislation that would raise wages. Representatives Bill Pascrell and Ro Khanna have introduced companion legislation in the House.

Ron HiraAssociate Professor, Howard Universitywashington

Abramsky Responds

In my article, I specifically said the visa program benefited the country by attracting talent to US shores—and that in a global economy, it benefits the broader economy and culture to have skilled immigrants (and other immigrants) park their talents and their aspirations in the US rather than elsewhere.

The H-1B visa system is certainly ripe for reform, and Ron Hira is absolutely correct that Sanders and other progressives have proposed wage reforms around it—which I would support. But that’s clearly not why Donald Trump and his senior policy adviser Stephen Miller propose hiking H-1B workers’ wages; they do it as part of a broader restriction on all sorts of immigration, and that has to be seen in this xenophobic context. It’s simply nonsense to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they genuinely care about prevailing wages, given all the assaults underway against US labor protections and workplace safety, their opposition to paid sick leave, their hostility to extending unemployment benefits, their forcing meatpacking employees back to work in contaminated facilities, etc.

So yes, by all means, reform the H-1B program, but do it to make immigration and wage law fairer, not to eviscerate yet another entry point into the United States for immigrants.

Sasha Abramsky sacramento

Correction

“CARES Bears Repeating” [June 15/22] by Mike Konczal misstated the name of an organization providing analysis of unemployment insurance. It is the National Employment Law Project, not the National Employment Law Center.

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