Archive for the ‘socialism’ Category

The Pentrich uprising

June 30, 2017

DSCN0961It is 100 years since the Russian Revolution of 1917, but the village of Pentrich in Derbyshire is celebrating the anniversary, 100 years earlier of its own “revolution”. It was one of the first workers’ uprisings, coming at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It was the last armed uprising in the UK.

On the 9th June 1817, 200-400 workers with sticks, pitchforks, pikes and a few guns marched from the village of Pentrich to Nottingham, with the idea that they would be part of a national uprising to overthrow Lord Liverpool’s Tory government and install a workers’ government in its place.

Today, Pentrich is a quiet village, but it has few of the picture postcard cottages that most villages in Derbyshire have. Just over 100 people live in Pentrich at the last census. However, in 1817, around 700 people lived here. A mine had been discovered in 1750, and a canal dug in 1794. The Butterley ironworks (which made the roof of St Pancras Station) opened in 1790 and employed some 700 workers from the surrounding area.

With the Industrial Revolution came mechanisation – small farmers were forced out of business, and replaced with day labourers (the equivalent of today’s zero hour contracts). Textile workers, handloom weavers, knitters and lace makers were also being replaced with factories, whose steam-powered frames were forcing down prices and therefore wages.

In 1815, the Napoleonic Wars ended and 10,000 soldiers returned to the UK – today servicemen still receive inadequate support for their physical or mental health – in 1815, before any national health service, before the concept of psychiatry, there would be nothing in the way of support. Furthermore, the ending of the war further reduced demands for iron and textiles. The war had increased the national debt to 200% of GDP (today it stands at 80% of GDP). Lord Liverpool’s response was to abolish income tax and replace this with more direct taxation, benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor.

What little support there was came in the form of poor relief, but this was paid for locally, and represented an extra burden on the villagers.

In 1815 a volcano in Mount Tambora, Indonesia, recorded the largest eruption in recorded history. The effect was to turn summer into winter for the whole of 1816 – frosts wrecked the crops and the price of bread and potatoes doubled.

Unsurprisingly, workers were fighting back. In 1812, the first trade union of framework knitters was formed. they struck for minimum wages. The government had its own anti-trade union legislation at the time, in the form of the Combination Acts, which made it illegal to have collective bargaining or trade unions. The leader of the framework knitters’ union was sentenced to one month’s hard labour.

The response to mechanisation came in the form of the Luddites, who were active in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Workers at the Heathcotes textile factory had suffered a third cut in wages, and in Loughborough 53 machines were smashed. Only one person was found guilty, due to a code of silence amongst the workplace.

The Tory government was terrified of a repeat of the French Revolution, just 20 years earlier. they introduced the Seditious Meetings Act, which forbade an assembly of more than 50 people. It was not until 1986 that this Act was repealed, and assemblies can still be declared unlawful today.

The village people held a meeting to plan their revenge, but unbeknownst to them, a spy, William Oliver, was in their ranks. The authorities still spy on trade unionists and socialists today, and spied on the predecessor of the Socialist Party, Militant Labour. A police officer recently began relationships with members of an environmental group, amounting to rape.

The agent provocateur William Oliver spread a fantastic tale of 70,000 ready to join the uprising in London, 150,000 in Birmingham and 90,000 in Manchester. In the event of the 9th June, 100 rose up in Nottingham and 60 from Huddersfield, but it was clear that no mass uprising was going to develop.

The men from the village left in the dead of night, in pouring rain. They got as far as Giltbrook, where they stopped at a pub. However, the landlord, appraised of the fate of their endeavour, offered to hide them in the cellar. Their leader courageously insisted that they should press on to meet their fate.

By the time they arrived in Nottingham, the men were arrested by the light dragoons. It was reported erroneously in the press that the troops repulsed an attack, when in fact they were the aggressors.

The leaders of the uprising were hung and their houses demolished, which is why there are no pretty picture-postcard cottages in the village of Pentrich. Some were jailed and others deported to Australia. The village has held a number of commemorative walks to celebrate and in Australia, there have also been re-enactments of the events of 200 years ago.

Workers will keep struggling against oppression, whatever is thrown at them. What is needed is a mass revolutionary party to force revolutionary struggles to their logical conclusion – the overthrow of capitalism.

DSCN0964

 

Abandoned railway station by the Butterley Ironworks.

We want nationalisation, we want workers’ control. We want union freedom, and the Tories on the dole.

May 21, 2017

For a “weak”, “unelectable” leader, Jermy Corbyn seems to be packing crowds in wherever he speaks. Labour are rapidly closing ground on the Tories in the opinion polls. Could it be that their policies – of a living minimum wage, to end zero hour contracts and to renationalise the utilities and railway network, might just be proving popular?

Labour have promised to bring back the railways under public control, but only as the franchises expire. They have promised “cradle to grave” free education, with the abolition of tuition fees. They are opposing austerity – though this has yet to be put into practice by Labour councils.

Opinion polls show overwhelming public support for socialist policies – 52% support public ownership of the railways, 65% support higher taxes for those earning more than £80,000/yr, 54% of people support more council house building, 71% of people support the scrapping of zero hour contracts. The Labour manifesto promises a Britain “for the many, not the few”. How much more inspiring than vague right-wing promises, which have failed to deliver. No surprise then that millions of, mostly young voters, are registering to vote.

The Labour manifesto can be criticised for its climbdown on Trident and for nationalised energy, for example, to be run alongside private utility companies. Surely it would be better to acknowledge that Trident is a white elephant and that the only way to plan and invest in renewable energy would be to renationalise the whole industry at one stroke, and to have democratic control of industry.

However, it is a huge step forward compared to the Blairite mantra of the Third Way, of public-private partnerships and PFI, which have continued Tory plans to get rid of our control over the public sector. The NHS has rapidly been privatised, so this election is in effect a referendum on whether we still want a national health service – not that the Tories want us to know that!

However, their manifesto also misses a target in failing to renationalise the banks. Lack of public control over the banking sector has been shown in the failure to prosecute RBS over that bank’s failings.

The right wing press complain about the expense of nationalisation – but it needn’t cost us a penny – rather big shareholders should receive no compensation whatsoever; they have held the public to ransom for far too long.

Tyneside Labour Party Young Socialists came up with a song in the 1970’s which sums up the situation (to the tune of the Blaydon Races) –

“Aye lads, we all want nationalisation
But not the kind they’ve got in the mines
Or in the railway stations.
We want workers’ control and not participation,
And then we’ll be on were way – to the socialist transformation!”

The reference “not the kind they’ve got in the mines or in the railway stations” is due to the post-war Labour settlement which ended up with the same coal owners still in charge in the National Coal Board, and which still shut workers out of control.  However, even this top-down, limited nationalisation would still be preferable to the present situation!

In contrast, there is a classic example, from the 1970s, of Lucas shop stewards being asked what they could do with the skills in the British Aerospace industry – they came up with long-life batteries, and dialysis machines rather than making weapons for the defence industry. Similarly the GLC, in 1981, before its abolition by Thatcher,  Mike Cooley, sacked from Lucas for his activism, was appointed Technology Director of the GLC’s new Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB). A series of Technology Networks were created. Anticipating FabLabs today, these community-based workshops shared machine tools, access to technical advice, and prototyping services, and were open for anyone to develop socially useful prototypes.

Technology Networks aimed to combine the ‘untapped skill, creativity and sheer enthusiasm’ in local communities with the ‘reservoir of scientific and innovation knowledge’ in London’s polytechnics. Hundreds of designs and prototypes were developed, including electric bicycles, small-scale wind turbines, energy conservation services, disability devices, re-manufactured products, children’s play equipment, community computer networks, and a women’s IT co-operative. Designs were registered in an open access product bank. GLEB helped co-operatives and social enterprises develop these prototypes into businesses.

However, it is wrong to say that Corbyn’s manifesto is simply a return to the 1970’s. Then, 13 million people were members of trade unions, there was an element of democratic control in some workplaces with “closed shops”, where the union would be able to decide who was hired and fired. There was more equality, cheaper housing, more council housing, better job security, an 80% top rate of income tax – and key industries were nationalised (albeit on a top-down, Stalinist model, inherited from the gains of the 1945 Labour post-war government).

Fast forward 40 years – we have zero hour contracts, the race to the bottom with our terms and conditions being eroded, wage freezes for public sector workers and insecure jobs.

A programme of nationalisation could begin to reverse decades of underfunding and Thatcherite economics. With advances in technology and robotics, we could have a shorter working week without loss of pay (at the moment automation is being used as a tool to drive up profits at our expense).

One drawback is that Corbyn, welcome though his reforms are, is trying to improve workers’ rights and transform society, without actually taking power out of the hands of big business. There will undoubtedly be a retaliation. There are questions over how he will force his programme through. 100 Blairite MPs have already signalled their intention to form a breakaway party, should Corbyn lose the general election, but remain in charge.

The answer to this is to have mandatory reselection of MPs and re-democratise the Labour Party, with more influence for the 500,000 members who have joined as a result of Corbyn’s shift to the left. This has happened in Aberdeen, where 9 Labour councillors were recently suspended for going into a local coalition with the Tories!

Brexit, would allow Corbyn the freedom to break with EU treaties which enforce competition and the internal market. Dave Nellist has dubbed this “Thatcherism on a continental scale”. It would allow trade unions the freedom to campaign for better wages for migrant workers, levelling wages up, rather than the practice of “social dumping”, where EU regulations have meant the ripping up of negotiated agreements and allow companies to employ workers on less than the UK minimum wage, a practice analogous with the use of “flags of convenience” on board ships. Corbyn needs to campaign for a socialist Brexit. Theresa May, on the other hand, would use Brexit to rip up what little protection Europe offers the UK, in terms of the working hours’ directive, for example.

In summary, the general election is a golden opportunity, the first time in my lifetime that I will be able to support a Labour government offering an alternative to cuts. It lifts our aspirations and will encourage millions, whereas all the Tories have to offer is a continuation of drab, grey austerity Britain, where millions rely on food-banks, where people are terrified of putting their head above the parapet for fear of losing their jobs, where the disabled and homeless are victimised, rather than supported. We need a return to the fighting spirit of the 1970s, rather than a return to Victorian conditions and the 1870s.

(This is a speech I gave to Leicester Socialist Party meeting, May 2017 – on the topic – “Nationalisation – is Corbyn taking us back to the 1970s?”)

For fox’s sake, get the Tories out.

May 13, 2017

mayends2

Rural communities have been hit hard by the Tories – dairy farmers get almost no return for their milk, as supermarket chains have squeezed their profits. Price controls and nationalisation of big business would give them a fair standard of living.

By offering MPs a free vote on repealing the hunting ban, Theresa May has shown her priorities for the forthcoming election. With austerity hitting millions, and forcing families to resort to food banks to make ends meet, with the NHS at crisis point, with the ‘gig’ economy and zero hours contracts providing at best low-income, unstable employment, with working-class children unable to afford to go to university – you might think she would consider stopping some of the cuts, invest in the NHS, make a promise to halt privatisation of our public services. But no, she appeals to the UKIP / Tory core rural vote, by promising to bring back hunting. By contrast, drag hunting is a safe and effective way of providing dogs with a chase and horses with exercise. It can preserve rural jobs and livelihoods, without the actual kill itself.

Rural communities have also seen public transport services decimated, as subsidised bus services are cut and rail extortionately expensive. Corbyn would bring back the rail companies under public ownership (albeit as the franchises run out – better to forcibly take back control of our railways now, without compensation for fat-cat shareholders). He also promises investment and green jobs in the energy sector, by nationalising the Big Six energy companies – these could be run in the public interest, providing more environmentally friendly energy at a reasonable price, so that old people, the poor and the vulnerable can afford to heat their homes in winter.

For the sake of our economy, our wildlife and our environment, we need to vote the Tories out on the 8th June. I am a member of the Socialist Party, which is part of TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. We oppose Blairite cuts to services and Labour MPs who have stabbed Corbyn in the back. However, we are not standing against Labour in this vital general election, as it is imperative to put a politician with socialist policies back in charge.

You can register to vote here. There has never been more at stake. For the first time, I will be voting Labour, having been put off previously by its failed, feeble, centre-right Blairism. But the Labour party is changing radically for the better. Hopefully millions of other people will be convinced to do the same on June 8th.

 

 

 

April 1917 – a crucial moment in the Russian Revolution

April 2, 2017

2017

The Russian Revolution was where capitalism broke at its weakest point. This post is largely based on the latest in  a series of articles in the socialist, which follow the events of that historic year.

At the end of February 1917 (dates are from the Julian calendar, which was then in use in Russia) Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, having been overthrown peacefully in the storming of the Winter Palace. He was unable to find any regiment of the army willing to defend him. He attempted to pass power to his brother, Grand Duke Michael,  but this was refused. A provisional government then took power on the 2nd March, headed by Prince Georgy Lvov – with no mandate, it was very weak and unstable.

Russia was entering a period of dual power, nominally the state had control, but real power was in the hands of soviets – the translation from the Russian is simply “committee” – where ordinary people had taken control of their farms and workplaces. The Bolshevik’s slogan for “Bread, Peace and Land” summed up in simple terms what they were fighting for, and could be easily understood, even by illiterate people – Russia was a very backward country at the time and most of the population was extremely poor, working on the land under a feudal dictatorship under the Tsar.

At the beginning of April, both Lenin and Trotsky were in exile – Lenin was in Switzerland, and Trotsky in a prisoner of war camp in Canada – seized by British naval officers on board a ship bound for Russia, and sent to Halifax. In “My Life” – he says he did not join in a protest about their incarceration, because he didn’t see much point in “complaining to Beelzebub about Satan” – he was accused of being a German agent, backed by the British government and Milyukov, the foreign minister of the Russian provisional government.

The objective conditions for a successful revolution had been met: the Tsar had been overthrown and it was clear to the left wing of the Bolsheviks at least, that power must pass to the soviets in order that the gains that had been made could be consolidated. However, as well as this, workers and peasants must also be willing to fight to bring the revolution to a successful conclusion.

On Lenin’s return to Russia, he wrote the April Theses. This is a draft of speeches he gave at assemblies of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, two factions of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which had split previously. The Mensheviks argued that revolution needed to be postponed to a distant future, whereas the left wing of the Bolsheviks argued that people needed to take control over the state for themselves – the names mean “minority” and “majority” in English. Trotsky, before the events of 1917, was in the middle ground – another faction which sought to unite the two conflicting positions – but as this revolutionary year unfolded, he came over to the side of Lenin.

The position of some leading Bolsheviks, such as Kamenev and Stalin,  was that of a gradual transition to socialism – they were caught unprepared by the willingness of the mass of people to fight against the Tsar, the demands for basic necessities, the right to govern themselves, and the soldiers returning from the front, who were sick of trench warfare. All of these factors forced the ferocious pace of events of 1917. Kamenev and Stalin were leading the soviet in St Petersburg – they advocated conditional support of the provisional government, and only advised that “a most vigilant watch” be put on the government.

Lenin made the following key demands:

1. To break completely with the capitalist and imperialist war, and for this to be explained to troops at the front.

2. We have got rid of the Tsar, but he has been replaced by another government of the bourgeoisie – we now must place power in the hands of the workers and peasants.

3. No support for the provisional government – we must expose their lies.

4. The Bolshevik party is in a minority at the present time – but we must explain to the people that our the soviets are the only organ capable of bringing true emancipation, and we must tailor our explanations to the needs of the masses’ and their political outlook.

5. For a republic of soviets of workers and peasants throughout the country. To abolish the police, the army and the bureaucracy. For salaries of all officials (to be subject to recall and to be elected) not to be more than the average wage of a skilled worker.

6. Confiscation of landed estates and the nationalisation of all land – to be handed over to the peasants.

7. For workers’ control of the banks, which would be nationalised and amalgamated into one central bank.

8. Production should be brought under control of the soviets.

9. For an immediate Bolshevik Party Congress. To change the name of the party to the All Russian Communist Party, to alter the party’s positions on the war, the state and its minimum programme.

10. For the establishment of a new socialist International.

Lenin made these points repeatedly. Defeated initially by the right-wing Petrograd Bolsheviks, he took his campaign to the Mensheviks and to the party membership at large and won widespread support for his ideas. At the Bolshevik Party conference on April 24th, Lenin’s motion to transfer all power to the soviets was carried by 149 to 3 votes – and the party had now rapidly grown, enthused by his ideas – it now numbered 79,000, with 15,000 members in Petrograd (St Petersburg) alone.

An important breaking point in the provisional administration was the First World War – should it support or condemn the imperalist conflict? Milyukov said they would “pursue the war to its glorious conclusion” – this resulted in huge May Day demonstrations, which forced his resignation in April 21st. Six socialist members of the Petrograd soviet then joined the provisional government. Milyukov resigned and Trotsky was then released from incarceration.

If it were not for the intervention of Lenin at this key point, and more importantly the support of the masses – whose ideas echoed with his, the revolution may well have been just another wasted opportunity as has happened in many countries since – the Arab Spring, Allende’s Chile, France 1968 to name but a few.

In May the Bolsheviks adopted Lenin’s programme, with the slogan “All power to the soviets”.

This shows the importance, even if all the other factors for revolution are in place, of having the correct programme and being able to win people to your side in order to carry through a successful socialist revolution. The Russian Revolution was unique in being able to accomplish this, but it was isolated. With the subsequent civil war, the death of Lenin and the exile of Trotsky, the USSR tragically became corrupted by Stalinism.

The Socialist Party in the UK is still fighting today, as part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, which is fighting in 50 countries worldwide, to establish true socialism. Capitalism is still failing the vast majority of people. If you are not a member of the socialist party, then join us!

On Mark Serwotka, socialism and why we need ECMO

November 20, 2016

I read a very moving article in the Guardian on the plight of the leader of the PCS union Mark Serwotka. One of the most militant trade union leaders in the UK, he started his working life as a benefits clerk in the civil service.

Whilst taking his black labrador for a walk, the dog rolled in mud. He washed it down, only to suffer what he thought was an allergic reaction. It turned out to be a life-threatening virus. Two weeks later, it caused his heart to start beating at 220bpm, and an MRI scan found scarring on his internal organs.

After life-saving surgery at Papworth Hospital, Serwotka has been given a VAD (Ventricular Assist Device), which uses similar technology  to the ECMO (Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine, which keeps new-born babies who suffer from congenital heart problems alive. He had to keep himself plugged in to the briefcase-sized unit at all times, which did the work of his heart in pumping blood around his body. This technology was pioneered at the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, which accounts for 50% of the country’s ECMO capacity.

Last Saturday, I attended a packed rally at Socialism 2016, where PCS Deputy General Secretary and Socialist Party member Chris Baugh spoke in Mark Serwotka’s place. Chris paid tribute to Mark’s struggle, but also alluded to the struggle we have under capitalism to combat climate change, the need to fight for socialism, as well as Tory government attacks on the PCS union. This included the right to facility time for representatives, and the removal of automatically deducted union subs from payslips. All this because the PCS had dared to stand up against pension cuts, staff losses and austerity, and been one of the most effective trade unions in the country. The union had succeeded in recruiting 152,000 union members, which the government had effectively disenfranchised  and removed from the union. Their intention, starting with the PCS union, is to destroy the trade union movement as a fighting force to stand up for workers’ rights.

The reason Mark Serwotka could not attend in person, was that he had developed a blood clot. He now has to be given a constant supply of blood thinning medication, through an intravenous drip, meaning he has been confined to Papworth Hospital, while awaiting a heart transplant.

Like Mark and the PCS union, the Glenfield Children’s Heart unit which pioneered the technology which is keeping him alive, also faces a fight for its survival. Leicester Socialist Party, Green Party, Momentum, Keep Our NHS Public, the UNITE union, and parents of children who had been treated at the Glenfield Hospital, organised a 1,500 strong demonstration through the streets of Leicester, chanting “Save Our Glenfield, Save Our Kids”.

There is an online petition to Parliament, which I urge you to sign. It calls for a public review into the threatened closure of the Children’s Heart Centre at Glenfield Hospital, along with the Royal Brompton in London and Greater Manchester Children’s Heart Unit.

Let us keep the heart of trade unionism beating, let us keep children’s hearts beating and let us build a socialist society to protect a publicly-funded NHS and vital public services, without which Mark Serwotka would not be alive today.

Leaves turn red

September 9, 2016

Tired of working for cruel, intransigent boss;
Leaves turn red. It is not their loss
Of profit, sucking their lives dry
In the service of corpulent, bloated guy
For in this world, its nearly always men
Who profit from cheap labour, then
Swan off to convenient tax haven
Suck up souls of those who slave in
Modern day workhouses, pump and sweat
Leaves gather sunlight, yet
Get no reward for their toil
Our labour earns his profitable spoil.
Learn from leaves. In protest, cut
Gordian knot that binds us shut.
Join a union, organise and fight
For what should be ours by right.
Let the broken stump of capitalism wither
We cannot afford to dither.
Let us build and spring anew,
Let this autumn be our last,
Let the working class hold fast
Consign slavery to the past.
We cannot baulk at radical change
Socialist ideas, no longer strange.

 

little red little green

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

A Tale of Three Cities

May 6, 2016

Chxr7mJWUAEo47A

Picture: Nick Chaffey (Southampton Socialist Party)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Labour have, against the odds – after the Collins Review, which was based on the assumption that the electorate in the UK are right-wing and agree that austerity is a necessary evil; on the Blairite assumption that you have to moderate your demands to the very mildest squeaks of protests against the Tories to be “electable”; on the assumption that the Left and trade union movement were finished, so that it was now safe to open up the Labour leadership election to anyone who could stump up the price of a pint – elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He stands against cuts, for peace and socialism and for a new kind of politics.

So why are the majority of the Labour Parliamentary Party and Labour councillors at odds with their own leader? He has been mandated with 6o% of the vote – their most popular Labour leader in decades. He has the potential to win over the mass of the electorate who don’t vote, because they have no-one who stands up for their interests. the only choice on offer is of three parties made up of professional politicians who see their calling as a career, not as a privilege, most of whom were educated at private schools and who would happily take backhanders from private companies, in addition to their generous pensions, expenses, second home allowances and Parliamentary salaries.

By way of example, I take you to the first of our cities – Coventry, in the heart of England – a once thriving beacon of industrialism, which was home to Britain’s engineering and transport industries. The factories stand idle – replaced with zero hour contracts and low paid jobs. There, the former socialist MP Dave Nellist (1983-92) stood and is still standing for a different vision, against Thatcher’s winner-take-all mentality, for community, socialism and a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage. He stood firmly against war and for basic principles of solidarity with ordinary people, that a representative in Parliament or on the council chamber is a shop steward for those who elected them, a voice for the dispossessed. Yet Labour still oppose the stand of TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) and actively campaign against socialists – why do they not target Tory seats in the city?

We then travel to our second city, Southampton – where faced with the closure of a local swimming pool, two councillors, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, opposed the ruling Labour council. For their principled position, they were kicked out of the Labour Party. They stood as Independent Councillors against Cuts and were comfortably re-elected. Yet Labour still stand in opposition to them. In last night’s local elections, the ward of Coxford gained another socialist, independent councillor, Tammy Thomas, the daughter of Don, who follows in his footsteps, fighting for a working-class political voice. Yet Labour campaigned hard against her.

Finally, in the town of Warrington, the former Labour councillor Kevin Bennett was forced out of Labour due to opposition to cuts. Yet the local Labour leaflet pleaded with voters not to indulge in gesture politics, but to stick with Labour councillors who were wielding the Tory axe to public services. Against a backdrop of boundary changes, a media blackout for TUSC, and a spirited campaign to keep his seat, he achieved a massively creditable 921 votes, just 76 short of being elected. Three Labour candidates, with a much larger national ‘machine’ behind them, unfortunately pipped him to the post. But why just one of them could not have stepped down, in order to make way for Kevin, is beyond me.

TUSC has the principle of bringing together all those who oppose cuts, whether in the Labour Party, or without, whether they come from different socialist traditions or not. We are trying, from a small base, to build a new mass workers’ party – to represent the interests of the 99%, not a tiny minority in society who own most of the wealth. We are not beholden to big business and support workers in struggle. We are glad that Corbyn has won the leadership of the Labour Party and hope that it can be won over to the ideas of socialism. But would it be too much to ask, in the handful of seats where they have a real chance of winning, for the Labour Party to stand aside and not challenge socialists? This would be a hallmark of a party that is serious about transforming itself – after the dark days of Blairism – into a force that opposes all cuts, is truly democratic and casts aside any compromise with Tory austerity?

Instead, we have a Labour party at war with itself – plots to oust Corbyn, backbench rebellions and Labour councils which pass on Tory cuts. Corbyn should call a conference – with representatives of the 400,000 people who joined Labour to fight against cuts, of the trade unions and community campaigners. He should join with left forces outside the Labour Party, rather than fighting against those who share his aims.

Instead, sadly, Corbyn has sought to placate the right-wing of Labour – by suspending Ken Livingstone, by backing down on the EU, by not whipping MPs on Syria. Blairites need to be replaced with class fighters, otherwise Corbyn’s promises of equality and socialism will forever be a distant mirage.

 

Trident is a white elephant

April 14, 2016

The term “white elephant” comes from the 19th century. Kings of Thailand would bequest albino white elephants to courtiers who displeased them. The albino elephants were protected; they could not be used for labour or destroyed, but they would cost a fortune in upkeep. Trident nuclear submarines are a white elephant – ridiculously expensive, outdated and a complete waste of money. They cannot be used, without endangering all our lives, but this is a project which the government does not want to get rid of. They are being replaced only for vanity, to ensure Britain remains in the “nuclear club”.

Trident’s total cost will come to some £160bn, at a time when services and the NHS are being slashed. Even by MoD’s estimates, the cost of just building the submarine (without running costs, or the costs of the weaponry) has gone up from £20 bn to £31 bn, with an additional £10bn contingency fund! To put this in context, the entire NHS budget for England and Wales is £100bn.

Trident is a cold-war relic – even if the spending on Trident was justified, militarily it is obsolete – we do not face the risk of nuclear annihilation, but even if we did, there is also MAD – the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction. If a nuclear war were to happen, both sides would be wiped out.

One of the reasons that defence projects’ spending often get out of control is that politicians have been bought off by defence companies. In 2010, Labour’s Geoff Hoon, the ex-Defence Secretary, was caught by Sunday Times reporters pretending to be defence lobbyists, along with Stephen Byers. When Geoff Hoon was an MP, military helicopter company Agusta Westland were awarded a billion-pound order. They were obviously grateful: now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business. There is no reason to think that the Tories are any more scrupulous – Cameron has toured Saudi Arabia selling BAE systems Eurofighter jets.

The Tories want to go ahead with an EDF and Chinese bid to build Hinkley Point C Reactor, when the existing nuclear reactors in the UK are due to be decommissioned by 2023. Rather than making Britain safer, this will only provide more terrorist targets and opportunities for sabotage. Is this to provide uranium which can be reprocessed to produced nuclear weapons? There is an alternative to the Uranium reactor, which is more abundant in the Earth, produces less radioactive waste (although the problem does not go away), and cannot meltdown – the Thorium reactor. However, this was abandoned in the 1940s because the by-products cannot be used to make nuclear bombs!

Instead, we could scrap Trident, and invest in renewable energy – jobs could be diverted into clean-up operations, at the moment there is no safe way of disposing of nuclear waste. While government provides £2.6bn for research and development for arms, it is just £42m in the case of renewable energy.

The only reason for keeping Trident is so-called “prestige”. I can’t think of any good reasons for having a weapon which will never be used, and could trigger WWIII. Tony Benn famously said, “If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people”. The attacks by the right-wing mass media on Jeremy Corbyn, that he would do away with the military completely, and the attacks on his personal appearance, echo the attacks on Michael Foot in 1983, the last time a Labour leader was in favour of disarmament. However, most of the Labour Parliamentary Party disagree with him – would Corbyn enforce a whip this time, as he failed to do over Syria? We argue that Blairite Labour MPs and councillors should be de-selected as soon as possible and replaced with class fighters, if Corbyn is to be successful in transforming New Labour into a democratic, socialist party.

The Labour leader’s commitment to disarmament begs the question – are war and capitalism inseparable? Military conflict took place during every single year of the 20th Century. The total number of deaths caused by war during the 20th Century has been estimated at 187 million. From a capitalist’s point of view, war is a necessary evil, because of the need to constantly make more profits – they want to conquer territories, and exploit resources and labour. War also gets rid of excess capacity, where goods are made faster than can be bought by the people who are making them. This is done without regard for the loss of human life, except as employees. It has also caused the expansion of the defence industry – weapons are

An alternative was put forwards by shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace in 1971. Instead of producing weapons, the workers could have used their skills to develop long-life batteries, kidney dialysis machines. This shows the need for democratic control of workplaces – we can decide what is socially useful and what actually needs to be made. Workers on the shop floor are best placed to make these decisions.

It is utopian to think that the threat of nuclear war can be solved under this system of capitalism. However, if there was a successful socialist revolution – this would need to be defended against capitalist interests – so we would still need arms. Only with a socialist world, could we truly get rid of the wastefulness and insanity of war.

Useful links –

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/timeline-of-20th-and-21st-century-wars

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/arms-trading-bae-systems-and-why-politicians-and-men-from-the-military-make-a-very-dubious-mix-8210897.html

https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/2843/hinkley-point-c-and-trident-the-link-between-the-tories-two-mad-nuclear-policies

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/25/david-cameron-brilliant-uk-arms-exports-saudi-arabia-bae

SUPPORT JUNIOR DOCTORS, SAVE OUR NHS!

April 10, 2016

 

nhs

Our NHS is under attack like never before, and we must act now to save it. As a worker in the NHS and a UNISON member, I chaired a protest organised by Leicestershire Against The Cuts last Saturday. Itbrought together campaigners from groups such as TUSC, the Socialist Party, Momentum, and Keep Our NHS Public, alongside trade unionists including the NUT, Unite Community and junior doctors from the BMA. We had a lively rally and march through Leicester city centre, with many students and young people raising their voices – we need our public health service to still be there for future generations.

People were angry that cuts are being made to local NHS services – the nearby Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital is earmarked  for closure and 400 beds are under threat at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, under the so-called “Better Care Together” programme. Health bosses say inpatient services will transfer into community care. However, community health resources are already paper-thin.  In reality, the NHS is being run down and privatised.

Junior doctors are striking to defend their terms and conditions, because they see the government’s attack on their terms and conditions as an attack on the whole of the NHS. A doctor on a picket line at Leicester General Hospital said that junior doctors are seen as an easy target, as their contract is up for renewal. Jeremy Hunt is seeking to impose a new contract, without any meaningful negotiation. Doctors do not want to go on strike, but when patient  care and the future of the NHS is at stake, they have no other choice.

Peter Flack, from the NUT union, mentioned the need for co-ordinated industrial action – teachers are currently being balloted for ongoing strike action, because of education cuts and the enforced academisation of schools. We believe that the big health unions, UNISON and Unite, should also beballoting their members. NHS pay has been frozen in real terms  for the last six years. Unite estimates that NHS staff have had a 13-19% pay cut as a result. Contrast this with the tax avoidance of the super-rich, exposed in the Panama Papers leak. The PCS union estimates that around £130bn a year is lost through  tax evasion – that is more than the entire NHS budget for England and Wales! Who does the most useful work in society, David Cameron or NHS staff?

Sally Ruane, of Keep Our NHS Public, pointed out the lack of resources put into public healthcare in the UK compared to other wealthy economies. The government wants to make the NHS a “24/7 service”, but are refusing to pay for this! The result is that if they get their way, doctors, nurses and admin staff will be forcedto work longer hours, for less reward. If you go to hospital,  you do not want to be treated by exhausted staff, who have to make life-or-death decisions.

Mark Gawthorpe, of Unite Community, spoke about the strain on the disabled and unemployed. The government’s cuts to disability benefit, are resulting in mental health problems and, tragically, suicides.  It is all right for tax-avoiding MPs, who can simply “go private”. What about the rest of us? The NHS is there for all, not just for those who can afford it.

It was good to see supporters of Jeremy Corbyn from Momentum on the demonstration – however, Corbyn faces an uphill struggle to reform the Labour Party, given that it was Labour who introduced Foundation Trusts, privatising  the health service, with increased spending on PFI. Unfortunately, Blairites are still in control of the Labour Party machine. Corbyn should look outwards to the 100,000s of people who joined Labour and were enthused by his socialist principles. His words  need to turn into action. Right-wing MPs and councillors need to be deselected and the Labour Party needs to be made more democratic. Labour should be opposing all cuts to services, rather than merely wield the axe for the Tories, which is what Labour-controlled  councils up and down the country are sadly doing.

Dr Jon Dale, a Unite member, concluded the rally by putting forward the Socialist Party’s alternative. We stand for investment into our healthcare service. We would scrap extortionate PFI deals, where health trusts owe private companies £billions. We would kick out the fat cats from our health  service by abolishing the Health and Social Care Act, which has opened NHS services up to tender to “any willing provider”. Richard Branson’s Virgin Health, for example, has taken over Wiltshire Childrens’ Services for £64m. We would nationalise  the pharmaceutical companies, which rip off the NHS by overcharging for medicine. We demand a publicly-owned, properly funded National Health Service, as envisaged by the Welsh socialist Nye Bevan, almost 70 years ago. The Tories want to get rid of the  NHS. If you want to protect our health service, join the socialists!

Should we stay or should we go now?

March 9, 2016

bosses

What should the response of socialists be to the EU referendum?

(Lead-off for a meeting at Leicester Socialist Students, on the case for a left exit from the European Union).

It was interesting to see the poll on facebook, which was carried out amongst those who were interested in coming to this meeting, showing a majority in favour of staying in the EU.  I am not surprised that many people on the left, in opposition to the xenophobia stirred up by UKIP and the right-wing mass media, are instinctively siding with the Labour / Conservative / Lib Dem position – that we are better off within the EU. I will outline the case for leaving, and open the debate up to the floor.

We don’t fight on a political terrain of our own making. We are socialists, so we fight for international solidarity of the working class. Yet, we live in an imperfect, capitalist world, where the rights of people are subject to the needs of capitalism – and these two continually come into conflict.

We have to be honest with people and weigh up the consequences of remaining within the EU. Quite often this is portrayed as “coming out of Europe” – it is not the same thing at all. We had a referendum in 1975 on the question of Britain remaining in the European Economic Community (EEC). In that referendum, the Labour Left campaigned against joining, including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn. It is a measure of how weak and isolated Corbyn is as a leader within his own party, that he has recently turned his back on his previous convictions on this issue, under pressure from the right of Labour.

If you look at the experience of many economies within Europe – Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal – they have had to endure huge hardships as a result of being wedded to the troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF. The Greek people have been forced to pay 170% of their GDP in debt, and have been told that there is no choice but continued austerity. However, there was the choice of a different course of action – but this would need a socialist leadership prepared to break with capitalism in order to carry this through. Syriza thought they could barter concessions from European capitalism, using a referendum vote against austerity as a bargaining chip. In reality, Angela Merkel and the EC wanted to crush any dissent – the result was a humiliating defeat for Tsipras, Varoufakis and the Syriza leadership.

From an Interview with Nikos Kanellis, Volos City Councilor (Xekinima/ CWI Greece) by Sascha Stanicic (SAV/CWI Germany)

“The great majority of Greek population was in favour of taking a “hard line”. That is why mass demonstrations were organized in all the country in favor of the government and against the blackmail of Troika and especially the German government. In polls, up to 70-80% of Greeks supported the Greek government in this “battle”. Xekinima(CWI in Greece) alongside with other forces and even some Syriza MPs proposed that Tsipras should turn to the Greek people and call for a referendum on the dilemma “euro and austerity or anti-austerity, pro- working class policies and the drachma?”. We strongly believe that if this question was posed the great majority of Greek workers and poor would have chosen to break with the euro. Of course, at the same time, we explained that the return to drachma would not, in itself, provide solutions to the crisis of Greek capitalism and socialist policies should be followed immediately to put the economy on a growth path and in the service of working people.

At the same time, Tsipras should explain who is the real responsible for the debt (bankers, capitalists, the Greek, German and whole European ruling class) in order to immediately stop paying it. Then they should carry out socialist policies, nationalization of the banks and the commending heights of the economy, under social and workers’ control and management and mass public investment etc., to plan the economy and put it on the path of growth. The economy should be “protected” from profiteering and the sabotage of Greek and European capital, through capital controls and the control of the external trade.”

Similarly, in Ireland, a referendum was held on the Lisbon Treaty, where we campaigned for a NO vote, against austerity. When the result didn’t go the way of the capitalists, they simply asked the Irish public again, in another referendum, and when they finally got the required result, they imposed another package of severe austerity measures, in return for a bailout of the banks.

If you look at the fortunes of the equivalents of New Labour in Ireland and Greece – Labour and PASOK respectively, they have been hammered by the electorate. The Labour Party in Ireland has been reduced to just six seats. A new socialist electoral formation, which is a much smaller party in terms of membership, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, has the same number of TDs (the Irish equivalent of MPs). The same fate could happen to Labour in Britain, should it not put forward clear anti-austerity policies.

We say – drop the debt. Working-class people should not have to pay for a crisis of capitalism.

The EU is an undemocratic organisation. Decisions are made behind closed doors and the European Parliament has no real powers – the unelected European Commission wields the real power. It acts in the interests of big business, not the working class. Italy had its elected government replaced by an EU-approved board of bankers, the very people who precipitated the global economic crisis. Is it that the EU cannot be reformed and we should leave, or are we better off staying in and fighting to reform the EU?

Why can’t we reform the EU? Why is capitalism incapable of uniting Europe? Capitalism is based on the one hand on private ownership. Fewer and fewer giant companies control the means of producing the goods and services we consume. On the other hand, capitalism has divided us into nation states. These are not just economic entities, but also social and political formations, with historically rooted features such as territorial boundaries, language, culture, etc., which are not mechanically created and changed by purely economic forces.

The EU’s Schenken agreement, which allows free movement of people within Europe (with the exception of the UK), is being ripped apart by the “refugee crisis”. Of course this is a crisis of capitalism’s own making, created by military intervention in the Middle East. According to The Guardian, there are eleven million empty homes in the EU – this would be more than enough to home the 1 million refugees who have entered the continent, and solve housing shortages for its citizens. Yet, capitalism is incapable of squaring this circle. Housing should be regarded as a basic human right; social housing could be provided for all, yet this would need socialist planning to organise and deliver.

Instead of being urged to support the EU, ‘with reservations’ or otherwise, workers in each EU country should demand that their government defy the pro-market, anti-worker EU directives and rulings. In Britain, for example, that would mean refusing to implement EU directives to ‘liberalise’ postal services, of which the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail is another step. Why couldn’t the EU transport directives be defied and the railways re-nationalised, and other privatisations reversed? Why couldn’t the ‘race to the bottom’ under way in the EU be resisted, with European Court rulings on the posted workers’ directive defied, as the construction workers who struck for their jobs at the Lindsey oil refinery did?

But such struggles, which would come up at each stage against the capitalists’ control of the economy and society, would raise the need for new mass, socialist parties to represent the working classes of Europe.

Another argument is that we are better off within Europe, because of the rights such as the European Working Time Directive. These include paid holidays, equal rights for part-time workers, parental rights, equal pay for equal work, working time limits, health and safety standards and protection from discrimination. Paid holidays have existed in Britain since the 1871 Bank Holidays Act and were widespread, largely through collective bargaining, long before the EU working time directive was passed in 2003.

The EU employment equality directive was issued in 2000, but before that we had the 1970 Equal Pay Act, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, the 1976 Race Relations Act and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act — all agreed by the Westminster Parliament without input from Brussels. However, even with this legislation – women are still paid less than men, and minorities are still discriminated against; legislation alone is not enough. We need a political voice, to ensure that workers’ interests are represented in Parliament.

EU directives on paternity leave, the 48-hour working week and rules on transfers of undertakings when a company is taken over all had to be enacted at Westminster to take effect. In England, Parliament is the sovereign decision-making body – not the EU (though this is not recognised by EU law, and it is all a bit complicated). However, laws can be broken – Thatcher was brought down by non-payment of the poll tax; water charges in Ireland are on the verge of being defeated by a similar campaign. A determined, socialist challenge to unfair laws can win victories for the 99%.

Leaving the EU does not mean that laws Parliament has passed would automatically fall. Any government that wanted to end these measures would have to go through the same legislative process to repeal them. In addition, John Major negotiated a full opt-out from the social chapter enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty, while Tony Blair did similarly with the 48-hour weekly limit in the working time directive.

The European Parliament isn’t a parliament. It can’t propose laws. That right is reserved to the Commission. MEPs cannot change the direction of the EU. It is not time for Britain to entrust the future of its people to, what has been called by Paul Murphy, ex-Socialist Party MEP for Dublin,  a “cabal of big business”. The only sensible vote in the referendum for trade unionists and socialists is to withdraw from the EU.

To abstain from this debate, or to support the “in” campaign, would be to leave the “out” campaign to the far-right – on the basis of controlling immigration and narrow-minded protectionism of the economy. This would be a disaster – Jeremy Corbyn, for example, has taken many votes away from UKIP in recent by-elections – this is putting Labour’s gains in danger, in my opinion. It was a big mistake for Galloway to appear on the same stage as Nigel Farage. Farage described him as a towering figure on the left – the only towering thing both men have in common are their towering egos.

This was an attempt to make UKIP’s out campaign official by claiming broad support for it across the political divide. By contrast, we support a position of no government funding for Tory / UKIP campaigning. There could be an official No campaign, which would receive government funding – or neither campaign would get government funding. TUSC has a petition against government money going to right-wing, Eurosceptic campaigns.

I would argue for withdrawal from the EU – not on the basis of racism or xenophobia, but as part of the struggle for a socialist Europe. Many of the fundamental problems facing workers today, from the economic crisis to planet-threatening climate change, cannot be solved in one country alone. A united Europe, bringing together in real solidarity all the resources and human talent in the different countries and cultures encompassed in the 490 million-strong European Union (EU), would be an enormous step forward in the struggle for a new world. But can the EU unite Europe, not in an artificial or imposed ‘unity from above’, but in a genuine coming together of the European peoples? The answer to this question is, “No”.

 

References –

http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22359

https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-861f-No-time-to-entrust-Britains-future-to-a-bureaucratic-finance-capital-cabal#.Vt_-XlSLSbk

http://www.socialistalternative.org/2015/03/04/greece-yes-choice/