Archive for the ‘strike’ Category

Defend comprehensive education

March 17, 2016

I was coming back from London, on a demonstration to save sixth-form colleges and reverse the shocking decline in funding for schools. “Save Our Colleges, Invest Don’t Cut” was the NUT’s slogan.


As we delivered a long list of signatures in a petition to Nicky Morgan, a paper aeroplane came sailing from an upstairs window in the Department of Education – “Youre gay!” it proclaimed, eloquently. “Homophobic language. No use of an apostrophe. Could do better.”


Photo – Jenny Stewart

As I was travelling up the M1, I overheard an alarming conversation – “they are making all schools become academies”. I didn’t believe this at first, and thought this was just a dark sense of humour. His colleague said with an air of defeatism, “Well it has been going that way for some time”. We need to fight the principle of elitism in education and defend the post-war idea of comprehensive education – Tony Blair famously called schools “bog-standard comprehensives”. Yet the comprehensive model, well-funded and with smaller class sizes, is that used by Finland – the most successful education system in the world.

Comprehensive education is the idea that every child, no matter how poor their upbringing, is deserving of the best education possible, provided for by the state. It should not matter what your parents’ economic or social background is – we should be living, in the twenty-first century, in the fifth richest economy on the planet – in a meritocracy.

The Tories are waging outright war on our schools, because they want to smash the public sector, and keep education for a privileged elite.  Again, the culprit is Tony Blair, who under Labour started the process off – but the Tories have taken his ball – just as they have with Labour’s privatisation of the NHS, and the formation of Foundation Trusts – and ran with it.

There is a petition to save our schools from academisation – please sign it here:

But a petition alone will not be enough to stop this onslaught. The strike by sixth form teachers today needs to be the beginning of a massive fightback, involving united action by all education staff. We need to reverse cuts to education and stop the wholesale privatisation of our education system. We must defend comprehensive education.



Be true to yourself

October 14, 2014

The title of this post might seem like a trite cliche. However, I do think this is a powerful tool to examine ourselves, and our relationship to the world we live in.

Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t follow the herd.

When you next read an article in a newspaper, or watch Question Time on the telly (hard not to do without wishing to throw a brick at the screen, I know) – think about: Why are you being told this? What is the agenda of the person telling you the “news”? Are you getting the full picture?

We delude ourselves by thinking that we live in a free and democratic society, where we have a real choice in who governs us, and the decisions that are made. Putting a cross in a box every four or five years, for a choice of identikit political parties does not constitute democracy.

The word “democracy” means “people power” – in our case those who rule us are hardly representative – an elite political class drawn from private schools and top Universities, careerists who do not serve the interests of those who elected them.

A central problem with our democracy is that the dominant discourse of the media, is decided by the state. That is why small parties are grouped together as “others” in election polls, and why in the UK we have a first-past-the-post system deliberately designed to make it as hard as possible for any alternative view to gain electoral currency.

The dominant ideology seems to be gradually slipping further and further to the right, with Labour, the Tories and UKIP competing with each other to see who can punish immigrants the most, who can most effectively use benefit claimants as a scapegoat, and who can make the most cuts to public services.

But people’s everyday experience constantly clashes with this view of the world. When we rely on public health systems like the NHS, when we use a public library, when our local services are cut, when the elderly have to pay for a private care home, when students have to pay exorbitant tuition fees, when rents go through the roof because of a lack of council housing, we see that there is the need for an alternative, a planned economy run in the interests of all of us, not a rich elite.

The need of capitalism to constantly extract more and more from workers, for less and less pay, in order to maximise profits impacts on our everyday lives. This means that increasing numbers of people see through the smokescreens and lies and become angry. When wars are waged overseas, when MPs are given a 9% pay increase, and we are simultaneously told that we are all in this together and we all must make sacrifices, the hypocrisy of those in charge becomes all too apparent.

When we see time-lapse footage of ice-caps melting in Greenland, or when fracking undermines (literally) our rights to protest against drilling under our homes, we get involved in struggle to protect our environment, for the sake of all life on this planet. It is the only one we have.

It becomes apparent to more and more people, that the direction of travel is forever downward – to lower pay, to working longer for less pension. We are going backwards to Victorian times, when the poor had to rely on charitable handouts, with modern-day food banks replacing the workhouse.

We must be true to ourselves, and a vision of fairness and co-operation.
We need to find our own way.
We must replace the dominant media, by listening not to politicans on the television, or the mass media, but to our conscience.
We must fight back, by joining alternative, left-wing parties, by getting involved in our trade unions and arguing for a fighting strategy for better wages and against cuts.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. In the UK, TUSC is fighting back, planning to stand 100 candidates on a no-cuts platform and 1000 local council candidates in the general election.

In America, Socialist Alternative is gaining support across the continent, with new branches springing up, and hundreds of people applying to join –

In Ireland, the Anti Austerity Alliance has just won its third TD in Parliament as the main parties are increasingly exposed for supporting austerity –

IN Scotland, Solidarity’s server crashed with the demand from people wanting to join a socialist alternative in the wake of the narrow referendum defeat –

In Brazil, 1.6 million people voted for PSOL (Party of Socialism and Liberty) in the recent Presidential elections, winning 5 seats in the process –

In Spain, millions voted for Podemos “We can!” – as a break from corrupt, mainstream parties.

In Greece, Syriza is ahead in the opinion polls, and there has been a huge wave of general strikes which have rocked the political establishment.

And across the world, people are rising up against this unfair system of Capitalism, which only promises poverty and inequality.

Be true to yourself. Join us in fighting for the alternative.

Reclaim UNISON

May 14, 2013

UNISON members across the country are facing attacks on pay and conditions and their jobs are at risk. In schools, libraries, the NHS and council departments workers are facing the threat of downgrading or redundancy, as councils make cuts. Labour councils have not put up any real resistance to these cuts, except for a few councillors in Southampton and in Hull – their reward has been to be expelled from the Labour Party!

If there is one union that could stop the government’s attacks on the public sector dead in their tracks, that is UNISON. Prentis boasts about the potential strength of the union’s 1.3 million members but he has then done everything possible to avoid national industrial action. On the one occasion, workers did come out in November 2010, mass demonstrations were held up and down the country and picket lines were buzzing with excitment. However, this glimpse of possible militancy has never been repeated. We need national strike action again, this time co-ordinated with the private sector as well. We have tried being reasonable and negotiating, but this has only encouraged the government and been taken as a sign of weakness.

If you agree that we need a fighting, democratic union, vote for Reclaim The Union Candidates on your ballot paper for UNISON NEC elections. If you have lost your ballot paper, if it is underneath a pile of junk mail on your desk, or if the dog has eaten it – you can get another by phoning 0845 355 0845 befoire 21st May. Ballot closes 24th May.

Jean Thorpe (East Mids region, Female Seat)
Adrian Picton (East Mids region, Male Seat)

Monique Hirst (Black Members’ Seat)
April Ashley (Black Members’ Seat)
Hugo Pierre (Black Members’ Seat)

Suzy Franklin (Health Service Group)
Gary Freeman (Health Service Group)
Mark Boothroyd (Health Service Group)

Greta Holmes (Young Members)

Claire Wormald (Eastern)

Jim McFarlane (Scotland)
Duncan Smith (Scotland)

Jamie Davis (Wales / Cymru)

Dave Auger (West Midlands)

Bernie Parkes (South West)

Helen Davies (Gtr London)
MarshaJane Thompson (Gtr London)
Jon Rogers (Gtr London)
Gundula Seidel (Gtr London)

Bernie Gallagher (North West)
Karen Reissmann (North West)
Roger Bannister (North West)
Tony Wilson (North West)

Jacqui Berry (South East)
Diana Leach (South East)
Paul Couchman (South East)

Helen Jenner (Yorks & Humber)
Mike Forster (Yorks & Humber)
Vicki Perrin (Yorks & Humber)

Reclaim our Union. Standing together for a fighting, democratic union.

We stand for – resistance to all cuts, privatisation and job losses.
industrial action against attacks on pay and conditions.
strike action to be co-ordinated across all trade unions.
only funding and supporting politicians who will oppose cuts and fight for our members.

Poem written in a personal capacity

November 19, 2012

I don’t care about the glossy photo-op with the Labour MP you sent us,

Dave Prentis.

To explain why you meant us,

Dave Prentis

To capitulate on pensions. Are you really compos mentis?

Dave Prentis

Did you need to eat a whole packet of Mentos,

Dave Prentis?

To clear the hypocritical stench as,

Dave Prentis,

You made a stirring speech and sent us,

Dave Prentis,

Like a stuttering tortoise,

Dave Prentis.

Up to the top of the hill before making a hasty descent as,

Dave Prentis,

You gave in and broke the mighty consensus,

Dave Prentis.

2 million out on strike, now that was momentous,

Dave Prentis.

Until you betrayed us. You only lent us,

Dave Prentis

The placards and armbands of protests and pickets. Your real intent was,

Dave Prentis,

To back down. You are out of touch and bent as,

Dave Prentis,

On 100 grand a year, you don’t struggle to pay the rent. Is,

Dave Prentis,

that why, instead of fighting the bosses who torment us,

Dave Prentis,

You waste half a million fighting socialists, the dissenters?

Dave Prentis?

Those who want a fighting union, not one that deserts us?

Dave Prentis?

The end of the NHS?

March 17, 2012

We are facing the end of the NHS, as the Lords vote through the Health and Social Care Bill. The NHS was born out of Old Labour’s triumphant 1948 manifesto, which demanded a “land fit for heroes”, in the wake of the devastation caused by the Second World War.

In the manifesto, the great socialist Aneurin Bevan brought his experience in the South Wales valleys, of  a local system of communal healthcare, on to the national stage. The result was the National Health Service. Free prescriptions, free dentistry, free opticians – all paid for through central taxation. With the introduction of prescription charges, Bevan had the principles to resign his position. If only we had opposition Labour politicians with a fraction of his foresight, determination and courage today.

The Tories, along with many Labour right-wingers and many doctors were against the introduction of the NHS. It was mass protests of ordinary people, and the lessons of the First World War, with the threat of revolution and the General Strike of 1926, as soldiers in particular backed the left wing Labour government over  Churchill. This heralded the introduction of the NHS, amid a fear by the ruling class that a revolutionary movement could return to Britain, unless something radical was done to improve conditions for the poor.

Labour sought to slay five “giants” – “ignorance, squalor, want, disease and idleness” – deliberately evoking traditional English imagery of Jack the Giant Killer, to the soundtrack of Jerusalem. Blake’s great poem was unfortunately put to patriotic music around the time of the 1st world war and actually is not a right-wing verse. Blake would be turning in his grave if he knew how his work has been mistreated by the far right.

Fast forward 60 years, and the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever – the giants are still stalking the land and the monumental gains of 1948 – the welfare state, our NHS, nationalisation of major industries and utilities – have all either been consigned to the history books or are under threat.

Because of the failures of New Labour and their craven betrayal of the working class, the far right are still present, bringing with them the threat of fascism. The far right are fighing not just against Muslims, who have been scapegoated for the problems of Britain, just as Jews were in Nazi Germany, but also against those who are trying to fight for a better society. Threats have been made to those in the Occupy movement, against trade unionists and against socialists.

Our mainstream politicans (Labour, Tories, Lib Dems) are all corrupt. They slavishly follow the bidding of lobbyists paid for by the interests of big business. They are slashing pensions and jobs, because they see that workers organised in trade unions can pose a threat to their plans. The argument that the country’s debt is out of control and needs to be kept in check, that these cuts are necessary is a disingenuous lie. Public sector pension funds, for example, were renegotiated in 2008 to be affordable for the next 50 years. The only thing that has changed since then is the banking crisis, caused by inherent contradictions in capitalism. But the Con-Dems are asking ordinary people to pay the price for this mess.

Since the magnificent demonstrations and strikes of November 30th, unfortunately some trade union leaders have de-escalated the strike action. This is a fight for everything we care about in our society, and we need to increase pressure on the government. Private sector workers should join the fight as well and join trade unions. If their leadership is incapable of leading the struggle, it needs to be ditched. France had a general strike in 2010 over a pension age increase from 60 to 62. We deserve union leaders who will not back down so easily. Their members will not forgive those who sold out.

There are reasons, in the teeth of these attacks on our class, to be optimistic. People will be forced into struggle. However, the conditions which raise the consciousness of the working class and cause some of them to demand socialist answers to their problems, can also cause the rise of support for far-right ideas. Unless we build a new mass party, on a democratic, principled opposition to all the cuts, to attract those looking for an alternative, then people can be drawn to the blind alleys of racism or rioting, as seen in the summer of 2011.

This is why I support TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which is standing in the London Assembly and in many local elections in May to offer a real, fighting alternative for working people.

How to defend our NHS?

May 29, 2011

The Conservative / Lib Dem government have pledged to protect “frontline” NHS services and cut back on bureaucracy. In reality, this is another broken promise. They have no intention of saving even frontline staff. It is important that trade unions should unite health workers against their plans, not seek to divide them. The nursing union, the RCN, has a national campaign called “frontline first”. While it has every right to fight for its own members, their approach plays into the government’s agenda that some cuts are necessary, and divides healthworkers against each other. I have seen admin staff in UNISON wearing badges saying “I am frontline”, making the point that we are just as important to the running of the NHS, enabling nurses and doctors to do their jobs efficiently.

The RCN website talks of speaking out against NHS cuts that are harming patient care, but also exposing where there is waste in the system. In reality, the NHS has long been under-funded. The Trust I work for has had vacancy freezes, so that gradually less and less staff are under more pressure to do the same job, resulting in a rise in stress and sickness.

The way to win a campaign is to give workers the confidence that if they take action then these cuts can be beaten. As part of TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) Socialist Party members attempted to do this, by standing in elections on a no-cuts platform. We need to explain to people that the cuts are not necessary, they are part of an attack on the principles of the NHS – to provide free health care to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. UNISON and the RCN should be balloting for strike action, in unity with the teaching unions and PCS, who are taking action to protect their pensions on 30th June. That way we could show the government the unity of public sector workers and that we are determined to resist any attacks on our terms and conditions.

The inefficiencies in the NHS come from the privatisation that has already happened under Labour and the Tories. In 1979, admin costs were only 6%. The introduction of the “internal market” by the Tories doubled this to 12% and with Labour’s foundation trusts, this has risen to nearer 20%. In preparation for my hospital becoming a foundation trust, we will have to record every contact with a patient, even if it is just a phone conversation. This is only because the hospital will then be charged per contact, as if it was a business. The real source of inefficiency is the private market.

So what do we do instead? The party I belong to, the Socialist Party would reverse the privatisation of the NHS and place our public services under truly democratic workers’ control. We would get rid of genuine inefficiencies – pharmaceutical companies overcharging for drugs, expensive PFI schemes and allow NHS hospitals to co-operate with each other and share best practice, rather than have to compete with each other for patients. The NHS brought free healthcare to millions when it was first introduced, but sixty years later these gains are being taken away from us, as multinationals move in for the kill. We need to fight for a socialist society, so that we can win a genuinely public NHS now and for future generations.