Posts Tagged ‘Trade unions’

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.

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Abandoned railway station by the Butterley Ironworks.

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.

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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.”

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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: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/124702

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.

 

 

Sonnet for #heartunion week

February 23, 2016

#loveunions

We fought hard for breaks from labour and toil
A weekend of leisure, an eight-hour day.
We won our fair share of the bosses’ spoil:
Now doctors are striking ‘gainst  cuts to pay.
Support brothers and sisters in struggle;
At pickets, on protests – with banners high.
Stand firm and the government will buckle,
To break us, lies and tricks they will try.
Forever hated by the company boss
But loved by workers – their only defence.
Without trade unions, it is our sad loss
Face up to their lies, politicians’ pretence.
So stand together this Valentine’s day,
Unions give us protection, come what may.

unions

In support of junior doctors

February 23, 2016

As junior doctors gear up for more industrial action against Hunt’s imposition of a new contract, which threatens unsocial hours payments, this is the summary of a speech by Rob and Francis, two members of the BMA who spoke at a meeting of Leicester Trades Council recently.

If the media were to be believed, junior doctors should be grateful. They are reportedly getting a 13% pay rise, the reforms will bring about safer weekend working practices, and the NHS is becoming a 24/7 service, despite its staff being given no extra money. If this was true, there would not be a Minister for Health running the NHS, but a Minister for Magic!

In reality, doctors see attacks on their terms and conditions as the beginning of an attack across the whole of the NHS. This is being done in order to make the NHS more attractive to private companies, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Health, who have recently landed a huge contract to provide care in the South West. This is being done in order to attack the principle of the NHS – that it is a nationwide, comprehensive healthcare service, provided for all and free at the point of need. The Health and Social Care Act has already taken away government responsibility for our health service – any “willing provider” can take over chunks of our healthcare system.

So it is not just that junior doctors and student nurses, whose bursaries are being removed, are angry for themselves. They are also concerned about patient care and the principle of a free health service, paid for through central taxation. However, on a personal level, they also have plenty of grievances against the government.

They are angry that they will have to work more night-shifts and weekends, that their working week will lengthen and their breaks decrease. This will have a direct impact on patient care, the morale of the profession and the health and stress of working in a hospital. It sets a precedent for the rest of the NHS and amounts to a substantial pay cut. Doctors who do voluntary or paid work in their spare time – manning an air ambulance, working as a medic on the sports field, or working as  a locum – will have to check if their employer needs them first.

This action is not just about a group of (justifiably) disgruntled employees – this is about the future of the NHS. So get down to a picket line at a hospital near you and talk to the doctors who are taking action. One day, your life might depend on them.

 

Dear Bob

March 25, 2015

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I took the train, that fateful day

When you reached the end of the line.

You fought like hell, for workers,

But your heart sadly hit the buffers.
 

I was wearing my Jarrow March T-shirt;

I got off, at the end of the line.

Bob’s right – bollocks to the cuts!

And your big heart softly hit the buffers.
 

Trade union banners lined the way

And the black cortège passed by.

Red flags waved farewell to the winter sky,

52 was far too young.
 

A round of applause arose from the crowd

As the funeral cortège passed by.

Millwall FC, loving dad – tearful tributes.

52 was far too young.
 

I still fight for what you believed in

Socialism, equality – common sense.

I wondered when my train would draw near,

My heart slowly hit the buffers.
 
 

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Remembering Bob Crow

March 11, 2014

A heavy loss to all in the labour movement – the leader of the RMT union, Bob Crow passed away last night, at the all-too-young age of 52. He fought tirelessly for his members and never shirked from a struggle – with the result that union membership in the RMT increased from 50,000 when he was elected leader, to 80,000 today. My thoughts are with his friends, family and comrades today.

The RMT union has a political vision and funds the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which looks to build a new, mass working-class party. It stands against all cuts carried out by councils is looking to stand 625 candidates in the forthcoming elections in May – please support TUSC, but also consider standing yourself  in memory of Bob Crow – see http://www.tusc.org.uk for more details.

Amongst tributes, Dave Nellist, ex-Coventry MP and former Socialist Party councillor paid tribute to Crow’s fighting spirit – http://www.coventryobserver.co.uk/2014/03/11/news-Ex-MP-Dave-Nellist-pays-tribute-to-RMT-chief-Bob-Crow-99284.html

I saw Bob Crow speak eloquently at last year’s Socialism 2013 event about the need for a new workers’ party, which he played such an important role in building, as the leader of TUSC and one of the key voices in the RMT union, arguing for a combative, left-wing voice in politics, as opposed to the bankrupt policies of the Labour Party, which is complicit in passing-through Tory cuts.

In this respect, it is extremely hypocritical of Nigel Farage, to jump on the bandwagon of eulogies from Tories, who were Crow’s enemies in his lifetime. Crow was implacably opposed to racism and stood for workers’ unity, and an exit from the EU on socialist principles. Farage would introduce a flat-rat tax, and stands for the rich. His party is xenophobic, racist and would be just as eager to privatise the railways and public services which TUSC and No2EU Yes To Workers’ Rights seek to protect.

The best way to remember Bob Crow’s massive achievements in winning gains for his members, and the socialist policies he fought for, is to get involved with the Socialist Party, which is part of TUSC – the electoral coalition which was initiated by and supported by the RMT union.

“Do not go gentle into that good night”.

 

Complaint to BBC on biased coverage of Bob Crow’s death –

Your Complaint

Type of complaint: BBC News (TV Radio Online)
What is your complaint about: BBC News Online
URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26527325
Complaint category: Factual error or inaccuracy
Contacted us before: No
Complaint title: The obituary on the railway union leader Bob Crow.
Complaint description:
There is a factual inaccuracy on the report on the sad death of Bob Crow, leader of the railway workers’ union. You report that “he was not a member of a political party”. However, he is on the steering committee and is a founding member of TUSC – the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. You report views from a number of politicians, including many of his opponents, but do not give space to anyone from TUSC, such as ex-Coventry MP Dave Nellist, or any of the hundreds of trade unionists standing in this year’s local elections. Please apologise and correct this inaccuracy.

 

Why are we in this mess?

August 16, 2013

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” – the opening words of the Communist Manifesto highlights the fact that there has always been a subjugated class (slaves, peasants, workers) and a higher elite, which has opposed their interests (slave-owners, aristocracy, bosses).

The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848 at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which transformed economies – the mass of the population moved into cities for the first time, workers congregated together in factories as mass production took the place of traditional craftsmanship. This led to the emergence of a working class for the first time and the beginnings of socialist parties – making it possible for the working class to take over the running of society.

Looked at in terms of two opposing classes and the tension between them, economics begins to make sense. Workers struggle against oppression, while bosses fight to maximise their profits. The interests of the two are incompatible.

Marx describes this process as “surplus value”. For him, goods are valued according to the labour involved in their production. Companies take away some of our labour value – whether this is indirectly in terms of services, or directly by manufacturing goods. In return, we get a proportion of this as wages. Workers struggle through trade unions and may take strike action in order to get more pay. Meanwhile, the company seeks to maximise its profit margins. The film, The Corporation, gives a good description of how individual companies operate under capitalism – as psychopaths – devoid of human compassion, feeling or empathy and striving only to maximise their profits.

Because of this, capitalism is incapable of solving the problems of the world. It is incapable of co-operation on a global scale, incapable of planning to meet the problems of global warming, or of even finding enough resources to feed the world, or to provide clean, safe drinking water for all of us.

Capitalist economics, as Trotsky, said, creates within it the conditions for its own crisis – “capitalism is its own gravedigger”. However, there is no final crisis of capitalism, without a mass revolutionary movement to bring about socialism.

When capitalism cannot get rid of the surplus it creates, prices fall according to the law of supply and demand, and conditions are created for recession or even depression.

Eighty years ago, the Great Depression was caused by a perfect storm of forces – the stock market crash in the US, hyperinflation in Germany after the destruction of the workers’ movement, the collapse of banks, and a failure of harvests in the Dust bowl. Capitalism only emerged from this by using World War II to raze whole cities to the ground. The same process of imperialist resource-grabbing, of divide and rule (in the case of Nazi Germany taken to extremes), the naked preoccupation with nationalism and profit has led to violence, hatred and the loss of millions of lives.

Instead, socialists argue for workers’ co-operation internationally, for a planned, genuinely democratic economy where it ordinary people are in control over the means of production. We decide what our priorities are, how resources should be divided up, and we have a real involvement in decision-making. With the rule of profit gone, people are therefore able to enjoy the full fruits of their labour – a shorter working week, more leisure time and to rid themselves of the burden of poverty. We would be able to invest more resources into the economy in order to fully realise our human potential.

The present economic crash in 2008 was caused by speculation on sub-prime mortgages, with debts being consolidated and re-sold around different investors. There was a downturn in the economy, causing interests rates to be lowered, and so there was a boom of cheap credit. Loans were sold to people who simply could not afford the repayments. The system collapsed like a house of cards, or an elastic band that has been stretched way past its breaking point.

Any theory can be tested by how well it predicts actual events. Capitalist economists completely failed to predict the economic crash. Francis Fukuyama predicted “The End of History”, with the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the supposed world-dominance of neoliberalism. Gordon Brown said arrogantly that he had “abolished boom and bust”. However, in the pages of “Socialism Today”, we predicted that a crash would come sooner or later, that the bubble had to burst at some point, and that when it did the result would be disastrous for working people.

After the crash of 2008, house prices fell through the floor. No lenders were offering mortgages and banks had to be nationalised and bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars worldwide. This goes to show that the money is there in society, it is just not spent where it is needed – on public services, or clean water, but on maintaining the status quo for big business, at any cost. Meanwhile the people at the bottom were left homeless.

In 2013, we are still not out of the woods. In an effort to reduce the debt, public services are slashed and privatised. However, post-1945, our national debt was much higher than it is now, at 240% of GDP. Yet we still managed to build council houses, found the welfare state, the NHS, and nationalise 20% of the country’s industry. All these gains were won by pressure from below – servicemen coming back from the front demanding change, a land fit for heroes. There remains massive potential for a huge fight back from the trade unions and community groups across the country – what is lacking is any leadership. Unlike 1945, Labour has shifted massively to the right, and refuses to countenance any alternative to cuts and austerity. We need to build that alternative.

However much workers gained through their struggles, capitalism will always come back for more. We get a few crumbs from the rich man;s table in good times, but in bad, there is no hesitation in cutting jobs and wages, even if this costs lives. Look at the rises in NHS waiting times and the increase in the number of deaths in our hospitals as the cuts bite.

We need to build a new parties to represent working people internationally. In Britain, TUSC is hopefully the genesis of a new workers’ party. The trade unions must break with Labour or be broken as they will lose members in their droves, either through disgust at the way they are treated by their leadership, or through job losses and privatisation. The Labour Party is undemocratic, and the Falkirk scandal, where Milliband threatened Unite with legal action for the crime backing its own (not even very left-wing) candidate, and getting working-class people to join Labour, proves that it is completely unfit for purpose.

Depressions can have a stunning effect on workers – they can keep their heads down, afraid of the sack, or grateful that they have a job at all. However, at some stage, there must be a mass fight back. The potential was shown on November 30th 2011, when 2 million workers took strike action. Across Southern Europe and North Africa, the fight back is already happening – people have no choice but to take to the streets and fight their own governments, who have nothing to offer but austerity.

The crying shame is the lack of a revolutionary leadership of these movements, capable of uniting struggles and putting forward a socialist programme to take power. Join the Socialist Party and the CWI and help us build that leadership.

10 reasons why you should support TUSC

March 26, 2013

1. We need real opposition to the cuts being made by the Tories, not feeble cries of “We agree with the need for cuts, but they should not be made so deep or so fast”.

2. Labour has made promises before in opposition – to renationalise British Rail, not to bring in tuition fees. They cannot be trusted to deliver.

3. Labour councils across the country are carrying through massive cuts to local services. Where Labour councillors are standing up against the cuts (The Hull Three and The Southampton Two, for example) they have been expelled from their own party! They should be supported, not witch-hunted, for standing up for local people who elected them. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition opposes ALL cuts to public services.

4. Labour conference decisions are ignored and the handful of left-wing backbenchers that do exist are sidelined; left-wing candidates face likely deselection. The Labour Party cannot be reclaimed for the left.

5. Trade unions should stop funding Labour and instead build an alternative party to stand up for their members’ interest.

6. Labour began the process of privatising schools, the NHS, council services, the welfare state. The Tories have only put their foot on the accelerator. There is no difference between any of the main parties on the need to slash vital services and punish the poor for the economic crisis.

7. Inequality increased under Labour as well as the Tories.

8. If we carry on down the path of cuts, the outlook is bleak – look at Greece, Ireland, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal . . . Iceland, by contrast, where the people in a referendum voted to reject austerity, is doing much better.

9. Labour is wedded to a failed model of capitalism. We need democratic socialism, planning instead of the anarchy of the “free market”.

10. Where TUSC has been seen as a credible alternative to Labour, it has achieved respectable votes – in Coventry, Maltby, Huddersfield, Preston, Walsall – TUSC candidates have come close to winning or have won council seats.

TUSC is aiming to stand 400 candidates in the local elections across the country in May – why not be one of them – look at http://www.tusc.org.uk for more details.

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.

“Time to fight back” rally at the TUC conference

September 13, 2009

Today, I went up to Liverpool to join a rally aimed at encouraging the trade unions to fight for jobs and conditions and against privatisation. It is vital, in the teeth of a recession, that public services and jobs are not slashed. The message was unanimous – why should we pay for the bosses’ crisis?

Bob Crow of the RMT deplored the Tories anti-trade union laws, which are even more draconian under New Labour. He said that it was in the best traditions of the trade union movement that workers have stood shoulder to shoulder alongside each other in struggle, and that it was a crying shame that the postal workers have been left to fight alone. Determined, united action by trade unionists across the public sector, who are facing job cuts and privatisation could have brought the government to its knees. The occupation of the Vestas factory had exposed the lies of the government when it came to investing in green jobs and showed that workers would trample over the anti-trade union laws if they were forced to fight for their livelihoods.

Tracey Edwards of the PCS union representing young members, said it was vital that young people fight for jobs and spoke of the scandal of 600,000 school and university leavers without a prospect of employment. If the government can bail out the banks to the tune of billions of pounds, then why can’t it bail out failing companies and provide jobs for all.

Glenn Kelly and Yunus Baksh of UNISON (in personal capacities!) railed against the hypocrisy of trade union leaders in witch-hunting left activists, whose only crime was to organise and stand up for their members. Glenn Kelly said that UNISON should go further than simply stopping donations to its Labour-sponsored MPs, and respect the majority of its members who refuse to give anything to New Labour. As Dave Nellist said, donating to New Labour is like buying a pair of Doc Martens for your boss to kick you with!

Lastly, there was a very moving contribution from one of the Shrewsbury pickets, who included Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson. He reminded us of their campaign (still ongoing) to get an exoneration for the frame-up by the state, who jailed decent trade unionists for fighting for their jobs. He said that it was sad that Des was no longer here at this rally, otherwise he would be still be fighting the good fight.

I don’t know what the few BNP supporters who were skulking in the sidelines made of it all. Their absence showed that they are opposed to trade unionism and do not stand for working class people. Keith Gibbons, one of the leaders of the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute spoke about the far right being ejected from the picket lines when they tried to intervene and about how the Socialist Party was able to undercut their lies of “British jobs for British workers” by organising British and Italian workers, to get a fair deal for all.

Altogether an excellent and inspiring rally – but the fighting talk now needs to be matched by action from the major trade unions. They need to stop funding New Labour and begin funding genuine, working-class struggles.