Posts Tagged ‘TUSC’

A Tale of Three Cities

May 6, 2016

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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.

 

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Should we stay or should we go now?

March 9, 2016

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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/

 

 

Hustings for Animal Rights

May 6, 2015

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Britain is a nation of animal lovers, they say – so it is surprising that events like the one above, where candidates were asked questions on their party’s stance on human rights, are not more common. Animal rights was hardly mentioned in the mainstream media during this election campaign.

From left to right above are Ian and Iona (Lib Dem candidate and his guide dog); myself representing TUSC for Leicester South; Mags Lewis (Green candidate for Castle Ward) and Leon Hadji-Nikolau (Conservative, Leicester South). The Labour Party clearly didn’t think the issue was important enough to send a representative! The event was organised by LUSH, which made for an unusual and interesting debate.

We discussed the ethics of fishing, one of the most common past-times in Britain – humanely carried out, with barbless hooks, it causes the fish little distress and anglers regularly report pollution in Britain’s waterways. The Tory candidate confused coarse fishing with game fishing, where fish are returned to the river (although many “game” fish are also returned to the water to preserve fish stocks). I contrasted responsible angling with the overfishing of the seas by commercial trawling, where many fish are returned dead back to the ocean. Capitalism always seeks the greatest profit, and long-term considerations, such as the sustainability of fish stocks, are not taken into account.

The treatment of animals for food was discussed – all participants agreed that CCTV cameras should be used in slaughterhouses. My argument was that we need to connect up the reality of where food comes from, with the meals we eat. Again, capitalism’s mantra of cheapest possible production costs, has led to factory farming and poor conditions for animals.

I pointed out that we cannot rely on the state to uphold the law in respect of animal rights – fox hunting has been banned, for example, yet hunt saboteurs still have to protect foxes from being hunted by dogs. The Socialist Party has a record of supporting activists and upholding the right to protest peacefully. We would also reduce the working week to 35 hours – this would create more jobs in the countryside, thus supporting people involved in industries around hunting – grooms, farriers, etc. At the moment, farmers are not even being paid a fair wage for the produce they sell.

Ian, for the Lib Dems, made a telling point that it is now an offence to allow a dog to attack a guide dog, and this is on the increase, with 10 guide dogs being attacked every month in the UK. However, could this be something to do with government attacks on the disabled benefits and disabled people being labelled as “scroungers” by right-wing tabloids? Ian came across as a very genuine and concerned person – I just wonder why he is with the Lib Dems, when they have been complicit in the Con-Dem government’s savage austerity programme.

The Conservative spokesperson seemed uncomfortable with many of the questions, and contradicted his own party’s policy, which has sought to repeal the Hunting Act, saying that he would fight to ban hunting. He said that a vegetarian diet was as unhealthy as a diet involving meat (which came as a surprise to most of the people in attendance!) and blamed a high-carbohydrate diet for obesity. I pointed out that Cameron had said he would deliver the greenest government ever in 2010, and the Tories could hardly be trusted on environmental issues.

The question of vegetarianism was also raised. I said that this was a personal decision – I am not a vegetarian myself – but that it is a more efficient method of feeding the population of the world. Capitalism cannot provide enough resources to deliver basic human needs for the world’s population, and hunger rather than obesity is a vital issue for most of humanity.

The Green candidate skilfully answered the questions and her party has some very worthy policies. However, her response was limited to staying within the confines of the present economic system – she pointed out that while capitalism had its problems – we needed to do something now about animal protection. My position was that, while we fight for reforms under capitalism, the whole system cannot be reformed – that practices such as the horrific conditions in puppy farms and people importing dogs in the boots of cars (very risky due to the risk of rabies entering the UK) – would continue, as long as there was profit to be made from the exploitation of animals.

Only by getting rid of the capitalist profit motive altogether, and replacing our present economy (profit-driven and short-term) with a democratically planned society to meet the needs of everyone, can a truly sustainable and environmentally friendly society be achieved.

If you agree, support TUSC candidates – read more about us at http://www.tusc.org.uk – in the forthcoming elections this Thursday. If you can’t vote for TUSC where you live, why not consider standing yourself? It is very likely that there will be an unstable coalition government, and a new set of elections could be just around the corner. We need to build an alternative to cuts and austerity, to meet the needs of the millions and not the millionaires.

Leicester South Hustings – TUSC is the only party opposing cuts

April 26, 2015

Footage of myself and other candidates at Leicester South Hustings, at Highfields Community Centre – a local community facility, which is itself under threat because of cutbacks to council funding. This is at the hands of Leicester Council, which is overwhelmingly Labour-controlled. What is the point of Labour if it offers no opposition to Tory cuts?

“Andrew Walton, representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) said they would argue against cuts to public services. He also said TUSC would increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour. And he committed, if elected, to just take the average salary of Leicester South constituents.”

Two councillors in Leicester, Barbara Potter and Wayne Naylor, have left the Labour group – upset at infighting and a failure to fight back against the government’s austerity agenda. They founded Leicester Independent Councillors Against Cuts, which is part of TUSC nationally.

In contrast, Labour have committed themselves to Tory spending plans – only 5 Labour MPs voted against the government’s austerity agenda in January 2015 – http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-2a08-Labour-MPs-backing-for-austerity-Bill-a-disservice

To fight against the cuts – vote TUSC, wherever you can in the elections on May 7th.

For more information about TUSC, see http://www.tusc.org.uk

If you agree, join my facebook group here – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1616394085249208/

TUSC Parliamentary Candidate Pledges Support for the NHS and for a £10-an-hour Living Wage

March 16, 2015

Press Release:

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) today announced its second local parliamentary candidate for the General Election. Andrew Walton, who has lived in Highfields for the last 20 years, will be standing in the Leicester South constituency. He will be working closely with the present city councillors who are part of Leicester independent Councillors Against Cuts, which is affiliated to TUSC.

Andrew Walton picture

Photo credit – Mike Barker, Leicester Socialist Party

Having worked in the NHS for the past decade, I have direct experience of the attacks faced by the health service and its workers from both Tory / Lib Dem and Labour governments. “Unfortunately, the Labour Party’s role in promoting Private Finance Initiatives and Foundation Trusts handed large parts of the NHS over to privateers. Since then, the Lib Dem/Tory coalition has continued this trend”.

“TUSC on the other hand campaigns for a high-quality, free NHS under democratic public ownership and control. We see no future for greedy corporations and tax avoiders, like Boots, who make massive profits from health provision at our expense.”

Another key area which I will fight on as part of his electoral campaign, will be fighting for a living wage for all. TUSC supports the Trades Union Congress’ demand to increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour, and for this to be linked to inflation or increases in wages, whichever is higher.

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A recent article in the Leicester Mercury, highlighted the plight of over 2,500 textile workers in the city, who are paid less than half the minimum wage, just £3 an hour. “In the 21st century, in the world’s sixth wealthiest economy, there is no excuse for poverty pay,” he explained.

I will also pledge to campaign to relieve the day-to-day pressure on overworked front-line hospital staff. “This will improve service provision and minimise stress-related illness. This is one reason why TUSC stands in solidarity with workers taking action to defend jobs, conditions, pensions, and public services.”

If you are not on the electoral register, you won’t get any say in the coming elections. Please register to vote, and use your vote to support TUSC in Leicester South and Leicester Independent Councillors Against Cuts in the local elections.

Darker Shade of Blue – the Azure card

January 20, 2015

These are notes from a public meeting hosted by Leicester Civil Rights Movement, which detailed the plight of asylum seekers in the UK, today.

We heard first-hand accounts of what it is like living on an Azure card – the card given to asylum seekers who are under Section 4, awaiting a result on their claim for asylum. The card limits where you can go to for food and other essentials: asylum seekers live on a measly £36.62 a week. They do not have access to other benefits and are not legally allowed to work. The voucher scheme was first used in England in 1999 and is currently frozen – it does not go up in line with inflation.

“Not having cash means that you cannot shop in charity shops or the market, which would be cheaper and preferable to supporting big business. I can only use Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Sainsbury for food – otherwise I need to exchange the card for cash”.

“I have been an asylum seeker for three years, living in a pub and destitute. When you get the Azure Card, it reminds you of a sunny sky, a symbol of hope. But the reality is not like that. Maybe your nearest supermarket is far away, or you may be old, disabled or sick – you still have to walk to the supermarket and back”.

Azure card

“It makes you feel like a criminal, people in the queue stare at you”.

“I can’t save any money from week to week – if you do not use all the money up within a week, it disappears. It makes you a prisoner – you have no choice about where to shop or what to spend your money on. You cannot save up to give someone a gift, or to celebrate. You need to rely on other people to exchange the card for cash – this makes you vulnerable to exploitation”.

“The Home Office want to send me to Nottingham – I don’t know the city, where the shops are – how can I use the card?”

“The card can only be used in the big supermarkets, Mothercare and Boots. I am only allowed to buy food and toiletries – nothing else. I can’t get a phone card, or use a bus. I need to transfer money into a bank account in order to get a phone contract or top up a phone. I can’t do that with an Azure card”.

We heard that it is Home Office policy not to believe applicants when they first apply, so that the vast majority of asylum seekers need to produce additional evidence so that their case can be reconsidered. They are then given an Azure Card, which they could remain on for years.

Asylum seekers have to report to a centre every month – they should be given a bus pass to enable them to do this – but many do not have the confidence to challenge a shop assistant or bus driver if they are refused, the knowledge to whom they should apply, or the English language skills to fill in a form correctly. In addition, many suffer from mental health issues due to the traumatic experiences from which they are fleeing. This adds to the alienation, contributes to stress and makes their situation even worse.

This affects thousands of people, in every major city in the UK.

Asylum seekers cannot travel to visit friends or a solicitor – they cannot travel by coach or train. They have a right to live as well as merely survive. They don’t have access to money, clothes, etc. Women have been denied sanitary pads. Most asylum seekers have had their Azure card refused as they have tried to use it, even in supermarkets which are part of the scheme. Often, because of trauma, they do not have the confidence to argue their rights with a cashier – they may just walk away and their journey to the shop is wasted. If they create a fuss in the shop, generally their card would be accepted – but this draws attention to themselves. Pregnant women have been denied use of the Azure card in Asda – “We can’t take these”.

Why do the government do this?

They want people to leave and become fed up with living in Britain. The official line is that asylum seekers can go to a supermarket and buy food and essentials – what more do they need? There is no account given to people’s basic human rights.

Charities like the City of Sanctuary link people up with asylum seekers, to exchange cards for cash. This helps to some extent, but increases the vulnerability of asylum seekers and affects what little independence they have.

Obviously, we need to get rid of the card, but it is just part of the whole corrupt and rotten detention system. The big four supermarkets make millions out of asylum seekers’ plight – http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/supermarkets-rake-44million-governments-asylum-4635562

We heard from a volunteer with Refugee Action, a charity which offers support to asylum seekers and those with Section 4 support.

He reported that Iain Duncan Smith was considering extending the use of the Azure card to people with gambling, drug or alcohol problems, so that they can only spend money on essentials. This stigmatises people with drug and alcohol problems even more than they are already. There is a real risk that while the scheme may begin with people who have drug / alcohol problems, it could eventually cover everyone on benefits.

Asylum seekers cannot unify as a community – Home Office seeks to chop-up their means of support, by scattering them across the country – so they are disenfranchised. The message is that you are not welcome here. Much of the mainstream media constantly spreads propaganda that asylum seekers and immigrants are to blame for the country’s problems, responsible for failings of services. Thus, the government seeks scapegoats, excuses to carry out its austerity and cuts programme.

“People with dependency issues and drink / drug problems could unite with asylum seekers to stop this campaign of stigmatisation. People with problems often self-medicate – I knew a woman who lost both her children, but ended up using heroin. People can be labelled as “criminals”, “CHAVs”, “uneducated”, but I have experienced peer-led communities, who helped me overcome my drinking. This was as a result of a social phobia – used as a coping mechanism”.

“There is a connection, sympathy and similarity between members of these communities, both are alienated and disenfranchised. Whereas, if you have plenty of money, you are welcomed into the country on what is called an “entrepreneurial visa”, yet vulnerable people, who have gone through horrific experiences, are being targeted”.

“We need to defend high quality, publicly provided drug and alcohol services. We need to empower a disenfranchised working class and connect up community organisations with each other”.

It was felt that getting rid of the Azure card is fixing a small cog in a big wheel – but it would be an important start and give people confidence that they can win victories. If people are not getting served in a supermarket, we could target each supermarket individually. Pickets could support people, there could be a photo-op with giant Azure cards. We need to give people the confidence to approach management if they are refused.

The findings of the meeting correspond with a large-scale report carried out by the Red Cross, drawn from first-hand experience with working with asylum seekers across the country. They recommend withdrawal of the scheme completely and abolition of the law which does not allow Section 4 asylum seekers to receive any cash – http://www.scribd.com/doc/234776188/Azure-Card-Report-2014 – It found that the scheme affects the mental health of the vast majority of asylum seekers, most of them do not understand it or their rights, the vast majority have been refused use of the card and they feel embarrassed and stigmatised as a result of using it.

Sodexho run the Azure card system. The Mirror ran a story showing the money made from asylum seekers by the “big four” supermarkets – Tesco £20.6m, Asda £11.3m, Sainsbury £5.9m, Morrisons £2.4m. “Often people are asked for their signature to buy something. Shops are inconsistent – they may take a card one week and not the next”.

“If you ring the Home Office, they say that all shops are aware of the scheme and they would chase up any shops not complying with it – however, how many asylum seekers would know who to contact, how could they without a phone card?”

I would add that this stigmatisation of marginalised groups is part of capitalism. It is a deliberate strategy, to isolate and atomise working-class and poor people. Mainstream politicians, of all parties, argue that cuts are inevitable and we have no choice but to accept austerity.

Yet the people of Greece and Ireland have shown that there is an alternative to division and scapegoating, by rising up en masse against debts and water charges. We need to do the same here, and also build a political voice for those who have no party to speak for them. I support TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – which is an attempt to build a new political voice for the oppressed.

Nothing like a cup of tea

October 27, 2014

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The best cup of tea I have ever had was served at 19 miles, as I was running in the Potteries Marathon (now sadly no more). This was not a cuppa from a plastic cup, but poured from a teapot into a pottery mug. The prize at the end was a plate, testament to the once-thriving pottery industry in the towns around Stoke On Trent.

Bosses at Leicester’s hospitals have decided that staff in public places are no longer entitled to have a refreshing cuppa. Doing a 12 hour shift on a hospital ward is much like running a marathon, except that nurses have to concentrate, calculate dosages, make potentially life-or-death decisions. I would much rather be treated by a professional who was alert and awake than someone nodding off at the end of a long day. Hypocritically, the same bosses acknowledge the importance of being well-hydrated and require staff to be alert.

Socialists would put an end to petty bureaucracy in the NHS, by increasing democracy and putting workers themselves in control. I did my bit to raise the profile of our party, by running the Leicester Marathon this Sunday, selling 40 copies of the paper and raising over £40 in fighting fund as I went round the course. There was not a cup of tea in sight as I went round the course, just energy drinks and water, but some caffeine would have been very welcome indeed.

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. http://www.tusc.org.uk

In America, Socialist Alternative is gaining support across the continent, with new branches springing up, and hundreds of people applying to join – http://www.socialistalternative.org

In Ireland, the Anti Austerity Alliance has just won its third TD in Parliament as the main parties are increasingly exposed for supporting austerity – http://www.socialistparty.ie

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 – http://www.new.solidarityscotland.org

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 – http://psol50.org.br/site/

In Spain, millions voted for Podemos “We can!” – as a break from corrupt, mainstream parties. http://www.socialistworld.net/mob/doc/6806

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. http://www.socialistworld.net/mob/doc/6808

And across the world, people are rising up against this unfair system of Capitalism, which only promises poverty and inequality. http://www.socialistworld.net

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

From cradle to grave?

July 6, 2014

This is a recent article I wrote for the socialist newspaper on the state of the NHS in Leicester and the need to fight against cuts and privatisation.

The Chief Executive of University Hospitals Leicester is being paid over £200,000 a year to slash jobs and services. He is planning to cut maternity services at Leicester General Hospital, so that care for “low-risk pregnancies only” may be delivered at the hospital – he says that a full maternity service is not viable in the future. As well as this, intensive care will be reduced from the three hospital sites in Leicester to just two. This is to avoid a projected £400m funding gap by 2019.

These cuts will inevitably cost lives – critically ill patients and women with complications in childbirth will have to travel from one side of the city to another. A pregnancy can start off normally, but complications can be fatal. The loss of beds will have a further impact on the hospital’s ability to treat patients, especially in the winter. Locally, hospital services are already hugely stretched and the waiting time for A&E treatment is more than four hours. At a recent public meeting on the state of the NHS organised by Keep Our NHS Public, a nurse spoke of patients having to be sectioned, not because they needed psychological treatment, but simply to ensure that they would get a bed.

The Trust gives excuses for the cuts, talking about a move towards “care at home”. When it was set up, the NHS was intended to provide a “comprehensive” health care service, “from cradle to grave”. This responsibility was torn up under the Tories’ infamous Health and Care Act. But would Labour do anything any different? They introduced “Foundation Trusts”, making hospitals compete with each other for funding,rather than co-operating to deliver the best possible care and opening up the NHS to the private market. Labour also expanded the use of PFI, or “Profit From Illness” as Dave Nellist has called it. This has allowed private companies to take over the running of facilities and services. The profits of companies such as Capita, Serco and Interserve are the real reason for the cash crisis in our hospitals.

The Socialist Party would end our reliance on PFI, and kick out fat cats from our NHS, without any compensation. If capitalism is not willing to pay for decent healthcare, then it is not the NHS we cannot afford, it is this rotten economic system itself, which puts profits before people.

The Socialist Party stands for the complete renationalisation of NHS services and democratic control by workers and patients in the NHS. The NHS has had its funds frozen by the government, breaking promises made in 2010 that front-line staff would not be affected, and there would be no major top-down reorganisation of our hospitals – just before the government pushed through a major privatisation of services, seeing billions of pounds of funding going to the private sector. That money could instead be invested to meet the needs of the people of Leicester, but it is only going to happen if rapacious companies are kicked out of our public services for good. This would get rid of costly middle-men and reduce bureaucracy in our NHS.

Trade unions on July 10th, representing 1.5 million workers, are taking part in the biggest strike action since the pensions dispute of November 2011, in defence of members’ terms and conditions. We must pressurise the leadership of unions to keep up the pressure this time and refuse to climb down. Health workers have faced the same squeeze on our wages, with years of below-inflation pay rises, outsourcing and underfunding and therefore their unions also need to take part in joint strike action. It is difficult in a caring profession to abandon your job, but the reality is that the NHS will be destroyed unless we fight to keep it.

Support TUSC and join the Socialist Party to campaign to save our NHS services.

Build an alternative for ordinary people, not the bosses.

June 2, 2014

In the recent council elections, TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) stood an historic 561 candidates nationwide – this represents the biggest left-of-Labour challenge for 70 years. Despite this, we were largely ignored by the media, with only two interviews on the Daily Politics. Our candidates achieved some very good results, in spite of this lack of coverage, getting around 1000 votes in St Michaels ward in Coventry, and electing a councillor in Southampton. We also achieved excellent results in Doncaster, Sheffield and London. In total, TUSC’s candidates received over 65,000 votes.

In Ireland, there were elections at the same time, but with a completely different system of proportional representation, which tends to give smaller parties a fighting chance. We also faced, in the European Elections, a challenge to get our MEP, Paul Murphy re-elected for the Dublin constituency. With the Irish section of the SWP (as People Before Profit) standing against us in his seat, this meant that it was going to be even more of a difficult battle. With the resulting split in the Socialist vote, this meant that despite him getting nearly 30,000 first preference votes, it wasn’t quite enough. However, this is still a strong showing for us and we should be well-placed to regain the seat in the future. Elsewhere in Ireland, anger against austerity meant that it was a great night for the Anti Austerity Alliance, which the Socialist Party took part in – we won 14 councillors and Ruth Coppinger was elected as a TD in Dublin West (the Irish equivalent of an MP).

In the European elections in the UK, UKIP were the recipient of an anti-EU protest vote, winning votes from both Tories and Labour, while the Lib Dem vote collapsed. However, UKIP, a right-wing split from the Tories, will be exposed in the future, as their anti-working-class policies offer people no real alternative. Of course, the vast majority of the electorate simply stayed at home, seeing little point in voting in the European elections, reflecting a generalised anger at establishment politicians in general.

While in some countries, the far-right have made gains, this is not the case across Europe as a whole. In Greece, Syriza were the largest party, with a programme opposing austerity, and in Spain the United Left gained 10% of the vote, along with Podemos, a party which rose from the Indignados  movement. Podemos gained  five MEPs and 1.5million votes in the European elections. From  The Guardian: “Podemos’ lofty list of election promises includes doing away with tax havens, establishing a guaranteed minimum income and lowering the retirement age to 60.  “Voted in by Spaniards tired with persistent unemployment, austerity measures and corruption scandals, Iglesias said Podemos MEPs would act accordingly. Rather than the standard salary of more than €8,000 (£6,500) a month, “not one of our MEPs will earn more than €1,930, an amount that’s three times the minimum wage in Spain. The remainder would either go to the party or a chosen cause.” This is similar to what TUSC is putting forward in Britain. The need for an alternative is clear, as Milliband’s Labour has made clear that it “cannot afford” to roll back Con-Dem cuts.

While some countries looked for alternatives on the left, others, like voters in France, expressed their disappointment with the soft-left Francois Hollande, who is continuing with austerity measures, by voting for the far-right Front National. I think the most effective way to defeat the divisive and racist ideology of the far-right is to build a political alternative for ordinary people. UKIP has benefited from a protest vote against all the main parties, who are carrying out vicious cuts to public services. We say these cuts are not necessary – the resources are there in society to fund decent services for all, but the problem is the money is in the hands of bankers and speculators. To fight back, join the Socialist Party (which is part of TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) — http://www.tusc.org.uk

The TUSC video the media wouldn’t show... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyG1KPeCAT0