Tuesday 19th December 2006, may go down in history as the day that the trade union movement in Britain began to break down old sectional divisions, and finally got its act together; or it may go down as the day in which bureaucratically-managed decline became the order of the day. The “Vesting Day” of May 1st 2007 will be the date upon which the two great British unions, the T&GWU and Amicus (formerly the AEU, ASTMS and EEPTU), amalgamate, forming a new union (assuming that the members of both unions agree to amalgamation, in a ballot, to be held in January / February of next year).
Naturally, I prefer to believe that this amalgamation is the beginning of a new, vibrant and militant age for British trade unionism. Discussions have been going on between the T&GWU and Amicus about a merger to form a new “super-union”, since 2005. At first, the GMB were also involved, but they bailed out at their 2006 conference. The reason that the GMB withdrew (despite their General Secreatry Paul Kenny being, privately, in favour) is worth knowing, from the point of view of T&G and Amicus rank-and-file people assessing the pros and cons of the merger: the reason that the GMB conference rejected the merger was because their regional secretaries and branch secretaries have too much to lose: they make a very good living out of the present arrangements within the GMB – thank you very much – and don’t want anyone interferering with it…Paul Kenny knows very well that these people are corrupt, but he can’t move against them, because he depended upon them to gain power against his predecessor, Curran. The fact that the GMB is going bankrupt, and will be out of business if present trends continue, in about twenty or thirty years, is of no concern to the regional and branch bureaucrats: they’ll be dead and gone before the union goes bankrupt.
What was refreshing about Tuesday 19th’s recall BDC (Biennial Delegate Conference) of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, was the honesty of the debate, and the seriousness with which the future of trade unionism as a whole, was treated.
There has been a consultation on the question of the amalgamation/”new union” within the T&G, ever since the matter was first raised before the membership, before the 2005 Biennial Delegate Conference (BDC). That conference insisted that there must be a recall BDC to vote on the proposed rule book for the new union, before it was put to a ballot of the membership of the two unions: that is exactly what is being done: for once, a union leadership is carrying out the demands of its membership.
The recall T&G BDC was a very democratic affair. Speeches were taken for and against the resolution to support the Instrument of Amalgamation; of the 34 speeches taken, 4 were against. At one point, I thought I thought no-one would speak against, then up got that old friend of this blog, Rachael Webb, to denounce the amalgamation: Rachael was, and is, completely wrong, but you had to admire her guts and spirit: her case seemed to be based upon the proposition that Derek Simpson and the Amicus leadership are not to be trusted (something that many of had worked out for ourselves many moons ago)…
There were very powerful speeches in favour of amalgamation from the vast majority of speakers from the floor – although it was noticeable that all those who wanted to speak against, were called to speak…in other words, no attempt was made to suppress the opposition, such as it was… I’m sure that Rachael will confirm that.
In the end, the recall BDC voted against fear of the past (repeated evocations of Frank Chapple, Eric Hammond, etc), and in favour of a new future for British trade unionism: the most important aspect of which is £7.05 million guaranteed for unionising, guaranteed to rise to £15 million…to build he new union amonst previously unorganised sectors: of course we have to support it!
In a moment of pant-wettingly funny hilarity, Volty has been banned by the kevin-the-revolutionary-teenagers of (crap) blog Through the Scary Door, apparently for laughing at their post about “Vermin of the Year“. Which is tremendously amusing in itself, but wait gentle reader. A story lies therein.
In case you were wondering who these SWP members thought were the “Vermin of the Year”, but can’t be arsed to read Morbo’s drivelling on the subject, they said… well go on, guess. George Bush? Nope. Tony Blair? No. Ehud Olmert? Not even close. Perhaps the BNP? Well, they did get a mention but nope, they missed out on the top prize.
So who did win, and in doing so spark a wave of hilarity currently doing the rounds of the internet? Why, of course, it’s the National Union of Students! “Worms, Vermin and Scabs”, so they are, sez the Scary Door, an organisation infected with “Zionist hacks” like… err… Union National President Gemma Tumelty.
Anyway, at this point lots of people (myself included) laughed at the Scary Door folk, and so they crapped themselves, deleted a load of comments, and banned anyone who was nasty to them. They would have done more but their mums called them in for their tea.
Oh my, another day in virtual politics…
Update 23/12/06 – for those of you who were holding your breath for news on this shocking subject, Volty has now been unbanned and the comments all put back! Well done to whichever one of the Scary Door Children decided to have a youthful rebellion, refuse mummy’s beans on toast and, like, stick it to the man!
Hear ye, hear ye! Those super-spooks at Vigil have returned, ready to fight the Evil-World on your behalf again! You may remember them from such bizarre previous appearances as the BBC Newsnight report on Hizb-ut-Tahrir, where if nothing else they demonstrated that bullshit really does baffle brains (or, well, BBC journalist Richard “Brains” Watson anyway).
Anyways, last time we mentioned Vigil, it was to say that they’d taken their page off the site belonging to the clinically sane IC-HUMINT, home of Christian protectors of Jerusalem from the Mohammedan hordes the world over. Well, they’ve only gone and got themselves a new site all of their own!
Check it out, and if the first thing that strikes you is how the deeply narcissistic design of the front page reminds you of the style in which popular BBC programme “Spooks” is shot, then you’re not alone. But I think the funniest thing about it, is that it proclaims the organisation to be basically neutral on matters ideological, such as religion. OK lads, and the band played believe you if you like.
By the way, the new site is verrrry rickety so if you don’t get through to it first time, keep trying. It’s well worth it.
More on this soon when anything else amusing comes up. Hat-tip for the new Vigil site URL to “Victor” in the comments on a previous post on this subject. Interestingly, the new Vigil site isn’t yet searchable on Google, which makes you think that he might have jumped the gun in mentioning it…
Update: Just to make the point again, the likely lads from Vigil claim not to have any hidden ideological agenda. Take a look at this article about Jenvey’s views on the dangers of the holiday season (an article whose author is himself apparently linked to Vigil) and decide for yourselves.
Kenny Davern is dead – suddenly and unexpectedly. The greatest, and most original jazz clarinetist of his age; also a caustic wit, an iconoclast and a man of strong views on many subjects. At the Brecon Jazz Festival a couple of years ago, the “soundies” (used to rock bands) tried to mike him up: Davern spoke through the mike: “I have spent fifty years developing a sound and a tone on my instrument: and now some bums insist on miking me up…unless that mike is turned off I will go home!”
Davern was a good man. In the tradition of his friend and mentor, Pee Wee Russell. I feel particularly bad because Davern was probably the last jazz musician who played my sort of stuff naturally, and not as a deliberate “routine”: It’s the end of an era.
Over the past week, that dishonest, congenital liar Blair has been interviewed by the police over ‘cash for honours’, and – it seems- once again slithered his way out of the situation by claiming (quite falsely), that the honours in question were given for “services to the Labour Party” – which, according to “Downing Street sources” means (to quote the Independent on Sunday of 17 December 2006), “‘their willingness to serve as Labour Party peers’. A party spokesman said: “I am not going to get into how may leaflets they have delivered”‘. None of the businessmen in question have any record of party activism (beyond large donations/loans), and at least one – Sir David Garrard- is not even a member of the Party. All the businessmen involved, say (quite believably) that they thought they were being put forward for the Lords because of their “contribution to British society”, not because of their (non-existant) “services” to the Labour Party.
Obviously, this disgusting business, and the equally neauseating supression of the Serious Fraud Office’s's investigation into BAe’s dealings with Saudi Arabia, have grabbed the headlines in the bourgeois media, and been the plainest examples of the extraordinary -pathological- dishonesty of Mr Tony “purer than pure” Blair.
However, for working-class socialists, all that is of secondary importance: what is much more significant (but less exciting), is the Hayden Phillips proposal for a £50,000 ‘cap’ on all donations, whether from individuals or organisations, to political parties.
This proposal – vigorously supported by David Cameron- would allow rich individuals to continue to send cheques of up to £50,000 to the Tories, but require the Labour Party to write each year to political levy-payers, asking them if they wish to continue to remain a contributor to party funds. It is, quite clearly, a means of breaking the link between the Labour Party and the unions. It fits in with the plan that the Blairites forged in the 1990′s, to break Labour’s link with the unions, and to switch over to state funding of political parties. They never followed through on this plan, for two reasons:
1/ They (the Blairites) under-estimated the degree of public hostility there would be towards the idea of state funding of political parties;
2/They (the Blairites) over-estimated the degree of opposition they would receive from the trade union leadership.
…But now, it seems, Blair and his anti-working class clique are going for bust. According to the Guardian, “Sir John McTernan, the prime minister’s political secretary, met Sir Hayden last week. It was claimed that he had told him that Tony Blair would support these proposals. Mr McTernan could not be contacted last night”.
The Guardian (of December 12 2006), continued:
“Critics believe Tony Blair is intent on seeking a dramatic restructuring of the relationship between Labour and the trade unions, as part of his “legacy”. In his first months as Labour leader, Mr Blair stamped his authority on the party by announcing his plan to scap Clause 4 of the Labour Party’s constitution”:
In reality, the “Clause 4″ battle was a phoney war, that Blair and his ‘advisers’ (ex-student union ballot-riggers) knew they were bound to win. It wasn’t a significant matter in terms of working class representation: the present busines – although much less dramatic – is: that’s why some of us are calling a meeting at O’Neil’s on Broad Street, Birmingham at about 5.00pm (after the T&G special conference on amalgamation with Amicus), with John McDonnell MP and various T&G Executive members, to discuss these matters. If you’re in the Birmingham area on tuesday evening, come along!
“Shiraz Socialist” has received the following, and we have no hesitation in passing on the information and urging all readers who can, to support this action:
After the bodies of 5 sex workers were found murdered within 10 days of each other and the police advising women to stay at home we call you to…
RECLAIM THE NIGHT – 29 DECEMBER – 7PM ONWARDS – IPSWICH TOWN HALL STEPS
We have comrades arriving from all over the country to show their love and solidarity; if you are able to to offer transport or would like it, please contact us and we we will try our hardest to organise lift shares, etc.
If you require accomodation before or after let us know ASAP and it will be provided (though the quality may not be great!).
Please bring banners , food to share, your thoughts, experiences, love, friends.
*THIS WILL NOT BE RESTRICTED TO A WOMEN ONLY EVENT*
Tell everyone you know!
For more information contact:
(If you are planning on coming: it would be wondersful if you could contact us so that we can get an idea of numbers).
Foe those in the Ipswich area, we DESPERATELY need your help in organising this potentially mammoth event; please meet us at cafe Direct, Suffolk College at 7pm Monday 18th December”.
Yesterday I attended a civil partnership ceremony at Islington town hall. My friend and comrade Clive (who comments here from time to time), was doing the decent thing by his partner Elias. I have to say that even my world-weary old eye was moist as the two of them spoke about how they had first met, how Elias had narrowly escaped deportation, and what their love now meant to them. Altogether now: ahhh!
I should add that the registrar and the rest of the officials and staff at the town hall were superb, achieving the perfect balance between suitable formality, and good humour.
But the high-spot of the ceremony was, without doubt Elias’s mother, a magnificent prima donna, who sang the Antonious Carlos Jobin song Dindi , accompanied by a piano-bass-and percussion trio. Now, singing mothers can be a bit of a liability – as Tommy Sheridan can confirm. But in this case, the mother really could sing. And no wonder: it turned out that she’d been the vocalist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra between 1972 and the Duke’s death in 1974. And Elias’s dad was the whisk-broom percussionist in the trio: he’d played drums with the likes of Charles Mingus.
We ended up with a fabulous disco and booze-up in a Hackney pub, where various friends and colleagues of Clive and Elias gave short speeches and/or sang songs, standing on a chair… amazingly (to me; but then, I’ve had a sheltered life), Elias’s ex-partner and mother of his child gave a warm, good-humoured and thoroughly generous speech, wishing him and Clive all the best for the future. Bloody hell! I don’t pretend to understand the sophistication of modern relationships; but it was a lesson to me in common decency, friendship and humanity. I was proud to be present.
By the way: my partner is a keen listener to BBC Radio 4′s “everyday story of country folk”, The Archers, in which there has also been a civil partnership, between two characters called Ian and Adam. Apparently, it’s caused quite a stir amongst Archers listeners, with quite a few of them complaining that this sort of carry-on has no place in a programme that is traditionally devoted to tips on when to get your turnips in, and what to do if your pigs get botulism. She throughly approved of the Ian and Adam nuptuals, and even sniffled when Adam’s stepfather, the evil capitalist farmer and homophobe Brian Aldridge, belatedly turned up at the ceremony… but, she said, it was nowhere near as good as Clive and Elia’s ceremony. Well done, you chaps!
Pinochet is dead.
I hope it wasn’t easy or painless.
Just in case any of you are getting the idea that this is a heavy, political, site with no concern for matters cultural, artistic or musical…
Two bloody good singers died recently, and both deserve to be remembered: Ruth Brown (born January 12 1928; died November 17 2006) and Anita O’Day (born October 18 1919; died October 23 2006).
I will, shortly, be putting a ‘UTube’ clip of Anita singing “Sweet Georgia Brown” from the film Jazz On A Summer’s Day, on this site (once the Priest has explained to me how you do it) and I may even tell you about her famous falling-out with Roy Eldridge.
But as for Ruth Brown: this wonderful R&B singer, who influenced Fats Domino and BB King, with the ‘catch’ in her voice, is now almost forgotten. She shouldn’t be. She was a wonderful singer and a great woman. She played a leading role in the success of Atlantic records (known as “the house that Ruth built”), and wrote to the label’s president, Ahmet Ertigun, demanding back royalties. He wrote back, replying that, on the contrary, she owed Atlantic $30,000 in unpaid studio costs, but enclosing a personal cheque for $1,000. Ruth cashed the cheque, but still called it “crumbs from the rich man’s table”.
After leaving Atlantic, she raised a family, divorced her bigamous first husband, left her abusive second husband and her unsatisfactory third, who opposed her singing career. She worked as a domestic cleaner and a school bus driver before returning to professional singing in 1975.
Many of her songs were, shall we say, full of innuendo. One of her best numbers was about an antique chair: “If I can’t sell it, I’ll keep on sittin’ on it, but I ain’t gonna give it away!”
All of us here at Shiraz Socialist opposed the Iraq war. But not all of us support the “troops out now” call of the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ (STWC) – a rotten bloc lead by the (British) Socialist Workers Party, the Muslim Association of Britain and Mr George Galloway MP: this unprincipled alliance gives not a damn about then peoples of Iraq, and certainly not about its trade union movement (whose British representative, Abdullah Muhsin – a communist-, was denounced as a “Quisling” by that piece of pro-fascist scum Galloway).
The STWC is only concerned the British and Ud domestic domestic implications of the Iraq war – they give not a fig about the peoples of Iraq, and not a fig about the courageous trades unionists and democrats of Iraq. In fact ther STWC, who officially don’t have any programme whatsoever for Iraq, actually support the fascists and nihilists of the so-called “resistance” / “insurgency”: the Ba’athists and the Shi’ite Islamists, and gloat, sickeningly, over the descent of Iraq into chaos and anarchy. They are also led by a creature (George Galloway) who danced like a grovelling supplicant at the feet of Saddam Hussein.
The Iraq Study Group’s attempt find a way out of the quagmire is almost certainly doomed to failure. It’s also merely an alternative strategy that has long been advocated by that section of the US ruling class who never bought the neo-cons’ Bolshevism.
The “Stop the War Coalition”‘s ignoring of, and then, Galloway-led attacks upon, the Iraqi trade union movement, lead me and the AWL to break with these people, and to concentrate our support upon the only force that can end the chaos and disaster that the invasion brought about: the Iraqi working class: a group who are not a consideration for either the “anti-imperialists” of the STWC, or the little-Englanders and racists who phone in to “Any Answers”.
I think the following (by a comrade who I have not yet consulted about this, so I won’t name him/her), is pretty much on the mark:
“It seems to me …if the result of withdrawal is a three-way partition of Iraq (is) terrible communal slaughter, and a Shi’ite state connected to Iraq, (then) the main point (is):
“We (socialists/internationalists) can’t say ‘Get out of Iraq and hand over power to national liberation movement X’, or even ‘get out via negotiations with national liberation movements X,Y and Z.
“Normally, that is what troops out and self-determination means: that there is an obvious alternative to colonial or colonial-style rule, and whatever we think of that alternative politically, we recognise the democratic justice , on one level at least of (their) taking power.
“It’s (sometimes) not quite so straightforward, and there are some grey areas. Who did we think would take power in Afghanistan when the USSR withdrew? The difference (between Iraq and) Afghanistan (is) that there was no workers’ movement to worry about… this is why we’re so concerned about …Iraq: there is a workers’ movement and it’s the only thing of its kind in the Arab east since the last time the Iraqi workers’ movement was crushed in 1963, before most of our organisation was born.
“But I think this is the gist of the problem: normally (ie: in ‘classical’ Trotskyist analysis) , the approach to national (liberation) movements and anti-colonial struggles, would (be), we would say, positively, that the workers’ movement should fight for the leadership of the national (liberation) movement, aiming for workers’ power. That however doesn’t have much grip on the current situation in Iraq. You could say ‘troops out now and fight for workers’ power’ – I assume that is what the 57 varieties of would-be Trots say. But only a twit would think it was actually an answer to the problem.
“This is because the movement against the occuspation is not, or not mainly, an anti-colonial-type (movement). It is inexorably mixed up with a communalist, sectarian civil war. It’s not just that the national liberation movement which might take power when the occupiers leave, is vile, undemocratic, etc; but that there isn’t one.
“‘Troops out now’ means: ‘and actually fuck knows what will fill the void’. You can build a movement for solidarity with the Iraqi (working class and democratic) movement; you can build a movement for for troops out, regardless of what happens afterwards. You can’t actaually build a movement for both simultaneously: one or the other is purelya propaganda gesture.”
Update: Further pertinent to this debate, here’s a clip of prominent IFTU figure Abdullah Muhsin, speaking about the historic and contemporary situation of Trades Unions in Iraq.