Make 10 July the start of the fightback!

July 9, 2014 at 8:03 pm (AWL, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, unions, UNISON, workers)

Strike 10 July 2014

Adapted from a Workers Liberty leaflet:

Up to two million workers will strike on 10 July.  Members of unions in local government will strike to oppose a 1% pay offer, and are demanding an increase of at least £1 per hour or to the “Living Wage”, £7.65, or £8.80 in London. Other unions involved in the action have their own pay demands.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the cost of maintaining a decent standard of living in the UK has risen by 46% since 2008, while wages have increased by just 9%. It’s the harshest squeeze on real wages in the UK since records began. According to TUC figures, around five million workers in Britain (20% of the total workforce) are paid less than the living wage.

The 10 July strike can be the start of a working class counter-offensive challenging the capitalist logic that demands workers pay for the financial crisis.

We need a plan, not just a day at a time

One-off strike days, each followed by a long wait until union leaders report back or call further action, aren’t nough.

The remedy is not just to convert one-day protest strikes into two-day protest strikes, but to plan continuing action, discussed and decided in advance by union members. This could include limited, selective action as well as all-out strikes and be directed by local strike committees.

Local strike committees should continue meeting after 10 July, and the executives of all the striking unions should meet together.

After 10th July?

Unison’s leaders have already talked about further strikes on 9 and 10 September. Unions should liaise with each other in order to pin down the most effective date, and other actions should be planned between now and then – even small, local events like lunchtime rallies, demos and street stalls.

NHS workers should be brought into the dispute. Unison should act on its 2014 Health sector conference decision to ballot for strikes over pay. Strike funds should be levied at both local and national level to ensure the lowest-paid  workers are supported in taking sustained and escalating action.

On strike days every workplace should be picketed, with pickets approaching non-striking workers and attempting to persuade them not to cross. In 2011 some activists held members’ meetings with discussion and voting – not just set-piece rallies.’ We should organise such meetings this time, as well.

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Of course Putin’s Russia is imperialist!

June 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm (AWL, imperialism, Marxism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)

Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.

He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”

And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).

“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”

This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.

However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Workers Liberty on the collapse in Iraq

June 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm (AWL, Cross-post, iraq, iraq war, islamism, kdp, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, secularism, terror, war)

Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck. Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck.

The following article, by Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty, carries weight because it is largely based upon interviews with representatives of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan. It first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:

On Wednesday 11 June, the Al-Qaeda-oriented Sunni Islamist group ISIS seized control of Iraq’s second-biggest city, Mosul.

It has taken several other cities in the Sunni-majority north and west. Before 11 June it already had control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, and of significant areas in Syria.

Nadia Mahmood of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq told Solidarity:

“What’s going on now with ISIS is a new phase of the sectarian violence which reached its peak in 2006-7 with the bombings in Samarra”.

That simmering sectarian civil war died down in 2007-8 and after. But, said Nadia: “After the Arab Spring [in 2011], the Sunni [minority in Arab Iraq] became more assertive.

“In 2013, [Iraq's Shia-Islamist prime minister] Maliki ended the [peaceful, and not sharply Islamist] protest camps outside the roads to Fallujah and ignored their demands.

“Now in 2014, after the election two months ago, Maliki wants to stay in power and has marginalised even the other Shia parties.

“Because of the sectarian nature of the government, this sort of violence will happen again and again. Socialists need to call for a secular state.

“The left and the labour movement in Iraq are not powerful right now, so first of all we need a secular state without religious identity which will give us ground to build. The target now is to end the sectarian nature of the state”.

Some of the roots of this collapse of the Iraqi state lie in what the USA did after invading in 2003. It disbanded much of the Iraqi state machine, including low-ranking people, and promoted “de-Baathification”.

At first the USA hoped that pro-US and relatively secular people like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi would create a pro-US Iraqi government. But those neo-liberals turned out to be good at schmoozing US officials while in exile, hopeless at winning support from Iraqis in Iraq.

Amid the chaos and rancour which followed the invasion and the destruction of everyday governance, the mosques and the Islamist factions won hegemony.

The US adapted and worked with people like Maliki. As Aso Kamal of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan told Solidarity: “The Americans made a political system that depended on balancing three ethnic and sectarian identities.

“Iraq had been a modern society, with sectarian divisions not so deep. These events are the product of the new system America brought to Iraq. Especially with other powers like Turkey and Iran intervening, seeking their allies within the Iraqi system, it has been a disaster”. Now Saudi Arabia has seized on the current crisis to call for the fall of Maliki and his replacement by “a government of national consensus”.

Nadia Mahmood explained: “I think some of the Ba’thists saw the de-Ba’thification policy as targeting Sunnis more than Ba’thists. In fact there were Shia Ba’thists who held powerful positions in the state, and they were protected because they were Shia.

“So the Sunni Ba’athists went to the Sunni side and the Islamist side, not the Ba’thist side. They held to their religious identity”.

According to Aso Kamal, Maliki’s government is seen as a Shia government, and that rallies groups like ISIS and ex-Ba’thists against it.

For us in Workers’ Liberty, the horrible events confirm the arguments we made during the previous simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq (especially 2006-7) for slogans of support for the Iraqi labour movement and democracy against both the US forces and the sectarian militias, not the negative slogan “troops out”. The two-word recipe “troops out” then certainly entailed a sectarian collapse like this one, only worse. Now it is happening, even those who previously most ardently insisted that anti-Americanism must be the first step, and everything else could be be sorted out later, dare not hail the ISIS advance and the Shia counter-mobilisation as “liberation” or “anti-imperialism”.

Of course, rejecting the slogan “troops out” did not mean supporting the US, any more than being dismayed at the ISIS advance means endorsing Maliki.

The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army as the relatively small ISIS force advanced shows how corrupt and discredited the state has become.

Nadia Mahmood explained: “Soldiers from Mosul were saying that even when ISIS were still far away from the city, the leaders of the army took off their military clothes and left the soldiers. The Mayor of Mosul told the soldiers to leave. Some of the soldiers are saying that there was a deal”.

The knock-on effect of the ISIS victories is a sharpening on the other side of Shia sectarianism. As Nadia Mahmood says: “Now the Shia political parties are becoming closer to each other and calling for resistance. There is a sectarian agenda against the Sunni”. Aso Kamal adds: “Sistani and Maliki are also calling for a holy war. This is taking Iraq back centuries. It could become like Somalia. That will destroy the working class. It is a very dark scenario”.

Workers’ Liberty believes that defence of the labour movement in Iraq, which will be crushed wherever ISIS rules and in grave danger where the Shia Islamists are mobilising, should be a main slogan now, alongside the call for a secular state.

“ISIS”, says Aso Kamal, “have announced what they are going to do. Women must stay at home. Nothing must be taught in schools outside the Quran. There will be no freedom of speech. They are like the Taliban”.

“I’m not sure how ISIS came to Iraq”, says Nadia Mahmood, “and whether they are popular even amongst Sunnis. Maybe they are allied with the Ba’thists. But are there more Sunnis supporting them? Many Sunnis seem very scared and oppose ISIS.

“It is horrible what is going on”. But, now they have power and access to big arsenals, “ISIS may keep hold of the Sunni cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit, for some time. It’s obviously not the same for Baghdad.

“Bringing in Iranian groups to fight ISIS will only encourage sectarian discourse and maybe accelerate Shia-Sunni polarisation. Already Maliki is accused by ISIS, and by the Ba’thists, of being an Iranian agent. Whether Iranian intervention calms the situation or it worsens it is unclear.

“Many people in Iraq would prefer the United States to attack ISIS. They have come all the way from Mosul to 60km outside Baghdad, killing in their wake. I don’t know if they stay longer how many crimes they will commit, how many tragedies are going to happen. People in Baghdad feel very scared now”.

That doesn’t mean endorsing US bombing. The US’s 12 years of bombing in Afghanistan have not installed a secular state, but rebuilt a base for the once-discredited Taliban.

As Aso Kamal explains: “The Americans have a common front against ISIS now. But the Americans are playing with both sides. They do whatever they think will stabilise the region and the markets, and ignore the future of the people. In reality, they are supporting reactionary forces in Iraq.

“The effect of the developing sectarian war will be to inflame nationalism in Kurdistan. Already the KDP and the PUK [the main parties] are asking people to support them in order to keep the territory which Kurdish forces have conquered”.

For the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, “the main issue is to keep Kurdistan separate from this war. We say there should be a referendum and independence for [Iraqi] Kurdistan”.

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Matgamna: take all religion out of schools!

June 12, 2014 at 10:56 pm (AWL, Brum, child abuse, children, Christianity, Education, Islam, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, religion, religious right, secularism, Tory scum)

Above: Park View School hosted this ultra-reactionary bigot as a speaker to its pupils

By Sean Matgamna (re-blogged from Workers Liberty)

A group of three academies, one other academy, and one council-controlled school in Birmingham have been put into “special measures” by Ofsted government inspectors for allegedly acting like “faith schools”.

Ofsted complains that Park View school has weekly “Islamic-themed assemblies”, with invited speakers “not vetted”, and that from year 9 onwards religious education is almost all Islamic. Faith schools are explicitly allowed to have their assemblies, and their religious education, organised around their chosen religion, and to imbue other subjects with religious ideology.

Over 35 per cent of all state-funded schools in England are “faith schools”. They can freely do all or most of what Ofsted complained of in Birmingham.

The furore about an alleged “Muslim plot” to turn the Birmingham schools into indoctrination centres for “extremist” Islam rips the covering right off one of the great scandals in British life.

The scandal is not about Muslims, but goes right across the spectrum of the religious indoctrination of children in Britain. The huge majority of faith schools are Christian. Some of them are bland about their religion, and some of them militant.

It is not only about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition administration. Faith schools increased under Labour from about a quarter to over 35% of schools.

The Government’s answer is that faith schools should continue, but they must be obliged to teach “British values”.

That is dangerous nonsense. The real answer is that all schools must be secular. Religious preaching of all sorts must be taken out of them.

The problem is in part the marshmallow language the Government uses — “extremists” and “moderates”. It is also that much of the Government’s talk about “British values” is “spin” rather than something that has or will have substance to it.

The government lists among those values “tolerance” and “respect” for those of different faiths.

When a school is run by vigorous, convinced, ardently religious people, mandating “moderate” values is either an infringement on religious freedom, or a nonsense, or both.

All serious religious people believe, and in the nature of religious belief must believe, that their own faith is the one true faith. All of them teach that. Explicitly or by implication, they believe that other religious beliefs and practices are wrong, pernicious, even the work of the Devil.

When a religion ceases to think it bears the only real truth, it is on the road to self-weakening and dissolution, at a quicker or faster pace. Anglicanism is an example. Serious belief in the truth and godly inspiration of one’s own religion implies intolerance and contempt for, and desire to subdue, the false religion.

Now the Government says that devout Muslims — often the most convinced and most militant of contemporary religious people — must be “moderate”, and must have “respect” and “tolerance” for those whom their religion tells them are mistaken and sinful.

No doubt the majority of British Muslims do not hold the “extreme” positions, but those who do have the moral high ground, appealing to precedent, age-old tradition, and sense of historical identity and affinity.

Governments should enforce the law against, for example, those who plot religiously-motivated bombing campaigns. And governments have a right and a duty to interfere with what religious people do when they break the social code — for instance, ill-treatment of children by Christian sects, such as the one Victoria Climbie’s murdering religion-crazed aunt belonged to, or mutilation of the genitals of young girls.

But there is no way a government can tell a religious community what to think and believe and pass on to young people. How can a government eradicate the belief of its devotees that a religion or a sect is the only right one, that its devotees are the only “saved” people? It cannot, not without enormous repression; and that would not succeed either. The opposite: it would drive adherents of the faith being targeted into the camp of the “extremists” and “martyrs”.

What follows? That we should “defend” those who might want to indoctrinate children with beliefs and practices that are foul and might point some of them towards jihadism? That we should focus on the demand for “extremist” Muslims to be treated not with suspicion but like bland school-running Anglicans?

That would be absurd.

In the name of religious freedom and the equality of all religions before the law and the state, it would be to “defend” vigorous religious education of all stripes, at whose heart is the systematic and long-term psychological abuse of children. Religious education implants intense emotions, fears, and beliefs in children who as yet have little power of reason and judgement. It is vicious child abuse.

No, the Government has been drawn onto the dangerous ground of threatening to impinge on the freedom of religious belief because its scheme makes no sense.

The real solution is to make all schools — including those now Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, etc. — into secular schools, places where religion is studied only in the cool comparison of different religions, their histories, the origins of their sacred books, the derivation and evolution of their core beliefs, etc.

That would give the children some secular space to retreat to in face of bullying, insistent parents or religious officials, and give them different values to counterpose to the religious values of homes which may be spiritually from a different age and very different societies.

The children of religious parents are entitled to the protection of society and the social institutions.

In some faith schools today small girls go about covered from top to toe in Islamic religious dress. A society that does not win children freedom from such impositions is obscene, and if it does not use the law to stop them will be convincing neither to itself nor to the serious religious people who have contempt for modern commercial society and for those who would regulate and “moderate” them.

The possible social consequences of the continued development of faith schools are dreadful to contemplate. Faith and ethnicity here often go together. Faith schools are also often race-segregated schools. Instead of schools being a force for integrating communities, they entrench social, ethnic, and religious antagonisms. Children are moulded and narrowed in one outlook.

Faith schools in Northern Ireland played an important part in maintaining, reinforcing, and perpetuating Protestant-Catholic sectarianism. It was the Catholic Church, the church of the most oppressed people in Northern Ireland, which insisted on faith schools — or rather, on its own right to indoctrinate children with its beliefs.

At the height of the Troubles, a small group of people started “mixed” schools, as a means of helping to destroy sectarianism. The movement has so far had little success. It would have been better to have had “mixed” schools before sectarian conflict had ripped the society apart.

What all this means for Britain now and for what sensible people should advocate for Britain now is plain: take religion out of our schools. Make education public and secular. Make religion a private matter.

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The Left must face the truth about UKIP’s working class support

June 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm (AWL, class, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, populism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:

Pointing the finger: the Ukip poster for the European elections has caused controversy

Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers

In the left’s comments on UKIP “surge” there is much about anger and disenchantment with mainstream politics.

It is true that there is an understandable revulsion against the politicians and parties whose policies and ideology accelerated the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.

Tom Walker talks about that anger in his article for Left Unity.

Walker sees UKIP’s support as primarily a repository for anger with the mainstream that is channelled against migrants, minorities and Europe by UKIP. He argues that a strong “populist” party of the left could channel that anger to progressive ends.

Other left commentators have argued a similar thing about the nearly two thirds of voters who abstained in the election. That many of them could be won over by a convincing left party, if it existed.

I think this is dangerous wishful thinking that ignores ideology. Neo-liberal, pro-austerity and anti-migrant ideas are the ruling and largely unchallenged ideas of the age. It would be patronising and wrong to think those working-class voters who voted UKIP were duped into voting for a neo-liberal anti-migrant party. They must to some degree be convinced by, share and reproduce those ideas.

We would also be kidding ourselves if we thought that non-voters shared a form of left wing anti-austerity politics rather then reflecting the balance of ideology amongst those who do vote.

We can win these people to independent working class politics, but we must face facts squarely. Those who vote UKIP or are so despairing that they do not vote are much further from socialism then most Labour voters or Green voters.

Anger is not enough to win people to socialism. We must consciously build a socialist mass movement, a socialist press, a system of socialist education.

To do this the fight to transform the existing organisations of the working class, the unions, is key. It will also require a fight in the political organisation most left-wing workers still look to, the Labour Party.

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Tiananmen Square must never be forgotten

June 3, 2014 at 11:16 pm (AWL, China, history, Human rights, posted by JD, stalinism, thuggery, youth)

25 years ago Tiananmen Square was full of tens of thousands of young Chinese demanding democracy after marching into the square singing the Internationale. 25 years ago tomorrow, June 4th, many of them were massacred by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. 3 days later I went to the local Nottingham University where Chinese students gathered together to discuss what happened. Most of the meeting was in their native tongue but I remember one Chinese student speaking with anger, despair and in tears. Her father was an officer in the PLA, she found it hard to believe what her father may have been involved in. The 'stability', 'success' and tyranny of the Chinese regime has been built over the dead bodies of those young Chinese democrats. Somewhere I have a 25 year old t-shirt with 'June 4th, we will remember them' written in Mandarin. I am going to look it out and if I find it I am going to wear it tomorrow.
 

 By Harry Glass (at Workers Liberty)

On 4 June 1989 the Chinese Communist Party savagely repressed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement that had grown to threaten its rule over the previous three months. The student-based protest had occupied Tiananmen Square at the heart of Beijing.

The Tiananmen movement has been remembered in 2004 as an overwhelmingly student-based protest movement, well summed up by the iconic image of students defying the tanks of the Chinese army.

But, though students took the lead in establishing the encampment in the square, it was ultimately the intervention of the working class that was of lasting significance.

At the beginning of the protests in May 1989, students did not generally seek working class support, confining the workers’ headquarters to the far side of the square until the end of the month.

But as the students were pulled towards the internal machinations of the ruling party, backing the “reformist” faction within the bureaucracy, the workers struck out on the road to independence.

One of the first signs came on 15 May, when 70,000 steelworkers at the Capital steel plant struck in solidarity with the Beijing democracy movement.

In fact, 1989 marked the rebirth of the working class as a powerful force in Chinese politics.

The Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation began organising on 17 April, before coming out publicly on 18 May.

Workers’ federations spread across many major cities, and incorporated steel workers, builders, bus drivers, machinists, railway workers and office staff.

A small core of around 150 activists managed to register 20,000 workers in those five weeks, including workers in state-run factories such as Shougang (Capital Iron and Steel) and Yanshan Petrochemicals.

They denounced the Communist regime as “this twentieth century Bastille, the last stronghold of Stalinism”.

After the declaration of martial law and the bloody massacre, the student movement went into decline. But the workers’ movement gained in strength and expanded far beyond the confines of Tiananmen Square.

Workers’ Autonomous Federations were established in Changsha and Yueyang in Hunan province, in Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Guangzhou in the south.

The number of strikes and the dip in production figures measure the extent of workers’ involvement. Whilst the regime claimed that workers remained aloof, the workers’ organisations suffered the fiercest attacks in the press, and workers faced the severest repression in the crackdown.

Internal documents from the state-run “union” ACFTU admit that the Tiananmen protests were about working class political independence.

And 1989 was not the end of workers’ organisation and struggle.

In 1991 Liu Jingsheng and others set up the Free Labour Union of China. It was suppressed in 1992 and its founding members are still imprisoned.

In 1991 the Ministry of State Security investigated 14 underground workers’ organisations, with between 20 and 300 members, two modelled explicitly on Solidarnosc.

In 1994 Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng were detained for trying to establish an independent union and publishing “Workers’ Forum”.

In the same year Liu Nianchun helped found the “League for the Protection of the Rights of Working People” for which he was sentenced to three years re-education-through-labour after two years of “home surveillance”.

In 1998 Hunan worker Zhang Shanguang applied to the local government for permission to register a laid-off workers’ organisation, the “Association for the Protection of the Rights of Laid-Off Workers”, and was sentenced to 10 years.

In 1999 Yue Tianxiang and Guo Xinmin established the “China Workers’ Monitor” in Gansu province, for which they were sentenced to 10 and two years.

In the same year in Henan province, Xue Jifeng was arrested for organising an independent union. The government put Xue into a psychiatric hospital.

The number of disputes skyrocketed between 1992 and 1999. Official statistics showed 14 times more labour disputes by 1999 compared with 1992, from simple contractual disagreements to work stoppages and strikes.

Collective disputes also increased rapidly, involving 250,000 workers in 1998. Besides unrest over wages, disputes involved unpaid pensions to laid-off employees, poor working conditions and the fraudulent sell-off of state enterprises.

A new wave of the independent labour movement began in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

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The socialist case against Scottish independence … in a nutshell

June 2, 2014 at 6:45 pm (AWL, internationalism, national liberation, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", scotland, Steve Bell, workers)

Steve Bell 25.2.2014

I’ve never seen or heard it expressed better, or more succinctly, than this from my comrade Patrick Murphy:

Something I will never understand is left wing support for Scottish independence.

This is not a matter of championing the RIGHT to self-determination against national oppression, rather it consists of socialists running around trying to persuade an electorate which has been consistently opposed to independence and prefers unity that they are wrong and should separate from their fellow-workers across national borders

The default position of the entire socialist tradition is for internationalism and no borders. The right to self-determination is an important exception to address particular conditions (colonies, Ireland, Palestine etc). It’s not the norm and we certainly shouldn’t be agitating for it where those conditions don’t exist in any meaningful sense.

Yet another bizarre reflection of a loss of political bearings.

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Fran Broady, 1938-2014

May 23, 2014 at 7:08 pm (AWL, Feminism, good people, history, Marxism, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, trotskyism, women)

I didn’t know Fran Broady, though I’m sure our paths must have crossed once or twice, as we were both members of the I-CL (International-Communist League, forerunner of the AWL) in the mid-1970s. I certainly knew her by repute, and was aware of the respect she seemed to inspire in many comrades. She was one of a number of working class autodidacts who joined the Trotskyist and semi-Trotskyist movement in the UK in the 1970s, but are all too rare in the ranks of what passes for the far-left today. Comrades like Fran, and the contribution they made, deserve to be remembered. We republish an appreciation by the AWL’s Martin Thomas, followed by extracts from an article by Fran on Eleanor Marx:

Fran Broady, who was a leading member of our organisation in the 1970s, died on 18 May at the age of 75.

Fran met us in 1970, when we were an opposition tendency in IS (forerunner of, but very much more open than, today’s SWP). The IS/SWP expelled our tendency in December 1971, because of our campaign against the switch of line to “No to the Common Market” from advocating European workers’ unity. Fran chose our small expelled group without hesitation.

I remember a conversation with a student member of another left group in 1972, when we were labouring to get a circulation for our new, small, primitively-produced newspaper.

He liked the paper because it combined activist reporting with more theoretical articles, obviously (he said) by well-read writers. The article he pointed to was one by Fran (“Slaves of the slaves”, Workers’ Fight 11, 23/07/72).

“In the family, the man is the boss and the woman the worker… We have a long struggle ahead of us to establish our rights as human beings. Laws alone will never do that. We will have to do it ourselves…

“It is not enough to confine ourselves to fighting for women’s rights. We must take up our place in the working class and fight on all fronts, the economic, the political, and the ideological”.

Yet Fran’s formal education had been limited. She was working in a factory when she first met us; she later worked in other jobs, including for many years for Manchester City Council in a women’s hostel.

I remember her telling me about her first laborious effort to read the Communist Manifesto. The unfamiliar word “proletarians” was in the first section heading. Fran looked it up in a dictionary: “Someone who owns nothing but their children”.

She quickly educated herself in Marxism. Characteristic, also, was her first excursion to sell a socialist newspaper (Socialist Worker, it would have been). She sold some copies at a factory gate, but had one left as she travelled home. So she buttonholed the bus driver and sold it to him.

She was active in the lively women’s movement of the early 1970s, and part of setting up one of the first women’s refuges in Britain, in Manchester in 1972.

Her leaning was to ebullient polemic rather than subtle tactics. In 1976, this made her part of a dispute inside the women’s fraction of our organisation (then called I-CL), with Fran and Marian Mound regarding the others (Pat Longman, Michelle Ryan, Juliet Ash) as tending to political self-effacement in the name of movement-building, and the others regarding Fran and Marian as abstractly declamatory.

The dispute was transcended (with no dead-end aftermath) by the “transitional slogan” of a working-class-based women’s movement.

Fran’s domestic life was not smooth. Her husband Dave Broady, for whom I wrote an obituary in Solidarity just last month, was an angry, unsettled character.

Eventually Fran drifted out of activity. But her ideas, and her special admiration for Frederick Engels above other Marxist writers, didn’t change. She was active in the union; read our paper; donated money from time to time.

Her last years, after retiring from work, were difficult. Her health was poor: hypothyroidism, diabetes, arthritis. Her son David died suddenly in 2012, at the age of 47. Her ex-husband Dave was jailed for manslaughter in 2008, and then died in unclear circumstances. Relations with her daughters Karen and Rachel were not easy.

In January 2014, Fran collapsed at home and was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. At first she mended well: she was interested and pleased when I took her a copy of our new book of cartoons from the US socialist press, 1930s to 1950s. But after the pneumonia was cured, she remained weak and declined towards death.

We send our condolences to Fran’s family and friends, and especially to her daughter Karen who works with AWL in Manchester.

I-CL National Committee, 1975: Fran is second from left at the front (with scarf)

* Karen Broady adds: Fran’s funeral will be on Friday 30 May at Manchester Crematorium, Barlow Moor Road, M21 7GZ at 3.30pm in the New Chapel.

Fran on Eleanor Marx

Eleanor Marx was born into the workshop and armoury of scientific socialism on the 16 January 1855.

Her father Karl Manx was immersed in the economic research for his great work, Capital. Volume 1 of Capital, which appeared in 1867, was to be decisive in transforming socialism from a moral ideal to a theory based on the most exact analysis of capitalist society and the contradictions driving towards its overthrow.

Meanwhile, the Marx family was plagued by illness and abject poverty. They had been forced into exile in Britain after Karl Marx’s active participation in the German revolution of 1848, and Marx was keeping his family through journalistic work supplemented by help from his friend and comrade, Friedrich Engels.

Eleanor was the Marx’s sixth child. They had already lost two sons and a daughter and were left with three girls, Jenny, Laura and Eleanor.

Eleanor Marx, more notably then either of her sisters, was to grow into a dedicated fighter for socialism. She organised and led the unskilled workers of the East End of London, and was for decades one of the foremost fighters in the British labour movement for the cause of working class socialist internationalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

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No to the PCS-Unite lash-up!

May 16, 2014 at 2:51 am (AWL, labour party, Socialist Party, unions, UNISON, Unite the union, workers)

From the AWL website:

Above: McCluskey and Serwotka

By a PCS activist

The annual conference of PCS, the largest civil service trade union, on 20-22 May will debate a motion submitted by the union’s Executive (NEC) on PCS merging into the big general union Unite.

The motion would instruct the NEC, on completion of talks with Unite, to convene a special delegate conference to debate the terms of “merger” and decide whether to proceed to a membership ballot to authorise the “merger”.

Strictly speaking the “merger” would be a transfer of undertakings. PCS members, staff and assets would transfer into Unite, essentially on the basis of the Unite rulebook (although the PCS leadership is said to be looking for assurances on democracy and PCS membership of Unite decision making committees).

Some PCS members think the leadership is keen on merger because the union’s future looks extremely difficult. With Tory-led Coalition’s austerity drive, PCS has lost a significant number of members since May 2010. In 2013 alone it lost a net average (leavers minus joiners) of 1,600 members each month. Further civil service job cuts are looming.

Moreover the union is under explicit threat of Tory ministers quickly ending the “check-off” whereby civil service departments deduct PCS dues directly from members’ wages and pass them to the union.

The PCS Independent Left, the left wing opposition to the ruling Left Unity/ Democracy Alliance, has said that if PCS is facing financial meltdown then “merger” with Unite has to be supported, irrespective of qualms, simply to keep trade union organisation alive in the civil service and other workplaces where PCS organises.

However the PCS leaders claim that the union is well able to continue as an independent organisation. The PCS Independent Left therefore argues that it should do so rather than transfer members to Unite.

The PCS leaders proclaim that moving PCS to Unite “would create a union able to bridge the traditional divide between unions operating in the public and private sectors so that we can boost our bargaining power.” They do not explain how, for example, the bargaining power of Unite members in a car factory will be boosted by the adhesion of PCS to Unite, or how the bargaining power of civil servants in HMRC or DWP will be boosted by being in the same union as car workers and other trade unionists in the private sector.

The Left Unity/Democracy Alliance has run PCS for eleven years. Over that time it has totally failed to overcome successive governments’ divide-and-rule policy of carving the civil service up into a huge number of “delegated bargaining units” and to regain civil service national bargaining. Yet that same leadership now asserts that merely by joining Unite it will overcome the bargaining divisions between public and private sector workers.

The PCS leadership effectively assumes that union “merger” is a shortcut to the development of wider working-class political awareness and industrial militancy.

The PCS leaders state that “merger” (transfer!) would create “a new, powerful force in the public sector adapted to today’s changing industrial circumstances that can deliver more for members” but has not explained precisely what it sees as the changing industrial circumstances and precisely how this new force within Unite would be better able to deliver for Unite and PCS public sector members. They do not say how the awful defeats PCS has suffered under their leadership would have been avoided if we had been Unite members.

The underlying and only very partially stated argument would seem to be that:

• PCS cannot “win” against the state on its own (winning is rarely defined by the PCS leadership),

• Public sector workers must therefore strike together on pensions, pay, jobs and services (and presumably keep striking until the demands of all the different occupational areas of the striking public sector workers have been satisfied – not a model the PCS leadership followed in the pensions dispute with the last Labour Government)

• Unison and other unions cannot be trusted to do so, as shown by the pensions debacle in November 2011

• If PCS “merges” with Unite and a large public sector group is created, then Unite will be able to call out its civil service, NHS and local authority workers at the same time, and thereby put pressure on Unison and other unions to join with it.

There is plenty of talk about a “new powerful force”, “making a difference”, needing “a more effective trade union fightback in the public sector” and PCS and Unite sharing the same basic approach of being genuine fighters for members. However, nothing has prevented Unite and PCS from calling such joint action before now if they wanted to.

In reality, Unite remains a relatively minor player in the NHS and local government. A fully united public sector fightback would require Unison to play an effective and committed role. That is extremely unlikely under the current Unison leadership.

PCS should certainly agitate for joint action, but has to develop its own independent strategy for winning on issues facing PCS members. There is no short-cut through merger with Unite.

The PCS leaders hint that they see themselves (in Unite) as competing with Unison for authority in the TUC and members in the NHS and local government. They say, “A merged union would become the second largest public sector union. It would be the first public sector union to hold substantial membership in…the NHS, local government and central government.” PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka spoke at last year’s PCS conference of creating a “left wing pole of attraction” in the union movement.

But competition with Unison is unlikely to attract its membership in mass numbers. If a few left-wingers are won over, that will be at the price of them abandoning the fight to replace the leadership in Unison of Dave Prentis or a successor in the same mould chosen in Unison’s next General Secretary poll in 2015.

Mark Serwotka or the Socialist Party, the dominant group in the PCS leadership quite clearly see themselves running Unite’s public sector group. They are certainly not going to give up the leadership of an independent trade union just to play second fiddle in one sector within Unite.

And Socialist Party must have high hopes of dominating Unite’s “United Left” through the much bigger PCS Left Unity membership.

Merger is likely to mean losing PCS’s democratic structures and its actual and potential industrial coherence.

PCS has annual elections at all levels; annual national and group conferences; delegates directly elected by branch members; and a widespread membership understanding of the key industrial issues.

Delegates to Unite’s national conferences are indirectly elected by regional committees and regional industrial sector committees; national policy conference takes place every two years; national rules conference every four years; industrial sector conferences every two years. Elections for the Unite NEC, Regional and Branch Committees are held every three years.

PCS’s very different circumstances enable direct relationships between members and the different levels of the union and within the single “industry” that is the civil service and the private sector support companies that provide services to the civil service. The end result is a membership with common workplace experiences and issues that gives national PCS an explicit and (potentially) unifying coherence of trade union purpose. That makes accountability (potentially) easier to judge and deliver.

There is simply no real industrial logic to merger with Unite.

There is some opposition on the left and right to merger with Unite because of its relationship to the Labour Party. It’s an opposition which either sees PCS in apolitical terms (a union for state employees!) or sees politics purely in terms of standing would be left-wing independent candidates in opposition to the Labour Party. Both are wrong and fail to outline any way in which PCS can help remove the Tories from government, ease the considerable pressures on members, and replace them with a trade-union based party whose leaders need to be opposed and tested with positive working class policies.

For certain an alternative to Labour will not be found through TUSC or similar candidates. Serious socialists opposed to the merger should not get caught up with opposition on sectarian grounds.

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Ukraine: self-determination is still basic

May 12, 2014 at 9:29 pm (AWL, imperialism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism)

 

Statement from the AWL. This is important in view of the willingness, on the more ignorant sections of the neo-Stalinist left, to go along with Putin’s monstrous, hypocritical “anti-fascist” justification for Russian imperialism:

Accounts vary of the clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist groups in Odessa on 3 May, in which some 42 people were killed.

Some people say it started with an attack by militarised Russian and pro-Russian far-rightists on a peaceful Ukrainian nationalist demonstration. After that, “ultras” among the Ukrainian nationalists set out for the building where the pro-Russians had their headquarters.

Some say that it was a planned assault by far-right Ukrainian nationalists on pro-Russians who did no more than defend themselves.

Yet others suggest conspiracies. Maybe the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists and the far-right pro-Russians have a common interest in fomenting bloodshed which will irreparably split Ukraine. If it leads to the east being annexed by Russia, then the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists will have a better chance of influence in a rump Ukraine than if it stays united.

Maybe, so Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko suggests, “one of the reasons why all these protests in the Eastern Ukraine started now, and why they are so violent, is actually to halt the national elections in May — to postpone them and give [Yulia] Tymoshenko some time to gain more popularity among Ukrainians”.

Tymoshenko is way behind in the polls. Her pitch is Ukrainian nationalist. But she is also known to have had, and may still have, good relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Putin certainly wants to sabotage Ukraine’s presidential election due on 25 May. Maybe he also looks forward to a later election when Tymoshenko can win and then do a deal with Moscow.

None of the stories give any special trade-union significance to the fact that the building which the Ukrainian nationalists stormed was the trade-union headquarters in Odessa. It appears in all stories just as the big public building in the city (built in a time when the “trade unions” were just departments of the state administration) where the pro-Russians happened to have gathered.

Some structural facts, however, are evidenced enough to be clear even at a distance.

The local coups in the cities of east Ukraine are not just external Russian interference. There is little evidence of active popular resistance to them, for example by workers in the public buildings which have been seized.

We would, anyway, expect a base for pro-Russian sentiment. A large minority of the population, over 30% in some areas, is Russian. The cities are more Russian than the countryside. The east has voted more pro-Russian, in independent Ukraine’s elections, than the west.

The new Kiev government is distrusted everywhere, but more so in the east. People in eastern Ukraine will be reluctant to resist the pro-Russian coups not just out of fear, but also out of a wish to avoid supporting the new Kiev government, and a lack of any strong third alternative.

There are no reports of the local coups raising social demands, but it is plausible that some support accrues to them because of the social concerns of people in eastern Ukraine, worried that its old heavy industry will decline fast if Ukraine is more integrated into the world market.

The local coups also show evidence of being decisively shaped and led by people closely linked to the Russian government. They did not well up from mass protests about social or regional or language-group concerns, but started straight off with seizures of public buildings by armed groups.

The issue is not Russian-majority pockets near the Russian border, and a call for adjustment of the border. Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine. Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.

The Kiev government has put new laws for regional autonomy to the parliament, and promised to uphold the laws for Russian language rights introduced by Yanukovych, but in the east people seem to distrust the government that these measures change little.

Russia’s aim is to establish de facto control in the east so as to give Russia mor­e options. Putin’s preference, probably, will be for a deal in which he agrees to reverse the local coups in return for strong influence over all Ukraine. Immediately, he wants obstruct and discredit the Ukrainian elections on 25 May and prevent a Kiev government gaining authority.

Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that “you have to understand that the political mainstream in the Ukraine is much further to the right than, for example, in Western Europe. Things which would receive very strong criticism in the West are more or less tolerable in the Ukraine. It’s more or less okay to talk about things like ‘the defense of white European people’; this kind of thing can even be said by mainstream politicians. It’s okay to be homophobic, not to recognize any need to defend LGBT people… The Right Sector and Svoboda [the Ukrainian-nationalist ‘ultras’] are being criticized because their violent and provocative actions are seen as something that can be used by Russia” [i.e. not really out of a leftish revulsion at their far-right bias].

This rightward tilt of the political spectrum is at least as true of eastern Ukraine as of western Ukraine. There are many reports of strong far-right forces within the pro-Russian coup-makers.

We cannot orient ourselves here by asking which side seems less right-wing, and especially not by taking Stalinist nostalgia as evidence of good left-wing resistance to right-wing Ukrainian nationalism. We can orient only by the fundamentals: Ukraine’s right to self-determination.

The Kiev government is in an impasse. It cannot mobilise the population of east Ukraine against the coup-makers. It cannot send in the Ukrainian army full-force, because that would rally people against it and open the way for a Russian invasion “to restore order”. Equally, it would like to be able to prevent the local referendums scheduled in some districts in east Ukraine for 11 May, on propositions as yet unclear, but amounting to some sort of secession. It remembers the Crimea referendum on which those gambits are modelled. It will condemn the new referendums as undemocratic, like the Crimea referendum, and it will be right, but that won’t help it gain a grip in the east.

So it tries an ineffectual middle way, moving against the coup-makers, but mildly and tentatively.

The US and the EU side with the Kiev government, but see no overriding interest in Ukraine, and (especially the EU) fear the effect on their own economies of even sharp economic sanctions against Russia. So Putin, sees Ukraine as a vital issue for which he will take risks, has the upper hand.

A way out of the impasse will require the Ukrainian left to mobilise Ukrainian workers, west and east, on socialist demands against the corruption and oligarchic inequality which people both east and west name as their main concern. Those socialist demands will be integrated with a democratic programme of national self-determination for Ukraine and full minority rights for Russians within Ukraine.

At present, though, the Ukrainian left is weak. As well as helping it as much as we can, we must also support the national self-determination of the whole Ukrainian people against Russia’s moves to grab territory, tacitly threaten invasion, and seek decisive influence over the whole country.

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