A great day out with the Russian CP

March 24, 2014 at 11:25 am (Beyond parody, cults, Guest post, imperialism, reaction, Russia, stalinism, thuggery)

Guest post by Dale Street

A great day out for all the family, thoroughly enjoyed by one and all.

This was the verdict of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) on its “All-Russian Day of Action”, called “in Support of the People of Crimea and the Re-unification of Crimea and Russia, and Against the Persecution of Supporters of Friendship and Union with Russia by the Illegitimate Banderist Government of New-Ukraine.”

The nineteen slogans raised by the CPRF for the Day of Action, staged last Saturday (22nd March), included:

“We Will Not Abandon Our Kith and Kin!”, “Fascism Will Not Pass!”, “USA – Out of Ukraine!”, “NATO equals NAZI!”, “Berkut – an Example of Courage, Firmness and Righteousness!”, “Ukraine Will be Soviet!”, “Long Live the USSR!”, and “Let Us Defend the Victory of Our Fathers and Grandfathers!”

Given that the days of the USSR – when only state-sanctioned placards and slogans were allowed on demonstrations – are long in the past, participants in the Day of Action in different cities were able to “embellish” the official slogans with some of their own:

“Yankee Go Home!”, “We Went as Far as Berlin (i.e. in the Second World War) – We Will Go as Far as Washington!”, “EU, USA – Wipe Away Your Spittle!”, “We Defended Crimea – We Will Defend the Balkans As Well!”

Leaving aside the slightly tasteless “Crimea has Returned From Deportation to Russia” (given that it was actually the indigenous Crimean Tatars who suffered mass deportation from Crimea during the last war), other DIY slogans included:

“Crimea Was, Is and Will Be Russian!”, “Crimea – Welcome Home!”, “Long Live the Russian Spring!”, “No to the Euro-Banderists!”, “No to Global Capitalism in Ukraine!”, “One Country, One People!” “Victory Is Ours!” and “KPRF – For Russians! For Crimea!” Read the rest of this entry »

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The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism

March 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitalism, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, ex-SWP, Guest post, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, John Rees, Lindsey German, Marxism, national liberation, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, trotskyism, USSR)

Above: neo-Stalinists Rees, Murray and Galloway

Guest post by George Mellor

“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends” - Leon Trotsky (1938)

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the ‘Third Camp’ – independent working class politics that refuses to side with the main ruling class power blocs (or ‘camps’) of the world. At the outbreak of WW2 the majority of would-be revolutionary socialists (and quite a few reformists as well) supported Russia, seeing it as some form of socialist state. However a minority (the ‘Third Camp’ socialists, mainly grouped around Max Shachtman) disagreed, viewing it as imperialist – of a different type to Western imperialism, but imperialist nevertheless.

Some on the left who came out of the Third Camp tradition (and, remember, the SWP was once part of that current and over Ukraine has shown signs of returning to it) now come to the defence of capitalist Russia. In doing so these acolytes of Putin – the neo-Stalinists – use the same framework to defend Russian imperialism as their predecessors did to defend ‘Soviet’ imperialism.

The basic framework they take from the arsenal of Stalinism is the view of the world as divided into two camps: on the one hand the peace-loving countries who supported Stalin’s USSR and on the other, the enemies of peace, progress and socialism. In the period of the Popular Front (1934-39) this found Russia aligned with the bourgeois democracies of the West, but between 1939 and ’41 that policy was superseded by an alliance with Hitler and the Axis powers. The consequence of both policies (and the intellectual zig-zagging required of Comintern loyalists) was that communist politics were subordinated to Stalin’s foreign policy, effectively cauterising the revolution in the inter-war years and disorientating socialists for over a generation.

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

With the advent of the Ukraine crisis the neo-Stalinists were faced with the following problem: Russia invaded (using traditional Stalinist / Fascist methods) another county, after the people of that country overthrew the incumbent, corrupt, government. From what bourgeois - let alone socialist - principle does Russia have the right to invade an independent country? Of course there is none and so the neo-Stalinists have to invent one or two: the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten point statement is just such an invention.

The StWC statement provides a rationale which adds up to telling us the fact Russia has invaded a sovereign country is not as important as the new cold war (I feel a moral panic or, perhaps, political panic coming on as StWC functionaries stalk the land warning us of the dangers of ‘the new cold war’). Woven through the ‘ten points’ is the continual attempt to demonise the 1 million-plus movement which overthrew the Ukrainian government. They claim the movement is fascist / neo-con / in collusion with the European Union – in fact every bad thing one can think of. Such demonization is straight out of the Stalinist playbook, a classic example of blaming the victim. The character of the Ukraine movement has been largely shaped by its experience of greater Russia chauvinism: the idea that a pure democratic let alone socialist movement would spring fully formed out of the Euromaidan was never a possibility. For sure fascist and ultra-nationalist forces played a prominent role, and maybe even paid agents of the EU were present: the point is how should socialists relate to the million-strong movement and how can we seek to influence it? This is simply not an issue for the neo-Stalinists because they have written off the Ukrainian rebels as one reactionary mass not worth a second look.

In truth the StWC statement is neither here nor there, (a blogger at The Economist has taken apart the non sequiturs, half-truths and downright lies of the neo-Stalinists in a point by point rebuttal): it is simply a particularly crude example of the ‘campist’ world view.

For the neo-Stalinists the `hard headed’ geopolitical realties of the need to defend Russia against the ‘West’ always trumps the truth, morality, political principle and consistency: just as they support the invasion of the Ukraine and fit the facts around this, so they support the butcher Assad (crimes against humanity, mass murder, poison gas user, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starvation, state-sponsored terror, wholesale torture) and in that case, support for sheer barbarism.

Of course socialists are unlikely to affect events in the Ukraine, let alone Syria: however even if we can only proclaim it, we have a right – and a duty - to say we support neither Western or Russian imperialism but fight for independent working class action.

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Ukraine: for independent working class action!

February 27, 2014 at 9:49 am (class, Guest post, history, liberation, national liberation, revolution, Russia, solidarity, stalinism, USSR, workers)

Ukraine Russia Protests

Guest post by George Mellor

Events in Ukraine are shaping up to be a re-run of what happened to Eastern Europe at the end of WW11 - one hopes with a very different conclusion. Then, a struggle took place over whether these countries would be assimilated into the orbit of either Western or Soviet Imperialism. The tragedy was that betrayal by the West (at Teheran, Yalta and the ‘percentages agreement’ between Stalin and Churchill in Moscow in October 1944) allowed the GPU and the `red army’ to place their jackboot on the necks of the workers, and these countries became vassals of Stalinism for nearly 50 years.

Then (as now) the question was (and is) how to build independent working class activity, and here we can see a difference between the imperialisms of East and West: the former crushed and atomised civil society. The norms of bourgeois democracy, the rule of law, pluralism - all the building blocks on which a free and independent labour movement could exist, were extinguished. This repression was met with sporadic revolts, all branded ‘counter-revolutionary acts’ put down by the Russians providing ‘fraternal assistance’ to the local Stalinist ruling classes.

While the Eastern European states, as well as the Ukraine, obtained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all had been shaped by their experience of subjugation by Russia. For over 50 years the national question (once banished as a political question in Europe and raised by Trotsky specifically  around the Ukraine  in 1939) has shaped the body politic of these countries. Recovering from this subjugation some of these countries have fared well in nation building, others – mainly those infected by the gangster capitalism of Russia (look at the pictures of Yanukovych’s palace – the amassing by an individual of state sanctioned plunder) have not.

Russia is of course still a major power and is intent on rebuilding its empire through the mechanism of the Eurasian Union. For sure outside of a successful workers’ revolution nations will either be drawn into the orbit of either the West or Russia . For the Ukraine – which has the potential of being an important economic power- a precondition for embracing the Eurasian Union was to the need for an autocratic state seen in the centralising of power in the President.

Yanukovych’s support for Ukraine’s integration back into  Russia’s orbit  triggered the Euromaidan, a response which would not have been out of place in 1848. A movement of over 1m who have shown great fortitude and discipline in the face of continual attacks by the riot police. Far from acting like a mob ‘the people’ have organised the control of public buildings, and refused to be bowed by their so-called leaders or their ‘saviours’ the EU. This incoherent mass from the far right through to the far left linked by the single ill-defined idea of national sovereignty and independence. The idea that this civic protest could have been shaped by anything  other than nationalism would be naïve.

Russia is then faced with a mass movement of dissent from the path it has chosen for the Ukraine. So behind the scenes they will be sowing the seeds of dissention playing on the fears of  the Russian speaking regions.

In the West most of this propaganda war is being run by the successors to Stalinism, the neo-Stalinists, echoing their predecessors’ propaganda which accompanied the assimilation of Eastern Europe into the Stalinist Empire. Then the Stalinist lie was based on a false premise that Russia was exporting socialism. Today our neo-Stalinists continue to play the role of the border guards to a capitalist Russia.

However the propaganda is the same: all living movements such as we see in Ukriane are branded fascist or reactionary. Unless one wishes to be a functionary in such a Russian dominated regime the socialist who argues such a view will only succeed in cutting themselves off from any influence on the Euromaidan.

I am sure sections - I do not know what proportion - of the Euromaidan are fascists or semi-fascists: how could this be otherwise? The job of socialists is to organise against them at the same time supporting Ukrainian right to self determination including independence from Russia, arguing for maximum democracy including the right of the CP to organise and most importantly organising independent working class action.

Between now and the election in May we can only watch how events unfold; how far Putin will be able to destabilise the situation, how far the Ukrainians are going to find real leaders and weed out the false messiahs (as the election approaches workers will be faced with more false messiahs than the Catholic Church has saints.) will in part be down to how socialists intervene. However I wonder how far workers will be open to socialist ideas when their lived experience has been that of actually existing socialism  i.e. Stalinism.

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In defence of Maajid Nawaz

January 19, 2014 at 6:26 pm (Civil liberties, Free Speech, Galloway, Guest post, Human rights, Islam, islamism, Lib Dems, Pink Prosecco, religion, religious right)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Above: Maajid Nawaz

If a Muslim expresses some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies, I tend to assume, not that they are an Evil Islamist, but that – they have some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies.  These are things reasonable people may disagree about.  However some recent responses to Maajid Nawaz’s decision to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon go beyond reasonable criticism.

He tweeted the picture after it featured (on a T shirt) on BBC’s The Big Questions, where it was the focus of a debate about free speech.  This is the offending image in question.

Nawaz’s tweet has apparently caused many Muslims, including Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, to make a formal complaint to the Lib Dems.  (Nawaz is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.)

Of course it is quite proper to draw attention to bigoted remarks made by politicians, and expect the whip to be withdrawn, or some other form of censure applied, depending on the level of offence.  But the fact some Muslims think it is inappropriate to depict Muhammad does not make Jesus and Mo offensive. Non-Muslims, and Muslims (like Nawaz) who don’t think pictures of Muhammad are taboo, should not be bound by others’ religious dogma.

Reactions to Nawaz cover a spectrum ranging from death threats to warm support – and many of his supporters are fellow-Muslims.  In the middle of the spectrum we find people who would certain not condone or incite violence but who demonstrate clear hostility towards the reformist Nawaz.  Not all of his antagonists are Muslims.  Here’s Gorgeous George’s response.

“No Muslim will ever vote for the Liberal Democrats anywhere ever unless they ditch the provocateur Majid Nawaz, cuckold of the EDL”

5Pillarz, a blog written largely by and for British Muslims, has decided that Nawaz should be their top candidate for ‘Islamophobe of the Year’. The EDL is mentioned at the bottom of their list of suggestions, as a kind of afterthought.

As Maajid Nawaz says:

“Why are many on the “Left” largely silent on Muslim reformers. Want to defend minorities? Well, we’re a minority within a minority, defend us”

As someone from the ‘Left’ I’m happy to defend and support Maajid Nawaz – though I’d draw the line at voting for him.

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White vs Johnson on the ‘separation wall’

January 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm (Guest post, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, Pink Prosecco, terror, war, zionism)

Guest Post by Pink Prosecco

I have recently read an apparently thoughtful and informative piece on Israel’s security barrier by Alan Johnson over at That Place.  Although associated with pro-Israel advocacy, Johnson appeared willing to engage with the complexity of the situation in Israel/Palestine, and attend to the Palestinian as well as the Israeli perspective.

“Because the constructive pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace approach we need has three characteristics:

First, it is open to the full force of the sheer bloody complexity of the conflict, and is willing to wrestle with that complexity, not evade it.

Second, it is fully aware of the determining contexts of the conflict, among which is security.

Third, it refuses to demonise either side, working with both parties, seeking co-existence, compromise, mutual recognition and peace.”

Ben White has now written a response to Alan Johnson’s piece.  Sneering, smearing and insufferably smug he may be – but does his argument stand up? This seems reasonable:

“Even if that were all true — that the wall was only built as a response to suicide bombings, and that it was solely responsible for a 90 percent reduction in attacks — criticism of the barrier from a human rights and international law perspective remains valid.”

Security and liberty are not always fully compatible and it is appropriate to ask how far, and in what circumstances, it is permissable to curtail liberties in order to enhance security. And you can welcome the part the wall seems to have played in making Israelis feel more safe while criticising the way it has been implemented and acknowledging its impact on Palestinians.

White’s next points don’t really strike me as convincing.  Just because some people wanted a physical barrier even before the violence of the second intifada does not prove that security is not its primary purpose.  However elements in his concluding analysis – seeking to demonstrate that there is no (or little) correlation between the wall’s construction and the decline in violent attacks – seems worth engaging with. However (as usual) White seems to want to alienate readers who feel any sympathy for the Israeli perspective rather than encourage them to adjust their views in the hope of achieving the goals of mutual recognition, peace and compromise set out by Alan Johnson.   White’s habitual lack of empathy for Israelis makes me doubt whether he has researched the issue of the security barrier in a spirit of genuine enquiry.  But I’d be interested to know whether Shiraz Socialist readers find his arguments, or those of Alan Johnson, more compelling.

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TSSA: update on the basket case of British trade unionism

January 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm (Guest post, transport, unions, workers)

Guest post by Merle Stotten

TSSA is welcoming in the New Year with a ballot on strike action in opposition to plans to axe jobs, cut rates of pay, and close down workplaces.

But it’s not TSSA members who are being balloted. It’s TSSA’s own employees – the ballot has been initiated by the GMB, the union recognized by TSSA for collective bargaining on behalf of its staff.

According to a GMB newsletter issued in mid-December:

“On 13th December GMB wrote formally to TSSA management to inform them the union was in dispute over their proposals for staff re-organisation. … Your reps know the level of anger and frustration at how badly the union has been run recently.”

Three days later another GMB newsletter announced:

“GMB Gives Notice of Ballot for Strike Action! Further to our update on Monday of the declaration of a formal dispute, GMB have today written to the General Secretary giving the legally required notice of a strike ballot.”

“In line with the unanimous vote at the staff meeting of 20th November, and in the light of management’s refusal to withdraw and reconsider the proposals, we have no choice but to ballot for strike action. … Ballot papers will be dispatched on 2nd January.”

TSSA-watchers will be aware that TSSA proclaimed 2013 to be the Year of Horror: “This Halloween we launch our campaign theme for next year, our Year of Horror 2013. … Our Year of Horror 2013 will provide us with a platform to raise awareness of the crisis in the rail industry.”

2013 was indeed a Year of Horror – but first and foremost for the TSSA itself.

The year opened with the collapse of merger talks with Community. In September Unite rejected a merger with TSSA. In October the “Sunday Times” published allegations by former TSSA President Harriet Yeo about the union’s ‘internal life’.

In November TSSA management announced proposals to axe over one in three jobs, cut rates of pay for Senior Regional Organizers, and shut down three offices – tantamount to an admission of the bankruptcy of the ‘re-organisation’ carried out little more than a year earlier.

In Scotland the dismissal in July of its Scottish Regional Organiser (RO) has been condemned by the Unite Scottish Regional Committee, three Trades Councils, one of Unite’s Scottish RISCs, the Glasgow/Renfrewshire Unite Area Activists Committee, and three GMB and Unite union branches in Glasgow.

In November the TSSA Scottish Divisional Council passed a motion of no confidence in the TSSA Assistant General Secretary for Scotland, Ireland and the Helpdesk (Lorraine Ward), who had been appointed to the post little more than a year earlier.

Even TSSA’s end-of-year announcement – on Twitter – that it had formed a “groundbreaking” Alternative Business Structure (ABS) with Morrish Solicitors has done nothing to raise morale.

(The Legal Services Act 2007 allows for non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. The mechanism for doing so is an ABS, in which at least 10% of the ABS is controlled by non-lawyers.)

All reports about the ABS quote Paul Scholey, senior partner at Morrish, as saying: “We have worked with TSSA and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority for twelve months to establish what we believe is the world’s first union-based ABS.”

But if, as seems likely, the planned ‘outsourcing’ of the TSSA Helpdesk (at a cost of four jobs) is linked to the creation of the ABS, this would suggest that throughout 2013 TSSA was simultaneously:

-  telling its staff that the Helpdesk was to be transformed into an “organizing tool”;

-  engaged in talks about the creation of an ABS in which the Helpdesk would be palmed off to Morrish.

The GMB ballot on strike action against cuts in jobs and pay, the pending Tribunal hearing of the Scottish RO’s unfair dismissal claim, and the questions raised by the announcement of the creation of an ABS would all suggest that the TSSA’s Year of Horror will continue well into 2014.

For further articles about the TSSA, see:

http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/tssa-comments-from-beyond-the-grave/

http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/tssa-sacking-a-stain-on-our-movement-as-a-whole/

http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/tssa-the-basket-case-of-british-trade-unionism/

http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/tssa-the-basket-case-of-british-trade-unionism-part-2/

https://twitter.com/1stBaronWalkden

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Palestinian journalists and freedom of expression

December 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm (anti-semitism, censorship, Civil liberties, Free Speech, Galloway, Guest post, Human rights, israel, media, Middle East, MPs, palestine)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

DW Picture

Above: Lib Dem idiot David Ward

Early Day Motion 739 is a call for the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists.  Its primary sponsor is Jeremy Corbyn, who once invited Raed Salah, a promoter of the blood libel, to Parliament, and it is being supported by many other usual suspects: George Galloway, who refused to debate with a student at Oxford once he realized he was Israeli, David Ward, who bemoaned the fact Jews hadn’t learned more of a lesson from the Holocaust and Bob Russell, who has drawn a false equivalence between the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.

However those of us who are inclined to defend Israel from disproportionate scrutiny and exaggerated, even racist, criticism will sometimes find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as people with views just as deplorable  – eg: Israel supporters who deny the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and assert that they are a “made up people” with only themselves to blame.  So it doesn’t seem rational to dismiss this EDM just because supporting it will put one in some unwelcome company.  Here is the full text.

That this House notes that, on a daily basis, Israeli authorities restrict journalists’ movements and there are hundreds of military checkpoints that constrain or forbid journalists’ movements; further notes that despite the long standing campaigning by journalists and civil rights organisations, the Israeli authorities continue to reject identity cards, accreditation and press cards, including the International Federation of Journalists press card, when carried by Palestinian journalists; condemns the continuous attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian news gatherers, in particular photographers and camera crews, the level of attacks has increased during the first half of 2013, in 2012 the attacks involved rubber coated steel bullets, tear grenades and stun grenades; and reaffirms that freedom of movement is a central tenet of independent professional journalism and, in restricting such a right, Israeli authorities are in breach of international covenants and the right to report.

There would seem to be two possible objections to the EDM. First, the claims may be exaggerated; secondly, even someone who is, or seems to be, a journalist may still pose a threat.  Here’s a link to a story about a clearcut example of this, a newsreader who dropped off a terrorist before going to work to report on the bombing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/arts/television/27genz.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1386088156-piyAlCJHUvKKlpjcZCsThg

Yet security concerns don’t justify the apparently brutal treatment some Palestinian journalists have experienced, as documented here:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.538281

Trying to establish whether the EDM is reasonable or not, like most lines of enquiry relating to Israel/Palestine, has the same bewildering effect as looking at this ambiguous picture:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/45/Duck-Rabbit_illusion.jpg

Is the journalist featured in this story (link below), Mohamed Jamal Abu Khdeir, a victim of Israeli heavy handedness or a real security threat?

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/israel-detains-palestinian-journalist-210624578.html

While looking up recent news stories about Palestinian journalists I found an example of one unfortunate man, George Canawati, who had been beaten up for mere “slander and abuse” - making derogatory remarks about a police officer.  However in this case the violence was carried out, not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian Authority:

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Palestinian-Authority-police-arrested-Bethlehem-journalist-George-Canawati-331363

However, even though one might wryly note that some sections of the media won’t be so quick to report on this attack on press freedom as on Israel’s shortcomings, that doesn’t mean those shortcomings aren’t real. The monitoring organisation Reporters without Borders doesn’t have the kind of profile one would associate with reflexive Israel-bashing, yet it seems increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian journalists:

http://en.rsf.org/palestinian-territories-more-israeli-arrests-of-19-11-2011,41420.html

So, whether or not one goes along with every element of the EDM, it certainly seems to highlight a genuine cause for concern in a year which has seen Israel’s press freedom ranking fall sharply:

http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-drops-sharply-in-annual-press-freedom-ranking/

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TSSA – The Basket Case of British Trade Unionism (Part 2)

November 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm (Guest post, unions)

Guest post by Merle Stotten

This is the second of a series of articles about the TSSA. Further articles are scheduled for later in December.

Part Two: You Couldn’t Make It Up – But TSSA Bosses Did!

According to Iain Coucher, former Network Rail (NWR) Chief Executive, the White Report demonstrated that allegations which the TSSA trade union had made against him were “malicious and scurrilous, and completely without foundation.”

Any self-respecting trade unionist is instinctively loathe to attach any credibility to a statement emanating from a NWR Chief Executive, especially when the Chief Executive in question is Iain Coucher.

(Without advance warning, Coucher sacked 600 NWR employees on a single day in November of 2003. His salary was three times that of the Prime Minister. For eight years work at NWR he was paid over £7 millions. When he quit NWR, he walked away with a ‘golden goodbye’ of £1.6 millions.)

But in this case, Coucher did have a point.

The then TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty certainly thought so. Confronted with the White Report, his surrender was unconditional (although he could hardly have acted otherwise):

“We want to thank Antony White QC for all his careful and detailed work and we fully accept his conclusions. … We unreservedly accept his findings that all allegations of financial impropriety against Mr Coucher were unfounded.”

The report in question, published in May of 2011, was the outcome of an inquiry by Antony White QC into TSSA allegations of “misuse of public funds and serious financial impropriety in NWR”. The main target of those allegations had been Iain Coucher.

The TSSA’s allegations might best be described as what you would expect to find in a joint literary venture by Dave Spart, Timothy o’Leary and Walter Mitty.

(For the benefit of younger readers: Timothy o’Leary gained fame and notoriety in the 1960s for experimenting in the use of what were known at that time as “psychedelic drugs”.)

According to the TSSA, Coucher had a Coutts World Card which allowed him to withdraw £100,000 a day in cash. This was used to empty cash machines near NWR headquarters in order to pay off “troublesome” NWR employees: “Cash machines were emptied up and down the Euston Road to get the much-needed readies.”

Coucher received hidden payments of £180,000 every quarter through offshore accounts, the allegations continued. Offshore accounts and/or shadow companies were also used by NWR to pay off departing NWR employees: “This kept all hush money payments out of NWR annual accounts and public scrutiny.”

The TSSA further claimed that Coucher had received bonuses and pension payments of up to £100,000 a year in cash from NWR to which he was not entitled. He had failed to reveal various “success fees”. And he enjoyed a central-London company flat at NWR’s expense.

At Coucher’s initiative, said the TSSA, NWR had bought a new training school for £20 millions – but the purchase and running costs were mysteriously absent from NWR records.

Also mysteriously absent from NWR payroll records was any mention of an employee who had been paid off to avoid embarrassment to NWR: “Not only was there no (record of a) payoff, she had never existed as far as NWR was concerned.”

White gave short shrift to all such allegations.

Contrary to the TSSA’s claims, Coucher had never held, nor had access to, a Coutts World Card, nor any other credit card, entitling him to withdraw £100,000 a day in cash. The allegation was simply “groundless”.

In response to the claim that Coucher had been paid £180,000 every quarter through offshore accounts (on top of his salary), White noted: “The way in which this allegation has altered over time does nothing to enhance its credibility.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Return of the Rat

November 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm (Guest post, labour party, mccarthyism, protest, scotland, Unite the union)

By Roland Wright

UNITE Union Smell A Rat

A decade ago the Scottish Sunday Herald had a circulation of over 60,000. But now it has sunk lower than 25,000.

A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.

Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?

“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.

Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”

Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:

The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.

Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.

Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”

Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)

The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.

Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.

This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”

Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.

But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?

Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!

That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.

When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:

“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”

“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”

A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?

It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.

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TSSA: the Basket Case of British Trade Unionism

November 21, 2013 at 12:55 am (Guest post, transport, unions, workers)

Guest post by Merle Stotten

This is the first of a series of articles about the TSSA. Part Two will appear online on Thursday, 28th November.

Part One: Bosses Stay, Workers Go.

On 13th November the TSSA trade union’s senior management team announced an organisational ‘restructuring’ under which over one in three jobs – 22.5 posts out of the current complement of 63.5 – is to be axed.

This plan to slash jobs by over a third was in marked contrast to a statement issued to TSSA staff and members by the union’s General Secretary less than two months earlier, following the collapse of merger talks with Unite:

“Your Executive Committee has agreed to undertake a wide-ranging review … to ensure that we continue to function in a way that safeguards your future. We currently have an ongoing operating deficit, (but) we also have significant assets to ensure that your livelihoods continue to be protected.”

Ironically, one of the reasons for the collapse of the merger talks given by the General Secretary in his statement was that if the merger had gone ahead as envisaged by Unite, then it “would have undoubtedly led to a significant reduction in staff headcount.”

But “a significant reduction in staff headcount” is precisely what lies at the core of the restructuring document. The goal of the planned restructuring is to reduce salary costs from the over 98% of membership income (2012 figure) to around 60% of membership income:

“This is not a reorganisation designed to take advantage of new-found opportunities, merger, diversification, growth, specialisation, integration or any other adjective commonly used to justify organisational change.”

The fact that the document had been produced by a senior management team that could not even tell the difference between a noun and an adjective was the least of its failings.

A GMB newsletter – the GMB is the union recognised by the TSSA for collective bargaining on behalf of its employees – summed up the double standards at the heart of the proposed re-structuring:

“The financial difficulties in which TSSA now finds itself are significantly the result of decisions made by senior management over the last few years. Yet it is other staff who are being made to pay the price for these failures.”

“Higher grades are more likely to be protected, and lower grades more likely to have their jobs cut or relocated.”

“Grades 1-3 have been slashed by nearly 50%, with an additional impact due to changes of location. Grades 4-5 are cut by around a third, with a significant further impact because of location changes. This is in addition to the proposal to downgrade all grade 5 Organiser posts.”

“By comparison, amongst senior grades there is only one proposed post cut, with the new structure having three Assistant General Secretaries for 41 staff and 22,000 members.”

For several years past TSSA has suffered from a growing disconnect between income and expenditure. As the 2012 Annual Report put it: “For well over ten years the TSSA has incurred a series of operating deficits – its membership income was somewhat less than its day-to-day operating costs.”

Somewhat less than??? Read the rest of this entry »

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