Birmingham schools: the ‘plot’ thickens

April 16, 2014 at 5:34 pm (Brum, children, Education, islamism, labour party, posted by JD, religion, secularism, unions, youth)

Events surrounding the so-called Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham have taken a further, bizarre, twist with the appointment, yesterday, of Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, to investigate claims about the city’s schools.

Regular readers will remember our previous , very cautious, coverage of the Trojan Horse document, which purports to be a letter from a Birmingham-based Islamic fundamentalist to a contact in Bradford, describing tactics used to take over Birmingham schools and boasting of success in forcing out head teachers who resisted the islamification of their schools: the document talks about forcing out the leadership team where a school is “corrupting their children with sex education , teaching about homosexuals, making children pray Christian prayers and [carrying out] mixed swimming and sport.”  We have already pointed out that the letter, which contains some accurate information not previously in the public domain, but also some inaccuracies, may be a hoax.

Last week the city council announced a freeze on the recruitment of school governors while it investigates the claims into at least 25 schools, including three run by the Park View Educational Trust. The council stated that it had received more than 200 reports in relation to its enquiry and has appointed former  head teacher Ian Kershaw to head up the investigation. Council leader Albert Bore stated that “there are certainly issues in Bradford which have similarities with the issues being spoken about in Birmingham.” He also went on to express frustration with the council’s lack of influence over academies, stating “we do not have the relationship with academies as we do with community schools.”

Then yesterday, Michael Gove announced the appointment of Pater Clarke to head what is, in effect, a parallel investigation. Albert Bore, together with West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims and Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood, immediately condemned the appointment, with Bore stating that Sims’ anti-terror background would “inevitably” lead people to “draw unwarranted conclusions.” The area’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Labour’s Bob Jones, added, “My main concern is that the Secretary of State is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance.”

Bore, Jones and the others are undoubtedly right about this “desperately unfortunate” appointment, and about the hypocrisy of Gove who promotes academies (and now free schools)  outside the control of local authorities, whilst simultaneously decrying the influence of Islamic extremists over  academies in Birmingham.

And it is important to note that whether or not the Trojan Horse document proves to be genuine, there is no doubt about the influence of Islamic fundamentalists over many Birmingham schools: teachers and other school staff members have already come forward with reports of segregation of boys and girls in classes and assemblies, bans on sex education and bullying of non-Muslim staff. Shiraz Socialist has spoken to several Birmingham teachers, including activists within the main teaching unions, who have confirmed that these claims are true and, in some cases, such things have been going on for years. The all-too predictable line taken by an article in today’s Guardian (“Despite reasonable evidence suggesting the plot letter is a hoax, it has spaked debate in the city, with far right groups looking to capitalise”) simply will not do: the concerns about Islamic fundamentalists undermining secular education are not the preserve of the far right, but are felt by teachers, Labour councillors and MPs and -not least - many Muslim parents who want their kids to have an inclusive, secular education.

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Unite the Union on Europe and the European elections

April 10, 2014 at 5:42 am (elections, Europe, labour party, posted by JD, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

Unite the Union and Len McCluskey take a refreshingly  pro-working class approach, in marked contrast to the Faragist idiot- “left

Len McCluskey writes….

Why Unite members should vote Labour on 22nd May

Some politicians these days seem to be falling over themselves to criticise Europe.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the European Union is more than just a building in Brussels.

It gives us the laws and legislation that stop you being exploited by your boss and protect you on a daily basis. Amongst other things, the EU makes sure your hours at work aren’t exploited, you get protection at work and you get statutory holidays.

It’s ,responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK and brings an estimated £30bn to the UK economy. So Europe isn’t just good for Britain, its good for you.

Europe makes you, your family and Britain better off every day at work. That’s why the European Elections this year are so important for you to take part in.

On 22 May, Unite is asking you to make sure you vote Labour to make work safe, make work fair and make you better off. In these elections every vote really does count and your vote could well make the difference. So don’t miss out!

-Len McCluskey, General Secretary

What has Europe ever done for us?

Quite a lot as it happens…

Safety at work: Every day, thanks to Europe, your workplace is safer

Sickness/Holiday Rights: You don’t lose holiday rights accrued during periods of ill health

Equal Pay: Men and women must be paid for doing the same job or of equal value

Holidays: Thanks to Europe, Uk workers got the legal right to holidays for the first time in 1998

Time off work: Your boss can’t force you to work more than 48 hours a week and must give you regular breaks

Fairness at work: It doesn’t matter if you are full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, in-house or agency, all workers get the same rights

Maternity rights: Statutory maternity leave of up to a year

Parental leave: New parents are entitled to time off work to look after their children

Discrimination: Protects you from discrimination against your age, gender, race, sexual orientation or if you are disabled

Healthcare on holiday: if you get ill when you are on holiday, you won’t have to pay for your healthcare

[you can download a pdf version of this leaflet here]

 

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Matgamna on Benn

March 20, 2014 at 2:14 am (AWL, labour party, MPs, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism, USSR, workers)

Marchers supporting the Upper Clydeside Shipbuilders, Glasgow, 1971

Above: Benn marching with UCS stewards, Glasgow 1971

A number of readers were upset by the piece including an Open Letter from 2005, that we published on the morning following Tony Benn’s death. I, personally, thought the Open Letter made fair and important criticisms of Benn’s politics, and the opening remarks I wrote were suitably respectful towards this major figure on the British reformist-left. One of the authors of the Open Letter, Sean Matgamna, has now writtten an obituary of Benn. It makes many of the same points, and is generally very critical of Benn’s politics and political methodology. But, once again, I’d argue that the piece is fair and also gives credit where it’s due. Benn was a serious politician and deserves to be assessed seriously. We do not subscribe to the universal, and often hypocritical, adulation of Benn that has been prevailent since his death.

Matgamna worked with Benn and others to set up the Rank and File Mobilising Committee, which for a while united most of the Labour Party left, at the start of the 1980s:

The first thing that should be said and remembered about Tony Benn, who died on Friday 14 March, is that for over four decades he backed, defended, and championed workers in conflict with their bosses or with the “boss of bosses”, the government.

That put him decidedly in our camp. The political ideas which he too often linked with those bedrock working-class battles detract from the great merit of Tony Benn, but do not cancel it out or render it irrelevant.

Politically, Benn’s story was a strange one. An editorial in the Times neatly summed up the shape of Benn’s long career. His was “A Life Lived Backwards”. For the first half of his long life he belonged to the Establishment, socially and in his politics. To the dissenting old radical-Liberal and right-wing Labour part of the Establishment, but the Establishment nevertheless.

Both his parents had MPs for fathers. Four generations of Benns have been MPs. Benn’s son, Hilary, has been the third generation of cabinet-minister Benns. His father was Ramsey MacDonald’s Secretary of State for India in the 1929 government.

Benn went to one of the leading “public” schools and then to Oxford University, where he climbed up onto that milestone in the careers of so many Establishment politicians, the presidency of the Oxford Union debating society. He became a pilot in the hierarchical Royal Air Force, in which pilots came from the upper classes, and in 1950, at 25, a Labour MP in a safe seat. His wife, Caroline, was rich, as was Benn himself. This sincere champion of the working class was a millionaire. 

Benn became a minister in Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1964-70 and was a minister again in the Wilson-Callaghan government of 1974-9.

Out of office after 1970, he turned left, at the age of 45. Publicly, he shifted during the great occupation and work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipyards (UCS) in 1971. The decision by Edward Heath’s Tory government to end subsidies to ailing industries meant shut-down for UCS.

In office Benn had subsidised UCS, so there was a logic and continuity in this. He marched alongside the Stalinist UCS leaders Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid at giant working-class demonstrations in Glasgow. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tony Benn RIP

March 14, 2014 at 8:08 am (AWL, From the archives, good people, history, iraq, labour party, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, Stop The War)

The death this morning of Tony Benn is sad news, and all of us here mourn the passing of an honourable (if sometimes misguided) man who sincerely believed he stood for socialist principles.

In the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s Benn was an invaluable asset to the working class and the serious left. Paradoxically , it was later in his career, when he left parliament to  “concentrate on politics” (in fact becoming a “national treasure”) that his politics went badly off the rails and he fell in with filthy, reactionary “anti imperialist” shysters like Galloway, German and Rees. Workers Liberty wrote this open letter to him in October 2005. Note that despite their gloves-off criticism of his utterly foolish softness on Saddam and Aziz, the authors acknowledge and pay respect to his role “as a fighter after 1979 against the Labour establishment”:

Dear Tony Benn
You have put your name to a petition on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz. You have by now probably seen the newspaper reports that Tariq Aziz will give evidence against his old boss at Saddam Hussein’s trial — evidence that, among other things, Saddam Hussein gave orders for mass murder.
Tariq Aziz had to be there, that is, complicit in Saddam Hussein’s crimes against the peoples of Iraq, in order to be able to testify to such things. We will see what happens at the trial. But no-one has to wait for the trial to know who and what Tariq Aziz is. Yet you put your name to Galloway’s petition.

You, Tony Benn, unlike your co-signatories such as George Galloway have in the last 25 years been a man of the serious, class struggle left. Not infrequently we have disagreed with you on important questions.

But, comrade Benn, you are seriously out of place amidst the other signatories on Galloway’s petition on behalf of his friend Tariq Aziz. We say that not forgetting that on the eve of the US-British attack on Iraq you went to Baghdad and interviews Saddam Hussein in such a soft and accommodating way that the result, broadcast on British TV, was a “party political broadcast” for Saddam Hussein. Read the rest of this entry »

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What the Brit left’s saying about Ukraine

March 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm (Europe, imperialism, internationalism, James Bloodworth, labour party, left, political groups, reblogged, Russia, stalinism, trotskyism)

By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)

Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.

But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.

The Labour Party

Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.

The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.

The Stop the War Coalition/Countefire – 10 Things to Remember About the Crisis in Ukraine and Crimea

Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.

“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”

The Socialist Workers’ Party – Putin Raises the Stakes in Imperialist Crimea Crisis

Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:

“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker

The Alliance for Workers Libery – Russian Trade Unionists and Leftists Oppose Invasion of Ukraine

The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:

“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:

“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.

“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”

International Viewpoint (Fourth International) – No War with Ukraine

Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:

“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement

Left Unity – Against Nationalism, Corruption, Privatisation and War

Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:

“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.

“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.

“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”

Communist Party – Solidarity with the Communist Party of Ukraine

At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:

“The failure of  EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive  to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and  imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary

Workers’ Power – Neither Moscow nor Berlin – for workers’ internationalism

…as does Workers’ Power:

“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”

As for the Twittersphere:

Gallowayj

OJj

Mehdij

Seamusj

And on the right…

Liamj

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The Mail and Sun’s “paedophile” campaign

March 1, 2014 at 1:37 am (child abuse, children, Daily Mail, Jim D, labour party, Murdoch, relativism, truth)

Now The Sun (which, like the Mail, has a record of publishing pictures of young girls with little clothing on) joins in:

'Labour chiefs: It’s OK to have sex with 10-yr-olds' - The Sun exposes full horror of paedophile plan: http://bit.ly/1cZTtNa

Look, the truth is that back in the seventies, the left (reformist and revolutionary) was all over the shop on this issue. I’m pleased to say that my comrades and I (in what’s now the AWL) took a firm line on the question of under-aged sex and supported the principle of an age of consent (gay and straight) of around 15 or 16 – but there were some on the left who didn’t. Even a candidate for leadership of the Labour Party (in 1992), Bryan Gould, expressed sympathy with PIE, in a letter politely declining their invitation to him to sponsor their campaign.

The fact that some now-respectable figures in the Labour Party didn’t regard this as a  particularly worrying issue, and didn’t protest about the PIE’s affiliation to the NCCL at the time, is symptomatic of the way things were then. That doesn’t make it OK, but it’s how it was, as the left struggled to come to terms with sexual politics, and sophisticated paedophiles cynically utilised the gay rights/sexual liberation agenda to legitimise their cause in the eyes of naïve idiots on sections of the left at the time.

It’s significant that amongst the loudest voices raising the alarm about the PIE at the time were gay activists, who didn’t want to be associated with paedophilia.

The far left, with one or two exceptions (the IMG and the pre-fusion WSL, neither of which now exist) was hostile to the PIE.

I know it’s what old gropers and their apologists always say, but on this matter it’s true: the past is another country. That doesn’t excuse those who were negligent and/or indifferent at the time, but it is the context.

And, certainly, the Sun and the Mail have no right to witch-hunt anyone over this .

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Eight reasons to still be against the Collins report

February 19, 2014 at 12:31 am (labour party, posted by JD, socialism, unions, workers)

Ed Miliband

By Jon Lansman, re-blogged from Left Futures:

At the special conference on 1 March, Ed Miliband may well have the “Clause IV moment” his advisors sought, though Labour’s enemies are saying unions will have too much power as they probably always will. His proposals, made in the wake of a Falkirk “scandal” that never was, have lost their rationale. If he wins the day, as now looks almost certain, it is not because trade unions and constituency parties are enthusiastic about them, or even agree with them. Nor is it because the consultation responses – which have been totally ignored in the report – favoured them… they didn’t. It is because the trade unions and constituency parties are instinctively loyal to him and want him to win in 2015. But this is not the way to make the most radical changes ever in the relationship between the trade unions and the party they founded over a century ago, so here are eight reasons still to vote against the Collins report.

  1. The opt-in scheme proposed for trade union levy-payers will result, when union affiliations become tied in five years time to the numbers opting-in, in a drastic cut in party funding. Few trade union leaders seriously expect more than 10% to become “affiliated supporters”, which would mean the loss of £7million a year in affiliation fees, roughly a quarter of total party expenditure.
  2. This “opt-in” scheme is presented as more democratic, but it isn’t. Members will pay the levy either way. What would we think if trade union members had to tick a box to say they wanted to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot if they’d done so? Or if they had to say they, individually, supported the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to those who’d ticked a box? Or if members had to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in strike ballots? “Opt-in” will reduce union affiliation numbers even if their members’ support for Labour rises. Many leading Labour MPs admit that they plan to use that reduction to cut union votes within the Party, which would be to the advantage of the Party machine, not of individual trade union or CLP members.
  3. “Registered supporters” of the party have up to now paid nothing. So few have been recruited (their numbers are secret) that they are to be ignored and recruitment is to start again. ‘Progress’ has always called for their involvement but they were supposed not to be involved in leadership elections until 50,000 were recruited. Nevertheless, they are to be given votes in both leadership elections and a London primary with immediate effect, equivalent to the votes of individual members of the party who pay £45 a year.
  4. Some constituency members may be alarmed about a possible reduction in the value of their votes in leadership elections, as large numbers of trade union levy payers could in theory be recruited as “affiliated supporters” with a vote equal to party members. However, most trade union levy payers, including many who have voted in the past, will lose their right to vote entirely because they won’t have previously ‘opted in’. And unlike registered supporters, they will continue to pay roughly a levy of £7 a year on average, often for most of their working lives. Almost all that money funds the Labour Party.
  5. We may be relieved that the higher threshold proposed in the leadership elections – 15% rather than the current 12.5% – isn’t higher still, as was originally proposed. However, it still would have meant that two out of the last five Labour Party leaders would have been elected unopposed (John Smith as well as Gordon Brown), and perhaps Tony Blair too. The elections that did take place would have had fewer candidates (two not four when Neil Kinnock was elected and probably just two in the most recent election, both called Miliband).
  6. The primary proposed to select a Mayoral candidate for London in 2015 (against the wishes of the London Labour Party) will virtually exclude trade unionists (who currently have 50% of an electoral college) because there will not be time to recruit many affiliated supporters with a general election in between. “Registered supporters” will be included, however, which is a recipe for electoral fraud and manipulation by the party’s opponents.
  7. The administrative problems of this package of proposals cannot be over-estimated. Is there any sense in having, effectively, four tiers of party membership or pseudo-membership: (1) Individual members. (2) Trade unionists who are “affiliated supporters”. (3) Trade unionists who are box-tickers but not “affiliated supporters”, which could happen for many reasons (administrative error or failure to pass on details; inaccurate details on the union database; people with more than one address; people eligible but not on electoral roll like 6m others). (4) “Registered supporters” who pay a minimal one-off “administration fee”. Ensuring that the Labour Party’s database is consistent with each of 14 union membership systems when people change address or jobs will be a permanent problem. This will be a constant source of ammunition for a hostile media when people get a ballot paper and shouldn’t or vice versa. It is hard enough for unions to keep track of home addresses for their internal purposes, as they normally relate to members in their workplace.
  8. If you were prepared to take financial risks and wanted a mass party with a working class base, the right approach would have been to slash membership fees from £45 – well above the reach of many of our voters – and make sure that our policies are much more attractive to trade unions and working class people. As it is, the offer to trade unionists is not very attractive – to get a vote they already have and be allowed to attend meetings (never Labour’s greatest attraction) without a vote. No real influence. No real democracy – unlike in their own unions where conferences and executives still do make policy.

The Collins report proposes two rules changes as well as its recommendations. They are on two separate subjects (Leadership elections and Primaries) and deal with different chapters. Normal practice in the Labour Party is to have separate votes on separate rule changes. This would allow you to decide your views and vote separately on each proposal. This may not happen because the NEC were told by the General Secretary that the procedure was up to the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) whilst the CAC were told that the NEC had decided to have only one vote! Is this contradiction an unfortunate coincidence or deliberate misinformation? Readers will have to make up their own minds – delegates may wish to enquire when the Special conference opens. In the meantime, you might want to consider proposing that your constituency party to send this emergency motion to the NEC & CAC:

This CLP urges the NEC/CAC to ensure that there are separate votes at the Special Conference on 1 March on the report and on each rule change in line with normal procedure.”

You can download a leaflet comprising these reasons for opposing the Collins report here - ideal for distribution at Regional “briefing” meetings for delegates or at constituency meetings to decide how to mandate delegates.

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Unite Executive backs Collins

February 13, 2014 at 6:15 pm (capitulation, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)

The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.

It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.

It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.

Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.

The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.

In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.

The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:

“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.

That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.

Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.

Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.

It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.

Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.

It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.

Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.

The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.

But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.

The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.

And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.

Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.

Defend the Link

Collins report

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Labour and the unions: two views on the Collins report

February 8, 2014 at 9:40 am (democracy, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, unions, workers)

Labour logo

A lot of people, including even labour movement activists, are mystified and/or simply bored by the arcane details of the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions, and Miliband’s proposals (contained in the Collins report) to “reform” that relationship. This is, though, a vitally important issue for anyone concerned about working class representation in British politics today.

As a service to the movement, we publish below, two articles on the Collins report, one broadly supportive and the other opposing it. The first article appeared in the Morning Star and while factually accurate, is clearly written by a supporter of the proposed changes; the second is by Martin Thomas of the Defend the Link campaign.

_________________________________________________________________________

The new rules, and how it will all happen

Every individual member of an affiliated trade union will be given a straight Yes or No choice about whether they want to pay a small sum to ensure their union’s voice is heard within the party.

Trade unions will continue to affiliate collectively to Labour but, for the first time, the payment of affiliation fees will become a wholly transparent process based on individual positive consent.

These reforms will be introduced in 2014 and will apply to new members of affiliated organisations first. They will be fully implemented for existing members of such organisations within five years. During this period, affiliated organisations will be encouraged to help the party maximise the number of people who agree to pay an affiliation fee.

At the end of this period, the affiliation of each organisation will be determined by the number of members who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees. Only those who have chosen to pay will be counted.

Around 20,000 existing registered supporters who do not wish to join the Labour Party will be asked if they wish to pay a fee to have a bigger say in the party.

Those who do will also be asked if they wish – at no extra cost – to become an affiliated supporter who has a direct relationship with the party as an individual.

For the first time, the party would then be able to contact affiliated people directly.

They would be invited to take part in local campaigns, policy discussions and fund-raising.

Also, affiliated supporters would be attached as an individual to their constituency party – but with no rights over local or parliamentary selections.

The party leader and deputy leader will in future be elected according to one member, one vote. The existing electoral college will be abolished.

In addition to being given a choice over the payment of fees, members of trade unions and other affiliated organisations will be asked if they want to have an individual voice within it.

Those who wish to become an affiliated supporter will have a single vote in the leadership election, along with MPs, individual party members and registered supporters from all walks of life who have paid a small fee.

Under the new rules, all the ballot papers will be issued by the Labour Party centrally which would hold the personal contact details of affiliated supporters.

Unions and other affiliated organisations will no longer issue their own ballot papers.

Over the five-year transition, only those members of affiliated trade unions who have separately signed up to become affiliated supporters and consented to pay an affiliation fee will be given a vote in any leadership contest.

Currently, candidates for leader and deputy leader must secure the nominations of 12.5 per cent of MPs before being allowed to enter the contest.

The role of MPs in the nomination process would be strengthened so that only those who secured 20 per cent of nominations from MPs will be allowed to contest.

Labour wants to significantly increase the present number of 20,000 registered supporters who participate in campaigns and work with constituency parties.

These registered supporters will have similar rights to affiliated supporters, and in return for a registration fee, will be given an equal vote in leadership elections.

Full individual members of the party will remain the only people who can select parliamentary candidates, become constituency delegates to party conference or stand for election as Labour councillors or representatives.

A primary election will be held to choose Labour’s candidate for mayor of London. Currently this selection is not reserved solely for individual party members, but is conducted through another electoral college in which unions and other affiliated organisations have 50 per cent of the vote.

It is proposed that this selection is also conducted on one member, one vote principles, with members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters all equal.

New rules governing selection of parliamentary candidates will involve standardised and regulated constituency agreements “so that no-one can allege individuals are being put under pressure at local level.”

A strengthened code of conduct for selections will involve a swift timetable and guarantees that local members have proper interaction with their candidates.

A limit will be imposed on spending by potential candidates in pursuit of selection, with a cap on campaign donations.

_________________________________________________________________________

Labour: reject the Collins report!

Ray Collins’s proposals for the Labour Party special conference on 1 March seem to, or even do, change little immediately. But they contain a time-bomb designed to change things radically, and for the worse, in five years’ time.

Delegates on 1 March should vote against unless they are sure about the changes and have had time to discuss them properly, rather than voting for unless they are totally sure they understand the case against.

In fact there is no chance of proper time to discuss the changes. As we write, Collins’s text has still not been published, less than four weeks before the conference. The platform will not allow amendments, or voting in parts. The conference is only two hours, and much of that assigned to setpiece platform speeches. So there will be little debate, and even that probably unbalanced.

Over the last seven months, since Ed Miliband declared his plan to make trade unionists’ Labour Party affiliation “opt-in” rather than “opt-out”, most union leaders have opposed the idea. The danger now is that they will soften their opposition and back Collins in the name of “unity”.

Collins’s time bomb says that from 2019 the Labour Party should accept affiliation fees from unions only in proportion to the number of members for whom those unions have sent details to the Labour Party as have ticked a box saying that they want part of their political levy to go to Labour.

Probably that will reduce the union-affiliation numbers considerably below the current 2.7 million. Collins expects so. He and others clearly want that, so that after 2019 they can reduce the unions’ voting power within the party. That is what it is all about.

The requirement for members to tick a box – i.e., that all who fail or forget to express a choice should be counted as “opting out”, rather than those who want to “opt out” of the union’s collective decision to affiliate having to say so – is presented as democratic.

But what would we think, in unions, if members had to tick a box to say they want to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot paper if they had previously ticked a box?

Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to support the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and political fund money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to individuals who had ticked a box?

Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in union ballots on strikes, and could be balloted and strike only if they had previously ticked that box?

Box-tickers will pay no extra in union dues. But the incentive to tick the box will be small even for solid Labour supporters. The only gain of substance for the individual from ticking the box is that she or he will not lose their current right to vote in Labour leadership elections. But the next Labour leadership poll could be ten years away.

And if no candidate can stand for Labour leader unless nominated by 20% of Labour MPs – which Collins is also reported to propose – then the leadership poll is likely to be small contest anyway. The sweetener of removing the MPs’ overweighted votes in leadership polls is a small thing by comparison.

It is not yet clear when the substantive rule changes will be put. The best information as of now is that on 1 March rule changes will be put only on primaries and on leadership elections, not on affiliation procedures. So a later rule change will be necessary on affiliation procedures.

Even if Collins wins on 1 March, unions and CLPs should oppose that rule change when it comes forward. We should combat any resurgence of the mood of defeatism which prevailed in July 2013 – “the Labour-union link is going to be broken, there’s no way of stopping it, it’s really not even worth campaigning on the issue”.

Collins’s complicated proposals, which will create great administrative difficulties and damage to Labour finances, are designed only to create a lever for reducing the union vote in the Labour Party. Talk of the proposals increasing the involvement of individual trade unionists is hypocritical. The proposals will allow some individual trade unionists to keep the right they have now, of voting for Labour leader; remove that right from others; and remove from all trade unionists the right to have their basic representative organisations, the unions, exercising control in a party which claims to be “Labour”.

The unions do not always vote left-wing. Far from it: in long tracts of Labour’s history, the union block vote was a prop for the old Labour right wing. But the union vote in the Labour Party institutionalises openings, in times of working-class political ferment, for workers to use their basic organisations to sway Labour, through a range of channels from Labour annual conference to trade-union delegacies to local Labour Parties.

That is why the new Labour right wing wants to curtail the union vote. That is why we should oppose the Collins report; and, if it is passed, fight each inch of way over the next five years to stop its time-bomb being exploded.

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The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised

February 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, genocide, history, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged)

By Mark Ferguson, re-blogged from Labour List:

As I rule I try to write about the Middle East only when necessary so as to avoid the black hole into which all online commentary about the that subject inevitably falls. But sometimes someone who should know better says something so completely wrong – and they have to be pulled up on it.

Here’s what Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said in a Westminster Hall debate:

“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.

“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”

Now it seems very clear to me that the situation in Gaza, and the hardship faced by so many of those who live there, is harsh. The Palestinian people deserve the right to their own state, and have suffered incredibly for many decades. Cameron once called the Gaza Strip a “prison camp” – that seems an accurate description

auschwitz.jpg

But to compare the treatment of people in Gaza to the holocaust is grotesque. Qureshi appears to be comparing the situation in Gaza with the mechanised and industrial extermination of an entire people. No-one who has seen the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz could honestly make such a comparison. No-one who has any knowledge of the mechanical way in which Jews were rounded up, shipped off and murdered in the Holocaust could compare any other form of oppression or repression to that cold, calculated and brutal attempt at extermination.

I’m afraid that however strong your feelings are on the undoubted injustices that the people of Gaza have faced, they are not seeing anything comparable to the holocaust.

Yasmin Qureshi should apologise. And she must do it today.

Update: I’ve had a response from the party – and it’s fair to say I’m not impressed. Here’s what they’ve said:

“These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”

Except it’s clear from reading the full quote of what Qureshi said (see above) and reading the whole Westminster Hall debate – which we’ve linked to – that Qureshi was making a comparison between the impact of the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza, whether that was her intention or not. Instead of trying to get her off the hook, the Labour Party should be telling Qureshi to apologise.

Update: Yasmin Qureshi has released a statement apologising for any offence caused by her remarks:

“The debate was about the plight of the Palestinian people and in no way did I mean to equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust. 

“I apologise for any offence caused.

“I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.

“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”

Qureshi’s apology should draw a line under this, and rightly so. If there was no intention to cause offence or equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust I am happy to accept that. But it’s also a salutary reminder to MPs from all sides of the house – if you’re talking about hugely emotive topics, be careful with your metaphors, and don’t be sloppy with your language…

* H/t: Roger M

* Related posts at Labour List:

  1. The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
  2. The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
  3. As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
  4. Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
  5. Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”   YARPP

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