Strike at Maudsley, Lambeth, Lewisham and Bethlem Hospitals for a living wage, sick pay and unsocial hours

March 21, 2016 at 4:16 pm (health service, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

Adapted from the GMB’s website:

 Hospital cleaners demonstrating.

Photo: Michelle Gordon

Hospital Workers Strike At Maudsley, Lambeth, Lewisham And Bethlem Hospitals On Monday 21st March For A Living Wage, Sick Pay And Unsocial Hours Payments

With a profit of $1.4bn, American multinational outsourcing provider Aramark can well afford to pay their staff a proper wage says GMB.

GMB, the union for staff in the health service, is holding a strike at four South London Hospitals on Monday 21st March for 175 members working as cleaners and hostesses for private contractor Aramark.

GMB members will make history by leading the first strike against Aramark in the UK, having voted 97% in favour of industrial action. They will be seeking a living wage and fairer arrangements for sick pay and unsocial hours payments.

Picketing is taking place at the following addresses:

Maudsley Hospital
Denmark Hill
London
SE5 8AZ

Bethlem Royal Hospital
Monks Orchard Road
Beckenham
BR3 3BX

Lambeth Hospital
108 Landor Road
London
SW9 9NT

Ladywell Unit
Lewisham Hospital
University Hospital Lewisham
Lewisham High Street
London

SE13 6LH 

Many of the staff who keep the hospital sites clean and prepare and serve food to patients are paid as little as £7.38 per hour and receive only 10 days of sick pay per year. Sick pay is only provided after the first 3 days of illness and workers in their first year of service receive no sick pay at all.

Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “GMB members are serious about fighting for something that any worker should be entitled to: A wage they can live on and a sick pay scheme which ensures they won’t be forced into poverty as a result of falling ill.

“Aramark make a profit by paying workers as little as possible. GMB members in South London and Maudsley NHS Trust are now saying enough is enough, they should be rewarded properly for the work they do.

Our members are proud to be making history by leading the first strike in the UK against Aramark. Predominantly low paid women workers, the bravery our members are showing in this fight against an aramark multinational is inspiring. One woman was telling me how she was punched in the face by one of the patients while she was serving food on the ward – all for £7:38 ph!

Aramark is a $14.3 billion, American owned, multinational outsourcing provider. They can afford to pay their staff a proper wage.”

End

Contact: Nadine Houghton on 07714239227 or Andy Prendergast on 07984492726 or GMB press office on 07970 863411 or 07739 182691

Notes to editors

1 GMB press release dated Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dispute Looms At Of South London And Maudsley NHS Trust As Pay Talks With Contactor Aramark For £10 Per Hour Living Wage Stall

Next step is seeking permission for official strike ballot and there will protest demonstrations on 2nd and 9th February says GMB.

A dispute looms as pay talks covering 175 GMB members employed as domestics and hostesses by private contractor Aramark at four sites of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) have stalled.

The pay talks which have broken down cover members at the Maudsley, Lambeth, Bethlem and Ladywell sites where GMB is seeking a living wage of £10per hour and an end to two tier arrangements on sick pay and shift allowances.

GMB officers will now seek permission to proceed to an official strike ballot. GMB will also be calling demonstrations outside the sites as part of the campaign for a living wage and an end to the two tier workforce in the NHS.

Aramark is an American owned multinational outsourcing provider turning over $13billion. It pays many staff on the SLAM contract as little as £7:30ph for providing front line services to mental health patients.

Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “It’s unfortunate that we have been forced to ask our members whether or not they are prepared to strike but we have consistently told Aramark that our members provide a front line service in a mental health trust within London and as such they deserve to be paid a genuine living wage of £10ph, full sick pay and proper shift allowances.

Our members are working around many vulnerable individuals, sometimes they are verbally and even physically attacked and yet many of them are unable to take sick leave as they are not paid for this, some of them also receive no extra pay for working weekends and bank holidays. they have rejected the offer that Aramark made to them as it went nowhere near satisfying the members demands.

GMB will continue to press for a living wage to be set at £10 per hour as agreed at GMB Congress. Members make clear in their experience you need at least £10 an hour and a full working week to have a decent life free from benefits and tax credits. Less than £10 an hour means just existing not living. It means a life of isolation, unable to socialise. It means a life of constant anxiety over paying bills and of borrowing from friends, family and pay day loan sharks just to make ends meet.”

The Guardian‘s coverage, here

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Good riddance IDS: long may this Tory warfare continue

March 20, 2016 at 10:25 pm (Conseravative Party, David Cameron, reblogged, Tory scum, welfare)

By  Phil Burton-Cartledge (at All That Is Solid)

When you’re the head of a department that has meted out cruel and inhumane treatment to disabled people, when you’ve sat in the Commons and nodded through cut after sanction regime after tightened eligibility criteria, at what point do you say enough and call time over your complicity in these proceedings? Does one draw a veil over the old ministerial career by claiming principle and love for the charges you’ve spent six years abusing, or stick the boot in to cause maximum political damage?

Iain Duncan Smith, the so-called quiet man who’s done catastrophic harm to the position of disabled people in this country, has elected to do both. Uncharacteristically, an attempt to fund tax cuts for the well off by taking monies from payments to disabled people has gone down like a cup of cold sick. Which is interesting, considering their previous attacks have gone by with nary a murmur from outside the ranks of disability campaigners, the left, and the labour movement.

Okay, so let’s look at IDS’s “good reason” for resigning – the statement he’s put out himself.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Blimey, IDS is lining up with John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn! Almost.

He goes on …

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working-age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money-saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

To understand where IDS is coming from, one has to step inside his head. It’s scary, so come walk with me. Having previously corresponded with his ministerial office on dozens of occasions, I got the sense that IDS was acting out of ideological zeal. All of his letters would come back extolling the virtues of work, and ironic considering that IDS’s prescription for others is something he’s never really availed himself of. No matter. Work was the route out of poverty. Work was the route to self-respect. Work was the route to good health and mental well being – views typical of someone for whom low-paid drudgery is but a rumour. And IDS knew this better than the medical establishment and disabled people themselves. If only they could be liberated from their can’t-do mindset, hundreds of thousands drawing down disability support could become fully productive citizens. It is a sick joke when you think about the fates of some unfortunate ESA recipients, but IDS absolutely, genuinely believed he was designing a social security system that would “save lives”.

IDS has sat uneasily (to a degree) in Dave’s cabinet. He is an ideologue who takes his twisted principles seriously. Dave and Osborne are a touch more mercurial. They are wedded to broken Tory economics, but are quite willing to ditch principle for expediency. In Wednesday’s budget, Osborne was interested in shoring up a Middle England constituency ahead of the EU referendum as well as making a play for succeeding Dave. As he was prepared to give nice middle class people like me another tax cut and have disabled people pay for it, this clearly was too much for IDS. Just so Osborne was prepared – again – to throw IDS’s life work under a bus, so the Quiet Man has finally returned the favour.

What about the real reason? A little bit has to do with Europe, innit? Exit is another of IDS’s cracked priorities, and again must be frustrated that a number of ambitious Tories – not least the Mekon-like Sajid Javid and other heir-presumptive Theresa May – have dumped principles for position. By strengthening Osborne’s association with attacks on disabled people, he’s calculated that the chancellor will not pass the work capability assessment for Tory leader and the way be open to someone who’s either a bit more ideological, or will allow him space for his continued misadventures in social security. If only there was an unprincipled, opportunist celebrity chancer in the running for the leadership who fits the bill.

To be sure, IDS’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Dave’s leadership and the his hopes of keeping the Number 10 sofa warm for Osborne. Long may this internal warfare continue.

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Spring Is Here: Kenny Dorham

March 20, 2016 at 11:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song)

The ONLY song for today. Dorham (1924 – ’72) was a somewhat neglected figure, whose misfortune was to have emerged just as Gillespie, Brown and Davis were stealing the scene. But on a good day (as here) he was their equal. A lovely version of a great song:

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EU referendum: the left arguments for ‘Out’ and ‘In’

March 19, 2016 at 2:02 pm (class, democracy, Europe, Johnny Lewis, left, Racism, solidarity, unions, workers)

Left wing anti-EU campaigners have, so far made little attempt to argue their case from an explicity pro-working class, or even trade union standpoint. So it is at least refreshing to see Enrico Tortolano attempt to do this in yesterday’s Morning Star. We republish his piece below, followed by a reply from Johnny Lewis:

Lets’s fight on our terms not EU’s

Enrico Tortolano (campaign director, Trade Unionists Against the EU) argues that Britain’s EU referendum on June 23 is not a choice between two bad options but rather a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to live in


Trade union negotiators spend their lives between a rock and a hard place trying to make the best of bad options.

This can lead to a habit we like to think of as pragmatism — making the best of a bad job.

However, at key historical moments fundamental principles come into the equation. Sometimes we have to aspire above the unacceptable options we are offered.

Britain’s EU referendum is such an occasion. It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers. We have to express our deeper interests as working-class people.

To say Cameron’s “EU deal” is just as bad as the status quo and in the next breath advocate a vote for Britain to remain in the EU in order to build “another, nicer EU” misses the point. As does former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who thinks he can reform the EU — something millions of workers over three decades have found impossible.

It shouldn’t be forgotten he advised the Greek government to accept 70 per cent of the EU austerity memorandum and is responsible for much of the present crisis. His failure to understand the system, to grasp the nature of EU institutions and neoliberalism itself, underlies his utopian illusion.

The EU is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a bastion of workers’ rights, nor to support the struggles for equality of women, minorities or young people.

The desperate plight of working-class communities throughout the EU’s 28 member states is clear. Average unemployment was 8.9 per cent in January 2016 — 10.3 per cent in euro-area countries. Incredibly, this is hailed as a sign of recovery by some EU enthusiasts because it represents a 0.1 per cent reduction from the previous month.

Workers in the EU have been trapped in a prolonged crisis of joblessness and falling real wages for over 15 years.

Since 2000 average EU unemployment rates only fell below 8 per cent — 1 in 12 workers — briefly in 2007-8 only to rise to 12 per cent in 2013, before reverting to EU “normality” of around 10 per cent today.

For millions throughout the EU this has meant their lives have been defined by foodbanks, homelessness, debt and precarious forms of employment.

The intended outcome of German ordoliberal policies applied by EU political elites in the interests of big business is to lower wages, “foster competitiveness” and increase worker insecurity.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (M Star March 9) and some trade union leaders who attempt to put a brave face on what they see as the least bad option, unfortunately risk choosing by far the worst option.

Leaving the EU would tear the Tory Party apart. Of course there would be confrontation, but given the ruthlessness with which they are destroying the welfare state and workplace rights, exiting and taking them down makes sense on all levels. This shouldn’t be outside our movement’s cognitive mapping — the real danger for workers lies in giving up on the idea of meaningful change. EU institutions rule exclusively in the interests of corporations and finance capital and are the main drivers of austerity in our part of the world.

A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda. It would also show British people know the only way to stop TTIP, privatising our NHS and public services, is by leaving the EU. These are precisely the reasons why large corporations, the US and global capital are desperately funding and supporting a campaign for Britain to remain a member of the EU.

This referendum is about class issues, not narrow negotiating issues. If the TUC or European TUC could negotiate a favourable settlement for workers with EU institutions and their masters in the Round Table of Industrialists, why has this not already happened?

This referendum is about whether workers want a future of intergovernmental collaboration based on UN principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for self-determination of nations, or a continuation of the EU’s endless austerity where supranational super-states financialise and privatise all areas of human activity.

In this context, it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights.

This is simply untrue. Decades of EU neoliberal economics have depended on its denial of the most basic of workers’ rights — the right to work. The equivalent of Britain’s entire full-time working population (22.98 million) are unemployed across the EU. It is a low-growth area worsened by EU institutions attacking collective bargaining rights.

Accession states, or countries with odious debt like Greece, have been forced to demolish collective bargaining arrangements as conditions for EU bailouts. The EU as a bastion of women’s rights? Try speaking to working-class Greek, Spanish or Portuguese women resisting the aggressive EU austerity agenda.

The European Court of Justice upholds fundamental EU principles of “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services. That’s why its rulings automatically trump workers’ rights.

The Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. The economic crisis of 2008 was used to push through a raft of policies giving the unelected European Commission the power to veto member governments’ budgets and spending plans.

A concrete road map has been articulated by the EU around an assault on workers’ rights that has led to mass protests in Bulgaria and general strikes in Portugal.

Because some on the left have been starry-eyed about the long-dead myth of “social Europe,” the task of organising real international solidarity with these struggles has been neglected.

Let’s revive the deep internationalism of Britain’s trade union movement. Vote to leave the EU. Make a new world possible.

REPLY:

The left Brexiters are putting workers’ rights in danger – and playing into the hands of the right

By Johnny Lewis (a leading trade unionist)

Comrade Tortolano opens his piece by noting that there are situations for socialists in which fundamental political principles must take precedence over the day to day pragmatism of trade union-style negotiations. In principle, I can agree: I’d argue that getting rid of Trident – even before we have an alternative jobs plan in place – is a case in point. Getting out of the EU most certainly isn’t.

At most, it could be argued that the argument over Brexit v Remain is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class over two alternative strategies for British capitalism, in which the working class has no interest one way or the other. In the past (during the 1975 referendum, for instance), some of us have argued just that, but I will now go on to explain why that approach does not apply in the present referendum campaign, and why trade unionists and the left should argue to remain.

I have argued in a previous piece that those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.

Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union and pro-worker legislation has increased. Such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post- 1980 legislation originates from the EU.

It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties – the result of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. Comrade Tortolano cites the Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases as demonstrating “beyond reasonable doubt” his case that  the ECJ’s rulings on the implementation of the Directive is anti-worker: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation – and in directing their fire at the EU people like Comrade Tortolano in reality let the Tory government and its Coalition and New labour Predecessors off the hook.

However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. And the consequence of this dismantling of the floor would almost certainly start a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries are forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right. In fairness to Comrade Tortolano, he does at least address this crucial issue, but only by denying reality and obscuring the real issues with empty rhetoric (“it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights” etc).

The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP, though it is hinted at in Comrade Tortolano’s piece, where he complains of the European Court of Justice upholding the principle of “free movement” of labour: that foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.

We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist right’s emphasis on immigration of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believes (like, incredibly, Comrade Tortolano) the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is b – to put it mildly – worrying that they come close to blaming migrants for low wages.

Unable to put forward any coherent or convincing trade union-based rationale, those left wingers advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim, as does Comrade Tortolano, that  “It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers”, he is unable to present any such case, and neither has any other left Brexiter.

The comrade’s rhetoric about “our system of justice, democracy, collective rights” is simply empty guff: as I have stated (above), every single aspect of pro-worker and pro-union legislation in the UK since 1980 (with the exception of TU recognition) originates from the EU. As for “justice”, the EU has forced successive British governments to introduce legislation on parental leave, age discrimination and transgender rights that almost certainly wouldn’t exist otherwise; and in other areas – equal pay, maternity rights, sex, disability and race discrimination, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has improved and extended existing laws, making it more difficult for a reactionary UK government to undermine them.

Comrade Tortolano then puts forward the further argument: that “A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda.” Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what people like the comrade believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.

The comrade, like all anti-EU leftists, no doubt believes that measures such as renationalising industries or intervening directly in the economy are made impossible by EU membership (I am surprised that this argument is only hinted at in his article): but this is simply not the case – see Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345

All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf

In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’

While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed  myth, promoted by the anti-EU left. But, for the sake of argument, say it were true: are we seriously suggesting that a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a clear democratic mandate and manifesto pledging public ownership of the nation’s railway system and ‘Big Six’ energy companies, would be deterred by the objections of EU bureaucrats? This, incidentally, is where analogies with Greece, Spain and Portugal fall down: the UK has the fifth-largest national economy (and second-largest in EU) measured by nominal GDP: the idea that a left wing UK government could be bullied in the way that Syriza in Greece was is simply preposterous.

Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism. That’s why the left Brexiters like Comrade Tortolano are so badly – and dangerously – mistaken. It’s also why people like myself , who in 1975 argued for abstention, now say that in the forthcoming referendum, class conscious workers and all progressive people, must argue, campaign and vote to remain.

The referendum is not simply a matter of being about in or out: it is also an episode in the formation of this new, populist right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the Brexit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the recent decline in workers’ rights within the EU: rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against their real and imagined grievances – politicians not listening, growing impoverishment, or the belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline – not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the Brexit campaign.

The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: the one convincing claim that Comrade Tortolano makes against the EU is about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left and within the unions who advocate Remain not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.

Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive, it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers, and on a pan-European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.

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Antisemitism within the Labour Party

March 17, 2016 at 9:09 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, Racism)

Vicki Kirby (pictured above), Labour’s candidate for Woking in 2014, was suspended from the Labour Party following a string of antisemitic tweets.  Since then it seems that she was allowed to rejoin the Party and appointed as Woking CLP’s vice chair.  This news comes at a time when Labour faces particular scrutiny over the way it deals with antisemitism following the (brief) readmittance of the crank Gerry Downing and allegations over antisemitism in Oxford University’s Labour Club. Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, responded to Kirby’s reinstatement on LBC:

I simply can’t understand how or why someone who has expressed these sorts of views has been allowed to remain a member of the Labour Party at all … frankly if this was any other form of racism she would have been kicked out … I’ve had messages from Party members who’ve cut up their membership cards, I’ve had constituents in Ilford North write to me asking what on earth is going on with the Labour Party, is there still a place for Jews in the Labour Party.

Since then, Kirby has once more been suspended, and because of the outcry, seems likely to be expelled.

Statement by the Jewish Labour Movement (March 15th):

Statement on Woking CLP

Yesterday evening, the Jewish Labour Movement wrote to the Woking Constituency Labour Party informing them of our intention to affiliate to the CLP under the provisions within the Labour Party Rule Book, with the specific intention of bringing forward a vote of no confidence in the CLP Vice-Chair at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Jewish Labour Movement is a Socialist Society, and has been affiliated to the Labour Party since 1920. One of our core values is to fight antisemitism, racism and all forms of discrimination and racial hatred. We would much prefer not to have to have that fight within our own Party.

We welcome the decision by the Party to suspend Vicki Kirby pending a full investigation, and will continue to pursue our affiliation to the Woking CLP. We hope that through this process, and through an honest and open debate within the Woking CLP, party members can decide whether or not our Party should be a space for these kinds of views.

To Party members who have expressed their support for Jewish Labour activists over the past 48 hours, we say thank you. To those Jewish Labour activists considering leaving the Party, we say stay.

We are not giving up on the Party of Barnett, Silkin, Mikado, Freeson, Shinwell, Lever Edelman and other towering figures of the Jewish left. We ask that you join with us in ensuring that the Labour Party does not give up on us.

http://www.jlm.org.uk/join

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Tory disability campaigner quits over Osborne’s cuts

March 17, 2016 at 8:19 pm (benefits, Cuts, Disability, Tory scum, welfare)

cameron-osborne

By Sarah Pine at LabourList

A Conservative disability campaigner has quit his role in disgust for the Tories’ cuts to disability benefits following George Osborne’s Budget.

The former NHS worker left a message for the party on the Conservative Disability Group site, saying “the website is closed due to disability cuts and the resignation because of these of webmaster Graeme Ellis”.

Conservative Disability Group Graeme Ellis

Ellis has said the cuts were “destroying lives” in an interview with the Mirror.

“I’m appalled by what’s happened and wanted to make a very public statement. I’ve been a Conservative voter since I could vote. But as a lifelong Conservative I could no longer agree with what the government’s doing.”

The Conservative Budget cut £4.4billion from Personal Independence Payments, money used to help with costs of having a long-term disability. This follows the cuts to Employment and Support allowance, which removes £30 a week from sick or disabled people.

These cuts were combined with tax breaks for the rich, with a decrease in Capital Gains Tax, a reduction in the number of people who pay the higher rate of income tax and top-ups for those with spare cash to save.

A spokesperson for the Conservatives dismissed the news, saying “The Conservative Disability Group has not deactivated its website. The owner of the domain, who is no longer a member of the Group, has deactivated it without any instruction to do so.”

Ellis’ decision was quickly highlighted to Labour MPs. MP Cat Smith wrote on Twitter: “too many disability cuts for Conservative Disability Group webmaster Graeme Ellis who has quit in style”.

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Tariq Ali put in his place over Brexit

March 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm (Conseravative Party, Europe, intellectuals, posted by JD, Racism, statement of the bleedin' obvious, UKIP)

Tariq Ali : Plenty of Books, little grasp of socialist a-b-c’s

I have no idea who the author of this letter, published in the present issue of the London Review Of Books, is, but he puts that self-important buffoon Tariq Ali in his place good and proper with a few home truths about the inevitable consequences of Brexit:

In or Out?
Tariq Ali, discussing the forthcoming referendum, remarks that ‘Brexit (which I support for good socialist reasons) can’t restore sovereignty (LRB, 3 March). The conclusion is certainly true, but the opinion in brackets puzzled me. A vote to leave the EU would put the right wing of the Conservative Party in the ascendency, not to mention being a huge boost to and the like, unleashing all manner of chauvinistic, jingoistic, racist ‘Little Englander’ sentiment. In the process, the Labour Party would appear to suffer yet another demoralising ‘defeat’, which would undermine its broader appeal even further. The Scots would, quite understandably, part company with the UK after their next referendum and the rump of GB Ltd would probably be left with a long-term right-wing majority and government. The fact that Tariq Ali had joined Gove, Farage, Johnson and the like to vote ‘Out’, but in his case for ‘good socialist reasons’, would not cut a lot of ice in those circumstances. However you dress it up, such an outcome would issue in any form of progressive politics, and certainly won’t aid the long march to socialism.

Carl Gardner, London EC1

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The Railways: Nation, Network and People by Simon Bradley

March 14, 2016 at 8:38 am (history, Rosie B, transport, Uncategorized)

I’d like to be magisterial and say The Railways: Nation, Network and People by Simon Bradley is the definitive work, or as comprehensive a book as you can find on the history of Britain’s railways. I’d like even more to be the happy pedant, pointing out lacunae in the description of how Britain adopted the standard gaurge against Brunel’s broad gauge. But I know almost nothing of railways, though I love travelling by train, so have to come to this book as the general reader of a well-written, entertaining piece of social history that cites novelists and poets as well as engineers. Simon Bradley quotes the book-making Victorians – Dickens, Trollope and Surtees as well as films like Brief Encounter, The Railway Children and the opening scene of a Hard Day’s Night, where the Beatles dodge their screaming fans “behind poster hoardings and into telephone boxes and photo booths” in the cluttered concourse of the 1960s.

9781846682094

 

Bradley’s book tells a big story – the technical development of the railways and their social impact, and embroiders it with fascinating details eg the contents of the luncheon baskets and the placing of toilets, the slight ring underfoot on the Southern Railway’s preferred concrete over timber platforms. He devotes a whole chapter to signals, which doesn’t stoke my boiler, however, his writing flows and he never loses sight of the human beings – in this case, the solitary signal-man on duty in his box. He explains the sensible height of British platforms (set at 915mm i.e. 3 feet) with a step or two to the train compared to the steep climb on the Continent. He gives the reason why Cambridge station is such a trek from the town centre because the dons feared loss of control of undergraduates and pulled strings to ensure that the station was built well over a mile away from the town.

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Former platform on National Cycle Network 1

The railways created their own kingdom “a physically separate domain, in thousands of route-miles fenced off from the rest of the country and ruled by their own mysterious rhythms and laws.”

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Cyclist on National Cycle Network 1

Simon Bradley was a young train-spotter – not just of the locomotives but of those working on them. “Driver and ganger alike belonged nonetheless to the world of proper work, visible and practical and comprehensible – a world away from the office-bound lives of most of our own fathers.” He conveys the excitement of the Victorians as this great force entered into their lives, as transforming as computers and the internet in ours. The landscape was altered with embankments and tunnels and viaducts.

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Detail of former railway bridge, now carrying cyclists and pedestrians

He points out that bridges were a relatively rare sight before the railways came. Oldest bridges were almost all bespoke structures. Only when canals arrived were bridges multiplied to standard engineers’ design. Now their striding arches are one of the splendours of the British landscape. (For cantilevered iron, the Forth Bridge beats the preening Eiffel Tower any day of the week, and how much finer the Glenfinnan Viaduct is than pompous static showoffery like the Arc de Triomphe.)

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Viaduct on the National Cycle Network 1

“Part of the fascination of the railways is their permeation with memories and traces of obsolete working routes, and the human lives and destinies they shaped. The physical record is often patchy, because different aspects of the system have changed and developed at wildly varying speeds. The modernised freight network envisaged by Dr Beeching is already utterly lost; the diffuse small-scale system which he knocked for six is more remote still. Yet the bridges, tunnels and earthworks that carry the twenty-first century traveller are still predominantly those the Victorians witnessed take shape.”

Bradley moves beyond the Victorians and their share-owned competing railway companies through to British Rail and to today’s mess of ownership – state subsidy of dividends to share-holders:-

“The old British Rail system was subsidised between 1 billion and 1.5 billion. Subsidies since this time have reached as high as 6.3 billion….Much of this money comes nowhere near the operating side of the railway, but is sucked straight out again in dividends, administrative and legal costs ,inflated salaried and bonuses. Nor is the system cheap for its users. [Grossly expensive, and Byzantinely complex in fact.] All of these features are intrinsic, not accidental, parts of the business model under which the railways were privatised – a process that,… was meant to address the supposed scandal of a public opened system which required high subsidies in order to operate. It has proved an extremely expensive way of saving money.”

Though Bradley does follow to the modern age via the marshalling yards and the change to diesel, it is the Victorians and Edwardians who dominate from when the technology was innovative and exciting.

The new words such as stoke, shunt, siding, running out of steam, on the right lines. Time, once set by the “guildhall and town hall and church steeple” was set by the “power of capital”. The landowners were challenged and there would be battles between the surveyors and navvies and estate workers where theodolites would be smashed. (In Middlemarch there’s just such a scene – not quoted by Bradley.)

As the railways developed they were felt at the time to be as unstoppable and transforming as our own digital revolution. So in Trollope’s Rachel Ray set in Devon, which was late to be connected, the timid matron Mrs Ray says of her journey to Exeter:- ‘“I thought the train never would have got to the Baslehurst station. It stopped at all the little stations, and really I think I could have walked as fast.” A dozen years had not as yet gone by since the velocity of these trains had been so terrible to Mrs. Ray that she had hardly dared to get into one of them!’ ‘ There are obvious comparisons with the elderly of today who once wondered at the young’s sci-fi interweb thing now complaining of the speed of their Skype.

The railways have been with us for long enough to have created their own archaeology. I live across the road from the busy Edinburgh to Glasgow line, which I walk or cycle under every day. My commute goes past an embankment which was once a line and is now the National Cycle Network 1 cycleway. On the route are ghosts of platforms and you are riding unaware over a viaduct which is visible from the street a hundred feet below. There was a railway yard, now a place for billboards (advertising was a huge feature of Victorian stations). Another part of it is scrubland which the Council is planning to turn into a further cycleway, restoring a bridge or two.

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Once a railway line, now scrubland, future cycleway

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The living railway, Glasgow to Edinburgh line

When I see the great nineteenth railway structures – the viaducts, the Forth Bridge, the grander railway stations, I feel that we are lesser beings living in the half ruin of a mightier civilisation. We don’t build such grandeur any more but conserve with our heritage industries, our endless touristing.

Bradley’s last chapter is about the volunteers running old lines. He describes a “steam-hauled express arrives from a visitant from the another world, a sort of industrial unicorn or dragon.” Crowds gather to view this icon of another age, as beautiful and obsolete as a full-rigged man of war.

“Made vivid again, here is something that transcends Nature, an amazing work of man; what H.G Wells, writing in 1901, proposed as the best symbol for the century that had just passed, ‘a steam engine running upon a railway.”

Flyingscotsman

The Flying Scotsman

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Galloway’s anti-Semitism exposed in his anti-EU stance

March 13, 2016 at 5:31 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Europe, Galloway, Jim D, populism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", UKIP)

The days when I used to get angry about George Galloway are long gone: he is now a Spode-like figure of ridicule and  – even – a degree of pity. His forthcoming humiliation in the London mayoral election should seal his fate once and for all as any kind of serious political force.  But it’s his recent pro-Brexit alliance with Nigel Farage (the Stalin-Hitler pact as re-enacted by comedy munchkins) that probably represents this unpleasant buffoon’s final, desperate throw of the political dice. In putting in his lot with fellow Putin-lover Farage, Galloway seems to have chucked caution to the wind, and unambiguously revealed an aspect of his personality and politics that he has previously just about managed to keep shrouded under a thin veil of ambiguity and weasel words about “Zionism”: his anti-Semitism. It should be noted that most of the bourgeois media has shied away from properly dealing with this (even after Galloway’s declared aim of making Bradford an “Israel-free zone”), presumably because of his litigious track record.

Well, take a look at the picture below, retweeted by Galloway, from various other pieces of anti-Semitic filth: if that’s not classic anti-Semitism, I don’t know what is:  

View image on Twitter

H/t: Tendance Coatesy

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Trumbo: Stalinists as Victims

March 12, 2016 at 9:29 am (cinema, Eric Lee, history, Human rights, mccarthyism, posted by JD, stalinism, United States)

By Eric Lee (first published on Eric’s blog)

Browder.
Earl Browder, American Communist Party leader.

“Trumbo” is a the latest in a series of Hollywood films that looks back nostalgically at the McCarthy era, a time when the good guys were blacklisted writers accused of membership in the Communist Party, and the bad guys were the US government, studio bosses, and right-wing media.

The first of those films was probably “The Way We Were” (1973) starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Made only a few years after blacklisting had ended, when the Cold War was still raging, it became a template for future films on the subject. The film takes place over several decades, as Streisand and Redford fall in and out of love. In the opening scenes, Streisand plays the very young Katie, a committed activist, and is initially shown as campus leader of the Young Communist League (YCL).

The writers could have chosen which years to use, as the film is deeply rooted in historical events. They could have chosen 1940, for example, when Katie would have been campaigning against US entry into the Second World War, denouncing British imperialism and supporting the Hitler-Stalin pact. But they did not – they set the first scene to the mid-1930s, so Katie is shown advocating for Republican Spain and against the fascists.

The next scene is during the war, but at a time when both the US and the Soviet Union are fighting on the same side, against the Nazis. Katie is no longer denouncing Roosevelt as a war-monger (as she would have done in 1940) and is instead working hard on the war effort, and an uncritical admirer of the beloved President. This was during a time when the Communist Party’s leader, Earl Browder, infamously declared that “Communism is twentieth-century Americanism”.

The remaining parts of the story are set in the late 1940s when the Communists faced the persecution of the Hollywood blacklist, and a final scene shows her crusading against nuclear weapons in the early 1960s.

In other words, the historical setting of every scene in “The Way We Were” is carefully calculated to show off American Communists in the best possible light. They are not shown defending Stalin’s show trials, harassing independent leftists (including Trotskyists), defending the pact with Hitler, and so on. Instead the lovely Katie is backing only the most noble causes.

Films like “The Front” (1976) starring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel continued the tradition, highlighting just how awful the McCarthy era was for Hollywood, destroying the lives of innocent radicals who had done nothing wrong.

“Trumbo” is the latest version of the story. It stars the brilliant Bryan Cranston who was deservedly nominated for several Best Actor awards. But his acting aside, the film continues the portrayal of American Communists as decent people, innocent of any crime, who were victims of right-wing media and politicians.

An early scene shows Trumbo with his daughter, who asks her father if she too is a Communist.

In a cringe-worthy moment, Trumbo asks her what her favourite sandwich is. Ham and cheese, she replies. Well, he tells her, imagine if you came to school with your sandwich and one of her friends didn’t have lunch and was hungry. What would you do? Would you sell him half of your sandwich? Would you ignore him?

The little girl replies, no, of course not, I would share the sandwich. Well then, Trumbo explains, you’re pretty much a Communist.

The reality of Dalton Trumbo is a little bit more complex than that.

Trumbo, like a number of other successful Hollywood writers, was a member of the Communist Party and consistently supported the party line that was handed down from Moscow.

Trumbo admitted in an article that Stalinists in Hollywood succeeded in blocking some films from being made – films that had an anti-Soviet message. Among these was one based on Arthur Koestler’s book, Darkness at Noon.

Trumbo’s most famous book, Johnny Got His Gun, a masterpiece of anti-war writing, was allowed to go out of print following the invasion of the USSR in June 1941. Trumbo’s view was that it was perfectly correct to write and publish an anti-war book when the Soviets were allied with the Nazis, but once Russia itself was under threat, such a book sent out the wrong message.

Some people encouraged Trumbo to keep the book in print during the war. But the author did more than suppress his own best work in the party interest. As he later admitted, he passed on the names of those who had encouraged him with the anti-war message … to the FBI.

Films like “Trumbo,” “The Front” or “The Way We Were” make much of how wrong it is to name names and inform on people. In “Trumbo” several characters are revealed as weak because they do so.

There’s no question that Dalton Trumbo was a great writer, and that the Hollywood blacklist was a dark period in American history. But the Stalinist victims were in many cases no heroes, and whitewashing them and rewriting history does no one any good.


This article was published in Solidarity.

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