Grenfell Tower: ruling class criminal negligence

June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm (campaigning, capitalism, class, Conseravative Party, crime, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Tory scum, tragedy)

“People were waving scarves, flashing phones, torches, flapping their windows back and forth, crying for help … At first people [on the ground below] were trying to help them, pushing at cordons. I could see the smoke billowing behind them and in some cases I could see the flames, until they disappeared … [by 4am] there was no sign of life. Everyone was in a resigned state of shock. We couldn’t do anything and we were coming to accept the fire brigade couldn’t do anything either … I’ll never forget the sound of those screams: the screams of children and grown men” (would-be rescuer Robin Garton, quoted in The Times).

The faces look out from the newspaper, smiling in happier times. Many of them black or Middle Eastern with names like Khadija Kaye, Jessica Urbano  and Ali Yawa Jafari. But also Sheila Smith and Tony Disson. Then you read about people throwing their children out of high windows in the hope that someone would catch them, people jumping (some on fire) to almost certain death (shades of 9/11) and mother of two Rania Ibrham sending a Snapchat video to a friend who described it: “She’s praying and she’s saying ‘Forgive me everyone, goodbye’.”

This all happened in 2017 in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London, under a Tory council and a Tory government. But these people weren’t wealthy: they were amongst the poorest in the city, living cheek by jowl with people of enormous wealth.

It turns out that the local residents’ group, the Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned the council and the so-called Tenant Management Organisation (ie the landlord) that a disaster was coming. In November of last year Edward Daffarn published a post on the Grenfell Action Group blog, entitled Playing with Fire, in which he warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

Local (Labour) councillor Judith Blakeman attempted to raise concerns with council officials and the management body “ad nauseam” since refurbishment of the block began in 2014: “They kept reassuring us that everything was fine” she said.

The refurbishment involved encasing the building with cladding that fire safety experts have long warned compromises the safety of tower blocks whose original “compartmentalised” design had incorporated rigorous fire safety standards (it also meant that advice to residents to “stay put” in the event of a fire was fatally inappropriate). An “external cladding fire” had caused the death of six people in Lakanal House tower block in South London in 2009. At the inquest into that disaster, the coroner had recommended that the government should review fire safety guidance to landlords and, in particular, the danger of the “spread of fire over the external envelope” of buildings (ie the use of external cladding). She also recommended that sprinkler systems be fitted to all high-rise buildings. None of this happened.

So why were the warnings ignored? Why did Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week (and is now Theresa May’s chief of staff) fail to act on the warnings prompted by the Lakanal House fire? Why did his predecessor Brandon Lewis, tell MPs that it was “for the fire industry”, not government, to “encourage” the installation of sprinklers rather than “imposing” it? Why did then-communities secretary Eric Pickles treat the Lakanal House coroner’s recommendations as “advice” to local authorities rather than as instructions?  And why didn’t Grenfell Tower even have a building-wide fire alarm?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: these residents are poor working class people, many of whom are also ethnic minorities and migrants (in an especially tragic twist, the first body to be identified is that of a Syrian refugee, Mohammad al-Haj Ali). Such negligence and cost-cutting would never be tolerated in the luxury high-rise flats and offices peopled by the rich: these are built to the highest standards, using the safest materials.

This is ruling class contempt for the poor – also exemplified by May’s refusal to meet with local people during her brief and tightly-policed visit to the scene earlier today.

Let no-one tell you this was simply a “tragedy” as though it was some sort of natural disaster. This was criminal negligence by the ruling class and their political party, the Tories. Our response – and the only response that will truly honour the victims – must be to pursue the class struggle with renewed vigour. Starting by kicking out the Tories as soon as possible.

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AWL: Labour’s gains have put socialism back into politics

June 10, 2017 at 7:51 am (AWL, campaigning, class, democracy, elections, labour party, Marxism, posted by JD, reformism, trotskyism)

By Cathy Nugent at the Workers Liberty website:

The 2017 general election was a stunning success for the Labour Party and within the terms that Theresa May set for this election – to hugely increase her Parliamentary majority — a failure for the Tories.

At the start of the campaign, the Tory Party had a 20 percentage point lead on Labour in the opinion polls and was predicted to get a landslide victory. Labour’s result is partly down to a reaction against May’s arrogance and dismay with election issues such as the “dementia tax”, but it is much more.

Labour’s advance will prepare the way for renewed interest and commitment to explicitly socialist ideas. During the election John McDonnell explicitly spelled out his commitment to socialism. At the very least the election opens up is a chance to remake the Labour Party into a strong political voice for working-class people, for two reasons.

In its manifesto, despite a number of serious problems and limitations (e.g. no commitment to freedom of movement), Labour issued a clarion call against the ideologues of “capitalist realism” who say that poverty and inequality are inevitable, or even the fault of the people who are capitalism’s victims. As such, support for Labour, increasing their share of the vote to just under 41% with a net gain of 31 seats, is a truly remarkable achievement.

This election result sees politics once again polarising around class. In our society, there are two important classes. The Conservative Party represents the capitalist ruling class; the Labour Party is supposed to represent the working class. Labour lost support when Labour governments abandoned and even attacked working-class people, many of whom became alienated from politics, some of whom turned to minor parties, whether of the right (UKIP) or the apparently-left (the Greens). This election is a vindication of the idea that this approach was wrong. One of the most significant features of the election result is that support for those parties has shrunk to insignificance, and that the LibDems’ hoped-for rejuvenation has evaded them.

It is now clear – Labour can win elections when it fights on ideas that challenge ruling-class orthodoxy.

We have a Tory minority government, but how long May stays is not clear. As of now, the Tories will get a working majority in Parliament by relying on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But there will be divisions between the Tories and the DUP and from within the Tory Party as the talks on Brexit proceed. The Tories are in deep trouble and Labour was right to immediately call for May to resign and to say that they are ready to form a minority government. The Tories may survive or rather they will only go down if Labour keeps up the public pressure.

Millions of people listened to Labour’s call and responded positively. Labour’s support included some people who have never voted before and former UKIP voters and this too is significant. That is why there is now a huge opportunity for the labour movement — which at is best has always been the guardian of a working-class moral authority against capitalist realism — to reassert itself in political life.

It is down to the left to solidify and expand on these gains. In achieving this, it is very important that Corbyn has increased his own personal standing. Die-hard Blarites in Labour will be forced to shut up — for now. It is to Corbyn’s great credit that he has faced those people down.

In success, just as much as in defeat, it is important to reflect on the new trends and opportunities and that is what revolutionary socialists should do now. We have some initial observations.

The increase in young voters is highly significant; it is a reversal of a long-term trend of young voters being turned off mainstream politics and participating in elections. The Corbyn team’s strategy of holding rallies in safe seats and using Corbyn’s facility for speaking “on the stump” and then building support through social media succeeded in the context of an election campaign. The strategy of turning a layer of new activists in Labour out to marginals made those 31 seat gains and helped to close the gap elsewhere. The gains for Labour in Scotland, while being distinctive political trends, also represents a significant breakthrough for Labour. What can be done to build on these things?

The Tory minority government may not survive for very long. But whether it stays for one year or five years Corbyn’s team, Momentum and the broader left have to do some things they have so far failed to do. We need to make a serious turn to building the organisational strength and reinvigorating the political culture of the labour movement.

Rallies are good in election campaigns, but we need solid local Momentum groups and Labour Party organisations, which meet regularly and take political debate seriously.

To do that, the left needs to step up the fight for an open, democratic Labour Party, against the still-strong old regime of bureaucratic manipulation and political purges. The leadership of Momentum made peace with that old regime; it must reverse that choice.

Social media is a powerful tool but we also need much more face-to-face campaigning — on the streets. Labour and the Labour left need both a vibrant social life and a serious turn outwards to political campaigning — fighting the cuts everywhere, continuing to argue for the best ideas in Labour’s manifesto on education, health and the minimum wage. Above all we need to be drawing much wider layers of Labour’s expanding membership into political activity.

Young people should not be a “stage army” on which Labour relies every time there is an election. The left needs to rebuild Labour’s youth wing so that young members have space to develop socialist ideas and can also take a central role in shaping the political life of the Party and the broader labour movement.

This election is a huge step forward for the “Corbyn surge”, for the constituency of people who want an end to austerity. The AWL exists, to paraphrase the Internationale, to bring “reason in revolt”, to forge the kind of class struggle socialism we believe can arm that movement and ensure its fight can grow and win.

If you want to discuss these ideas with us please come along to our Ideas for Freedom event on 1-2 July.

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Naz Shah subjected to anti-semitic heckling

June 2, 2017 at 3:47 pm (anti-semitism, campaigning, elections, israel, labour party, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


Naz Shah was taunted with anti-Semitic abuse after defending the Jewish state, during a hustings in Bradford.

An audience member during the event appears to shout “Jew Jew Jew” at the Labour candidate for the Bradford West, after she reiterated her belief in Israel’s right to exist.

The MP, who is campaigning to retain the seat at the general election, was suspended by Labour last year for an anti-Semitic Facebook post. She has since apologised and been widely praised for her efforts to learn more about the Jewish community and Israel.

Shah said during the hustings, after being branded a ‘Zionist’ for her reformed views: “Do I believe in Israel’s right to exist? I continue to stand by my statement that I believe in Israel’s right to exist”.

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A bloody evasive woman

May 30, 2017 at 1:16 pm (campaigning, Conseravative Party, elections, Jim D, television)

Anyone who missed May’s wretched performance on the TV debate last night, should watch this. The audience openly heckled and mocked her evasions and hypocritical attempt to accuse Labour of failing to provide costings. One audience member even mouthed “bollocks” as she avoided giving a serious answer on NHS funding.

Corbyn, by contrast, gave an impressive performance and dealt with Paxman’s barely-concealed hostility with ease.

What a pity he made such a pig’s ear of Women’s Hour the next morning …

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Local election results and the task ahead: we agree with the Morning Star !

May 6, 2017 at 6:25 pm (campaigning, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, Tory scum)

For the first time ever, Shiraz agrees wholeheartedly with a Morning Star editorial (though that doesn’t mean we can ever forgive their support for Brexit and continuing state of denial over its consequences):

Don’t abandon hope just yet

THERE is no point in trying to dress up the local election results as positive for Britain’s left.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is absolutely right to say the outcome of the vote across Scotland, Wales and some parts of England was mixed, and that Labour won important victories.

But there is no hiding the fact that Labour lost hundreds of seats and that the Conservatives gained hundreds of seats.

It is especially worrying that Theresa May’s party is making significant gains across Scotland, for many years a virtually Tory-free zone.

The advance shows that the politics of competing nationalisms, Scottish and British, are continuing to drown out the politics of class north of the border — which is bad news for working people.

Gains for Plaid Cymru and the Tories in Wales suggest similar forces are at work in that country, although Labour fared significantly better in the only British nation it currently governs than in Scotland.

The total collapse of Ukip will cheer anti-racists, but its cause is clear — Theresa May’s Conservatives are now virtually indistinguishable from the party taken to prominence by Nigel Farage.

A government that moots forcing companies to draw up and publish lists of foreigners in their employ, demanding to see passports at the hospital gate and returning to the days of grammars and secondary moderns offers everything Farage’s “back to the ’50s” outfit did to voters, especially now the decision to leave the European Union has been taken.

The Liberal Democrats also notably failed to make any recovery from the well-deserved drubbing they received in 2015, after shamelessly helping the Conservatives privatise our health service, triple tuition fees, sell off Royal Mail and wage war on disabled people and the unemployed.

Tim Farron might declare that Labour’s losses prove only a vote for his party can stop the Tories, but the claim is nonsense when the Lib Dems are also losing seats — and given that his party is openly willing to return to coalition government with the party of racism and the rich.

No, as journalist Abi Wilkinson has pointed out, these results mean June 8 is a two-horse race — between Labour and the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have a commanding lead, but it is not invulnerable. Local election turnouts are low, much lower than those for general elections.

The younger and the poorer you are, the less likely you are to vote — but the younger and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to support Labour, meaning low turnouts benefit the Tories.

Huge numbers of students have been signing on to the electoral register in recent weeks, and polling — otherwise so dismal for Labour — shows that among young people the party leads.

If the vote was confined to the under-40s, Jeremy Corbyn would beat May easily. All this points to the need for a mammoth get-out-the-vote campaign between now and June 8.

Labour has a huge asset in its party members. This half-a-million-strong army represents man and woman-power on a scale the Tories can only dream of.

However much the parliamentary party and its bureaucracy have mistreated them, Labour members understand what is at stake for Britain and the awful consequences of a victory for May.

Beyond that, the entire movement needs to come together to stop a government committed to smashing trade unions and impoverishing families in or out of work.

A Labour win is the only method of doing so. Over the coming month, everyone on the left should be out fighting for that victory.

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Support for Labour in Scotland can be built only by winning back Labour voters who switched to the SNP

May 2, 2017 at 4:54 pm (campaigning, elections, labour party, nationalism, reformism, scotland, socialism)

Image result for picture Blair McDougall campaign leaflet East Renfrewshire

Alternatively, he could campaign to win back ex-Labour voters from the SNP …

By Dale Street

Scottish Labour candidates need to fight the forthcoming general election on the basis of policies which challenge the inequalities of wealth and power inherent in capitalism, and which will mobilise the labour movement not just to vote Labour but to fight for those policies whatever the outcome of the election.

All Labour candidates throughout the UK should be campaigning on that basis. But the importance of such an election campaign is all the greater where specifically labour-movement and class-based politics have been squeezed out by competing nationalisms.

And that is the case in Scotland, where opinion polls currently show the SNP on 41% (50% in 2015), the Tories on 28% (13% in 2015), and Labour on 18% (24% in 2015 – and 42% in 2010).

Based on a now largely discredited and disowned White Paper, the SNP’s pro-independence campaign in 2014 polarised the Scottish electorate around national identities and attitudes to independence.

The momentum from that initial polarisation carried over into the 2015 general election. The SNP ran a straightforward nationalist campaign, promising to “stand up for Scotland”, give Scotland “a stronger voice” and “make Scotland stronger” in Westminster.

Despite having lost the 2014 referendum, the SNP consolidated the bulk of “Yes” voters into its electoral base. Aided by the first-past-the-post system, it won 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies.

The same momentum and the same polarisation also helped the SNP win the Holyrood elections of 2016, even if it lost its previous absolute majority at Holyrood.

At the same time, British nationalism began to consolidate its own political base, in the form of a boost in electoral support for the Tories. Pitching themselves as the foremost champions of the Union, the Tories increased their representation at Holyrood in 2016 from 15 to 31.

As the nationalist polarisation of politics in Scotland intensified and day-to-day politics increasingly degenerated into a permanent referendum campaign, Labour was squeezed remorselessly between the two competing nationalisms.

Despite standing on an election manifesto with a clear focus on social and economic issues, and one which advocated policies well to the left of the SNP, the 2016 Holyrood election saw the number of Labour MSPs collapse 37 to 24, leaving the Tories as the official opposition.

Sturgeon’s announcement in March that she wanted to secure a Westminster section 30 Order, to allow a second referendum to be held on Scottish independence, added a further boost to what was already a solidly entrenched political polarisation around national identities.

Scottish nationalists, whose sole political purpose in life is to secure Scottish independence, were given a fresh lease of life. Only too happy to ignore the SNP’s actual record during its ten years of power at Holyrood, they were able to wrap themselves in a Saltire again.

Inevitably, the SNP’s demand for another referendum, backed in breach of their manifesto commitments by Green MSPs, triggered a fresh surge of support for the Tories. Winning between eight and ten seats in the forthcoming general election is now a real possibility for the Tories.

It suits both the SNP and the Tories to transform the general election in Scotland into a referendum on a second referendum.

Whereas Scottish Labour backs federalism and Corbyn would not oppose a second referendum, the Tories are standing as the most reliable opponents of independence and another referendum: “We Said NO in 2014. We Meant It.”

This conveniently diverts attention away from the Tories’ actual record in power in Westminster since 2010, and also away from the policies which the Tories are fighting this general election on at a national level.

The SNP initially wobbled on how to present the general election, adopting three different positions between 18th April and 27th April, before falling in line behind Alex Salmond and treating the election as a referendum on a second referendum.

This likewise conveniently diverts attention away from the SNP’s record as a party of government in Holyrood over the past ten years:

Literacy and numeracy standards have declined, child poverty has increased, FE teacher and student places have been decimated, relative poverty has increased, inequalities in access to HE have increased, the NHS has suffered from shortages of doctors, nurses and GPs, the gap between rich and poor has increased, and Scotland’s economy now teeters on the brink of recession.

Insofar as the general election in Scotland remains a clash between two flags, two national identities and two nationalist ideologies, the chances for the Labour Party to win support for a specific labour movement response to the failures of ten years of SNP rule and seven years of Tory rule are correspondingly reduced.

Scottish Labour candidates need to transform the terrain on which the general election is fought. But some candidates – all of whom were selected by a sub-committee of the Scottish Labour Executive Committee – seem to want to out-Tory the Tories.

According to the first election campaign leaflet from Blair McDougall, former Director of “Better Together” and now Labour candidate for East Renfrewshire, for example: “I ran the winning campaign against independence. Now I want your vote to say No to a second referendum. On 8th June Vote Labour and Say No to the SNP.”

This epitomises just about everything wrong with the approach to the election adopted by the right wing of Scottish Labour.

McDougall’s electoral strategy is to win over Tory voters to voting Labour. But if they were unwilling to switch to voting Labour under Blair, they are even less likely to switch to voting Labour under Corbyn.

Support for Labour in Scotland can be built only by winning back Labour voters who switched to the SNP. But the focus of what McDougall proposes in his leaflet is tactical voting by the Tories to defeat – as opposed to win over – SNP voters.

To win back ex-Labour voters who switched to the SNP, Scottish Labour needs to tear off the “Red Tories” label which the SNP stuck on it after the “Better Together” campaign. McDougall, on the other hand, boasts of his role as “Better Together” Director.

(Not that there is actually anything to boast about. At the start of the referendum campaign support for independence stood at around 20%. By the end of the campaign it had more than doubled to 45%.)

Above all, McDougall’s campaign focuses on the possibility, or likelihood, of another referendum. But defining another referendum as the key issue in the election can only push ex-Labour voters further into the arms of the SNP, and also help boost support for Tory Unionists.

Scottish Labour candidates contesting seats in the general election includes members of the Campaign for Socialism/Momentum Scotland.

They have the opportunity to campaign, and to seek to influence the election campaign at a Scottish level, in a way which places basic class issues and labour movement politics to the fore.

The ability of the labour movement in Scotland to continue to represent a political pole of attraction and an electoral force depends on how successful they will be in the coming weeks in advocating class politics as an alternative to SNP and Tory nationalisms.

The pro-independence left, on the other hand, could do far worse than spend the election campaign working out how they could have got things so wrong.

They campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote in 2014, pretending that they were putting forward a socialist case for independence as opposed to functioning as no more than an echo chamber for the SNP.

They welcomed the defeat of labour movement politics by nationalism in 2015, deluding themselves into believing that it created a mass opening for socialist politics, only to be brutally disabused of such illusions when they stood candidates in 2016.

And now, because one nationalism begets another, they would find that the space for advocating socialist politics has narrowed even further – if it were not for the fact that they have now adopted support for a second referendum as a surrogate for fighting for socialist politics.

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The Brexit threat to science: the Wellcome Trust’s Open Letter

May 1, 2017 at 12:30 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, economics, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, science)

Shiraz Socialist doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in this Open Letter – not least the defeatist acceptance that Brexit is inevitable. Nonetheless, it contains a clear warning  that the isolationism and racism inherent in Brexit is a threat to science, and human progress in general:

Wellcome’s Chair, Eliza Manningham-Buller, and Director, Jeremy Farrar, have written to the leaders of all UK political parties with MPs in Westminster ahead of the upcoming general election on 8 June.

This includes the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The letter sets out three areas the next government should prioritise to sustain Britain’s role as world leader in science and research, through exit from the EU and beyond:

  • strong investment in research, ideally at the same level as other innovative countries who spend comparably more than the UK
  • a commitment to securing associate membership of EU science schemes such as Horizon 2020, which encourages collaboration across borders
  • a migration system that is straightforward and welcoming to researchers, technicians, innovators, and their families, at all career stages and from all over the world.

Full text of the letter

The government that is elected on June 8 will determine the direction that the UK will take through exit from the European Union and beyond. Among the issues at stake are Britain’s future positioning on the global stage, and its historic role as a world-leading centre for outstanding scientific discovery that transforms life and health.

As the world’s second highest-spending charitable foundation, committed to supporting science and improving health, Wellcome is proud to invest the majority of our £1bn annual spending in the UK. This letter sets out the conditions that we believe are necessary to sustain the scientific excellence that allows us to invest here so confidently, and which advances health and economic prosperity.

Wellcome’s mission has long been enhanced by a shared understanding with UK governments of all political complexions that research and innovation accomplish more when nations and their scientists collaborate across borders. We believe that the next UK government will face an important choice. It can continue this understanding, looking outward as an open nation and committing to global partnerships and institutions. This is critical to taking on fundamental scientific questions, and challenges such as pandemics, drug-resistant infections, climate change and mental health, which no single nation can address alone. Or it can allow the UK’s focus to drift inward, by commission or omission, which would close doors to international collaboration and talent.

The cross-party commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on Official Development Assistance is a clear expression of this country’s intent to be a constructive international partner. If the next government wishes to sustain Britain’s global posture and scientific excellence it will also have to take the right decisions in three other areas.

First, we know that science and innovation are reliable drivers of economic growth and sustainable employment when the right conditions are in place. These conditions include strong investment, which would be secure if the UK met the international benchmark of spending 3% of GDP on R&D across the public and private sectors. They include the UK’s unique dual system of flexible support through both research grants and wider infrastructure funding, which has given the UK four of the world’s top ten universities, and regulation that promotes innovation, builds public confidence, and facilitates access to wider markets. And they include access to capital that is patient enough to allow small companies founded on scientific ingenuity to grow into large ones.

Next, we know that science thrives when funding incentives encourage collaboration across borders. This makes sharp minds sharper, and drives up standards everywhere. The EU’s Framework Programme funding does this exceptionally well, stimulating excellence and partnership where many schemes with similar intent have failed. It would be a mistake to walk away from a system that the UK has worked so hard to get right over many years, and from which we could continue to receive more funding than we contribute, or to replace it with purely domestic funding that does not promote collaboration as effectively. The next government should commit to securing associate membership of EU science schemes, as it builds on their success to forge similar global partnerships.

Finally, we know that great science is built on great talent – wherever it is from. As the UK’s migration system changes, it must be straightforward and truly welcoming to researchers, technicians, innovators, and their families, at all career stages and from all over the world. We must be open to talent not because there is a shortage of home-grown scientists – but because the arrival of people with new ideas and fresh thinking lifts standards and gets better results. Such openness is entirely compatible with achieving greater control over total migrant numbers. It could be achieved if the next government were to work with the academic institutions and high-tech businesses that it will rely on for growth to design the migration system that can enable this to happen, including sponsoring appropriate candidates for visas.

The world is watching how the UK faces this crucial moment in its history, and the tone and substance of the approach you choose will help determine the UK’s place in the world for generations to come. We urge you to grasp the opportunity for the UK to grow as a constructive, enthusiastic international partner, for science, research and health in Europe and around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Eliza Manningham-Buller
Chair, Wellcome Trust

Jeremy Farrar
Director, Wellcome Trust

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AWL statement: Fight for a Labour victory!

April 18, 2017 at 3:21 pm (AWL, campaigning, elections, labour party, posted by JD)

Statement issued today (18/04/2017) by the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

Left-wing activists, and those who are not yet activists, should throw themselves into campaigning for a Labour victory in the 8 June General Election.

Workers’ Liberty members, including those expelled from Labour by the party bureaucracy, will be out campaigning. If you’d like to work with us on that, get in touch. Whether or not you’re a Labour Party member, you should get active campaigning; if you haven’t joined, now is the time to do it.

We understand that many of those enthused by Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaigns feel disappointed or frustrated by how things have gone. Moreover the circumstances of the election are daunting; and the possibility of Corbyn being replaced with a more right-wing leader if Labour loses is depressing.

Don’t get depressed – organise! Things are difficult, but we don’t know the outcome, either in terms of the election result or of how things will unfold in the Labour Party. Even if Labour does lose the election, the margin is no small matter. Even helping to prevent a huge Tory landslide is a goal worth fighting for.

We need to maximise campaigning. Campaigning should not be counterposed to democratic organising or political debate. With most local Labour Parties shutting down for the duration, Momentum groups should continue to meet – or start meeting again – and use the election to rally and organise people for campaigning, and to discuss Labour’s programme and our political demands.

Socialists should continue to make the case for radical anti-capitalist policies like expropriating the banks. Meanwhile the left should argue for Labour to emphasise the best, boldest, most radical of its existing policies and campaign for them vigorously.

Over the last 18 months Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the party itself have proposed left-wing policies such as rail renationalisation, free education, council house-building, a £10 an hour minimum wage, reversing NHS privatisation – but not campaigned for them in a sustained way. This is an opportunity to begin doing so. We should also argue for Labour to campaign for left-wing policies agreed by its conference but not yet taken up, like public provision of social care and restoring the right to strike in solidarity with other workers.

In an election pitched by the Tories as a referendum on Brexit, Labour needs a clear policy on that. We can’t help but notice that Jeremy Corbyn’s statement responding to Theresa May’s announcement did not mention the issue! There is a real danger that the Liberal Democrats will succeed in pitching themselves as the main opposition to the Tories, with Labour caught looking incoherent in the middle.

Even on the basis of its existing policy, Labour could argue for opposition to the Tories’ Brexit plans, for defence of free movement and migrants’ rights, for remaining in the single market. We should fight for this. Otherwise Labour will go into the election echoing, or scarcely contesting, the Tories’ main message.

Beyond individual policies, we need to fight for the idea that socialist – indeed all left-wing and democratic – politics is about politically convincing and persuading people, shifting the political consensus. During Corbyn’s first Labour leadership contest, we argued that:

“…a left-wing Labour Party could and would have to inform, shape, educate and re-educate ‘public opinion’. That is what a proper opposition party does. A serious political party is not, should not be, what the Blair-Thatcherite Labour Party now is – an election machine to install venal careerists in ministerial office… The ideas, norms, consequences and ideology of market capitalism have not been contested by the political labour movement. All that can now be changed…”

We think it is a mistake for Labour to vote in Parliament for an election now. No democratic principle obliges us to accept the Tories calling a snap election at a moment chosen to suit them – before things get sticky with Brexit – and when Labour still needs time to do the necessary job of re-educating a public trained for decades now in bleak, no-hope, no-options conservative thinking.

Seeking to educate and shift public opinion, rather than manoeuvring cleverly or not-so-cleverly, is what Corbyn has not done – not just because it is difficult, but for want of trying. A movement that fights hard to do that should remain our minimal goal. Organising and mobilising as hard as we can for a Labour victory on 8 June is the best starting point for that.

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Unite: the stakes are too high to indulge Allinson’s vanity project

March 21, 2017 at 6:09 pm (campaigning, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Unite the union, workers)


Above: the threat from Watson’s man Coyne is too serious for “leftist” gestures

By Johnny Lewis

The latest concocted row about an alleged “hard-left plot”, supposedly orchestrated by Momentum and supporters of Len McCluskey, to “seize permanent control of the Labour party” is palpable nonsense, being cynically used by Tom Watson and the right wing candidate in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne. The claims don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, but nevertheless the way they’ve been seized upon by Watson, the right of the PLP and most of the media, demonstrates exactly what’s at stake in the current Unite election. And it demonstrates quite decisively why a victory for Len McCluskey is of crucial importance to the serious left, and why Ian Allinson’s left-wing challenge to McCluskey is an irresponsible indulgence.

I was chatting to some friends who are foot soldiers in McCluskey’s re-election campaign and I innocently asked if now Allinson is on the ballot and he’s proved a point will he step down and throw his weight behind McCuskey? I was met with laugher and a look which I can best describe as pity. Not a chance, I was told: he’s out for his fifteen minutes minutes of fame. They also believe Allinson actually thinks he can win (whereas I’d put any statement Allinson may have made about winning down to hyperbole rather than the man being delusional).

Although they were laughing it was clear they are very angry with Allinson as they consider Coyne could take it if he is able to mobilise those who don’t usually vote. To get to these passive members Coyne is relying on social media and will surely see the red tops back him, and if anything will win it for him it will be The Sun. Also, as pointed out in a previous post Coyne will pick up numbers from the old AMICUS section who voted Hicks last time, viewing Coyne as far closer to their craft ethos than McCluskey. Although a Coyne victory is unlikely its very possibility is the context in which Allinson’s candidacy has to be judged and is the source of the anger of McCluskey’s foot soldiers.

While the consequences for Unite of a Coyne victory are not that easy to quantify, the impact on the broader movement is a known quantity. Unite is the buckle which holds the Labour left together: a Coyne victory would see that left unravel. A victorious Coyne would in quick order ensure Unite delegates on Labour’s Executive would vote with the right giving the anti Corbyn forces an inbuilt majority. All this is known to everyone, so why does Allinson continue to press his case?

Given the stakes in this election, the justification for left winger to stand against McCluskey needs to be pretty good. Allinson’s core reasons for standing can only be a combination of a belief that McCluskey has fallen short / sold out the members industrially and therefore needs to be challenged and, secondly, a desire to make propaganda for his vision of socialism through demonstrating an alternative to the supposed industrial shortcomings of McCuskey.

Self-evidently these reasons for standing do not have equal weight: the cornerstone of Allinson’s challenge must necessarily show McCluskey has failed to pursue a militant industrial policy; I don’t think that would be difficult to show – I think it is impossible. Apart from some lacklustre sallies at some of the union’s industrial activity Allinson has nothing to say on this matter. While the industrial ethos of McCluskey’s tenure has been one where the union supports all workers who take industrial action, refuses to repudiate strikes, and has set up a substantial strike fund. Of course it is quite possible to have a different assessment from McCluskey of what is possible but that is a matter of judgement / tactics rather than principle.

On this fundamental issue there is no difference in substance between Allinson and McCluskey, yet the context in which this election takes place means this industrial question is the only conceivable rationale for standing a left candidate. Unable to make any sort of case of ‘McCluskey the sell-out’, his campaign can only turn tactical differences into major concerns and invert the relationship between McCluskey’s industrial record and Allinson’s desire to propagate his socialist views so that the latter dominate.

While my Unite friends tell me that at nomination meetings the SWP and other Allinson supporters have tried to squeeze every ounce out of any real or imagined failure on the union’s part, it is Allinson’s broader socialist musing which dominate the debate – and those musings really are not to be taken seriously. To give one example:

While Allinson is clearly a Corbyn fan he is more ambiguous about the Labour Party he tells us:

‘…if there is a real movement of resistance to Tory policies at grass roots level, “wait for Jeremy” is not good enough when our rights, jobs and services are under attack every day’.

The political literacy of this statement is, to say the least, suspect. To start with the idea that Unite is ‘waiting for Jeremy’ originates from the socialist stricture that unions should not curtail industrial demands to placate an existing Labour Government or, indeed, to maximise the likelihood of a future Labour Government. The idea Unite is being held back from industrial action by the possibility of a Labour Government is palpable nonsense. Perhaps it is a propaganda point to show that Allinson has no illusions in Labour or Corbyn?

Then there is the question of what Allinson calls ‘a real movement of resistance’: now this is instructive because Unite has been at the centre of the People’s Assembly and I think it is doubtful whether that body would have much life without Unite’s support. So Unite under McCluskey has been central to building ‘resistance’ and it seems to me as an outsider it is the cornerstone of McCluskey’s general political approach. In fact Unite has done more to develop political activity outside of the Labour Party than any other union or political organisation. Allinson may well have done this or that aspect of campaigning differently but in the broad sweep of things he can have no serious difference with the present Unite leadership. The final point is his silence on what to do in our failure to date to build such a movement.

While he reckons the best means of defending Corbyn from right wing attacks attacks is to build ‘a real movement’, Allinson has no idea what to do in the absence of such a movement except make propaganda for building one. This of course betrays a passivity towards the Labour Party. While that may be OK for a political organisation it is not OK for a trade union. Whether he likes it or not the battle to support Corbyn and to get a Government that supports unions is taking place inside the Labour Party and among union members – and the crucial job of the left within the unions is explaining to them why they should vote Labour.

Two tragedies

The Unite election encapsulates two tragedies for the left: first that a large number of activists think it is quite permissible to split the left vote on what is to all intents and purposes an indulgence, and second that it is the right whose victory is contingent on mobilising sections of the passive membership. Or perhaps the nub of the left’s problem is that few people outside the ranks of the committed really care.

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Guilt, race and class politics: “Where are the people of color?”

March 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, class, left, political groups, posted by JD, solidarity, Trump, United States, women, workers, youth)

Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.

It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.

On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.

Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.

But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”

In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.

The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?

Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.

This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.

Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.

But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.

A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.

White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.

Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.

This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.

To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.

But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.

It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.

You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.

Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.

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