Call to the democratic Left on the events in Catalonia

October 5, 2017 at 5:07 pm (Civil liberties, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, Human rights, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, spain)

From Open Democracy

A group of social scientists working at various universities and citizens in Spain and abroad

4 October 2017

Join us in raising a collective voice from the left, against the abuse of democracy both by the Catalan government and the Spanish government.

Protesters gather in front of the Spanish National Police headquarters during a general strike in Catalonia (03 October 2017)
Above: Barcelona protest at Guardia Civil and Policia National violence

The appalling scenes of police violence that took place on 1 October in Catalonia along with the most baffling disrespect for democratic procedures and democratic substance that preceded them a month ago in the Catalan Parliament urges us to raise a collective voice.

This voice belongs to the democratic, non-aligned left, a left whose expression we have been longing for. While this voice unequivocally and strongly condemns the authoritarian violence endorsed by the central government, it sternly and democratically resists nationalistic discourse. We refuse to accept this binary as the choice we must face. Pluralism and debate cannot be eliminated in the name of democracy for the following reasons:

1) Europe has gone through enough nationalistic wars and has, we hope, learned enough from the oppression it has variously exerted inside and outside the continent, to be able to resist the appeals of the nationalistic siren calls of the XXI century. Masking the rejection of income redistribution and the neglect of social injustice, as well as the erasure of the diverse origins and languages on Catalan territory, with ethno-nationalist colours will not do.

2) The Catalan independence movement is, mostly, a middle-class movement whose leaders, across all the spectrum of the right-wing led alliance, are far from being oppressed. Their voice is not subaltern and has been loudly heard while neglecting, obliterating and silencing all kinds of dissent including from the left. We should not let their cries prevent other voices.

3) The self-cancellation of democracy – announcing the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence without a majority, as was done today by the leader of the Catalan nationalistic movement – is not only a matter of legality but of downright illegitimacy. No matter how strong a movement is, no matter how loud, as long as it is a minority, it is not a majority. The mocking of democratic procedures is not a game that comes at a small price; it will not do.

We write this because we stand with all those defending civil and political rights, and with subaltern grassroots movements opposed to the advances of neo-liberalism in all its forms. We do not condemn civil disobedience when all democratic possibilities have been exhausted. Nor do we oppose referendums provided that conditions of legitimacy are respected. But we are not prepared to accept this referendum as part of a democratic struggle against oppression.

Join us in raising a collective voice from the left, against the abuse of democracy both by the Catalan government and the Spanish government.

—-

Nathalie Karagiannis, Peter Wagner, Marie Angueira Cebria, Johann Arnason, Caroline Brew, Selene Camargo Correa, Rebeca Carpi Martín, Gerard Delanty, Jean de Munck, Juan Carlos Gavara de Cara, Lola Diaz, Juan Diez Medrano, Luisa Fernandez, Johan Heilbron, Oliver Hochadel, Andreas Kalyvas, Yannis Karagiannis, Dimitris Leontzakos, Manuel Lisandro Castillo, Elia Marzal Yetano, Lourdes Mèndez, U.B. Morgan, Claus Offe, Rommy Morales Olivares, William Outhwaite, Susana Narotzky, Montserrat Pareja Eastaway, Carlos Pérez González, Ana Pérez Pérez, Rosa Pérez Pérez, Rosa María Pérez Pérez, Angelo Pichierri, José Maria Mateo Rello, Ana Maria Rodríguez López, Arturo Rodriguez Morató, Samuel Sadian, Will Shank, Eugenia Siapera, Bo Stråth, Leonor Valencia, Carlos Valera, Daniela Vicherat Mattar, Myrsini Zorba

H/t: Tendance Coatesy

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Labour conference: Brexit and freedom of movement not to be voted on

September 25, 2017 at 1:11 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, labour party, Migrants, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity)

By Pete Radcliff, Broxtowe Momentum

Big disappointment that freedom of movement was not discussed at Party conference. Conferences should be about debating differences not only giving predictable 99 percent near universal acclamations.

All the indications are that freedom of movement would have safely won if it had been debated.

Before the priority vote, a 1,000-strong demo took place outside conference largely organised by Lib Dems and Greens. I would guess at least 20-30 percent of demonstrators were migrant workers. There are a great number on the South coast. These people and their friends are seriously concerned about the mixed messages from the Party.

I was loudly selling Clarion to the demonstrators with its free movement front cover and many articles on the Labour Campaign for Freedom of Movement. There was excitement when I told them that we might get freedom of movement debated and passed at Labour conference.

I had a great response. Demonstrators were forcing on me ten pound note contributions – that doesn’t often happen!

The lessons of Labour’s success in the recent general election is that our policies need to be simple and clear. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’.

We will see what the NEC statement says today. I fear those migrant workers will scratch their heads, if they even read it.

Labour’s needs to say clearly, as Corbyn said last year, that immigration is NOT a problem. Capitalism, exploitation are.

Solidarity with migrant workers. Fight on for freedom of movement.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? Btl comments welcome here at Shiraz and at theclarionmag@gmail.com

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Brexit bonfire of workers’ rights

September 12, 2017 at 9:36 am (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, immigration, Migrants, posted by JD, scotland, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

 


Published in the Morning Star, Saturday 9th Sep 2017
As Brexit moves closer to Brexit, protecting workers’ rights must be foremost in our minds, says LARRY FLANAGAN

AS THE reality of Brexit moves ever closer, concern continues to grow within the trade union movement about the implications for employee rights.

With many of the rights and protections afforded to workers in this country deriving from EU legislation, questions arise about what will change once the UK is no longer bound by European directives.

Little comfort is gained from Tory government claims that its European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will seamlessly repeal EU laws and replace them with new versions which will become incorporated into UK statute.

Recent experience of other prominent attempts to simultaneously “repeal and replace” major pieces of legislation suggests that the loss of binding EU commitments will place many aspects of employment law at risk, subject to the political whims of government.

Post-Brexit, important gains in employee rights — such as health and safety protections, rights for temporary workers and paid maternity and paternity leave — are ripe for attack by right-wing politicians.

Britain has not always been at the forefront of initiatives to improve employment protections, particularly in comparison with the rest of Europe, so it is difficult to see an emboldened political right suddenly changing tack once EU safeguards are removed.

Britain has long had some of the most obstructive anti-trade union laws in Europe, and the obstacles facing unions grew even more daunting with the Tory government’s 2016 Trade Union Reform Act.

This highly restrictive Act, disingenuously portrayed by the right as a progressive piece of reform, is a politically motivated attack on the ability of employees to campaign through their unions.

In the context of Brexit and the Westminster government’s attack on trade unions through the Trade Union Act, it is essential that unions organise and that members are fully informed and engaged in the work of their own union.

The Educational Institute of Scotland will shortly launch a ballot on the renewal of its political fund — another restrictive aspect of British trade union law that obliges all unions which wish to campaign, on any political issue, to operate a distinct fund for the purpose and to ballot on its retention every 10 years.

Given the current political climate, union campaigning is perhaps more important than at any time this century so it is vital that the EIS, and other unions, maintain this political campaigning role. One slightly unexpected positive of the government’s Trade Union Act is that it has placed a spotlight on the value of unions, led by an active membership base, in protecting employee rights.

Although the government’s intent was to weaken union effectiveness, the legislation has provided a jolt and reminded members of the importance of being active in their union.

A key issue for the movement must be the rights of people from other EU countries who have chosen to come to live and work in Britain.

These continue to be at risk as a result of Brexit, despite some attempts to assuage concerns on this issue.

It is deeply distressing that many people who have chosen to make Britain their home, and who have made a positive contribution to many aspects of society, are being treated as pawns in political posturing and Brexit-induced haggling.

The fact is that many of these workers are fulfilling vital roles in our society and in our economy, including in our public services such as health and education, and do not deserve to be treated in this way by our government and demonised as they are by many in the tabloid media.

From the perspective of Scotland, migration is essential to the future economic prosperity of the country.

This year’s Trade Union Congress provides an important forum for unions and members to work together to stand up for employee rights, and to send a message that we will continue to fight for our members in the run-up to Brexit and beyond.

  • Larry Flanagan is general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).

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Musicians must be free to travel in Europe

September 11, 2017 at 7:40 am (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, culture, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, music, posted by JD, unions, workers)


published in the Morning Star

Saturday 9th Sept 2017

Freedom of movement in Europe is a vital concern for performers who tour, writes HORACE TRUBRIDGE


THE fact that most unions here at the TUC Conference have put forward motions on Brexit shows just how important the issue of leaving the EU is to workers.

At the Musicians’ Union (MU), we have some very specific concerns that go right to the heart of what our members do and how they work.

Most professional musicians and performers rely on touring and travelling as part of their careers. Many of the MU’s 30,000 members work in Europe either on a freelance basis with orchestras, touring as an individual or group or working for theatre producers or orchestras on touring productions.

Some performers can be working in several different European countries over the course of a few days, and gigs or tours are sometimes arranged at very short notice, so the possible introduction of work permissions and/or visas for British performers touring and working in Europe could be extremely detrimental. Individuals without representation or financial backing are likely to struggle the most with the extra costs and admin that this might entail.

The vote to leave the EU is already having an impact in this area: the European Union Baroque Orchestra has already left the UK for Antwerp, in part due to concerns over restricted freedom of movement for working musicians.

In a post-Brexit Europe will a European festival find it easier to give the gig to a French band rather than a British band? That is my fear.

The MU is campaigning for reciprocal free movement for musicians and performers across the EU’s 27 member states, in the form of an exemption from visa and work permit rules for performers.

Over the past couple of months, we have been asking MPs and peers to sign up to a pledge — to ensure that professional musicians and performers continue to be able to travel easily across Europe post-Brexit for time-limited activities such as touring and performing with minimum administrative burdens.

To date, more than 80 MPs and peers have signed up to our pledge and we will be working with them to help ensure that musicians continue to be able to do their jobs post-Brexit.

Of course freedom of movement is not the only concern that we have associated with Brexit. The majority of copyright law that protects performers’ rights is enshrined in European law, and although we have had assurances that the government does not intend to reduce copyright protections post-Brexit, there are as yet no guarantees on that front.

Equally, the arts currently receive a great deal of funding from the EU. The loss of European Social Funds for arts organisations is going to hit particularly hard.

There are a number of regional music organisations that have been sustained by European Social Funding (ESF) that will see that money cease with very little chance of the shortfall being picked up by local authorities or central government.

During 2014-2020, the ESF and European Regional Development Fund were due to invest around €11.8 billion across the UK. How much of that money we will still receive remains to be seen.

The MU was vehemently against Brexit right from the start, not just for the reasons I have listed so far, but because Brexit threatens the whole culture of our country.

Music, and the performing arts more generally, rely on exchange of ideas and interaction between performers of different nationalities. Music flourishes in an open world with no borders — not a closed-off island that looks inward on itself.

Many of our members are themselves European citizens who have chosen to base themselves in Britain. They contribute massively to the culture and the economic success of our country. What does the future hold for them?

I haven’t even touched on the more general concerns about workers’ rights that we share with our brothers and sisters from other unions; concerns which I am sure will be discussed at length over the course of this conference.

The future looks bleak. And at the MU we would dearly love to see more MPs fighting against what most seem to have accepted as an inevitability. But musicians have faced many great challenges in the past, and we will meet this one just the same. My only hope is that we are able to reach an agreement that does not leave musicians, and the culture of our country, poorer.

  • Horace Trubridge is general secretary of the Musicians’ Union.

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Open letter to the deluded pro-Brexit “left”

September 7, 2017 at 12:48 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, ex-SWP, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, left, Migrants, populism, Racism, rights, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, Tory scum)

p46 - Potential measures
Above: the leaked Tory plans

Open letter to the deluded pro-Brexit “left”

Yes, I mean you lot at the Morning Star/CPB, SWP, Counterfire and Socialist Party:

I take it for granted that as self-proclaimed leftists, you are knee-jerk anti-racists and internationalists opposed to anything that tends to divide, rather than unite, our class.

And yet you called for a Leave vote in the referendum, and continue to back Brexit! In the case of the Morning Star/CPB, you oppose continued membership of the single market and customs union – in other words you want a “hard” Brexit!

To its shame, the Morning Star continues with this folly, publishing Daily Mail-style editorials that more or less explicitly back David Davis against the “intransigent” Michel Barnier and the “EU bosses in Brussels, Bonn and Frankfurt.”

Some of us tried to warn you about the Pandora’s box of xenophobia and racism that you were opening. Yet even when the Leave vote was immediately followed by a sharp increase in racist attacks and incidents (in fact, hate crime in general, such as attacks on gays), you wilfully closed your eyes and stuffed your ears, mouthing shameful banalities and evasions like “there was racism on both sides” and “racism didn’t begin on June 23rd.”

Well, yesterday we caught a glimpse of what the Tories have planned for EU citizens in Britain, or coming to Britain.

The plans are not yet official government policy, but all the signs are that they soon will be. The leaked document is explicit about ending a rights based approach. EU citizens arriving after Brexit would have to show passports, not ID cards; they would have to apply for short term two year visas for low skilled jobs; they would be prevented from bringing over extended family members and be subject to an income threshold (£18,600 per year) even to bring a spouse.

Employers, landlords, banks and others would have to carry out checks on paper-work. The hostility towards immigrants Theresa May deliberately stirred up as Home Secretary would intensify, and rub off on all “foreigners” and ethnic minorities, whether from the EU or not. British-born people of colour would inevitably find it more difficult to obtain work and accommodation.

As immigration lawyer  Colin Yeo  has commented: ‘The first and most obvious [result] is that the plans would make the UK a far less attractive destination for migrants. This is of course the whole point. The Home Office is protectionist by nature and worries only about security. The economy, consequent tax take, international relations and “soft power” international standing are considered worth the sacrifice. But what would happen to the sectors of the economy dependent on migrant labour, such as agriculture, food processing and hospitality? Are the public ready for a huge recession, massive job losses and reduced funding for public services and infrastructure?’

Andrew Coates, who knows a thing or two about France, has noted that ‘the scheme is a policy of National Preference, close to the demand of the far-right Front National, for jobs to go to first of all to UK Nationals.’

Deluded comrades: how are you now going to explain yourselves and your craven role as foot soldiers for the carnival of reaction that is Brexit? Your original  arguments and justifications for your pro-Leave stance during the referendum varied from the bizarre (after Farage and Johnson – us!) through the deluded (vote Leave to oppose racism!) to the frankly egregious (immigration controls are a form of closed shop!).

There was only ever one argument in favour of Brexit that made any sense from a socialist perspective: that EU membership would prevent a left wing government from implementing nationalisations and other forms of state intervention into the economy.

This urban myth has been perpetuated by left-reformist anti-Europeans and by Tory anti-interventionists for the last forty years.

But it’s wrong, at least according Article 345 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU of 1958, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’ This Article remains in force and makes a nonsense of the claim that existing EU legislation prohibits the kind of nationalisation, or other economic intervention, being advocated by Jeremy Corbyn.

But even if it did, is anyone seriously suggesting that if Corbyn gets elected on a manifesto that includes public ownership, he would not be able to implement it if we remained in the EU? Nonsense. As the pro-Brexit right continually reminded us during the referendum campaign, Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world, and (unlike Greece) would have little difficulty in forcing the EU to accept a Corbyn government’s right to introduce such relatively minor reforms as taking key industries and services into public ownership. Anyone who’s ever taken a train in France or Germany knows this.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and I’m wrong: what is the benefit for a social democratic Corbyn-style government, of voluntarily leaving the EU, rather than pushing ahead with its programme regardless, and (in effect) daring the EU to kick the UK out? That’s a question I’ve asked many times in debates with you lot, and to which I have never received a coherent reply.

As the reactionary, anti-working class and essentially racist nature of Brexit becomes more and more obvious, I cannot believe that anyone who calls themselves a socialist, is not appalled. It’s probably too much to ask the self-absorbed, self-deluded, ultra-sectarian groups that comprise the pro-Brexit “left” to simply admit that you’ve got it wrong, and reverse your disastrous policy on EU membership. That kind of intellectual honesty is not part of your culture. But I think internationalists and anti-racists do have the right to demand that you make it clear that you support free movement, oppose a “hard” Brexit and support the maximum possible degree of co-operation and integration between British and European people (and, in particular, workers via their organisations) in or out of the EU.

Is that too much to ask, comrades?

JD

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The nasty taste of Brexit Britain

August 24, 2017 at 11:14 am (Civil liberties, Europe, Guardian, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, labour party, posted by JD, Racism, Tory scum)

From todays Guardian:

EU nationals deportation letters an ‘unfortunate error’, says May

By Mattha Busby

Theresa May admitted the Home Office made an “unfortunate error” when it mistakenly sent up to 100 letters to EU nationals living in the UK ordering them to leave the country or face deportation.

The prime minister was forced into the statement after it emerged that a Finnish academic working in London had highlighted the warning letter she had received, which told her to leave the UK or risk being detained.

Although Eva Johanna Holmberg has lived in the UK with her British husband for most of the last decade, the correspondence from the Home Office said that if she did not leave the country of her own accord the department would give “directions for [her] removal”. It added that she was “a person liable to be detained under the Immigration Act”.

Holmberg, a visiting academic fellow from the University of Helsinki at Queen Mary University of London, was told that she had a month to leave, a demand that left her baffled. “It seems so surreal and absurd that I should be deported on the grounds that I’m not legal. I’ve been coming and going to this country for as long as I remember,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of image they have of me but it’s clearly quite sinister based on the small amount of info they actually have on me.”

Her story was rapidly picked up on social media, but after the Guardian asked the Home Office for clarification of her situation the department immediately backtracked and said the letter had been sent by mistake.
(Read the full article here; read what Coatesy says here)

… all of which just goes to confirm that this comrade’s concerns are fully justified:

A Labour Party that merits migrants’ support

By Anke Plummer (NHS worker and Unison member) in the Clarion

I am an EU immigrant who has lived in the UK for the last 27 years. Having met a British guy (now my husband) during my gap year in 85/86, I had returned to my native Germany to complete my training there. I returned in 1990, newly qualified. I applied for three jobs, had three job offers and have been in employment ever since.

It takes a while to become familiar with a new country and a new culture, and to feel fully at home, but I have always felt part of British life and British people. Britain seemed so diverse and multi- cultural, tolerant and vibrant compared to the Germany I remembered from my childhood. I never really felt different or “foreign”, but instead felt that I belonged.

One disadvantage of being an EU citizen was not being able to vote in general elections (or certain referendums), but that did not seem to matter much.
We had two children and, due to circumstances, my husband stayed at home with them and I continued to work and be the breadwinner. We have lived in our town for 20 years and are very much part of the community.

All that changed with the EU referendum last year. From one day to the next I was no longer simply part of the great collective that makes up British society, but I had become a foreigner, an outsider, somebody who – somehow – was part of the problems that ail this country. Comments like “the country is full” and “immigrants put a strain on our services” are easily heard in conversation.

Now, I am used to anti-immigration rhetoric from the right-wing press and right-wing parties, but more recently that rhetoric seems to be seeping into Labour’s language too.
 I understand that Labour’s position would be to unilaterally guarantee full rights to EU citizens who are already settled in this country, and of course I welcome that position. However, there is also increasing talk about EU citizens being a threat to British workers, and that immigration should be curbed to only allow in those immigrants who are of benefit to the British economy.

Whichever way I try to look at it, that makes us second class citizens, commodities even, which are useful to bolster British economy when necessary, but can be rejected when no longer needed. Jeremy Corbyn was recently asked by Andrew Marr what would happen to (for example) Polish plumbers, if they were no longer required. Would they be sent back to Poland? Corbyn was careful to avoid answering that question.

The warm and welcoming Britain I fell in love with (well, after my husband, that is) seems to be disappearing. If I am only welcome because of my economic value, I am not welcome at all. I am simply viewed as a resource, not a human being. Now I feel that I have to justify my existence here by being able to demonstrate my economic worth. Speak to other immigrants, and you will probably very soon hear them say something like “I have been here for X number of years and I have always worked”. The perception that immigrants come to take from Britain and not give anything back, has filtered deep into the psyche of the nation, so we feel the need to demonstrate that we are different!

If I had stayed at home with my children instead of my husband, my economic value in the eyes of the government and politicians would be much reduced. If my industry no longer needed workers (not likely any time soon – I work for the NHS!), would I still be welcome to stay?

Friends are quick to tell me that “I will be OK” and “surely I will be allowed to stay”, but well-meaning as they are, they really miss the point. “Being allowed to stay” is really a far cry from feeling a fully welcome and accepted member of society. Being left with uncertainty and anxiety about your future in the country you have invested your entire adult years in and which you have made your home, is cruel and shows a disregard by the government for the people it claims are “valuable members of society who contribute much to British life”.

Britain no longer feels like a safe place where I belong and which I can call my home. It still is the place where I have chosen to live, yes, but for the first time in 27 years we are entertaining the idea of leaving.

Having been a Labour voter (in local elections) for 27 years and having become a Labour member following the 2015 election, I am urging Labour, and its supporters – including the Corbyn left – to keep on the straight and narrow during these turbulent times and to not stray down the path of appeasing anti-immigrant sentiments – even when they are dressed up in left-wing sounding language about protecting workers in Britain. I am watching Corbyn backtrack on this issue with some concern – I hope my continued support for Labour and Corbyn will not be in vain.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

* The Labour Campaign For Free Movement

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Unison’s Supreme Court victory sees tribunal fees scrapped

July 26, 2017 at 9:29 am (campaigning, Civil liberties, law, rights, unions, UNISON, workers)

From Unison:

Supreme Court verdict follows four-year fight by union and is a victory for everyone in work

Employment tribunal fees will be scrapped after UNISON won a landmark court victory against the government this morning. 

The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – has unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.

 The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals  since July 2013, when fees were introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling.

Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees, says UNISON.

Reacting to this morning‘s decision, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.

Read the full Supreme Court judgement in
R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor

 “The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.

 “It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.

 “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”

 UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna added: “The Supreme Court correctly criticised the government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament.  

 “The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law. UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”

The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.

Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013 and started at around £160 for a type A claim, such as wage claims, breach of contract, and £250 for a type B claim, covering issues such as unfair dismissal, race and sex discrimination.

There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunal attracted an additional £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.

The seven Supreme Court judges ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand.

The judges also said fees were set so high, it “has had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, and also put off more genuine cases, than the so-called vexatious claims the government claimed fees were meant to deter. 

The Supreme Court stressed that the administration of justice is not merely a public service, where courts and tribunals are only of value to the “users” who appear before them and who obtain a remedy. 

It said access to justice is of value to society as a whole, especially where cases establish legal rules and principles of general importance.

The Court said UNISON’s evidence showed the fall in claims when fees came in was “so sharp, so substantial and so sustained” that they could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes.

It also held that fees particularly deterred the kind of ‘low-value’ claims generally brought by the most vulnerable workers.

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Southall Black Sisters and Inspire: No to gender segregation in education!

July 7, 2017 at 3:56 pm (Civil liberties, Human rights, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, protest, religion, sexism)

SBS is intervening on a legal case in the Court of Appeal on 11th – 12th July against gender segregation and has organised a protest outside the court.

Gender segregation in education

School X – a co-educational, Muslim voluntary aided school in the UK – segregates its pupils based on their gender. From the age of 9 to 16, boys and girls from Muslim parents are segregated for everything – during lessons and all breaks, activities and school trips.

On 13 and 14 June 2016, the school was inspected by the regulatory body, Ofsted, which raised concerns about a number of leadership failings including those involving gender segregation, the absence of effective safeguarding procedures, and an unchallenged culture of gender stereotyping and homophobia. Offensive books promoting rape, violence against women and misogyny were discovered in the school library. Some girls also complained anonymously that gender segregation did not prepare them for social interaction and integration into the wider society. As a result of what it found during the inspection, Ofsted judged the school to be inadequate and placed it in special measures.

‘Separate but equal’

The school took legal action to stop Ofsted from publishing its report. They argued that, amongst other things, the report was biased and that gender segregation does not amount to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

On 8 November 2016, following a High Court hearing, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Jay, found that there was no sex discrimination because of his reading of the law and the lack of evidence before him. He found that gender segregation did not amount to sex discrimination since both boys and girls were ‘separated equally’. He noted that although women hold minority power in society generally, there was no evidence before him that girls suffered specifically as a result of the segregation in this school. Mr Justice Jay noted the differences between segregation on the grounds of race in the USA and South Africa in previous decades and gender segregation in the UK today, concluding that he had not heard evidence that gender segregation made girls feel disadvantaged or inferior.

Ofsted appealed against the ruling of the High Court which will be heard at the Court of Appeal on 11 and 12 July 2017.

The case for intervention

Southall Black Sisters and Inspire are intervening in the case because of its great public importance – especially for minority women and girls. Although, gender segregation and its implications are not specific to School X, but apply equally to a number of other faith schools, the point of our intervention is two-fold:

First, to show how the growing practice of gender segregation in education is not a benign development: Like racial segregation in the USA and South Africa, gender segregation within BME communities in the UK, has a social, and political history that can be traced back to the Rushdie Affair when religious fundamentalists sensed an opportunity to seize education as a battleground and a site on which to expand their influence. Since then, we have seen emboldened fundamentalists in South Asian communities attempting to impose gender segregation in schools and universities. Mr Justice Jay did not look into the wider social and political context in which gender segregation is practiced in minority communities. Had he done so, he would have seen its broad-ranging and long-lasting effect on all areas of women’s lives: that gender segregation is a political choice and that the struggle against it mirrors the struggle against racial segregation.

Second, we want to ensure that gender equality is placed at the heart of Ofsted inspections in all schools, irrespective of their status and composition. We recognise that gender segregation can sometimes be educationally beneficial. But in the hands of ultra-conservatives and fundamentalists, it has an entirely different intent and consequence which is to mount a wholesale assault on women’s rights: socially, culturally and politically.

A violation of human rights

UN human rights experts have noted that ‘fundamentalists everywhere target education in different ways: In some places, they kill teachers or carry out acid attacks on students. Elsewhere they attempt to impose gender segregation in schools or to exclude women and girls altogether. In other places, they seek to change the content of education, removing sex education from the curriculum or censoring scientific theories with which they do not agree’

School X’s approach is consistent with Muslim fundamentalist ideologies that strive to create a fundamentalist vision of education in the UK: one that discourages mixed-gender activities as ‘Un-Islamic’ and ultimately legitimises patriarchal power structures. Their aim is to reinforce the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles, which accord them differential and unequal status. This approach constitutes direct discrimination under the UK’s Equality Act 2010. It also violates International human rights laws, standards and principles on equality and non-discrimination such as CEDAW and Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which the UK has signed up. Women’s rights must take priority over intolerant beliefs that are used to justify sex discrimination.

Gender segregation is gender apartheid

This is a significant and potentially precedent-setting case about sex discrimination and equality. Ultra-conservative and fundamentalist gender norms are seeping into the everyday life of minority communities. Education has become a gendered ideological terrain upon which the potential of women and girls together with their hopes, aspirations and dreams are extinguished. Gender segregation in school X is part of a wider political project that is ideologically linked to the creation of a regime of ‘gendered modesty’: one that promotes an infantilised and dehumanized notion of womanhood and, ultimately, amounts to sexual apartheid.

What you can do

We are mobilising for the Court of Appeal hearing on 11 and 12 July 2017 from 9.30am onwards.

We urge you to join us by:

  • protesting outside the court on both days – Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL;
  • packing out the public gallery in the court so that the judiciary is under no illusion as to what is at stake.
  • publicising our campaign widely and encouraging others to join us.

Sign up to join the demo on our Eventbrite page

Please also spread the word through social media and on Twitter using the hashtag #SeparateIsNotEqual

We ask for your solidarity in what is becoming a key battle between feminists and fundamentalists. ‘Every step forward in the fight for women’s rights is a piece of the struggle against fundamentalism’.

For further information contact:

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
020 8571 9595
@SBSisters

Maryam Namazie, One Law for All
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
077 1916 6731
@MaryamNamazie
BM Box 2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK

Sara Khan, Inspire
Sara.Khan@wewillinspire.com
@wewillinspire

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The DUP: the *really* nasty party

June 27, 2017 at 9:01 am (Christianity, Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Human rights, Ireland, misogyny, posted by JD, terror, Tory scum)

By Micheál MacEoin
(This was written shortly before the desperate deal was finalised, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website):

The Conservative Party’s loss of their parliamentary majority has left Theresa May reliant on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a hard-right organisation which has 10 MPs in the House of Commons. So who are the Tories’ new unionist bedfellows?The DUP has its roots in a politicised form of evangelical Protestantism which arose again in the 1950s and 60s, but has a long tradition in the Protestant areas of Ulster. In these years, the future DUP leader Ian Paisley was involved in a myriad of fringe loyalist organisations, which existed to protect Protestant supremacy in Northern Ireland.

In March 1963, a slightly more liberal Unionist Party leader, Terence O’Neill, became the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. His aim was to adopt a more moderate course in order to undercut support for the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and absorb sections of the Catholic middle class into the Northern Ireland state.

Paisley came to the fore as a rabble-rousing preacher, acting as a pole of attraction for discontent within working-class Protestantism. He articulated a form of religious-based Unionism with a more plebeian character than the aristocratic or business-oriented ruling Unionist Party. As O’Neill’s reforms encouraged the growth of a Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Paisley helped set up the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC), to co-ordinate street protests, rallies and counter-demonstrations against any moves towards liberalisation, ecumenism or attempted rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland.The UCDC had an arms-length paramilitary section, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), led by Paisley’s longstanding ally, Noel Doherty.

Doherty was later jailed for his involvement in a bombing campaign in 1969 designed to undermine O’Neill, which was carried out with members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Paisley implausibly denied knowledge of Doherty’s paramilitary activities. This is a pattern repeated by the DUP leader during the Troubles, of fraternising with violent loyalists while maintaining enough of a distance so as to deny knowledge of illegal or murderous acts. For example, in 1974, Paisley would sit on the so-called “Ulster Workers’ Council”, along with representatives of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and other armed loyalist groups. It organised a general strike against the short-lived power-sharing executive, which in reality was initially more of a lock-out enforced by paramilitary intimidation.

Again, in 1986, Paisley was present at a huge meeting in the Ulster Hall in Belfast to establish Ulster Resistance, a vigilante group set up to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement which promised Dublin more of a say in the running of Northern Ireland. Paisley was famously recorded calling for a paramilitary “Third Force” to oppose Irish republicanism, before placing a red beret on his head and standing to attention. In 1987, the UVF and the UDA proceeded to smuggle weapons for Ulster Resistance from Lebanon in to Northern Ireland with the aid of Apartheid-era South African state agents. Most were intercepted, but some of the Ulster Resistance arms cache has never been found. By the late 1980s, pressure mounted on Paisley to condemn the group’s activities, which he did in 1989. Presumably, after calling for a paramilitary “Third Force”, Paisley only ever intended it to attack republicans peacefully, without weapons!

As the peace process took shape in the 1990s, the DUP came to the fore in opposing any agreement between unionists and republicans. They campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, when even the UDA was formally in favour. This placed the party on the side of dissident anti-Agreement loyalists such as Billy Wright’s Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Indeed, in 1996, DUP representative Rev William McCrea shared a platform with Wright, mere months after the LVF murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan.

Support for the Good Friday Agreement fatally undermined Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in the years after 1998. Unionist support for the Agreement was already weak, and the UUP could not stand the pressure from the DUP, who attacked them for sharing power with republicans while there were continuing delays in the decommissioning of IRA weapons. By the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP had overtaken the UUP as Northern Ireland’s most popular unionist party, a position they further cemented in future European, local government and Westminster elections.

2007 marked a watershed for the DUP. Having effectively destroyed their electoral competitors, the road was open for Ian Paisley to cut an agreement with Sinn Fein, and share power with republicans for the first timeThe DUP, then, has its roots in an evangelical fringe of Ulster loyalism. What does it stand for today?

For one thing, the DUP’s position as the largest unionist party, with support rooted in both the working-class and the Protestant business class, has led it to adopt a pragmatic blend of neoliberal pro-business policies such as corporation tax cuts, with an often populist approach. Its opposition to Tory plans to cut winter fuel payments, for example, will allow the Tories an excuse to reverse on some of their more unpopular proposals to attack universal benefits.The DUP combines this right-wing economic pragmatism with a ferocious blend of religiously-inspired social conservatism, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion in all circumstances. One-third of DUP members are drawn from the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church, founded by Ian Paisley, which accounts for only 1% of the Northern Ireland population. Half of its elected representatives are members of the Orange Order, a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant fraternal organisation, and some are connected to pressure groups such as the Caleb Foundation which exists to promote “the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith”, including support for creationism.

The DUP voter base, however, which is now larger and more varied, does not necessarily share all of these sentiments, at least not to the same degree.Since becoming the dominant partner in government in Northern Ireland, the DUP’s time in office has also been plagued by a number of political and financial scandals, which will undoubtedly receive more UK-wide attention in light of recent events. These include connections between senior DUP figures and the sale of properties owned by the Irish National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), and an ongoing investigation into DUP leader Arlene Foster’s role in the botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Despite the DUP’s reactionary positions on social issues, it is most likely that the party will push for financial concessions for Northern Ireland as the price of any confidence and supply deal.A 2015 DUP position paper outlined its priorities as being more capital spending for Northern Ireland, more funding for hospitals and schools, and cuts to air passenger duty. The DUP realises that social issues, such as same-sex marriage which it has repeatedly blocked, are devolved to Stormont. The party will gain little or nothing from drawing attention to these issues as part of a UK-wide deal with the Tories, and wants to present unionists as acting in the British “national interest”.

This does not, of course, mean that we should ignore the DUP’s social positions, or cease to condemn the Tories for cutting a desperate deal with such a reactionary party.It is possible, too, that the DUP will come under pressure from its own base, including the Orange Order, to push for concessions on contentious issues, such as parading, flags and other areas of symbolic cultural importances to unionists.

The DUP supported Brexit in 2016, but opposes a hard Border in Ireland because of the economic damage that customs duties between Northern Ireland and the Republic would inflict. However, its demands for a soft Border will be tricky to reconcile with its insistence that there be no new checks at ports and airports in Great Britain on citizens travelling from Northern Ireland into the UK after Britain exits the EU.

The increased importance of the Irish dimension will, then, serve to further complicate the already chaotic state of the UK’s negotiations with the EU over Brexit.Finally, the prospect of a Tory government propped up by a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP puts profound strain on the already faltering power-sharing institutions at Stormont, and challenges some of the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement rests on the conceit that the British government is a “neutral broker” in the peace process. Republicans already deny that the Tories are in any sense neutral, and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been widely attacked for showing a pro-unionist bias on issues such as the prosecutions of soldiers for activities during the Troubles. The fact of the Tories relying on DUP support for their parliamentary majority will complicate Brokenshire’s role in the ongoing negotiations between the parties at Stormont, especially if a condition of the DUP’s support for May is a statement ruling out any prospective vote on Irish unity.

Ironically, however, the DUP’s influence over the British government could hasten the return of Stormont’s power-sharing executive. Sinn Fein repeatedly rubbished any claim during the general election that Northern Ireland parties could wield any influence at Westminster. With the alternative to Stormont being direct rule from London by a DUP-backed Tory government, many Sinn Fein voters would understandably prefer Stormont as a lesser-evil. Republicans now too have reason to avoid a further Assembly election, as the DUP made a stunning comeback last week, increasing its support to unprecedented levels.

Any deal between the DUP and the Tories will be a limited one, restricted to votes of confidence such as the Queen’s Speech and the Budget. On individual issues, the Tories will be weak, and open to attack. The labour movement, in the UK and Ireland, should drive a wedge between May and her DUP allies, using parliamentary and extra-parliamentary means to drive the Tories out of office.

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Even after Grenfell the Tories still lust after a “bonfire of red tape” – and will use Brexit to pursue it

June 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm (Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, libertarianism, nationalism, populism, rights, Tory scum)

Above: Cameron’s stunt that backfired

“In our commitment to be the first Government to reduce regulation, we have introduced the one in, two out rule for regulation … Under that rule, when the Government introduce a regulation, we will identify two existing ones to be removed. The Department for Communities and Local Government has gone further and removed an even higher proportion of regulations. In that context, Members will understand why we want to exhaust all non-regulatory options before we introduce any new regulations” – Brandon Lewis, the then housing minister (now the immigration minister), in 2014, rejecting calls to force construction companies to fit sprinklers.

Apart from racism and xenophobia, the other driving force behind all wings of the Leave campaign was deregulation – the idea that EU rules and regulations restrict Britain’s freedom. This idea was central to the Leave campaign, and its implications were spelled out plainly by the influential Conservative Home website.

Boris Johnson has spent years writing and telling lies about EU “red tape”, and his old employer, the Daily Telegraph launched a campaign for a “bonfire of red tape” in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. Post-Grenfell that expression “a bonfire” leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (as Jonanthen Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “well they’ve had their bonfire now”).

But don’t be deceived into thinking that the Tories and their Brexiteer press are having second thoughts post-Grenfell.  That would require a degree of honesty and common decency that is beyond them. The Daily Express, bizarrely, suggested that EU energy-saving regulations were to blame for the use of the cladding that spread the fire (despite the fact that it’s illegal in Germany). But what is known, as George Monbiot pointed out in the Guardian, is that in 2014 the government rejected the idea of obliging construction companies to install sprinkler systems in new buildings – as part of its commitment, it explained, to a “one in, two out rule for regulation”. It is surely just a coincidence that, according to Property Week magazine, the Tories received more than £1m in donations from property and construction companies in the year to the 2015 election.

That “one in, two out rule” was part of the tape-burning zeal of the Tories, summed up most crudely in the 2011 Red Tape Challenge dreamt up by former David Cameron adviser and Brexiteer Steve Hilton. He and the rest of the “new Tory right” had wet dreams about transforming Britain into a Singapore-style paradise of minimally regulated offshore swashbuckling. In 2013, Cameron himself stood in front of an exhortation to “Cut EU red tape”, so he could hardly complain when such arguments were deployed mercilessly against him in the referendum.

The Tories’ plan to use Brexit as the opportunity for a “bonfire of red tape” has not gone away, even if, post Grenfell, they’re a little less brazen and gung-ho.

The proposed Great Repeal Bill, transferring EU law into British law so as to avoid a legal vacuum on day one of Brexit, is the means by which the Tories intend to continue their deregulation programme.

Under so-called “Henry VIII powers”, the government will assume unfettered powers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and rewrite laws originating in European legislation.

It’s a pretty good bet that they have the Agency Workers Regulations, the Working Time Regulations and uncapped compensation in discrimination claims, in their sights.

A briefing from Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now warns of the possible consequences of the Great Repeal Bill, arguing that it “has the potential to grant the government an almost unprecedented level of unaccountable power, using a political process that will chill democratic scrutiny”.

The briefing makes the following recommendations:

1. The government must reveal specific details of the content of its Great Repeal Bill, and it must be a clear and detailed bill (not a ‘skeleton bill’)
2. This must happen very soon, with a clear proposed timetable to ensure proper time necessary for the task with a minimum 6 months for consultation and 6 months for debate
3.  The transfer of EU law into UK law must be transparent, clear and accountable:

  • it must include provisions to ensure that delegated power to the government  is clearly and precisely defined in scope and purpose.
  • Henry VIII powers should be avoided, and when used, subject to the super-affirmative procedure.
  • Sunset clauses should be used to ensure that the delegated legislative powers do not last indefinitely.
  • There must be enhanced processes and resources for screening and scrutinising delegated legislation, including through new or existing parliamentary committees.

4. The government must guarantee, on the face of the bill, clear explicit provisions to prevent the bill affecting human rights, equalities, or environmental laws and standards, and to prohibit the use of delegated legislation to change or undermine such laws and standards.

A simpler approach, however, would be to use May’s election humiliation and the present volatility of British and international politics to campaign to stop Brexit altogether. The received wisdom is that it can’t be done and, indeed, that to attempt to do so would be undemocratic. But the definition of democracy is that people are allowed to change their minds. Why should the narrow verdict of 12 months ago be sacrosanct for all time? If we want to stop the Tories’ plans to deregulate society, the obvious way to do so is to stop Brexit. Of course, that will require that Labour comes off the fence and drops its present stance of studied ambiguity on the subject.

  • JD would like to acknowledge this excellent Guardian article by Steven Poole, which he used extensively in the preparation of this post.

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