From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
The Labour leader’s speech delivered yesterday (Thursday April 14 2016) setting out his position on the EU and the forthcoming referendum:
THE people of this country face a historic choice on June 23 — whether to remain part of the European Union, or to leave.
I welcome the fact that that decision is now in the hands of the British people. Indeed, I voted to support a referendum in the last parliament.
The move to hold this referendum may have been more about managing divisions in the Conservative Party, but it is now a crucial democratic opportunity for people to have their say on our country’s future — and the future of our continent as a whole.
The Labour Party is overwhelmingly for staying in, because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century. Labour is convinced that a vote to Remain is in the best interests of the people of this country.
In the coming century, we face huge challenges — as a people, as a continent and as a global community.
How to deal with climate change? How to address the overweening power of global corporations and ensure they pay fair taxes? How to tackle cyber-crime and terrorism? How to ensure we trade fairly and protect jobs and pay in an era of globalisation? How to address the causes of the huge refugee movements across the world? And how we adapt to a world where people everywhere move more frequently to live, work and retire?
All these issues are serious and pressing, and self-evidently require international co-operation. Collective international action through the European Union is clearly going to be vital to meeting these challenges. Britain will be stronger if we co-operate with our neighbours in facing them together.
As Portugal’s new Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa has said: “In the face of all these crises around us, we must not divide Europe — we must strengthen it.”
When the last referendum was held in 1975, Europe was divided by the cold war, and what later became the EU was a much smaller, purely market-driven arrangement.
Over the years I have been critical of many decisions taken by the EU. And I remain critical of its shortcomings — from its lack of democratic accountability to the institutional pressure to deregulate or privatise public services.
So Europe needs to change. But that change can only come from working with our allies in the EU. It’s perfectly possible to be critical and still be convinced we need to remain a member.
I’ve even had a few differences with the direction the Labour Party’s taken over the past few years, but I have been sure that it was right to stay a member. Some might say I’ve even managed to do something about changing that direction.
In contrast to four decades ago, the EU of today brings together most of the countries of Europe and has developed important employment, environmental and consumer protections.
I have listened closely to the views of trade unions, environmental groups, human rights organisations and of course to Labour Party members and supporters and fellow MPs.
They are overwhelmingly convinced that we can best make a positive difference by remaining in Europe.
Britain needs to stay in the EU as the best framework for trade, manufacturing and co-operation in 21st-century Europe.
Tens of billion pounds-worth of investment and millions of jobs are linked to our relationship with the EU, the biggest market in the world.
EU membership has guaranteed working people vital employment rights, including four weeks’ paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protections for agency workers and health and safety in the workplace.
Being in the EU has raised Britain’s environmental standards, from beaches to air quality, and protected consumers from rip-off charges. But we also need to make the case for reform in Europe — the reform David Cameron’s government has no interest in, but plenty of others across Europe do.
That means democratic reform to make the EU more accountable to its people. Economic reform to end self-defeating austerity and put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy. Labour market reform to strengthen and extend workers’ rights in a real social Europe. And new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services.
So the case I’m making is for “Remain — and Reform” in Europe.
Today is the Global Day of Action for Fast Food Rights. In the US workers are demanding $15 an hour, in the UK £10 now. Labour is an internationalist party and socialists have understood from the earliest days of the labour movement that workers need to make common cause across national borders.
Working together in Europe has led to significant gains for workers here in Britain, and Labour is determined to deliver further progressive reform in 2020 — the democratic Europe of social justice and workers’ rights that people throughout our continent want to see. Read the rest of this entry »
As the UK’s steel industry faces extinction, the Tories prevaricate over what – if any- state aid they are willing to offer in order to save the Tata operations at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton (North Wales). At least 40,000 jobs are at stake.
Business minister Anna Soubry initially stated that the government was willing to consider “everything possible” – including nationalisation – in order to save the Port Talbot plant. But now her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out nationalisation, arguing “if you look around Europe and elsewhere, I think nationalisation is rarely the answer.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Tata Steel have suggested that EU rules restricting state aid were to blame for its decision to sell the UK steel business – a claim that has been seized upon by campaigners for Brexit, including the supposedly “left wing” Morning Star, always willing to let the Tories off the hook by claiming (entirely falsely) that the British government “is banned by EU competition laws” from intervening to save the industry.
While it’s true that EU rules place some restrictions on using state aid to prop up industries, European governments with the political will have either turned a blind eye to the regulations or found ways round them. For instance, while the EU blocks support for “manufacturers in difficulties”, it allows national governments to nurture the “long term competitiveness and efficiency” of industry, and also to provide state funding to lessen the “social impact” of closures.
Even outright nationalisation is not barred by the EU: Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345
All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf
In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’
While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted, in particular, by the anti-EU “left”.
In Italy the government took control of the Ilva steelworks last year to save 16,000 jobs. Then the firm was handed £74 million for “environmental improvements” – ie direct state aid.
Germany also provides aid to its regional governments on the understanding that steel produced in the country is used on any German building or engineering projects. Germany also operates the part-publicly-funded Gesellschaft, a research organisation that provides applied science for companies that would otherwise find the cost prohibitive.
In 2012 French president Hollande threatened to nationalise Arcelor Mittal steel’s operations in the Lorraine plateau in order to save the blast furnaces of Florange and their 2,500 jobs. He didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about any EU state-aid rules. Ironically, Hollande’s threat was denounced by Boris Johnson – now a leading light of the Brexit campaign.
In a written answer to Labour Euro-MP Jude Kirton-Darling at the time of the Redcar steelworks closure last year, the European Commission confirmed that the UK Government could have given state aid to support the steelworks. Here are some of the ways that other EU governments have intervened to support their domestic steel industries, and other energy intensive industries. There are also examples of regional governments taking initiatives in Germany and Spain.
In early 2015, the Italian Government temporarily renationalised the Ilva Steel works in Taranto, Southern Italy. The Italian government cited the unabated toxic emissions and very poor environmental standards, which had led to unusually high rates of cancer in the area around the plant. It is estimated that it will cost €1.8bn to make Ilva compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive’s standards. This decision is currently subject to a complaint from EUROFER (European steel industry association) under state aid rules.
Investment in strategic R&D facilities
The French government are providing state-aid to the ArcelorMittal plant at Florange, in France to support their ongoing R&D work, this follows on from a long running industrial dispute over the closing of two blast furnaces. This public support comes to a total of €20-50 million over 4 years, with a further 33 million been raised in public-private investment.
Support for energy efficiency/environmental technologies
In 2010, the European Commission accepted German state aid of €19.1 million for an energy-saving steel production project run by Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, a subsidiary of the Salzgitter AG group. The aid will allow Salzgitter to produce steel through an innovative production process, Direct Strip Casting (DSC), which consumes less energy than alternative processes. The aid is in line with EU guidelines on State aid for environmental objectives (see IP/08/80) because on balance, the positive effects for the environment largely outweigh potential distortions of competition.
In 2010, before the May elections (which saw a change in Government), the UK Labour government was willing to provide Sheffield steel producer Forgemasters with an £80m loan to develop new technologies as part of a supply chain for nuclear reactors. While ultimately the new government withdrew this offer, the reasoning for a change of heart was ideological and not related to European State-Aid rules.
Taking a public stake in a steel company
Following the sale of 20.5% of shares in ‘NLMK Belgium Sogepa Holdings SA’ for 91.1 million euros ($123 million), the Belgian public authorities have a shareholding in a new company producing steel which owns steel plants in Belgium, France and Italy. NBH employs about 1,000 people in Belgium, while the European division employs 2,530 people in total. The engagement of the Belgian public authorities has helped strengthen the commitment of the Russian group, and transformed the company carrying the steel business in public private joint venture with the financial support of the Walloon region.
Compensation for energy costs
A range of German Government industry policy interventions provide German industry as a whole, including its energy intensive industries, with a range of long established reliefs from energy and climate change-related duties, levies and taxes:
Over the period 2010-2012 Germany’s support for its EIIs were worth 26bn euros, or some 8bn euros (£6.4bn) a year (table 2).
Support covers thousands of firms. Unlike the UK package, support is not confined to specific sectors.
At company level, in Germany compensation is available for 90% (or in the case of larger and energy intense consumers, 100%) of electricity taxes.
In Sweden, the PFE programme aims to encourage, through incentives (reductions in the amount of energy taxes), energy-intensive industries to improve their energy efficiency. This is a long-term agreement involving the Swedish government, the energy-intensive industries and trade unions. The duration of this program is 5 years. 117 industrial companies are involved in this project (i.e. 250 plants). The Swedish Energy Agency monitors and controls the programme. The Programme Board, established in 2005, brings together representatives from government, business, trade unions and employers as well as research centers. Both with an advisory and regulatory purpose, the Board meets four times a year. After only two years of existence, more than 900 measures were implemented or underway. These measures cost the companies € 110 million but benefited from a rapid return on investment (two years on average). They have saved about 1 TWh per year of electricity, i.e. from 500 kT to 1 million tons of CO2, and a total of € 55 million. In 2010, it doubled its objectives.
Using the powers of the official receiver to support employment & attracting buyers for troubled plants
In November 2014, the Italian government agreed to sell Italy’s second-largest steelmaker Lucchini’s Piombino complex to family-owned Algerian conglomerate Cevital. Lucchini was previously owned by Russia’s Severstal but was declared insolvent in 2012 and placed into special administration. The company received two offers for its core assets in Piombino, one from Cevital and the other from India’s JSW Steel. The government administrator said the Cevital offer was more attractive as it foresaw full employment at Piombino. The Piombino complex employs about 2,000 people and can produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.
Adapted from the GMB’s website:
Photo: Michelle Gordon
With a profit of $1.4bn, American multinational outsourcing provider Aramark can well afford to pay their staff a proper wage says GMB.
GMB, the union for staff in the health service, is holding a strike at four South London Hospitals on Monday 21st March for 175 members working as cleaners and hostesses for private contractor Aramark.
GMB members will make history by leading the first strike against Aramark in the UK, having voted 97% in favour of industrial action. They will be seeking a living wage and fairer arrangements for sick pay and unsocial hours payments.
Picketing is taking place at the following addresses:
Bethlem Royal Hospital
Monks Orchard Road
108 Landor Road
University Hospital Lewisham
Lewisham High Street
Many of the staff who keep the hospital sites clean and prepare and serve food to patients are paid as little as £7.38 per hour and receive only 10 days of sick pay per year. Sick pay is only provided after the first 3 days of illness and workers in their first year of service receive no sick pay at all.
Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “GMB members are serious about fighting for something that any worker should be entitled to: A wage they can live on and a sick pay scheme which ensures they won’t be forced into poverty as a result of falling ill.
“Aramark make a profit by paying workers as little as possible. GMB members in South London and Maudsley NHS Trust are now saying enough is enough, they should be rewarded properly for the work they do.
Our members are proud to be making history by leading the first strike in the UK against Aramark. Predominantly low paid women workers, the bravery our members are showing in this fight against an aramark multinational is inspiring. One woman was telling me how she was punched in the face by one of the patients while she was serving food on the ward – all for £7:38 ph!
Aramark is a $14.3 billion, American owned, multinational outsourcing provider. They can afford to pay their staff a proper wage.”
Contact: Nadine Houghton on 07714239227 or Andy Prendergast on 07984492726 or GMB press office on 07970 863411 or 07739 182691
Notes to editors
1 GMB press release dated Thursday, January 21, 2016
Dispute Looms At Of South London And Maudsley NHS Trust As Pay Talks With Contactor Aramark For £10 Per Hour Living Wage Stall
Next step is seeking permission for official strike ballot and there will protest demonstrations on 2nd and 9th February says GMB.
A dispute looms as pay talks covering 175 GMB members employed as domestics and hostesses by private contractor Aramark at four sites of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) have stalled.
The pay talks which have broken down cover members at the Maudsley, Lambeth, Bethlem and Ladywell sites where GMB is seeking a living wage of £10per hour and an end to two tier arrangements on sick pay and shift allowances.
GMB officers will now seek permission to proceed to an official strike ballot. GMB will also be calling demonstrations outside the sites as part of the campaign for a living wage and an end to the two tier workforce in the NHS.
Aramark is an American owned multinational outsourcing provider turning over $13billion. It pays many staff on the SLAM contract as little as £7:30ph for providing front line services to mental health patients.
Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “It’s unfortunate that we have been forced to ask our members whether or not they are prepared to strike but we have consistently told Aramark that our members provide a front line service in a mental health trust within London and as such they deserve to be paid a genuine living wage of £10ph, full sick pay and proper shift allowances.
Our members are working around many vulnerable individuals, sometimes they are verbally and even physically attacked and yet many of them are unable to take sick leave as they are not paid for this, some of them also receive no extra pay for working weekends and bank holidays. they have rejected the offer that Aramark made to them as it went nowhere near satisfying the members demands.
GMB will continue to press for a living wage to be set at £10 per hour as agreed at GMB Congress. Members make clear in their experience you need at least £10 an hour and a full working week to have a decent life free from benefits and tax credits. Less than £10 an hour means just existing not living. It means a life of isolation, unable to socialise. It means a life of constant anxiety over paying bills and of borrowing from friends, family and pay day loan sharks just to make ends meet.”
The Guardian‘s coverage, here
Left wing anti-EU campaigners have, so far made little attempt to argue their case from an explicity pro-working class, or even trade union standpoint. So it is at least refreshing to see Enrico Tortolano attempt to do this in yesterday’s Morning Star. We republish his piece below, followed by a reply from Johnny Lewis:
Lets’s fight on our terms not EU’s
Enrico Tortolano (campaign director, Trade Unionists Against the EU) argues that Britain’s EU referendum on June 23 is not a choice between two bad options but rather a fundamental choice about the kind of society we want to live in
Trade union negotiators spend their lives between a rock and a hard place trying to make the best of bad options.
This can lead to a habit we like to think of as pragmatism — making the best of a bad job.
However, at key historical moments fundamental principles come into the equation. Sometimes we have to aspire above the unacceptable options we are offered.
Britain’s EU referendum is such an occasion. It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers. We have to express our deeper interests as working-class people.
To say Cameron’s “EU deal” is just as bad as the status quo and in the next breath advocate a vote for Britain to remain in the EU in order to build “another, nicer EU” misses the point. As does former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who thinks he can reform the EU — something millions of workers over three decades have found impossible.
It shouldn’t be forgotten he advised the Greek government to accept 70 per cent of the EU austerity memorandum and is responsible for much of the present crisis. His failure to understand the system, to grasp the nature of EU institutions and neoliberalism itself, underlies his utopian illusion.
The EU is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a bastion of workers’ rights, nor to support the struggles for equality of women, minorities or young people.
The desperate plight of working-class communities throughout the EU’s 28 member states is clear. Average unemployment was 8.9 per cent in January 2016 — 10.3 per cent in euro-area countries. Incredibly, this is hailed as a sign of recovery by some EU enthusiasts because it represents a 0.1 per cent reduction from the previous month.
Workers in the EU have been trapped in a prolonged crisis of joblessness and falling real wages for over 15 years.
Since 2000 average EU unemployment rates only fell below 8 per cent — 1 in 12 workers — briefly in 2007-8 only to rise to 12 per cent in 2013, before reverting to EU “normality” of around 10 per cent today.
For millions throughout the EU this has meant their lives have been defined by foodbanks, homelessness, debt and precarious forms of employment.
The intended outcome of German ordoliberal policies applied by EU political elites in the interests of big business is to lower wages, “foster competitiveness” and increase worker insecurity.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (M Star March 9) and some trade union leaders who attempt to put a brave face on what they see as the least bad option, unfortunately risk choosing by far the worst option.
Leaving the EU would tear the Tory Party apart. Of course there would be confrontation, but given the ruthlessness with which they are destroying the welfare state and workplace rights, exiting and taking them down makes sense on all levels. This shouldn’t be outside our movement’s cognitive mapping — the real danger for workers lies in giving up on the idea of meaningful change. EU institutions rule exclusively in the interests of corporations and finance capital and are the main drivers of austerity in our part of the world.
A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda. It would also show British people know the only way to stop TTIP, privatising our NHS and public services, is by leaving the EU. These are precisely the reasons why large corporations, the US and global capital are desperately funding and supporting a campaign for Britain to remain a member of the EU.
This referendum is about class issues, not narrow negotiating issues. If the TUC or European TUC could negotiate a favourable settlement for workers with EU institutions and their masters in the Round Table of Industrialists, why has this not already happened?
This referendum is about whether workers want a future of intergovernmental collaboration based on UN principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for self-determination of nations, or a continuation of the EU’s endless austerity where supranational super-states financialise and privatise all areas of human activity.
In this context, it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights.
This is simply untrue. Decades of EU neoliberal economics have depended on its denial of the most basic of workers’ rights — the right to work. The equivalent of Britain’s entire full-time working population (22.98 million) are unemployed across the EU. It is a low-growth area worsened by EU institutions attacking collective bargaining rights.
Accession states, or countries with odious debt like Greece, have been forced to demolish collective bargaining arrangements as conditions for EU bailouts. The EU as a bastion of women’s rights? Try speaking to working-class Greek, Spanish or Portuguese women resisting the aggressive EU austerity agenda.
The European Court of Justice upholds fundamental EU principles of “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services. That’s why its rulings automatically trump workers’ rights.
The Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. The economic crisis of 2008 was used to push through a raft of policies giving the unelected European Commission the power to veto member governments’ budgets and spending plans.
A concrete road map has been articulated by the EU around an assault on workers’ rights that has led to mass protests in Bulgaria and general strikes in Portugal.
Because some on the left have been starry-eyed about the long-dead myth of “social Europe,” the task of organising real international solidarity with these struggles has been neglected.
Let’s revive the deep internationalism of Britain’s trade union movement. Vote to leave the EU. Make a new world possible.
The left Brexiters are putting workers’ rights in danger – and playing into the hands of the right
By Johnny Lewis (a leading trade unionist)
Comrade Tortolano opens his piece by noting that there are situations for socialists in which fundamental political principles must take precedence over the day to day pragmatism of trade union-style negotiations. In principle, I can agree: I’d argue that getting rid of Trident – even before we have an alternative jobs plan in place – is a case in point. Getting out of the EU most certainly isn’t.
At most, it could be argued that the argument over Brexit v Remain is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class over two alternative strategies for British capitalism, in which the working class has no interest one way or the other. In the past (during the 1975 referendum, for instance), some of us have argued just that, but I will now go on to explain why that approach does not apply in the present referendum campaign, and why trade unionists and the left should argue to remain.
I have argued in a previous piece that those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.
Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union and pro-worker legislation has increased. Such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post- 1980 legislation originates from the EU.
It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties – the result of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. Comrade Tortolano cites the Viking, Laval and Ruffert cases as demonstrating “beyond reasonable doubt” his case that the ECJ’s rulings on the implementation of the Directive is anti-worker: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation – and in directing their fire at the EU people like Comrade Tortolano in reality let the Tory government and its Coalition and New labour Predecessors off the hook.
However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. And the consequence of this dismantling of the floor would almost certainly start a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries are forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right. In fairness to Comrade Tortolano, he does at least address this crucial issue, but only by denying reality and obscuring the real issues with empty rhetoric (“it is anti-internationalist to foster the illusion that Britain outside the EU would suddenly become prey to a demolition of workers’ rights” etc).
The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP, though it is hinted at in Comrade Tortolano’s piece, where he complains of the European Court of Justice upholding the principle of “free movement” of labour: that foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.
We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist right’s emphasis on immigration of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believes (like, incredibly, Comrade Tortolano) the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is b – to put it mildly – worrying that they come close to blaming migrants for low wages.
Unable to put forward any coherent or convincing trade union-based rationale, those left wingers advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim, as does Comrade Tortolano, that “It is not possible to apply a limited pragmatism to such a fundamental issue that touches on our system of justice, democracy, collective rights and our freedoms as workers”, he is unable to present any such case, and neither has any other left Brexiter.
The comrade’s rhetoric about “our system of justice, democracy, collective rights” is simply empty guff: as I have stated (above), every single aspect of pro-worker and pro-union legislation in the UK since 1980 (with the exception of TU recognition) originates from the EU. As for “justice”, the EU has forced successive British governments to introduce legislation on parental leave, age discrimination and transgender rights that almost certainly wouldn’t exist otherwise; and in other areas – equal pay, maternity rights, sex, disability and race discrimination, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has improved and extended existing laws, making it more difficult for a reactionary UK government to undermine them.
Comrade Tortolano then puts forward the further argument: that “A vote to leave the EU on June 23 would send shockwaves through the global financial architecture and damage its austerity agenda.” Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what people like the comrade believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.
The comrade, like all anti-EU leftists, no doubt believes that measures such as renationalising industries or intervening directly in the economy are made impossible by EU membership (I am surprised that this argument is only hinted at in his article): but this is simply not the case – see Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’
All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf
In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’
While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted by the anti-EU left. But, for the sake of argument, say it were true: are we seriously suggesting that a Corbyn-led Labour government, elected on a clear democratic mandate and manifesto pledging public ownership of the nation’s railway system and ‘Big Six’ energy companies, would be deterred by the objections of EU bureaucrats? This, incidentally, is where analogies with Greece, Spain and Portugal fall down: the UK has the fifth-largest national economy (and second-largest in EU) measured by nominal GDP: the idea that a left wing UK government could be bullied in the way that Syriza in Greece was is simply preposterous.
Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism. That’s why the left Brexiters like Comrade Tortolano are so badly – and dangerously – mistaken. It’s also why people like myself , who in 1975 argued for abstention, now say that in the forthcoming referendum, class conscious workers and all progressive people, must argue, campaign and vote to remain.
The referendum is not simply a matter of being about in or out: it is also an episode in the formation of this new, populist right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the Brexit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the recent decline in workers’ rights within the EU: rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against their real and imagined grievances – politicians not listening, growing impoverishment, or the belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline – not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the Brexit campaign.
The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: the one convincing claim that Comrade Tortolano makes against the EU is about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left and within the unions who advocate Remain not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.
Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive, it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers, and on a pan-European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.
By Kate Osamor
, Labour MP for Edmonton and shadow equality minister.
(This article also appears in today’s Morning Star
, as part of its International Women’s Day supplement):
“Solidarity with our sisters.” This was the message that I chose to write on my postcard to the Home Office this International Women’s Day as part of Women for Refugee Women’s 99 Women solidarity action campaign.
Each woman, each postcard, represents one of the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in 2014. Onlt nine were deported. For the rest, who were released back into the community, their detention served no purpose, yet no doubt had a lasting impact on their mental health.
Women from across different professions — MPs, campaigners, actors, singers, lawyers and academics — are all standing together in support for women refugees. There are two overriding messages to the campaign: Refugees Welcome and Set Her Free. These are inseparable messages of support, which demand that the British government takes more action to support and welcome refugees, and end the incarceration of asylum-seekers.
Last year I went to Yarl’s Wood to speak to women inside. One of the women I met was pregnant. Her story devastated me. She’d left India for Britain with the promise of a better life and a university education. She’d put her trust in the hands of people who turned out to be traffickers, and was consequently exploited. They took her passport. She was depressed and on medication, visibly thin and had not been eating. She had no contact with her family, no idea even of how old she was (although she didn’t look older than 21). And she had no idea when, if at all, she would be released from Yarl’s Wood. This was all no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she was pregnant — something she assured me that Yarl’s Wood staff and the Home Office had known when they detained her. Britain is the only country in the EU not to impose a time limit on detention.
The Home Office states that pregnant women should only be detained in “exceptional circumstances.” Stephen Shaw stated that the practice should be ruled out altogether, as one of 64 recommendations in his damning review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons, published in January 2016. And yet the government remains unmoved. It remains unmoved not only with regard to this specific detention rule, but more generally refuses to adopt a more welcoming stance towards asylum seekers.
The aggressive bulldozing of the Calais Jungle and fears that this will add to the already large number of missing children in Europe did not prompt more action, but simply the stance that this is a French responsibility.
At a time when we should be accepting, the government is instead deporting them. Just last week, on March 3, Theresa May won a significant legal battle to resume the deportation of failed asylum-seekers to Afghanistan, including those who arrived here as children. The life stories I heard in Yarl’s Wood were just a few of many stories of displacement, violence and fleeing specifically gendered violence in their home countries.
In a report by Women for Refugee Women entitled I Am Human, of the 34 women interviewed who disclosed their experiences of persecution, 19 women said they had been raped, 21 had experienced other sexual violence, 28 had experienced gender-related persecution under the headings they asked about: rape, sexual violence, forced marriage, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation.
Female asylum seekers, locked up, are not heard by the outside world and not believed by the system. Our immigration system should shame us all. We are locking up asylum-seekers and we are denying them a voice.
This last year has seen the biggest wave of mass migration since the second world war. It has seen thousands of refugees flee violence and instability, risking their lives to make the dangerous journey to Europe. It has seen them prepared to cross treacherous oceans on boats that traffickers deliberately over-fill, to escape the conditions they are living in. Thousands have died or gone missing on this journey. Europe is still not providing an adequate response to this crisis.
In a twisted irony, the people whose lives have been most devastated by terrorism are feared in Europe for bringing terrorism with them. This dangerous rhetoric and inaccurate perception must end.
This International Women’s Day, I ask everyone to stand in solidarity with female refugees, whatever the stage of their journey. Female refugees deserve to be heard, deserve to be respected and deserve to be celebrated.
As Women for Refugee Women state, “Our vision is a society in which women’s human rights are respected and in which they are safe from persecution.”
Both nationally and internationally, we have a way to go. Today, let’s celebrate the strength and the achievements of women across the world, but let’s not shy away from what more needs to be done, here and abroad, to work towards gender parity.
This is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Join the campaign today — pledge your support by uploading your own picture and message of support with the hashtags #RefugeesWelcome #SetHerFree #IWD2016
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The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced three further 48-hour strikes of junior doctors. The BMA also announced that it is to seek a judicial review into the government’s plans to impose new contracts.
The dates planned for industrial action are 9 March, 6 April and 26 April. All are scheduled to begin at 8am. Emergency cover will be maintained.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s controversial push to impose new terms and conditions on all 45,000 junior doctors has exacerbated the bitter and long-running dispute.
We publish, below, a detailed critique, by science writer Les Hearn, of Jeremy Hunt’s “evidence” of excess deaths at weekends, used to justify imposing the new contract. This article first appeared in Solidarity:
Lies, damned lies, and Jeremy Hunt’s statistics
The government’s argument in their attack on junior doctors’ pay and conditions has been that they had a manifesto commitment to introduce seven-day access to all aspects of health care and that this was necessary to reduce excess deaths among weekend hospital admissions.
The government’s approach seems to amount to forcing junior doctors to work more at weekends for less pay. But, unless they also force them to work longer hours, this must reduce the number of doctors on weekdays. If the original problem of excess deaths was due to a lack of junior doctors at weekends, the result would be to equalise death rates by lowering death rates following weekend admissions and raising those following weekday admissions. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was very keen to talk about the evidence of excess deaths to justify his actions and, of course, evidence is very important. He claimed “We now have seven independent studies showing mortality is higher for patients admitted at weekends.” We will look at this evidence.
The DH says there is significant evidence of a “weekend effect” where patients admitted over the weekend have higher rates of mortality.1 The DH lists eight pieces of what they call research in support. 1. The major study cited by DH is from the British Medical Journal (Freemantle et al., 2015):2 one of its co-authors is Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director of NHS England. It found that death rates were higher for patients admitted on Fridays (2% higher), Saturdays (10% higher), Sundays (15% higher) and Mondays (5%) than on other days. Since the overall death rate within 30 days for all admissions is 1.8%, this means that the 15%-higher Sunday rate is 2.1% or 3 in 1000 “extra” deaths. We need to understand why and this is where it is important to look at how ill patients are on the day of admission. Risk The study informs us that, while 29% of weekday admissions are emergencies, on Saturdays the figure is 50% and on Sunday 65%. Using another criterion, mortality risk from all factors except day of admission, while 20% of weekday admissions were in the highest category, 25% on Saturdays and 29% on Sundays were in this highest risk of dying group. On these bases, we would expect an increased death rate for weekend admissions of anywhere between 25% and 125%. The observed “excess” of 15% on Sundays should be a cause for congratulation.
This paper is an update of the previous study by Freemantle et al. (2012)3 (see 5 below), also including Keogh. The findings were broadly similar except that the death rate on Saturdays and Sundays were very significantly lower than the average for weekdays. In the update this curious fact, which certainly needs discussion and explanation, is barely mentioned. To summarise, death rates for admissions on Saturdays and Sundays are increased by 10 to 15% but death rates for those already in hospital are reduced by 5 to 8%. Thus, the main source of support for the government’s Seven Day NHS plans does not provide any evidence for it. The weekend death rates for all patients are in fact far lower than one would predict from the seriousness of their illness. Read the rest of this entry »
From the BMA:
Junior doctors: industrial action to go ahead
With no agreement reached on key issues, junior doctors will provide emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on 10 February.
Despite the best efforts of our negotiating team, and hours of talks facilitated by Acas, we have not managed to reach agreement with NHS Employers and the Department of Health on the new junior doctors contract.
As a result, the industrial action we planned for 10 February will be going ahead. However, rather than the planned full walkout, the action will mirror that of 12 January. Junior doctors in England will be offering emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on Wednesday 10 February to 8am Thursday 11 February.
Read the news story in full
Advice note for junior doctors on days of action
We are aware that some trusts have sought to nominate junior doctors to have one or two doctors to be on standby for every ward, other than out-patient departments and elective procedures, for the duration of the industrial action (IA). The BMA has taken expert legal advice on this issue.
Read more (PDF)
Read our FAQs (PDF)
Dates of industrial action for junior doctors in England
The BMA is calling on junior doctors in England to take official industrial action on 12 January, backed by a near-unanimous vote in favour in accordance with trade union legislation. Many members of the public have expressed support for our action, but we do not condone or encourage any form of unofficial industrial action or unlawful activity.
We have announced three days of action in total:
12 January 2016 – COMPLETED
Emergency care only between 8am on Tuesday, 12 January and 8am on Wednesday, 13 January (24 hours).
26 January 2016 – SUSPENDED
Emergency care only between 8am on Tuesday, 26 January and 8am on Thursday, 28 January (48 hours)
10 February 2016
Emergency care only between 8am on Wednesday 10 February and 8am on Thursday 11 February (24 hours).
Why junior doctors are taking industrial action
In 2012 the Government asked the BMA to look into negotiating a new contract for junior doctors. After two years, negotiations stalled because the contract on offer would not have provided sufficient safeguards for junior doctors and their patients – either today or in the future.
The DDRB, an independent body, undertook a review and provided recommendations for a new contract. After the recommendations were released the Government asked the BMA to re-enter negotiations with the recommendations as the basis. We could not agree to the unsafe and unfair preconditions proposed, and so the Government said they would impose a new contract from August 2016.
We have consistently and clearly asked Government for the key assurances we would need in order to re-enter negotiations – the first of which was a withdrawal of the threat to impose a contract. These assurances have still not been given to us. In September, the BMA’s junior doctors committee took the decision to ballot junior doctor members on support for industrial action. We have continued to request the key assurances for genuine negotiations. The result of the ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors in England was announced on 19 November, with more than 99 per cent having voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98 per cent for full strike action, demonstrating the strength of feeling amongst the profession.
The BMA suspended industrial action planned for December following progress made through talks facilitated by Acas. While progress was made on some issues during negotiations between the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health, the offer that Government made on 4 January was not acceptable to the BMA. As a result, the action planned for 12 January went ahead.
Discussions with the Government continued throughout January, which led to the suspension of the planned 48-hour action on 26-28 January. However, despite the best efforts of the BMA negotiating team, major sticking points, including around the classification of Saturdays, remain. Because of this, the BMA decided that the industrial action planned for 10 February would go ahead, although it would see junior doctors offering emergency care only over a 24-hour period, rather than the planned full walkout from 8am to 5pm.
Find a picket line
The BMA is supporting around 149 picket lines across England. Contact your junior doctor representative, your LNC representative or your Industrial Relations Officer for more information.
Click here to view a map of picket lines
The right to strike is a fundamental human right protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, we are aware that an NHS trust has suggested that the proposed industrial action by junior doctors is unlawful, being in breach of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULCRA). We have sought urgent legal advice from John Hendy QC, the leading authority in this area of law.
Campaign materials can be ordered for meetings, rallies and street stalls via local BMA reps or ordered online.
Orders must be placed by 11am on Monday 8 February in order to be despatched in time for industrial action.
Order a standard campaign pack
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, stating your name, your BMA membership number, and delivery address. The pack will include the following:
Order specific campaign materials
Please email email@example.com, stating your name, your BMA membership number, and delivery address. Choose from the following:
Print your own
Show your support online:
Download (or ‘save as’) a Facebook cover image (.jpg)
Download (or ‘save as’) a Twitter cover image (.jpg)
Add a Twibbon to your Twitter profile
Would you like advice on how to most effectively use social media to share your message? Download our top tips (PDF)
Information for non-junior doctors
The decision to take industrial action has implications for all doctors working in the NHS in England. Read our guidance:
Information for the public
Public information leaflet
Read our leaflet explaining why junior doctors are taking industrial action, Copies will are also available from local BMA representatives on picket lines.
The junior doctors dispute – in their own words
Few people choose medicine for the glory and the riches. Far more likely is the opportunity to make a difference, to help people – but just because, for most, this is a vocation, that isn’t an invitation to undervalue what they do.
While politicians and commentators may try and portray the junior doctors dispute as being all about money, doctors themselves are clear that it’s more fundamental than that: it’s about valuing what they do – and what they have to sacrifice to do it.
Here, they explain it in their own words.
Meet the doctor events
Junior doctors are also holding ‘meet the doctors’ events across England to explain the position to members of the public.
Click here to find local meet the doctor events
News and photos from the first day of action
Read our news story reporting from the picket lines
Scroll through our Storify feed
Share your picket line pictures using the hashtag #junioraction or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hear what some of the junior doctors had to say during the day of action.
Key dates as the junior contract negotiations have unfolded:
- July 2013 – UK Junior Doctors Committee agreed to enter formal negotiations.
- October 2013 – Department of Health grants NHS Employers a mandate to negotiate with the BMA, formal negotiations commence.
- October 2014 – Talks stalled in light of the Government’s failure to agree measures to ensure patient safety and doctors’ welfare.
- December 2014 – The BMA submitted evidence to DDRB.
- March 2015 – DDRB invited stakeholders to give evidence.
- July 2015 – DDRB submitted its final report to the Government.
- August 2015 – Junior Doctors Committee decided not to re-enter contract negotiations based on the Government’s preconditions and threat of contract imposition.
- September 2015 – The BMA voted to ballot junior members in England for industrial action.
- November 2015 – In a turnout of 76.2 per cent, junior doctors voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.
- November 2015 – Temporary suspension of industrial action by the BMA following talks with NHS Employers and the Department of Health, brokered by Acas
- December 2015 – Industrial action in England was suspended following conciliatory talks with NHS Employers and the Department of Health.
- December 2015 – BMA Junior Doctors Committee negotiating team entered negotiations with NHS Employers and Department of Health
- January 2016 – Talks concluded with no resolution. Industrial action to go ahead.
Junior doctors in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
The Northern Ireland health minister, Simon Hamilton, has said he has “no desire” to impose the junior doctor contract and an imposed contract would be the “worst possible outcome”. BMA will be meeting with the Minister to discuss how we can work together to resolve the situation.
On 18 September 2015, Welsh Government officials issued a statement to BMA Cymru Wales indicating that they will retain the current junior doctor contract in Wales.
The Scottish Government has made clear that there will be no junior doctor contract imposition in Scotland.
Join 160,000 members standing up to unreasonable Government demands
In the uncertain and volatile environment that the Government seems intent on creating for doctors, representation is more important than ever.
Join the BMA today
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Statement from the NUM (also published, in extended form, as a letter in the current issue of the Weekly Worker):
CONDEMN THE DEFAMATION OF NUM SOLIDARITY WITH UKRANIAN MINERS
The National Union of Mineworkers is disturbed by the smears against our union regarding our approach to the conflict in Ukraine. These smears have been promoted mainly by elements on the outskirts of the labour movement. Sadly, some who should know better have been willing to give air to such defamation. We at the NUM have long experience of those who would seek to sow divisions and discredit us and we have a proven record of defending ourselves when necessary.
It is shamefully claimed the NUM has joined the camp of our enemies and abandoned our history of working class internationalism. Some even asserting we have crossed into the same camp as fascists and taken the line of Nato. Let us set the record straight.
The NUM has not based its response to the Ukraine crisis on what the British or Russian media tell us. We have not been charmed by the opportunity to sit in their TV studios and accept without question their government’s line. Instead we naturally turned to our fellow miners’ unions, with whom we have a friendship stretching back decades: the Trade Union of the Coal Mining Industry (PRUP) and the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU). The very first statement issued by the NUM executive committee was clear:
“The NUM supports the international principle of self-determination and expresses its support to our brothers and sisters in the miners’ union, PRUP, who are calling for all interference from outside Ukraine to stop. The NUM calls for a peaceful resolution to the current issues facing the people of Ukraine and our thoughts are with all the miners in the Ukraine, who we regard as our friends.”
During some of the worst fighting in Ukraine, we hosted a delegation of miners at the Durham Miners Gala in 2014 that were warmly received, yet our hospitality is now denigrated by assertions they were not miners, but national union officials from Kiev. This is untrue. The delegation was from Donbas and the speaker that addressed the gala was chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk branch of PRUP.
The NUM has sent two delegations to Ukraine; we have visited industrial areas, met national union officials, local branches and rank-and-file miners. We have also met with activists of the wider labour movement. The NUM attended and addressed the joint union congress of Miners of Ukraine on April 21. We are proud to have taken part in a protest by thousands of miners in defiance of riot police at the parliament in Kiev against pit closures.
Those attacking the NUM seek to question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian trade unions. Yet we have seen with our own eyes that the miners’ unions are not slavishly following the oligarchs and the government. They are resisting as best they can pit closures, austerity and anti-union laws. The NUM is being attacked because we support fellow trade unions that appeal for solidarity instead of the armed forces that hold a third of the territory in Donbas. Despite the wishful thinking of some, Putin’s Russia is not sponsoring a revived 1917-style soviet republic or a Spain of 1936. It is clear the takeover in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk area was initiated by rival oligarchs and Russia out of their own vested interests. In those areas the existing labour movement has been suppressed, trade unionists have been kidnapped, tortured and even murdered. This is common knowledge and has been reported to the international trade union movement repeatedly.
We have given our support to the Ukrainian labour movement in supporting the unity of Ukraine and of the working people of Ukraine, opposing the undemocratic division of Ukraine by force, which has been a humanitarian and economic catastrophe; it has divided working people and their labour movement.
At no time has the NUM given support to either Russian or Ukrainian far-right forces active in Ukraine – our solidarity is first and foremost with the labour movement. The NUM endorses the calls by the Ukrainian trade unions for justice for victims of the attacks on both the Kiev and Odessa trade union buildings, and of those killed on the Malaysian airline.
The situation was summed up in an address by the Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine to the conference of its sister union, Aslef, that “Ukraine has been squeezed between an aggressive power in our east and neoliberal economic policies from the west. The working people of Ukraine are suffering from both the terrible cost of war and of austerity.” NUM shares the view that it is for the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, free from external intervention from Russian or western imperialism. That is, we support the achievement of peace through self-determination, solidarity and social justice.
National Union of Mineworkers
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