NUM answers smears over Ukraine solidarity

February 5, 2016 at 3:42 pm (internationalism, posted by JD, Russia, solidarity, stalinism, Ukraine, unions, workers)

NUM logo.png

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
Barnsley

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Discrimination and Employment Law experts agree: Brexit would be “catastrophic”

January 25, 2016 at 4:39 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, law, rights, TUC, unions, women, workers)

Karon Monaghan

Saturday’s TUC/Equal Opportunities Review Discrimination Law Conference was, as usual, a highly informative event.

The driving force behind this conference (an annual event) is Michael Rubenstein, editor of Equal Opportunities Review and widely regarded as Britain’s leading expert on both equal opportunities law and employment law (he also edits the Industrial Relations Law Reports): unlike a lot of legal people, he makes no secret of his sympathy with the trade union movement.

Amongst the other distinguished speakers was Karon Monagham QC of Matrix Chambers, on ‘Sex and race discrimination: recent developments.’ Anyone whose ever Karon speak will know that she makes no secret of her left wing stance and passionate commitment to anti-racism, equal opportunities and trade union rights – how she ever got to be a QC is a bit of a mystery …

Karon spoke with authority on her subject, concentrating upon:

Karon noted that, “As to recent decisions of the Courts and tribunals, they’re a mixed bag. We have seen some worrying recent case law challenging some of the prevailing orthodoxy around the concepts of equality under the EA 2010 and related matters. We have also seen some progressive case law, in particular in reliance on fundamental rights protected by EU and ECHR law.”

In the course of her presentation, Karon made it clear that the EU Equality Directives, case law from the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, remain potent and effective tools for all those concerned with defending human rights and trade union rights.

In fact, although it did not appear on the agenda, a recurring theme of the conference was the EU and the possibility of Brexit. In his opening remarks, Michael Rubenstein asked “Do you think Brexit and the Cameron government, together, are going to be good or bad for human rights, equal opportunities and trade union rights?” He added, laughing, “That’s a rhetorical question.”

During the final Q&A session, the panel were asked what they though the impact of a Bexit would be on human rights and employment legislation in the UK: Rubenstein replied with a single word: “catastrophic.”

The idiot-left who seem to think that something progressive can be achieved by getting out of the EU need to take notice of people who know what they’re talking about.

_________________________________________________________________________

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Say it isn’t so, Jeremy …

January 18, 2016 at 3:19 pm (Champagne Charlie, labour party, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, television, unions)

I didn’t see the interview JC gave on the Marr show yesterday (but I’ve found it on Youtube and posted it above). I now see that JC came out with an interesting and potentially workable “third way” on Trident, proposed penalising companies that don’t pay the living wage, and committed to repealing Tory legislation outlawing secondary strikes – excellent!

More worrying is what he had to say on foreign affairs – that a diplomatic channels should be opened with Islamic State and that they have “strong points”: as a result hashtag #ISISstrongpoints is trending at this very moment.

In the same interview JC shamefully equivocated on the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination (what Marr called a “veto”).

I know JC is routinely traduced and misrepresented in the media, by Cameron and – perhaps worst of all – by the Blairites and the old Labour right. But fucking stupid statements like these (and I’ve now watched the Youtube clip, and he did indeed, make them), really play into the hands of the Tories and the Blairites – confirming the view that JC is blind to the threat posed by, and in denial as to the nature of, Islamist fascism, and is something of an “anti-imperialist” idiot.

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BMA: a call to fellow workers, trade unionists, campaigners and activists

January 5, 2016 at 3:12 pm (health service, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, unions)

Junior doctors' industrial action

Junior doctors

A CALL FROM THE BMA – TO OUR FELLOW WORKERS, TRADE UNIONISTS, CAMPAIGNERS AND ACTIVISTS: WE NEED YOU!

The current situation:

Junior Doctors across England will be commencing industrial action on Tuesday 12th January. We are opposing this government’s attempt to impose an unsafe new contract on the medical profession. It is our view that the proposed contract represents an existential danger to the NHS as an institution.

You may be aware that the BMA had initially suspended its planned industrial action at the start of December and returned to talks with the Department of Health. That decision was made in good faith. However, over the last few weeks, in the course of negotiations with Government we have encountered only intransigence. It is clear that the government perceives our contract issue as pivotal for its attempt to “reform” the NHS towards a neoliberal, commercialised system.

It is therefore evident to us that we have no choice but to transform our 98% ballot mandate into action.

The developments of the next few months will have consequences stretching far into the future. This government is wilfully putting at risk our patients’ safety, the tolerability of our working lives as NHS workers and the very viability of the NHS as a publicly-funded, publicly-provided service.

Why we need YOU

The coming period will be the ultimate test of the BMA’s resolve as a Union. However, we remain mindful of the fact that the BMA is not an abstract entity operating in isolation from wider political developments. There is no way that we can win this on our own. We need all concerned citizens, activists and trade unionists to stand alongside us in this fight.

Over the last few months we have been in dialogue with many trade unionists throughout the country and we have been enormously grateful for their support both at a local and national level. The public messages of support from our allied health worker colleagues, the firefighters, the teaching unions and the TUC and TUCG unions have galvanised junior doctors.

We are therefore well aware that all eyes are upon us and that the institutions which represent the wider working class stand with us in solidarity.

We are in no doubt that Osborne, Cameron and Hunt will use the proposed doctor’s contract as a tool for achieving the destruction of safe terms and conditions throughout the NHS and throughout the public sector. The Conservative Party is attempting to stretch the NHS into an ostensibly 7-day elective service whilst simultaneously launching the biggest assault on NHS resources in its history. The politics of austerity represents a clear and present danger to the nation’s health.

A victory for the Junior Doctors would signify the first real crack in the entire edifice of austerity in the UK.

Please stand with us. And when you need us, ask us. We will stand by you.

Invitation to attend our pickets

On behalf of the entire BMA we thank you all for your incredible support so far. Many of you will have seen the details with regards to the planned action and I will reiterate them below. We invite you to come out and display your visible support for us on the days of action.

  • The action will begin with an emergency care-only model, which would see junior doctors provide the same level of service that happens in their given specialty, hospital or GP practice on Christmas Day. It will then escalate to full walk-outs. The action as proposed is:

    Emergency care only — 24 hrs from 8am Tuesday 12 January to 8am Wednesday 13 January

    Emergency care only — 48 hrs from 8am Tuesday 26th January to 8am Thursday 28 January

    Full withdrawal of labour — from 8am to 5pm Wednesday 10th February

  • The aim is to picket all major hospitals in England on all three days of proposed action. Pickets will be in the vicinity of the main entrances and will start at 8am, continuing until at least 12.30pm. However, many picket sites will continue into the evening, especially at the larger hospitals.
  • Along with the pickets there will be parallel “Meet the Doctors” events at nearby transport stops or public spaces. We will direct you to these events from the picket.
  • Please turn up on the days of action, and give us your support. We will then inform you if other local events are planned on the day. If you are an allied health worker, trade unionist or campaigner please do consider bringing along the banner representing your organisation, your working uniform or similar. We would appreciate it however if banners in explicit endorsement of specific political parties are not displayed and that any selling of campaign literature such as newspapers is relatively discreet.
  • On the days of action, please do debate us, educate us and invite us to address your colleagues in your workplace or trade union branch.

    Finally

    I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you of another important upcoming date. On Saturday 9thJanuary student nurses, midwives and allied health workers will be marching in opposition to Government plans to scrap the NHS student bursary. The protest will assemble outside St Thomas’s hospital at midday and proceed to Downing St. The BMA will be marching alongside the nursing students and we hope to see you there!

    Just as the social democratic consensus in this country began with the inception of the NHS in 1948 so too will the NHS be the site of Britain’s last stand against the all-consuming forces of austerity.

    Solidarity is the antidote to the cynicism of those in power. Now is the time to stand together in a common defence of the NHS. If not now, when?

    Kind regards

    Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis, Member of BMA Junior Doctors Committee National Executive.

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FBU will reaffiliate to Labour

November 27, 2015 at 6:23 pm (AWL, class, labour party, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Striking firefighters outside Euston fire station. Picture: Sebastian Mann

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has decided to reaffiliate to the Labour Party.

At a recall conference today, the issue was debated and delegates voted to reaffiliate. The FBU disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004 after a bitter pay dispute, where the Blair government intervened aggressively on the side of the employers. A combination of disgust with the disgraceful behaviour of Labour ministers, anti-political sentiment, nationalism in the devolved administrations and plans by some activists to back other socialist candidates saw the union voluntarily leave the party. Resolutions at subsequent conferences calling for reaffiliation, mostly from brigades in the North East of England, have been overwhelmingly rejected. The picture began to change before the election, particularly last year after Labour leaders provided some support to firefighters in the FBU’s pensions dispute. Labour shadow ministers also took on board some of the union’s political demands for the fire and rescue service, such as on flooding. The decisive shift has been the Corbyn leadership.

Corbyn and John McDonnell were co-founders of the FBU’s parliamentary group, set up after the disaffiliation. Corbyn has a record of support for the union going back to the 1977 pay dispute. Both supported the union throughout the Blair-Brown and Miliband years. Although the precise form of affiliation will be debated, to take account of differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland, re-engagement will be a tremendous fillip to the left across the labour movement and an important counter to the gathering forces of the right wing who want to depose Corbyn. Socialists should add our weight to the FBU debate as enthusiastic advocates of affiliation to the Labour Party, as part of transforming the labour movement and promoting working class political representation.

Every union, particularly those not currently affiliated, should have this discussion. Socialists should seek these discussions with other activists, rather than leave it to union leaders to make links at the top. Socialist Worker’s editorial (27 October 2015) sagely advises that “affiliating to Labour won’t stop the Tories”, but does not say whether it is for affiliation or against. The Socialist Party, whose TUSC perspective has been utterly discredited by the Corbyn surge, has Rob Williams writing in The Socialist (14 October) that “we believe it is premature to re-affiliate”. Rather than plunge into the living battle within the Labour Party, the SWP and SP advise militants to ponder their doubts from the outside, or wait until things somehow become more “mature”. Their stance is utterly useless in the debates now raging within the unions.

Labour: reaffiliate to unions

Dave Green, National Officer of the Fire Brigades Union, spoke to Solidarity (paper of the AWL) some weeks before the special conference:

Q: It has become public this week that the FBU will be discussing re-affiliation to Labour at it’s special conference on 27 November. What do you think about the affiliation debate?

The FBU disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004. This followed the acrimonious pay dispute a couple of years previously where firefighters were regularly vilified by not only the mass media but also Labour politicians. There had been disquiet with the Labour Party and its policies for some considerable time, from the abolition of Clause 4 through to the Iraq war. However, the public attack on firefighters and the FBU in 2002/03 was the final straw. Since then there has been much debate about affiliation. Every year there are motions to our conference asking for affiliation and, so far, every year they have been voted down. We have to be honest with ourselves about this. Firefighters are no different to the general population and are influenced by debates and issues that surround them. Many are wary about any connection with a political party. Distrust in the established political system cuts across all classes and occupations. The move away from the Labour Party reflected that distrust and a general feeling of ″they are all the same″ or ″what have they ever done for us?″ Many of us have fought for years from within to bring the Labour Party back from a party that merely diluted down Tory policies to a party that truly reflected the aspiration of working people and proactively, unapologetically made the case for socialism. We have had a presence at the Labour Party conference for several years now and the heartening aspect of that has been the positive messages we get from delegates there. Not the usual MPs, but active local Labour politicians, many of whom have the same aspirations as us. It is not just a case of the FBU affiliating to Labour, but it is more to do with the Labour Party re-affiliating to the trade union movement. Corbyn′s election has given the trade union movement, and workers generally, a massive opportunity to bring forward, through the Labour Party, policies that we as socialists have aspired to for all our working lives. A awful long time for some of us! However, this needs to be translated into positive action. Those supportive Labour politicians are still enacting cuts across the public sector. They need to be given the confidence to start resisting. An alternative narrative needs to be written, and pretty damn quick. Our Executive Council were clear. We are living through one of the most reactionary, right-wing governments that most of us can ever remember. The Tories are removing all obstacles of opposition to their policies, that are trying to create a society that looks after the elite and them only – they are attacking the only protection that workers have (through the Trade Union Bill), they are gagging the media (through attacks on the BBC), they are engineering the electoral system to ensure a one-party state (in England at least) through denying the poor a vote and re-drawing constituency boundaries to give them an inbuilt majority. If we, as socialists, are serious about creating a different society, one that reflects our wishes and aspirations and is not one that we talk about in pubs and at meetings, then we have to act. Jeremy Corbyn has fought alongside all workers in struggle, both nationally and internationally, for decades. He has supported firefighters and the FBU. He will reject austerity and will protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. At this still embryonic stage of his leadership, it is essential that all who want a better society do all they can to support him and what he stands for. That is why the FBU believes we must affiliate to the Labour Party. If we can build a mass movement from within, then who knows what we can achieve. However, I know what will happen if we stand back and do nothing, watch it evolve, watch the party machine do its dirty work. Corbyn will be ousted and the hopes of millions will be gone. What will we do then? Stand back and say ″I told you so!″? No, it’s about supporting Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell — not necessarily the individuals, but what they stand for, because it is what we stand for. How can we not be part of that?

Q: How do you think the FBU should organise for its politics within the Labour Party if it was to reaffiliate?

We would need to be active. We would need to ensure that our members and officials across the UK engage with what the Corbyn Labour Party stands for. We need to encourage members to be active within the Labour Party. First of all, join the Party and go to branch meetings. We can then get the fire service back on the political agenda. We would encourage more political schools around the country to discuss the fire service and organise to protect it. In order to engage our membership the Labour Party needs to show what it will do for them — both in their working lives and their lives outside the fire service. The problem with Labour under Miliband (and the others) was that whilst they talked about representing the working class and the disadvantaged they really never did. There was never any real discussion about an alternative. I think many within our movement felt completely powerless as the agenda was set by the Tories and their friends. The Labour spin machine has a lot to answer for. The amazing return for Jeremy Corbyn proves the point about there being a political vacuum as regards an alternative.

Q: The Blairites did a lot to destroy Labour Party democracy. What do you think needs to happen to re-democratise the Party?

The main thing would be conference. That is where members of the Labour Party, be it individuals or affiliates, can make a big difference. If the decisions at conference revert back to being binding on the PLP and its leadership then workers will see a real point in being affiliated. If firefighters can see that moving a motion at their local branch could become national policy, then that will energise and give them hope. It is no use having a democratic conference if there is no substance beneath it. Branch organisation is also key. Any party worth its salt has to be built from the bottom up. It is impossible to have a credible political party without there being democratic accountability on the ground.

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Joe Hill: executed November 19, 1915

November 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm (history, Human rights, posted by JD, socialism, solidarity, song, unions, United States, workers)

Executed by firing squad 100 years ago today. It seems that his last words were not “Don’t mourn, organize”, but “Fire!” – which makes all the more of a hero.

From the CIO/AFL website:

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

Joe Hill

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

A songwriter, itinerant laborer, and union organizer, Joe Hill became famous around the world after a Utah court convicted him of murder. Even before the international campaign to have his conviction reversed, however, Joe Hill was well known in hobo jungles, on picket lines and at workers’ rallies as the author of popular labor songs and as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) agitator. Thanks in large part to his songs and to his stirring, well-publicized call to his fellow workers on the eve of his execution—”Don’t waste time mourning, organize!”—Hill became, and he has remained, the best-known IWW martyr and labor folk hero.

Born Joel Hägglund on Oct. 7, 1879, the future “troubadour of discontent” grew up the fourth of six surviving children in a devoutly religious Lutheran family in Gävle, Sweden, where his father, Olaf, worked as a railroad conductor. Both his parents enjoyed music and often led the family in song. As a young man, Hill composed songs about members of his family, attended concerts at the workers’ association hall in Gävle and played piano in a local café.

In 1887, Hill’s father died from an occupational injury and the children were forced to quit school to support themselves. The 9-year-old Hill worked in a rope factory and later as a fireman on a steam-powered crane. Stricken with skin and joint tuberculosis in 1900, Hill moved to Stockholm in search of a cure and worked odd jobs while receiving radiation treatment and enduring a series of disfiguring operations on his face and neck. Two years later, Hill’s mother, Margareta Katarina Hägglund, died after also undergoing a series of operations to cure a persistent back ailment. With her death, the six surviving Hägglund children sold the family home and ventured out on their own. Four of them settled elsewhere in Sweden, but the future Joe Hill and his younger brother, Paul, booked passage to the United States in 1902.

Little is known of Hill’s doings or whereabouts for the next 12 years. He reportedly worked at various odd jobs in New York before striking out for Chicago, where he worked in a machine shop, got fired and was blacklisted for trying to organize a union. The record finds him in Cleveland in 1905, in San Francisco during the April 1906 Great Earthquake and in San Pedro, Calif., in 1910. There he joined the IWW, served for several years as the secretary for the San Pedro local and wrote many of his most famous songs, including “The Preacher and the Slave” and “Casey Jones—A Union Scab.” His songs, appearing in the IWW’s “Little Red Song Book,” addressed the experience of vitually every major IWW group, from immigrant factory workers to homeless migratory workers to railway shopcraft workers.

In 1911, he was in Tijuana, Mexico, part of an army of several hundred wandering hoboes and radicals who sought to overthrow the Mexican dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, seize Baja California, emancipate the working class and declare industrial freedom. (The invasion lasted six months before internal dissension and a large detachment of better-trained Mexican troops drove the last 100 rebels back across the border.) In 1912, Hill apparently was active in a “Free Speech” coalition of Wobblies, socialists, single taxers, suffragists and AFL members in San Diego that protested a police decision to close the downtown area to street meetings. He also put in an appearance at a railroad construction crew strike in British Columbia, writing several songs before returning to San Pedro, where he lent musical support to a strike of Italian dockworkers.

The San Pedro dockworkers’ strike led to Hill’s first recorded encounter with the police, who arrested him in June 1913 and held him for 30 days on a charge of vagrancy because, he said later, he was “a little too active to suit the chief of the burg” during the strike. On Jan. 10, 1914, Hill knocked on the door of a Salt Lake City doctor at 11:30 p.m. asking to be treated for a gunshot wound he said was inflicted by an angry husband who had accused Hill of insulting his wife. Earlier that evening, in another part of town, a grocer and his son had been killed. One of the assailants was wounded in the chest by the younger victim before he died. Hill’s injury therefore tied him to the incident. The uncertain testimony of two eyewitnesses and the lack of any corroboration of Hill’s alibi convinced a local jury of Hill’s guilt, even though neither witness was able to identify Hill conclusively and the gun used in the murders was never recovered.

The campaign to exonerate Hill began two months before the trial and continued up to and even beyond his execution by firing squad on Nov. 19, 1915. His supporters included the socially prominent daughter of a former Mormon church president, labor radicals, activists and sympathizers including AFL President Samuel Gompers, the Swedish minister to the United States and even President Woodrow Wilson. The Utah Supreme Court, however, refused to overturn the verdict and the Utah Board of Pardons refused to commute Hill’s sentence. The board declared its willingness to hear testimony from the woman’s husband in a closed session, but Hill refused to identify his alleged assailant, insisting that to do so would harm the reputation of the lady.

Hill became more famous in death than he had been in life. To Bill Haywood, the former president of the Western Federation of Miners and the best-known leader of the IWW, Hill wrote: “Goodbye Bill: I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize! It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” Apparently he did die like a rebel. A member of the firing squad at his execution claimed that the command to “Fire!” had come from Hill himself.

After a brief service in Salt Lake City, Hill’s body was sent to Chicago, where thousands of mourners heard Hill’s “Rebel Girl” sung for the first time, listened to hours of speeches and then walked behind his casket to Graceland Cemetery, where the body was cremated and the ashes mailed to IWW locals in every state but Utah as well as to supporters in every inhabited continent on the globe. According to one of Hill’s Wobbly-songwriter colleagues, Ralph Chaplin (who wrote the words to “Solidarity Forever,” among other songs), all the envelopes were opened on May 1, 1916, and their contents scattered to the winds, in accordance with Hill’s last wishes, expressed in a poem written on the eve of his death:

My Will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan.
“Moss does not cling to rolling stone.”

My body?—Oh!—If I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and Final Will—
Good Luck to All of you,

Joe Hill

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Scotland: defend our unions against Tories and SNP!

November 6, 2015 at 5:54 pm (Cross-post, labour party, posted by JD, protest, scotland, SNP, solidarity, unions, workers)

By Ann Field (also published at the Workers Liberty website)

STUC Parliament Lobby poster

Unsurprisingly the recent Scottish Labour Party conference voted unanimously to oppose the Tories’ Trade Union Bill. But the motion, from Unison and three Glasgow Constituency Labour Parties, had its weaknesses, saying, for instance that trade unions are “good for business”. But if unions are good for business, why do so many employers derecognise them?

The motion called for ongoing campaigning against the Bill, including organising rallies and further weeks of action. Unfortunately more specific proposals for campaigning disappeared in the course of compositing. Even so, the motion provides a basis for trade union and Labour Party activists in Scotland to ramp up campaigning against the Tories’ plans to shackle the unions. We need to make sure that the campaigning actually take place and feeds into the national campaign against the Bill. One immediate focus is the lobby of the Scottish Parliament called by the Scottish TUC for 10 November, when Holyrood will be discussing the Bill. It is on a weekday at short notice. Rank-and-file activists can make a crucial contribution to the turnout on the day. They also need to make sure that the role of the lobby is not one of simply being “claqueurs” for the SNP’s anti-Tory verbiage. Campaigning against the Tories’ attacks on the unions’ right to engage in political campaigning needs to go hand-in-hand with campaigning against the SNP’s decision to attack the unions-Labour link.

According to reports in the Scottish Sunday press, the SNP will be asking Scottish union leaders to switch their unions’ funding from Scottish Labour to the SNP. This is based on the lawyer’s argument that because the Scottish Labour is now “autonomous”, those unions affiliated to the Labour Party are not thereby affiliated to Scottish Labour. Instead, with the SNP having won 56 of Scotland’s Westminster seats (goes the nationalists’ argument), unions should switch their political funding to the SNP. But this — deliberately — confuses how individual trade unionists vote in a particular election with how trade unions, as collective organisations, decide to pursue their political strategy. It also ignores the organisational ties between affiliated unions and the Labour Party. And with Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader, the answer to the question of whether trade unions should stick with — or re-affiliate to — the political party which they created, or whether they should switch to the SNP, is straightforward.

Labour Party shadow chancellor John McDonnell turns up on picket lines to support them. SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney crosses them. The SNP is not interested in a united trade union fightback against the Bill. Its parliamentary amendments to the Bill are that it should not apply to Scotland. English workers can look after themselves. And in Scotland itself it now targets the unions-Labour link. Nothing could better illustrate the poisonous divisiveness of the SNP. With the union-Labour link under full-scale assault from the Tories, the SNP is launching its own attack on the link!

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Nationalism cannot save remnants of Scottish steel industry

October 28, 2015 at 3:44 pm (capitalism, internationalism, posted by JD, scotland, solidarity, unions, workers)

General view of the Tata steel factory in Cambuslang. Pic: DR

By Ann Field (at Workers Liberty)

Two hundred and seventy jobs are directly at risk after Tata Steel announced plans to “mothball” its Dalzell and Clydebridge plants, the final remnants of the Scottish steel industry after the Tories’ de-industrialisation of the 1980s.

Hundreds more jobs in local communities which depend on the plants and their workforces are also at risk.

The Scottish Labour Party has responded with a range of slightly confusing demands on the SNP government in Holyrood:

– Use public procurement powers to ensure that Scottish infrastructure projects place orders with the two plants.

– Support short-time working (but Tata, not the Scottish government, is the employer).

– Temporarily bring the plants into public ownership (but why only “temporarily”?).

– Cut Tata’s energy costs by putting pressure on Scottish Power and SSE (but why can’t we all have cheaper electricity?);

– Consult with “workers and the industry” to develop a government-led steel strategy (but why allow Tata to be involved if the industry is to be taken into public ownership?);

– Provide support for those who will soon be out of a job (which suggests a certain lack of confidence in the other demands).

Scottish Labour also demands action because of the “iconic” status of the Scottish steel industry. This is not a persuasive argument. Razor-gangs in Glasgow on a Saturday night also once enjoyed an “iconic” status. But this hardly justified their preservation.

However confused and inconsistent such demands might be, they reflect a genuine commitment to try to protect jobs in the residual Scottish steel industry. Local CLPs have also been campaigning on the streets to save steelworkers’ jobs.

SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the two plants last week. A government-led taskforce has been set up to try to find an alternative buyer for the plants. According to Sturgeon, “nothing is off the table”, including public ownership.

The SNP, Scotland’s patriotic party, can hardly point to its record of supporting Scottish steel jobs. In 2012 it awarded all steel contracts for the new Forth crossing to China, Poland and Spain. Not a single one went to Dalzell or Clydebridge.

While any steps to save jobs are to be welcomed, more is needed than either Scottish Labour or the SNP are currently proposing.

And far more is certainly needed than anything the notoriously right-wing leadership of the Community trade union – the biggest union in the steel industry – has to offer by way of a ‘campaign’.

The job losses in the west of Scotland are part of a bigger wave of job losses in the British steel industry, hitting Tata workers in Scunthorpe, SSI workers in Redcar, and workers employed by Caparo Industries.

Jobs have also been lost or are now at risk in the steel industry throughout Europe and elsewhere – including China. These losses are a product of the unregulated and globalised nature of steel production and supply.

China and other major steel-producing countries (such as South Korea, India and Russia) have massively increased steel output in recent years, while global demand has been stagnant or declining.

The result is a typical capitalist crisis of overproduction. But, in the context of a globalised economy, it is a crisis on an international scale: in line with the logic of capitalism, excess steel output is sold cut-price (‘dumped’) in the international marketplace.

One ‘answer’ to globalisation – whether it be in the steel industry or any other industry – is nationalism: Put the blame on a particular country (in this case: China), demand controls on imports from that country, and retreat behind tariff barriers, national borders and trade wars.

This is the often unspoken ‘logic’ at the heart of the SNP’s demand for independence.

But why, in an independent Scotland, would the steel industry, with a current workforce of less than 300, be better able to compete against the more than 800 million tons of steel produced each year by China, and the 100,000 workforce of the biggest Chinese steel company alone?

The socialist answer to the anarchy of capitalist production – which produces too little of what people need, and too much of what can find a buyer in the marketplace – is not economic autarky, when states and nations try to wall themselves off from the world market and strive for economic self-sufficiency.

Our answer is the socialisation of the means of production: democratic planning; production to meet need not profit; work-sharing with no loss of pay; and environment-friendly production processes.

This campaign to saves jobs in the steel industry throughout the UK should be a part of an international campaign which brings together steelworkers and their unions to fight for such demands, backed up by industrial action.

The labour movement unites workers across national borders. Nationalism divides workers according to their national identities. In the fight to save steelworkers’ jobs – whatever their country, and whatever their national identity – the labour movement internationally must take the lead.

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Maria Exall: “politics is about doing something about opinions, not just having them”

October 15, 2015 at 11:13 pm (AWL, labour party, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Maria Exall, Communication Workers Union and chair of the TUC LGBT committee spoke to the AWL’s paper Solidarity in a personal capacity

Maria Exall


What are the factors behind the “Corbyn explosion”?

It is a response to the Tory victory. Anyone who has half a socialist thought in their head will have been shocked by that, would have thought “we are stuck with this lot for another five years, they are going to do so much damage to welfare, the unions.”

What is exciting about it, especially as this includes a lot of young people, is people thinking how politics does matter. Jeremy’s campaign came along and they were inspired by the necessity of politics, at different levels.

The second element is people who were once Labour Party members and who have come back. Plus existing Labour members, are realising that the Blairite era is well and truly over.

Ed Miliband was a bit half-and-half. People backed him wanting something different and they got half of something different. Now people are thinking, what is the Labour future? Maybe other candidates in the leadership contest didn’t present something so future orientated. The Corbyn campaign was seen as a new paradigm.

The third element is that things in Labour politics are quite different when in opposition than in government. There is more room for recasting politics. Maybe that was an element in the unions’ thinking because it was surprising that they supported Corbyn. All the time that I’ve been active in the unions and attending Labour conference on behalf of my union, it’s been about “how can we win power” and “what will be acceptable”. That’s important actually, because it’s about convincing the majority of the British people. However to be always constrained by this imperative, as it was in the New Labour era, was a problem.

Now things have gone the other way and people are coming out with all sorts of ideas. In any party that should represent the labour movement and the working class we should gather up all these ideas. But we also need to think about how to convince people to vote for Labour. There has to be a strategy for the future.

The new political direction needs people to go out and convince people, street activity, door knocking..

Yes that’s right. But we also need to develop the Labour left. There has been some residual left in the party over the last ten years, people voting for left candidates etc. but it has been suppressed. We need a united democratic organisation to support this shift in politics.

People should get involved in their constituencies and their union’s political organisations to ensure this develops. Of course it raises democratic questions about who decides what policies get pushed and so on.

What were your impressions of this year’s Labour conference?

There were obviously some people who were really pissed off that Corbyn had won. There were people who had voted for Jeremy as well. But also a whole lot of people who didn’t vote for him but wanted to give him a go. I would say they were in a majority.

People responded very well to John McDonnell’s speech even though he made it very clear that he wanted to take Labour on a different political route. Jeremy’s speech was received very well. I think though a whole lot of people will be coming in and changing things, they are not so very different from the people who have been involved before. There is a difference but it is not as great as has been said.

A majority of people went along with the Blairites, but that’s all it was — going along with. Doesn’t mean that they thought in the same way as those people controlling the party machine. The Blairites got just 5% of Labour Party members’ vote this time [votes for Liz Kendall]. After all most Labour Party members don’t go to meetings and those that do might, just go to, for example, a selection meeting.

It’s as Tony Benn always used to say, there are the members, the activists and the Parliamentary Labour Party. They are all different people. It’s still the case. The problem, and political time-lag we have now is with the PLP. It’s very important now for the trade unions to encourage people to stand, to have candidates who represent working-class people and push campaigns.

Do you think the unions are going to try to capitalise on Corbyn’s victory? Getting local branches to affiliate, pushing policies forward?

There will always be a tension in the union movement between control from the top and what happens at the base. That may become an issue. For example, getting working-class candidates. It means unions have to go out and find people, educate them. More than just going through the motions of supporting this, that or the other campaign.

To organise effectively we need to take people, coming into the party, from where they are. Their experiences won’t be identical. But if people aren’t empowered, or shown how to get involved, then they won’t. People may get involved because they have been inspired. But there is a difference between being a member of a political party and being part of single issue campaign. With the former you are part of a project to win people over to a political viewpoint. And that is quite difficult. It requires you to think differently.

There is a big necessity for political education…

Yes, that is what we need. It needs to involve the trade unions as well. For instance, how many people understand what’s wrong with the Trade Union Bill? It seems to be an abstract democratic question. Unless you know how things work on the ground you won’t understand that the Tories are pushing back the unions in the workplace. Plus if you hear about what is happening on the ground, then solidarity becomes a bigger possibility.

How would summarise your thoughts and feelings about Corbyn?

I think it is a massive opportunity to push forward socialist ideas in Britain. And for the Labour Party to remake itself with a more pro-worker and grounded agenda on all the big issues about political economy, and trade union rights.

Personally I think the domestic agenda is more uniting; if you want relate to people on issues that really matter in their lives that is the direction to go in. We all have our important single issues, enthusiasms. But what this is about is trying to build connections in communities and workplaces. That has always been the strength of the Labour Party compared to other political formations.

Because it is a mass political party, of half a million people, you have the opportunity to be rooted in working-class peoples’ lives. If you are socialist of any sort and want to motivate people on a class basis then you have to take that seriously. The priority for the moment is to pick things that really chime with people, tell people how to fight back against the Tories and make clear that the labour movement is on peoples’ side.

On the issue of Trident, while I support the abolition, it is a problem. You are picking a hard issue there. A bit similar to Republicanism. For rebuilding the Labour Party in the immediate term we have got to be clear that we have a leadership that fights for people in their workplaces and communities.

There are some issues you can not avoid; that’s true of the Trade Union bill. But on other issues you can pick and choose. We have to chose the main things — housing, rail. I would hope we can take policies on these issues further. Public ownership of the rail is an easy issue; it’s not so easy on the other utilities. But we have to tackle that. The same arguments apply to other utilities as to rail. A campaign on rail is an opportunity to make people political about public ownership. I would hope there is more space to make similar political arguments.

The same on the trade union issue. In the Blairite years the arguement always had to be balanced between unions and employers. Why? I would hope there is more opportunity to get beyond that. To talk about, for instance, who actually creates the wealth. It should be about drawing out the basic socialist arguments.

Anyone who is a socialist activist needs to get active.

It’s now about rebuilding the sinews of the movement. Politics isn’t about having an opinion, it is about doing something about having an opinion. The collective approach is not just about debating and voting it is also about building support for campaigns, to work with others to achieve something.

And we are going to have to have big fights. In local government for instance, where democratic accountability has almost disappeared, and it’s now all about directly elected Mayors, it will be a big task to reverse that situation.

I’ve been quite privileged to be quite rooted in an active labour movement structures, a union branch and as a member of the Labour Party. I can see things with a more long term perspective and that a continuity of working in those structures is important.

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Blacklisting bosses “run up white flag”

October 14, 2015 at 6:01 pm (capitulation, Civil liberties, crime, grovelling, Human rights, law, mccarthyism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Statement from the Blacklisting Support Group:

As you may know Blacklisting was in the High Court on Thursday 8th October and after 6 years of denying everything, that the High Court trial is getting close, the blacklisting wretches have revised their legal defence, finally admitting their guilt. The 8 largest firms have run up the white flag and the ongoing negotiations between the lawyers are now just drawing up the terms of the surrender. The lawyers representing the blacklisting contractors are still huffing and puffing about their desire to go to court to fight the issue of ‘quantum’ and ‘causation’ (ie: how much compensation they need to pay) but this is just for show. The blacklisters will do anything to avoid the spectacle of a High Court conspiracy trial, which is still set to start in May 2016 and last for 10 weeks. BSG position is that we still want to see the directors of these multinational firms being forced to give evidence under oath at the High Court about their active involvement in this human rights scandal. Buying us off with a few thousand pounds is not justice.

The Blacklist Support Group would like to go on record to thank the stirling work carried out by all of the lawyers on our behalf. We could not have done this on our own. But we would like to particularity praise the work carried out by JC Townsend, Liam Dunne, Sean Curren and the rest of the legal team at Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors who have been working on the High Court conspiracy claim completely unpaid since 2009. Without their initial support, hard work and the resources allocated by GCR over the past six and a half years, we would not be in this position today. Blacklisted workers salute you.

Below is the statement issued & written by PR spin-doctors Graylings on behalf of the 8 largest firms:

On 7 October 2015 we, the eight companies that comprise the Macfarlanes Defendants*, submitted a Re-Amended Generic Defence to the Court. In this document we lay out clearly a number of admissions; these admissions are also covered in the accompanying summary which, we hope, will provide interested parties with an easily accessible reference. Both documents contain a full and unreserved apology for our part in a vetting information system run in the construction industry first through the Economic League and subsequently through The Consulting Association; we recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families.

We are making these admissions now as we believe it is the right thing to do; we are keen to be as transparent as possible and to do what we can to simplify the High Court hearing scheduled for mid-2016. We hope that the clarity this brings will be welcomed by the affected workers. Indeed, ever since the closure of The Consulting Association in 2009, we have been focused on trying to do the right thing by affected workers. This was why we set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS) in 2014 to provide those who felt they had been impacted by the existence of the vetting system with a fast and simple way of accessing compensation. Currently, we have paid compensation to 308 people who have contacted TCWCS and we are processing 39 ongoing eligible claims.

We remain committed to TCWCS. We are approaching the High Court hearing in the spirit of openness and full transparency and continue to defend the claim strongly in relation to issues of causation and loss.

 – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI PLC

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