Support the Brum refuse workers!

August 11, 2017 at 9:26 am (Brum, Cuts, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity, Unite the union, workers)

By a member of South Birmingham Momentum

For the past few weeks the refuse workers in Birmingham have been in dispute with Birmingham City Council over proposed changes to pay-grades, terms and conditions, and levels of public safety.

Workers from the Unite union are now beginning a third week of industrial action. I went down to Lifford Lane depot to find out more about the dispute.

There were a large number of workers on the picket line. I introduced myself, telling them that I was a Labour Party member, and that I wanted to find out more about the dispute, but through the workers themselves, and not just those who had the fortune of having their views published, often exclusively, by the local mainstream media. Immediately, one of the striking workers exclaimed, “Where’s the councillors? Why aren’t the councillors here to discuss this with us?” This was an issue that was raised time and again throughout the morning, and contributed to a genuinely angry atmosphere on the picket line. Workers were collectively angry that councillors did not seem to be engaging with them. Moreover, they felt like they were being ignored by the political class who distance themselves from the realities of real worker’s struggles and real working-class life.

Part of the dispute is about a pay and grade review, where previously agreed pay levels linked to skill grades are threatened by council proposals. One worker was disgusted with the language that has been used by councillors. “They call it ‘modernisation’ – we call it job cuts,” he said. “We’re out doing this job year on year, we’ve told the council how we need to modernise, how we need to improve efficiency. They ignore us, yet they have no experience of doing our jobs.” Some workers spoke of the inefficiency of the council’s long-standing policy of relying on agency staff – some who have been doing the job for over a decade – rather than take the workers on permanent contracts. “Hardly modern, is it? But they do not listen,” grumbled another disgruntled worker.

Workers complained at the attitude of the council. “They won’t come to the table,” they said. “They have their view of ‘modernisation’, and that’s it.” Another angry worker told me that the proposed changes will mean the scrapping or downgrading of the grade 3 post. This is a safety-critical post. It concerns the very workers who are trained and skilled to drive the vehicles. One only has to think of the size of the wagons that are used in the huge operation of moving Birmingham’s rubbish to imagine the carnage that could occur if cuts to safety are allowed.

And what for the future? If the council can alter conditions and get rid of previously agreed terms then what is stopping them doing it again in the future? Could councillors simply abolish grades, after, in the words of Unite regional officer, Lynne Shakespeare, “woefully inadequate consultation”?

Council attempts to redefine the job are another slap in the face for the workers. They stressed that the job hasn’t changed at all – people still need to have their rubbish collected – but the conditions have. Expectations of time had been put on workers, especially since the introduction of wheelie-bins, but the council had shown arrogant disregard with a one-size-fits-all policy. The view that there is no difference in removing refuse from a wheelie-bin from two completely different areas in two completely different houses is as ludicrous as it is ignorant. Add to this the policy of side-waste – waste that is left outside of the bins, that workers are not contracted to take, but bosses have instructed them to collect – then the time constraints become even clearer. Furthermore there are special requests from residents, for example, some elderly residents who cannot physically move their wheelie-bin on to the pavement, so leave it at the top of their drive. Both the council and the workers want to get this waste collected, but it is seemingly only the workers who recognise that this takes more time.

The points made by the workers were plentiful and detailed. Previous projects that had wasted many times more than the predicted savings were to make, ignoring the cost-saving advice of the unions and not listening to the solutions offered by the workers, the false offer of equivalent employment, the privatisation of the vehicle mechanics and maintenance, the lack of assessment on a variety of health and safety issues and the failure to correctly survey properties were just a sample of the points that were made.

The workers were clear:

• These proposals will not improve the service, they will make it worse.

• If the workers don’t stand up for their jobs now, the council will move to make even deeper cuts in the future.

• People never noticed the refuse workers……..until they weren’t there.

South Birmingham Momentum sends its true solidarity to the Birmingham refuse workers and supports their action 100%. We don’t want a city with a fourth-rate, underfunded refuse collection service. We don’t want the safety of all of us to be jeopardised in the name of austerity. We don’t want the council to attack Birmingham’s most valuable assets – those workers who I met today. If we want to reduce pay, perhaps we should start at the top, those in senior council positions with fat-cat salaries that are in excess of ten-times the amount of some of the workers I spoke to today.

We do want to show our solidarity with the refuse workers. We can do this by attending the picket lines every day until we win this dispute. Workers will be on strike outside Lifford Lane depot every weekday morning between 6am and 8am and every weekday afternoon between 1230pm and 130pm.

Members of the Labour Party can further show solidarity by passing resolutions at ward and constituency level that support the industrial action of the refuge workers and oppose the council proposals that amount to nothing more than an assault on the working-class of this great city, and a guarantee of a worse service.

NB: Unite statement here

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Labour Campaign for Free Movement launched

August 5, 2017 at 8:27 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, labour party, Migrants, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

By  04/08/2017

MPs and union chiefs call on the party leadership to say it how it is – and to come out fighting for free movement:

A series of leading allies of Jeremy Corbyn, including former shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis (pictured above) and the leaders of several trade unions, have joined forces to call on the Labour leadership to fight for free movement.

Lewis, the ex-shadow defence secretary, and the general secretaries of the TSSA and Bakers’ Union, as well as MPs David Lammy and Geraint Davies are among the backers of a new campaign which aims to resist the “scapegoating” of migrants by a “political and economic elite”.

The group, entitled Labour Campaign for Free Movement, accuses the Tories of responding to the refugee crisis with “brutality and detention centres” and demands Labour translates into policy its recent “celebration” of the contribution of migrants.

“Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services,” the group wrote in a statement today.

“These are the product of decades of under-investment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.”

The intervention is the latest salvo in Labour’s internal debate over the shape of Brexit. Last month, the party leadership performed a significant U-turn when senior figures such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott said they were keeping all options on the table.

EU leaders have repeatedly said the single market is tied to the issue of free movement but today’s launch of the free movement campaign makes no reference to the trading bloc, although many of the signatories have previously spoken out on the subject.

As well as Manuel Cortes, head of the TSSA, Ronnie Draper, leader of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, and Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, the backers include Labour national executive members Ann Black and Darren Williams, and MEPs Julie Ward and Lucy Anderson.

The statement:

We are Labour members and supporters united in our commitment to defending and extending the free movement of people in the context of the debate around Brexit.

To sign up to the campaign, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

The UK is at a crossroads in its relationship to the rest of the world, and so is our party. Immigrants and free movement are being scapegoated by a political and economic elite that is subjecting ordinary people to cuts and austerity. During the greatest refugee crisis in recent years, the Tories have responded with brutality and detention centres.

Labour should respond with clarity, humanity and solidarity. We fought the last General Election arguing against such scapegoating, and celebrating the contributions of migrants to our society. That tone must now translate into policy.

Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services. These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.

A system of free movement is the best way to protect and advance the interests of all workers, by giving everyone the right to work legally, join a union and stand up to their boss without fear of deportation or destitution. Curtailing those rights, or limiting migrants’ access to public services and benefits, will make it easier for unscrupulous employers to hyper-exploit migrant labour, which in turn undermines the rights and conditions of all workers.

Free movement enhances everyone’s rights. There are more than a million UK citizens living in the EU, and millions more who may enjoy the right to do so. UK workers in the EU have access to benefits, healthcare and other public services. Tens of thousands of UK students study abroad each year under ERASMUS schemes. UK and European citizens have the automatic right to family reunion.

Labour must build a society for the many, not the few. We need well-paid, secure jobs for all, with guaranteed hours, collective bargaining and stronger, freer trade unions. We need a policy of massive investment in council housing, public services and infrastructure. And we need to tell the truth about who and what is to blame for the crisis: an unaccountable elite who have run the economy in their own narrow interests. Ending free movement would be counterproductive to achieving all of this.

List of signatories

Sign the statement here

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Clancy Sigal: RIP

August 1, 2017 at 5:49 pm (culture, good people, Human rights, literature, mccarthyism, posted by JD, RIP, solidarity, workers)

Clancy Sigal, author of the mining classic Weekend in Dinlock. Born 6th September 1926. Died 16 July, 2017.

By John Cunningham

The author of possibly one of the best novels about British coalminers and their communities, Clancy Sigal, was a Chicago-born Jew who came to Britain during the McCarthy period having previously been an organiser for the United Automobile Workers. The author of numerous novels and a prodigious journalist Sigal travelled to South Yorkshire and made a number of visits to various pit villages particularly Thurcroft, about 10 miles north east of Sheffield. Here he befriended the miners and wrote about their lives and in 1960 his novel based on this experience, Weekend in Dinlock, appeared (published by Secker and Warburg).  He developed a close, if somewhat rough and ready, friendship with a miner called Len Doherty who became a source for ‘Davie’ the main character in the novel although Sigal insists both Davie and Dinlock were composites of people and places he had encountered while in South Yorkshire. Doherty, himself an accomplished writer and one-time member of the Communist Party, went on to work for the Sheffield Star and is best known for the novel The Man Beneath (published in 1957 by Lawrence and Wishart). Davie, by no means an idealised ‘hero’ is often cantankerous, drunk and never backs down from a punch-up. Yet he is also a brilliant painter and is torn between moving to London to establish himself as an artist or to stay with his community in Dinlock (in the end the latter wins out). Although the novel occasionally lapses into cliché – tough Chicago Jew shows he’s as hard and boozy as any Yorkshire miner – Weekend in Dinlock nevertheless shows a world which had been rarely expounded in literature, at least since a short-lived boom of writing about mining life in the 1930s with the novels of B. L. Coombes, Fred Boden, the poetry of Idris Davies and others.

Weekend in Dinlock was much-discussed at the time of its publication, particularly in the New Left Review where it received mixed comments but was clearly seen by all as an important publishing event at the time. Kim Howells, in his obituary of Sigal in the Guardian, states that that the British left pooh-poohed the novel dismissing it as exaggerated. Howells, the clapped out cultural ambassador of Blairite philistinism, doesn’t mention any names and in fact this, by and large, didn’t happen. Even those who had reservations about the novel took it seriously. Weekend in Dinlock appeared at the same time as the so-called ‘kitchen sink’ or ‘social realist’ novels such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Allan Sillitoe) and Room at the Top (John Braine) were shifting critical and cultural attention from London and the south east to the industrial north. Unlike both these novels however, Weekend in Dinlock was never adapted for the big screen, although it may have had some influence on Ken Loach’s film Kes and his TV drama The Price of Coal. Sigal went on to write a number of other novels, including Zone of the Interior (1976), The Secret Defector (1992) and a memoir of his mother A Woman of Uncertain Character (2006). Eventually, he returned to America and ended his life as a screenwriter in Hollywood, never abandoning his maverick, hard-hitting left-wing stance. It is highly likely, given the author’s death, that Weekend in Dinlock will be republished. If so go out and buy it; this is a classic. I re-read it just last year and despite some rough edges it has stood the test of time and although the novel describes people and places now receding into history, this is a history that did much to shape our world.

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100 years on: the hell that was Passchendaele

July 31, 2017 at 7:43 am (capitalism, Europe, hell, history, imperialism, posted by JD, war, workers)

More than 271,000 men from the ‘British and Dominion’ forces killed or wounded and German losses of 217,000. Many drowned in the mud or died in agony because stretcher-bearers could not reach them. The third and final battle of Ypres (Passchendael) began 100 years ago and went on for three months. The British and Dominion forces gained five miles in total.

Memorial Tablet
By Siegred Sassoon

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’ … that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west…
What greater glory could a man desire?

*****************

“We’ve had 70 years without major war. I hope we remember that we need to work together in Europe” – Mike Copeland, veteran’s son, yesterday.

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“A perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book” … or, more simply: it’s shite

July 27, 2017 at 3:15 pm (crap, publications, scotland, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Anne Field

I’ve just been idly browsing the internet looking for reviews of “The Battle for Grangemouth”, penned by former Ineos (Grangemouth) Unite convenor and current International Transport Workers Federation full-timer Mark Lyon.

I came across four reviews of the book:

http://www.cercles.com/review/r79/Lyon.html

https://rs21.org.uk/2017/04/08/review-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-workers-story/

https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worthless-exercise-in-self-righteous-posturing/

http://www.counterfire.org/articles/book-reviews/18924-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worker-s-story

Without doubt, the most damning review is that written by Keith Laybourn – Huddersfield University Diamond Jubilee Professor, former Huddersfield University Professor of History, author of 47 books (that’s 46 more than Mark Lyon), and successor to the late Eric Hobsbawm as President of the Society for the Study of Labour History:

“This is a perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book. … It is written in the form of a pantomime sketch to the extent that one can almost join in and boo and hiss when the ‘devious’ and ‘greedy’ Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, appears on the page, and cheer when the ‘brilliant’ Pat Rafferty, the Unite Scottish Secretary, and others of the Unite union enter the stage.

 Lyon also adopts an anecdotal style which makes it very difficult to establish the details of the events in a clear manner, especially when his anecdotes about individuals cut across some major points of discussion, and even more so when dates seem to fluctuate. … Obfuscation is often present with the result that a smokescreen descends over the script.

 This could have been an important and perceptive book. What a pity that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, should seek to endorse a book which throws little light on the events of 2013 and little honour on his union, of which Mark Lyon is vice-chair. The story of Grangemouth deserves a detailed and worthy study. This is not it.”

(As an aside: Laybourn’s review was published by the French magazine Cercles, which describes itself as a “Review of British Civilisation”. How sad to think that Lyon’s tawdry oeuvre should be regarded as an exemplar of the state of our national culture.)

 The book review published by Counterfire is not quite as damning. But Counterfire does not do damning. And it is a review in which criticism of Unite runs in parallel with criticism of the book itself:

Lyon and his colleague Stevie Deans soon found themselves extremely deep in helping to further Ineos’ corporate lobbying. The results were about as unappealing to socialists as you could imagine.

Unite was involved in helping Ineos get tax breaks from the government, get tax-payer-funded subsidy from the government and get around environmental legislation that might have cost it money. 

I really don’t think anyone will be coming to this (book) looking for a ‘how to’ guide. Given the serious mistakes the union made lobbying for a ruthless company to achieve its socially and environmentally unfriendly goals, only to be severely attacked for its trouble, this is probably just as well.

The book is a history of things lost by our labour movement, not least because of a faulty strategy of colluding with an employer. For ideas about how to take struggle forward, you will have to look elsewhere.”

The other two reviews linked to above are no less critical.

The question which all this is leading up to is the following: Can anyone point me in the direction of a review of Lyon’s book which actually has a good word to say about it?

(Other than a ‘review’ published in a certain daily newspaper which is the recipient of substantial financial assistance from what used to be Britain’s biggest union.)

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Unison’s Supreme Court victory sees tribunal fees scrapped

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

From Unison:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What we should talk about when we talk about socialism

July 23, 2017 at 8:49 am (campaigning, class, labour party, liberation, posted by JD, reformism, revolution, socialism, workers)

By Daniel Randall, railway worker and RMT rep (also published at The Clarion)

The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto was its most radical for a generation. Its policies offered a real clawing back of wealth and power from the richest in society, and some of them pointed towards a far greater degree of social ownership, advocating the renationalisation of the railways, postal service, and some utilities, and pushing the market and private sector out of healthcare. These policies suggest a different type of society: Labour MPs frequently talked during the election of an “alternative to austerity”, or an “alternative to neoliberalism”. The manifesto did not, however, and nor did many Labour MPs, talk about that different type of society in explicit terms. Few would describe their aim as “socialism”, and even the main Labour left group Momentum does not refer to itself explicitly as “socialist”. John McDonnell is one of the few Labour MPs who does talk explicitly about socialism; this article is an attempt to draw out what it might mean to name the Labour Party’s aim in those terms, written before the election following a rally in Liverpool.

***

While in Liverpool for a union conference, I was able to attend a Labour Party election rally, where the “star turn”, as compère Peter Dowd, the MP for Bootle, called him, was Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

The rally was packed with an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd, which gave McDonnell a standing ovation practically the minute he appeared. John’s speech was stirring, and consisted mainly in setting out Labour’s key policies – on health, on housing, on education, on wages, and workplace rights. Towards the end, he used a rhetorical flourish I’ve heard him deploy a few times before: “We want a society that’s radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic”, he says, then asks the crowd, “what do we call that society?” “That’s right,” John finishes, repeating the calls that have inevitably come from the audience, “we call it ‘socialism’”.

The little motif is powerful. It is a deliberate break with the Labour Party’s immediate past, where “socialism” was a dirty word, and a defiant statement from its new leadership that Labour is once again prepared to talk about social transformation. It drew warm applause from the crowd at St. George’s Hall.

And John is right, of course: socialism would certainly be “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than the society we have now. But plenty of societies could be “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than our current one, and still not be socialist. With a leadership at least ostensibly prepared to encourage, rather than stifle, discussion of socialism within the party, and faced with an election that acutely poses the question of what kind of society we want to live in, this is as good a moment as there’s been for generations for Labour Party members and activists, who call themselves “socialists” as a matter of political reflex, to discuss what “socialism” actually means.

Some caveats to what follows: this article is not intended as a pedantic quibble that what McDonnell is proposing isn’t “really” socialist. Nor is it intended to dismiss or trivialise the overwhelmingly positive impact that Labour’s current policy programme, if implemented, would have on the material conditions of life for millions of working-class people. A choice between socialism and capitalism is not, with the best will in the world, on the ballot papers on 8 June. A choice between a Tory party that will continue to govern unashamedly in the interests of the rich, and a Labour Party that will govern, at least to some extent, in the interests of working people, is.

This article presupposes that a Labour Party that calls itself “socialist”, and talks explicitly about building a socialist society, is a good thing. It is intended as a contribution to a discussion about what the content of that “socialism” should be.

John McDonnell is perhaps the most Marxisant Labour MP since Eric Heffer, prepared to acknowledge Marx, Lenin, Trotsky as political influences, much to the horror of the right-wing press. His long years of service to the labour movement make clear that he understands the centrality of workplace organisation and workers’ struggle. But his stated point-of-reference for the government he and Corbyn would lead is the Labour government of 1945: a great reforming government, without a doubt, but was Britain a socialist society between 1945 and 1951?

Any combative, socialist Labour Party should have a programme for radical reforms, but socialism must be more than an aggregation of reforms. Notwithstanding this, however, dogmatically recapitulating the “reform or revolution?” debate that has historically divided the socialist movement is not the best starting point for this discussion, and would miss the point, at least at this stage.

I am a revolutionary: I do think any attempt to build a new society will require a decisive confrontation with the capitalist state, which has strong self-defensive instincts that kick in whenever its power is meaningfully threatened. But it is not my immediate aim to advocate that Labour should include a commitment to forming workers’ militias its manifesto. What I want to convince fellow activists of in the immediate term is that socialism must be a genuinely different society, with the rule of capital decisively broken, not merely tempered or hemmed in by social-democratic policy reform, and that organised labour is the key agency for affecting that change.

Minimally, breaking the rule of capital must mean widespread social ownership of industry. The Corbyn-led Labour Party has, so far, shied away from advocating widespread nationalisations, perhaps in part out of a legitimate and laudable desire not to be seen as advocating an “Old Labour” state-capitalism often seen as lumbering and bureaucratic. But there is more than one model for how nationalisations might work, and for how nationalised industries might be organised.

Labour’s current policies for the energy sector, for example, talk of regulating prices and breaking up the dominance of the “Big Six” energy companies (which McDonnell referred to in his Liverpool speech as a “cartel”), and setting up publicly-owned regionally-based energy companies to compete with the private giants, but stop well short of advocating that energy provision, or even just the “Big Six”, be nationalised. Labour wants to set up a “National Investment Bank” to fund communities, but won’t advocate public ownership of the banking sector as a whole. For sure, nationalised industry does not in and of itself equal “socialism”, or even, necessarily, something inherently better than private industry. But genuine social ownership – collective, democratic ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth in society – must surely be a bedrock of any socialism worth the name. Can a policy platform that leaves, for example, the provision of utilities, and the vast amounts of wealth generated by the finance sector, in private hands meaningfully be called “socialist”?

McDonnell, rightly, says that socialism will be “radically more democratic” than the current system, and it remains to be seen what proposals for democratic reform will make it into Labour’s manifesto. Socialism must surely mean a radical deepening and extension of democracy, removing power from the unelected and unaccountable, and implementing rights of recall to transform the role of our political representatives from technocratic specialists administering an essentially plutocratic system into delegates who are genuinely accountable to those who elected them.

Underlying the whole issue is the question of agency: who is socialism to be made by? The implied perspective of the current Labour leadership is that “socialism” will be established almost by default when a Labour government is elected and implements its programme of radical reforms. This somewhat improbable scenario implicitly renders the likes of Chuka Umuna and Wes Streeting as part of the socialist vanguard; perhaps, then, we need to look elsewhere for our agents of socialist transformation.

If socialism means breaking the rule of capital, it must be broken at the point where it is most fundamentally exercised: the workplace. If socialism means genuinely democratic social ownership of the “means of production”, to use an old-fashioned phrase, that social ownership must be administered by those engaged in the process of production. The agency for socialist change, in other words, can only be the organised working class.

Labour’s commitment to repeal the Tory anti-union laws is welcome, and essential, but must go further. Rolling back the Tories’ 2016 Trade Union Act is a start, but it has long been McDonnell’s stated aim to scrap all anti-union legislation, not just the most recent. That must be pushed forward in government. Freeing workers to effectively organises against our bosses is, in a profound sense, a prerequisite for the rest of Labour’s policy platform. Even a moderate social-democratic reform programme is likely to require action from a militant and assertive labour movement to defend its implementation from employers eager to find ways to circumvent, undermine, and sabotage it. Labour needs to anchor workers’ struggle firmly at the heart of its political agenda if it is to meaningfully talk about socialist transformation.

At the Liverpool rally, Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, Labour’s candidate for the newly-created Liverpool City Region mayoralty, began his speech by invoking the memory of the 1911 Liverpool transport strike, during which many demonstrations took place on St. George’s Plateau, next to St. George’s Hall.

What he did not mention, and what no-one on the platform at the rally mentioned, was that a group of local transport workers had in fact been on strike rather more recently than 1911 – that very day, in fact – and had been picketing across the road from St. George’s Hall at Lime Street station until a few hours before the rally began. Northern Rail workers had been striking against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”; if Labour is serious about empowering workers to stand up for their rights, why not have one of them address the rally? Why not, at least, mention their strike? Labour is, after all, committed to renationalising the railways. It was a perfect opportunity to connect Labour’s policy to a live struggle.

The presence of striking Northern Rail workers would undoubtedly have embarrassed certain local Labour figures. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, and Rotheram himself, have been at best lukewarm, and at worst outright hostile, to Northern Rail, MerseyRail, and other railworkers’ strikes. This is an irreconcilable tension; Labour cannot be both a party of socialism and a political home for people who are hostile to the self-assertion of the necessary agents of socialist change.

For the Labour Party to contribute to the socialist transformation of society, the Labour Party itself must be transformed. McDonnell and Corbyn could do worse than to increase their efforts to make the party “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than it is now.

A discussion within the party, and wider movement, about what we mean by “socialism” cannot be put off to some future point where we may have more “time”. The general election is being fought on unfavourable terrain, in circumstances not of our own choosing. But despite the unfavourable conditions, the election nonetheless represents an opportunity for the Labour Party, and wider labour movement, to assert an alternative political vision.

There will be some pressure within Labour’s campaign not to initiate wider discussions, but to focus on the hard graft of electioneering in the hope of defending seats and kicking out the Tories. But even in sheer electoral terms, winning a Labour government requires people to believe in, to be persuaded of, Labour’s political narrative, and to have at least some degree of conscious ownership over it, in the sense of understanding what it would mean in their own life. That requires, above all, political discussion and education.

Labour’s vision is one that, for the first time in a generation, the leadership of the party is not ashamed to call “socialist”. All of us who share that political aspiration have a responsibility to discuss what we mean by it. Only through that discussion can we hope to thrash out a political strategy that can make the vision a reality.

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

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Redneck revolt: “Guns are fine – racism is not”

July 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, populism, posted by JD, strange situations, Trump, United States, workers)

The Phoenix John Brown Gun Club sent a ‘community defense contingent’ to a Make America Great Again rally at the Arizona state capitol, image via Redneck Revolt‘s website.

By Rob Brigham at Raw Story

A well-armed organization of anti-racists are using gun culture to organize rural white voters against the administration of President Donald Trump.

“Redneck Revolt is a national network of community defense projects from a broad spread of political, religious, and cultural backgrounds. It is a pro-worker, anti-racist organization that focuses on working class liberation from the oppressive systems which dominate our lives,” the organization’s website states. “In states where it is legal to practice armed community defense, many branches choose to become John Brown Gun Clubs, training ourselves and our communities in defense and mutual aid.”

The name harkens back to the 1921 “Battle of Blair Mountain” when some 10,000 United Mine Workers of America staged the largest labor uprising in US history, with many miners wearing red bandanas around their necks. Over one million rounds of ammunition were fired before President Warren Harding sent in federal troops. Over sixty people died in the battle and almost 1,000 miners were arrested.

Such radical history is now being used to reach out to white working class voters.

“We use gun culture as a way to relate to people,” Redneck Revolt organizer Max Neely told Alternet. “Our basic message is: guns are fine, but racism is not.”

Guns culture provides the group with an organizing avenue.

“Redneck Revolt inserts themselves into overwhelmingly white spaces—NASCAR races, gun shows, flea markets in rural communities, and country music concerts—to offer a meaningful alternative to the white supremacist groups who often also recruit in those spaces,” Jared Ware of Shadowproof explained. “Redneck Revolt’s anti-racist, anti-capitalist message seems to be taking hold in communities across the United States. The organization had just 13 chapters in January but has nearly tripled its chapters nationally in the last 6 months. The group now has 34 different branches, 26 of which are in states that voted for Trump.”

“People need to be able to defend themselves. [We] live in a country in the world where people of color and LGBTQ people are routinely victimized and systematically victimized by the people who claim to be there for their defense,” a Pittsburgh, PA Redneck Revolt organizer named Shaun told Shadowproof. We provide free basic firearms training to pretty much everyone who needs it. We focus on trying to provide [self-defense training] when asked for [by] communities of color and LGBTQ folks.”

“White supremacy is essentially a fight to be the best treated dog in the kennel,” Shaun tells potential recruits. “It’s that way because a vastly small percentage of the population hordes access to resources and they’re able to do this because they’ve managed to get one half of the working class to turn against the other half in exchange for basically preferential treatment.”

Redneck Revolt seeks to change the calculation.

“I grew up playing in the woods, floating coolers of beer down a river, shooting off fireworks, just generally raising hell, all that kind of stuff,” Neely told Alternet. “Things most people would consider a part of redneck culture. We’re trying to acknowledge the ways we’ve made mistakes and bought into white supremacy and capitalism, but also give ourselves an environment in which it’s OK to celebrate redneck culture.”

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Iranian sugar workers need our solidarity today

July 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm (Eric Lee, Iran, LabourStart, solidarity, workers)

From Eric Lee of Labourstart:

Workers at the giant Haft Tapeh sugar cane plantation and mill complex in the southern Iranian city of Shush formed an independent union in 2008 following a 42-day strike to demand long-standing wage arrears. Union leaders have endured arrest, prison and blacklisting. Today, the workers and their union again face repression as they demonstrate to claim massive wage and benefit arrears.

Conditions have worsened since the company was privatized in a murky deal in 2015 whose details have never been fully brought to light. Since October last year, workers have had to repeatedly hold strikes and demonstrations to demand payment of wages and benefits, most recently in June this year. Thousands of workers have not been paid their wages for two months and as many as four. Pension benefits have been suspended in recent months because of the company’s failure to pay into the state social security scheme. Over half the plantation and mill workers have no permanent employment contracts and live in a state of permanent insecurity. Current and retired workers and their family members have been harassed and threatened with closure of the company if they continue to demand their rights. Workers are routinely harassed, dismissed and kept under constant surveillance of the security forces.

The Haft Tapeh workers and their union are demanding full payment of wage and benefit arrears; recognition of the union as the workers’ legal representative; and the company’s return to government ownership.

Please take a moment to support the IUF’s campaign to demand justice for these workers:

http://www.labourstart.org/go/haft

And please share this message with your friends, family and fellow union members.

Thank you!

Eric Lee

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Taylor’s “feeble” report on gig economy

July 11, 2017 at 2:18 pm (Conseravative Party, Jim D, law, rights, TUC, workers)

Getty Images / Oli Scarff

Former Blair advisor Matthew Taylor’s review of the gig economy has disappointed just about everyone except the Tory government that commissioned it, and the gig economy bosses. Stephen Cavalier, the chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors said the recommendations of the review are “feeble and add another layer of unnecessary complexity”.

The review recommends that gig economy workers should get sick pay and holiday leave, but doesn’t recommend legislation banning zero-hours contracts. The review doesn’t advise workers be guaranteed minimum wage, though companies will be expected to show how workers could realistically earn at least 1.2 times the living wage of £7.50 an hour, for example by modelling the rate at which they must complete tasks to earn such pay.

The idea is that would-be workers can log into a platform and see “real-time earnings potential”. If they can’t reasonably earn a living wage with the work on offer, the report  proposes it should be up to the worker to decide whether they should take up the work or not — but that also means that companies will not be required to pay minimum wage to those who knowingly agree to take on work at less busy times.

Under these proposals, if a worker chooses to “log in” to work at a time when demand is low, they might not earn the minimum wage — although the gig company would have to use its real-time data to warn them in advance.

Taylor’s suggestions include a new category of worker called a “dependent contractor”, sitting between fully employed and self-employed status.

“The creation of a new ‘dependent contractor’ status for gig economy workers would further complicate existing categories of how workers are defined in law,” Cavalier said in response.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said on Twitter that we “don’t need new employment status.” She added: “Unions’ court victories prove many so-called self-employed are workers and should get the [minimum] wage.”

She added: “Platform firms are pleading special status but really the new tech is just hiding old-fashioned casualisation and exploitation.”

Estimates suggest as many as 1.1 million British people work in the so-called gig economy, with a report from MP Frank Field suggesting some delivery drivers are making less than £2.50 a hour. Field has previously accused gig economy companies from “free riding” on the welfare state, while the Bank of England has blamed the gig economy for wage stagnation and the Oxford Internet Institute has called for a fairtrade foundation for international gig workers.

Theresa May, who is launching the review is expected to say changes to gig economy companies will avoid “overbearing regulation”. The Guardian reported May will say: “At its best, a job can be a genuine vocation, providing the means to intellectual and personal fulfilment, as well as economic security”.

Gig economy firms have argued frontline workers — such as drivers and couriers — are self-employed, but last year a tribunal ruled that Uber’s drivers aren’t self-employed and should earn minimum wage.

The weakness of Taylor’s proposals should not come as a surprise. He told a TUC event in London last month that (on the basis of undisclosed evidence) “up to three out of four workers” wanted flexible arrangements and changing that was the “last thing we should do”. He went on to say that the UK’s flexible job market was a something other countries envied.

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