Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Royal Mail workers walk out in Cornwall

Workers at the mail centre in Truro in Cornwall walked out yesterday as they had not been paid. Every December, Royal Mail takes on workers on short-term contracts to help sort the unusually high volumes of mail. These are typically students or the long-term unemployed. In Truro, these workers were due to be paid at the end of last week. When they were not, they complained to management. As nothing has been done by yesterday (Monday), these casual workers decided to take unofficial action and walked out. The workers came back to work today, but told management they would walk out again tomorrow if they were not paid by the end of today.

This is an incredibly brave action from a group of casual workers who are not in the union and who could presumably be sacked. Then again, Royal Mail's recruitment procedure is so long winded and inefficient and the employment period so short that it is probably not in Royal Mail's interest to sack these workers. But it is a sign of the times we are living in that this group of workers had the confidence to go on strike. It is undoubtedly the case that these workers will have been inspired by the mass co-ordinated strikes that took place just a couple of weeks ago.

The action had a knock-on effect across Cornwall. Mail volumes in Penzance Delivery Office were well below were they would normally be at this time of year. Brian Eddy, the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) rep in Penzance said "we've had less than half the mail come in than we would usually get and that's because of the walkout in Truro".

Many postal workers in Penzance are concerned because they know they will be expected to deliver all the mail when it does come in, despite a shortage of staff. Management at the office confirmed that the budget for overtime is capped at 15 hours per week for the whole office. This is incredible in an office of 80 staff where on one day last week, some workers went over their time by as much as 3 hours in a single day. This is only set to get worse over the next two weeks.

It is also believed that the weather may have caused some mail to have been delayed. Much of the mail in the area is transported by aeroplane and it is thought some planes could not take off yesterday due to high winds.

It has also been confirmed that the office intends to continue to begin to plan a complete revision of the whole office which will include a complete replacement of the inward sorting frames, a re-organisation of the other sorting frames and every walking round and every driving round in the office will be torn up and re-written. This means every postal worker will be put on a delivery they have never done before, at once. And they intend to start this process at the very height of the busiest time of the year.

The issue of wages not being paid, or at least overtime not being paid in full, is one that affects every postal worker in Cornwall. Budgets are kept unrealistically low and managers are encouraged to not pay overtime, presumably in the hope that workers will either not notice or give up continually fighting for it. Postal workers are being bullied into working overtime and threatened with being given different, less good jobs if they refuse. In some cases workers are being bullied into doing overtime without being paid for it. Many workers have had enough and are talking about refusing to do overtime in the future. Most postal workers are proud of the job they do and do not want to fail to deliver all the mail. But many now feel that it is only by doing this that things will change and Royal Mail will employ the staff that is required. There is also a fear that senior management are preparing the ground for privatisation.

Postal workers should put pressure on their union reps to ballot the membership for strike action so that the CWU can join the next wave of mass co-ordinated strike action.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

England rioters in their own words

In August there were riots, first in Tottenham and then the rest of London and across England. At the time, politicians dismissed the riots as 'criminality pure and simple'. For the first time a study has been carried out by the London School of Economics and the Guardian newspaper which involves interviews with 270 rioters. Of those interviewed, 85% cited anger at policing practices as a key factor in why the violence happened. Other factors cited included anger at the government over cuts to benefits and the educational maintenance allowance (EMA). Many of the young people involved had been on protests against the tripling of university tuition fees and removal of EMA. The government argued that the rioting was to do with gang culture. However, the report reveals that for four days there was an effective truce between gangs as they were united in fighting with the police.

See the Newsnight story and hear from the rioters in their own words for the first time here.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Thousands join hands to protect West Cornwall Hospital

Several thousand people met at St. John's Hall in Penzance, Cornwall at 11am this morning to join a demonstration against cuts to West Cornwall Hospital in the town. March organiser Alana Bates from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance introduced Marna Blundy from West Cornwall Healthwatch and Andrew George MP who each made a short speech. The demonstration then marched up to the hospital and completely encircled it. At a signal from the organisers, everybody held hands, symbolically defending their hospital.

Estimates at the numbers involved ranged from 2000 to 5000, but whatever the true figure it was clearly a great demonstration of local people's concern at threats to the hospital. A ward containing half of all the medical beds at the hospital has been closed. The trust say it is just for the winter, but nurses at the hospital fear it will never re-open. There is also no doctor at night at the '24-hour' Casualty Department, meaning people have to travel to Treliske Hospital in Truro for treatment and, of course, families have much further to travel to visit relatives. One woman in her sixties had a fall in Penzance and was taken to Truro. She was discharged in the early hours of the morning and forced to take a taxi home. The cab driver dropped her at a cashpoint at 4:30 in the morning so she could get the cash to pay him.

Of course it is not just West Cornwall Hospital that is facing cuts. As a leaflet from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance given out on the demo made clear,
"The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust has been forced to make £20 million ‘savings’ because of the Tory-led government’s agenda of cuts and austerity. Nationally, according to the Royal College of Nursing, 56,058 posts are to go across the UK. This figure is up over 50% since seven months ago. These are not just cuts to 'back office' posts, as some would have us believe. Out of 41 Trusts in England almost half, 49%, of post losses were 'clinical', with a third (34%) being nursing posts (see http://frontlinefirst.rcn.org.uk/2011-cuts-report for more details). The government wants ordinary people to pay for an economic crisis created by the bankers, multinational companies and politicians. The government needs to be stopped and they can be. If you agree with us, join us."
Hands Off Our Hospital are meeting at 6pm on Monday 5 December at the Ritz in Queen's Street in Penzance. Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance are meeting at 7pm on Monday 12 December at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street, also in Penzance. All are welcome to attend and get involved.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fantastic turnout at 30 November strike rally and march in Cornwall

Up and down the country schools, hospitals, council offices and other services have been affected today by the biggest wave of co-ordinated strike action for eighty-five years. The BBC estimate 80% of all schools were closed today. Between two and three million public sector workers, from more than thirty unions have gone on strike to defend their pensions from the outrageous attack the Tory-led governnment has launched. They want public sector workers to pay more into their pension schemes, work longer and receive less at the end. But public sector workers are not only striking for their pensions. They are also striking to defend their services from the vicious cuts agenda this government has unleashed.

There were marches and strike rallies in towns throughout the country. Many places have reported the biggest demonstrations in living memory. In Truro in Cornwall, a thousand people filled the Hall for Cornwall for a strike rally, leaving hundreds to wait outside. Speakers included a physiotherapist, a young woman teacher in the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the branch secretaries of the University and College Union (UCU) at Cornwall College and Cornwall University, Falmouth, a teacher in the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Peter Cogbill from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Stuart Roden, a full-time organiser for the Unison Union.

However, the speech of the day was given by Alana Bates, a care worker and representing Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance. Alana spoke about how today's action was part of a global movement against cuts and austerity throughout Europe and the world. She spoke about Occupy Oakland and the way it called a general strike which shut down the fifth largest port in the United States. As a private sector worker herself, she exploded the myth that private sector workers do not support public sector workers in their fight. She called on the government to provide decent pensions for everyone and told the packed hall, to huge cheers, that she brought solidarity from all those workers that are not on strike today.

After the rally there was a march through the city that ended at the cathedral. An endless procession of cars honked their horns in support and pedestrians waved, cheered and shouted their support. As the march entered the square in front of the Cathedral, the organisers announced that the police were estimating 3000 people on the march. The square was a sea of banners and flags from GMB, Unite, Unison, NUT, NASUWT, ATL, UCU, PCS as well as many individual placards and banners from Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance, Right to Work, the Labour Party and Socialist Worker.

After a few more speeches the day came to an end. As people dispersed, the mood was extremely upbeat. Everyone present knew that something incredible and historic had happened that day. Of course this cannot be the end. There must be further strikes if the government is going to be forced into a retreat. And if the workers are to win, the action must escalate. There must be further strikes in the new year, and they must be for 48 hours next time. We also need more unions, such as the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Rail and Maritime Workers Union (RMT) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) involved next time. Ultimately we need to move to a position were workers are going on indefinite general strike. Our slogan must be "all out, stay out".

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Hands Off Our Hospital! Stop All The Cuts!

The 'Hands Off Our Hospital' campaign to stop the cuts to West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance is progressing well. Activists have been out in force on three consecutive Saturdays, leafletting and collecting thousands of signatures. The demonstration on 3 December is building momentum. As well as Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance, West Cornwall Healthwatch, Save Our NHS (Cornwall) and the Cornishman newspaper, all of whom were at the first meeting, the campaign is supported by the Mayors of Penzance and Hayle, many Penzance town councillors, Andrew George the local MP and many individuals. Many shops in the town are displaying the posters and much of the town has been leafletted door-to-door.

However, Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance has understood that if these and other cuts are to be stopped, there is a need to understand where these cuts are coming from and why they are happening. The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust claims that the closing of the medical ward at West Cornwall Hospital is a clinical decision and not a financial one. They claim they need to move the beds to Treliske because of an expected rise in seasonal flu. If money is not a problem, why cannot they have extra beds at Treliske without them raiding the local hospital in Penzance? Of course this IS a financial decision and it has been forced on them because the Tory-led government is making the trust making £20 million of 'savings'. As a result hundreds of jobs are being axed and nurses that leave are not being replaced, making the workload for the already overworked nurses that remain even greater.

The way to stop these attacks is to combine the local campaign with a national movement in order to build a national focus that can inflict a defeat on the government. If the government is defeated over one attack, it will make it harder for them to carry out further attacks. The campaign with the biggest chance of success is that of co-ordinated strikes that began on 30 June and will strike again at the end of this month.

On 30 November up to 3 million trade unionists will be going on strike against this government's cuts agenda. This needs to be seen as a day for everyone to fight back and make their voices heard. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance have organised, with the unions involved, a rally at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro at 10am, followed by a march to the Cathedral. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance were out leafletting this afternoon in five towns, including Penzance (Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance) in order to try to get as many people as possible to come on the day, including from the Penwith area.

This day of co-ordinated strike action is not the end, however. This must be just the beginning of a campaign of protests, strikes and occupations that can stop all the cuts and bring the Tory-led government to its knees.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

New campaign launched to save West Cornwall Hospital

Around fifty people, representing three different local groups, a local councillor, the local newspaper and many ordinary local people discussed the loss of services at West Cornwall Hospital at a public meeting last night at the Ritz Community Centre in Queens Street in Penzance. The meeting agreed to launch a new campaign specifically to defend the hospital.

The meeting, organised by Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance followed a protest of about fifty protesters in Penzance on Saturday 22 October after the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust announced it would be closing a medical ward at the West Cornwall Hospital at the same time that a refurbished ward is finally re-opened. This represents half of the medical beds. In less than two hours, more than a thousand concerned local people signed a petition calling on the Trust to keep West Cornwall Hospital running as a functioning hospital.

In a meeting held at the hospital earlier this month Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance members were told that the ward would reopen on 5 November. Members are now worried that this lack of 'clarity' will only worsen when, and if, the Trust achieves foundation status.

Anthony Matthews, from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance said "The reaction from local people was just fantastic. They were queueing up to sign the petition. In fact we were a little bit swamped at first. People of all ages are worried about what the future holds. One young girl told me that she and her friends would chain themselves to the hospital if it was ever threatened with closure".
The trust claims that the ward is being closed so that another can be opened at Treliske Hospital in Truro to deal with higher need during the winter months. However, many feel that this is another step towards the downgrading of the hospital to a clinic.

Many fear having to make expensive and time consuming journeys to Truro for treatment, especially as there are issues around funding for public transport.

Alana Bates, from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance said "With the Coalition Government's cuts to the NHS we are seeing ward closures across the country. We are determined to keep our local services. If this is not a finincial decision, as the Trust claims, then why can't we have a ward at West Cornwall and a ward at Treliske? We want a good, accessable local hospital for everyone. We will do all we can to show that people in West Cornwall feel strongly about the need for the hospital."

Last night's meeting, hosted by Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance also heard from representatives of West Cornwall Health Watch, Save Our NHS (Cornwall), Lib Dem councillor Mario Fonk and a reporter from the Cornishman. The meeting agreed to launch a new umbrella group 'Hands Off Our Hospital' and elected an organising committee which will meet next Monday. It was also decided that other campaign groups such as Health Initiative Cornwall and the The League Of Friends Of The West Cornwall Hospital will be approached to join the new group.

The meeting decided to organise an event on the 3 December called 'Join Hands to Save Our Hospital'. It will be assembling at St. John’s Hall at 11am and walking to the hospital where there will be an attempt to encircle it to demonstrate the need to protect the hospital from proposed cuts.

Every Saturday between now and then there will be a stall at the bottom of Causeway Head from 11am until 1pm where the general public will be leafletted and signatures will be collected on a petition. There will also be leafletting door-to-door. Everyone is encouraged to join in to help spread the news about the campaign. For more information contact Alana on 07530428246 or email pzanticuts@hotmail.co.uk

Pics: Peter Carter

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

We are the 99%

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which rapidly spread to 150 cities across the US has now gone global. Last Saturday saw the biggest day of world-wide demonstrations since the 2003 demonstrations against the war in Iraq. From New York to Hong Kong, a million people were on the streets, in more than 950 cities in over eighty countries, occupying central banks and other symbols of the banking industry. Some of the biggest protests were in Spain where the 'Indignados' movement that inspired the US protesters is still going strong. Some of the most militant were in Italy where Berlusconi is pushing some of the harshest austerity measures in Europe.

Across Britain there were around twelve demonstrations, including the 3,000 strong demo at the London Stock Exchange. In London protesters have maintained a permanent occupation outside St Paul’s Cathedral. The protests are against corporate greed and the richest 1 percent in society. The movement’s size, breadth and vibrancy make them an important development for the fightback against capitalism. In London a section of the occupation of St Paul’s cathedral joined the demonstration of electricians at Blackfriars station this morning. Afterwards, a section of electricians marched to St Paul’s for a rally.

These protests express a growing sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world and that we can do something about it. Protesters call themselves the "99 percent" in contrast to the "1 percent" elite that accumulates power and wealth by robbing and exploiting the rest of us. The mass co-ordinated strikes planned for 30 November could really ignite the movement in Britain. We need to push for the biggest turnout in the ballots and for people to strike and join the rallies being held across Britain.

Meanwhile in Greece a 48-hour general strike, the latest of so many in Greece, got underway today with the rallies being reported as some of the biggest yet.
Athens 19/10/11
This is the key. Like in Tunisia and Egypt, the way to win is to combine a massive street protest movement with a wave of strikes. Together we can smash the austerity plans of the 1 percent. But we can also transform the world from one run for a handful of rich parasites to one we run for ourselves.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Plans for mass strikes on 30 November coming together in Cornwall

On 30 November up to three million public sector workers could be on strike across Britain if all the ballots receive a 'yes' vote. The teachers' NUT, ATL and UCU unions, as well as the civil servants' PCS union all have live ballots and all went on strike on 30 June. They are set to be joined by around eleven other unions.

The ballot papers for around a million workers in Unison went out on Tuesday. If the ballot goes the way it is expected to, they will be out on strike in November too. The Unite and GMB unions are also set to ballot in the next few weeks. Len McCluskey, the general-secretary of the Unite union said recently, "we need coordinated industrial action. If you want to call that a general strike then so be it". Mark Serwotka, general-secretary of PCS said in Manchester, "we're on the edge of the biggest strike for 80 years. If [the government] carry on [attacking us] after 30 November we have to strike again and again until we win".

The other unions include EIS, the scottish teachers’ union, NAHT, the headteachers’ union, which has never before organised a strike in its 114-year history, NIPSA, public servants in Northern Ireland, Prospect, another civil service union, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the teachers' union NASUWT.

The strike is mostly about a dispute with the government over an attack on public sector pensions, although some unions are also in dispute over pay cuts and job losses too. The government claims the pension schemes are in crisis, but in fact changes made under the previous government have fixed these problems. It is simply about stealing money, which is after all deferred wages, from public sector workers to help pay off the deficit. These workers did not cause the deficit, of course, and the money could be found by collecting the tax that companies like Arcadia (Sir Phillip Green's company that owns Top Shop), Boots and Vodafone manage to avoid.

These pensions are not gold-plated either. The average public sector pension is around £5000 a year. The government also wants to raise the retirement age arguing people are living longer. But for manual workers, the average age which people reach has hardly changed in thirty years. Teachers cannot teach primary school children when they are in their mid to late sixties. Nurses cannot lift patients when they are in their mid to late sixties. Increasingly, we will see public sector workers, especially postal workers and refuse workers, die before they even reach retirement. Most importantly, workers in the private sector will not get a better deal if public sector pensions are slashed. It will only give the green light to private sector employers to make private pensions even worse.

Coming after the biggest trade union-organised demonstration in British history in March, the fantastic co-ordinated strike of 750,000 public sector workers in June and the demonstration at the Tory Party Conference two weeks ago, this will be the key event of the year. The momentum is on the side of ordinary people and the anger at the government and the desire to fight back is palpable among not just trade unionists, but most people in Britain today. As we see the last few nails being hammered into the coffin for the NHS in the House of Lords yesterday and the news that unemployment has risen again to 2.57 million, ordinary working people, and indeed many middle class people, feel the time has come for serious resistance to the Tory-led government's plans.

Everyone needs to see the 30 November as the key date to protest at this government's plans to make us pay for a crisis caused by banks and politicians. Whether it be someone who has lost their job, campaigners to save the NHS, disabled people being moved onto lower benefits or off benefits altogether or public sector workers being made to pay more into their pension, to work longer and to receive less at the end, we are all stronger if we unite the fights and make 30 November a massive success.

There have been three meetings in Cornwall in the last ten days that have started to organise plans for events here. On Monday 3 October, around eight trade unionists met to discuss the possibility of re-starting a Cornwall Trades Union Council. Despite the obvious advantages, there were a number of objections. The first key difficulty was that no individual in the room has the time nor the inclination to carry out the work necessary to set one up. The second point is that Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance (CACA), although not a solely trade union body, already provides a trade union forum and has strong trade union support. It was also mentioned that Cornish trade unions met last summer and agreed to set up an informal email-based network. It was decided not to proceed with a trades council at this time but to instead work to build a comprehensive network of trade union reps.

On Wednesday 5 October, Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance met with Stuart Roden and Chris Dayus, full-time Unison officials and Ian Williams, district secretary of the NUT in attendance. It was agreed that CACA, the NUT and (assuming their ballot returns a 'yes' vote) Unison will organise a joint march and rally in Truro on the day between around 10am and 12pm. There will also be a joint leaflet produced to mobilise trade unionists and the general public alike.

On Monday 10 October a meeting was held at the Unison offices in Truro with Frances O'Grady, deputy general-secretary of the TUC, Nigel Costley of South-West TUC, various trade union representatives and representatives of CACA. The meeting agreed to organise a march in Truro, assembling at Hendra field and proceeding to a rally at Hall for Cornwall. Both venues have been provisionally booked and contact has been made with the police regarding routing. It also agreed to produce a two-sided joint trade union and CACA leaflet to publicise a) the unions' pension case and b) a more broad-based anti-cuts reverse including the Truro march details when finalised and agreed. A series of stalls in five towns will be organised jointly by CACA and the trade unions, using a variety of leaflets, to build publicity and support. Unions will be asked to engage as many activists as possible. There will be a particular focus on the TUC's Action Saturday on 19 November. All agreed that trying to gain non-union, private sector and general public support was crucial and good media contacts are essential.

There will be a further meeting to work out many of the details at the CACA meeting on Wednesday 19 October at 7:30 p.m. at the Railway Club in Truro. This meeting will focus solely on plans for the 30 November and everyone that wants to fight the cuts is encouraged to come along. If you live in Penwith, it will also be discussed at the Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance meeting on Monday 17 October at 7pm at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street in Penzance. Get involved and join the fight back!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Delegation from Cornwall join anti-Tory protest

Members of Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance and Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance joined forces with members of Plymouth Fightback Against the Cuts and travelled up to Manchester in a coach organised by Plymouth Trades Council on 1 and 2 October. There they joined tens of thousands from all over the country to protest at the vicious cuts the Tory-led government are trying to impose on all of us.

On the coach it was clear that those making the trip were keen to both represent their areas and local groups on a national demonstration, but also to enjoy the solidarity of thousands of people marching together for the same cause and to bring that spirit back to Cornwall.

The demonstration on the first day of the Conservatives' conference was big, certainly much bigger than the one at Liberal Democrat Conference two weeks earlier. The police estimated 20,000 people and the BBC claimed 35,000, so it could have easily been more although Right to Work, who initiated the protest, reported around 40,000.
The demonstration assembled at eleven o'clock and there were already large delegations from the Unison and Unite unions present.

The demonstration did not set off for around two hours, a clear indication that it was a large demonstration. At around twelve o'clock we were joined by a feeder march from Salford.

Everyone cheered as the marchers joined the assembled demonstrators.

At about one o'clock the march set off. As it turned the corner it was possible to see another feeder march coming down the street. The demonstrators were from the Education Activist Network and they had orange flares and were chanting 'students and workers unite'.

As the students reached the police lines guarding the outside flank of the main demo, they just carried straight on causing confusion amongst the police. The police simply fell back and allowed the two marches to merge.

Seeing the students was a visible reminder of the radicalism and vibrancy of last year's student protests. Their enthusiasm made a welcome change from the whistling and chant-free atmosphere that had pervaded the previous two hours. Their slogan, combining student radicalism and the power workers have in the workplace offered a way to not just protest against, but to defeat the Tory-led government.

The demonstration contained many trade union banners from all over the North West and beyond. There were also a considerable number of banners from local anti-cuts groups, including from Cornwall.

The demonstration passed the conference centre itself. It was guarded by a phalanx of police, some with machine guns. A nearby building housed police snipers on its rooftop, presumably ready to shoot anyone attempting to storm the conference centre. The demonstration became very angry as it passed, with chants of 'Tories, tories, tories, out out out", "Tory scum" and so on.

The front of the demonstration entered the park where many trade union leaders and people from campaign groups were making speeches around two o'clock. An hour and a half later people were still entering the park.

The best speech was given by Mark Serwotka, the general-secretary of the PCS union. He made the point that we will see the biggest strike in Britain for eighty years on 30 November. He urged everyone to 'unite all our struggles' and to make 30 November the biggest success yet. He quoted his father saying "if you fight you can't guarantee you will always win, but if you don't fight, you lose every time". He went on to say "now's the time to fight, now's the time to defeat the government, well done for today, build the strikes in November".

Friday, 23 September 2011

The true story of the riot in Tottenham

'Reel News', who describe themselves as 'an activist video collective' have produced a fantastic film explaining what really happened on the day the riots began in Tottenham. By interviewing the residents of the area, the group has produced a film that tells the real story without any of the mainstream media's bias, omissions, distortions or outright lies. We do not hear the pious words of politicians or the police repeated as fact, but eyewitness accounts from the residents of the area. We do not hear condemnation, but explanation.

This is an excellent example of independent media telling the true story sadly missing from mainstream reportage. Everyone should watch it.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

TUC call mass strikes for Wednesday 30 November

The TUC today saw union leader after union leader declare that they are calling on their members to strike over pensions on 30 November. These include Unison, Unite, GMB, FBU, NUT, NASUWT, PCS, UCU, EIS, UCAC, NIPSA, Prospect and FDA. There was a unanimous vote for resistance. A strike by three million workers is now on the cards - which would be the biggest single day of action since the 1926 General Strike. Coming after the student revolt last year, the 26 March demonstration, and the 30 June strikes, there is a real momentum about the fightback.

Confrontation on a grand scale is coming much more quickly with David Cameron than it did with Margaret Thatcher, and this will be a critical struggle. It is a titanic clash between organised workers and a government hell-bent on ramming through a massive assault on workers’ living standards and public services. This is a battle over pensions, but also over every aspect of the Tory assault. And we can win if workers use all their strength against this rotten government.

This changes everything. Every socialist, trade unionist and anti-cuts activists must be part of making sure the strikes happen, that they are built as broadly as possible, and that they are fought through to victory. Everyone should celebrate the calling of this tremendous action, and work with those union leaders who want to fight. However, there must also be a push to strengthen the rank and file of the trade unions for the future, to win the idea of “all out, stay out” and to win.

The co-ordinated strikes must be item 1, 2 and 3 on the agenda of every anti-cuts group, and everyone must throw themselves into winning the ballots that will now take place, to mobilise trade unionists on a broad basis, and to argue for unity against the Tories. This will include mass propaganda, and distributing leafets both inside and from the outside of workplaces. There must be a push to involve students to be part of the day. There must be a renewed effort to build the Manchester demonstration at the Tory conference on 2 October.

In Cornwall, the re-formation of a Trades Council could not have come at a better time. There is a meeting to re-launch a Cornwall Trades Council. It is in a room at the Brittannia pub in the corner of Truro Bus depot on Lemon Quay in Truro on Monday 3 October from 6.30 - 7.30pm. All trade union stewards, reps and activists should come to the meeting to discuss the fightback. There may also need to be other joint meetings of stewards and reps from the striking unions to discuss mobilisation for the strikes and demonstrations in each area on the day. These meetings can then set up a coordinating committee to build the action.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

November mass strikes could involve millions

The November strikes against the government’s attacks could now involve up to four million workers. There have not been strikes on this scale for decades. Next week’s TUC conference promises to be the most important for many years. It opens as the number of trade unions joining the call for a mass coordinated strike in November grows by the day.

Mark Serwotka of the PCS civil service workers’ union said, "We are moving to a strike potentially involving millions." The PCS, along with the NUT and ATL teachers unions and the UCU lecturers’ union, all have live ballots and are committed to strikes in the autumn.

Friday’s announcement that the NASUWT teachers’ union will now also ballot for a national strike this term means that another 250,000 teachers could join the battle. This is first time in a decade the union has balloted for national action. The Scottish teachers’ union, the EIS, is now set to ballot for an autumn strike, as are the head teachers in the NAHT and Welsh teachers in the UCAC.

The FBU firefighters’ union looks set to ballot. Prospect, the specialist civil service workers’ union, and the FDA senior civil servants union, both announced this week that they will ballot members unless the government backs off from its attack on pensions. It is thought the GMB will announce a ballot for three days of strikes in November, with one as a national strike to coordinate with other unions.

Unison the public sector union has put senior union activists on alert. The union is putting together the necessary meetings to approve going to ballot in local government and health sectors to join the autumn strikes. The government has pushed the trade union leaders who were willing to negotiate to the edge. When Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, spoke to the Financial Times on Friday he talked of "when" the talks fail, not "if". "We are now planning for industrial action for when these talks break down," he said. When this happens, he added, "you’ll see strikes throughout all of the public sector, it will include strikes in our schools, our civil service, our fire brigade, our local government service, our health service".

The anger and bitterness that brought 750,000 workers out on the magnificent strike on 30 June this year has not gone away. Every trade unionist and activist faces a challenge. If the government’s attacks are going to be beaten, then workers need to be organised, to win the ballots and spread the fightback. With millions of workers joining the struggle there is the potential for the sort of mass workers’ resistance that can stop the Tories’ attacks.


Friday, 9 September 2011

The NHS is not for sale

The vote on the third reading of the Health and Social Care Bill resulted in a resounding 'yes'. Now the bill will go to the House of Lords. Rumours of the Liberal Democrat backbench rebellion were obviously hugely exaggerated. In the end only four Lib Dem MPs voted against the bill (Julian Huppert, Greg Mulholland, Andrew George and Adrian Sanders) with ten abstentions.

One of the those Lib Dem MPs that voted against the bill, Andrew George, held a meeting in Penzance in his constituency last week which attracted over two hundred people. The meeting was hosted by George himself and the platform also contained Dr Mark McCartney, on behalf of the British Medical Association and also a GP at Pensilva in South East Cornwall; Stuart Bonar, Parliamentary Officer of the Royal College of Midwives; and Dr Colin Philip, GP lead for the proposed Clinical Commissioning Group (Kernow Clinical Commissioning) which will take over from the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) when the Government’s policy is enacted. He is also a GP at the Stennack Surgery in St Ives.

Despite being dominated by the top table, with little opportunity for members of the public to speak, the meeting was encouraging given the turnout and the mood of the meeting. However, all the speakers were white men and all were riven with pessimism and political naivety. When asked if this was the end of the NHS, all speakers said it was not and one speaker laughed and said there is no way the Conservatives would privatise the NHS. Oh really?

Colin Leys, academic and co-author of The Plot Against the NHS, wrote an article for the Guardian yesterday. In it he explains how the government's ultimate aim is indeed to privatise the NHS. He says,
"The bill will end the NHS as a comprehensive service equally available to all. People with limited means will have a narrowing range of free services of declining quality, and will once again face long waits for elective care. Everyone else will go back to trying to find money for private insurance and private care. More and more NHS hospital beds will be occupied by private patients."
He goes on to say "What we are witnessing is the completion of a project begun some 25 years ago to restore healthcare to private enterprise. The key players have not been MPs but private healthcare companies and consultancies like McKinsey and KPMG." Indeed Lord Howe, a junior health minister in the Lords, told an independent sector conference that the NHS reforms present 'huge opportunities' for private companies. This echoes comments made by Mark Britnell, a senior adviser to David Cameron, back in May that there would be a chance to make huge profits from the NHS and that it will be transformed into a "state insurance provider, not a state deliverer" of care. According to the Guardian,
"Britnell, a former director of commissioning for the NHS, who is now head of health at the accountancy giant KPMG, was invited to join a group of senior health policy experts, described by the respected Health Service Journal as a "kitchen cabinet", in Downing Street earlier this month... In unguarded comments at a conference in New York organised by the private equity company Apax, Britnell claimed that the next two years in the UK would provide a "big opportunity" for the for-profit sector, and that the NHS would ultimately end up as a financier of care similar to an insurance company rather than a provider of hospitals and staff."
On Monday of this week Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance showed Michael Moore's film 'SiCKO' at the Ritz, Penzance. The film demonstrates the horror of the privatised healthcare system in America. It also contrasts it with the NHS and shows what a great system we have by comparison. Of course the film was made a few years ago and is now a demonstration of what we stand to lose. Thirty-two people watched the film and the discussion afterwards shows the level of bitterness and anger but also the level of awareness that exists amongst the public.

This is a battle that is not yet over. With the general level of anger that exists within society, once people realise just what these 'reforms' really mean there will be an explosion of anger once more. The next stop for the campaign against all the government's cuts and privatisation is the protest at the Tory Party Conference in October.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Seven days to save the National Health Service

The Health and Social Care Bill is coming back to Parliament for its third reading next week with a vote expected on Wednesday 7 September. Even after the "listening exercise" the amended version on the bill is a major attack on the National Health Service (NHS) and will lead to increasing amounts of private practice within and outside the NHS. It will lead to increasing fragmentation of the service and to competition, rather than collaboration between health service providers. The reorganisation will cost a huge amount of tax-payers money at a point when we are repeatedly told there is no money available for basic services. Tax-payers money would be better spent on services to patients. The improvements to the NHS mentioned in the bill, such as increasing clinical involvement and providing a greater say for patients, can be done without any need for this expensive and destructive legislation, which opens the door for the eventual privatisation of the NHS.

According to campaigning website 38 Degrees, who have paid for independent legal advice,
"The Secretary of State’s legal duty to provide a health service will be scrapped. On top of that, a new “hands-off clause” removes the government's powers to oversee local consortia and guarantee the level of service wherever we live. We can expect increases in postcode lotteries – and less ways to hold the government to account if the service deteriorates.

"The NHS will almost certainly be subject to UK and EU competition law and the reach of procurement rules will extend across all NHS commissioners. Private health companies will be able to take new NHS commissioning groups to court if they don’t win contracts. Scarce public money could be tied up in legal wrangles instead of hospital beds. Meanwhile, the legislation lifts the cap on NHS hospitals filling beds with private patients."
The NHS remains a central plank of the Tory agenda, and the attacks on it are a source of anger for working class people all over the country. A defeat for the government over these proposals would give a massive boost to the campaign against their cuts, job losses and privatisation.

Unison and the TUC have put out a call to health union branches across to country to organise protests and vigils. In London, Unison and the TUC have called a candle-lit vigil at Parliament at 9.30pm on 7 September. The Health Worker Network, Keep Our NHS Public, Right to Work and Unite the Union are organising a demo at 6.30pm on 7 September to dovetail the TUC event and provide a chance for health workers to attend. It will march from St Thomas’ hospital on Westminster Bridge Road and march across the bridge to Parliament.

London Keep Our NHS Public is hosting an emergency London-wide mobilising meeting tonight at 7pm to co-ordinate building the demo. It is at Camden Town Hall. The London Health Worker Network will meet at 6pm in the same venue, and join the mobilising meeting at 7pm.

In Cornwall there is a 'debate' on the bill tonight at 7:30pm in St. John's Hall in Penzance hosted by Andrew George MP who is on the Health Select Committee. George's leaflet says "if the Bill is not changed for the better, he will vote against the government when the Commons debates it on 6th and 7th September". This is good news but we need to hold him to account and ensure he keeps his word.

On Friday 2 September Unison are arranging a stall in Redruth to let people know about the bill with a petition asking all MPs to vote against the bill. They are meeting in the car park at the back of Wilkinson's at 10:30am then going through onto Fore Street to catch the shoppers. They will probably stay until about 2:30pm.

On Monday 5 September there is a film showing of Michael Moore's film 'Sicko' (see trailer, left) hosted by Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance. It is at 6:30pm at the Ritz on Queens Street in Penzance. Although focusing on the American privatised healthcare system, and holding up the NHS as a positive example of a better system, the film demonstrates well what we might have here in a few years if the Tories get their way, and just what we stand to lose. There is a suggested donation of £2 and there is a bar available.

It is also not too late to email your MP calling on them to vote against the bill next week.

If the bill passes it could well be the end of the NHS as we know it. We have to fight and we have to win.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Fascism rears its ugly head

Europe in the 1930s was afflicted with economic depression, massively high unemployment and fascist gangs on the streets. Today in Europe all these things are back although history never repeats itself exactly. Then, the political leaders encouraged fascist gangs to beat trade unionists and socialists off the streets and to help whip up racist hysteria to create scapegoats to divert attention away from their own failure to deal with economic crisis. In the end the politicians handed them power in two key countries: Italy and Germany. In Britain, Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists carried out its violent activities until they were stopped at the 'Battle of Cable Street' when "over 100,000 anti-Fascists of English, Irish, Jewish and Somali (amongst others) descent successfully prevented the fascists from marching through London's East End".

Today, there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of a section, or perhaps more than one section, of society to use recent events as an excuse to push forward a fascist agenda, this time using not anti-semitism but Islamophobia.

Of course New Labour used Islamophobia for much of their thirteen years in office to divert attention away from their own failings and to justify both their participation in US President George W. Bush's 'War on Terror' and their own attack on civil liberties. In 2006, Jack Straw caused a furore when he claimed muslim women wearing veils were to blame for Islamophobia. Now the Tory-led government is continuing and extending that strategy. On 5 February 2011 David Cameron made a speech attacking multiculturalism on the same day the 'English Defence League' (EDL) marched in Luton.

The British National Party (BNP) may be in disarray after disastrous election results, followed by further leaks and splits and an embarrassing leadership contest, but the EDL appears to be picking up more support. The EDL's activities have been followed by the Socialist Worker newspaper since its inception which states here,
"More and more the EDL behaves like a classic fascist organisation. It is trying to control the streets, intimidate opposition and terrorise Muslims. It has organised a series of violent demonstrations since its creation two years ago. EDL supporters have physically attacked mosques and Muslims’ homes, and more recently anti-racist meetings, trade union demonstrations and a Hindu temple. Nazis make up the core of the EDL leadership—despite its strenuous denials."
This is not just happening in Britain. Across Europe, fascist parties are becoming more popular. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ racist Freedom Party (PVV) is now the third largest in parliament with 24 seats. Islamophobia is central to Wilders’ electoral success. The Front Nationale in France has three seats in the European parliament and 118 seats on regional councils. Sweden’s fascist SD was elected to parliament for the first time in September last year with 20 seats. Hungary’s openly fascist Jobbik Party (“The Movement for a Better Hungary”) has a paramilitary wing. It has three MEPs. Jobbik cemented its position as Hungary’s third largest party in last year’s parliamentary elections when it secured 47 seats and 12.8 percent of the vote. Across eastern Europe we are witnessing the terrifying rise of Nazi skinheads and ultra-nationalists who attack minorities and anti-racists.

Only a few weeks ago Anders Behring Breivik carried out an atrocity which killed 76 people in Norway. Young people attending an event organised by Labour Youth were shot dead on the island of Utoya near the Norwegian capital Oslo when a man dressed in a police uniform opened fire. A car bomb killed seven people earlier the same day outside Norway’s main government building in central Oslo. Members of the ruling Labour Party were the targets in both cases.

Initially some of the media speculated that the attack had been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists. The Sun in particular claimed that it had been carried out by a Norwegian "homegrown al-Qaeda convert". In fact the massacre was carried out by Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian, Christian fascist with links to the EDL.

The leader of the EDL, one Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was then allowed to appear on the BBC's Newsnight programme, supposedly to answer claims about the links between Breivik and the EDL. In fact Jeremy Paxman, despite his reputation as a tough interviewer, allowed him to lie and misrepresent his position as well as allowing him to spew his hatred about muslims and to threaten that a similar attack could happen in Britain within five years. As writer and political commentator Richard Seymour has said, the BBC are helping to make the EDL's ideas seem normal, mainstream.
"This thug, this violent racist at the head of a gang of violent racists and Nazis, is being normalised. His ideas are being communicated to mass audiences without serious rebuttal or challenge, and are thus being normalised - and this is happening in a situation where the EDL and the BNP and all the thugs in their periphery should be languishing in utter disgrace."
During the recent riots in England, there were reports of racists using the unrest as an opportunity to carry out violent racist attacks. As the Guardian's Paul Lewis reported from the Hertford Road in North Enfield,
"It was only a minor skirmish, but a potentially bad sign for community relations. Police, who have flooded the streets, were quickly on the scene when about 70 men started chasing local youths. I wouldn't mention their ethnicity, but it seemed to be relevant. The men were white - in their 30s and 40s - and shouting that they wanted to get the "blacks" and "pakis". Lots of them seemed drunk. One man being held back by police shouted: "They're rats, they mugged my Auntie the other night."
"Jay Bradley, 30, a witness, told me: "What happened here? What I just saw - everyone from this area aren't gonna have any looting. What I saw was a couple of ethnic lads, if you can call them that, black lads, and they chased them away. A lot of it is alcohol - I don't think the kids were doing anything. They were just on bikes and in masks. But no-one around here is going to stand for any looting. What are we supposed to do. The Co-op is closed and we're running out of food.""
Whether or not these men were EDL members or supporters cannot be proven, although the BNP had traditionally had support in Enfield until a campaign against them in 2004 and although they avoided the borough in 2006, they stood a candidate in the area in 2010, but there seems little doubt the EDL "tried to take advantage of the looting".

In response to the riots themselves, amongst the reactionary backlash and incredibly harsh sentences comes an incredible outburst from well-know reactionary TV historian and cheerleader for the monarchy David Starkey. Starkey, on the BBC's Newsnight programme, began by defending Enoch Powell, went on to claim that many white people have become 'black' and then tried to demonstrate this by reading some 'West Indian patois'. Once again, the BBC allowed him to get away with what he was saying largely unchallenged. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP has suggested on Twitter that he feels he could not have said it better himself. Seymour argues that either he was trying to insult those of whom he was speaking and give succour to the racists or he was trying to start a moral panic in which the boundaries of acceptability could be altered in a radical way. Either way, his outburst is clearly unacceptable and has resulted in hundreds of complaints and a huge discussion on Twitter.

One thing is sure, the EDL must be stopped. Now, in an apparent echo of the 'Battle of Cable Street', the EDL are planning to march through East London once again. The march through Tower Hamlets is designed to stoke racial tensions in an area of great ethnic diversity. The EDL tried to march there in June last year but cancelled their march at the last minute, describing it as a "suicide mission". An anti-EDL protest, organised by Unite Aganist Fascism (UAF) and East End United, went ahead drawing 5000 people. This time it seems the EDL march will go ahead. The anti-EDL march, again organised by UAF and East End United to "celebrate diversity and oppose the racist English Defence League in Tower Hamlets on 3 September", has been backed by two national unions, the CWU and the PCS as well as local union branches and community groups. Socialist Worker is reporting a large turnout is expected with over 30 coaches already booked.

The lesson from the 1930s is that fascism will only be thwarted by the mass mobilisation of working people. It was the working class that stopped the BUF in the 1930s and it is the working class that will stop the EDL today. There is no point calling on the government to ban the EDL. State bans do not work. Where the government have banned EDL marches, they have allowed them to have 'static protests' instead. Anti-EDL marches are then also banned allowing the police to attack the anti-fascists. The police also 'escort' the EDL to their assembly point, allowing them to march through towns chanting fascist slogans. A ban will not remove the social conditions racist ideas come from. That can only be achieved through a united, mass movement for change. They shall not pass.

Friday, 12 August 2011

'Cure' for the riots is worse than the 'disease'

David Cameron called parts of Britain "not just broken, but sick". If this is indeed the case, his plans for a "cure" will only make the patient worse.

For a start, politicians of all hues have been saying the riots cause them to have concerns about people's 'morals'. They claim it is an ethical issue not a political one. Of course, the Tories have to say this because it would be political suicide to admit that their policies had anything to do with the riots, even though most people know they do. One might (possibly) have expected something better from Ed Miliband though. Instead there seems to be a competition over who can have the most reactionary policies. Blue Ed has thrown his lot in with the government by talking about the parents' need to take responsibility for their children rioting.

The idea that somehow we should blame parents for the rioting when our young people are fighting back against brutal police and a government that has taken away any chance they had of an education, a job, a future, is sickening. The leaders of Nottingham and Manchester councils have said they will use powers they have to evict any tenants in council housing or housing association properties that are convicted of rioting. If those convicted are children, the parents will be evicted too. They have also called for a change in the law to include private tenants and even owner/occupiers. This is incredible. The idea that making people (that already feel as though they have no stake in society) homeless will improve things is utterly ridiculous. It can only enflame the situation.

Harriet Harman, meanwhile, has called for hoods to be banned. David Cameron has announced that existing police powers to ban face masks will be extended. One has to ask, what do the politicians think the problem in society is? Do they think wearing hoods and face masks are the root of the problem?

There is also talk of banning some people's access to social media. As with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, it is not Twitter and Facebook that have made the uprisings happen, they have just made them a little bit easier. When the internet was shut down in Egypt, the revolution continued.

More worryingly, the police have been granted new powers. These include the ability to use plastic bullets and water cannon. Clearly, these powers will be kept in reserve and brought out in the future whether against more riots or against peaceful protests that the police either attack or provoke into violence. This could be the beginning of the end for 'policing by consent'. Of course many people have withdrawn their consent, if they ever gave it, but the government have clearly used these events as an excuse to give police powers they fear they will increasingly need if the government is to force through its unpopular programme of cuts and privatisation.

The only cuts that any politicians have called for to be reversed since the riots are the cuts to policing. The Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and Labour leader, Ed Miliband have both called for cuts in police budgets to be scrapped. Once again, they have no interest in solving the root cause of the problem, only the symptoms. The idea that the solution to riots sparked by police brutality is to have more police to crackdown harder is incredible.

It will be interesting to see how they police demonstrations in the near future. Will they go in hard to appease the reactionary calls from politicians and certain sections of the media, thus risking an escalation of the situation? Or will they take a more softly-softly approach? Only time will tell but we may not have to wait long. There is a demonstration in Tottenham tommorow calling on the government to 'Give Our Kids a Future'. There is also the Notting Hill Carnival in a few weeks. The police had already begun an operation to arrest people they think might 'cause trouble' before the riots began.

Either way, in the longer-term the politicians need to listen to the young people in this country. They need to roll back their cuts agenda. If they do not, and it seems highly unlikely that they will, this unrest will happen again and next time it will be more political.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The riots in Britain are a genuine uprising

The riots that started in London, but which have also spread to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere are a genuine uprising. The same economic and political forces that caused young people to rise up in Tunisia and Egypt as well as Libya, Syria and across the Middle East and North Africa have also caused people to rise up in Greece, Spain and Britain.

The student revolts at the end of last year in Britain were the start. The biggest ever trade union-organised demonstration on 26 March and the mass strikes on 30 June and those to come in November are the way people in Britain have begun to fight back against austerity and cuts. This new wave of riots that began in Tottenham and have now spread to many urban areas of Britain are the continuation of this. We are not in a revolutionary situation in Britain at the moment. Nevertheless, we need to build a revolutionary movement against the ruling class. We need to unite the fights against racism, the police, the bankers, the rich, the Tories and the capitalist system itself.

The ruling class is in crisis. First people reacted angrily to the bank bailouts, seeing bankers as the enemy. Then we had the MPs expenses scandal which exposed the corruption at the heart of Westminster. Next came the Hackgate scandal that revealed the corrupt connections between media barons, top politicians and the police. Now these riots demonstrate how young people will not put up with any more racism and violence from the police or cuts from the government. Education Secretary Michael Gove was close to hysteria on Newsnight on Tuesday because Harriet Harman, whilst forced to condemn the rioting, nevertheless made some points about the cuts (see above). The Tories, especially neoconservatives like Gove, have to shutdown any attempt to link the rioting with the cuts because they know that if this view becomes widespread their days really will be numbered.

The riots are an expression of anger. They are a response to the violence that people are forced to live with every day, violence that flows from oppression, poverty and alienation. The state tries to discredit riots as the violence of a minority. That is because it is terrified of mass resistance to issues like rising poverty and ongoing police violence. Riots represent the rage people feel at the injustice of the system. As Martin Luther King put it, “Riots are the voice of the unheard”. Ordinary people, who feel invisible most of their lives, take to the streets and take centre stage. It is not about people smashing up their local area for no reason. It is about them expressing their anger, wherever they happen to be.

The violence of riots is minor compared to the violence the system inflicts on a daily basis, like the famine in Africa that is killing thousands of people and wars that slaughter millions. Riots often happen in the context of wider resistance, like during a general strike in Spain last year when police sparked riots because they tried to stop strikers picketing. Where there is a low level of collective organisation, and individuals are not connected to a wider movement, riots can rise and fall quickly. The initial burst of power is difficult to sustain, and can be trapped in confrontation with the state. That is why riots alone do not end oppression and exploitation. Riots worry the ruling class, but more is needed to truly scare them.

As the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg said, “Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they must be broken.” Collective power in the workplace enables the progress of a movement to be decided democratically and collectively. That is not the case in the midst of a riot, however liberating. But it would be a mistake to artificially counterpose strikes to riots and other forms of protest. The critical issue is how to fuse their anger, energy and defiance with the political consciousness and strategy of collective action.

The media has focused on young people looting from shops. But the real looters are the banks who have stolen £850 billion of our money and the politicians who are robbing us of our public services and taking away from many young people their Education Maintenance Allowance as well as their hope, dignity and life chances.

Those of us in the anti-cuts movement and the labour movement, need to re-double our efforts to stop this government's cuts, privatisation and job losses, to stop making the ordinary people of this country pay for a crisis that was caused by the banks. We need to organise the biggest possible turnout at the Tory Party Conference in October and we need to support the trade unions in organising the biggest co-ordinated mass strike possible in November to bring down the government, stop the cuts and challenge the whole rotten system.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Condemn the police's violence and racism in Tottenham

I was as shocked as anyone to see the rioting and buildings burning in Tottenham in North London overnight when I watched the news on Sunday morning. But in a way I was not surprised.

It all began when a young black man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by police on Thursday. The initial media reports said 'shots were fired' and Mr. Duggan 'died'. This implies, without actually stating, that the deceased may have shot first and this was almost certainly based on information given to the media by police. Subsequent reports stated that a bullet was lodged in an officer's radio, supporting the initial reports that the police were acting in self-defence. However it has since been revealed that the bullet was police issue and therefore not fired by Duggan. So far, no officers have even been suspended.

People in Tottenham were naturally outraged at the way this man had been effectively assassinated. I lived in Wood Green and Enfield for about six years until three years ago and went to the university campus that was then in Tottenham so I know the area well. There is a large African-Carribean community, a large Asian community of which many are muslims, a smaller African community as well as Eastern European, Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. The BNP described Wood Green in one of its disgusting leaflets as a 'hell-hole' for the simple reason that they cannot stand the way so many communities live together side by side and with a great deal of integration.

The real source of tension is between young, mainly black, mainly men and the police who stop and search and generally harrass them on a daily basis. Rarely did a day go by when I did not see the police harrassing a group of young, black men for little more than being alive. It is also not the first time a black man has been killed by the police. Quite apart from the police shooting of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, there have been 400 deaths in police custody over the last 10 years. Kingsley Burrell Brown died after 'dealings' with the police in March this year and Smiley Culture died, also in March after his house was raided by police. Indeed it was the killing of Cynthia Jarrett and resistance to police harrassment under the 'sus laws' that led to the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985. Roger Sylvester, also from Tottenham, died after eight police officers jumped on him and then 'restrained' him in 1999.

After the shooting of Mark Duggan on Thursday a protest march was organised for Saturday to call on the police to provide the family with the questions they needed to be answered. Around 200 people marched peacefully from Broadwater Farm to Tottenham police station. According to an online Socialist Worker article, "As they gathered on the steps of the police station they were promised that a senior police officer would address them and answer their questions. But this didn’t happen." Then, according to an eyewitness, a 16 year old girl approached police lines and was attacked by riot cops with batons. Naturally this was too much for many after the shock of previous days and the humiliation and frustation of previous years. It is important to make clear it was not only black people that were involved in the riot. They were black, white, Asian and Hassidic Jews.

Naturally the media, the police and politicians have been quick to condemn the rioters and to argue that it is nothing to do with the police shooting a young black man at point-blank range. But clearly this is exactly what it is about. That and the police brutality and racism I have already mentioned and the increasing inequality that exists across much of Britain but which is clear to see in urban areas like North London. Indeed some young people from Tottenham have complained at youth projects being closed down and increasing unemployment in the area as a direct result of the policies of the Tory-led government. They are right, Tottenham has the highest unemployment rate in London and eight out of the thirteen youth centres are closing.

As Nick Clegg returns form his holiday to take charge (the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the London Mayor were all out of the country on Saturday night) he may have reason to remember what he said to Sky News in April last year. He said there was "a really serious risk" of rioting in the streets should the Tories "slash and burn public services with a thin mandate". Indeed.

This is about the Tories trying to make working people, young people and the unemployed pay for an economic crisis we did not create. The uprising in Tottenham is part of the wave of revolt sweeping round the world: Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain and now Tottenham. The student revolts and the mass strikes are our fightback against austerity and cuts and Tottenham must be seen as part of that. We need to turn this into a revolutionary movement against the ruling class. We need to unite the fights against racism, the police, the bankers, the rich, the Tories and the capitalist system itself. We need to get rid of this rotten government and continue the fight for a better world.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Attacks on Remploy threaten jobs and a vital service

The coalition government has commissioned a report on the future of Remploy, a company that finds work for disabled people and employs disabled people in its factories. The Sayce Report has said that all 54 Remploy factories should be scrapped and the employment service should be privatised. The government has said it is 'minded to accept' the report and has launched a three month consultation ending on 17 October. If, as seems likely, the government accepts the recommendations of the report, this would not only threaten thousands of jobs but remove a vital service from disabled people both now and in the future.

Remploy began after the Second World War as a way of finding employment for disabled people. The Remploy website says,
"Remploy was established in April 1945 under the 1944 Disabled Persons (Employment) Act introduced by Ernest Bevin, the Minister for Labour. The first factory opened in 1946 at Bridgend in South Wales making furniture and violins. Many of the workers were disabled ex-miners but as the factory network grew, employment was provided for disabled people returning from the Second World War... Remploy's factory network manufactures products in a range of business sectors including school furniture, motor components and chemical, biological and nuclear protection suits for police and military. And latterly, as the UK manufacturing environment has changed, expansion into the service sector led to the creation of such businesses as front/back office outsourcing and electrical appliance re-cycling. Today, we remain one of the UK's largest employers of disabled people."
This is not the first time Remploy factories have come under attack. 29 factories were closed in March 2008. The GMB announced in February that Remploy workers had been granted a strike ballot and predict that implementation of the Sayce Report would lead to 2,500 job losses.

Liz Sayce, author of the report, works for a disabled people's charity, Radar, who are known to be against Remploy as a model for disabled people. The report argues that 'disabled people should be treated as part of the mainstream labour force and should no longer be employed in sheltered workshops' and that 'more people with disabilities could find jobs if existing funding for employment support was spent more efficiently'. Now it may or may not be the case that there are better models for getting disabled people into work, but the fact is this is a red herring. At a time when there are no jobs for able-bodied people and the government is making more public sector employees redundant, the idea that all, or even most, disabled people will find jobs is ludicrous.

The report also makes a big deal of saying that each employee is subsidised by £25,000. This is very misleading. This figure includes a proportion of all the company's 'central costs'. These workers do not get anything like this figure. It is clearly a propoganda point designed to turn public sympathy away from them at a time of 'austerity' when we are all told we have to make 'sacrifices'. The fact is, even from a cold, cynical, financial point of view it is very unlikely that the taxpayer would save any money by throwing these people on the scrapheap. Instead of being productive members of society, these people would be stuck at home on benefits. Without the support of their colleagues thay may also require further social care and health care with all the costs that implies.

This is part of a government agenda to use the economic crisis as an excuse to make a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich via job losses, privatisation and cuts to the services working class people depend on. As in many other areas the government is picking on some of the most vulnerable people in society. This blog has mentioned before how the cuts are disproportionately affecting disabled people and this is just another example of that. Workers need to stick together and support each other; a victory for one really is a victory for all. If the Remploy workers defeat the government it will make it easier for us to defeat all the other attacks coming from the government.

Colin Grey is the GMB rep at Remploy in Penzance. He spoke about the difference Remploy makes to people's lives. He explained how Remploy works with the local Truro & Penwith College. A lecturer at the college came to them explaining how he has young disabled people at the college that he wanted to experience the world of work. He had tried every employer in the area to take these young people for just one day a week and not one single employer had agreed. In the end he turned to Remploy and they took them.

Colin explained that when the young people first arrived they had to be brought in a minibus. They shuffled in looking anxious and concerned were given work to do. At the end of the day they were taken home again in the minibus. Now, however, they make their own way to work on the bus, they come in laughing and joking, they help each other with their problems and their lives have been transformed. When it came to the end of term, the young people asked if they could still come in to work because they enjoyed it so much. The Remploy manager agreed. The parents have also told them what a difference it has made to their lives. All this is now under threat. If Remploy closes the next group of young people will have nowhere to go.

So what next? Colin Grey said the workers had been planning a campaign. They have a petition that they want people to sign and they want to raise awareness of the issue. They are also planning to set up a facebook group. However, they do not want to peak too soon. They want it to be a slow-burning campaign that builds up to a climax around 17 October when the government will be looking to make a decision.

At the last meeting of Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance on Tuesday night the group agreed unanimously to support the campaign. They passed the following statement of support:

"Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance abhors the proposed closure of Remploy which is an essential facility within our community to support vulnerable people. We support the employees of Remploy in any action they take against this proposal."

Then at the meeting of Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance on Wednesday (last night) the group also agreed unanimous support. They passed the following statement:

"Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance deplores the recommendations of the Sayce report that could lead to the closure of the Remploy factory in Penzance and others throughout the country. We unequivocally support the workers in the factory in their determination to retain their jobs and this valuable service. We pledge to offer whatever support we can provide to help them in their struggle."

Cornwall Disabled People Against Cuts have also been asked to draft a statement.

There is an important principle here which is that the campaign must be led by the Remploy workers themselves. It would be patronising for non-disabled people in an anti-cuts group to assume to tell the Remploy workers how they should run their campaign. Nevertheless, it is clear that when the campaign gets up and running there is already a great deal of support the Remploy workers can tap into.

Watch this space for an update on this campaign.