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.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Unions begin to plan for mass strikes in the autumn

The 30 June strikes were fantastic. Now a number of unions are preparing for further co-ordinated strikes, most likely in early November.

On 30 June the politicians asked, "how many schools are on strike?" The civil servants replied, "we don't know because so many civil servants are on strike." 95% of Metropolitan Police support staff were on strike. One in eight of those that took strike action also went to a strike rally and everyone at a strike rally was joyous and confident. The London rally was like an anti-capitalist demonstration. What we saw was the beginning of the process of rebuilding the idea of solidarity and not crossing picket lines. This time around it was not just postal workers that refused to cross picket lines but gas, electricity and water workers too.

Not so long ago the TUC was inviting David Cameron to speak at its congress and it looked as though they might not call strikes or a national demonstration at all. In the end they called the demonstration on 26 March and that, along with he inspiring sight of the student demonstrations gave a push to the labour movement. Workers started thinking ' if the students can do it, so can we'. On 26 March Mark Serwotka, General-Secretary of the PCS and others, started saying "today we march together, tomorrow we must strike together". Then, of course, came the marvellous co-ordinated strikes of 750,000 people on 30 June.

Cameron talks about bringing everyone down to a 'baseline'. If the Tories are allowed to get away with it it will be the biggest defeat for the working class in living memory. However, taking the whole class on at once is a very high risk strategy for the Tories and could lead to a generalised fightback.

It is becoming clear that the ruling class are scared. Thatcher's generation had the legacy of ruling class defeat from the 1970s. This generation does not have that. Danny Alexander, for example, is an idiot. By attacking Unison and Unite he has pushed them closer to our side.

However, we also have weaknesses on our side. Firstly, Ed Miliband and 'Blue Labour' are not on our side. Secondly, Brendan Barber of the TUC, the GMB, Unite and Unison do not really want a fight. The GMB even argued for the strikes to be called off. The government's plan is to make minor concessions to split them off from the more radical unions. Thirdly, there is a legacy of weakness within the trade unions that has existed since the defeats of the 1980s. There is still a level of fear about striking. There has been a relatively low level of strikes over the last few years and union membership has roughly halved since the 1970s. There has also been a decrease in the number of workplace shop stewards.

So how will the working class revive? It will probably explode like it did in the 1880s, the 1910s and 1970s. 7000 members have left the NASUWT, while 9000 have joined the NUT and 4000 have joined ATL. This is something we must encourage.

So what next? We must argue for more mass, co-ordinated strike action with more unions involved. Sectional strikes do not play to our strengths. A co-ordinated strike is a political strike which generalises and radicalises people. We need everyone together to beat the government. We need to broaden and deepen the strike movement by linking up struggles, always making strikes political by making it clear that it is against cuts and austerity as well as the specific issue that the strike has been called over.

Last week the government announced its plans for the teachers’, NHS workers’ and civil service workers’ pensions. The plans include hugely increased contributions, uprating at a lower rate for future pensions and an increased pension age. This is a huge attack on millions of workers and a snub to those trade union leaders that have agreed to three months of talks with the government on their pension schemes. The PCS, NUT, UCU and ATL unions are planning a further round of co-ordinated strike action in early November. The FBU may join them, as may the National Association of Head Teachers, the Welsh teachers’ UCAC union and the Association of School and College Leaders. The national leaderships of Unison, Unite and the GMB have opted for talks rather than joining with the other unions in November. However, the way the government is treating them is putting them under pressure to join the action at some point. There will be a huge discussion at the TUC congress in September about the best way to fight.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The radical left in Europe

Alex Callinicos is an academic, editor of the International Socialism Journal and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain. Below is a summary of his speech on the radical left in Europe at the Marxism Festival last month.

The defining issue in Europe today is austerity and resistance to it. The victories for the radical left are mixed. There has been the success of left reformism in Germany with Die Linke as well as anti-capitalist parties in Greece (Antarsya), Ireland (United Left Alliance) and France (New Anti-Capitalist Party). There have been moments of electoral advance in Greece and Ireland but set-backs in Portugal (Left Bloc).

There is an important relationship between the electoral struggle and the broader movement. Electoral struggle makes a difference but its main task is to help build broader movements of struggle outside parliament. The French party is in crisis because it cannot agree on a strategy for the Presidential elections. This is a reidiculous situation when the priority must be the wider struggle.

It is critical that the square movements in Spain and Greece are united with the strike movements or the square movement will burn itself out, as the student movement did in Britain. This fusion will not happen spontaneously but must be worked for.

Movements happen independently of socialists. Our role is not just to build them, or to join them, but to intervene in them in such a way as to ensure they can win.

Judith Orr, editor of Socialist Worker, then made the following comment.

Militant working class action is vital, not just to defeat the ruling class response to the crisis, but to fight back against the fascists, the politics of despair, which is a big issue in Britain, France and Greece.

Gerhard Mosler of Die Linke in Germnay said the strength of the left party in Germany is one reason why there is not a strong fascist presence in Germany.

Alex Callincos finished by saying it is important to fight for the integration of the electoral front with the other fronts. It is only one front and not the most important.

You can hear Alex Callinicos' speech here.