Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cornwall Council privatisation goes ahead in watered down version

From the BBC News website
Cornwall Councillors have voted in favour of a "middle-way option" for the future sharing of some council services.

They rejected a full deal with telecoms firm BT, to part privatise services, including benefit payments.

Members have also voted against leaving all services in house.

A third deal, known as BT light, which leaves customer facing services like libraries under council control was agreed.

In a report to the full council, members were warned that leaving services run by the council could lead to a £100m shortfall because of cuts in central government funding.

The option approved by councillors- called SP 2 - means BT takes over £13m of council services and makes savings of 18%, the council was told.
'Reduced provision'
The Conservative-Independent controlled authority has an annual budget of £1.2bn.

It means that libraries, benefits and council tax collection, procurement, which is the buying of services and goods, One Stop Shops which offer advice on council services, would continue to be run by the council.

Services that would be outsourced to BT include information technology, Telecare and Telehealth, payroll and employment support, invoice processing and document management.

The report said it was "more acceptable to members" but did not deliver the same amount of savings and the creation of 1,000 jobs which a full deal with BT would have delivered.

It also warned it "may mean reduced levels of provision in the future" on council services such as libraries where there had already been cuts.

Council leader Jim Currie, said: "It's what the members want. They have had a full day of hammering it out and have given all their opinions.

"They have given a substantial majority which makes it easy for me as chairman of the Cabinet to take it forward."

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Cornwall Council democratically depose their undemocratic leader

Around thirty people demonstrated outside County Hall today, on the day councillors were debating a motion of no confidence in the council leader, Alec Robertson. The lively protest, organised by Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance and Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance, had lots of placards. There were chants of 'no ifs, no buts, no public service cuts', 'no council sell-off, it only helps the well-off' and 'Alec, Alec, Alec, out, out, out'.

Robertson has been responsible for the undemocratic way in which he and his cabinet have tried to sell off council services to a private company, as previously reported here.

Many of those present at the demonstration then went into the public gallery to hear the debate. In a turgid discussion which went on for over an hour and which was largely irrelevant the only sensible intervention was from Ruth Lewarne, Liberal Democrat councillor for Penzance East. She explained the need for a secret ballot and that the concept had originally been introduced to stop people from being intimidated which, she argued, might still be relevant today. She also brought the discussion away from personalities and brought it firmly back round to the political issues at stake.

The votes were counted and the result came at about 12:35. There were 63 votes in support of the motion to remove the leader and 49 votes against. According to security, Robertson has already left the building and told them he will send someone to collect his things this afternoon. In other words, he will not be back in any capacity.

This result is a clear indication that this plan has been firmly rejected by Cornwall Councill following a petition signed by over 6000 people in Cornwall. The councillors will now elect a successor. It is hoped that any new leader will scrap these plans at least until after the next election in May next year.

This is a victory for those ordinary people that were prepared to stand up and campaign against these privatisation plans and for democracy.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Cornwall Council cabinet retreat to bunker over privatisation plan

The issue of the Tory-led cabinet of Cornwall Council and their plan to privatise council services has reached absurd proportions. As I have said before "These plans are devastating for Cornwall and will hit workers and users alike. It is also a shocking indictment of a council leadership that has no respect for democracy or the wishes of ordinary people. They must be defeated."

Since then the petition against the plan has received 6000 signatures, meaning there will be another debate at full council on 23 October. It was also announced that Tory leader of the council Alec Robertson would face a vote of no confidence the week before on 16 October. Following these announcements, Alec Robertson said here that he would abide by any decision taken at that meeting. However, many councillors are sceptical about Robertson's position and believe it is an attempt to make Tory waverers come into line and support him.

Then a few days ago the deputy leader of the Council, Tory Jim Currie, an opponent of the plan announced he was resigning from the cabinet. It is unclear whether this will make other Tories more or less likely to back Robertson at the vote of no confidence or whether Currie is himself poised to take over as the leader of the council.

Kevin Lavery the CEO of the council has written a book on how to privatise services. Clearly the issue is not going according to plan.

It is vital that as many people as possible protest outside the meeting to give steel to those waverers that need to vote to remove Robertson. Whilst I would never encourage anyone to vote for a Tory, the hope of the Liberal Democrat, Mebyon Kernow and non-cabinet Independent councillors must be that Currie becomes the new leader and scraps these plans.



Tuesday 16 October

Outside County Hall


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Privatisation of services at Cornwall Council

Cornwall Council is planning to privatise or outsource all of its services to a private company. This is known as ‘shared services’. One of the companies in the frame is BT. A new company will be formed with one person on the board to represent the council. This will not be an elected member but well-paid Chief Executive Kevin Lavery. Rumour has it that Lavery has been linked to both BT and the other companies in the frame for the takeover.

Some of the areas involved include public health, libraries and One Stop Shops (including the administration of housing benefit for example). The council say this could mean up to 1000 job losses and others could be invited to re-apply for their jobs on worse conditions.

Cornwall Council now says it needs to find £30million ‘savings’ (cuts) for 2013/14.

Not only is this devastating for the workers that lose their jobs, it will also be a blow for the users that will find they have a poorer quality of service as the new company cuts corners, pay, conditions and services.

Moreover there has been a flagrant disregard of democracy in the way this has been carried out. The council cabinet of Tories and independents pushed this through at a cabinet meeting. A subsequent meeting of the full council voted by a clear majority to overturn this decision. The cabinet have subsequently stated that they have the power to go ahead without the backing of full council and will not be backing down.

These plans are devastating for Cornwall and will hit workers and users alike. It is also a shocking indictment of a council leadership that has no respect for democracy or the wishes of ordinary people. They must be defeated.

Come to this public meeting organised by Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance to hear more about this and to discuss how to stop it.

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance

Phone: 07817397756
Twitter: @pzanticuts

Ø Attacks on our NHS, including staff pay and conditions?
Ø Privatisation and outsourcing of council services?
Ø Cuts to housing benefits?
Ø Cuts to other benefits?

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance is holding a public meeting for everyone opposed to all these unnecessary cuts, privatisations and job losses. We will discuss the scale of the attacks we face and what we can do to stop them.

“I think people are generally fed up. There’s the destruction of the NHS and the de-valuing of our nursing staff. But there’s also the daily struggle to pay bills and put food on the table while top bankers are still getting extortionate bonuses.”

Carla Whiting, a Unison member in Cornwall acute health

Public meeting: Tuesday 25 September at 7:30pm
The Lugger Hotel,
Marine Terrace (the promenade)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Socialism or Barbarism in Greece

Stathis Kouvelakis, a socialist from Greece, reports on the changing situation there.
"Greece is a new Weimar Republic type of situation, but with the radical left leading the race. By a reliable poll institute: Syriza 30%, New Democracy (Right) 28%, Golden Dawn (Nazis) 12%; PASOK (Labour) 7,5%, KKE (Communists) 6%, DIMAR ("Democratic Left" part of the current government) 4%.The Nazis are the third force, the display of street violence has obviously given them a new impetus. It's us or, if we fail, it will be them!"
See here for the link.

As the Polish revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg said, we will have "socialism or barbarism".

Friday, 17 August 2012

Slaughter at South Africa's Marikana platinum mine

Striking South African mineworkers were gunned down by police on Thursday. Charlie Kimber from Socialist Worker looks at events leading up to the massacre and the business interests behind it.

"Police in South Africa have opened fire at striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine near Rustenburg, leaving at least 18 people dead. Ten people have died over the last few days in other clashes.
This disgusting slaughter evoked memories of how the police acted during apartheid. All the hope at the end of that vile racist regime has come to this."

To read more, see here.

WARNING: These videos are quite shocking.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Inspiring speakers at Unite the Resistance Conference

Last weekend around five hundred people attended a conference organised by the 'Unite the Resistance' rank and file trade union group. The conference discussed the government's austerity measures and resistance to them. There was a great deal of discussion around the public sector pensions dispute and how to get the programme of co-ordinated strike action that has stalled since 30 November last year, back on.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS union spoke about the need, not just to get another mass, co-ordinated one day strike in autumn organised, but to ensure that it then led to another co-ordinated strike soon after. It is vital, he argued, that the momentum is not allowed to be dissipated by the trade union leaders of the big unions like Unite, Unison and GMB as they did last time. He also spoke of the need to stand candidates in election in conjunction with other left-of-labour groupings.

There were also speeches from socialist Labour MP John McDonnell, Jackie Turner from the BMA, Russ Ball from Coryton Oil refinery and many others.

However, the speech of the conference was given by Segundo Menendez Collar, a striking miner from the Asturias region in Spain. He spoke of how miners there have been on indefinite strike for over a month at the government's plan to destroy the mining industry. They have used many methods, he said, including demonstrations, strikes and rocket launchers. In a very moving and inspirational speech Segundo spoke of the need for solidarity across Europe and beyond. He said the fight must be fought across the whole working class with the same methods. The key, he said, was unity.

Friday, 29 June 2012

I am not an artist, but...

Followers of this blog will be aware that it has always dealt almost exclusively with current political issues with occasional references to recent history. This is not about to change.

However, this post relates to the launch of a sister blog dealing with the politics of art from the perspective of someone with virtually no knowledge of art history. As the name of the blog suggests I am not an artist, but... I still feel the need to give my opinion despite, or pehaps because of, my ignorance. I believe art is not handed down to us by great artists any more than political ideas are handed down to us by great thinkers or laws are handed down to us by great men (politicians and judges are still overwhelmingly male). My approach to art is the same as my approach to politics; it is something we all can and should engage with.

"It seems to me that for many artists there is a dichotomy between the urban landscape and the natural landscape. In many ways this might seem obvious. If one is an artist in Central London one might paint the Houses of Parliament or St. Paul's Cathedral. By contrast in one lived in the countryside in Scotland it might be hills or lochs. But it seems to me that this is quite an arbitrary divide. Most places have elements of both.
"Take for example the many paintings of St. Michael's Mount that any visitor to Penzance or anywhere else in West Cornwall would be confronted with in the many art galleries found in those parts. They are almost all looking from the beach opposite (usually Marazion) or from a little higher up or even from the point of view of the sea. Again it might seem obvious to look from a good vantage point.
"But to me this is not very interesting because it is not the view that someone living and working in the area normally sees. Not unless they have a lot of money and an incredible view and most people do not. It is also usually a timeless view as it has no historical context. It is a painting that could have been painted at any point in the last hundred years. To me, a painting without relation to the times or the people living and working in the area is pointless, it must be contextualised.
"I also prefer the composition of a picture of a natural landscape if it has human-made forms interrupting it. This, for example is a photograph of the sea, a boat and a cliff. I love the way the TV aerials and chimney pots cut across the landscape unwelcome and unbidden. It makes it more real. This is the way we usually see the sea or the countryside whilst we are running to the shop or out of work on our lunch break.
"To me, a landscape painting needs to tell us something about the relationship between nature and humanity. It is not enough to simply present nature as something timeless and unchanging and that stands on its own. To me that suggests a desire to escape human society to an imaginary natural paradise. I don't want to escape the human world, I want to change it."

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Does competitive sport turn us into flag-waving morons?

This summer is seeing a plethora of spectacular events. First we have had the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we are currently experiencing the Euro 2012 football contest and shortly we will be forced to endure the Olympics, made even worse by the fact that it is held here in Britain.

I say 'endure' because quite apart from the fact that none of these events interest me in the slightest, they are complimented by what Noam Chomsky describes as 'training in irrational jingoism'. The flags and the faux 'pride' in ones country are the perfect antidote, from the perspective of the ruling class, to the resistance to austerity and the sense of a lack of legitimacy of our rulers that is building in this country and across the world. Strikes, demonstrations on the one hand and the revelations about phone-hacking and the corrupt links between politicians, the police and the press on the other are doing immense damage to people's consent to be ruled in this way. We must strengthen and deepen this sense and not be knocked of course by these spectacles.

Noam Chomsky discusses this in his book 'Manufacturing Consent'. He argues that whereas totalitarian regimes use force to control what people do, in 'democratic' countries, the ruling class has to use propaganda, what the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci called 'bourgeois ideology', to control what people think.

Chomsky says the media plays two main roles in society. One is to filter out news that the ruling class does not want us to hear. This might include positive news of strikes and protests but also negative news such as atrocities caused by the army abroad. One example he gives is the relative coverage of two atrocities around 1975 on. One, involving the Indonesian genocide of Timorians in East Timor, armed and funded by America, was hardly reported on at all in America and if it was, the US government was whitewashed. The other, involving the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia was discussed in shocking detail. Naturally Americans were outraged about events in Cambodia and entirely ignorant of events in East Timor.

The other role the media has is to keep people preoccupied with other things. This is the 'circus' part of what the Romans called Bread and Circuses (Panem et Circense). This is the idea that if people have enough to eat and enough spectacles to occupy them, they will not resist the nefarious practices of the regime.

Chomsky describes the role of sport as the ruling class 'reducing people's capacity to think'. He argues that it diverts their attention away from doing something about the issues that negatively affect their lives. He also argues that it creates 'irrational attitudes of submission to authority'. In other words it turns people into flag-waving morons. We need to resist these diversions and get back to fighting the government's programme of austerity, cuts and privatisation.

Here and above is a fim called 'Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media' which outlines these ideas in an easily accessible way. Go to 1:04:39 for the section on sport.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why we should support today's doctor's strike

Doctors all over the country are taking industrial action today (Thursday) in the first national doctors' strike since 1975. Clearly this is not action that is being taken lightly and it should be given the full support of the public.

There has been a barrage of news stories in the newspapers, TV and radio media over the last few weeks since the strike was announced. Almost all have been negative. One told us how some doctors earn more than the prime minister. Another said "Striking doctors will destroy public trust... and it might never return". Others told lurid stories of how bad individual doctors are or scaremongering about people being left without medical care.

The truth is, this is all designed to turn us against the doctors because they know that they have a lot of support among the general public. How good individual doctors are or how much some get paid is irrelevant. Dr David Bailey, chair of the Welsh GP committee, said "GPs will see everyone on Thursday who is ill or thinks they are unwell and needs to be seen by a doctor. In hospitals, all emergency and inpatient work will be done as normal. Any urgent surgery and anything to do with cancer or terminal care will be done as normal. Elective surgery will be cancelled and will be rescheduled to take place within 12 weeks. We are trying very, very hard not to affect patients – our beef isn’t with patients and never has been."

The action is being taken because, according to the British Medical Association, the changes to their pension scheme will result in doctors paying up to 14.5% of their salaries in pension contributions, which it claims is twice as much as other public sector staff on similar salaries. However, many doctors voted for action, not just because of this but because they are angry at cutbacks in the NHS dressed up as 'efficiency savings' and the perceived dismantling and privatisation of the service.

The doctors are part of a wider grouping of trade unions and other organisations opposing the government on public sector pensions and the unfair cuts they are making to health, education and other public services. Their fight is our fight. We should support them.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Greek election result not all bad for the left

Yesterday's Greek general election resulted in a narrow victory for the pro-bailout conservative New Democracy party (ND). The anti-bailout 'radical left' Syriza party were second just 3% behind. ND received 29.66% of the vote, Syriza received 26.89% and third-placed 'socialist' party PASOK recieved just 12.28%.

ND did not receive enough votes for a parliamentary majority, but due to Greece's election rules they get a 50-seat bonus because they came first. This gives them 129 seats in the 300-member strong parliament, Syriza get 71 seats and PASOK 33 seats.

This is an incredible result given ND and PASOK have dominated political life in Greece for the last thirty years. Syriza was formed in January 2004 and gained just 3.3% of the vote in that year. They then increased their vote to 5.04% in 2007. In May this year they received 16.78% and yesterday their share of the vote stood at 26.89%. At some points over the last few weeks of the campaign, Syriza were ahead in the opinion polls. A victory for Syriza would have sent political shockwaves across Europe and around the world. It would have given a boost to the unions and other organisations that are resisting austerity on the streets of Athens and elsewhere.

As it stands, it is still a fantastic result. Whilst it is clear that many anti-bailout parties were attracted to Syriza as the only party that could stop austerity, it is also clear that many parties also rallied to ND for the opposite reason. There was intense pressure in the form of propaganda coming from the European Union (EU) and individual member states on the Greek people to vote for austerity and against an exit from the Euro.

80% of Greek people are against austerity but 80% are also against leaving the Euro. The EU attempted, apparently with some success, to argue that opposing the bailout deal would lead to a Greek exit from the Euro whether Syriza liked it or not. Syriza's policy was to walk a tightrope where they argued they would scrap the bailout deal but try not to leave the Euro. Should Syriza have argued in favour of exiting the Euro? Perhaps. They may have been able to argue a case for why it would be desirable and taken some people with them. But more likely they would have committed electoral suicide, giving the EU what they wanted to an even larger degree.

So what happens now? It is thought that ND will attempt to form a pro-bailout government with PASOK and possibly the 'moderate' Democratic Left who have 17 seats. However, PASOK have said they will not join a government without Syriza and Syriza have said they will not join a pro-bailout government. This is probably political maneouvering on the part of PASOK. They will almost certainly either join a government or support a government without its MPs taking up ministerial posts. They are clearly worried about disappearing into oblivion.

Syriza will then form the 'official opposition' and will have a platform upon which to continue to criticise the government's policies. There is a good chance that this new government will not last very long and Syriza can bide their time and wait for a better opportunity to come to power. For now, the battle will return to the streets.

For further interesting discussion on this see Lenin's Tomb here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Banking system beautifully explained by 12-year old

Victoria Grant, a 12-year old from Canada has given a lecture to the Public Banking Institute in Canada. In it she explains how the banking system works and how it is robbing Canada, and of course the rest of the world, of its money. In 6 beautiful minutes she succinctly puts what most economists could not explain in a lifetime. She says "we are being defrauded and robbed by the banking system and a complicit government".

Although her recommendations would improve the situation it is not, on its own, the answer. There is a much deeper exploitation of workers at the heart of the way capitalism works.

Nevertheless this is wonderful to watch. Although her father helped her to find some of the material, the lecture is, apparently, all her own work, the result of her own independent study. To see a 12-year old lecturing grey suited, balding old men with their ties done up to eleven at an institute of banking is truely wonderful.

There is also a fantastic interview with her here, where she says we should "throw the corrupt bankers and politicians in jail".

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Next huge demonstration against the Tories will be on 20 October

The TUC has called a mass demonstration on Saturday 20 October as a follow up to last year’s huge protest on 26 March. Its “March for the Alternative” last year was the biggest trade union demonstration in Britain’s history. Well over half a million marched. The sheer scale of it played a role in building pressure to call the mass strikes.

The TUC is organising another central London demonstration against the policies of austerity. It has the potential to be massive. Coaches will come from across Britain to join the march to a monster rally in Hyde Park. The protest has been called under the banner of “A Future That Works”.

As well as cuts the TUC wants to highlight the issue of unemployment.

© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Find out how you can help the fight against cuts in Penwith in Cornwall

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance have launched their all-new, redesigned, four page newsletter for Summer 2012. Campaigners are out right now delivering them through doors in Penzance.

This issue focuses on the fightback against the Tory assault on our living standards, particularly the campaign to stop the closure of the Remploy factory and recent developments in the campaign against the downgrading of services and the piecemeal closure of West Cornwall Hospital. The newsletter also contains an account of what it is like to live at the sharp end of the cuts, an article warning against taking out payday loans and a book review.

If you would like to receive a copy of the full newsletter, either in hard copy or in electronic form, or if you would like to join or help to distribute the newsletter, you can contact the group at pzanticuts@hotmail.co.uk or by phoning 07817397756.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Tony Blair discusses stopping 'the worst excesses of the free market'... in 1987

Tony Blair was the leader of the Labour Party from 1994 and Prime Minister in Britain from 1997 until he was forced out of office in 2007. The government, that prior to the election had promised a “more caring Britain” and an “ethical foreign policy”, actually increased the inequality between the rich and poor, plunged Iraq and Afghanistan into bloody chaos, and Blair become the darling of the extreme right wing cabal in the US.

During his time in office, Tony Blair oversaw the beginning of the privatisation of the NHS, a law and order agenda that punished the poor and in his first six years in office Blair ordered British troops into battle five times, more than any other prime minister in British history. This included Iraq in both 1998 and 2003; Kosovo (1999); Sierra Leone (2000) and Afghanistan (2001). This, and the lies he told over Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction will forever be his bloody legacy.

But Tony Blair, along with his chancellor Gordon Brown, also continued Thatcher’s policy of closely aligning the British economy to the US and mimicking its free market policies. This has meant the continued decline of manufacturing industry, and growing dependence on financial markets. The City of London has flourished under Blair and Brown. Many believe it has now overtaken New York as the world’s biggest financial centre, as the City’s lax regulatory regime has attracted vast amounts of speculative money held by hedge funds and private equity firms. This made the entire British economy highly vulnerable to the financial crash, which happened shortly after Blair's departure in 2007.

Given this, it is incredible to discover an interview Blair gave to Michael Buerk for the BBC's One O'Clock News shortly after Black Monday, the stock market crash in 1987. At the time, Tony Blair was the Labour Party's spokesman on 'City Affairs' and he said this:
"We now have an economy that is so locked-in to international trading, so dependent on what happens in America, that anything that happens in Wall Street then reverberates right round the world. Now the key lesson that we've got to take out of this is a necessity for governments, of any political colour, to work together in order to stop the excesses of the free market".
Indeed. Its a pity he didn't take his own advice.

Watch the clip here.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Support the strikes in Cornwall and beyond

Tomorrow (Thursday 10 May), hospital workers in the Unite union, civil servants in the PCS union and college and university lecturers in the UCU union are going on strike. The dispute is primarily about the Tory-led government’s attack on their pensions. The government wants them to work longer, pay more into their pensions and get less at the end.

But the strike is also about the attacks this government is making on all of us – the cuts to our benefits, the job losses, the pasty tax, pay cuts for us and tax cuts for the richest 1%. If the government is defeated over pensions it will be easier to defeat them over everything else. We must all support the strikes!

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance have organised a 'Strikers' Cavalcade', a sort of mobile solidarity with various picket lines and demonstrations across West and Mid-Cornwall. The itinerary involves supporting the PCS picket at Pydar House and the Disabled People Against Cuts protest at the ATOS premises at around 9am, supporting the PCS picket at HMRC in Redruth around 10am, on to Penzance at around 11am for a meet-up with Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance to leaflet by the Wharfside shopping centre in Market Jew Street and to offer solidarity at the threatened Remploy factory in Long Rock, before arriving at Treliske Hospital in Truro for a demonstration with Unite and PCS members. Trade unionists that are on strike should try to meet with the cavalcade at some point but this is not just for those on strike. Everyone should support the strikes because a victory for one is a victory for all.

The government says we must pay off the debt that has resulted from giving £850 billion pounds of our money to the banks, in five years. Yet our national debt was proportionally greater in 1948 when the NHS was created.

Even if we do agree that we need to pay off the deficit, £120 billion in tax is either evaded, avoided or not collected each year. This equates to three-quarters of the deficit. If Corporation Tax was returned to the level it was at in the 1980s that would cover the rest of it. There would be no need to make one single cut.
The government wants ordinary people to pay for an economic crisis created by the bankers, multinational companies and politicians. Yet they are on the back foot after it was revealed anyone can buy Tory policy for £250,000, their bungled budget, the scandal of their links to Rupert Murdoch and their disastrous results in the recent local elections. The government needs to be stopped and it can be.

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance meet every Tuesday at 7.30pm at the British Rail Club at Truro Railway Station.

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance meets every other Monday at 7pm in the snug at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street in Penzance. The next meeting is on Monday 21 May.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Election results across Europe point to a massive rejection of austerity

A whole raft of election results across Europe over the last few days have proved to be an important bellwether in calculating how ordinary people feel about the consenus among the political elite for savage cuts, privatisation, public sector job losses and austerity.

In Greece, the incumbent New Democracy, similar to Britain's Conservatives, slumped from 33.5% to under 19%. Pasok, who are similar to New Labour, collapsed to 13%, a long way to fall from almost 44% at the last elections. This disenchantment with parties that support the bailout with strings attached that have meant savage austerity has led to a polarisation both left and right. The fascist Golden Dawn received 7% of the vote giving them 21 representatives in parliament. This is clearly very worrying. However the gains for the far left have been much bigger. Syriza, a coalition of far-left parties which was only formed in 2004 and which received 1% of the vote in its first election and just 5% in 2007, is now the second biggest party in Greek politics, securing a very impressive 16.8%. Syriza campaigned on a specifically anti-austerity and anti-cuts programme and their growth is a clear rejection of the consensus of the major parties. The Stalinist Communist Party also received 8.5% of the vote. New Democracy now has the extremely difficult task of piecing together a pro-cuts government but if they fail it will fall to Syriza to form an anti-cuts one. This will not be easy either and could lead to further elections but there is clearly an opportunity for a radically different vision to come to the fore in Greece, perhaps leading to Greece's exit from the Euro.

In France, the french people have elected Francois Hollande, the first 'socialist' president for 17 years. It is unclear precisely how Hollande will proceed; his Socialist Party is similar to New Labour in Britain and indeed he travelled to London to reassure City financiers, “I am not dangerous.” However it is undoubtedly the case that he was elected because of his clear anti-austerity rhetoric. The scale of the defeat for Sarkozy (he is the first french president for 30 years to fail to win a second term) is a clear rejection of his reactionary politics. Here too there was a polarisation away from the main parties to both left and right. Melenchon, the radical left politician of the Left Front, who campaigned to reverse cuts, strengthen workers’ rights and impose a 100% tax rate for the rich received 11% in the first round. In contrast to Hollande, Mellenchon proudly proclaims, “I am dangerous.” The vote for Marine Le Pen's fascist Front National is clearly a cause for great concern and was boosted by Sarkozy's tacking to the right by adopting openly racist policies, but in the end this was rejected by the french people.

In Britain, there has been a similar rejection of austerity. The Tories lost over 400 council seats and the Lib Dems lost over 300. If the Lib Dems results of the last two years are repeated for the next two, they will be virtually wiped out in one parliament. The Labour Party gained over 800 seats despite putting forward a very weak opposition to the cuts. Labour have said they will not reverse any of the cuts and it must be asked what might have happened had Labour given a clear lead in resisting the government's attacks on ordinary people. In many places, those that did were successful. Following George Galloway's incredible election victory in a by-election in Bradford last month, Respect have had five candidates elected to the council. In Preston, despite only deciding to stand at the last minute, Socialist Workers Party member Michael Lavalette regained the seat he lost last year. The fascist British National Party lost all the seats they were contesting, including their seat on the London Assembly. Similarly UKIP only managed to gain one council seat.

In London, the election of Tory Boris Johnson as London Mayor may be seen as an aberration. However, the polls showed that he didn't have an overall lead, but led among people who said they were certain to vote. His Labour rival Ken Livingstone suffered from his failure to mount a radical campaign that could have motivated people angry about austerity to back him, while Johnson benefited from being seen as somewhat independent from his party. The result does not reflect Londoners being right-wing or endorsing Johnson's policies. In 2000, standing as an independent, Livingstone won support by focusing on issues like opposing tube privatisation. This time, as the official Labour Party candidate, he campaigned against high public transport fares, but he lined up with the Tories over crime, criticising them only by saying he would put more resources into the police than Johnson. He also talked about the need to make London "business-friendly". A more radical vision could have won.

The lesson from all these results is that ordinary people across Europe have had enough of austerity, cuts and privatisation. All the major parties that support this position have taken a hammering in elections, including Angela Merkel's party in German local elections. This has lead to a polarisation to both left and right. In many countries there has been a worrying rise of more or less openly fascist parties, most notably Jobbik in Hungary, and this must be tackled by workers' movements and ordinary people more generally. However, the main winners, so far, have been the left. We need to take this opportunity to realign European politics and fight both austerity and fascism. We must keep up the momentum of resistance to the cuts and the bosses offensive until we have driven back those governments that are trying to make us pay for their crisis. We need to make the rich, who are getting increasingly richer, pay for their crisis. We need to demonstrate, strike and occupy until we have won.

Friday, 20 April 2012

10 May strike can boost fight against pensions robbery

by Julie Sherry

Some 100,000 health workers in the Unite union will strike to defend pensions on 10 May and 290,000 civil service workers in the PCS union will join them. The Tories want to force millions of public sector workers to work longer, pay more into their pensions and get less when they retire. They made much of the “heads of agreement”—the so-called “final offer” on pensions negotiations—at the end of last year. But the government is refusing to budge on these three key attacks. Many workers are disappointed that union leaders haven’t called a national strike in the dispute since 30 November last year. But the mood is still there to fight—and 10 May is a chance to regain the momentum.

The PCS union’s national executive committee met on Tuesday of this week. It unanimously decided to join the strike on 10 May and to strike again in June. This opens the possibility of two mass public sector strikes in quick succession. Nipsa, Northern Ireland’s public sector workers’ union, could join the strike too. The UCU lecturers’ union has decided to strike alongside any other union that takes national action. Its national executive committee is set to meet later this month. And teachers in the NUT union are fighting to join the 10 May strike on a regional basis. This means that up to half a million workers could strike together. People want to keep fighting. But they also want a strategy to win.

The planned strike on 10 May could also boost health workers in Unison. They are currently voting on whether to accept the government’s heads of agreement, or reject it and back more strikes. Health workers in the GMB union are waiting for a promised consultation on the heads of agreement. Health workers in Unison in Scotland are continuing rolling strikes over pensions. Workers in the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have rejected the deal.

The government has already imposed increased pension contributions on workers. Workers in every union should take the chance to be part of the action. This fight is a beacon for everyone facing the Tories’ assault. Cameron and his cronies are embattled by scandal and crisis, they dread more strikes. They are vulnerable and mass action can stop them.
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Monday, 16 April 2012

Join the campaign to save the Remploy factory in Penzance

Campaigners from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance were out in force on Saturday at the bottom of Causeway Head in Penzance collecting signatures on a petition to stop the closure of Remploy factories, including the one in Longrock near Penzance.

Remploy is the largest and the oldest employer of disabled people in Britain. It is not only a workplace but a way of life for thousands of disabled people who want sustainable employment of their choice. Employees now face the threat of closure with little prospect of a job elsewhere.

Shoppers were angry at the way people with disabilities are being targeted by the Tory-led government, not only losing their jobs through the planned closure of Remploy, but also losing benefits as a result of the Welfare Reform Act. Around 400 people signed the petition in less than two hours, about the same amount that had signed it the previous week.

The petitioners were joined by Colin Grey, the GMB trade union rep. at the Longrock Remploy factory. Colin said: “Remploy in employing us, gives us dignity, a living wage, a reason to get up in the morning, support not only at work but in our personal lives, and most of all, a life. We have for many years worked for a living and not stayed at home on benefits as most, if not all, could have.

“To take Remploy away would subject many, many hundreds to live on benefits and never work again, and to languish in poverty and despair. I urge all to do what they can to stop this government making a huge mistake in destroying Remploy, because when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The Golowan Band were also at the bottom of Causeway Head on Saturday, raising money and looking for volunteers for this year’s Golowan Festival. Many of the band members signed the petition and the band agreed to support the campaign. Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance deplores the cut in funding they are facing with all funding from Penwith Town Council being withdrawn from next year. A spokesperson said “This is a community event. It brings cheer and revenue into the town. We need to keep the spirit of Golowan alive.”

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance have organised a public meeting on the issue of the planned closure of the Remploy factories on Tuesday 1 May at 7pm. It is to be held at the Lugger Hotel on the Promenade in Penzance. Colin Grey and the regional GMB rep. will speak and representatives of Disability Cornwall and Cornwall Disabled People Against the Cuts are expected to speak. Everyone is welcome to come along and have their say.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Stop the closure of the Remploy factory in Longrock, Penzance

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance are currently campaigning against the government’s proposed closure of the Remploy factory in Longrock near Penzance, Cornwall. Around 400 people signed a petition in two hours on Saturday 7 April. Campaigners will also be out each Saturday for the next few weeks from 11am at the bottom on Causeway Head in Penzance.

This blog first mentioned this threat back in August last year (see here). Now this threat is becoming a reality.

Colin Grey GMB rep at the factory has said:
“The people who work in Remploy are not institutionalised; they lead perfectly normal lives in and out of Remploy. We are not segregated, we are immersed in the local community and work in a place that has meaningful employment, no different than any other, apart from that it employs a greater proportion of people with a disability.

“Remploy is not only a place of work it is a support network not only for those that work here but for the wider community. It gives meaningful employment to those that would find it impossible to work in mainstream employment. We are, for the want of a better word, a family that cares for each other in far more areas than any mainstream employer would be able to.

“Remploy in employing us gives us dignity, a living wage, a reason to get up in the morning, support not only at work but in our personal lives, and most of all, a life. We have for many years worked for a living and not stayed at home on benefits as most, if not all, could have.

“To take Remploy away in my opinion would be the real segregation subjecting many, many hundreds to live on benefits and never work again, and to languish in poverty and despair. I urge all to do what they can to stop this government making a huge mistake in destroying Remploy, because when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The workers, the GMB trade union, Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance, other local disability organisation and individuals are looking to hold a public meeting in the near future to discuss the next steps in the campaign.

For more information or to get involved in the campaign, see here. The next meeting of Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance will be held at 7pm on Monday 16 April at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street, Penzance.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Galloway victory gives boost to fight against cuts

George Galloway of the Respect Party has won the Bradford West parliamentary by-election with around a ten thousand majority. This will create political shockwaves across the country as it did when Galloway won in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005.

Galloway himself described the result as "the most sensational victory in British political history" which may not be much of an overstatement. The Respect vote increased by 53% to 56%, a massive 36% swing from Labour who achieved 25% down 20% on 2010. The Tory vote collapsed completely down 23% to just 8%. The Lib Dems were down 7% to just 5%.

The result shows that after the unfairness of the the Welfare Bill, the privatisation of the NHS and the budget that gave us the Granny Tax, the Pasty Tax and a tax cut for millionaires and corporations, people have had enough of the rich boys in the Tory-led government. But it also shows that they do not see 'austerity-lite' Labour as a serious alternative. The people of Bradford have talked about feeling betrayed by Labour.

This result should give heart to every anti-cuts activist and every ordinary person that wants to see resistance to the axe-wielding mainstream parties and who believes that there is an alternative to austerity, cuts and misery.

For more see the Guardian articles here and the SWP website here.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Rise in public sector job losses exposes government's cuts agenda

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released figures detailing job losses in the public sector for 2011 by region. As the This is Cornwall website explain:
"The South West has been hit harder than any other region in England by public sector job losses which last year outnumbered those created in the private sector by more than six to one. Some 6,000 new private sector jobs were created between July and September, while 37,000 public sector workers lost their jobs, according to ONS. The drop of 7 per cent highlights the region's reliance on state-funded jobs and has been described as "appalling" by unions. They say the Government should rethink its flagship policy to reduce the deficit by replacing a diminished public sector with newly created positions in business."
A spokesperson for Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance told Cornwall's Pirate FM:
"These figures are a devastating indictment of the Tory-led government's programme of austerity measures and cuts in a number of ways.

"First they affect the person losing their job directly. The government claimed when they first started shedding jobs in the public sector, that the slack would be taken up by jobs created in the private sector. At the time we said that was unlikely as many private sector jobs are dependent on contracts outsourced from public sector departments. We have been proven right as the figures also show that new private sector jobs have not been created at anything like the same rate as public sector jobs have been lost. There are 2.67 million unemployed people across Britain seeking less than half a million jobs so there are more than five people for every vacancy.

"Second, this gives the lie to the government's 'work experience' scheme or 'workfare' in which job seekers are forced, despite the government's claims to the contrary, to work without pay or face losing their benefits. The government claims to believe that flipping burgers in Burger King or stacking shelves in Tesco or Poundland will help the more than one million young people currently out of work find a job. But as we can see, the jobs are simply not there for them to go to. Indeed this kind of unpaid work will only reduce the likelihood that those employers will need to take on more staff on a paid basis as they have a constant stream of workers that the government is forcing to work for them for nothing.

Third, these figures demonstrate the loss of services the shedding of jobs represents. The jobs being lost are not simply 'back office' staff, as if somehow the 'frontline' services can be provided without the support of office staff, they are the jobs of nurses, teaching assisstants, benefits staff and job centre workers. The services these workers provide are being hit at precisely the time that are most needed by ordinary people suffering because of the economic crisis.

"These cuts and job losses are particularly devastating in a place like Cornwall where people rely on public sector employment as jobs in the private sector can be disproportionately seasonal, temporary and part-time. Furthermore cuts in public transport affect people in a rural area more than those in a more urban environment. Similarly, the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust is having to make cuts of £20 million to its budget which is resulting in job losses and ward closures. If patients and relatives have to travel from Land's End to Truro, for example, this makes life much more difficult for often elderly and vulnerable people.

We need to send a message to the government to think again. The best way we can do that is to support the co-ordinated public sector strikes on 28 March. On that day around 700,000 public sector workers will be striking against government attacks on their pensions. But as many workers made clear on the 3000-strong march and rally in Truro in Cornwall on the last co-ordinated strike day last November, they are striking not just to protect their pensions but also to protect jobs and to defend the public services they provide. We should all join them on that day in Truro or on marches and rallies around the country to send a message to the government that we will not take their agenda of cuts lying down but will fight until they are stopped."
To listen to Pirate FM on the hour every hour this afternoon (Monday) to hear excerpts from the above comments in the news bulletin, click here and then click on 'Listen Live'.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Workfare: militant action works

The Socialist Workers Party found itself at the centre of a political storm this week after being denounced by various Tory government ministers. Right wing columnists attacked us for being “placard-toting obsessives” who had “zero impact”. Yet at the same time they accused us of orchestrating an anti-workfare conspiracy that had lured in the BBC and even the Mumsnet website. The Sun newspaper made us their “villain of the week”. And the Sun knows a bit about villainy. We were also treated to “exposes” revealing the startling fact that socialists are involved in the Right to Work campaign.

The reason for this frantic red-baiting is the spectacular success of the broad campaign against workfare. It’s a scandal that unemployed people are being forced to work for free. And millions can see that. The Tories—already in trouble over the NHS—found another key part of their project stalling.

Within days bosses were running scared. Tesco and other major firms pulled out of the scheme. The Tories were left isolated and defensive—and they did not like it one bit. That’s why they launched a smear campaign against the protesters. Tory minister Chris Grayling made baseless accusations about protesters hacking his email.

The bosses also fell out with each other. A Daily Mail front page featured former Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose telling firms to “show some backbone” and stand up to the protests.

But many companies realise the campaigners reflect a wider mood. Most people are rightly suspicious of companies whose only interest lies in making money. In Grayling’s own words, “This is part of a broader anti-capitalist trend in our society.”

If a few protests can push the Tories back, think of the possibilities when millions of workers take mass action together. Look at the magnificent strike by 2.6 million people on 30 November over pensions. It was the biggest in decades and proof of a rising mood of defiance. The victory won by electricians this week against construction companies intent on cutting their pay is another indication of our power. Organising in the workplace is organising where we are strongest. When public sector workers go on strike, we don’t see David Cameron and his cronies collecting the bins or teaching in schools. They can’t replace us. Now unions are planning a strike on 28 March. If workers beat the plans to slash their pensions it will be easier for all of us to stop all the other attacks.

We want to bring down the Tories. But we also have a wider vision. We are on the side of workers everywhere, whether in Greece or Egypt or Britain. We think capitalism is what brings us crisis, poverty and war. We want to abolish that system and build a socialist society—driven by the needs of the many, not the profits of the few. This is the Socialist Workers Party’s agenda. It’s not secret. We declare our views every week in Socialist Worker, which we sell on high streets across the country.

If you like what you’ve heard then we hope you become a regular reader. And if you agree with it, we hope you will join us.

Join the SWP – phone 020 7819 1172 or email membership@swp.org.uk


© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Victory: Electricians defeat building bosses

by Simon Basketter

Rank and file electricians have won. They have beaten the building bosses who wanted to tear up their terms and conditions and slash their pay. Electricians across Britain have been protesting, occupying and striking unofficially for the last six months. Today the remaining companies pursuing the attack gave in.

The firms wanted to tear up electricians’ existing JIB national agreement and impose a new agreement called Besna. This would have cut wages by 35 percent and introduced new unskilled grades. The bosses, who collectively called themselves HVCA, issued a joint statement with the Unite union today, Thursday. In full it reads,

“In consultation with the remaining companies and following discussions with Unite, it has been agreed that HVCA will withdraw its proposal for the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (Besna).

“As a result of today’s decision by HVCA, Unite has agreed not to pursue further industrial action or protests against the Besna companies.

“HVCA, supported by its member companies, will now engage in high-level talks with Unite within an agreed timeline, with the aim of creating new proposals and ensuring agreed terms are honoured.”
Ian a member of the London electricians’ rank and file committee told Socialist Worker, “After nearly seven months of fighting, the decision today of the remaining companies to pull away from Besna is a great vindication of our stance.

“This was a cynical attempt to use the economic climate to drive through massive cuts to workers’ pay and conditions and keep profits high. We must use the momentum we have built to make sure we build on our terms. Although we have won this dispute, I can see these companies using negotiation to bring in other attacks. If they do, we must be ready to fight back immediately.”

Originally eight companies had planned to impose Besna on workers. The largest of them, Balfour Beatty, pulled out last week following the pressure of the rank and file campaign and the threat of an official strike. NG Bailey followed suit yesterday with the remaining firms – Crown House, Gratte Brothers, T Clarke, Spie Matthew Hall and Shepherd Engineering Services – today. MJN Colston, which backed out of the agreement last year, was placed in administration today.

Pete, an electrician from Wakefield, said, “It’s a brilliant result. This shows that rank and file militant action is the way forward for trade unions. Leaving it to the full time union officials is not enough. People have to get involved.”

The electricians’ determined campaign has humbled huge corporations – and at the centre has been rank and file workers’ organisation. The lesson is simple. Militant tactics win.

© Socialist Worker

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

New mass strike against cuts on 28 March

It’s on. Three unions have named the day for their next joint strike: Wednesday 28 March.

The PCS civil service workers’ union, the NUT teachers’ union and the UCU lecturers’ union all plan to walk out that day.

And more unions could come in behind them, including sections of the huge Unite union. Up to 750,000 workers could strike altogether.

The pensions battle nearly stalled when some union leaders signed up to the government’s latest pensions deal. But 28 March can reinvigorate the struggle.

Across Europe ordinary people are fighting austerity. In Greece workers are launching massive general strikes and taking to the streets against cuts. 28 March is our chance to bring that Greek spirit to Britain.

© Socialist Worker

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Millions protest as indefinite strike shakes Nigeria

by Baba Aye, national chairperson of the Socialist Workers League in Abuja.

Nigeria arose on Monday as its workers began an indefinite general strike. The first day was a stunning success. Up to ten million people were out on the streets.

On 1 January Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan abolished fuel subsidies. Most of Nigeria’s 160 million population live on less than 320 naira ($2) a day. But overnight petrol prices increased from 65 naira to 141 per litre. The country’s two main union federations called the strike. Their simple demand is the return of the subsidy. Only seven million people are in affiliated unions, but already the strike shows their strategic power. Nigeria’s economy ground to a halt. Factories, banks and offices were shut down. Shops and the plethora of informal services outlets across the country were closed.

In virtually every major city, except those in the north east which have been militarised under a state of emergency, millions of Nigerians took charge of the streets and neighbourhoods. But even in the militarised states, strike monitoring committees went around in buses to ensure that the strike was solid.

The trade union movement is the only countrywide democratic social force cutting across creed and ethnic identity. This working class action shows the possibility of another Nigeria where the 99 percent are no longer marginalised and dominated by capitalism.

Of course the ruling class did not just fold its hands. More than 20 demonstrators were wounded when state forces opened fire on strikers in Lagos, Kano, Gusau and Asaba. At least three were killed. The perpetrators in Lagos were identified by vigilant citizens who took the vehicle number of their police van, and broadcast this widely, using social networking media. To quell their anger the Lagos state governor has now ordered the arrest of the policemen involved.

Tensions were already obvious before the strike started. Spontaneous demonstrations swept through a dozen cities last week. In Kano protesters occupied the city centre—calling it Liberation Square—in their tens of thousands. There was no concern over creed or faith. Police brutally dispersed the protesters. But many among the junior ranks sympathise with the unfolding revolt. Around 300 police joined the protest march in Lagos on Tuesday of last week. The inspector general of police described them as “mutineers”.

Airspace, ports and borders are closed. Citizens have tried to stockpile food and water. Monday was a glorious day of rage, but it is just the beginning.

© Socialist Worker. You may republish if you include an active link to the original