Nov 20 2016

FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT, TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?


WHAT DOES TRUMP’S VICTORY SIGNIFY?

– ALLAN ARMSTRONG IN CONVERSATION WITH

ALAN BISSETT, BRIAN HIGGINS, PAUL STEWART AND

JOHN TUMMON

(see short biogs at end)

 

 1. ALLAN ARMSTRONG – 9.11.16

“An even greater leap into fantasy land is the belief that Brexit will provide a progressive example to other member states wanting to break away from the EU…. The first and unfortunately well-known non-UK person to celebrate Brexit was none other than the Right populist US Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump. With typical crassness he chose his new golf course at Turnberry in Scotland to declare his solidarity with Brexit… Another presidential hopeful, Marine Le Pen, of the French Far Right National Front, was the first significant European politician to proclaim her solidarity with Brexit.
Continue reading “FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT, TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?”

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Oct 24 2014

STUC AND ITUC (NORTHERN COMMITTEE) DEMONSTRATIONS ON OCTOBER 18th.

On October 18th  the TUC, STUC and ITUC (Northern Committee) held demonstrations to protest against austerity.

Trade Unionists For Independence (East Coast) distributed the  leaflet below at the STUC rally, It’s Time to Create A Just Scotland, held in Glasgow on Saturday, October 18th. It was attended by 3500 trade unionists.

Socialist Democracy (Ireland) wrote the second piece about the demonstration in Belfast. 

1. AFTER SEPTEMBER 18th – BRING REAL DEMOCRACY INTO OUR TRADE UNIONS

 

IMG_2847 copy

 

The campaign for Scottish independence has been the largest movement for popular democracy seen in these islands since the Irish War of Independence. In terms of electoral participation it was unprecedented. Voter registration was 97% and voter turnout was 85%.

We faced the biggest ruling class offensive, backed by the UK state, since the Miners’ Strike. Only this time it brought together a combined Tory/Lib-Dem/Labour Better Together ‘No’ alliance, UKIP, the Orange Order, other Loyalists, British fascists, the BBC, the Pope and the Free Presbyterian Church, and the USA and China!

Continue reading “STUC AND ITUC (NORTHERN COMMITTEE) DEMONSTRATIONS ON OCTOBER 18th.”

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Sep 21 2014

Rana Plaza – When art meets reality

Pauline Bradley reports on art that brings to life the struggle of sweatshop
workers in Bangladesh

No caring person can have failed to be shocked at the news of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory on 24 April 2013. This eight-story commercial building collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. It is considered the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest “accidental” structural failure in modern human history.

I recall feeling anger and helplessness at the time. I tried to direct other’s anger on social media towards union campaigns such as IndustriAll, an international union who covered the disaster and were working to strengthen health and safety rights and hold the big brands to account for their negligence.

A year and a half later I attended the annual Document 12 festival at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, where journalists, artists, and film makers with a human rights interest show their work. Here Carla Novi’s film “Rana Plaza” was screened followed by a Q & A with Carla.

The film began with riots from two rival groups in Bangladesh but no women were visible “They are all at home or at work,” Carla was told. Carla made her way to Rana Plaza where she sympathetically interviewed 15 women garment workers including Dilori Begum. One worker sang a song about the hardships of working in the factory, a kind of Bangladeshi version of “The Factory Girl”.

Continue reading “Rana Plaza – When art meets reality”

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Mar 30 2013

RIDING TWO HORSES AT ONCE – The SWP and Scottish independence

Scan copyThe following extended review of Keir McKechnie’s pamphlet, Scotland – Yes to Independence: No to Nationalism, was started before the most recent crisis in the SWP became public. Until the SWP resolves this crisis, its political interventions are likely to have more limited impact on the Left than in the past. Socialists should support those SWP members who are rebelling against their party’s bureaucratic and sectarian regime. The whole of the Left will benefit when the shared need for a democratic, non-sectarian and anti-sexist culture is accepted.

But, whichever way the party crisis is eventually resolved (or not), it is still useful to address the specific arguments raised by Keir in his pamphlet, because many have a wider resonance on the Left.  As the SWP moves away from its recent Left Unionist approach to the ‘National Question’ in Scotland, it appears to be following others in adopting elements of a Left Nationalist approach.

However, with the SWP being at an early stage in this transition, Keir’s pamphlet shows elements of both Left Unionism and Left Nationalism. The fact that these two political approaches can live in a symbiotic, and not always conflicting relationship with each other, makes it worth devoting the space to showing some of these connections.

Continue reading “RIDING TWO HORSES AT ONCE – The SWP and Scottish independence”

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Oct 13 2011

A Political Report on the ‘Reclaiming Our Trade Unions’ conference in Dublin.

Reclaiming the unions –  Bluster about bureaucracy, but no alternative programme – Socialist Democracy (Ireland)


The “Reclaiming our Trade Unions” conference in Dublin on 1st October (better seen as a convention because of the limited political discussion) had its theme set by Kieran Allen, the President of SIPTU’s education branch.

Kieran denounced the corruption of the trade union leadership. The years of social partnership and the collaboration with austerity meant that their role was to pacify and smother workers protests. The decay of the trade unions was so deeply entrenched that even at shop steward level the movement was corrupt.

He went on to assert that a new period in trade union struggle had opened at last November’s mass rally in Dublin, when workers had booed and protested against ICTU secretary David Begg and SIPTU leader Jack O’Connor. If activists began to organise now they could use this new mood of opposition to reclaim the unions.

Kieran Allen was followed by UNITE organiser Tommy Fitzgerald. He recalled his own history of all-out battles against the employers and of the automatic solidarity offered by other trade unionists. He wanted to see the return of fighting unions, of trade unions that practiced solidarity.

A common thread running through the rest of the convention was this anger at bureaucratic sell-out and desire to build fighting union structures. This was expressed forcefully by Helen Metcalf of IMPACT and by Terry Kelleher of the CPSU executives in their speeches.

However Kieran Allen’s notion of a turning of the tide within the trade union membership was not discussed, nor did the structure of the convention really allow for an open political discussion.

That is unfortunate, as the lack of political discussion led to the rally ending in confusion without any concrete decisions on policy. The only outcome was that a very large steering committee was formed.

If Kieran Allen was correct and there was a new spirit of revolt in the unions then activists could postpone discussion of a programme. That clearly was the view of platform speakers. Helen Metcalf denounced the IMPACT bureaucracy but saw the answer in workplace activism and social networking on the internet. Terry Kelleher drew on his experience in the CPSU to stress the capture of executive positions in the union.

In fact there are reasons to doubt Kieran Allen’s analysis. Workers’ hostility to the bureaucracy did not begin in November. A key point in the bin tax campaign was a large number of council workers tearing up their union cards in disgust at the betrayals of Jack O’Connor. The majority of the socialist movement have kept their distance from these protests and have opposed calls to challenge the trade union leadership. This was the case during the bin tax and it was the case at the November demonstration. Finally, insofar as there is widespread disillusion with the unions, it is impotent in the absence of an alternative policy and is leading workers to flee union structures rather than rushing to join them. In any case if, as Kieran argues, the unions are corrupt at shop steward level, limiting the workers to these structures is a recipe for defeat and would exclude the many workers unemployed in the current economic collapse.

From this point of view the strategy outlined at the meeting – that socialists should be active at the shop floor in order to recruit people to attend branch structures seems self-defeating. Workers would need to be part of an independent movement, already committed to a programme of resistance, to be in a position to reconquer the unions.

The explanation for the emphasis on union structures is that the socialist movement has a long history of seeking places within trade union structures and of seeking unity with the bureaucracy or with sections of it. In addition, it does not advance its own programme of debt repudiation but works within the framework of a Croke Park agreement that ties them to the bureaucracy even as they struggle against them. An example of left policy was seen in the fate of the decision of the much larger June meeting to demonstrate at the ICTU congress.  The demonstration never happened, dismissed as a sideshow by the steering committee.

This became clear in the presentation of the speaker from the British National Shop Steward’s Network. No mention was made of its close ties with the Socialist Party. It was clear that it was the gentlest and most loyal of oppositions, seeking unity with the left bureaucracy and lobbying the TUC leadership for greater action rather mapping out a new direction. The 250 000 TUC march in London was seen as a triumph, even though the workers were presented with Labour cuts by a Labour government as the alternative to Tory cuts.

Again there was much to discuss, both around socialist strategy in Britain and its applicability to Ireland, but the session ended without discussion.

A low point of the convention came when it split into workshops. There was protest from some activists about having the workshops in the absence of political direction and a report back from private sector workers noting the need for a political programme, but overall the workshops promoted activism at a low political level. The meeting ended with a call to conquer official positions in the trade union movement and to build the movement by individual recruitment. The failure of political agreement was so great that even the modest demands on jobs, wages and privatization presented in the document calling the convention were not discussed or adopted. The much larger meeting in June had had impassioned discussion about building an all-Ireland movement and organising unemployed workers, but these were not revisited.

It is impossible to ignore the failure of the convention. It did not reach a political agreement and this fits the pattern of other meetings organised by the component parts of the United Left Alliance. There is no united party or programme and only limited co-operation. Because the issue here is the self-organisation of the working class the issue is more serious.

It is to be welcomed that the socialist groups are willing to denounce the union leaderships, but there is a long road from there to a rank and file movement. Denunciation of the bureaucracy has been a standard aspect of the Socialist Party position for a long time. It has never translated into a political struggle against the bureaucracy inside the unions or a wider opposition outside.

The starting point for any political discussion has to be the working class itself and its struggles. Yet the nature of the austerity programme, the role of the European Central Bank and IMF in  overseeing the programme of government and in setting austerity targets for the trade union leadership – all this was totally absent from the discussion. As a result discussion in the workshops reflected an unconscious reformism. Many clearly believed that a big mobilization would force a government retreat. Suggestions that workers might act independently and use methods such as seizure and occupation of workplaces were seen as ultraleftist, even though they were among the methods used in relatively recent struggles such as Waterford Glass and Visteon.

The rallies of newly qualified teachers in the Irish National Teachers Organisation [INTO] were seen as examples of successful struggle. This displays a breathtaking ignorance. As a result of the Croke Park deal the INTO leadership must oversee an austerity plan that leaves all new teachers without jobs. It then becomes impossible for them to teach anywhere as a year in school is part of the qualification process. The INTO leadership are constructing a deal where the young teachers work for a year with a peppercorn payment extracted from money normally available for substitute cover.

All this is possible because the union leaderships are allowed to arrange details of austerity in their own sectors as long as they meet overall targets. The fact that young teachers are lobbying for unpaid work shows the level of desperation involved. Individual socialists supporting this process simply shows what a trap union structures can be in the absence of a programme and a broader movement.

The most recent major struggle was that of Aer Lingus cabin crew, organised by IMPACT. Almost half the cabin crew were suspended and facing the loss of their jobs before IMPACT agreed to compulsory arbitration.

And that lays bare the situation. In individual struggles the workers are quite willing to confront the bosses. The struggles collapse because they are not willing to confront bosses, government and unions united against them. The socialists, a loyal opposition within separate unions, are largely silent and invisible.

The path forward follows as night follows day. Workers need an alternative. They need a programme that repudiates the debt, a method of struggle that puts workers action above protest and lobbying, an organisation that cuts across union structures and, above all, a worker’s party to put forward a programme for the entire class and unite struggles in one fight.

The majority of Irish socialists are not advancing along this path. The falling attendance at the trade union forums indicates that the socialist movement cannot continue to tread water. They risk being dismissed by workers looking for an alternative.

7 October 2011

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Aug 19 2011

The First Shoots of a New Industrial Fightback?

The following encouraging developments on the industrial front highlight two of the strategies discussed and debated at the Third Global Commune event, the report of which can be found at:-


Report of the Third Global Commune Event

1. Major gains for Lower Paid at Heron Tower Dispute

2. Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Campaign Success at Brussels

3. Report of Rank & File meeting for UNITE

1. IWW – Major Gains at Heron Tower Dispute

Following negotiations with the cleaning contractor LCC, who covers contracts at the prestigious Heron Tower – the IWW Cleaners and Allied Grades Branch has secured significant gains to the benefit of our low-paid.

The IWW had launched a campaign to secure full payment of the living wage £8.30 per-hour for, a resolution of staff shortages, issues of  unfair dismissal and anti-union conduct by management.

The IWW has reached an agreement which has secured full-payment of the London Living Wage with back pay until May 2011, the staff shortage to be filled and confirmation of the trade union rights of workers. Further discussions are underway on a recognition agreement with the IWW.

As result the IWW Cleaners Branch and London Delegates Committee has cancelled the demonstration called for tonight {19.8.11} at the Heron Tower. We thank all trade unionists and fellow workers for their solidarity and support.

Once again the independent workers union the IWW has shown that direct action and solidarity of all union members in support of each other achieves results in the interests of our members.

The message to cleaners across London is clear – don’t live in fear – get organised!

Alberto Durango, Latin American Workers Association, IWW

2.Brian Higgins and the Anti-Blacklist Campaign Success at Brussels

Northampton grandfather Brian Higgins this week achieved a major breakthrough in his campaign against the illegal blacklisting of trade unionists. On Thurs 30th June 2011, Brian Higgins secretary of Northampton branch of UCATT (the building workers union), led a delegation of trade unionists from the Blacklist Support Group to Brussels to hold private talks with László Andor, European Union Commissioner with responsibility for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion to discuss potential EU wide legislation to outlaw blacklisting. (Photo attached – see Editors Notes)

During the 45 minute meeting, Commissioner Andor was presented with documentary evidence in the form secret blacklist files kept about trade unionists in the UK construction industry. The files were compiled by the Consulting Association and provide damning evidence that major multi-national building firms systematically dismissed and victimised workers who raised concerns about health & safety issues or unpaid wages (see Editors Notes). The largest blacklist file in the country relates to Brian Higgins (49 pages)

The secret files contain appalling levels of personal intrusion with sensitive information including; names, addresses, national insurance number, work history, medical history, press-cuttings, union meetings attended, speeches made, political affiliations. Many entries on the blacklist files are supplied by senior Industrial Relations managers from major construction firms relating to when an individual had spoken to their site managers about safety breaches such as asbestos or poor toilet facilities. The information in the blacklist files was circulated amongst multi-national building firms and used to deny workers employment on major construction projects. For many blacklisted workers this resulted in repeated sackings and long-term unemployment merely because they had raised concerns about  safety on building sites.

Ex-bricklayer, Brian Higgins said after the meeting:

The Blacklist is an economic , social and political prison in which I have served a life sentence and others continue to be imprsoned. My wife and family also suffered because of the terrible pressure which resulted from us only having my wife’s wages to hold things together. But my message for those who caused this is, it was difficult , extremely so at times, however we did hold it together and stayed together in spite of you and your Blacklist. We refused to let you grind us down and I’m still fighting.

Brian Higgins added

When Northampton Ucatt Branch initiated a campaign for an EU Law against industrial blacklisting to try to counter dreadful performances of Ucatt and Unite General Secretaries and lawyers after the discovery of the Consulting Association Blacklist and contacted Glenis Willmott MEP. They could never imagine their secretary would end up with other blacklisted trade unionists and the Blacklist Support Group, a law professor and Stephen Hughes MEP at a meeting with Lazlo Andor the EU Commissioner in Brussels and get his sympthy in return. The genuinely positive response from Commissioner Andor exceeded all our expectations – It is truly amazing.

The construction companies identified as participating in the blacklisting operation include household names based and operating across Europe including: Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK) to name but a few. (See Editors Notes)

Also attending the meeting was Professor Keith Ewing from Kings College London (a leading academic in international law and human rights issues) who presented possible legislative options open to the European Union highlighting the fact that many of the companies involved in the blacklist were European based.  He also drew attention to the fact that blacklisting violates many provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and that the EU had the authority and responsibility to respond to this major violation of health and safety standards.

The meeting was arranged by Stephen Hughes MEP and Glenis Willmott MEP (Labour’s Leader in Europe Parliament) who are taking up the issue in the European Parliament.

Stephen Hughes MEP said:

Blacklisting is a genuine issue which affects all member states and I will work with colleagues to address this serious concern and apply parliamentary pressure to trigger action.

This meeting is the beginning, not the end, of a process. Once we have planted the seed with Commissioner Andors, we will follow up with action in the European Parliament’s Employment Committee and the full Parliament. It will take time but we don’t give up easily!

The right to join a trade union and not be be victimised because of it is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights but lack of any specific EU wide legislation against blacklisting of individuals for safety reasons means that thousands of workers have suffered appalling financial and family hardship because of the covert actions of multi-national building firms.

Brian Higgins added:

We have been victimised by these firms just because we have stood up for safety issues; a cabin to dry wet clothes, asbestos, holiday pay. For many of us this conspiracy has meant years on the dole and family strains. But we are not just fighting for ourselves. This evil practice is almost certainly taking place in other industries and across Europe. I refuse to stop campaigning for the trade union rights on safety, working conditions and wages the blacklist is meant to prevent us doing. Now we’re taking the fight to Europe on behalf of workers here and the likes of Poland, Spain, Ireland and Greece. In fact anywhere blacklisting is going on.

Notes to Editors:

1. For individual interviews with the delegation about the talks with EU Commissioner Andor & their personal experience of blacklisting contact blacklistsg@gmail.com

2. Attached photo shows (Left to Right): Professor Keith Ewing, Brian Higgins, Stephen Hughes MEP, EU Commissioner László Andor, Steve Acheson

3. The blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry was only exposed after an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office (UK data-protection watchdog) in 2009. The companies identified by the Information Commissioners Office as using The Consulting Association secret blacklisting are all household names including:

Amec, Amey, B Sunley & Sons, Balfour Beatty, Balfour Kilpatrick, Ballast Wiltshire, Bam Construction (HBC Construction), Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd), C B & I, Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Crown House Technologies, Carillion, Tarmac Construction, Diamond M & E Services, Dudley Bower & Co Ltd, Emcor (Drake & Scull), Emcor Rail, G Wimpey Ltd, Haden Young, Kier Ltd, John Mowlem Ltd, Laing O’Rourke, Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd, Miller Construction Limited, Morgan Ashurst, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction Group, N G Bailey, Shepherd Engineering Services, Sias Building Services, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska (Kaverna / Trafalgar House Plc), SPIE (Matthew Hall), Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd, Turriff Construction Ltd, Tysons Contractors, Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd, Whessoe Oil & Gas, Willmott Dixon, Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)

4. Blacklist Support Group was set-up to act as a support network on behalf of the 3216 individuals on the Consulting Associationdatabase following a meeting held at the House of Commons in June 2009 organised by John McDonnell MP. The Blacklist Support Group has led the campiagn against blacklisting by organsing fringe meetings at union conferences, entered submissions to proposed legislation, organising direct action, produced campaign video’s and is currently involved with a variety of legal challenges.

also see:- Brian Higgins Anti Blacklist Campaign

and:- Campaign To Fight The Blacklist And To Support Brian Higgins;

3. London: Report of the fantastic ‘Rank & File’ construction workers meeting.

Gerry Hicks stood as the Rank and File candidate For UNITE.  Len McCluskey won as the ‘left’ bureaucrat. Gerry came second and has continued with the work of building a rank and file movement.  Below is a report of a recent rank and file meeting in London.

500 Electricians and pipefitters sent out a clear message to JIB/HVCA employers and Unite the union that they will not accept the de-skilling of their trade or the pay cuts to their national agreements. The meeting, on Saturday 13 August, was organised by Unite rank and file activists from London and the south coast. Conway Hall was packed, standing room only.

The main issues were the pay cuts 8 firms had said they would be implementing in March 2012. There would be 3 new grades for electricians – metalworker £10.50 per hour, £12 for wiring, £14 for terminating. At the moment electrician’s JIB rate is £16.25p per hour across the board.

The meeting opened and elected a Chairperson, who gave an excellent speech saying, it was time for everyone present to stand up and fight these attacks all the way, to spread the word on sites and in their workplaces. It was not about blaming overseas workers, it was our fight and we must be united, disciplined and determined. The battle begins right here right now. We must win this fight. Future generations are depending on us. He also stated the idea that forming a new union should not be considered. It had been tried and had failed miserably in the past with EPIU. Now we are back in the same union we are far stronger.

A blacklisted electrician was the first speaker and was given a standing ovation for his incredible work fighting the blacklist.

Jerry Hicks was up next and gave a thunderous speech, which was wildly applauded. “JERRY JERRY JERRY JERRY!” the crowd chanted. The mood was electric, the biggest meeting since 2000 – the days of the Jubilee Line.

There were then discussions from the floor and questions and answers to 2 London officials who were really put on the spot about Amicus/EETPU failings in the past. Even with the new union many of the old guard are still in control, the bad old days of Tom Hardacre are still hanging around with mistrust in new officers. Time will tell whether Bernard Mcauley and his new team are any different.

The rank and file made it very clear that Unite need to perform in this current dispute or the anger shown by many at the meeting will be vented at them. A motion was passed unanimously that ‘Unite must immediately ballot members who are working for JIB firms who have been told that the terms and conditions will be changing in March 2012, and a campaign must be set up by Unite, distributing leaflets to all sites around the country opposing these attacks on our industry and to have regular feedback to the members.’ It was agreed to call for unofficial action ASAP on large sites and that other sites should come out in solidarity, rather than wait for a ballot, as this would put the whole issue out in the open.

A national rank and file committee was elected by those in attendance: 2 electricians, 2 pipefitters, 1 for the civil and also Jerry Hicks.

Moving forward, there is a stewards meeting in Leeds 17th August. 2 from the elected committee will be going, armed with the motion and a mandate from 500 people. Further rank and file meetings will be held around the country in the coming months, one before Xmas maybe in Manchester or Liverpool and also other areas next year. This new movement is on a high and we can spread the mood around the country and throughout construction. There will be attacks on other trades too. We should try and build things involving UCATT and GMB members as well.

Finally from the Chair of the meeting, “I personally felt proud and extremely happy as I supped a cold pint of Fosters after the meeting. Thanks to everyone involved – booking of the hall, contact lists, leafleting, and a magnificent collection too, many thanks to one and all. Our time has come comrades, let’s not miss this opportunity. In solidarity”.

(Some names have been left out deliberately to guard against any employer retribution.)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

the commune free issue 2 can be downloaded at:-

http://thecommune.co.uk/page/3/

editorial

riot in the city – the editorial discusses the crisis in capitalism and our communities

no state bans – on self-defeating calls for a ban on EDL protests

struggles news in brief – an overview of different stuggles happening at present

news and local perspectives on the riots

liverpool: police on the offensive – James Roberts writes on the attacks on young people in Merseyside, and the community response to the riots.

peckham: the fury must not be forgotten – Sharon Borthwick reports on the riots in south-east London

ruling class justice system shows its true face – Taimour Lay explains the meaning of the post-riot show trials

riots analysis

Our website featured an extensive debate on the riots, and many more views than could be fit into the paper can be found there.

…or does it explode? – Joe Thorne introduces the debate

nothing to lose, nothing to win – David Broder explains what he sees as the political vacuum underlying the riots

when ‘normal’ behaviour is meaningless – Clifford Biddulph argues for an engagement with the chaotic and elemental nature of class struggle

economy

unhappy economies: greek debt, PIIGS and eurozone crisis – Oisin Mac Giollamoir explains the current european crisis and the relationship between debt and class struggle

giz a fightback – Terry Liddle reflects on his experience of the 1980s unemployed movement

education

200 day occupation delivers – Liam Turbett reports on Glasgow students’ victorious uni occupation

why is there class in the classroom? – Dave Spencer explores the reasons for working class under-achievement in the classroom

libya

any hope for libya? – Joe Thorne writes on NATO’s role in post-Gaddafi Libya

___________________________________________________________________________________

DEBATE ON THE RIOTS

in the commune

Clifford Biddulph suggests that we need to find a way to engage with the contradictory and elemental nature of class conflict in events like the recent riots:-

When Normal Behaviour Is Meaningless

Javaad Alipoor continues our debate on the meaning of the UK’s riots:-

no justice no peace: the riot is the rhyme of the unheard, let us begin to listen.

Joe Thorne looks for the meaning of the recent wave of inner city riots

or does it explode?

David broder explains what he sees as the political vacuum underlying the riots

 

nothing to lose, nothing to win 

 

__________________________________________________________________

OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS ON THE RIOTS 

REFLECTIONS ON THE ENGLISH RIOTS
 
27 August 2011

A personal note by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Ireland) 


The French radical Voltaire, writing from England in the 18th century, spelt out in the “Philosophical Letters” his admiration for the civilization and tolerance of the English in contrast to French absolutism. However, in a throwaway comment, he remarked that, while London represented the civilized profile of English society, Ireland represented its ragged backside.

Today in London we see the ragged backside of British capitalism. The need for vengeance, for revenge, the need to inspire fear in the lower orders, has subsumed every other consideration, including the legal system’s own rules concerning the rights of children. Conveyor belt justice rushes thousands into jail. A facebook comment nets a four year sentence. Politicians vie with each other to suggest new punishments, new restrictions on civil rights, new weapons to apply the iron heel to the neck of the lower orders.

And then there is what the British capitalists do best – hypocrisy on a level so monumental as to beggar belief. 

For what we are told is that the issue is an issue of morality and that savage measures are needed to install moral responsibility into the nation’s youth.

We are told this by politicians mired in scandal, by governments that ruled in tandem with the Murdoch press, by a press accused of sickening corruption, and finally by a police force guilty of killing and brutality at the lower levels and corruption at nearly every level. 

In common with all other forms of social corruption goes almost total impunity.

“News of the World” editor Rebekah Brooks admits to a group of MPs, on camera, that the News International group bribes police and nothing happens. Murdoch gives evidence which is clearly untrue, crime after crime is listed against his group, but only the protestor who attacks him with a foam pie goes to jail. 

Many MPs fix their expenses but only the most blatant suffer. Meanwhile Blair cashing in to the tune of tens of millions goes unnoticed.

All the top cops, forced to resign because of their links to the Murdoch press, are cleared within days. Lower down the chain of command savage beatings and killings go unpunished, even many assaults caught on camera.

This impunity reaches its height when chief constables, who have presided over a total collapse of the force, exchange insults with equally incompetent politicians about an imaginary police independence – the debate led by Hugh Orde, whose ability to meet the political needs of his masters led him from investigating the RUC in the North of Ireland to being appointed their leader, and whose subsequent rise was fuelled by his political ability to represent the demands of unionism and the programme of the British government in relation to Ireland.

The savagery and hypocrisy of the capitalist counter-offensive has produced much analysis and comment from socialists. The problem is that much of this analysis accepts the narrative of social breakdown and riot. Real events were considerably more complex than this.

The initial event of the uprising was the killing of Mark Duggan, accompanied by a transparent cover-up – a cover-up that involved both the police and the supposed investigators of the IPCC – a cover-up that is ongoing and involves a press blackout on the issue. 

A political protest by the family of the dead man was treated with contempt by the police. This incident, following years of racial harassment, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Local youth came on to the streets determined to extract revenge.

The rapid spread of the riots saw white youth join their black compatriots. Again the focus of the uprising was revenge – three police stations and an undisclosed number of vehicles were burnt out. A widespread view among the youth was that they had nothing to lose. Mass unemployment (standing at 20%) was the rule and access to further education was being cut off.

The police understood very well that they were the target. They waited over a week before admitting that firearms had been used against them. Their withdrawal from riot zones was not due to mistaken tactics, but an attempt to avoid the casualties that the youth were so anxious to inflict. 

It was against this background that wholesale looting took place. It was the looting that was used by capitalism to avoid any examination of the widespread hatred of the police or any concern about the programme of savage austerity that they intend to deepen. 

However the looting can be seen as a consequence of the failure to build an opposition. The majority of the looters did not themselves have a determination to confront the police and their actions were opportunistic and random, involving attacks on other workers and small shopkeepers. Political movements, when they confront the state forces, have the ability to apply a discipline on bystanders and sweep them up in a common cause that militates against looting.

Media commentators have compared the youth to the mob of the past. The mob, the urban underclass, displayed a spontaneous undirected violence and a low level of politics. They were supplanted by the organised working class.

The English youth are not the mob. They do not come before the working class nor are they separate from them. What they face is exclusion from the working class or admission to dead-end jobs and a life of penury.

The working class haven’t gone away. They were present on the streets of London not so long ago in a march of 250,000. Unfortunately they marched in a cage constructed by the trade union leadership, designed to make violence impossible and restricted to calls to apply the cuts less harshly and over a longer time frame. New Labour not only endorses the austerity, but also is at the forefront in demanding the harsh punishment of those accused by the police.

The socialist movement can transform the anger and rage of youth into support for socialism. However it can only do so as part of a project for the self-organization of the working class around its own program. 

We should not become trapped in moralism  – that will leave us in a corner with the capitalists discussing the problem of the rioters. The reality is that the crisis of capitalism is mirrored by a collapse of the traditional organizations of the working class. The labour and trade union leaderships support an economic programme that will inevitably lead to mass poverty. They are unable even to stand against the wave of mass repression that is being unleashed following the riots. The small socialist movement tends to close its eyes to this reality and to seek unity with union bureaucrats on terms dictated by the bureaucrats – terms that make the construction of an independent working class movement impossible.

Class conflict happens of its own accord. It will take whatever form is available to it. The alternative to chaotic and apolitical upsurges is an effective opposition, able to confront capitalism and put manners on the police. Socialists can strain every sinew to build this movement or it can emerge on its own, with all the blood, false starts and blind alleys that this could entail.

 

 

‘NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE’ AND BLOOD AND FLAMES ON ENGLAND’S STREETS:
1981, 1985 and 2011

 12 Aug 2011

 By David Black – Hobgoblin

The “Tottenham Riots” of 1985 began with a protest outside Tottenham police station over the fatal collapse of Cynthia Jarret during an illegal police raid on her home on the Broadwater Farm housing estate, after the wrongful arrest of her son. The police station protest developed into a pitched all-night battle between police and the Caribbean youth of Broadwater Farm, ending with the killing of a police officer.

 Twenty-six years later, on Saturday 6 August 2011, another protest took place outside Tottenham police station, this time over the killing two days earlier of former Broadwater Farm resident, Mark Duggan, in a stake-out by armed police. The initial police statement claimed that an officer had been shot and wounded before other officers returned fire. But the family and numerous friends of Mr. Duggan challenged this version of events and organized a 200-strong vigil outside Tottenham police station. Stafford Scott, a community activist in the area, told Sky News,

 “We came to the station to have a peaceful demonstration, and it was largely peaceful. And what we explained to the police is that we wanted someone senior from the police service to come and explain to us what was happening. They kept on prevaricating. The most senior person they gave us was a chief inspector. We said that person wasn’t senior enough… Eventually they sent for a superintendent, but by then it was too late.”

It was too late because as night fell local gangs of youth – beyond the control of protestors – began to converge on the police station. Two empty police cars and a double-decker bus were set on fire and a full-scale riot ensued. Shops were looted and buildings torched – seriously endangering the lives of residents living above shops, whose homes were destroyed. By dawn looting had spread to nearby Wood Green, where the high street was freely looted by youth pushing trolleys full of phones, shoes and clothes before the police finally arrived at dawn.

The next day, Sunday, saw looting at shopping centres in more affluent areas such as Oxford Street in the West End, and the northern suburb of Enfield, where the youth involved were predominately white. The Metropolitan Police managed to quell these few “copy-cat” outbreaks, but the events of the following day, Monday 8 August, totally overwhelmed the 6000-strong force assigned to “keep the peace.” All across London, pulling in youth of all colours and ages, starting at 10 or 11 years-old, looting broke out on a mass scale at major chain stores, as did extensive fighting between youth and riot police in the thoroughfares. A spate of a dozen serious fires across the city engulfed large department stores, whole sections of high streets including small shops and residences, and a huge Sony warehouse. In Hackney, an East End  borough with a long history of radical and Black activism, barricades and burning cars blocked the movements of police as youth bounced missiles off riot shields and police vehicles, and looters invaded the shopping malls. Outside of London, there were over a hundred arrests in disturbances in Birmingham.

The next day, Tuesday, raging Right-wingers demanded that the police use water cannon and rubber bullets, and that the army –already severely stretched by overseas wars and facing cuts — be sent into the “trouble spots.” More reasonably, many shopkeepers and residents in the “disturbed” areas protested at the police’s poor response to their emergency calls. The Metropolitan Police, promising to get tough and take-the gloves-off, called in the reserves to boost the anti-riot force to 16,000 officers. This time, however, those who had defied or fought them the previous nights declined the return match and stayed at home. Perhaps, for the angry, the point had been made — and how painful it is for Londoners to see what were fine old buildings now conjuring up images of the Blitz and the doodlebug [V-1 rocket] raids. For the self-interested looters the overhanging fruit had already been picked – the best shopping targets had been emptied. And for the protestors there are – or should be — other ways to fight, that address the roots of the problem.

Further North however, the rage took hold in several cities. On Wednesday in Manchester and Salford large  numbers of youth  looted shops, started fires and fought the police.  In Nottingham a police station was firebombed. In Ealing, London Sikhs took the streets to protect their businesses from looters. There was a similar mobilization in Enfield, but the people there were angered when the police stupidly tried to kettle them as the “enemy.” Most tragically, when Muslim men in Birmingham began patrolling the streets to protect the local shops, three of them were killed by a murdering coward who deliberately ran into them at speed and then fled the scene.

Liberals and social democrats concede that the protest over the shooting of Mark Duggan was legitimate; especially as it is now emerging that Mark Duggan didn’t draw a gun or fire it at the police. At the same time liberals, rather than mourn their dead, failed neoliberal ideology, have moaned  constantly, with their dead, clichéd phrases, about “tiny minorities” of  “mindless thugs” tearing up the “community”. As the student  protests of last winter have already shown,  a huge proportion of youth feel that for them either there is no such “community”, or if there is, they have no stake in it and no say in how it is run.

Whilst the “ Uprisings” of 1981 and 1986 were marked by a conflict between youth and police that had been simmering for years, in 2011 the disaffection has gone a step further, with youth expropriating the commodities that “consumer society” denies them, and in some cases burning the big stores that stock them. The innovations in telecommunications now available to youths for organizing purposes are obviously important, but arguably balanced out by CCTV and other surveillance and tracking technologies now deployed by the police. Politically the key difference is that in the 1980s, although the “uprisings” obviously were not “led” in any political sense, rebellious youth did look to radicals for leadership on political campaigning and ideas, notably Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bernie Grant, Diane Abbot, Paul Gilroy and Darcus Howe. In 1985 Bernie Grant, as Tottenham’s Member of Parliament, sided with his constituents against police racism, despite the brutal killing of Police Constable Blakelock in the “Battle of Broadwater Farm.” His controversial stand was later vindicated when the convictions of four youths for the murder were overturned because it was proved that the police had faked the evidence against them. Today Tottenham has a Black New Labour MP, who has condemned the rioters as “mindless yobs” and Haringey has a New Labour business-friendly council, committed to “social cohesion.” But today Tottenham is an even more dismal area than it was in 1985; and relations between police and the youth of the area – as multicultural as can be found anywhere in the world – are as bad as ever. In equally poor and strife-ridden Hackney Diane Abbot is still the MP, but she is now a New Labour loyalist and no radical.

In contrast with the New Labour crowd, veteran activist and broadcaster Darcus Howe, interviewed  by the BBC on Tuesday, highlighted the police harassment  of Black youth such as his grandchildren, and said of the previous night’s events, “I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it is happening in Liverpool, it is happening in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment.” Completely ignoring what Darcus had just said, BBC’s Fiona Armstrong  jumped in with “Do you condone what happened in your community last night?” to which he responded “Of course not! What am I going to condone it for?” When she continued her hostile interrogation with “You aren’t a stranger to rioting, are you? You have taken part in them yourself” he responded, “I have never taken part in single riot. I have taken part in demonstrations that ended in conflict. Have some respect for an old West Indian Negro and stop accusing me of being a rioter… you just sound idiotic.”

Certainly, few – even BBC hacks — can be surprised that, with the Tories back in power, rioting has returned to the inner cities of Britain. As the Tories prepare to showcase London for the 2012 Olympics, the economy is faltering and the pain of public service cutbacks is now being felt. But the young dispossessed of Syria,  Clapham, Liverpool and Port-of-Spain, Trinidad have today NO political leadership — a fact as disturbing as the opportunist and thoughtless violence and destruction that has been inflicted on a lot of innocent home-owners and small  business owners. But what has been happening in Britain – call it the “rebellion,” the “uprising” or the “riots” – is a direct result of what successive Tory/New Labour/Liberal regimes have been doing for years: attacking civil liberties and free speech whilst living off a corrupt and criminal relationship with media barons like the Murdochs; waging illegal wars; and – worst of all — heightening economic inequality to the sort of level the working class Chartists of the Nineteenth Century would have been prepared to take up arms against.

 

____________________________________

 

On Living in the Real World by Aaron Kelly

see Platform piece on Word Power Bookshop Website at:- http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewPlatform.php?id=590

 

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Feb 11 2011

Report of the Third Global Commune Event

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

It was generally agreed by participants that the third Global Commune event, jointly hosted by the Republican Communist Network (RCN) and the commune, on Saturday, January 29th, was a very worthwhile day. Once again, the event was held in the ‘Out of the Blue’ Centre in Leith (Edinburgh) and involved, as well as the organising groups, members of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) in Ireland, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Permanent Revolution, the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh (ACE), current and ex-members of the SSP, and the Anarchist Federation.

The theme for the day was, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ There was a shared agreement that the traditional Broad Left strategy for working in trade unions had been shown to be wanting. By and large, Broad Lefts accept the existing union structures and concentrate on replacing Right wing leaderships. However, we now have the situation where new Broad Lefts have to contest old Broad Lefts, which have become as conservative as the leaderships they replaced. This highlights the flawed thinking behind their ‘capture the machinery’ approach.

Mary Macgregor of the RCN chaired the initial and plenary sessions.  The opening platform of speakers consisted of Allan Armstrong of the RCN and the commune, Stuart King of Permanent Revolution, Tommy McKearney of the IWU, Alberto Durango of the Latin American Workers Association (LAWA) and the IWW, and Mike Vallance of ACE. They each put forward different approaches, including organising within or outside existing trade unions, in TUC/ITUC-recognised or independent unions, and the possibility of a strategy involving a mixture of these methods.

Apologies for being unable to attend were given by Brian Higgins of the rank and file Building Workers Group, who is currently involved in the anti-blacklist campaign; and by Jerry Hicks, who has just campaigned on a rank and file platform for the post of General Secretary in UNITE. Therefore, Allan Armstrong, the former Scottish Teachers’ Rank & File convenor provided a rank and file perspective.

Allan used his experience in the Lothian and the Scottish Rank & File Teacher groups. He drew a distinction between a rank and file movement and a rank and file caucus. In 1974/5, the Rank & File Teacher group had been to the forefront of a three month long independent (unofficial or wildcat) rank and file movement of Scottish teachers organised through Action Committees. The central demand was for a £15 a week flat rate pay increase. The Action Committees organised weekly three-day strike action, street activities, large demonstrations, and an occupation of the EIS (the main Scottish teachers’ union) HQ. Negotiations were conducted directly between delegates from the Action Committees and representatives from the Scottish Office at New St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. The teacher delegates were backed by a demonstration outside of striking teachers, whilst the Scottish Office had the backing of the Special Branch (or some other state agency) cameramen on the roof!

The Action Committees held weekly open meetings of striking teachers, and sent flying pickets to other schools to draw them into action. They also worked within the EIS. Many activists were EIS school reps. Eventually there was a palace coup at EIS HQ. This enabled a rejigged union leadership to sanction its own official action. Negotiations were confined once more to union officials and the Scottish Office, much to their mutual relief. Nevertheless, the strength of the independent strike action was enough to force the government to concede the financial equivalent of nearly the whole rank and file movement’s £15 pay demand. However, with negotiations now conducted by EIS officials, the distribution of the money gained was massively skewed in favour of school managements.

The self-confidence gained by teachers meant that further action over the next two years, mostly official, but sometimes involving independent action, was able to win substantial improvements in teachers’ conditions. A new contract clearly defined maximum working hours and class sizes. In the process of these struggles, Scottish education and teacher trade unionism was turned upside down. The employers and union officials were unable to fully reassert their control until the McCrone Deal was implemented in 2001.

After the ending of the initial rank and file movement, around the action over pay in 1975, Scottish Rank & File Teachers continued as a caucus. They campaigned around a very wide range of issues, e.g. pay (for a single salary scale, for flat rate increases), improved conditions (smaller class sizes), for women’s and gay rights, against the use of the belt (the form of corporal punishment in Scottish schools), for the right of school students to organise, for egalitarian educational provision, secular education and support for Gaelic language teaching. They also campaigned to democratise the union – demanding head teachers out and directly elected and accountable union office bearers on the average pay of the members. Most importantly though, they championed the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces, and defended, and when possible initiated, independent action.

The Scottish Teachers Rank & File caucus was sabotaged by the SWP in 1982, leaving only the Lothian Rank & File group. Later, a Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers (SFST) brought together the Left once more. However, the SFST became a hybrid Broad Left/Rank & File caucus. Furthermore, the employers had encouraged division amongst teachers by creating a plethora of promoted posts. They also curtailed a vibrant culture of alternative educational thinking amongst classroom teachers, through the top-down promotion of tightly policed ‘educational’ counter-reforms. The Tories’ anti-trade union laws undermined independent strike action, massively aided by trade union officials. However, there was still limited independent action until as recently as the 2003, in protest against the war in Iraq.

Allan summed up by saying that he thought the rank and file approach was still valid in various unions. However, there had been a rapid decline of union membership in many sectors of employment, as well as new areas of work without any union organisation. Union leaderships were often more interested in suppressing any attempts to resist the employers, acting in effect as a free personnel management service for the bosses. Such leaders wanted little more than sweetheart agreements with the employers to ensure a tick-off system of subs collections, primarily for their own benefit. Therefore, socialists should think tactically, and consider when an independent union, or possibly dual official/independent union approach, may be more appropriate than a rank and file caucus approach.

Stuart King of Permanent Revolution then drew on the experience of the early Minority Movement in the trade unions in the early 1920’s. The CPGB’s work in the Minority Movement formed part of the wider work of the Third International, which had organised the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in 1920 to conduct united front work within the international trade union movement. Although mostly associated with the official Communist Parties, RILU drew together wider forces within the unions, especially those from a Syndicalist tradition.

Stuart argued that there were some similarities in the early 1920’s to the situation we face today. In April 1921, the two leaderships of the NTWU (later the TGWU) and the NUR, failed to support the miners of the MFGB (later the NUM), in the face of employer imposed wage cuts, despite being part of the Triple Alliance. This ‘Black Friday’ climb-down led to a growing feeling of demoralisation amongst workers. Many left their unions. The Minority Movement launched a ‘Back to the Unions’ campaign, with the intention of getting workers organised to resist the growing employers’ offensive, and to bring the union leaders under the effective control of the rank and file.

Stuart said that we also face a period of retreat today, as existing union leaderships had joined social partnerships with the state and employers. There was also declining union membership. The ‘Awkward Squad’ had also turned out to be not that awkward when it came to effectively challenging the employers and the state. Nevertheless, workers still look to their official unions when it comes to taking defensive action – as recent strikes of civil servants, airline cabin staff and others have demonstrated. This means communists must be active within the existing unions and struggle to bring them under effective rank and file control.

Stuart’s contribution provided a counterpoint to others who emphasised the fundamental differences in the situation we face today, compared to the past. In particular, Tommy McKearney of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland highlighted the major challenges workers now face.

Tommy argued that thirty years of neo-liberal economics have finally done fundamental damage to the system it was meant to promote. Facilitated by globalisation, the enormous transfer of wealth from workers to capitalists has created a situation where consumers in the west no longer have the purchasing power to buy the produce of their own industry and the developing countries have not yet reached a level where they can take up the slack. The contradiction is explicable only by Marxist economists.

What has also happened, almost unnoticed by many commentators, is the collapse of social democracy in the face of the neo-liberal assault and the most recent crisis in capitalism. For a few years the social democratic movements of Europe disguised their collapse by stealing the clothes of the neo-liberals. Tony Blair, Schroder, Mitterand were in reality as far to the right as any Tory or Christian Democrat. In the face of economic collapse post 2008, they could only offer right-wing solutions.

Moreover, the trade union movement that had give birth to and thereafter sustained these parties for almost a century was as ideologically and organisationally bankrupt. There is no longer a viable middle way between socialism and capitalism.

The IWU recognises this fact and has decided to seek out new and more appropriate methods of organisation in order to meet the new challenge. Among other strategic options, the IWU is actively developing a policy of building community and/or social justice unionism. This concept is not new or devised by the IWU but it recognises the need to emphasise the struggle between classes and the need to promote the unity and solidarity of the working people.

Tommy summed up by saying that we are in a new era. There has been a fundamental change in social relationships in the west, and we must recognise this in our ideological analysis, in our policy decisions and in our organisations structures. The IWU may be small but we are confident in our analysis and in our strategy.

Then Alberto Durango gave a thorough and humorous account of his experience as a migrant worker from Colombia now living in London. Migrant workers often had more than one job to make ends meet. This sometimes meant that they could be in more than one union.

Alberto had started as a cleaner in a non-unionised office. First of all, his boss had resorted to Alberto for help, asking him to inform workers who did not speak English that they would have their hours cut and changed. Alberto brought the workers together and told them in Spanish  – “This fucking manager wants to… !” They began to organise, turning first to the T&G. The T&G (now UNITE) organised an official Justice for Cleaners campaign. There were some initial successes against large City of London and Canary Wharf companies. LAWA, which Alberto was very much involved in, was to the forefront of campaigning, and was provided with office space and money by UNITE.

However, there was a limit to how far the UNITE leadership was prepared to push. After organising some demonstrations, it contented itself with signing ‘no further action’ deals in return for minimum pay awards. The employers then started changing workers’ hours and conditions and pressured them over their immigration status. Alberto was sacked, arrested and had his home raided by the police.

UNITE’s leadership wasn’t prepared to challenge this. Therefore, workers had to organise their own independent Cleaners Defence Committee. This had led to an international campaign {including solidarity action in Edinburgh, following Alberto addressing the first Global Commune event}. The UNITE leadership, supported by the local Broad Left, then turned on the workers involved, smearing activists, refusing to back those without papers, and taking away LAWA’s facilities.

In order to organise, LAWA then turned to the IWW. A wider organisation was required to unite migrant workers from many countries. They needed an independent forum for organising, without being directly sabotaged by UNITE officials and the Broad Left. The new IWW cleaners’ branch provided this. However, some cleaners still worked within UNITE too, and had participated in the rank and file campaign to elect Jerry Hicks.

The last of the morning speakers was Mike Vallance. He explained how ACE, with its own premises, had been set up in the aftermath of the successful Anti-Poll Tax campaign. ACE became very much involved in claimants’ campaigns, providing a venue for meeting and socialising, organising support demonstrations and providing advocates to support people in their dealings with various state agencies. ACE also operated as a venue for a wider range of campaigns and various organisations, including the Anarchist Federation. It was also involved in the production and distribution of a number of bulletins and other publications, including the commune.

Currently ACE was involved in the Edinburgh refuse workers’ campaign which was challenging the City Council’s massive cut in pay and worsening of conditions. The Council’s attack was being made under the guise of bringing about ‘parity’ across their workforce. It had begun under the last administration led by the Labour Party, and was continuing under the present Lib Dem/SNP administration. The refuse cleaners’ union, UNITE, was in cahoots with the Council, and they had organised no effective backing, despite the campaign being official. Their main concern was to bring the current official work-to-rule to an end.

ACE had been involved in providing bulletins, posting support stickers, but most of all, in attempts through sit-down actions to blockade scab drivers employed by the Council to break the refuse workers’ work-to-rule. Workers fear that it is the Council’s intention to privatise the refuse collection service, and replace them with non-union workers on lower pay and worsened conditions. Yet, despite the almost total lack of official support, the workers had so far rejected any of the union-backed ‘offers’. In the light of this determination, ACE was hoping to draw others into its solidarity campaign.

This was followed by a short plenary session. Contributions ranged from one participant who said that social democracy had revealed its bankruptcy as far back as the First World War. Matthew Jones of the commune particularly welcomed Tommy’s appreciation that a new political trade unionism was needed after the now evident failure of social democracy and stalinism. In order to maximise participation, the meeting soon broke up into two workshops, with RCN and commune members acting as facilitators and recorders.

After lunch, Paul Stewart and Patricia Campbell of the IWU presented the case for a community or social justice unionism approach. Paul showed a DVD drawing on the experiences of the Kanagawa City Union in Japan. This union organised migrant workers, especially from Latin America. It addresses not only workplace issues, but the wider problems workers face in the community such as racially motivated and domestic violence, sexual harassment, health, welfare and visa problems. It also calls on members to participate regularly in protests outside offending companies. Paul was going to make this DVD more widely available.

Patricia followed this up with a power point presentation (until the technology failed!) of the current work of the IWU in attempting to broaden out union organisation into the communities. The IWU had conducted a participatory survey into the issues that local communities wanted to address. It also sought to address the problems faced by migrant workers. The IWU had already challenged the strong-arm tactics of the PSNI (the revamped RUC) in Armagh City. It had also campaigned on the streets, with red banners, against the DUP/Sinn Fein government’s proposals to limit marches. These would prevent workers from organising their own demonstrations. The IWU had helped to force the authorities to retreat.

The two follow up workshops discussed the possibilities of wider community organising. They also returned to the issue addressed in the morning of whether unions were fit for purpose.

There was a final report-back plenary session with further discussion. The initial platform speakers were provided with an opportunity to say what they thought had been learned and gained from the day. The majority of those in attendance over the day were activists. However, the need for wider forums for strategic debate and discussion, which did not necessarily lead to immediate calls for activity, was nonetheless appreciated.

There was a wide consensus that there was no single approach to organising workers in the complex and changing situation we faced. The long period of working class retreat probably disguised some of the new methods of resistance that were emerging in the face of the current capitalist offensive. It was also acknowledged that learning from wider international experience, especially that of the IWU, had been very useful. There had been differences over whether the situation we now face is altogether different from earlier experiences, and over the longstanding issue of whether ‘to party or not to party’. However, these differences were all aired in a very comradely manner.

A good day was followed by the now traditional Global Commune social session in Wetherspoon’s  ‘Foot of the Walk’, where members from all the organisations present through the day continued their discussions till much later!

Allan Armstrong. 10.2.11

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Sep 06 2010

Brian Higgins Anti-Blacklist Campaign

Updates on anti-blacklisting campaign and Brian Higgins

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Tribunal process grinds on… and on

After months of being involved in the tribunal process, Brian Higgins, with other UCATT and UNITE members, has now reached the stage where he is waiting for a preliminary hearing which will decide whether he has a case that will be heard at a full hearing.  You would think being named on the Consulting Association Construction Database Blacklist (CACD), along with the naming of one of the companies, Laing (now Laing O’Rourke) would be enough for a full hearing. Fraid not.

The wheels of industrial ‘justice’, which are very heavily weighted in favour of the employers anyway, turn ever so slowly, and usually fall off, both for blacklisted trade unionists and for workers in general. Most particularly, when employers want this to be the case and they are clearly slowing things down in the matter of the named blacklisted construction workers versus the CACD and named building employers. Coupled with the fact that industrial tribunals were never meant to deal with something as serious, sinister and political as blacklisting and the attack on and denial of civil, trade union and human rights. No one holds out much hope for any sort of justice via this route. But you have to fail before a British court before you can take your case to the European Court of Human Rights. These cases should be dealt with in a criminal court, but of course it is not a criminal offence to blacklist trade unionists in the UK. This is an absolute disgrace.

British ‘justice’ for building trade unionists – remember Shrewsbury

The British state, building employers and the so-called justice system already have serious form when it comes to building trade unionists organising and fighting for their rights and safety on site. They showed exactly what they think of this when they conspired with MacAlpine to put a group of building trade unionists, who were members of UCATT and TGWU, in jail on trumped up charges at Shrewsbury Crown Court, following the national building workers’ strike in 1972. Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson got the most severe sentences. Des died prematurely because of drugs – the liquid cosh – they forcibly administer to him, while in prison, basically to try to silence him. This is a campaign going on today to try to clear the names of the Shrewsbury pickets. So it is no surprise that the law continues to allow building employers to get away with conspiring against building trades unionists by the truly appalling use of blacklisting. As a lawyer said, It’s a scandal there is not an effective law against blacklisting.

They also get away with murder

It’s also worth remembering that building employers get away with murder with the killing week in, week out, of building workers in so-called site accidents. So again, it’s really no surprise they get away with blacklisting.

Glenis Willmot, MEP, and leader of EU Parliamentary Labour Party

The only chance of getting any sort of justice for all blacklisted building trade unionists is by going to the European Court of Human Rights, This means going to the European parliament to campaign for a law to outlaw blacklisting EU-wide, and have the UK subject to European law in this regard. Knowing this, Brian got in contact with Glenis Willmot MEP. With the help of Steve Murphy, UCATT Midlands Regional Secretary, Glenis got back to Brian and they now correspond.  She has also put a written question on blacklisting in the UK, and in general, to the European Commission, with the hope of getting a favourable response, If this is achieved, it can be used to campaign for a law against blacklisting in the European Parliament.

Of course, even if the answer is unfavourable, the issue and the need for a Euro-law to cover this, is still the same. Glenis and like-minded MEPs should campaign for a law against blacklisting and blacklists.

Blacklisting is a crime against humanity and any kind of justice, freedom and democracy. It should have no place whatsoever in a modern society, which professes to espouse these values and principles. Surely this cries out for the UK and European Parliaments to make blacklisting a criminal offence and one which sees the perpetrators of this horrific practice punished severely enough to put a stop to this industrial evil once and for all.

Motion passed by Aberdeen branch of Oil Industry Liaison Committee

Blacklisting has always been a curse in both the oil and construction industries. But employers have always denied its existence. However now with the discovery and exposition by the Information Commissioners Office of a list of 3,200 names construction trade unionists held by an organisation entitled The Consulting Construction Database, and naming of so many multi-national construction firms, who used and paid for this blacklist, this has provided undeniable evidence and proof of the blacklist in construction.

The blacklisting by the CACD of Brian Higgins, Secretary of Northampton UCATT Branch, is an example of just how bad blacklisting can get, and will continue to be, for all construction trade unionists if it is not stopped. Bro, Higgins has spent in total about 25 years unemployed as a direct result of the blacklist in construction. An injury to one is an injury to all, we call on the RMT Executive to support all campaigns against the blacklist.

The OILC Branch calls for the Council of Executives to ask RMT-sponsored MO, John McDonnell, to raise Bro. Higgins’s case in Parliament and to work for the existing, toothless law on blacklisting to be massively toughened to deter and punish ruthless, callous employers resorting to this vile and sinister practice that is a denial of human and trade union rights. Blacklisting makes a mockery of all employer/union agreements.

We also ask for the EC to support pursuing the struggle for justice all the way to the European Court of Human rights. Plus a campaign for a European Employment Law which criminalises blacklisting and severely punishes employers who use the practice and which forces guilty employers to pay substantial damages to those they try to blacklist.

Previous article written about this campaign.

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