Socialist Party | Print
THE HORRIFIC terrorist attacks that have taken place in London and around the world have been condemned by the Socialist Party.
But we warned that Blair would use these attacks to intensify a climate of fear and crack down on civil liberties.
Stop the War Coalition Demonstration
24 September 2005
Assemble 1pm Central London
Now, Blair's new plan, which includes secret, judge-only courts, will further attack civil liberties and whip up racial tension.
It confirms that the terrible actions of the suicide bombers have been used by Blair to attack working-class Muslims and all working people.
It will not lessen the chances of further suicide bombings and will create more tension.
These draconian plans will not just be used against suspected terrorists but will be used against the workers' movement, the anti-war movement and anyone who dares to dissent against Blair's foreign and domestic policy.
The government is preparing a definition of "unacceptable behaviour" to include anyone who expresses "extreme views that are in conflict with the UK's culture of tolerance".
In the USA, the introduction of the Patriot Act after 9/11 has been used against anti-war protesters and Green Party members.
The experience of the 'Troubles' in Ireland showed that a clampdown on civil liberties was used against the workers' movement.
The use of Diplock Courts and the use of internment without trial did nothing to stop terrorist activity.
If anything it intensified it and acted as a recruiting sergeant for terrorist organisations.
Blair claims the "rules of the game are changing" but his determination to tear up human rights legislation will not be a 'game' for the many innocents who will be caught up in this widespread attack on rights and liberties.
Blair's proposals represent a serious threat to anyone who opposes the New Labour government's support for US imperialism's invasion and occupation of Iraq and subjugation of the peoples of the Middle East.
Whilst the majority of people in Britain have no sympathy for those who advocate support for suicide bombings, many also understand that Blair's new measures will further worsen the situation, rather than bring a solution.
The trade union movement has not so far adequately responded to Blair's actions in the aftermath of the bombings.
The trade union movement needs to act decisively and effectively to protect and safeguard the interests of working-class people.
That can be best done uniting workers in building a campaign to ensure that the government is put under the maximum pressure to withdraw the troops from Iraq and withdraws its plans to erode civil liberties.
The trade union and anti-war leaders must give a clear lead in building a mass campaign to withdraw the troops, remove Blair and end Britain's role in the oppression of the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East.
THE PROPOSALS outlined by Blair and government ministers since 5 August amount to a severe government clampdown on civil liberties. Even though they have provoked opposition in establishment circles, it is clear that Blair and a small group of his closest advisers have seized upon what they claim to be the mood after the bombings to hustle through these measures.
These powers are being rushed through undemocratically with no likelihood of meaningful consultation or opposition to them in Parliament. Blair admitted at his press conference that these new powers would have met much stiffer resistance just a few weeks before the London bombings.
The sweep of these powers is breathtaking. More people will be wrongly deported, wrongly denied asylum, and the democratic rights we are all supposed to benefit from will be denied.
People who are not involved with terrorist activities will be deported to countries where they will be tortured and possibly executed. Saudi Arabia's London ambassador said the country "would be happy to take back any Saudi nationals who are doing wrong in this country", but added "there could be no exceptions to our legal system" which permits state execution.
These proposed powers can be used retrospectively meaning that statements individuals or groups have made in the past could be taken out of context and used against them. This would allow the government to clamp down on any individual or group who disagrees with it.
Mosques, websites and bookshops will be closed down at the diktat of government ministers. Groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al Mujahiroun are to be proscribed.
Although the Socialist Party would disagree with the ideas, policies and methods of these groups, we would not call for their banning. The government already has powers to act against those threatening violence or terrorist acts.
Their ideas need to be taken up - because they preach ideas that divide working-class people - and confronted by the workers' movement, not driven underground.
Blair said people had to realise the "rules of the game are changing". He implied that people had been too tolerant with extremist groups after the London bombings. He added that these groups had to be fought like "revolutionary communism" was fought - a clear echo of the comparison he has already tried to draw with Militant and the witch-hunt against the Left.
But, what Blair sees as tolerance is in fact resignation that Labour's foreign policy, of "riding pillion" with US imperialism in the Middle East, meant such attacks were inevitable.
Clearly, most people will want something to be done to remove the terrorist threat and make their lives more secure. But experience of 30 years in Northern Ireland shows that state repression cannot end the threat of terrorist attacks.
The situation inside Iraq is deteriorating further, lurching towards a civil war where imperialism will continue to use brutal force, whether or not they lower troop numbers.
This will intensify the anger and indignation felt by young Muslims at imperialism's policies and, as the opportunistic warning by bin Laden's right-hand man last week showed, it will be used by terrorist groups to recruit to their ranks.
In this context it has to be the responsibility of the trade union and anti-war movements to offer a way forward.
The Socialist Party has called on the unions to push the TUC to organise a national demo. At the TUC general council on 27 July, Bob Crow of the railworkers' union and Janice Godrich of the PCS proposed that the TUC organises a national demo for workers' unity and against the London bombs. This was pushed for by the Left and tacitly agreed.
The right wing did not oppose the idea but instead asked the executive committee to "draft a paper" to be put to the TUC congress in September.
We still think a trade union demo would be the most effective way of initially uniting workers in the face of the attacks and defending civil liberties. The Left in the trade unions should still demand that the TUC takes a lead on this to unite all workers against the bombings, war and attempts to whip up racism.
The example of Northern Ireland is a terrible warning to the unions today. The Irish trade unions' refusal to take a position against sectarianism "because it was political" meant that sectarian politicians went unopposed for 35 years.
Now, the Stop The War Coalition, under pressure from below, has called a demonstration for Saturday 24 September.
This should be built for, particularly through the trade unions, to ensure that millions of people in Britain are given confidence that there is a way to make an effective, united stand against Blair's policies.
The demands for workers' unity against war and terror, to stop a racist backlash and defend civil liberties, have to be taken into every workplace, school, college and community, to build a mass movement that can bring about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, removing Blair and ending Britain's role in the oppression of the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East.
A PERUVIAN woman on the memorial on 5 August for Jean Charles de Menezes told me, "many Latin American people in Britain come from police states, we do not want this country to go the same way."
In the wake of the police shooting of Jean Charles at Stockwell tube station on 23 July, the local community has been demonstrating its just anger. A spontaneous demonstration of 500 people on the Monday after his death marched to the MI5 HQ in Vauxhall. This was followed by a protest at Parliament on 29 July, coinciding with a memorial gathering outside Stockwell tube.
Stop The War Coalition (STWC) called a public meeting on 30 July in Brixton to discuss further action over the tragic events and responses to the London bombings.
The meeting was attended by around 80-100 activists, many of whom were from the local Brazilian and Portuguese community.
Representatives from the Brazilian community in Britain, STWC and Campaign against Political Terrorism spoke out against the 'shoot to kill' policy, the campaign of disinformation around the death of Jean Charles and the racist (particularly anti-Muslim) subtext of hysterical media coverage of the London bombings.
Socialist Party members pointed out that all sections of the working class are under attack and how 'anti-terrorism' legislation has always been used against the workers' movement to stop them organising and fighting for their rights at work. The Socialist Party believes that unity across all sections of the working class is best shown in practice.
We called on the meeting to endorse a local solidarity demonstration in Lambeth from Stockwell to Brixton in the next two weeks (the Lambeth branch of STWC had endorsed such an idea earlier in the week). Although the 30 July meeting allowed some debate from the floor, the STWC announced that it had already made a decision to have a central London demonstration on 24 September. Socialist Party members argued that this was too far off and that local initiatives needed to be built upon now!
Nevertheless, the STWC leaders pushed ahead with their proposals for a central demonstration on 24 September without any consultation from the meeting or even the local STWC branch, much to the dismay of many of those present.
Lambeth Socialist Party members are still pushing the idea of a local march and the possibility of a feeder march from Stockwell into the national demo on 24 September.
EVENTS HAVE moved very rapidly in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, since the attempted bombings in London on 21 July. The press continues to try and find terrorist links with Batley or Dewsbury although they are becoming more tenuous.
Through the public-sector union UNISON, we decided to hold an impromptu public meeting for Muslim women in Dewsbury in the last week of the school term. Several union members had reported that they were getting verbal harassment at work from pupils or even parents.
I faxed a leaflet over to Sabera, the local union steward. Only a few were handed out but they struck a chord. The title of the leaflet was: 'no to terrorism, no to racism.'
Over 60 people attended. After a brief introduction, the meeting was handed over to the women. Almost everyone reported that they had received abuse since the bombings. Taxi drivers had taken their cars off the roads after 8pm afraid they might be attacked especially after several death threats. Women wearing the hijab felt especially vulnerable and there were reports of people having them tugged from behind. Mothers were afraid to let their kids play out over the holidays because of threats in the parks or playground.
Despite there having been several meetings in the area, everyone felt anxious. However, there was also a feeling that most white people were still friendly but a small minority were very vocal.
A number of positive ideas then began to come through: "We need a leaflet to go to all areas pointing out we all condemn the bombings but we shouldn't be condemned for what some fanatics did supposedly in the name of Islam"... "We need emergency helpline numbers for those under threat to get in touch"... "We need a peace walk or demonstration to show we are for peace and against terrorism."
The meeting elected an action committee to take these ideas forward which met the following week. The committee has decided to call itself 'Peace and Unity in the Community'.
A public meeting has been called appealing to all sections of Dewsbury on 24 August at the town hall. A peace march is to take place on Saturday 3 September.
There was a discussion about the role of local Labour MP, Shahid Malik, who is telling Muslim mothers they are responsible for rooting out extremism in their children and families. This has upset and angered many women who feel insulted by this patronising attitude.
Some of the committee members are veterans of the anti-war movement three years ago and can see the very clear link between the Iraq and Afghan conflicts and the bombings. They fear Malik could split the Muslim community when it is vital there is unity and a clear understanding of the roots of terrorism. This will be the theme of the rally, although Malik has been invited to speak.
Despite the summer break, the committee is moving into gear. The rally has to be a big success. It will send out a clear message that the community can unite against racism and give all Muslims the confidence to go about their daily business without threats or intimidation.
The Socialist Party will continue to act as an important catalyst, stepping into the vacuum, to ensure that the racists and especially the BNP are kept at bay.
WHILE THOUSANDS of police guarded London's Underground and main railway stations, supposedly to deter would-be suicide bombers, the capital's streets have seen a 600% increase in faith/race-hate crimes, including assaults.
One in six people abused or attacked were not Muslim but were simply of Asian appearance. This alarming rise in race-hate crimes in London is repeated in other areas such as West Yorkshire, West Midlands and Merseyside.
After the 7 July London bombings, Tony Blair rejected the idea that terrorism is inherent in the Muslim faith but then went on to insist that the Muslim community "root out its extremists". Moreover, the government has done nothing to counter the 'demonising' of Muslims which is daily propagated in the media, especially in the tabloid press. Now, leading Tory politician Gerald Howarth is adding fuel to the flames by telling Muslims who disagree with the British government's Middle East policies to leave Britain.
Government ministers such as Hazel Blears call for 'a debate' within the Muslim community on terrorism, yet they refuse to discuss terrorism with what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Palestine - the issues that have enabled terrorist groups to recruit alienated young Muslim men. This anger will be compounded by the stop-and-search tactics of the police who are now racially profiling young Asian men.
SOCIALIST PARTY member and CWU union official Pav Alam recently attended a meeting of CWU Eastern region where he raised the key role that trade unions have to play both against terrorism and racism. He added that the unions are the only organisations capable of building unity amongst workers, which gained a lot of support at the meeting.
On the way to the meeting, Pav was stopped and searched by police at King's Cross. Pav said: "I had a rucksack and it was noted I had 'articles on terrorism' in my bag. Apart from union papers for the above meeting I had a copy of Socialism Today and the Independent. No doubt this now becomes part of their 'intelligence'."
"It takes my mind back to the events around Stephen Lawrence who was murdered by racists in London some years ago.
"UNISON, the public-sector trade union, gave support during those times to the Lawrence family and UNISON still has a strong anti-racist position.
"Now, politicians at national and local level need to understand that their policies may contribute towards the social conditions which create an environment for racism and terrorism to exist.
"We must not allow recent events to divide our communities, and the trade union movement must play a leading role in uniting local communities to have the confidence to stand up against these evils within our society."
HIROSHIMA, 6 August 1945, 8am. The 'all clear' sounded, signalling the end of an air raid by US bombers. Workers and school children left their homes, putting out fires, clearing damage and going to work. At 8.45am a single US bomber flew across the city, dropping an atomic bomb that exploded above. The bomb killed over 100,000 people and injured another 80,000.
The allied powers had already inflicted mass death and destruction on German and Japanese cities, but the atomic bomb was qualitatively different - a single weapon killed as many people as wave after wave of conventional bombers.
On 9 August, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing over 70,000 and injuring a similar number or more. The atomic bombs also left a terrible legacy of traumatic social damage and genetic deformations.
US imperialism, with the support of Britain and other capitalist powers, had ushered in a new era of weapons of mass destruction. Totalitarian regimes - Germany, Italy and Japan - that came into conflict with the Western powers and the Soviet Union perpetrated the most barbarous crimes against humanity, including genocide.
Nevertheless, the strategy of mass terror against civilian populations carried out by the Western powers, particularly in the closing stages of the second world war (1939-45), were also monstrous crimes against humanity.
THE US president Truman and his top officials and military commanders argued that the use of nuclear weapons was essential to bring the war against Japan to a speedy conclusion. They claimed it could save the lives of a million US troops. With the high US casualties from the US capture of the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, this not surprisingly struck a powerful chord with most Americans.
They did not reveal, however, intelligence assessments predicting that the Japanese regime would soon surrender. The official US Strategic Bombing Survey later concluded: "It is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
The Japanese military machine was cracking. In March 1945, the US Air Force firebombed Tokyo, killing 80,000 people.
Sections of the regime were exploring terms of surrender with the Western allies, particularly through talks with the Soviet government. The US was demanding unconditional surrender.
The Japanese ruling class wanted an assurance that Emperor Hirohito would not be tried as a war criminal and would be allowed to remain as emperor under US occupation. Truman rejected this condition, though later the US readily accepted it - after dropping two nuclear bombs.
Why was US imperialism so determined to use nuclear weapons? The historian Herbert Feis sums it up. The rush to use the bombs, only a month after the first test in the New Mexico desert, was driven by "the impetus of the combat effort and plans, the impulse to punish, the inclination to demonstrate how supreme was [US] power...".
The demonstration of US power was particularly aimed at the Soviet Union. In accordance with earlier agreements between the allies at Yalta in February 1945, Stalin was committed to launching a military offensive against Japan on 8 August.
By mid-1945, however, the underlying antagonisms between the 'allies' had come to the surface. Threatened by deadly fascist enemies, Germany, Italy and Japan, US-British imperialism was forced to rely on the Soviet Union for military support.
At the end of the European war, however, the Stalinist regime - a bureaucratic dictatorship ruling over a centrally planned economy - occupied Central and Eastern Europe, forming a massive counterweight to the power and influence of Western capitalism.
The last thing Truman and Churchill wanted was the occupation of Japan by Soviet military forces. They were determined to pre-empt Stalin's military offensive, dropping the first atomic bomb on 6 August and a second on the 16th. This enabled US forces under General MacArthur to occupy Japan.
A former scientific adviser to the British government, PMS Blackett, later commented: "... the dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the second world war, as the first act of the cold diplomatic war with Russia now in progress."
Capitalist leaders continue to justify the use of nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945. But the historical record is clear. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not necessary for US imperialism to bring about a rapid defeat of Japanese fascism. Atomic bombs, weapons of mass destruction on an entirely new scale, were used purely to demonstrate US power.
THE MAJORITY of the top scientists (124 out of 150) working on the 'Manhattan Project', the massive US scientific-industrial effort to build nuclear weapons, came out against the use of an atomic bomb against Japan. Many favoured a public, demonstration explosion, giving the Japanese government time to surrender.
While it was believed that Hitler could be preparing nuclear weapons, the scientists felt it was justified to work on a US bomb.
After the defeat of Germany, however, they considered nuclear weapons no longer had any moral justification. The political representatives of the US ruling class brushed aside these scruples.
In a letter to Truman, a group of scientists, including James Franck and Leo Szilard, warned that the use of the atomic bomb would trigger an unlimited race for nuclear armaments. Their warning was amply borne out.
In response to the US development of the even more destructive hydrogen bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, the Soviet Union developed its own massive nuclear armoury.
Smaller powers, like Britain, France and China followed suit. The powers accumulated enough nuclear warheads to wipe out the planet many times over. This weaponry absorbed a huge share of available resources for science and technology, which could have been directed to socially useful projects.
Trying to justify nuclear weapons, Western leaders argued that the balance of nuclear power, with mutually assured destruction, ruled out war. But while nuclear weapons ruled out a world war between the superpowers, which would have resulted in mutual destruction, they did not prevent an endless series of 'small' wars, which were often manipulated by the powers for their own ends. Between 1950 and 1989, these wars claimed the lives of between 20-30 million people.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1989, Western leaders claimed there would be a 'peace dividend', with the reduction of nuclear stockpiles and armament spending generally. True, the number of nuclear warheads has been reduced. But there are still around 27,600 warheads (2,500 on 'hair-trigger alert') with a destructive power of 5,000 megatons (equivalent of 5,000 million tons of TNT).
And whereas the Cold War produced a relatively stable relationship between two superpowers who dominated rival blocs of regional powers and client states, today, there is a much more unstable, dangerous situation.
Over 40 states have nuclear weapons or the capacity to rapidly produce nuclear weapons. Superpowers may regard nuclear weapons as the absolute last resort. But can it be totally ruled out that regimes like North Korea or Pakistan, given a regional conflicts and internal upheavals, would not resort to a nuclear strike against their enemies?
The major powers claim that they are committed to arms reduction and nuclear non-proliferation. But this is completely hypocritical. Even now the US is developing a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons. In Britain, Blair is secretly preparing to replace the ageing Trident nuclear force - at an estimated cost of at least £15 billion.
In 1945, Franck, Szilard and other Manhattan Project scientists warned: "Protection against the destructive use of nuclear power can come only from the political organisation of the world." Sixty years later, the failure of the United Nations and numerous international "arms control" treaties to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons shows this to be a utopian dream under capitalism. The competitive drive of national capitalist states for ever-greater wealth and power makes arms accumulation and wars inevitable.
"The political organisation of the world" requires a world-wide change in the social system: Democratic economic planning instead of the anarchy of the market. Socialist democracy instead of the predatory rule of capitalists and landlords. Only the democratic control of society by the working class can provide the basis for real international cooperation and global planning.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are perpetual reminders of the barbarous, destructive potential of capitalism. Today, as a result of deepening global crisis, the world has become a much more volatile and dangerous place. The alarming proliferation of nuclear weapons makes socialist change even more urgent.
Not since Victorian times have we seen such a ruthless use of "bossesí power" by this American owned and managed company. The cold brutality shown by this union-busting company to its workforce almost beggars belief and has shocked even the usually "business-friendly" media.
The Daily Mirrorís 15 August "exclusive" gave a glimpse of this managementís real attitude of to its workers. Far from being a "resource" that is vital to the company the workers are looked on as something that should be exploited, lied to and then casually disposed of.
In its war-like planning (that is an undeclared war against its own employees) the Mirror revealed that Gate Gourmet had laid down a meticulous day-by-day plan to be carried through over a 15-week period. The plan aimed to provoke the workers into action, then sack them (saving millions in redundancy pay and pension rights) and then employ even cheaper labour brought in especially from abroad.
Gate Gourmetís owners are Texas Pacific. Its billionaire owner David Bonderman meticulously checked weekly that the "plan" was being carried out. It wasnít until Gate Gourmet lost the Virgin Airlines contract that the whole thing was speeded up and ended with the lock-out on 10 August.
The sacking of the workers - including workers who were on sick leave or on holiday - and who were members of the Transport and General Workersí Union (TGWU) - prompted a spontaneous walkout in solidarity by 1,000 baggage handlers and other staff who were TGWU members at British Airways, Heathrow.
This magnificent show of working-class unity shown by BA workers in Heathrow has not unfortunately been matched by the union leadership who "repudiated" the action and forced the workers at Heathrow to go back to work.
By doing this the union threw away its best card. What will make the callous owners of Gate Gourmet retreat and reinstate the sacked workers now?
This is not to belittle the attempts of the workers, who have shown immense courage, as they appear in their hundreds day after day on the picket line and outside the factory on the famous "grassy knoll" which they have made their own.
This dispute can still be won if real leadership is given and the enormous strength of the union is used to its full. The TGWU has 30,000 members in Heathrow and in its hinterland of suppliers and services around the airport.
This is real strength. It was clearly shown that even when a small number of these workers took action - as did the baggage handlers - it caused enormous disruption and even more important hit the pockets and profits of BA and other airport users.
The union should give a clear and public warning to Gate Gourmet and BA that if the workers are not reinstated immediately then the union will call upon all its members in the airport to take strike action until it does so.
BA workers in Heathrow are only too aware that waiting round the corner for them is the same treatment that has been dished out to Gate Gourmet workers.
Tony Woodley in an article in The Guardian called for secondary action to be made legal. Unfortunately in the same article he once again repudiated the actions of the baggage handlers. Instead he calls for the right to take action in support of another group of workers to be "subject to the same regulations on balloting and notice which regulate other disputes at present".
In other word the baggage handlers would have had to go through a month of legalistic ballots and form-filling before they could have supported the sacked Gate Gourmet workers.
It was only the immediate action by the BA workers that brought to whole thing to a head and was picked up by the press in the first place. Without that the Gate Gourmet sackings would not have been noticed by anybody except those most affected.
At the time of going to press, talks with Gate Gourmet and the union have formally ended with no re-instatement. It is perhaps possible that BA - to ensure its continued supply of meals - will pressurise the Gate Gourmet bosses to make concessions, but donít hold your breath.
Gate Gourmet are busy mobilising agency labour throughout London to come and fill the jobs of the sacked workforce. The union has only a limited amount of time. Tony Woodley, instead of relying on the bosses of BA, should rely on the strength of the union membership at Heathrow.
Support the Gate Gourmet workers
For their immediate re-instatement
The union should call mass meetings of its members in Heathrow and prepare them to take action in support of Gate Gourmet workers and in their own interests as well.
A QUARTER of NHS trusts are running deficits and ten of them are running a deficit of £10 million and more. The NHS inspectorate, the Health Commission, has just revealed these worrying figures.
This is before the government fully implements its new "payment by results" NHS funding scheme.
Hospitals will have to provide care according to a fixed national tariff - and if they can't they'll be in more financial difficulty.
Already wards and hospitals are threatened with closure because of this financial crisis. Charing Cross hospital in west London is even being threatened with a sell-off to private health company BUPA. Health secretary Patricia Hewitt is promoting measures like this - she says she wants another 250,000 patients a year to be treated by the private sector.
In Wales, Swansea NHS trust is £7 million in the red. It wants to close wards in Morriston and Singleton hospitals and close or downgrade community hospitals at Fairwood and Gorseinon. 200 beds are under threat.
Whatever arguments trust managers use to justify these cuts, people signing the Socialist Party petition in the city centre ask: "How will 200 less beds benefit patients in Swansea?"
Dental services have also become a real pain - literally! Thousands of people across Wales cannot get access to an NHS dentist with many being forced to go private and others just suffering in agony.
Research by Swansea Citizens Advice Bureau has revealed that 86% of people surveyed couldn't find a local NHS dentist. As a result 70% went without treatment. Swansea CAB claims people living in the city's poorest areas are bearing the brunt of the shortage.
The NHS is supposed to be free and accessible to everyone but, increasingly, working-class people are being denied basic health care because Tony Blair and New Labour are downgrading and privatising our NHS.
After the privatisation of hospital cleaning, infections like MRSA have become rife throughout the health service. In Swansea, according to UNISON, there are now 50% less cleaners than there were ten years ago. Patients, the general public and the health unions need to unite to fight these attacks and ensure we get the health service we have paid and fought for over generations.
New Labour's market-driven NHS shouldn't be run as if it were a factory in the private sector where profit is the only motivation. It should be run on the founding principles of the health service where patients come before profits.
LOW-PAID journalists at the Coventry Evening Telegraph, part of the Trinity Mirror Group, are now on indefinite strike over low pay. (See the last issue of the socialist). They have now been out for over two weeks.
All the picket lines are lively and well-attended with passers-by being lobbied about the situation. The dispute highlights low pay in a city that once led the way in fighting for decent pay with the securing of the Coventry toolroom rate. With the decline of manufacturing all that is unravelling.
This dispute comes at the same time as the Single Status dispute with council staff facing huge pay cuts. As one Labour councillor said some time ago: "We don't have to compete with the car industry anymore." This is obviously not lost on the Evening Telegraph bosses.
Journalists had a lively march through the city centre with around 30 on it. It is now vital that this dispute links with similar disputes in Sheffield and London and that it spreads to ensure that Coventry workers are not isolated. It is also vital that workers at the printing presses where these papers are printed are lobbied.
The all-out decision was a bold step and needs to be sustained and built on. Coventry strikers, assisted by the Socialist Party, are now starting to raise cash through other trade unions and collections at workplaces and across the city. With solidarity from other workers, not only can these predominantly young workers win, they can also be an example to other workers fighting low pay across Coventry and beyond.
SUFFOLK FIREFIGHTERS turned out in force on the picket lines on 2 and 5 August in their protest against the removal of turntable services from Bury St Edmunds and the loss of 12 frontline jobs.
I went to the main fire station in Ipswich with a trades council message of solidarity. Support for the firefighters was obvious from the numbers of passing cars giving blasts on their horns. I spoke to Simon Roberts, the trades council FBU delegate:
"Fighting cuts to the fire service has become an annual event for us. According to the Audit Commission, Suffolk spends proportionately less on its fire service than any other local authority, so we're already pared down to the bone.
"After the national dispute, they have obviously felt confident enough to go ahead with some of the so-called modernisation programme. But however they disguise it, these are cuts to the frontline service.
"We're already over-stretched and the loss of the Bury St Edmund service will increase response times and inevitably affect the efficiency of the service. Our safety and the safety of the public is at risk.
"We've lobbied the county council extensively over the past few months and recent remarks by their spokeswoman that we haven't spoken to them since calling for action are hardly constructive. We've asked to see the risk assessments that supposedly justify their proposals, but they have refused.
"If they get away with these cuts in Bury St Edmunds, who knows what will go next? We've got 240 firefighters in Suffolk. If they were to make similar cuts in Ipswich, another 12 jobs, that would represent 10% of the workforce. We will continue our action to fight the cuts."
Suffolk FBU have called two further strikes on 8 and 11 August. A march and rally will be held on 11 August, starting from Princes Road Fire Station, Ipswich, at 2pm, with a rally in the town centre.
Any support, trade union banners etc, will be welcomed.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT this week that Royal Mail intends to get rid of another 30,000 jobs is depressingly familiar. This is on top of the 53,000 redundancies since 2000.
It seems that Allen Leighton is blaming this on Postcomm, the postal regulators, who disagree with Royal Mail's plan to increase the price of a first-class stamp from 30p to 48p. They believe that the increase should only be to 34p. Last month Leighton warned that this could result in up to 40,000 jobs going.
Postcomm hired a consultancy, LEGC, to look into Royal Mail's operations. Among other things they propose is a pay reduction - they say Royal Mail should start comparing staff pay to the private sector, rather than the public sector.
The initial response by our union, CWU, is that speculation about further job cuts was "extremely unsettling" for postal workers, and that members had worked hard to turn the company around in recent years.
The attacks on Royal Mail workers are part of the New Labour government's neo liberal attacks - rather than going along with "share in success" and other brown-nosing schemes, the CWU should be fighting these attacks on postal workers' pay and conditions.
THE REACTION within Northern Ireland to the IRA statement ordering its units to "dump arms" says a lot more about the current state of the 'peace process' than the statement itself.
Far from helping integrate the two communities the years of the 'peace process' have seen an unprecedented polarisation. This was reflected in the response to the statement. In general, Catholics saw it as a positive step and a significant concession by the republican movement. However, for a number of now disgruntled republican activists it has been viewed as a step too far.
Protestants, on the other hand, greeted it with scepticism and general distrust. Protestant unease has been whipped up by Unionist politicians who are demanding "deeds not words" and who concentrate on Gerry Adams' claim that a united Ireland is now on the cards, achievable by peaceful, political means.
In fact the IRA statement is really just a more forthright, less ambiguous rehash of what was stated eleven years ago when the ceasefire was declared. Even though it has taken more than a decade to get to the present position, the 1994 ceasefire marked the definitive end of the IRA's military campaign.
By that time the leadership had come to realise that the "long war" was unwinnable. The IRA's methods of individual terrorism could never hope to defeat the power of the state, especially since they were based on only one section of the population and were bitterly opposed by the Protestant majority.
By the mid-1980s the Adams leadership were increasingly turning their attention to politics, hoping that Sinn Fein could make a breakthrough north and south. It became obvious that, far from complementing the political strategy, the armed struggle was an obstacle, especially to Sinn Fein's hopes in the south.
Adams and Co. were also seduced by assurances received indirectly from the British government that they had no interest in holding on to Northern Ireland and would leave if a majority of the population wanted them to. Rather than an enemy to be driven out, the British establishment came to be seen more as a potential ally in "persuading" the Protestants to accept a united Ireland.
Having swallowed this, the leadership no longer had a raison d'etre to continue the armed struggle. Once the 1994 ceasefire was in place they had no intention of returning to war.
This has been compounded by 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings, which make the idea of a return to IRA bombings even more unthinkable. The Republican leadership wants to court good relations with whatever administration is in power in Washington and Westminster and is not likely to do anything that will associate it with al-Qa'ida.
The threat of a split has meant that it has taken more than a decade to convince the republican grass roots to accept the recent "dump arms" order. Adams and Co. can only hold the movement together if they seem to have an alternative political strategy that has and will get results.
At the beginning of this year, in the aftermath of the Northern Bank robbery and the Robert McCartney murder, the political strategy was in danger of unravelling. The Sinn Fein leadership found themselves shivering in the political cold, shunned by the very establishment figures they had tried to court.
Their central objective of a significant electoral breakthrough in the south and a possible place in a future coalition government seemed in jeopardy unless they made more definitive moves to take the IRA out of the equation.
The fact that the statement and subsequent Sinn Fein press conference was held in Dublin, not Belfast, shows that their number one concern at the moment is to repair any damage they may have suffered in the south before the next Dail [Irish parliament] elections.
Does the recent statement really mean the end of the IRA and the start of a new peaceful era in Northern Ireland politics? There is no doubt that it will be implemented in part.
The IRA arms stockpiled in dumps in the south will almost certainly be decommissioned. The leadership who have no intention of a return to war have no use for these weapons. Privately they would probably prefer them destroyed rather than available for use by present and future dissidents.
Getting rid of the weapons before any future negotiations also allows them to sidestep the DUP's insistence on photographic evidence.
The Republican leadership would now like to go further and take their place on the Policing Board, in effect recognising the PSNI. Whether they will be able to do this will depend on events on the ground.
These are very significant steps, reflecting the rightward trajectory of the current leadership. They do not, however, spell the definitive end of the IRA and most certainly do not mean that the conflict is about to be resolved.
The statement stops short of the call for IRA disbandment which was being insisted on by the London and Dublin governments at the start of the year, but which they have quietly dropped more recently.
IRA structures are to stay in place, the Army Council is to be changed, not abolished, with the purely cosmetic replacement of the three Sinn Fein public representatives, Adams, McGuinness and southern TD, Martin Ferris.
The IRA will continue to operate in the working-class areas attempting to maintain a degree of 'control', perhaps using a variety of public titles.
A critical issue in these areas is the need for defence against sectarian attacks such as the 1969 pogroms in which the current IRA was born. Loyalist petrol bombings and other attacks are ongoing and IRA members in areas like North Belfast will not be persuaded to fully disarm or dissolve while this threat exists.
'IRA plc' will also continue in being in some form. This vast financial and business empire, that involves running legitimate businesses, money laundering as well as the sub-contracting of crime to others while the IRA takes its cut, will not go into liquidation.
Nor is this the end of the conflict. The DUP have responded with typical fury to the reciprocal steps towards demilitarisation taken by the state, predictably complaining that a side deal has been done with "Sinn Fein/IRA". Their current position is that they will not even enter new negotiations for two years.
Even if they shift on this - and even if there are new elections and a new Assembly - it will be against a background of a more polarised and divided society. A patched-up deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP would be no more than a form of political Balkanisation and could not last.
What is taking place on the ground does not point towards a settlement. The attempt by the loyalist paramilitaries to ape republicans by embarking on a political course has come to nothing. Between them, the UDA- and UVF-linked groups are now down to only four council positions.
The UVF have moved to militarily crush the smaller breakaway LVF. In the course of this ongoing feud three people have been killed, 300 mainly UVF men were able to take over the Garnerville estate in East Belfast, evicting LVF families, and there has been serious rioting in the Shankill area with plastic bullets fired.
The troubles continue, not as a 'war' between republicans and the state, but as a sectarian conflict fought out over territory.
In this context, Sinn Fein's idea that demographic changes, linked to a general strengthening of nationalism, will eventually bring about a united Ireland flies in the face of reality. If a capitalist united Ireland really appeared on the cards this would trigger massive Protestant resistance and civil war.
The Socialist Party in Northern Ireland welcomes the formal ending of the military campaign. We want to see all the paramilitary organisations, loyalist and republican, go out of business completely.
But to achieve this means building a class alternative that can unite working-class people in the struggle for a better life, that can deal with the threat of sectarian attack, and that can offer a socialist solution to the national question - a socialist Ireland as part of a voluntary socialist federation of Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland.
While the republican leadership continue their efforts to take their place among the great and good of capitalist society, the fact remains that the only force that can solve the problem is a united movement of the working class.
SINCE THE election of the conservative New Democracy government in Greece two years ago, severe attacks have been launched against working-class people.
But workers have shown their willingness to fight these attacks, with four general strikes over the last six months, the last on 24 July.
Working hours have been annualised in many workplaces. This means that the eight-hour working day has practically been abolished, with many workers having to work up to 12 hours with no overtime payments.
Pensions have also been attacked, yet many pensioners already live in poverty. There are plans to raise the retirement age to at least 65, which is a disgrace, given that the life expectancy of workers in some heavy industries is only 62.
Public-sector workers have been particularly badly hit. The government got the union leaders to agree to 6,000 workers taking early retirement from Greek Telecom, which is still in the public sector. Workers on permanent lifetime contracts will be replaced with casual part-time workers.
The union leaders linked both to Pasok, the social democratic party, and to New Democracy, signed the agreement to set this dangerous precedent for the rest of the public sector.
This brand of fast-track Thatcherism is the biggest attack on the working class since the end of the military dictatorship 30 years ago. The Greek economy is saddled with debt, not helped by the staging of the last Olympic Games in Athens, so the bosses are trying to make the working class pay.
Greek workers are angry and are searching for a political alternative. Pasok provides no alternative and the other Left parties have shown themselves to be incapable of organising a united fight back.
The Communist Party has even organised its own rallies during strikes, like during the three-week long bank workers' strike (much of the banking system is still part of the public sector). The priority must be to build a united campaign against the attacks.
45% of workers are living on less than Ä500 per month (£345). Most new jobs are low-paid and part time. Unemployment is rising and companies are moving to places like the Balkan states in a search for even cheaper labour. In contrast, even the 'poorest' Greek MP gets a basic wage of Ä5,000 a month.
Xekinima has been arguing for a programme of properly-organised strikes, to be escalated if there are no concessions. But we also argue that workers must be involved in the organisation of these strikes, with strike committees to ensure the action is properly prepared for. Workers need to know a serious struggle is being organised.
There is a new generation of workers and young people looking for radical socialist ideas. Xekinima is the fastest-growing Left organisation in Greece. We are preparing for the inevitable new struggles ahead.
THE national convention of the AFL-CIO trade union confederation in Chicago on 25 July, on the 50th anniversary of its foundation, saw it split into two blocs.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) - the largest and fastest growing union in the country headed by Andy Stern - along with the presidents of the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Labourers, UNITE HERE, and the Carpenters' unions, have all formed the Change to Win Coalition and broken with the remaining unions headed by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney.
The background to the split is the deep crisis facing US labour and how to deal with it. Real wages are falling for most workers. Jobs, skilled or unskilled, are insecure. Millions are losing their health insurance, and corporations are hacking away at pensions.
Only 7.9% of private-sector workers are in unions, the lowest level since 1901. In total, 12.5% of all workers are unionised, down from an historical high of 33% in 1954.
But are the policies that the Change to Win Coalition propose capable of rebuilding the trade unions?
It's worth remembering that when Sweeney came to power in 1995 in the first contested presidential election in AFL-CIO history as an "insurgent", many said he represented a radical change. Sweeney, like Stern, was president of the SEIU, and the central plank in his platform was "organise the unorganised".
Ten years under Sweeney has seen a major increase in funding for organising, with literally hundreds of millions of dollars spent, along with stepped-up donations to the Democrats also totalling hundreds of millions. Despite this, union membership has continued to fall, while workers' conditions continue to deteriorate.
In reality, Stern, who supported Sweeney in 1995, is only offering a more aggressive version of the project Sweeney has promoted.
But the problem the labour movement faces is not a lack of money or resources. The real issue is: around what policies, programme, and strategy are these resources to be deployed?
WHAT IS needed is a programme and strategy that can win real gains in workers' living standards and effectively resist the employers' offensive. On that basis, the unions would be able to grow by leaps and bounds.
This is demonstrated by the history of how the unions were built in the first place. The labour movement saw its biggest growth following the 1930s depression, when strikes fought for bold demands that would seriously transform workers' living conditions - and won.
Today, neither the Sweeney nor the Stern wings link the struggle for unionisation to fighting demands on wages and benefits. Instead, they mainly put forward vague calls for "dignity and a voice at work".
The present outlook of the union leaders flows from their acceptance of capitalism as the only possible system and the need for 'Corporate America' to make profits and be 'competitive'.
US capitalism has been in crisis for over 30 years. This is the root cause of the attacks on wages and benefits, as employers look to cut costs to defend profits. If you accept that capitalism is the only system, when the bosses keep demanding concessions, you concede and look for ways to protect corporations.
To effectively take on the giant corporations, like Wal-Mart or McDonald's, requires a serious mass mobilisation of the membership and the wider working class in determined struggle. This is extremely difficult to accomplish on the basis of moderating your demands to those which management is willing to pay.
Fortunately, there is great hope for a revival of the union movement. But it lies not with the present collection of union leaders. It lies with the growing demand and desire of workers to organise due to attacks on their living conditions.