Socialist Party | Print
ON 22 MARCH, angry health workers met to launch a campaign to defend the NHS in North Staffs from the attempted butchery of 1,200 jobs and 160 beds at our University Hospital. The meeting was organised by the local Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP).
Out of the more than 100 who attended the meeting at very short notice, 80 were NHS workers who were incensed at these latest attacks. All those present voted to launch a campaign to defend our NHS.
Local New Labour MPs have spoken only of money to retrain staff and the New Labour-controlled city council has been virtually silent.
If left to New Labour locally we will have JobCentre workers under threat of redundancy directing NHS workers, who now face the sack, to apply for jobs on the council - where they want compulsory redundancies. Or they could send them to Stoke-on-Trent College to be retrained by lecturers, 155 of whom are to be sacked!
But NHS workers and people in North Staffs don't want New Labour's jobs merry-go-round madhouse. They want action to defend our NHS services!
A petition launched by Stoke Socialist Party has already collected over 2,000 names. Socialist Party councillors Dave and Paul Sutton have ensured that, despite resistance from New Labour councillors, the decision to slash jobs inspired by the government and announced by hospital management will be 'called in' to the city council's scrutiny commission which has the power to refer them to the health minister.
This will take place on Monday 10 April in the Civic Centre in Stoke. We want NHS workers and local people to attend a protest outside this meeting to show our anger and opposition.
We are now building for a march and rally through the city which will take place on 29 April and will be linking up with other NHS defence campaigns nationally.
We are demanding an immediate injection of £15 million from the government to make up the shortfall and prevent the job losses and inevitable reduction in quality of patient care. The government plans to build a new hospital in North Staffs by using private money. It will cost £50 million to build but taxpayers will actually pay £150 million over 25 years to swell the profits of a private company.
This new hospital should be built with public funding instead, which will save up to £100 million. This is more than enough to stop the cuts.
MILLIONS OF pounds in deficit, jobs and services cut, healthcare rationed, wards and hospitals closing - the NHS is in crisis. But who's to blame? We expose the government's lies about the NHS.
Some senior doctors have been given large pay rises. But many NHS staff are faced with effective pay cuts because of the Agenda for Change job evaluation and pay review system. Many NHS staff are still on chronically low wages. Now they are facing redundancy as well.
The cost of drugs has gone up and new drugs have become available to treat more illnesses. But drug companies are some of the most profitable in the world. They cost the NHS £10 billion a year, about 14% of total expenditure.
If these companies were nationalised and controlled democratically as an integral part of the health service, their resources could be unleashed for the benefit of all, not just a few shareholders.
Survey after survey has shown that people are not so much concerned about choice but about having a good hospital near where they live. The reason New Labour keep emphasising choice is that they want hospitals to compete with eachother. You can't have the madness of the market in the NHS unless the 'consumers' make 'choices'.
Hospitals have gone into deficit because of underfunding and privatisation. They then make cuts in services. But fewer services mean a reduced income and a bigger deficit.
Payment by results means it's impossible to plan ahead with a secure income. This is made worse by being forced by the government to hive off 15% of elective surgery to expensive private providers.
Health economists estimate that it costs about £12 billion a year to operate the market in the NHS. This is the cost of invoicing, management consultants financial 'rescue' teams, marketing, advertising and lawyers. None of this contributes anything to healthcare.
In the mid-1970s, before privatisation took hold, administration amounted to about 5% of NHS spending. Now it's 20%.
Pregnant women in Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea NHS Hospital in London are being asked for £4,000 to ensure they get a named midwife through their labour - recommended for all births. This is the beginning of unequal healthcare - distributed on the basis of ability to pay.
"Patients are now going without care and suffering on a scale which has not been seen since before the inception and creation of the NHS in 1948 - all for the sake of the alleged gains to be had from 'market efficiency'". Allyson Pollock, a public health doctor and author of NHS plc.
THE NHS is plummeting towards a two-tier system with very basic care for all and good care for those who can pay.
Against the backdrop of this, the Keep Our NHS Public campaign held their conference on 25 March.
When Socialist Party member Lois Austin spoke she called for the conference to set a date for a demonstration to unite the campaigns against attacks on the NHS.
Originally there was only one resolution to be voted on, a simple pledge to carry on fighting, developing local campaigns and lobbying our MPs. Then an amendment was moved from the floor calling on the campaign to get the TUC to organise such a demonstration. The mood of the conference was shown when the amendment was overwhelmingly carried.
There were trade union speakers as well as various GPs and MPs. Vague pledges to fight back were made by trade unions UNISON and Amicus as well as by former health secretary Frank Dobson MP.
But they put forward no strategy that would make use of the potential mass organised strength that could be gathered behind this campaign. The NHS crisis has been called Labour's poll tax but the anger that working-class people feel about the government's policies must be organised to be effective.
Other speakers recognised the need for something more. GP Ron Singer - President of the Medical Practitioners' Union - said how there is a need for action: "I believe, in the form of strike action and demonstrations".
The national demonstration must now be campaigned for urgently. If the TUC drag their feet then Keep Our NHS Public should urge the health unions to join with them to call it.
HUDDERSFIELD AND Calderdale Primary Care Trust have ignored local people's protests and voted for vicious cuts in the local health service. Only one or two trust members voted against the proposed moving and slashing of health services.
But the people of Huddersfield, led by the Save Our NHS campaign group, are refusing to give up the services they have paid and worked all their lives for. The unelected, unaccountable trust board have no right to make a decision that affects the lives of thousands of people. Their combined salary - £6.2 million - would go some way to easing the NHS debt.
The trust met on 22 March to vote on the proposals. They were greeted by around 40 members of the Save Our NHS campaign, who have organised three demonstrations over the last four months. Before long it was clear the meeting was a farce, a mere formality before they could officially announce the decision which had been made six months ago.
The presentations were riddled with lies and even some hilarious truths - for example they showed that of the 742 individual letters they received, just eight supported the proposals! Yet the trust sat smugly as furious campaign members heckled. One young man even walked towards the supporters of the move shouting "shame!" at each one - before being dragged out by two of the seven bouncers employed for the meeting.
The decision has not demoralised the campaign, which has collected well over 50,000 signatures. If anything the town seems more intent than ever to fight.
Our next step is to stand candidates in the local elections in three wards. Socialist Party member Dr Jackie Grunsell will be standing in Crossland Moor and Netherton, calling for people to vote as if it were the referendum that the council refused to call.
We also intend to lobby the health secretary and call for the government to overrule the trust's decision on the basis of overwhelming public opposition.
MANAGEMENT IS proposing to slash 480 jobs and 100 beds at the Royal Free hospital in north-west London. The Socialist Party is organising a campaign to oppose all redundancies and pay cuts.
Four wards are threatened with closure, including the award-winning stroke unit on Berry Ward. It is likely that a further 70 beds will be lost later in the year. Management is also urging staff to take a pay cut to help clear the £25 million 'debt'!
We demand that the £25 million pound 'debt' of the Royal Free and the £182 million debt within the NHS in London be written off by the government. Otherwise there will be a meltdown of health care in London.
The Royal Free played a key role in treating victims of the 7/7 bombings, we cannot afford a rundown in services at this hospital.
The government can find hundred of millions of pounds for warfare but cannot provide a decent health service. We demand that the NHS is totally publicly funded and that private finance is driven out of our health service. The health service should be democratically run by health workers, patient groups and the local community.
April, 7.45 pm, The Stag pub, Fleet Road. Speaker: Hugo Pierre, shop steward, Camden UNISON.
IN SWANSEA and West Wales, many schools and offices were locked up and pickets were on almost every street corner. Jeff Baker, UNISON regional organiser, responsible for council workers in Swansea, said that he was: "Very pleased with the response today which was absolutely solid. The mood is as strong as its been for many years."
On the binworkers' picket line the feeling was strongly for an escalation of the dispute. "Because a one-day strike just gives the press a chance to have a go at us, we need to be all out to win."
Ronnie Job, a UNISON picket at Gorseinon College, said: "Half of our members were on the picket line and we have caused severe disruption. A lot of lecturers, despite massive pressure from the college authorities, refused to cross the picket lines, along with students. We need to step up strike action and not rely on the selective action being proposed by the union leaders."
THE STRIKE in Coventry was solid, with local authority services either closed or operating at a reduced level. About 100 trade unionists attended a rally at lunchtime to hear local union representatives giving a damning indictment of the attack on the pension scheme.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist gained the day's best response, when he raised the idea of the unions breaking from Labour and setting up a new workers' party. Throughout the day, dozens of pickets signed the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) declaration and eagerly took the Socialist Party leaflet on the pensions dispute.
THERE WAS widespread support for the pensions strike in Southwark, south London. Picket lines were present on many council buildings and depots as well as at the London College of Printing.
At the Manor Place depot Mohammed told me that he had worked for the council for eight years and had been a union steward for seven. "There is strong support for this strike amongst my members. A lot have paid into the pension scheme for years and are pissed off with what is happening."
Another worker said that they should stay out on unofficial strike till they won. Mohammed agreed that they needed more strikes of at least two days if they are to win.
April Ashley, deputy housing convenor and a member of the Socialist Party, told me:
"There is solid and strong support for the action. People are convinced that it will take more than a one-day strike to force the government to give in. We were told it was going to be two days this time and people were disappointed that it is only one day. We need to make sure that, when strike days are announced, the leadership is not allowed to change them at the last minute.
"Loads of people will be losing part of their pensions and women in particular are very angry at what is happening.
"They already have less pension entitlement than the average because they have their careers disrupted to bring up families. They have reluctantly accepted this because they thought the conditions aren't too bad and there's some security. But now they will get even less pensions they're really angry."
A HIGHLY visible group of UNISON members picketed County Council departments across Winchester city centre.
Julie Murdoch, Hampshire UNISON branch secretary told the socialist: "We are pissed off with the government, which has agreed to protect other public-sector workers but is treating others who work alongside them unequally."
Leslie Roberts, a UNISON member who works in children's services told us how she was assured several years ago she could retire at 60 in six year's time on a full pension. If the 85-year rule is abolished, she will instead have to work for another fourteen years, or face losing 27% of her pension entitlement!
Many workers we spoke to were enraged at this betrayal and open theft by New Labour of their money and several signed the Campaign for New Workers' Party declaration.
It was obvious that the gains won by PCS workers had encouraged UNISON members to defend their pension rights. Some workers were on strike for the first time, but no doubt not the last!
TYNESIDE VIRTUALLY ground to a halt. The Metro and the Tyne tunnel were closed due to strike action. In the city centre the demonstrators outnumbered the shoppers!
Socialist Party member Greg Maugham spoke to a bus driver on the way to the demo. The bus driver said: "It's been dead quiet on the buses, 'cos everyone thinks we're on strike as well".
Strikers from various picket lines spoke to the socialist: "Northumbria university has closed for the day because they cannot guarantee health and safety. Everyone is being paid because they don't know who is and who isn't on strike!" Lottie Hann
"It's been a really good turn out. In the probation service there's a very strong feeling about the pension issue. Nearly all of us are out - most of them working aren't in a union." Jacqui Cox.
"Three out of four Newcastle probation offices are closed due to the strike". Joanne Wallace (NAPO). "The government is stealing five years from us" and "Nobody is fighting for the ordinary person" were the reactions from Newcastle city council workers.
ALMOST EVERY workplace in Ealing was picketed. Many day centres and 30 schools were closed. Beverley Begg, a UNISON member and first time picket commented that: "It was important to see so many young people on the picket lines."
Paul Travers, Dagenham TGWU branch secretary, spoke to the socialist: "There's been good support today. Schools are shut and only essential services running.
"Feelings are high and people are upset - people who would never ever have thought of going on strike are out. We have to thank the government for giving a recruiting tool to the unions."
Pickets were out in force in Waltham Forest. At the Low Hall depot, the town hall and at 'poll tax house', many signed the CNWP declaration.
When the depot management called the police, the pickets managed to turn the police car away after they explained whet they were striking about.
YOU LITERALLY couldn't walk down a main street in Manchester without seeing a picket line! At a large and energetic picket line of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, the steward told us that not only was Manchester solid but that in Liverpool the Transport Authority workers had closed both tunnels and shut down the ferries!
Admin staff at Manchester Met University picketed out every building. Management resorted to hiring private security to open the buildings. Pickets told us how the scabs had been brought in the night before to open up and would have to stay another night because they didn't know how to lock up!
When asked what they thought the next steps should be, the workers were unequivocal - "general strike"! Striking on 4 May polling day is seen by many as a necessary measure to force the government to back off.
Steve North, a Salford UNISON steward reported in a personal capacity: "Largely because of weeks of determined preparation, over 90% of the workers in my office had no intention of crossing the picket line.
"In the last two weeks Salford branch has recruited over 200 members - I have recruited nearly fifty of them within my own directorate. Those who did not picket stayed at home; most of our managers didn't even arrive."
JOSIE, A UNISON shop steward at Brighton and Hove council, told the socialist: "This strike represents the largest strike ever undertaken by women in this country. This is incredibly important because the vast majority of low-paid local government workers are women."
There were 400 strikers at the rally outside Brighton town hall. Speaker after speaker denounced the trade unions' link with Labour and many called for the unions to stand their own candidates.
We visited 12 picket lines and saw that the strike was solid. Many signed the CNWP declaration, including the branch secretary of the UNISON branch and several reps.
COUNCIL WORKERS in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge and Malling made their views clear to the socialist.
One picket pointed out that the attacks on the pension scheme were timed to coincide with the rise in council tax. The right-wing press could then put more pressure on workers to accept the 'reforms'.
Others said that pensions were a line in the sand which the unions must not back down over, or there would be other attacks.
One simple message from a Lewes striker was: "the government are just crooked".
28 March national pensions strike
"THERE WERE about 300 striking workers at the rally in Southampton," reported Nick Chaffey:
"Socialist Party members went round with the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) declaration and got a great response. We had to have a lengthy conversation with everyone who signed, they were so enthusiastic about the campaign.
"After the rally we held a Socialist Party/CNWP meeting. 16 people came - mostly striking UNISON and TGWU members and some PCS activists. We had a good discussion about the cuts being imposed on everyone's workplace, pay and conditions and the need for the trade unions to organise effective opposition.
"The strikers felt the next pensions strikes should be two or three days long and raised some questions about the wisdom of selective action.
"We've been raising the question of building a new workers' party in our UNISON branch for a while. And today's meeting meant we were able to establish it more firmly amongst Southampton council workers.
"Earlier when I visited the picket line at a council depot, the TGWU steward told me he was particularly worried about all the attacks on young people at the moment - the attack on pensions is just part of the story. But he'd done something about it, got young workers into the union and there were several young TGWU members with him on the picket line."
GLENN KELLY is a local government representative on the national executive council of UNISON. He was elected trade union liaison officer at the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) conference on 19 March and spoke to the socialist in that capacity.
"I can understand why millionaires give money to the Labour Party - but not union leaders. Millionaires get something in return and it's not just peerages. They get to dictate education policy and win juicy NHS contracts.
"But what have UNISON members got from the millions of pounds that our union leaders have handed over to Labour? Cuts, privatisation and vicious attacks on wages, conditions and services.
"The pensions strike shows that the time has come to stop funding the party that's kicking us in the teeth. It's time for a new working-class party. We aim to have at least 5,000 signatures by the end of the year on our declaration for a new workers' party.
"Help us build a campaign for a party that will defend our pensions and stand up for our rights in the same way that New Labour stands up for the bosses and the millionaires."
ON THE local government pension picket lines, many signed the declaration in support of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. New Labour's attack on pensions has made many UNISON members angrily question why their union funds are still going to Labour Party. This anger has now percolated to the union's leaders.
At the last meeting of UNISON's ruling National Executive Council (NEC), North West NEC member Roger Bannister asked if there was any truth in the rumour that the union's Labour Link organisation had taken a decision not to recommend support for New Labour in the municipal elections in May.
The question was greeted with a derisive snort from the chairperson of the Labour Link, who strongly denied any truth in this rumour.
Since then however it seems that harsh reality has struck home even within the barricaded confines of the Labour Link, which carried the following resolution at its last meeting:
"In the circumstances of the union taking national industrial action against the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, named as Regulator and decision maker regarding the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), it is felt that it is not appropriate or politically sensible to be organising, on one hand, for industrial action by the union while sending out letters and leaflets to many of the same members asking them to vote Labour.
"The decision has been taken to suspend our election campaigning work for Labour in the May elections while the industrial action is going on.
"Labour Link will not be giving any further donations or support to the campaign until we reach a solution to the present LGPS issue.
"This is a decision that affects our work for Labour's election campaign in May nationally and locally."
This unprecedented step is clearly welcome and well in line with the actual views of the members whose pensions are being attacked by the New Labour government. But why stop with the pensions dispute? New Labour has privatised schools, housing and vast tracts of the National Health Service. It is time that we used the political fund to support politicians that supported us, and not vice versa!
OVER ONE million local government workers joined the one-day strike on 28 March to defend their current pension entitlements. They showed the volcanic anger amongst working-class people against Blair and the Labour government.
Council workers are rightly furious about attempts to strip their relatively meagre pension entitlement when government ministers, MPs and fat cats have protected their sumptuous pensions. Female local government workers get on average £31 a week in their pension packet compared to the £700-plus a week that MPs can get.
This was the biggest co-ordinated strike action for over two decades and a strike that government and union leaders had wanted to avoid.
In March and October 2005 the government, realising the balance of forces weighed against it when two previous pensions' strikes were looming, retreated and ring-fenced existing workers' conditions in the health sector, education and the civil service. Since then it retreated further over firefighters' pensions and gave protection to existing firefighters' pension schemes.
Local government union leaders had assumed, wrongly, that the government would automatically give the same protection to existing local government workers. But, the government was caught in a bind between the intransigence of the Tory-controlled local government employers' association and the government's own inability to find enough 'wriggle room' to allow union leaders to call off threatened action.
The government had thought it could offer an inferior deal to local government workers than to other public-sector workers and get away with it. However, such is the mood amongst local government workers that their union leaders know they could accept nothing less than what was previously offered to other public-sector workers.
ADDING FUEL to the flames the Blair/Brown government ann-ounced in last week's budget that it was imposing a public-sector pay limit of 2.2% (except for nurses) and carrying out further massive job cuts in the public sector - especially in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Little wonder then that even the UNISON Affiliated Political Fund (Labour Link) was obliged last week to suspend support for New Labour in the May elections while industrial action continues.
Local government workers need to put pressure on their union leaders to develop a coherent strategy for winning their pensions dispute. At present, the leaders are sending out mixed messages on how the struggle is to be developed if the government doesn't back down after the recent action.
At local level, union activists organised effectively for the strike day to ensure the strike action would bite. At national and regional level, however, union leaders kept inter-union co-operation to a minimum, tried to play the strike down and organised low-key rallies rather than marches to bring striking members of all unions together.
The bigger unions, like UNISON, tried to give the appearance of having a strategy to take the strike forward - including selective action, regional action in April and a further two days of strike action on 4 and 5 May.
The socialist has pointed out before that selective action should only be an auxiliary to more generalised action involving all the workers. In itself, selective action cannot be the way forward for this strike. And, whilst regional strikes and the strikes planned for 4-5 May will be welcomed, there will also be doubts - given the emphasis on selective action - that union leaders have mapped out their current 'strategy' only as an attempt to frighten the government.
Past experience, however, shows that it is more often the union leaders who take fright when the government digs its heels in. Union activists should now demand, following the buoyant mood of the first strike day, that their unions escalate the strike action to two or three days within the next few weeks to build on, rather than dissipate, the mood.
ALTHOUGH THE government was forced to partially retreat last year on pensions, it is clear, given Brown's budget attacks on public-sector workers, that whoever is prime minister in this Labour administration will make further swingeing cuts in public spending and public-sector jobs.
Local government unions should urgently demand that other unions and the TUC give them maximum support by calling an emergency national demonstration on pensions.
The plan announced by British Airways last week to make its existing workers work five years longer for their pensions - along with the half a million workers robbed of their pensions in recent years - shows the urgent need to draw private-sector workers into this struggle as well.
The fight for a decent pension for all workers, as well as defending the public sector, is an ongoing battle that needs to be fought industrially and politically. UNISON members, along with members of other unions affiliated to Labour, should demand that they pay no further money to Labour full stop. Instead their unions should use their money and energy to support a campaign for a new workers' party that will seriously fight for the interests of working-class people.
FRANCE'S 28 March "day of action" saw much bigger mass protests and strikes against the French government even than the 1.5 million who demonstrated on 18 March.
In Marseilles alone between 200,000 and 250,000 were on the streets, compared with 130,000 on 18 March. Trade union leaders said three million joined protests on 28 March. The right-wing Le Figaro said that the national mobilisation left prime minister Villepin "isolated".
France has seen mounting protests against Villepin's CPE, the "First Job Contract", that allows workers under 26 to be sacked without reason or warning during their first 24 months with any employer.
Starting mainly amongst university students, the anger spread to school students and to manual and white-collar workers. School students see this law as legalising their exploitation and lack of future, turning them into the "Kleenex generation", used then thrown away.
Millions of workers see the CPE as the second stage of the government's plan to give more power to employers to intimidate workers. Last year, the government passed the CNE that allowed for the sacking of any worker during their first 24 months in a company with less than 20 employees.
Polls show a continuing rejection of the government's policies. Both President Chirac and Villepin are so far hanging tough, but they may be forced to make some concessions now, only to come back for more later.
However the trade union leaders repeatedly hesitate from calling for serious action against the government and, despite occasional threats, have not called for a general strike because they don't want to challenge the government. This long-standing policy means they take no initiatives themselves. Nearly all the demands for action come from the rank and file.
One result of the leaders' passivity is that they offer no alternative to many of the most oppressed youth. A tragic warning of what this can produce were the attacks on the 23 March student demos by small gangs of youth trying to steal mobile phones, etc. from protesters.
But instead of having a policy that could both offer these youth a future to fight for while also protecting the demonstrations from criminal elements, the leaders of the main trade union, the CGT, simply agreed that the police should surround the demos while their own stewards try to keep political slogans out of the protests.
The union leaders are trying to ride out the movement by calling one protest a week. But, more and more, workers talk about the need for a general strike to turn the tide against the attacks they have suffered. There is anger in the private sector as well. If private-sector workers saw there was the chance of a generalised struggle that would not leave them isolated in their individual companies, they too would join in.
A national student meeting has called for blockades of railway stations and motorways on 30 March and a general strike on April 4, but a more generalised strategy is needed. However it cannot be ruled out that the French tradition of spontaneous strikes will be seen again with workers deciding to continue striking.
The past weeks show that large sections of France's population want to fight, not just complain about, the neo-liberal agenda. Today it looks likely that the French 'Socialist' Party could win next year's elections, but as has been seen in the 25 years since Mitterrand became the first 'Socialist' president in 1981, this will not lead to a fundamental change.
What is needed is a new political force, a new workers' party, which can combine this resistance with a genuinely socialist struggle to change society.
This May sees the eightieth anniversary of the 1926 General Strike in Britain - the most important and earth-shattering moment in the history of the British working class.
To commemorate it and, more importantly, to draw out the lessons from this movement, Peter Taaffe has written a book outlining the course of the nine days that shook British capitalism to its foundations.
It is more than a narrative and chronology of the events themselves, although these will be important for newer members and activists in the movement.
Following the biggest strike of the British working class since 1926, it will discuss the use of the demand for a general strike. But it will particularly deal with the revolutionary possibilities of the General Strike and the question of whether the fledgling Communist Party of Great Britain had the right strategy, programme and tactics to take full advantage of the strike and the period.
This book is a must for all socialists. Cost £7.50. Place your advance order now - just £5 including p&p.
Cheques to Socialist Books, PO box 24697, London E11 1YD
ACROSS THE USA millions of people have taken to the streets to express their anger at Congress' attacks on immigrant workers.
In Los Angeles, alone, over one million workers, students and youth demonstrated in the city on 25 March against the Republican party proposals to further tighten immigration law. Students have spearheaded the protests by walking out of school in a week-long action.
Under the measures (Bill HR4437), the authorities could jail and deport undocumented immigrant workers and prosecute anyone who supports them.
President George Bush, while echoing his party's 'get tough' on immigrants approach, also wants to ensure that employers aren't starved of cheap labour to exploit. Instead, he has argued for a regulated "guest worker" scheme.
Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party's counterpart in the US) said in its material issued on the demonstrations: "To build the movement, every immigrant rights organisation, union, anti-war group, activist groups should go all out to campaign for and mobilise for a massive strike of immigrant workers and student walkout in May for immigrant rights.
"The labour movement should put itself at the forefront of this struggle. It should launch a massive education campaign to convince tens of millions of workers that immigrant rights is an issue that is vital to all US workers by distributing millions of leaflets, holding workplace meetings, and organising mass rallies. It should mobilise massive solidarity for the strike in May, and broaden it to include immigrant and native-born workers alike."
For background material see www.socialistalternative.org
LAST SUNDAY'S general election in Ukraine saw pro-Western president Yushchenko's party humiliatingly beaten into third place with an expected 17% of the vote.
In the lead is the party of former president, the pro-Russian Victor Yanukovich, with 27%. It was only one year ago that Yanukovich was forced to step down as president after a fraudulent ballot led to a mass opposition movement known as the 'Orange Revolution'.
But Yushchenko's rule has been characterised by a failure to deal with endemic state corruption and to raise living standards. Yushchenko also dismissed his prime minister and one-time ally, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Now bitter rivals, Tymoshenko's party is expected to win around 24%. Significantly, there was a high abstention rate. CWI supporters in the Ukraine called for a 'no party' vote.
Much political 'horse trading' will ensue before a new government is formed. But the result is a spanner in the works for Western governments who wanted Ukraine to move closer to the EU and to join NATO.
See www.socialistworld.net for background article.
ON 26 March, there were local council elections in the German state of Hessen, where several left alliances stood in nearly all city councils.
In Kassel, a joint list of the new left party WASG, PDS, Socialist Alternative (SAV, the German section of the CWI, the international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated), some immigrant organisations and individuals stood under the banner: 'Kassel Left for Work and Social Justice' with demands such as no cuts and no privatisation in the local hospital.
The Kassel Left got 6.8%, one of the best results in Hessen. Five councillors were elected, one of them Nico Weinmann, a member of SAV.
THE BASQUE separatist group, ETA, has announced a "permanent ceasefire", ending its 38-year long armed campaign. ETA at the same time called on the Spanish and French governments to "seize the opportunities".
For decades, ETA demanded independence for the Basque region, which covers northern Spain and south-west France. Can ETA achieve its long held aims? And, did its armed struggle bring nearer Basque national rights?
ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuma), translated as 'Basque Homeland and Freedom', was established in 1959, under General Franco's right-wing dictatorship, when the Basque language was banned and Basques faced severe repression.
The death of Franco, in 1975, unleashed a revolutionary movement across Spain that terrified the ruling class. They were forced to concede to democratic demands from Spanish workers and to allow limited 'autonomous' rights to the Basques and other nationalities. ETA demanded more control for Basques over their own affairs.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the state used repressive methods against Basque people, including during the rule of the 'socialist' government of Felipe Gonzalez, which organised anti-ETA death squads.
Throughout these decades, ETA carried out a campaign of shootings and bombings. But recent years have seen the separatist group's activities at an all time low. Most Basques want the right to self-determination and oppose state repression. But they are weary of the armed campaign of ETA, which long ago proved unable to win their national aspirations and only helped divide the working class along national lines.
Socialists always opposed the individual terror methods of ETA. ETA attracted working class Basque youth, but, as socialists argued, their methods could not defeat the Spanish state. In fact, individual terrorism strengthened the state machine and the reactionary politicians.
Disregarding attempts by ETA to enter negotiations, the right wing Popular Party government, elected in 1996, decided to try and smash ETA. It banned ETA's political wing, Herri Batasuna. Since 1999, Spanish and French police carried out waves of arrests which are said to have hit ETA hard.
ETA's activities have waned, with the number of bombings falling in recent years. Terror tactics faced widespread revulsion after the Madrid bombings, on 11 May 2003, which killed hundreds of civilians. Although not responsible for the train bombing massacres, which were carried out by an Islamic terror group, ETA's methods of individual terror became even more unpopular.
Reaching a dead-end with its armed campaign, ETA hoped to emulate Sinn Fein's 'peace process' strategy in Northern Ireland. ETA's leadership calls for a "democratic process" for "political change".
After years of conflict, it is not surprising that a poll following ETA's ceasefire showed that 80% wanted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to talk to ETA. But the peace process may prove to be as protracted and as volatile as the Irish one.
Zapatero, leader of the 'socialist' PSOE, said the peace process will be "difficult". Right wing politicians demand that ETA must disarm before any talks.
Given the vital economic and territorial importance of the Basque Country to the Spanish ruling class, the PSOE administration will not concede the right to genuine self-determination and separation.
Zapatero said he will discuss "smaller issues", like the return of ETA prisoners to Basque jails. ETA will demand parole for its jailed members and, along with Basque nationalists, will call for more autonomy from central government in Madrid. But the prime minister will come under pressure from right wing politicians not to concede 'too much'.
The Zapatero government will only attempt a solution to the Basque national question within the confines of capitalism - but there is no long term solution on that basis. History shows that unless national rights and grievances are met, the Basque issue will re-erupt.
Only united working class action, in a struggle for socialism, can win real self-determination for the Basque people. Both the 'constitutional', pro-capitalist Basque nationalism of parties like the Basque National Party, and ETA's 'radical' nationalism have failed to win Basque national rights.
Socialists call for a socialist Basque country, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist confederation of the region. This means building new mass parties of the working class that oppose the neo-liberal policies of Zapatero and the opposition Popular Party, and which fight for full democratic rights.
The socialist review
If you type in 'Nablus' on the internet, you can find basic information like this: "A historic city, about 4,500 years old, in the West Bank.. The Nablus district has 205,392 inhabitants, including refugee camps and surrounding villages.
"The city's unemployment rates have increased from 14.2% in 1997 to an estimate of 60% in 2004, however unemployment in the old city and in the refugee camps is as high as 80%.
"Due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the city was closed off by the IDF. Checkpoints around Nablus restrict travelling of residents to and from the city (and there is a ban on vehicles, only pedestrians can cross checkpoints).
"Around 400 Palestinians (including armed fighters as well as unarmed civilians and children) from Nablus have been killed by IDF [Israeli Defence Force] military operations against militants during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Israeli soldiers along with Jewish settlers have also been killed by members of militant groups that originate from there."
Imagine for a minute what your life would be like if you were born there. It would not be surprising if you said "It's like a lifelong prison sentence". That's how one of the protagonists in the 2005 film Paradise Now describes it.
Said and Khaled are friends, and at the start of the film they are both lucky enough to have work as car mechanics. Their situation is like that of most other car mechanics in the world - some customers are nasty and the boss thinks he can hire and fire you.
On the bright side of life there is this beautiful sight of the city, friendship, family and for Said there is also Suha with the knackered car, who clearly likes him. The two of them plan to meet again the next day but this plan gets crossed by the plans of the leaders of a militant islamist group.
Said and Khaled are the chosen ones for the next suicide attack in Tel-Aviv - in retribution for a horrific killing by the IDF a couple of years earlier. Being chosen means great honour but the prospect of being dead the next day and taking lots of people you never met before with you concentrates your mind. Especially on the question: will it actually change anything? Or is there another way?
These are the central questions of the film (and for the whole of the Middle East). They do not get answered, but this is exactly the situation at present. Today's reality is that Hamas is widely seen as the only mass alternative to the ineffective Fatah, and so in Nablus Hamas won a staggering 73.4% in the municipal elections in December 2005.
The film clearly questions the method of suicide bombings. At the same time it shows how desperate the situation is for people, so much so that they are prepared to carry out suicide bombings. This is less due to an understanding of what it will or won't achieve, but due to the circumstances of life in Nablus. Quite bravely, the film is approaching the issues in a genuine way and therefore inviting criticism from the different sides of religious extremism.
The film also raises the question of class - in one particular scene it shows the similarity between Said and the people he is supposed to bomb. But more so I thought that the leaders who have planned the attack are portrayed as rather middle class and the way they treat their "heroes" makes you rather angry.
Having been on the anti-war demo beforehand and then in a Socialist Party meeting afterwards, I really had to drag myself to go to the cinema but it was definitely worth it.
When asked what genre of film Said likes, he replies by asking if there is a "boring" genre. And then he says: "Well, films about life". Far from being boring, this one is definitely a great description of life on the Palestinian side. If there was a socialist Oscar, I would want to give it for the directing, the photography and the acting.
In London it will be shown at the Ritzy in Brixton from 14 April, look out for it in other areas. But you should also read the Socialist Party and Committee for a Workers' International articles on the Middle East - the only material which deals with the question of "What other way?". The starting point for Marxists would be that Palestinians and Israelis can only achieve self-determination and a peaceful life by confronting their common enemy - capitalism.
Campaign for a New Workers' Party
GORDON BROWN, the trade union leaders' 'radical' alternative to Blair, has announced that a new panel will advise the Treasury on globalisation. Advice on how to avoid the more rapacious consequences of globalisation, workers might think.
Readers of the socialist, though, won't be surprised that the panel will consist of the planet's richest man Bill Gates, GlaxoSmithKlein's Jean-Pierre Garnier and, wait for it, Lee Scott of WalMart. Yes, the same Lee Scott whose treatment of its workers and its union-busting actions are an international scandal.
Scott paid himself £10 million in 2004 and paid his workers the lowest retail wages in the US while increasing their Medicare contributions. WalMart are celebrated for being prepared to close one of their superstores rather than recognise a union. These people give exploitation a bad name.
One face of Gordon Brown claims to be Old Labour at party conference. That's for the consumption of the deluded who still believe it's possible to reclaim Labour for the working class. The other face asks the capitalists why should they take a chance with Cameron while they can rely on an old PFI-loving, nationalisation-hating, privatising stalwart like himself?
The striking feature about Brown and Blair, whose policy differences are a fiction cultivated by the media and some union leaders, is that, unlike past Labour leaders who paid lip service to socialism, they don't try to hide their slavish commitment to neo-liberalism. With the checks and balances of the Labour Party now dismantled, they march to the drum of the haves and have mores.
Blair wears his sobriquet Ramsey McBlair like a badge of honour. Brown unconditionally supports McBlair's every utterance. All genuine socialists stand aghast at the charade being played out daily by the doctors of spin. The magnificent conference on 19 March that launched the campaign for a new party of the working class has not come a moment too soon. Events show the urgent need for such a campaign.
IF YOU'RE disgusted with the sleaze-ridden, pro-rich New Labour and want to show your support for a new party that fights for working-class people, sign the declaration of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
Go to: www.cnwp.org.uk or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheques made payable to Socialist Books at PO Box 24697, London, E11 1YD.
"Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as great enterprises and setting a fine example"
TONY BLAIR once said he'd studied Machiavelli's The Prince. As New Labour is again mired in accusations and evidence of sleaze, he seems to have forgotten a key element in that work. With the Metropolitan Police's decision to investigate the sale of peerages, which has been illegal since 1925, setting a fine example is the last thing his government is celebrated for!
The striking feature about the latest scandal of anonymous loans and public donations connected to peerages is that both the Tories and New Labour are under the spotlight. Not only are both parties' reactionary policies almost identical, their fund-raising practices are equally repellent.
New Labour's millionaire clients loaned £14 million, with a similar amount in donations. The trade unions have also donated large sums. As a reward for their generosity the fat cats have grown fatter while trade union members have been consistently attacked, exemplified by Gordon Brown declaring that 100,000 civil service jobs would disappear.
Only one scalp has been claimed so far. Rod Aldridge, chairman of outsourcing firm Capita, stepped down, rejecting the charge that his £1 million loan to Labour resulted in the group being rewarded with lucrative contracts.
It would take a collective suspension of disbelief for people to accept that lavish donations by Blair's millionaire friends had no part in the peerages the likes of Lord Sainsbury received. After all, he has kicked in only £2 million.
Leader in waiting Gordon Brown defends the bung/loan culture, saying "these loans are made normally in good faith by people who want to help the cause they believe in." That begs the question: which cause do the millionaire class find so worthy of support?
THESE EVENTS triggered off a debate about state funding of political parties. The Commons constitutional affairs committee is looking at alternative funding methods for political parties. The usual suspects support the idea: Blunkett says "it's inevitable." John Prescott has shifted from being totally opposed to embracing state funding as being the only way of being "properly accountable."
The European Assembly in a recent debate recognised that: "Citizens are showing growing concern with regard to corruption linked to political parties' gradual loss of independence and the occurrence of improper influence on political decision through financial means."
They recommend the adoption of "common rules against corruption in the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns," and a combination of state funding and strictly controlled donations. Most capitalist commentators echo these sentiments.
All these worthies also lament the disengagement of people from party politics and the electoral process that "is bad for democracy." They argue that funding from supporters is no longer sufficient to fund political parties. The question not answered by these analysts is 'Why?'
Socialists recognise that historically, political parties either flourish or die depending on how effectively they represent their class. In 1889, pressure from the employers for greater productivity produced the great London dock strike that led to the formation of trade unions that hitherto had been mainly the preserve of skilled workers.
This development, known as New Unionism, helped push the TUC and a number of workers' organisations to form the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
The attack on funds of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, who were successfully sued by the Taff Vale Company for profits lost through strike action, was the impetus for the establishment of a party of workers, founded by workers, that would campaign for parliamentary representation.
This succeeded in breaking working-class support from the Liberals in 1906 when 29 Labour MPs were elected, and the LRC became the Labour Party, which was funded by the trade unions and members' individual contributions.
The Tory Party was big business' main party for a long period. But after the sleaze-ridden Tory party of Thatcher and Major, big business strategists calculated that a tame Labour Party cleansed of its cutting edge would have to suit them, at least for a period of time.
By aping the most naked aspects of Toryism and metamorphosing into an openly neo-liberal party, New Labour has disenfranchised Labour's historic base. Hence the haemorrhaging of membership and finance, loss of support at the last two general elections and at local authority level.
New Labour's problem is how to replace the support and loyalty they once took for granted. The establishment, wishing to maintain the 'integrity' of their political system in ordinary people's eyes, recognise they can't keep entrepreneurial noses out of the pig trough, so advance the notion of state funding which will be seen to render political parties independent.
SUCH A notion is false to the core. In capitalist society those with the wealth will always find ways to support the party that reflects their interests. And working-class people will be horrified at the idea of some of their taxes going to fund big business parties like the Tories, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Socialists should resist the call for state funding of political parties. A party which represents the working class will need to depend on the support it receives from that class. The Liverpool city council struggle in the 1980s proved that electoral and financial support will be forthcoming when working people see in action their party meeting their aspirations.
Those trade union leaders who keep breathing life into New Labour's rotting carcass should follow the example of the RMT and FBU unions by withdrawing support from New Labour. Then their members' hard-earned contributions could be redirected to a new workers' party prepared to struggle for a better life for all.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT emerged for two reasons. The first was the inability of individual private enterprises to deliver basic co-ordinated services like clean water, sanitation and a safety net for the poorest.
These much-needed reforms did not come about because our employers and rulers suddenly felt benign, but through necessity. The capitalist class needed first of all to look after its own health interests and then, to ensure an impoverished but reasonably fit workforce for the factories and mines and finally when capitalists in different nation states fell out, to fight in wars.
Even then, these basic services did not come easily. For example, it took the noxious stench of raw sewage in the river Thames making MPs ill to force the creation of the much-needed London sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette. This was held back due to costs despite a cholera epidemic - well over a century later, it still remains London's sewage disposal system.
The second reason for the growth of democratically elected local government was the struggle of working-class people to change society. In the early part of the 20th century, rent strikes led to the beginnings of council housing.
This gathered pace after World War One when thousands of workers returned from the carnage, many conscious that in Russia the first democratic workers' state had been established. They were unprepared to return to the days of foul conditions and tugging the forelock to the aristocracy.
IN THE 1920s when unemployment started to bite, more struggles occurred in local government. In Poplar in East London, a radical left council was elected. Immediately it began building new housing, wash-houses, parks and schools. It increased wages for council workers.
Its better treatment of unemployed workers (at this time councils were responsible for paying unemployment benefits) caused a bitter struggle with the government which led to Poplar councillors being jailed for refusing to cut unemployment relief.
These councillors' slogan was "Better to break the law than to break the poor." They had mass support and were backed by marches of thousands. After their release, central government finally started to provide more generous support to councils in poorer areas. In the 1930s more housing was built.
It was after World War Two that council services increased at a greater pace in tandem with the establishment of the welfare state. Again this did not happen due to the goodwill and generosity of government and the capitalist class.
The improvements came about because the ruling class was running scared in the face of workers returning from the front who, again, would not be prepared to tolerate lousy conditions. This was linked to Labour's landslide victory in 1945. The frightened capitalists had to give concessions and were more able to do so in the post-war economic upswing.
But even then Marxists predicted that the ruling class would attempt to take these concessions back - with interest, especially in an economic downturn.
During this period of post-war economic boom, a massive house building programme was developed and new services, like Social Services came into being and grew alongside the NHS. Later came democratically controlled comprehensive education and free further education.
In the early 1970s, the end of the post-war boom resulted in the first major cuts to be proposed in local government. The Tory Housing Finance Act sought to double council rents over three years. One small council, Clay Cross in Derbyshire, refused to implement the increases. Again councillors were supported by their predominantly working-class community. For this, they were surcharged and removed from office.
Their struggle, combined with the mighty struggle of the miners, forced Heath's Tory government out in 1974. However, the mechanism of surcharging (ie heavily fining) councillors and undemocratically removing them from office using unelected District Auditors, fully backed by the state, remained.
THE ELECTION of the various Tory governments led by Margaret Thatcher produced the biggest wave of attacks on local government. Councils were financed in three ways, by locally collected business rates, by council rents and household rates (a property tax similar to, but less costly than, the council tax) and finally by government grants for both services and housing.
It was these government grants that Thatcher slashed in big towns and cities where Labour's vote was strongest. They aimed to force through massive spending cuts or big rate rises that would financially devastate workers.
A movement of councils developed against these measures and against the government policy of "capping" the rates of those councils who raised them to make up for government grant cuts. But it was in Liverpool with a Marxist-led council, where the leading figures were supporters of Militant, the Socialist Party's forerunner - that a different struggle developed.
Councillors refused to make cuts or to raise the rates beyond a certain level. Instead they demanded back several years' worth of under-funding from the Thatcher regime. In addition to this, they improved services by developing 17 new community comprehensive schools, nursery schools, sports centres and parks.
Most of all, they built over 5,000 new council homes and created thousands of jobs. They also won some £60 million in extra funds from Thatcher's government through their fight.
Liverpool could have, alongside the striking miners, beaten Thatcher but the political bankruptcy of the Labour leadership at the time led to that council, along with Lambeth council in London becoming isolated. Eventually 47 councillors were surcharged hundreds of thousands of pounds and undemocratically removed from office.
They were also thrown out of the Labour Party despite getting the best-ever election results and being backed by tens of thousands in marches, protests and strikes in the city.
After this, Thatcher really went to town. The requirement to put council services out to private tender increased privatisation. But the biggest attacks were through the Housing Act and the Local Government Finance Act 1988 that included the hated poll tax.
The Housing Act scrapped secure tenancies, replacing them with weaker agreements such as 'assured tenancies' where evictions would be easier. It also introduced the proposed privatisation of council estates through ballots or by government decree through Housing Action Trusts (HATS). There was a massive campaign against HATS in London, in Sandwell in the West Midlands and Leeds.
In London, the then housing minister David Trippier was literally rendered speechless by the anger of a meeting of 1,000 tenants in Tower Hamlets. Many ballots for privatisation failed miserably despite massive Tory cuts in housing grant.
THE POLL tax, which Thatcher tried to introduce as a replacement for local government rates, proved to be her undoing. This legislation tried, in a leading Tory's words, to make a dustman pay as much for local services as a duke. It was piloted in Scotland.
A movement of Scotland's big Regional Councils especially in Strathclyde, Lothian and Tayside (encompassing Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee) could have crushed the tax throughout Britain. But again Labour's leadership refused to fight.
It was left to the Militant in Scotland, then in England and Wales to organise the mass campaign of non-payment that would finally defeat Thatcher and her hated tax that millions just could not afford to pay.
Despite Thatcher's humiliation, the changes that were made to local government funds provoked more cuts and remained alongside the new council tax. Business rates were collected by councils but paid to central government who were then supposed to re-distribute them, plus government grant to councils based mainly on population.
But any slight rise above strict spending limits would provoke huge rises in council tax or lead to big cuts. 15 years after the abolition of poll tax we have seen both but under a so-called Labour government.
When New Labour were first elected in 1997 many people thought that local councils would be better funded and that services would be safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. The steady betrayal of workers in struggle under Neil Kinnock's leadership of the Labour Party paved the way for Blair to ditch any semblance of socialism and turn Labour into another party supporting capitalism.
New Labour began and is continuing the near total sell-off of council housing. Its method is to starve tenants into voting for a new private landlord by making huge cuts in housing repair funds. Criminally, it earmarked billions that could have been spent on repairs to be given instead to banks that were "owed" money (mostly interest) by councils from up to 70 years ago for building homes.
In most areas where the whole housing stock has been privatised, services for repairs are no better and local housing offices have been shut. Rents have gone through the roof as have court cases for eviction. In addition thousands of homes have been demolished with no replacement rented homes being provided. This policy is right now stoking the fires of a housing crisis in the near future.
New Labour also introduced "Best Value" which is basically the Tories' 'compulsory competitive tendering' in drag. Each council had to review services and consider whether or not privatisation would be a better option. An army of aggressive consultants grew which swept into councils to 'hint' at the benefits of "outsourcing" services. Services like Social Services are prime targets for privatisation and a whole industry of private providers and lobbyists has been created to push this.
In addition council workers' pay and conditions have been undermined. Not a week goes by without attacks on these public-sector workers who, through collective action, have secured better pay and conditions compared to private-sector workers.
The latest disguised attack has been the "Single Status" scheme which in many areas slightly increases the basic pay of lower-paid staff but at the expense of workers on slightly higher grades. The council officers implementing such attacks are subject to a different grading scheme and do not have to face the pay cuts of between £2,000 and £10,000.
Workers in Coventry for example are facing attacks through this scheme. Unfortunately, the New Labour-supporting leadership of a number of unions initially supported this. Only Socialist Party members in the unions warned how it could be used to cut pay.
The idea of such a scheme, in the long run, is to push workers out of the public sector as any perceived benefits of public-sector work are stripped away. This would then leave the field even more open for the complete privatisation of local services.
IN REALITY this is what Blair and Brown and the rest of New Labour want and every time New Labour councillors vote for such proposals they are like turkeys voting for Christmas. Like the Tories before them, New Labour would prefer American-style boards running councils.
Already the cabinet system of local government - where a small cabal of ruling party councillors make the decisions and committees of 'lesser' councillors allegedly scrutinise them - places decision-making in narrower hands.
Both Thatcher and Blair's "model" would be a board of 10 or 12 "senior councillors" meeting a few times a year in order to select and renew contracts for various private companies who would run what is left of local services.
Other "sub-boards" consisting of "partnerships" between councillors, business "professionals" and carefully screened local "worthies" would rubber-stamp decisions whilst giving an illusion of scrutiny.
This is already happening in many so-called 'regeneration schemes' where land is given to developers for virtually nothing and they dictate what happens. Such schemes usually propose the 'social cleansing' of working-class communities by demolishing affordable rented housing and local facilities and replacing them with overpriced housing and other gimmicks.
This is worth billions of pounds to the big companies involved who have seen a whole new lease of life for "vulture capitalism" as they circle to devour the result of chronic under-investment in public services.
SO SHOULD socialists still participate in local government? The answer is a resounding yes. Firstly for a political reason, socialists need to use every platform to show that there is a different way of organising society.
Socialists on councils fight to hold onto public services, hence the successful campaigns to save council-run day centres in Coventry or for funds for housing repairs in Lewisham.
Socialists need to be the best representatives of all members of the communities that they represent and must fight on the ground in communities just as much, if not more than in council chambers. A key task is to build the strength and combativity and organisation in local communities to resist New Labour's attacks.
Despite small numbers, Socialist Party councillors have scored victories against cuts and privatisation and the slide towards the destruction of local councils. For a greater voice, more forces are needed.
In addition to socialists there are now a whole host of independent councillors who could be won to socialist ideas. That is one reason why the coming together of such forces in a new mass workers' party is more crucial than ever.
An article in a future issue of the socialist will deal with the campaigning record of Socialist Party members as local councillors.
Published 1988, 500 pages hardback
Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) played a leading role in Liverpool city council's battle against the Thatcher government 1983-87. This book presents both commentary and penetrating political analysis.
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"Thank you for all your hard work on behalf of the council tenants - keep it up, some of us can't afford to buy our own homes!"... "I'll vote for Ian Page till I die." These are just two of the many positive comments that we've received from people in the Telegraph Hill ward in Lewisham, south east London in our first few weeks of canvassing.
When Socialist Party candidate, Chris Flood, won the by-election in Telegraph Hill ward in 2003 to join Socialist Party councillor Ian Page, this was the first time that the ward covering the Telegraph Hill area did not have a single Labour councillor.
We are determined to make sure it stays that way - as well as keeping it a Tory and Lib Dem-free area too - by getting Chris and Ian re-elected and our third Socialist Party candidate, Jess Leech, elected.
Our first canvassing has been amongst council tenants using two leaflets on the local housing campaign. One is aimed at tenants the council is aiming to transfer to an 'arms length management organisation' and the other is for tenants faced with transfer to a housing association.
Most tenants we speak to are keen to sign our petition, which argues for tenants to have the right to have a vote to stay with the council with full public funding for the improvements necessary for council homes.
We have been getting a great response from people saying they are definitely voting for us and we also have 18 people who have shown an interest in either joining the Socialist Party or finding out more.
One person who received a leaflet on lunchtime Sunday, emailed in about three hours later asking for more information and saying that they would be coming to Socialist Party meetings. At a recent meeting, three came along as a result of receiving our leaflet on housing.
We have now sold 125 copies of the socialist and raised £90 for the Socialist Party fighting fund. We ask people for donations on the doorstep and they are willing to contribute to the campaign to get socialists elected who will fight housing privatisation.
We are determined to make sure that we increase the Socialist Party's representation on Lewisham council and that by the end of the campaign we will have built a strong base for establishing a second thriving Socialist Party branch in Lewisham.
ISSUE 430 of The Socialist explained how Socialist Party councillors Dave and Paul Sutton proposed an alternative budget at Stoke city council's budget-setting meeting.
The Labour Mayor tried to pass on £21 million of government cuts by slashing jobs and services.
The following emergency motion was carried with only two votes against at Stoke UNISON AGM. About 250 attended. Even the branch secretary and chair, both staunch Labour defenders, supported the motion, with some reservations about the first paragraph.
"This branch notes with concern that no New Labour, Tory, Lib Dem or BNP councillors voted for the alternative budget proposed and seconded by the Independent Socialist Group councillors Dave Sutton and Paul Sutton at the 2006/2007 budget setting meeting on 6 March.
This alternative budget would have prevented any cuts in jobs and services or another council tax increase for the '06/07 financial year and ended the current freeze on job replacement.
It would also have committed councillors to "launch a broadbased campaign to demand that the government returns the millions of pounds in funding taken from the city over the years" to ensure jobs and services can be safeguarded in the future.
This branch also notes with alarm that the budget which was agreed instead, proposed by New Labour Mayor Mark Meredith, includes the removal of sick pay for the first three days of illness for council employees, more privatisation and the introduction of compulsory redundancies if necessary to make up for the shortfall in funding created as a result of continued cuts in funding by successive Tory and New Labour governments.
This branch further notes that the council workforce is not responsible for this shortfall in funding and should not have to pay for it with these attacks on our jobs and conditions.
Therefore, this branch agrees to:
- Campaign vigorously to defend our sick pay entitlement.
- Step up our fight against privatisation.
- Begin from today a thoroughgoing campaign among all city council staff to prepare for industrial action up to and including strike action in response to any attempt at compulsory redundancies."
Proposed by Andy Bentley, Community Link Worker at Willfield Neighbourhood College.
THE NATIONAL Union of Journalists held its annual delegates' meeting (ADM) in Liverpool from 23-26 March. The issue of job cuts within the media industry, as well as low pay were on everybody's minds.
Socialist Party members in the union have for a long time supported and actively campaigned for the union to launch an official minimum wage demand. Manchester and London Freelance branches, as well as the Freelance industrial council were supporting a £26,000 minimum wage demand after months of lobbying by Socialist Party members.
Unfortunately, the national union leadership decided to oppose the motion at the ADM. However, they badly miscalculated the mood in the workplaces. Working journalists are fed up with earning poverty wages, while bosses have up to 30% profit margins.
So when national executive (NEC) speakers rose to oppose the demand, they only earned abuse from the conference floor. The minimum wage demand got a massive majority vote. Socialist Party member Molly Cooper spoke for the minority position on the NEC and Christian Bunke seconded the motion.
"Journalism matters" will be the title of a campaign against job cuts and for high quality journalism. It will involve local and national rallies, lobbies of politicians and publicity stunts. Socialist Party members support the campaign as a vital part in building the struggle against the job losses.
UP TO 150 students and college workers took part in the first protest against cuts in adult provision at Lambeth College. Students lined up to sign petitions against the course closures and the demolition of the gardens.
The crowd was entertained with music and exhibitions from the pottery and horticulture students whose courses are due to be axed. The protesters joined hands to ring-fence the garden, loudly chanting "No, no to the cuts".
Following speakers from Natfhe, UNISON, NUS and the students affected by the cuts, the protest then gathered in the petitions (over 1,000 signatures) in a wheelbarrow and led an impromptu march, accompanied by drummers, to the principal's office.
A flustered principal received the petition from the noisy protest. We challenged him to "not implement these drastic cuts and join with the staff, students and other colleges in fighting the government". He was told that "a revolt had started in Lambeth that won't accept these cuts and that he had better join it".
UNISON and Natfhe plan to ballot for strike action on the issue - the student union fully backs the idea of industrial action mixed with community protest. We need to join with other colleges affected.
UNISON, Natfhe and NUS urgently need to build a national campaign similar to that at Lambeth College. Join the lobby on 3 April, 5.30-7pm outside the governors' meeting at the Clapham site (nearest tube: Clapham Common).
For more information and messages of solidarity contact firstname.lastname@example.org
SOCIALIST STUDENT groups that have been organising campaigns against catering giant Compass and its subsidiaries such as Scolarest for expensive and poor-quality food at college canteens will be interested to read that Compass recently appointed a new chief executive Richard Cousins and plan to pay him a £3 million package.
From May, Cousins will receive a basic salary of £750,000 but with a chance to earn up to £3 million during his first 12 months if the group hits its targets on cash flow and returns for shareholders.
He will be in line for a bonus worth 150% of his base salary and shares worth £1.5 million as part of Compass' long-term incentive scheme.
THE VICE-chancellor of the University of Sussex, Alasdair Smith, announced last week that he intended to close the chemistry department, giving as his reasons the university's £4 million debt and that not enough people were applying to study chemistry.
However, the chemistry department generates about half of the university's income from intellectual property rights so Smith appears to be killing a goose that lays golden eggs.
Furious lecturers also point out that the annual cost of the chemistry department - around £630,000 - is about the same as the cost of the 'vice-chancellor's office', a mysterious administrative department whose activities involve a 'branding team' and responsibility for 'corporate strategy'. The big cheese's own salary takes around a quarter of this amount.
The real reason Smith wants to close down chemistry is because the students receive between 20 and 25 hours' teaching a week, whereas many non-science students receive as little as two or three.
There have been two demonstrations, the latest outside the university senate, where the students' union president demanded Smith's resignation. Representatives of Sussex AUT branch also condemned the planned closure and cited support from three local MPs, the national media and figures in the academic community.
As a result, the cuts were put on hold but if the vice-chancellor subsequently presses ahead with the proposed closure the unions must organise strike action to defend jobs. Socialist Students have been pushing for a similarly militant approach among students. Some of our activists also distributed leaflets at an open day event to prospective students explaining the crisis at Sussex and countering the official university prospectus' glossy lies.
The student union is also mandated to call a student strike in response to the university's mismanagement. Next term we will press for this policy to be carried out.