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Northern Rock scandal

Nationalise the banks!

NORTHERN ROCK, the UK's fifth biggest mortgage lender, went into financial meltdown when it was forced to call on emergency funding from the Bank of England in September, sparking the first big run on a British bank in 140 years.

Elaine Brunskill, Newcastle Socialist Party

The latest twist in the bank's saga is that the consortium led by Richard Branson's Virgin Group is being picked as the bank's preferred bidder. The Virgin deal is being dressed up as a step forward for the 6,500 Northern Rock staff who have had a dark shadow over their jobs, and for the small investors who have seen share prices plummet.

Branson has said that "pretty much all" jobs will be guaranteed. This is a vague promise, which like a pie crust will be easily broken.

The bank and government are reportedly going to say there is no alternative to Virgin, other than the bank going into administration. No doubt Branson and his consortium will be rubbing their hands in glee at picking up Northern Rock at a knock-down price, after the bank has been bailed out by public money.

The guardian recently further exposed the bank's murky finances. Local branches were ruthlessly closed down and replaced by internet banking. Fewer branches meant many people moved their accounts and the bank lacked savings. To secure finances for new mortgages, alongside relying heavily on money markets, the bank parcelled up existing mortgage loans and sold them on. 70% of Northern Rock's mortgage assets were squirrelled away to an offshore company.

Granite, that owns £53 billion of Northern Rock mortgages, "is ultimately owned by Law Debenture, a Jersey-based trustee, but controlled by Northern Rock". Yet chancellor Alistair Darling and Bank of England governor Mervyn King handed out an emergency loan of £23 billion.

Surely anyone with half a brain would check out the assets of a company first!

Uncertainty

While Northern Rock workers and small investors face uncertainty, the bank's former chief executive, Adam Applegarth, has ensured himself a rosy future. He received a £1.36 million salary and bonus package last year and also got £1.6 million from cashing in shares. The shenanigans of such super-rich individuals need to be scrutinised, not by parliament or select committees, but by representatives of the workers whose jobs are at risk.

The Northern Rock crisis is not just a case of one rotten apple in the barrel. The whole capitalist system which banking operates in is rotten to the core. No doubt many Northern Rock workers are looking anxiously at the US financial sector, suffering its worst year for job losses on record. As a direct result of the US subprime mortgage crisis, on and off Wall Street 130,000 finance jobs have been axed this year.

Whilst the government and Northern Rock bosses have hatched up plans to turn Northern Rock over to Virgin, many serious economists have recommended temporary nationalisation. Prior to the Virgin announcement even the pro-free market Economist stated that "nationalisation looks the best choice of a bad lot".

Nationalisation is certainly necessary. However, in order to make it the best case scenario for bank workers, small investors and for public money, it must be permanent, under democratic workers' control and management, and must include the whole of the banking system. Furthermore, compensation should only be paid on the basis of proven need – why pour money at the fat cats who have creamed the banks at the expense of workers?

Ultimately, only by running the banks in the interests of the whole of society, as part of a socialist planned economy, can workers' futures be guaranteed.


Stop the ruin of our planet

Come to 8 December climate change demo

Climate change demo 2005

Climate change demo 2005

WAITING FOR government action to end climate change is like waiting for the punch line in Eastenders. It just never materialises. What is needed is a mass movement of workers and young people to fight for a democratic, socialist alternative. Come on the climate change demonstration on 8 December, march with International Socialist Resistance (ISR) and help build that movement.

Ben Robinson

Gordon Brown recently gave a speech which led to him being hailed as a 'bright-green revolutionary'. But what did it really contain?

There was a recommitment to EU targets, already agreed by his predecessor Blair earlier this year. Brown announced a meeting with heads of supermarkets to look into phasing out free, standard shopping bags. He promised to research renewable energy projects around Britain, and improve their viability.

There was a proposal to help improve the energy efficiency of homes in the 50 poorest areas in Britain. With gas and electricity prices going through the roof, this will surely be welcomed by those who benefit. But as a way of reducing emissions and combating climate change, it is not the most effective move.

If you have less money, you are less likely to have all of the mod cons such as a wide range of electrical goods, and you are probably being forced to skimp on heating already.

Brown said he supported a total ban on plastic bags, calling them "the most visible symbol of environmental health". Perhaps he is forgetting Drax power station, which emits 23.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and is amongst the top 25 polluting power plants in the world!

The government is committing to reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. This has been described as a 'mammoth task'. And for this government, hell bent on privatisation and entrusting the market to carry out every task, it surely will be.

Brown has promised funding to the engineering industry to help them develop greener technologies. But as the NHS and the train service constantly prove, private industry puts its own profits before all else.

The most efficient, environmentally friendly way to organise Britain's energy needs would be through a democratically run, publicly owned energy industry, as part of an economy which is planned to meet the needs of all.

A democratically planned economy would be based around assessing people's needs, together with the need to improve the environment, and then producing to meet those needs, rather than to make profit. This would include producing enough renewable energy to meet people's needs at home as well as to enable the production of goods.

Instead of profits going to line fat cats' pockets, charges to customers could be cut and money could go towards a massive investment in developing green technologies.

This is a socialist policy for ending the destruction of the environment. Join the fight for a socialist globe, join International Socialist Resistance and march with us on 8 December!


Campaign Against Climate Change demonstration

Saturday 8 December. Assemble 12 noon at Millbank, Westminster, London SW1.

What we think

Mass scrutiny needed to protect our rights and privacy

"A MASS movement is needed to tackle the state's snoopers" read a headline in the Observer newspaper. The author was talking about a movement like the Countryside Alliance, but nevertheless, the sense of alarm in this headline is necessary. It was prompted by the disclosure of two lost discs holding the personal information of 25 million child benefit recipients. They were being sent from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in Tyne and Wear to the National Audit Office (NAO) in London, using private couriers.

Unbelievably the discs were not even sent using recorded or registered delivery. It was also revealed from leaked emails that in order to save money, information that had not been asked for, such as bank account details, was not filtered out. The personal information of 25 million people is still missing and meek words from the government that no-one need worry because they believe 'the discs are still on government property' are no consolation.

This fiasco has exposed the effect of civil service cuts. The government tried to blame an individual worker, but this security breach was due to cuts (see article below) and government disregard for the privacy of ordinary people. No HMRC worker should be scapegoated.

This scandal has also raised the lid on how New Labour is obsessed with holding as much personal detail on people as possible and controlling that information through centralised database systems. They are unable to reassure people on how information is gathered, who is responsible for the databases, who has access to them and how they are secured.

The government claims it is more cost-effective to hold data in this way and that it frees staff working in public services to concentrate on the front line.

This is the so-called rationale behind the national NHS database which has cost millions of pounds so far and will eventually contain the personal details of 50 million people. Currently there are 300,000 people who are eligible to access it! GPs in Bolton, where the first use of the database is in operation, are up in arms and two thirds of them have said they do not want all hospital staff to have the full details of their patients.

Confidentiality at risk

This largescale access to, and less secure way of storing personal health details could be very serious if computers are hacked into or information is leaked, particularly because of the discrimination in our society for those with mental health problems, HIV and other illnesses. Lives could be wrecked if confidentiality is breached.

Losing the child benefit discs has rightly raised a furore about ID cards. The scheme will cost anything between £5.6 billion and £12 billion to implement. By 2010 all UK passport applicants will be issued with biometric ID cards, at an estimated cost of £300 per applicant! The government tells us they will help in the fight against terrorism. But ID cards in Spain did not prevent the Madrid bombings. In Northern Ireland there were checkpoints and security ID checks for 30 years yet these measures did not stop the IRA's campaign; they only further alienated the catholic population.

And questions are now being raised about who will control and secure the database that will support the ID card scheme. It appears that a private company will be used, which effectively means this government will be privatising our privacy. Who will hold the private business to account, control how the data is used and who sees it?

It is not just left organisations that are ringing alarm bells. Dame Shirley Williams has called for a revolt on the issue of ID cards and said people are "entitled to refuse their co-operation, using non-violent means".

However, our personal details being centrally collected and stored by an inefficient cost-cutting and privatising government that cannot be trusted is an essential issue for the trade unions and working-class movement.

Issues of identity fraud, stealing from bank accounts and privacy affect us all. There have been 14 lapses in major government IT projects in the last two years.

Under capitalism, these centralised IT database systems are mainly about saving money and they give the state more power to control us and interfere in our private lives. We are already the most monitored population in western Europe, through the use of CCTV and other surveillance. In the New Year the home office will by statutory instrument, ie not through parliament, make a new law that will give the police and security services access to all details of travel within the UK (Observer 25.11.07).

There is also the issue of snooping on trade union and socialist activists. Past surveillance of the left has been well documented. ID cards and other information about people can be used by the state against those they deem a threat or nuisance due to trade union or campaigning activity.

A mass campaign against attacks on our democratic rights is necessary, led by trade unions and working-class communities. New Labour's plan for ID cards and their entire onslaught on democratic rights and civil liberties must be stopped. The government and its big business allies cannot be trusted with our personal data. Mass scrutiny is needed of their database procedures.

Through trade unions, community organisations, civil rights campaigns and other grassroots bodies, ordinary people need democratic control over the workings of the state, to safeguard the interests of us all.


Data loss – no surprise to HMRC staff

ON 18 October, two discs containing the personal details of 25 million people were lost by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). While the country at large might have been shocked that such a large amount of important information could have been mislaid so easily, the exhausted and stressed staff of HMRC knew that something like this was inevitable.

A PCS union member in HMRC

Every worker in HMRC shares the public's horror that 7.5 million families' names, addresses and bank details could simply disappear. However, there was also a slight feeling of hope, that perhaps this will be enough to turn attention to the current state of the civil service.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were quick to label this extraordinary event a 'personal failure'. They are correct, but not in quite the way they intend. This was not the fault of a 23 year old admin assistant who was following the orders of his or her superiors. This wasn't even the fault of those superiors.

This was the fault of the government's efficiency agenda that meant the superior couldn't justify the cost of doing his job properly to the department. This is the fault of the efficiency agenda that has an overworked, understaffed department run ragged in the face of job cuts and office closures.

And this efficiency agenda was the responsibility of the previous chancellor, who announced 100,000 job losses in the civil service during his time in office: Gordon Brown. If there is a personal failure here, it is his.

It is sometimes hard to get sympathy from the public towards the civil service. Government propaganda paints us as the 'bowler hat and umbrella brigade'. In reality, the vast majority of PCS members make less than £17,000 a year, and many less than £14,000. And with the government placing a new ceiling on civil service pay deals, practically everyone will only be getting pay rises that are a fraction of the cost of inflation.

Staff cuts

25,000 JOBS were to go from HMRC over six years, along with office closures across the country forcing many to travel unreasonable distances to work every day. 25,000 workers represents a quarter of our total staff. Already, we have seen 13,000 jobs disappear since March 2004.

Workers who remain employed seem destined to be put under more and more pressure to do the work of those who have left. New working practices, such as LEAN or pacesetter (management fads designed to turn workers into the equivalent of robots in a car parts factory) were supposed to compensate for the loss of 'resource' by streamlining processes. The results are what we should all have come to expect from the initiatives of highly paid consultants; the quality of work done is decreasing.

Enormous backlogs of post are hidden by shifting large quantities of work around the country every week. Is it any wonder that we are beginning to see this lead to more and more things simply becoming lost?

In order to plug the holes created by the vast numbers of jobs not being staffed, temporary workers are hired. Normally only working for six months, these temps have none of the legal protections against dismissal of full -time workers, and once they have served their time, can easily be replaced. This is the future of the civil service under current ways of thinking; a casualised workforce, none of whom will ever be employed long enough to have to be paid a pension. What kind of service will we be providing the public then?

Other blunders

THE CHANCELLOR used the lost data bombshell to sneak in news of a number of other recent blunders that might have escaped public notice, such as a lost laptop and another set of millions of personal details not delivered by couriers.

In my own area, less than a week before the lost disc scandal came to light, we discovered that staff were being made to carry envelopes full of post from taxpayers, across the city centre on foot, from one office to another. Thankfully, the local union was able to put a stop to this, but the implications are shocking. Would anyone be happy that their confidential financial details, including tax returns, were being moved on foot through a busy high street at lunchtime?

As long as the drive to strip the civil service of staff and expertise continues, incidents like this will become more frequent and get worse. The PCS union has demanded that the government immediately cease all job cuts and office closures in the face of this evidence that the efficiency agenda is crippling public services.

Sufficient training needs to be available to staff and expertise needs to be retained, which means permanent jobs, not casual labour. The union is ready and willing to fight against the government cuts with industrial action, not just in HMRC, but across the civil service.


NHS - new 'surplus' but problems continue

On the 3 November Save the NHS march, photo Paul Mattsson

On the 3 November Save the NHS march, photo Paul Mattsson

THE NHS's chief executive David Nicholson has admitted that overall, the service will have underspent by £1.8 billion by the end of this financial year. Health unions and campaigners are furious.

Keith Carter

According to research by Health Emergency, 3,000 hospital beds and 25,000 staff were cut in the past 18 months of redundancies, hospital and ward closures and cutbacks. On top of that, NHS staff were offered a derisory pay award for keeping the service going over this crisis period.

But the 'surplus' certainly does not mean that the cash crisis is over. Many hospital trusts, for example, are still in serious financial difficulties and the latest projections of government health spending are of a severe slowdown in the rate of increase in NHS funding.

On the 3 November Save the NHS march, photo Paul Mattsson

On the 3 November Save the NHS march, photo Paul Mattsson

The problems can be seen very sharply in the government's flagship private finance initiative (PFI) hospitals. Up to ten ambulances have been forced to queue outside the first PFI hospital, Norfolk and Norwich University, as its wards filled to bursting point. Paramedics were forced to treat patients in the back of the vehicles.

This acute lack of capacity is linked to PFI. The rebuilt hospital opened in 2001 with 987 beds compared to 1,120 before PFI.

The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital PFI scheme was refinanced at a lower borrowing rate, making the private sector consortium involved, Octagon, £115 million profit and increasing their rate of return from 16% to 60%! The NHS Trust only received back £34 million.

In 2006, the House of Commons public accounts committee released a report accusing the private Octagon consortium of "lining investors' pockets" and putting the trust at increased risk of further losses. Even MPs dubbed the scheme the "unacceptable face of capitalism".

By 2013/14 when all the NHS PFI schemes in Britain are in force, then the NHS will be paying back £2.3 billion each year into the PFI bosses' 'unacceptable' bank accounts.

For these sharks, profits count far higher than patients' welfare. Not a penny more of public money should go to big business profiteering out of the NHS.


Demo shows support for victimised nurse

They call it the city of rain and Manchester did itself proud on 24 November. It takes more than rain and freezing temperatures though to stop Mancunians from having their voices heard when there is something to shout about.

Christian Bunke

600 people demonstrated against the sacking of trade unionist and mental health nurse Karen Reissmann. She got sacked by the mental health trust for speaking up against cuts.

Her colleagues have been on all-out strike for the last two weeks, demanding her re-instatement.

Loads of trade union branches sent delegations to the demo, including Manchester advice staff and Manchester blood bank workers. FBU, PCS, RMT and NUJ delegations were also present.

Other delegations came from Liverpool, Lancashire, Yorkshire and even Scotland. This is important considering that the pro-New Labour Unison leadership did next to nothing to mobilise for the demo.

It gives an indication of how much this sacking is seen by ordinary trade unionists as an attack on the whole trade union movement. A solidarity message from screenwriter Paul Abbott was also read out.

One striker told us: "We are all really proud of what we have done. We have all learned so much during this strike.

"Previously, we would never have thought that we were able to organise all these things. Whatever the outcome of the strike, it has been an incredible and important experience."

The strikers have called a day of action for 5 December, this has the backing of Unison nationally. It is a chance for workers to express their anger at union-busting managers and increase the pressure on the chief of Manchester mental health trust, Sheila Foley.


QinetiQ sell-off

Public money stolen by rich investors

THE TEN most senior managers of QinetiQ, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) research firm, made an almost 20,000 per cent return at the taxpayer's expense out of the firm's part-privatisation to, amongst others, a huge private equity corporation.

Roger Shrives

The National Audit Office (NAO) accuses the MoD of letting top civil servants become multimillionaires. The Treasury ordered the sell-off of QinetiQ, one of Europe's biggest science and technology companies. The US-based Carlyle group, one of the world's biggest private equity companies, snapped up a 33.8% stake for £42 million in 2003 selling it for £374 million three years later, though it still keeps a 'significant stake'.

What the NAO diplomatically labels "over-incentives" for senior civil servants allowed QinetiQ chairman Sir John Chisholm and chief executive Graham Love to turn investments of £129,000 and £108,000 into assets worth £22 million and £18 million respectively when the firm was floated last year.

In total, ten top managers gained £107.5 million - a 19,990 per cent return for the £540,000 of shares they bought. The scheme duped the public out of tens of millions of pounds.

The Carlyle Group is a corporation that handles investments for the rich and powerful, including members and ex-members of the Reagan and Bush administrations and Saudi Princes – the Bin Laden family were investors until 2001. It has many interests from Dunkin' Donuts to 'defence'.

Carlyle has close ties to the US Republican party and the Bush family. George Bush senior worked for them and George W was a director of Caterair, a company Carlyle acquired in 1989.

Other former top Carlyle executives included former CIA directors, a US secretary of State and a former British prime minister, John Major.

This corporation is viewed in the USA as an expert in acquiring firms at prices widely seen as "a steal." QinetiQ was blatantly stolen from us to boost the interests of wealthy private investors.

The MoD, like other government departments, was built with public money by public servants. We should demand that all privatised companies are brought back into public ownership and run under the democratic control of the working class, not of agents of big business.


In brief

Who safeguards safety?

THE COURTS disqualify company directors who risk cash hundreds of times more often than directors who risk people's health and safety, says the Health and Safety Executive.

They quote evidence from a University of Warwick study that since the introduction of a director disqualification act in the mid-1980s only ten directors have been disqualified for breaching health and safety laws compared to over 1,500 each year for breaches of financial rules.

But increased sanctions by themselves are not enough. Few offenders are prosecuted, as most workplaces are only inspected, on average, once every 13-20 years due to poor inspector staffing.

A new World Health Organisation report says that rigorous enforcement, backed up by active unions, is the best way to deliver safety at work. Unions, the report says, "dramatically increase enforcement of the occupational safety and health acts," ensure the presence of health and safety committees and of fully trained safety representatives.

Lying over leaks?

SEVERN TRENT, Britain's second biggest water company, is facing criminal prosecution for misreporting data on leaks to Ofwat, the water industry regulator.

Whistle-blowers had alleged that the company had exaggerated bad debts to justify inflated price rises for customers. For that, Ofwat ordered Severn Trent to give customers £42 million back. But the whistle-blowers also claimed that the company had submitted false leakage figures and Ofwat thought these were so serious that it handed over evidence to the Serious Fraud Office.

False figures have an impact on customers' bills as Ofwat compares water company performance in order to fix prices. Southern Water have already been fined for misreporting (see the socialist 511) and other private water companies such as the biggest, Thames Water, and a smaller one, Three Counties, are also under investigation.


Fight to save the NUS!

Oppose the right-wing attacks at the extraordinary conference

Students protest against fees

Students protest against fees

The National Union of Students (NUS) leadership has, over the last few months, launched two major attacks on the idea of NUS as a union that represents and fights for students.

Their education funding campaign proposes absolutely no action over tuition fees other than lobbying, right up until the eve of a vote on the issue in parliament in 2009.

The NUS governance review, proposes a series of structural changes to NUS which will make it impossible for ordinary students to have any decisive say in its running. Matt Dobson, Socialist Students national organiser, explains how Socialist Students members are responding.

The NUS leadership, overwhelmingly Labour Party members, want NUS to become the equivalent of a charity that lobbies on behalf of students, rather than a student equivalent of a trade union. They have succeeded in undemocratically organising an extraordinary conference where they will attempt to push these attacks through which takes place in Leicester at the Athena Conference Centre, 10-5pm on 4 December.

Socialist Students are standing for election as delegates to the extraordinary conference in opposition to the governance review.

We are also proposing motions against the governance review in student unions. NUS can only be defended by involving ordinary students; talking to them about how we can stop the endless attacks on students and the need for a national student organisation to lead this campaign.

Only by winning the mass of students to a programme for national action against fees and scrapping this governance review, can we defeat these attacks on student democracy. Our delegates at the conference will represent all those students who oppose fees and stand for free education but feel excluded from this debate about NUS's future. Socialist Students societies at Leicester and Nottingham Trent are organising a protest at the extraordinary conference to highlight the need for a campaigning and democratic NUS.

Thousands of students this term have signed and supported the Campaign to Defeat Fees petitions, calling on NUS to organise mass national action against fees immediately, rather than waiting until 2009. If the NUS leaders are still unwilling to take action, CDF will continue to take the initiative!

Join the Campaign to Defeat Fees national day of action next term on 21 February.

We will contact student unions and activists for their support and participation. We want to unite to build action against fees and show a glimpse of what a nationally organised fightback by the NUS could be capable of with protests in universities, colleges and schools across the country.

If you want to join this day of action by mobilising students, getting your student union to back the day of action and getting involved in the Campaign to Defeat Fees contact us on socialiststudents@hotmail.com or 020 8558 7974.


Students protest at Griffin and Irving

OXFORD UNION, the upper-crust student debating society, invited Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right, racist BNP and holocaust denier David Irving to a debate on free speech on 26 November. Students and anti-racist campaigners organised a protest to try to stop the event going ahead. Between 700 and 1,000 people turned up during the evening to voice opposition to the two men's racist ideas.

According to the BBC, Griffin and Irving arrived two hours early hoping to get into the meeting. Both Griffin and the Union hired private security and the police were out in their hundreds. Protesters still managed to delay the meeting starting until after 10pm. Around fifty protesters got in to the debating chamber, disrupting the event. Griffin and Irving had to speak in separate rooms.

Toby Harris reported that Oxford Socialist Students were involved in this campaign and took part in the protests.

Socialist Students and Socialist Party members have also raised the urgent need for a left political alternative to the BNP. Leaflets explaining the campaign for a new mass workers' party were distributed to protesters and nine copies of the socialist were sold.

None of the speakers at the rally put forward a clear programme for working-class opposition to the BNP and to racism and fascism or even an explanation for the small growth in BNP support.

Protesters felt they had succeeded in severely delaying and obstructing the meeting. There is huge opposition to inviting these racists to speak. Protesters came from Birmingham, Bristol and Essex.

Socialist Students will keep campaigning against any decisions to give fascists a platform, explaining that the BNP have no solutions, and they will keep fighting for a new mass workers' party.


Exeter students gain anti-fascist victory

A victory for the forces of anti-fascism took place on 23 November when 200 students, union representatives and staff of Exeter University at a guild (students union) general meeting voted overwhelmingly for a policy of 'no platform' to the British National Party (BNP).

Robert Edwards, Exeter Socialist Students

The vote also showed support for Socialist Students, who staged a campus-wide campaign in support of 'no platform', rallying students against the threat of the BNP on campus.

This was not the first time Exeter's Socialist Students have challenged proposals to invite the BNP on campus. The student debating society (Deb Soc) have preached the benefits of giving fascists a platform. In early November, Deb Soc organised a meeting to discuss the idea of 'no platform'. Exeter Socialist Students initiated a campaign and united with members of the National Union of Teachers and other anti-fascists to hold a successful protest.

Jim Thomson, Socialist Students president, said: "Deb Soc saw a debate with the BNP as a bit of fun and had no idea how the BNP grow; not because people are stupid, but because of neo-liberalism, despair and a lack of a working-class political alternative".

The vote is seen as a victory for the university and the community of Exeter. It proves that unity and campaigning can keep fascists from spreading their hatred.


Kick the BNP out of Northumbria

The national leader of the BNP's youth section, Joseph Finnon, is a student at Northumbria University. He recently failed to get elected as an NUS delegate for Northumbria student union. Until now Northumbria student union did not have anti-BNP policies.

Paul Phillips, Northumbria Socialist Students

But this must change! The left-wing student union president, Martin Farr, said "We don't want racists or fascists in our union". The student union executive agreed to put forward a motion at the next council meeting to stop the BNP standing in NUS elections.

Northumbria Socialist Students immediately called on students and lecturers to sign our petition to bar the BNP from the premises and to get as many students along to the next council meeting to help vote through the executive's motion.

We will propose an amendment calling for BNP members and other fascists to be banned from student union premises and from taking part in union activities altogether.

Northumbria has many international students and the union has a thriving LGBT society and these groups could feel threatened by the BNP.

Socialist Students are urging all Northumbria University students to get to the student union council meeting to vote through the motion and our amendment.


Nigerian students detained

Accused of conspiracy to murder and attempted murder

THE CAMPAIGN continues to defend the detained Nigerian student activists, Olatunde Dairo, Taiwo Hassan Soweto and Akinola Sakuri. The application for bail for Olatunde Dairo and Taiwo Hassan Soweto was refused on 26 November in Oshogbo, Nigeria. This means that they stay in jail on a series of false allegations, including conspiracy to murder and attempted murder.

Peluola Adewale, DSM, Lagos

The rule of law in Nigeria is only favourable to the big-time looters of the treasury. Many established rogue governors in the Obasanjo government are free men at present because of the rule of law. They were granted bail after spending a few days in prison. Also recently, a notorious political thug and election rigger, Lamidi Adedubu, was granted bail within just two hours at court where he was arraigned for breach of the public peace.

More information is available on the CWI website www.socialistworld.net where details of where to send protests can also be found.


Defend students from victimisation

A Socialist Party (our sister party in Ireland) member at University College Dublin (UCD) is, alongside others, facing victimisation for taking part in peaceful protest.
Paul Murphy has written the following appeal asking for emails and phone calls of protest:

One member of the Socialist Party (Southern Ireland), Darren Cogavin, and one other student, Enda Duffy, were forced to meet the vice president for students in UCD, Dr Martin Butler. They face punishment for engaging in a peaceful protest against Shell and the Green Party minister for natural resources, Eamon Ryan.

Two protests, organised by Shell to Sea, took place on 30 October in UCD, the biggest college in Dublin. They were protests to oppose the giveaway of over €50 billion worth of gas for free by the Irish government to Shell, and the building of an unsafe onshore pipeline and refinery by Shell in Rossport, County Mayo.

The first protest was outside a Shell recruitment fair, highlighting the role of Shell in Mayo and internationally. The second took place outside a lecture theatre where Eamon Ryan was due to speak at a debate. He was confronted by about 50 protesters chanting at him and he turned on his heels and left.

In its aftermath, the college authorities and some right-wing students have tried to paint these as violent protests, which they were not. Three students have received letters from the college authorities, claiming that the protesters harassed students, intimidated staff and put the safety of others at risk.

One of the students has already met with the authorities and been given a fine of up to €100. No student should face any disciplinary action, or have to pay any fine, for engaging in a peaceful protest.

This is clearly an attempt to criminalise protest on campus. We think they can be forced back on this through pressure in the college - the Students' Union president has supported the students - and from outside, with a campaign of emails and phone calls.

We are asking for emails of protest to be sent to Dr Martin Butler at martin.butler@ucd.ie. Please send emails and make phone calls as soon as possible, as Darren and Enda are now likely to face a disciplinary committee. Protest emails should also be sent to the UCD President at president@ucd.ie and copied to paul@socialistparty.net.

While emails will put pressure on the university management, phone calls can have more of an impact. Martin Butler can be phoned on 00353 1 716 1280 and the UCD President, Hugh Brady, can be rung on 00353 1 716 1618.


Che Guevara meetings

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, the Brighton branch of the Socialist Party held a public meeting.

Katt Jayawant

Despite attempts by the council to stop the meeting from being advertised, 25 people attended including eight people who were at their first Socialist Party meeting.

The discussion focused on what we can learn from looking critically at Che Guevara's ideas and methods, as well as the parallels between Latin America then and now. This included the governments of Guatemala and Venezuela today, which have introduced reforms to benefit working-class and poor people, but are yet to break with capitalism.

The role of the working class in a socialist revolution was also discussed, as was the relative failure of guerrilla methods outside Cuba.

There was enthusiastic participation at the meeting with a diverse range of opinions expressed.


There was another successful Socialist Party meeting about Che Guevara held in Leicester, with 20 people attending. Seven people went to the meeting thanks to posters put up to advertise the meeting to university students.

Phone 020 8988 8777 to order Che posters for your Socialist Party branch or Socialist Students society.


Brazil: An explosive brew in land of contrasts

DURING OCTOBER PETER TAAFFE visited Brazil on behalf of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI – which the Socialist Party in England and Wales is part of) for discussions with Marxists and socialists, along with LINDA TAAFFE, who visited schools and also discussed with teacher union activists in the struggle. This is their impression of Brazil's social and political situation.

BRAZIL IS vast, a continent within a continent, with a land mass equal to the USA. It is a country of stunning contrasts. The sheer beauty of the Amazon exists alongside the grim poverty which is palpable everywhere, and which sharply contrasts with the urban behemoth of São Paulo.

This massive, grim conurbation has a skyline similar to Manhattan, of giant skyscrapers within whose shadows one witnesses the poor 'street children' and the 'roofless ones' who habitually sleep on the streets. Everywhere you turn, Brazil reflects starkly the features of Trotsky's idea of 'combined and uneven development' in the neo-colonial world. The latest word in technique sits alongside backward, barbaric economic and social conditions.

This is reflected, particularly, in the infrastructure. Modern airports exist, a seemingly developed air industry as well, and yet there are virtually no railways. British imperialism at least bequeathed a railway system to the Indian subcontinent which somehow continues to 'function' after British imperialism was forced out in 1948.

Capitalism and imperialism left no such legacy for Brazil. Confronted with the rise of the motor car industry, buttressed by foreign investment, the Brazilian capitalist elite embraced this enthusiastically. Therefore roads were 'in', as was the air industry, but railways were redundant!

Economic growth

The result is the lopsided character of Brazilian capitalism today. For instance, president Lula, an ex-workers' leader, is lionised for 'economic growth'. In Latin America as a whole, an average annual growth rate of 5% has been chalked up since 2004.

It is claimed that Brazil is heading above 5% this year, more than double the past two decades' average growth. But active workers, particularly those in Socialismo Revolucionário (SR), the Brazilian section of the CWI, point out that this is exaggerated, with real growth 1% or 2% lower than this.

Moreover, this is largely in the bosses' pockets – the reality for the masses is vastly different. Symptomatic of the situation is the barbaric conditions in the favelas, which we saw in a particularly successful visit to Rio.

There are few places on earth in which the contrast is greater than between the breathtaking grandeur of Rio – as also with Belem in Amazonia that we visited – and the desperation of the poor inhabitants.

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing for the first time the well-known favela of Rocinha perched on a hill, right next to the famous Ipanema beach. Moreover, these urban slums sit cheek by jowl alongside the gated communities of the super-rich.

There is a 'civil war' – which we witnessed on TV – between the inhabitants of the favelas and Rio's police, a brutal armed wing of the Brazilian capitalist state. Workers informed us that in one year, the Rio police have shot and killed 900 people – predominantly black men and young people from the favelas.

Many of them are totally innocent of the charge of 'drug trafficking', which is used to justify this state terror. In any case, as the US civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson correctly argues, when jobs disappear in a neighbourhood, in come the drugs and following them the guns.

Rich and poor

THE SENSE of neglect which stirs class hatred is compounded when the poor live alongside smartly painted blocks occupied by the rich, surrounded by high walls and electrified fences. Lula's government accepts the so-called 'Washington consensus', the programme of neo-liberalism, privatisation, precarious jobs instead of real jobs, the general squeezing of living standards and the undermining of the rights of the working class.

Lula is conducting an offensive against the past gains of the Brazilian working class, particularly the civil service workers, as well as students and education in general.

This sounds familiar to British workers. What is different to Britain at this stage, however, is the organised resistance which is beginning from below. We witnessed this when visiting the spectacular 'modernistic' national capital, Brasília, which did not exist before 1960 and now has a population of over two million.

In the spectacular surroundings of buildings designed by famous left/communist architect, Oscar Niemeyer, upwards of 20,000 workers, in a brilliant, colourful demonstration, marched to the pensions ministry and the Brazilian national assembly and senate. The demonstration was organised mainly by a new trade union centre, Conlutas (Coordenação Nacional de Lutas – National Coordination of Struggle).

This organisation has developed rapidly as a rank-and-file revolt against the collaboration of the Brazilian equivalent of the British TUC, the CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores), with the Lula government's anti-working class policies. The initiative for this organisation was taken by the largest Trotskyist organisation in Brazil, the PSTU (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado), which hails from the 'Morenoite' movement which has strong historical antecedents and roots in Latin America.

This organisation adopted a sectarian position in its relations to other left organisations in the past. It is now, however, adopting a more open attitude, at least on the trade union front. This has led to the collaboration of some of the most militant workers with Conlutas. It is also hoped it will collaborate and perhaps unify with one of the other rank-and-file movements, 'Intersindical'.

There are perhaps some lessons here for Britain. Like the CUT, the British TUC, under the stewardship of one of the most conservative leaderships in its history seems determined to put a brake on all the movements in defence of working-class rights and conditions. This is in the service of their further collaboration with Gordon Brown's New Labour government.

The consolidation of big union blocs, like Unite, seeks to further prop up New Labour and, conversely, comes down heavily on militant trade unions and trade unionism. Therefore a Brazilian-type situation could develop within the unions in Britain. For instance, if the RMT, the PCS and FBU are forced into a straitjacket by the bureaucratic apparatus of these unions, or even forced out of the TUC, a new trade union centre could also develop in Britain.

A 'scissors' now exists between the bitter class hatred from below, among working-class people and trade unionists, and the inertia, conservatism and outright sabotage sometimes of the right-wing trade union leaders – as with the Gate Gourmet and other workers, betrayed by the Transport and General Workers' Union leaders – which could result in a schism.

The unity of the working class is vital, but not if it results in a 'graveyard' of bureaucratic leaderships stifling the voice and actions of the working class.

New party

THIS IS as true on the political plane as in industrial conflicts. Brazil has thrown up a new mass party of the working class, P-SOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade). P-SOL was the result of a reflex action of workers at Lula's betrayal of the very base, the civil servants in particular, which raised him to power on its shoulders.

The new party was founded in June 2004. It was led by MPs, such as the ex-senator Heloísa Helena, who along with other MPs, like Baba and Luciana Genro, was expelled from the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) after voting against attacks on the pension system.

Lula, unlike Blair, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and was a 'capitalist entrist' in the Labour Party, came from the very depths of the Brazilian working class of São Paulo. Hence the bitter feelings towards his neo-liberal policies. This in turn led to P-SOL's creation. Most of those who set up P-SOL came out of the PT and were from a Trotskyist background. The PT has subsequently suffered defections because of its degeneration, reflected in recent corruption scandals.

At its conference in Brasília in 2004, P-SOL's founding declaration was markedly socialist and was peppered with phrases about 'revolution'. Its programme was explicitly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist. It rapidly became an alternative voice, and a point of reference for the Brazilian working class' most militant sections. Moreover, it had a very democratic internal regime, with the right of tendencies to exist.

In the 2006 presidential election, the party's candidate for president, Heloísa Helena, got almost seven million votes as a left alternative to Lula's 'traditional left' which was in reality, a capitalist 'alternative'. This spectacular success for a very young party was a vindication of those, like Socialismo Revolucionário and the CWI, who consistently argued for a new mass party. SR was one of the pioneers of P-SOL.

Lula did not manage to get elected in the first round because of the votes that went to Heloísa Helena. Although P-SOL did not advocate this, most of the votes of Heloísa Helena were cast in the second round in opposition to the anti-Lula candidate which guaranteed Lula coming to power for a second term.

But while Heloísa Helena made criticisms of Lula's government during the election, this was not underpinned by a clear anti-capitalist and socialist programme. Instead, the ideas of left reformism became a centrepiece of Heloísa Helena's campaign. This was based on the fear of losing votes which the socialist left of P-SOL correctly interpreted as a concession to 'electoralism' at the expense of developing a party which was active and interventionist in the class struggle.

At the same time, refugees from the PT – repelled by Lula's further drift towards the right – entered the ranks of P-SOL. They helped to shift P-SOL's leadership towards the right. This in turn provoked a left opposition made up of different organisations which got just under one quarter of the vote at the 2007 congress of P-SOL.

Socialismo Revolucionário played a key role in the formation of this left, which is struggling against the move towards the right reflected, among other things, in the opposition to abortion, expressed at the 2006 conference, by Heloísa Helena who comes from a left Catholic background.

This is a life and death question for Brazilian women, particularly the working class and poor, who are butchered and often killed in backstreet abortions. This issue was debated openly and the P-SOL conference accepted the right of Brazilian women 'to choose'. Even when Heloísa Helena spoke against, it was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Positive gains

THESE DEVELOPMENTS show the positive advantages of a new mass workers' party. There has been a huge recession in socialist consciousness following the collapse of Stalinism and the ideological offensive by the capitalists which followed this.

This means that new mass parties are a stage which the working class must pass through in the transition to a rounded-out socialist consciousness and a radical revolutionary programme that would go with this.

But Brazil and the development of P-SOL underlines that a new mass workers' party is not an end in itself. It is a means of gathering together the left and fighting elements of the working class, and to offer a point of reference in struggle. At the same time, it can sometimes be a check on the capitalists and their parties' unbridled attacks on working-class people.

This is evident in Brazil where Lula, while he sets about doing Brazilian big business' dirty work, is nevertheless forced to look over his shoulder and sometimes to accommodate to pressure from P-SOL. This was clear in the 2006 election when, in the second round, in order to court the votes of those who had voted for Heloísa Helena, he was compelled to adopt a more radical stance, at least in words.

The same is true in Germany now where the existence of the Left Party, with all its inadequacies, nevertheless has compelled the social democratic leaders, who have rapidly lost members, to seek to water down a few of the 'reforms' – read attacks, on living standards – which have been undertaken by the coalition between them and the Christian Democrats.

But P-SOL also shows that continued success, growth in influence and number is not automatically guaranteed, if a new party shifts towards the right as P-SOL has done recently. To prevent P-SOL succumbing further to the huge pressure of capitalism on such a new formation, a strong Marxist, revolutionary spine is required.

The fate of Rifondazione (RC) in Italy also bears this out. The first of the 'new mass workers parties' in the early 1990s it has now shifted towards the right under the leadership of Bertinotti, and threatens to become a liberal capitalist party. Most of the different Marxist and Trotskyist organisations within the RC either accommodated themselves to the Bertinotti leadership or adopted an ultra-left position, or ended up merely as abstract, uninfluential commentators.

In contrast, the organised left opposition to this rightward movement is strong within P-SOL, not least because of the role played by the Brazilian supporters of the CWI. They are in a united front of organisations, a 'bloc of four' within P-SOL. Included in this is the organisation ARS (Alternativa Revolucionário Socialista – Revolutionary Socialist Alternative). These comrades are concentrated largely in Belem where we had fruitful discussions over three days.

Another organisation in São Paulo is the CLS (Socialist Liberty Collective) made up of workers with a history of struggle both in São Paulo and Minas Girais, where the CLS has an important base in the social movements, particularly the landless movement and among print workers. It is hoped the 'bloc of four' will be consolidated in a series of meetings and public activities in December and could act as a pole of attraction to other wider dissident groups within P-SOL.

Regroupment

AT THE same time there is a process of political recomposition, regroupment of the left, particularly the Marxist left, involving some of these organisations and others into a larger, more coherent force. With the participation of some of these organisations in SR's very successful congress – attended by more than 50 delegates and visitors in October – the prospect of building a numerically stronger and far more influential Marxist organisation is posed.

Its task will not be restricted purely to P-SOL which is currently embracing a minority of the working class, but will also face up to the powerful industrial movements which could take place under the whip of Lula's neo-liberal attacks. His government, emulating those like Sarkozy and other governments in Europe, has sought through new proposals to attack trade union rights.

This takes the form of using financial 'incentives' for the creation of new 'acceptable' trade union centres. We were informed that there are 18,000 different trade unions in Brazil! Lula's intention, it seems, is to unify these by using 'financial incentives', of course, under the influence and control of the government or its representatives.

But the development of Conlutas shows the resistance both to this and Lula's capitalist programme. So also does the opposition to the university 'reform', which led to the occupation of a number of universities in which SR members play a role.

Brazil, rather than being the showcase for capitalism in Latin America, as its advocates in the western capitalist press portray it, will be faced with big shocks in the next period. Its much vaunted growth rate is based largely on the upward spiral of world commodity prices. Brazil has benefited from a big increase in exports of beef, soya and even the discovery of substantial oil deposits recently.

But this export success was underpinned by the world economic boom of the last period which will now judder to a halt. This will cut the market for commodities at the same time as Brazil is leaking jobs to China and elsewhere, as industry such as textiles, footwear and metalworking goes to the wall. One businessman complained: "If this goes on, we are going to see the deindustrialisation of Brazil."

The Brazilian currency, the real, has risen recently, thereby undermining the ability of manufacturing companies to compete on world markets. Whereas they once exported to East Asia, Brazilian capitalism is "now building factories there instead". Add into this already explosive brew the development of P-SOL, as well as Conlutas, and Brazil is set for an explosive social situation, in which the ideas of socialism, Marxism and particularly Trotskyism will grow.


Australia: Howard disappears under a Labor party landslide

But workers should prepare for battles with Rudd government

THE SOCIALIST Party [Australia] is delighted to see the back of John Howard and the federal Coalition government led by the Liberals. Howard joins those other Western leaders who supported the war on Iraq, including Aznar and Berlusconi, in being booted out of office - with Blair resigning, and Bush on the way out soon.

By Socialist Party reporters

The Iraq war and subsequent disastrous occupation and Howard's close ties to the White House were an electoral weight around his neck. [Howard was set to lose his own seat after 33 years!] However, the election was overwhelmingly a referendum on Work Choices, the raft of laws aimed at extracting extra profits from the working class.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) enjoyed an across the board swing of 6.03% on Saturday 24 November, greater than the 5% swing won by John Howard in 1996. However because of Work Choices there were even higher swings in working class seats where many voters had previously voted Liberal.

Contradictions

The ECM polling group reported that "among the crucial 10% of people who voted for Howard last time, but voted Labor on Saturday, industrial relations was the key issue – it caused the shift among 57% of them."

The Australian reported: "Of the first 22 seats to fall to Labor on Saturday night, 17 had above-average numbers of labourers, and 14 had unemployment rates above the national average. But 12 also had above-average numbers of single parents."

There are two main contradictions in the Labor win. The first is how a government can be booted out so unceremoniously during an economic upswing.

An answer was offered by the Socialist Party in the special federal election edition of our newspaper The Socialist that was delivered to 30,000 houses during the campaign: "Many people – some estimate two million – have been left behind by the boom such as the army of casual workers and those displaced in industries like manufacturing, which have been smashed by international competition.

"Those workers who have raised their net wealth during this boom have done so through overtime and debt. This makes them slaves to the banks when interest rates rise. The long hours worked also undermine their quality of life."

It was these people who were insulted when Howard declared that "working families have never had it so good" – a quote cleverly exploited by Labor.

The other main contradiction is that despite the elation from the thousands of ALP, Green and trade union-mobilised election workers and voters on Saturday night the ruling class itself was extremely relaxed about this victory.

In reality this election represented a victory of the representatives of one section of the ruling class over another. Vast chunks of the Murdoch and Fairfax media actually called for a Labor vote!

They believed that the Howard government had reached an impasse in driving through its counter-reforms. A federal Labor government, in close alliance with the State Labor governments and with a compliant trade union leadership, could drive through the changes sought by capitalists.

The last federal Labor government had succeeded in smashing two trade unions and introduced the main neo-liberal changes of the past period. The counter-reforms of the Howard government were modest in comparison.

The Liberals have been left in an absolute mess by Saturday's result, similar to the state of the British Tories after their 1997 defeat to Tony Blair. They are set to lose around 30 seats out of their previous 89. Over 500 ministerial advisers will lose their jobs.

The recriminations have begun, with Deputy Senate leader Helen Coonan declaring that "the boss stayed too long. It came to the point where he no longer had the full confidence of his cabinet. But none of us wanted to commit regicide."

It looks likely that Malcolm Turnbull will get the poisoned chalice and take over the party. The rapid shift from an unconquerable Howard government 12 months ago to their shattered, defeated, demoralised and divided state today is a sign of the rapid movements to expect in politics in this period.

No illusions

The thousands of election activists mobilised by the ALP, Greens and the union movement's 'Your Rights at Work' campaign have next to no illusions in Labor leader Kevin Rudd, yet celebrated like there was no tomorrow on Saturday night. The mood was overwhelmingly anti-Howard, anti-Work Choices rather than pro-Rudd or pro-Labor.

There is a layer of less politically active workers who are hoping in desperation that Labor 'can't be as bad as the Coalition, surely?'

Rudd with his dry and heartless acceptance speech on Saturday night and his even worse speech the following morning, offered no promises to the millions of expectant Labor voters.

After an inevitable honeymoon, there will be clashes between the Rudd government and the trade unions, students, environmentalists and ordinary people.

Already the head of Unions NSW (New South Wales), John Robertson, is calling for an immediate repeal of Work Choices and retrospective legislation so that people on the Australian Workplace Agreement (individual contracts) can get off them.

This puts him to the left of the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) who are much more compliant to Rudd and argue for a 'step-by-step' approach to repealing Work Choices.

Robertson has correctly pointed out: "There are already some in this (Rudd) government trying to rewrite history as though it had nothing to do with Howard's workplace laws. They were the platform for Kevin Rudd to launch himself – it was Work Choices and the 'Your Rights at Work' campaign."

New workers' party

The Labor Party will enjoy a short-term growth in membership as careerists enter to find jobs in the new regime. Thousands of new jobs in and around the federal government will open up now and this opens up ripe and rich pickings for the Young Labor elite.

However the central thesis of the Socialist Party, that the ALP is no longer a workers' party and is not a conduit for social change – remains true. The echo for our call for a new workers' party will grow in the months and years ahead.

The Greens had a slight rise in their national vote, but were squeezed by the polarisation of this election. Many left voters stayed with or returned to the ALP in order to ensure the defeat of Howard, notwithstanding the preferential voting system. They lost the most left-wing Green Senator, Kerrie Nettle from NSW, but gained possibly one or two others.

In the seat of Melbourne their left-wing candidate Adam Bandt did well, coming just behind the Liberal candidate on 22%.

Radical alternative?

The Greens are still largely a party of the more radical layers of the middle class and are based in the inner city suburbs. They are essentially a brand name based on the hope that the words they use to describe themselves mean something in reality.

In opposition, their politics are for cushioning the impact of capitalism on the environment and on living standards. In power, as seen in New Zealand, Germany, and Ireland and locally in Yarra Council, they crumble under the pressure of the ruling class.

The more radical layers of the Greens actually see the party as a stepping stone to, or part of, a future new workers' party.

The Socialist Party, almost alone on the Left, has refused to collapse into a 'vote Green' position – in fact some groups go further, with the ISO and Solidarity groups on the verge of collapsing into the Greens.

Our principled position of politically criticising the Greens but working side-by-side with them where possible on concrete battles has allowed us to have a closer relationship with this party and its membership than anyone else on the Left.

The socialist vote was squeezed in this election. In Melbourne our candidate, Unite union President Kylie McGregor, was up against the best Green candidate in Australia and, scandalously, also faced competition from another socialist group, the Socialist Equality Party.

With 66% of the vote counted, Kylie got 389 votes, with 264 votes to the SEP. In the eastern half of the seat where we have Australia's only socialist councillor, Steve Jolly, our vote was roughly twice the level of other areas.

The trade unions mobilised thousands of campaign workers in this election. But a sober look at the experience of unions under Blair and Brown in the UK, or under State Labor governments here, shows that the fundamentals will be the same as under a traditional Tory regime.

In fact the 'Third Way' approach of Labor, where neo-liberalism is thickly coated with advertising budgets, feasibility studies and lots of committees, has proved to be more successful for the ruling class than the blunt approach of the likes of Thatcher and Kennett [former right-wing Liberal premier of Victoria state].

In that sense a Rudd government could prove to be more dangerous, not less dangerous, for the trade union movement and the working class as a whole. Why else is it supported by Murdoch?

The conflicts to come with Rudd and his State colleagues will raise the political consciousness of millions. The idea for a new workers' party will gain in support. On a whole number of battlefronts – the environment, in the workplace, on campus – there will be militant action and a rise in support for socialist ideas.

We can enjoy the fact that Howard is in the dustbin of history for now, but must be prepared to fight against Rudd in the not too distant future.


Election results

Provisional election results for the House of Representatives:

Labor Party 4,501,333 (first preference votes) – 58.76% (%age share of seats)
Liberal Party 3,689,452 – 33.33%
Greens 778, 407
National party 553,502

With most votes counted Labor had 83 seats in the 150-member parliament.


France: Transport strikes suspended

But workers' fightback continues on other fronts

AFTER TAKING nine days of strike action, the longest for 12 years, French national SNCF rail and Paris urban transport workers called off their action on 23 November. The media declared this a victory for president Nicolas Sarkozy's pension cuts and Sarkozy himself said: "I promised this reform and I have kept my promise".

Judy Beishon

But this is only a symbolic and possibly temporary victory for Sarkozy because it has been bought by offering compensation to workers affected which will wipe out any short-term financial gain for the government, and workers could resume the strike after the negotiations.

Six rail trade unions have entered into a month of talks with the employers and government. Electricity and gas workers also face negotiations over the same pension cuts. The government wants to increase the number of years these sections of workers must work before retirement (from 37.5 to 40 years) and index their pensions to prices rather than wages.

Rail and energy workers responded angrily to these attacks and also towards the CGT union federation leadership who were too willing to call off the strike. Nauseating to these workers, Sarkozy's social policy adviser paid tribute to the "spirit of responsibility" of CGT leader Bernard Thibault.

In contrast, the Sud union, though much smaller than the CGT in the SNCF network, took a determined anti-government stance and is growing as a result.

Through their grassroots general assemblies, many rail workers have demanded that they be consulted regarding the coming decisions of their union leaderships. Strike committees and general assemblies – involving both trade union and non-trade union workers – can play a crucial role in France in building and organising industrial action and in resisting attempts by the union leaders to back down.

If Sarkozy wins this initial pension battle, he will try to attack other sections of workers in the same way. But his anti-working class offensive is presently facing a workers' fightback on three fronts. As well as the pensions struggle, on 20 November, public-sector workers had a one-day strike against low pay and 100,000 job cuts; and students are fighting the 'Pécresse' reforms (Valérie Pécresse is the minister for higher education and research).

The demonstrations on 20 November involved 700,000 people in 150 towns and cities. As well as teachers, civil servants, customs officers, firemen, hospital staff and other sections of the public sector, the marches included delegations from the private sector and contingents of university and school students. Print distribution workers were also on strike on the same day against restructuring.

The Pécresse plans, opposed by students, are for university autonomy and pave the way for increased tuition fees, private sector financial sponsorship, competition and quality differences between universities.

An opinion poll published on 19 November showed confidence in Sarkozy down five points in one month, to 51%, and prime minister François Fillon on 41%.

As this right-wing government loses support, the French Socialist Party remains in basic agreement with its attacks, and despite this, the Green and Communist parties look to being in alliance with the Socialist Party.

Gauche Révolutionnaire, the French section of the Committee for a Workers' International, is actively involved in the present struggles and is calling for a general strike to unite them, drawing in the private sector. They are also taking part in discussions on the left about the formation of a much needed new workers' party.


Scotland

Solidarity conference

Debates show need for a clear socialist programme

SOLIDARITY'S NATIONAL conference took place on 10-11 November in Glasgow. Attended by around 120 members on Saturday and 70 on Sunday, the conference debated aspects of policy and the campaigning work and party branch building. This was the first policy conference since the May Scottish elections that saw Solidarity emerge as the main Left party in Scotland winning 31,000 votes across Scotland.

Philip Stott

Conference began with speeches from solicitor Aamer Anwar, a socialist who has been a prominent campaigner against racism, war and the anti-terror laws; Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq, and Solidarity co-convenor Tommy Sheridan.

A session on Solidarity's work in the trade unions agreed to support the National Shop Stewards Conference in Glasgow on 1 December and passed an amendment committing Solidarity to campaign for the disaffiliation of trade unions from the Labour party.

Members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) asked for the amendment to be remitted 'for a fuller discussion'. In reality the SWP are opposed to calling for outright disaffiliation because, as one SWP member explained at conference, it would "cut us off from those inside the Labour party who we should be working with."

Committee for a Workers' Inter-national members (CWI, the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) Ronnie Stevenson and Brian Smith from Glasgow Unison argued it was vital that Solidarity take a clear position on this issue, otherwise we would be behind the mood of the trade unionists who are fighting New Labour policies on many fronts.

Later on Saturday Gary Clark, a Communications Workers Union member, gave a report on the current ballot among postal workers on the offer from Royal Mail. Tracy Edwards, the PCS union youth organiser brought news of the work of the 330,000 strong union with a fighting socialist leadership.

A Glasgow Day Care worker explained the struggle of the 200 Unison members who are now entering their seventh week of all-out strike action.

Important motions on building the branches of Solidarity, the youth work and the general campaigning work of the party, drawn up by CWI members, were all agreed.

Sunday's debates

The only significant political differences at the conference took place on the Sunday which saw debates on Iraq, political Islam and a boycott of Israel.

An amendment seeking to qualify Solidarity's support for the Iraqi resistance was debated. The SWP inspired motion sought to give full support to the resistance who, they argued, were seeking to liberate the country from imperialist occupation.

The amendment fully supported the right of the Iraqi people to oppose and organise against the occupation but also pointed out that sections of the resistance were involved in sectarian attacks and anti-working class methods that were leading to a deepening sectarian civil war inside Iraq.

It is the duty of socialists to oppose methods that lead to division and to support a united struggle against the occupation. This needs to be linked to a struggle on jobs, health care and control of the country's resources.

SWP members dismissed these arguments and sought to cover up the reality on the ground. The amendment was defeated by two votes with the SWP voting as a bloc but the rest of conference supporting the amendment.

Conference again only narrowly rejected an amendment on the issue of a boycott of Israel. CWI members had drafted an amendment calling for full support for the Palestinian struggle for a viable state, while opposing a blanket boycott of Israel. Instead, we advocated building direct links with Palestinian and Jewish workers' organisations and for workers' sanctions to try and prevent the arming of the Israeli state against the Palestinian people.

SWP members also argued against an amendment that called for the scrapping of the Immigration and Asylum Act and all other racist laws. They preferred to advocate that Solidarity should adopt a slogan of "open borders."

Unfortunately, many of the ideas and methods practised by the SWP set up artificial barriers to working-class people joining the socialist movement. Also, they consciously avoid raising the need for socialism in the anti-war movement and the other campaigns they are involved in, and criticise those socialists who do.

By calling for uncritical support for the Iraqi resistance and refusing to take a clear position in opposition to terror attacks like 9/11 and 7/7, and the ideology that lies behind these attacks, they make it more difficult to turn Solidarity into a home for people looking for a political alternative.

Ironically, while taking an ultra-left position on Iraq, they oppose the British trade unions breaking their link from the Labour party which sent troops into Iraq and enacted so-called 'anti-terrorism' laws.

Nevertheless, there is potential to build Solidarity in the months ahead. If the decisions of conference to prioritise building the branches and strengthening the campaigning work of Solidarity are followed through, we can make big steps forward in the months ahead.

The International Socialists (CWI, Scotland) will work alongside the vast majority of Solidarity's members who want to achieve that task and build a fighting socialist alternative in Scotland.


Preparing a revolution and its party

Lenin and the Russian workers' movement 1885-1898

the St petersburg

the St petersburg 'League of struggle for the emancipation of the working class'. Seated centre is VI Lenin

NINETY YEARS ago the Russian workers removed capitalism and began building the world's first workers' government. Today, academic historians, wedded to capitalism, often present this revolution as a coup or an isolated "mistake".

Hugh Caffrey

In reality, the revolution grew out of the very basis of Russian society. The Bolshevik Party and the working class that carried it out, developed through preceding political struggles, including the 1905 revolution. 1905 too grew out of past battles, especially the mass strikes around 1885-87 and 1895-97.

A workers

A workers' demonstration during the 1905 Russian revolution

During the late 19th century, Russia rapidly industrialised under the influence of foreign finance and industry. Demanding labour from the impoverished countryside, the new factories received it and, by increased competition which put out of business yet more poor farmers and small handicraftsmen, speeded up the migration to the cities.

Between 1863 and 1897 an average of 200,000 people moved from the countryside to the cities every year. While the total population increased by half, the urban population doubled.

Oppression

The bosses made fortunes while the masses starved in sweatshops. The Tsarist absolute monarchy banned all strikes, meetings and protests and violently crushed workers actions.

There are many comparisons with China today, including the conditions of the workers. Addressing Thorntons factory textile workers in 1895, the revolutionary socialist VI Lenin exclaimed:

Latterly the weavers have… sold the last of their clothes and used up the last coppers they earned by their hellish labour at a time when their benefactors the Thorntons, were adding millions to the millions they already had. To crown it all, ever-new victims of the employers' avarice have been thrown out on the streets… Workers of the spinning sheds… almost two-thirds of your number have already been dismissed, and your better earnings have been purchased at the cost of the starvation of your own spinners who have been thrown out of work… Workers of the new dyeing department! Twelve rubles a month, all told, is what you now earn at the cost of 14 hours daily work, saturated from head to foot with the murderous fumes of dyes!

Strike-wave

New arrivals from the villages often turned to God, the bottle or dreams of the farm. But for workers longer in the cities, study circles and the class struggle held greater appeal. Big strikes took place during the 1870s, with 188 disputes recorded. This figure nearly trebled in the 1880s.

During 1885-87 as the economy expanded, unemployed workers returned to work and mass strikes broke out among Moscow's textile workers. They demanded an end to the bosses' trick of imposing fines for everything and thereby driving down wages.

In January 1885, 8,000 strikers at the Morozov plant drew up a list of demands and presented them to the factory inspector. In 1886 there appears a lull in strikes but they resurged in 1887, with 51 recorded strikes involving nearly 18,000 workers.

In the industrial south, coal miners struck against the fines system. A series of short small strikes prepared the way for a massive miners' walk-out in 1887 demanding higher wages. Rejecting the company's offer of a small wage increase, they called out the rest of the pits and marched to the company offices.

Conceding all demands then and there, company bosses the next day dismissed workers who took strike action and called in the mounted police - the Cossacks. However, after the textile strike, as Lenin records:

The terrified government conceded their demands and hastened to issue a law regulating fines… The government imagined… it would immediately satisfy the workers and make them forget their common workers' cause, their struggle against the factory owners.

Wishful thinking! Lenin's Explanation of the Law on Fines exposed the law as full of loopholes, "a concession" won through struggle, and the fines system itself as "a product of capitalism". This pamphlet went to press as a second strike movement exploded.

After the economic uncertainty of 1889-94, the economy grew rapidly and continuously. Development of the steel industry and militant steel workers in the south spurred on the miners, while the textiles workers of St Petersburg and Moscow gained confidence to act in their interests.

Strikes took place through the summer and autumn of 1895.

In November, 500 weavers at Thorntons walked out against bad conditions and attempts to drive down wages. In spring 1896 strikes broke out on a much bigger scale, with 30,000 textiles workers demanding shorter working hours.

In May, a two-week strike demanded paid leave for the national holidays around the Tsar's coronation and limits on the working day.

All of a sudden, says Lenin, all the devices of the police burst like soap bubbles, and the government itself was compelled to speak out openly of the fact that the workers were engaged in a struggle against the factory owners.

What, then, has made it talk this time? The fact is that this time the socialists have assisted the workers, have helped them to explain their case, to spread the news about it everywhere, both among the workers and among the public, to formulate the workers' demands exactly, to show everybody how dishonest the government is, and what brute violence it employs… the rightless position of Russian citizens and the arbitrary and brutal conduct of a government which fawns on the capitalists.

In the south, steel workers were increasingly angry about low wages and terrible conditions. A worker was stabbed to death by a company security guard and this incident boiled over into a mass strike and riot.

Socialist leaflets had urged workers to adopt a programme of demands and use the weapon of the peaceful mass strike as most effective. But the bosses' thugs, and peasant traditions of the violent uprising, led instead to days of rioting.

The League

Russian Marxists at this time were organised in 'The League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class'. They used every method to approach the workers. One legal avenue was Sunday education classes at which:

Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin] read Marx's Capital to the workers and explained it to them. He devoted the second half of the lesson to questioning the workers about their work and conditions of labour, showing them the bearing which their life had on the whole structure of society, and telling them in what way the existing order could be changed.

Going directly to the factories, the League distributed simple literature explaining the fines law, strikes, industrial courts, and economic demands for struggle. The Thorntons strike was led by the League who produced leaflets publicising the workers' demands.

After the strike, Lenin's To the Working Men and Women of the Thornton Factory outlined six demands on pay, contracts, fines and lodgings. The League's paper dealt with a variety of issues. One edition in 1895 included articles on the Sunday education classes, the life and ideas of Engels, and reports of strikes in other cities. 3,000 copies of Lenin's Explanation of the Law on Fines found their way across St Petersburg and to at least a dozen more major cities.

Isolated and penniless, the St Petersburg strikers were forced back to work. Sizeable disputes continued elsewhere during 1898 but, with a slowing economy, strikes halved the following year and fell further during the 1900 recession.

Earlier, Tsarism was forced to make concessions. In 1897 a law limiting the working day and establishing holidays was passed. While showing how full of holes this law was, Lenin pointed to its real significance, in:

being a forced concession by the government, in its having been won from the police by the united and class-conscious workers. The promulgation of this law shows the success of the working-class movement in Russia; it shows what tremendous power lies in the class conscious and staunch demand of the working masses. The new law... necessarily and inevitably gives a fresh impetus to the Russian working-class movement. (emphases in original).

Revolution

Despite the downturn after 1897, the Marxists continued to develop their programme and organisation until the situation opened up again around the 1903 general strike. Tsarism was forced to legalise some trade unions (at first, only state-controlled devices) which rapidly gained in militancy, and strikes increased. Russia's Marxists regained their footing and the Bolshevik organisation began to grow as the 1905 revolution approached.

Workers' movements of this period represented the first flexing of their industrial muscle, testing their strength against Tsarism, and drawing their own conclusions about the necessary forms of struggle.

Marxism played an important role in crystallising this process. Out of this process grew the Boslshevik Party and a revolutionary working class which in 1905 shook Tsarism to its foundations, and whose roar echoed across the world.

Sources:

Peasant and Proletarian, Johnson.

Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, Le Blanc.

Collected Works Volume Two, VI Lenin.

1905, Trotsky.

Workers, strikes and pogroms, Wynn.


Communication Workers Union ballot

STOP PRESS: The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has announced the result of the ballot on the Royal Mail pay and modernisation agreement 2007-8, which the CWU leadership recommended to end the postal workers' strikes.

64% of those voting were in favour of the offer and 36% against on a 64% turnout.

The Socialist Party opposed the offer, as did many postal workers but there was little confidence in the leadership's ability to fight on.

A full analysis will appear in next week's the socialist.


Teachers need a fighting union leadership

Thank you to everyone who supported my campaign in the election for a vice president of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Unfortunately, this time around, I did not succeed. Martin Reed from the NUT executive and primary headteacher Gill Goodswen were elected.

Martin Powell-Davies

Provisional results for first preferences on a low turnout were: Goodswen 6,792, Reed 5,603, Harrop 4,084, King 3,973, MPD 2,427 and Roberts 2,167.

My vote compared well in proportion to the number of nominations received. The main groups within the union were able to turn a larger vote out. But those groups are organising a union which is unable to get more than 10% of members to vote. There is clearly a big gap between many teachers' frustrations and their thinking that the union can change things for them.

The union has decided to cancel the special NUT executive, planned to give the go-ahead for a national strike ballot in December, as the government has still not pronounced on teachers' pay.

The pay campaign is at risk of being demobilised by the executive majority's strategy of waiting for the pay review body's report, rather than going for an earlier timetable - and alongside other unions when we had the opportunity to.

The ballot is now being put off until the New Year. Socialist Party teachers will be campaigning hard to encourage teachers to vote for strike action and keeping up the pressure on the faint hearts on the executive who are already talking about calling off the ballot altogether.

Others in the union (including Gill Goodswen unfortunately) also voted down the Socialist Party members' suggestion at the 2007 NUT conference that we link the ballot on pay to one on workload - which would have strengthened support for national action.

The NUT executive member who did most to criticise the chosen course of action, Linda Taaffe, is now being deliberately blocked from standing again in Outer London by other "lefts" who are organising to prevent her winning any nominations.

This risks the loss of a determined socialist and campaigner from the executive and quite possibly a further swing towards the right overall on the executive.

Despite the low turnout, many teachers related to the programme we put forward. The need for a fighting leadership of the union remains as strong as ever.

Those of us who want to see the union turn the tide for teachers will continue to fight for that programme and campaign for it in staffrooms and NUT meetings.

But it is also clear that, to argue for such a way forward, organisation is needed. That is why I want to discuss this with others who agree that it is 'Time for Change' in our pay, workload, schools, and union.

Above all, we would seek to attract new teachers into activity around the issues that matter most to staff in schools.

  • Edited from Martin's campaign blog: http://electmartin1.blogspot.com/

  • Construction bosses found guilty

    Trainee scaffolder Steven Burke was 17 years old when he died working on unsafe scaffolding at Davyhulme waste-water treatment plant. Campaign group Families Against Corporate Killing have been fighting to bring those responsible to justice.

    Hugh Caffrey, Manchester

    A jury trial in Manchester found the site supervisor for Steven's employer guilty as charged, while the companies concerned (Mowlem, 3D Scaffolding and RAM Services) had already pleaded guilty.

    Steven was in a four-man team completing the construction of birdcage scaffolding. A Health and Safety Executive expert says there were 2,500 too few metres of scaffolding. Platforms were not completed, ladders not secured and guardrails and toe-boards not used. The guilty will be sentenced in February, over four years after Steven's death.

    By the time you've finished reading this paper, one or more young workers will have been badly injured at work in Britain. The grim toll of deaths and injury at work continues to rise, especially on construction sites. While health and safety is ignored by the employers, those standing up for basic legal rights are driven from their jobs.

    Sacked electrician Tony Jones, TGWU-EPIU health and safety rep on the Manchester Royal Infirmary site, told the socialist: "It's a well-known fact why people don't speak out any more. If you speak out on health and safety on these sites, your feet don't touch the floor because you're gone.

    "Due to the directors' duties bill never having passed in parliament, no-one can be jailed, which is disappointing. Maybe one day we'll have a government that will implement this kind of legislation. For the construction unions, we've got to go back to having roving safety reps to police these sites. In some countries this is the law, but the British government won't legislate for it."

    Workers aged 16-24 are most at risk. Young workers are dying at work more than one a month, a sick figure rising now at the highest total for a decade.

    Tony's sacked union rep Graham Bowker says: "These figures are appalling in this day and age. The induction you get on site is a sham. Health and safety used to be part of apprenticeships but now there's no health and safety for young people.

    "It's all linked – there's no time for health and safety because of the way everyone's employed through the agencies and subcontractors. There's no money because the companies won't pay the rate for experienced workers on site."

  • More info: www.fack.org.uk, www.blacklistedelectricians.blogspot.com and issue 510 of the socialist .

  • In brief

    Defend Eddie Fleming

    On 22 November, Eddie Fleming was sacked on trumped-up charges. Eddie is the branch chair of the PCS branch at the Child Support Agency (CSA) in Hastings. His real 'crime' is to continue to represent his branch members in spite of management's bullying pressure.

    His PCS branch and the national leadership of the union are fully behind Eddie. Please send messages of support to: eddiesjoint@aol.com with copies to nigel.sheahan@btopenworld.com. Protest to CSA chief executive: Stephen.geraghty@dwp.gsi.gov.uk.

    There will be a march and rally in Hastings on 8 December.

  • PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions, including the CSA, have voted for strike action over the imposition of a below-inflation pay offer. 62% voted to strike. The PCS group executive is meeting as we go to press to consider what action to take, including a possible two-day strike.
  • Airport strike ballot

    Workers at the seven airports run by BAA are being balloted for strike action over pensions. Over 5,000 members of Unite will be balloting from 29 November, as BAA's parent company closes the final salary pension scheme to new entrants.

    Crucial firefighting, security and maintenance staff are affected at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

    The ballot closes on 20 December, with the earliest date for strike action being in the holiday rush on 27 December.

    Midlands Shop Stewards Network

    Steve Bostock, a member of the National Executive Committee of the Prison Officers Association (POA) gave an inspiring and amusing description of the strike action by prison officers that caught the attention of many workers recently.

    Steve was addressing the first Midlands meeting of the National Shop Stewards Network, in Birmingham on 24 November.

    The audience of 28 workers from a range of industries including rail, cars, local government, education and health heard how the POA has changed from being perceived as a haven for racists to a union fighting to defend and improve conditions for members. Steve emphasised that the fight for full trade union rights for prison officers will not go away.

    Dave Chapple, chair of the NSSN explained the need for the network and commented on some of the issues the network will try to address. There was discussion of the recent postal dispute and the need for those opposed to the Royal Mail deal to continue campaigning whatever the outcome of the ballot.

    Other issues touched on were the single status battle at Birmingham city council, sacked Unison activist Karen Reissman, and the ongoing witch-hunt in Unison.

    A steering group was formed and a meeting of this will be held in January to start to broaden and deepen the support for and activity of the NSSN in the Midlands.

    Aslef member




    http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/3465