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Hundreds of Southampton Ford workers took unofficial action to defend jobs on 20 October, bringing production at the Transit plant to a standstill. This reflects the anger and determination of workers here to fight for their future.
Fords: Our jobs - here to stay
The walkout was in response to the breakdown of national pay talks last week. These talks failed to make any commitment to the future of the Southampton plant and production of the new Transit in 2011.
Ford have made massive profits from Transit production in Southampton, but they want to make even more by exploiting low-paid Turkish workers by moving production to Turkey.
It is vital that this 'race to the bottom' is stopped and reversed. A victory for Ford workers in Southampton would help to protect the jobs, pay and conditions of Ford workers internationally, as it would show that the Ford bosses' plans can be resisted.
Ford want to use the current economic crisis to justify their plans, but these plans were made months ago and are part of a strategic goal to shift production to areas of cheap labour to maximise their profits.
Workers in Southampton have been incensed at the company's failure to stand by agreements to continue Transit production. As one trade union steward commented: "Our members want to know what's going on. We want to end the uncertainty."
Reaction to the walkout was very positive: "This is a good result, everyone is very pleased with the support for today's action. We want the investment here. Reinstate the 120 lads thrown out last month and provide more employment for the city in the future."
This campaign needs to unite all car workers and component manufacturing plants.
One Ford worker told The Socialist: "In today's tight world [of staffing levels], one man can be problematic if they don't turn up. There were big numbers from the body shop, group leaders and other key workers in amongst the walkout. Depending on how it's handled by those inside, not much would move until the late shift.
"This could now be the start of a long campaign. Senior Ford management have already said they are not prepared to talk to our unions until early next year!
"This is just the beginning. We have an Early Day motion in Parliament, with the support of 23 MPs and a successful e-petition up and running."
With the involvement of Ford workers, a bulletin in support of the walkout was produced by the National Shop Stewards Network and distributed at the gate. Its demands included the fight for the new Transit, a decent pay rise, no concessions on terms and conditions and a call for the unions to organise a national demonstration in Southampton.
Over recent weeks the Save The Transit campaign has helped to unearth the scandalous pay and bonuses top Ford bosses have been getting. They could find the money to retool Southampton from their own bloated pockets! Locally hundreds of workers have signed petitions and shown their support.
The threat facing this plant is a threat to all Ford workers in the UK. It will be faced by many other workers too, as the winds of an economic recession are felt. It is essential that workers and the trade unions organise maximum resistance to all attacks.
The walkout in Southampton is a sign of a willingness to fight back. There is no doubt that a mass campaign, including industrial action if necessary, could force Ford to invest. Yet if Ford fail to do so, the clear demand should be made to the government to nationalise Ford UK. As the NSSN leaflet said: "If they can find £80 billion to save the banks with our taxes, why not save our jobs?"
Coventry Socialist Party councillors Dave Nellist and Rob Windsor are putting the following motion to Coventry City Council, calling for wider nationalisation to combat the developing recession, and an end to Private Finance Initiative schemes.The motion will be debated by the council on Tuesday 28 October.
"This Council: Believes the partial nationalisation of several leading banks will neither prevent the developing economic recession nor give the government sufficient power to reconstruct the banking system, ensuring bank workers' and other workers' jobs (particularly in manufacturing industry) can be saved, and mortgage holders threatened with repossession can keep their homes;
Condemns the payment in the financial year which ended April 2008 of £16 billion in bonuses to city bankers responsible for this failed and flawed financial system;
Notes that the 40% fall in the stock market in the last 12 months has condemned huge numbers of people coming up to retirement to sharply reduced living standards and believes that the pensions industry should be nationalised and that similar guarantees to those the government has provided to savers with deposits in British banks should be provided to those about to retire;
And calls on the government to transform current and planned PFI schemes to directly funded, and fully accountable, public works."
Oliver Twist banks - Please sir, can I have some more?, photo www.squashdonkey.co.uk
"EVERY DAY this week there will be a picture of misery for the UK economy" said Citigroup economist Michael Saunders at the start of last week. The grim pictures are in the form of rising unemployment, falling retail sales, reduced business confidence, falling house prices, and many other symptoms of recession. Over 60,000 homeowners a month are now falling into negative equity.
Stock market share values recovered partially, after nosediving due to fear of a complete financial meltdown. But following the huge bank bail outs, which were designed to prevent a 'worst case' scenario, economic forecasts remain bleak and there is a general realisation that the recession could be long and severe.
U-turn has come after U-turn. First came bank nationalisations by the leading proponents of neo-liberalism. Now these same privatisers and worshippers of the market are singing the praises of Keynesian measures - the spending of public money on services, infrastructure etc to try to stimulate the economy.
Gordon Brown, chancellor Alistair Darling, and new business secretary Peter Mandelson, are chorusing that future expenditure on schools, hospitals and large infrastructure projects should be brought forward. Darling even went so far as to say: "Much of what Keynes wrote still makes sense. You will see us switching our spending priorities to areas that make a difference".
Their expediently-adopted guru, John Maynard Keynes, advocated increased state borrowing in times of recession, to pump-prime the economy. But while feeling compelled to accept the need for this, it is extremely problematic for the government to implement, as the national debt is escalating. It has gone up to around 50% of national income following the latest bank bail outs, and is estimated by the Centre for Policy Studies to be 103% of GDP if all the public sector pension liabilities, Private Finance Initiative contracts and Northern Rock liabilities are included.
This record debt level was built up during a long period of economic growth, because successive governments cut taxes for big business and the rich, and spent huge sums on weapons and wars. Going into a severe recession with such a debt level is a massive burden. Even without decisions in favour of additional spending, the state debt will increase as a result of lower tax receipts and higher unemployment benefits. So, at present, rather than promising new money, the government is trying to limit itself to 'bringing forward' future spending. This is being combined with some insufficient special measures, like funding more Housing Association housing and buying thousands of newly built houses for councils to rent out.
Also, the increased spending on some types of public services and needs is likely to be combined with cuts in others. The treasury has already clawed back over £5 billion of unspent NHS funding, to spend in other areas, and the NHS management board is presently waiting for further funding cuts and raids.
Nevertheless, such is the seriousness of the overall economic crisis and prognosis, that further Keynesian type measures are likely - some of which could be new departures compared to those taken in the past, and could be much further reaching than those announced so far. But the resulting increase in the public debt ultimately has to paid for, either through increased taxes on big business and the rich, or increased taxes on working class and middle class people, or through the government printing more money - which would fuel inflation.
The Socialist calls for a massive programme of public works, to satisfy people's needs for housing, schools etc, and to provide jobs. But this should not be paid for by ordinary people suffering increased taxes or price rises. The capitalist class however would howl with rage at being asked to pay through their taxes and would take measures to avoid this; which shows the need for the major companies to be taken out of their hands, and placed in public ownership.
Keynes also advocated lowering interest rates during a recession, and this is now the expected direction. Larry Elliot commented in the Guardian: "Although inflation currently stands at 5.2%, it is going to fall like a stone over the coming months... the impact of this on monetary policy is obvious. Rates will be cut, and cut aggressively, in an attempt to shock the economy back into life". But 'attempt' is the right word, as low interest rates are no panacea - they are only useful if the banks actually pass the lower rates on to borrowers and if people feel in a position to borrow money.
THE EFFECTS of the uncontrolled speculation that has been carried out by finance industry chiefs, backed up by most of the leading western politicians, is being brought down on the heads of many millions of people. A thin layer of super wealthy 'investors' on the globe have enriched themselves hugely, not through any useful development of production or society, but through financial gimmicks involving fictitious capital.
Gordon Brown and David Cameron not so long ago were singing the praises of these parasites who have contributed greatly to the misery now being inflicted on ordinary people. Brown worshipped their "unique innovative skills", their "ingenuity and aspiration" and the "invaluable contribution...to the prosperity of Britain". Cameron declared: "Our hugely sophisticated financial markets match funds with ideas better than ever before".
Last year, Barclays president, Bob Diamond, received total pay and bonuses totalling a staggering £36 million. Since the onset of the banking crisis, the top bankers and chief executives of most of the major companies are continuing to pay themselves indefensible salaries and bonuses; this year alone, the pay of FTSE 100 chief executives has gone up by 11.5% on average.
Ordinary working-class and middle-class people are furious about the greed and catastrophic management of the leading financiers. A FT/Harris poll found that most people are blaming the bankers for the economic crisis. But substantial minorities - as high as 30% in Germany - are blaming the failure of capitalism itself. They are right to do so. The bankers have indulged in huge excesses, making the credit crunch much worse than it would otherwise have been. But capitalism is a system that will always have cycles of boom and slump, as Karl Marx explained over 150 years ago. He also explained that it is a class based system that develops its own gravediggers - the working class - who have the common interest and potential power to build a socialist alternative.
FOLLOWING MONTHS of protest against Merseyside police harassing and arresting local campaigners, our democratic right to hold stalls and campaign has been re-established. A negotiated agreement between campaigners and police has, so far, ended harassment by the authorities.
The arrests of campaigners on 11 October (see last week's The Socialist) backfired on those officers responsible when the protests escalated. A crowd of up to 300 shoppers and passers-by surrounded police vans containing arrested campaigners chanting "Let them go!"
That week the trade union movement declared its support for us. Members of Liverpool Unison local government branch committee expressed disgust at the actions of the police. 30 UCU (lecturers' union) branch members unanimously passed a motion of support, as did Liverpool Trades Council. A very sympathetic half-page article in the local daily paper included a photo of hundreds of protesters, with a further column in the evening paper.
Socialist Party and CNWP member Tony Mulhearn issued a press statement and spoke on a local radio programme about the issue.
A "Freedom of Expression" meeting brought together 60 activists on 15 October to discuss developments and to plan further action, including a mass stall on the 18th.
Into this meeting a bombshell was dropped: after phoning the police to find out the whereabouts of his stall, one activist had received a letter from a senior police officer requesting a meeting urgently at a place and time of our choosing! This was an opportunity we had to seize. Representatives were elected to discuss everything but make no concessions.
The next morning, the five - myself from the Socialist Party, also members of the Stop the War coalition, Keep the NHS Public, Rock around the Blockade (which campaigns against the blockade of Cuba) and Riverside Labour Party - met with two senior police officers in a room rented free from the sacked dockers' Casa club.
We outlined the harassment, the arrests, the seizure of our stalls with no receipts given, and the huge support we had received from the general public. The police conceded our right to campaign, to hold stalls, to collect petitions, to sell our papers. Had an individual officer gone too far? The police looked horrified when we said that the chair used by a disabled comrade had been seized!
We stressed that, if we were not allowed to campaign peacefully, then the campaign would continue growing with more activists and more public support.
It appeared that the last thing these police officers wanted was a repetition of 11 October. They agreed to return our stalls. They agreed to "look into" the summonses of those arrested and, for cases which had not yet been sent on to the council, to withdraw them.
Further agreed was a means whereby if shops or shoppers complain about stalls the police, instead of immediately making arrests and seizing campaign materials, will negotiate with campaigners' representatives. We welcomed all this but stressed that we would be there again on 18 October to exercise our right to campaign.
On that day around 60 campaigners set up stalls, sold literature and petitioned. A handful of police officers, including the one who had been in the forefront of the harassment, just looked on.
This is a clear victory of the right for people to campaign and, seemingly, of some common sense among the police. It is a good example of how to campaign, winning public support, bringing together a diverse array of groups, and winning the argument in the media and the unions. This stands us in good stead for our other campaigns and, should it again be necessary, to defend our right to campaign in the future.
Anti-fascists coralled by police, photo Leeds Socialist Party
SOCIALIST PARTY and Socialist Students members joined hundreds of demonstrators on Saturday in a humiliating defeat for the neo-Nazi British People's Party.
The BPP (formerly the 'White Nationalist Party'), who attempted to hold a protest in Leeds city centre against the sale of black rap music, pride themselves on their 'racially-pure membership policy' and call for a 'racial holy war' to rid society of Jews, homosexuals and any other minority they can shake a stick at.
They also attempt to pose themselves as the alternative to New Labour and the Tory's fat cat privatisation policies in order to draw in members of a disaffected working class.
Their 'protest' was delayed by four hours while the police heavy-handedly cleared Lands Lane (where it was to be held) of all anti-racist demonstrators and smuggled the Nazis in through an alley.
The BPP, who prior to the day talked about how they were going to "smash the Reds" and "take back the streets of Leeds", despite inviting fellow fascist groups, produced only a measly showing of around 15 people, which upsettingly included two children.
The counter-demonstration was a complete success, not one fascist leaflet was given out and the demoralised bigots slunk off after less than an hour under heavy police escort.
The most disturbing aspect of the whole event was not the sorry presence of the BPP but the role the police played in aiding them. In order to let the BPP distribute their racist propaganda they attempted to pen peaceful anti-fascist activists inside metal fences.
Throughout the day there were many incidents of police brutality, not least including punching teenage girls, one sixteen-year-old girl even being smashed in the face with a baton.
Despite the actions of the police, the counter demonstration was a decisive victory for working people.
THE GOVERNMENT'S proposal to increase how long police can hold you without charge, from 28 days to 42 days, was dropped from its counter-terrorism bill last week.
This would have given the police and the government additional powers to detain people without justification or reason. It meant a further attack on civil liberties and could have been used against trade unionists in conflict with New Labour's big business friends, socialists and activists in the anti-war movement and others involved in campaigning against this unpopular government.
The Lords reflected the opposition to extending detention by passing an amendment by 309 to 118 votes. The government was subsequently forced to drop the proposal, together with other aspects.
But this bill still contains a number of draconian measures. According to The Observer (19/10/08): "Still intact are the measures for post-charge questioning, which may add to the presumption of guilt; the confiscation of property without trial; extra punishment without trial beyond the original sentence... and a new offence of providing information about the armed forces."
This bill is likely to pass into law without controversy now that the '42 days' measure has been dropped. And home secretary Jacqui Smith has said that we haven't seen the end of New Labour's moves to increase detention without trial.
A draft bill will be prepared so that when there is a perceived increase in the threat of terrorism, this can be pushed through parliament.
In a further Orwellian move, Jacqui Smith has also announced plans to create a huge database holding information of every phone call, email and internet visit made in the UK.
The database plan is part of the Data Communications Bill contrived under the pretext of combating terrorism.
The government says details stored would include phone numbers dialled and addresses to which emails are sent but, as if to reassure any sceptics, not details of phone conversations or the contents of emails. No doubt all this data will be found on a government laptop, left on a train!
Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members across all government departments have voted to take strike action against the government's imposed 2% pay rise maximum. (See below for details of the ballot result).
This follows a national strike earlier this year against job losses, the pay freeze, privatisation and attacks on the civil service redundancy scheme.
PCS were successful in reaching agreement on three issues to the satisfaction of the members, who voted 94% in favour of the deal, but this left the pay issue still to fight for.
In the latest ballot, 54% voted to strike and 80% voted for action short of a strike. The tens of thousands of low-paid civil service workers who are prepared to take strike action are a remarkable indication of their preparedness to struggle.
The voting took place just as the whirlwind of the financial crisis began to hit the headlines, with all of the threats to jobs and living standards that this means.
The campaign to win the 'yes' vote was down to the leadership of the union, including many Socialist Party members, who had spoken at dozens of membership meetings up and down the country.
The PCS membership is spread across some 200 different government departments and agencies. This meant that the union had to campaign on the basis of convincing workers that only a national pay settlement could address their grievances.
It is a tribute to the leadership of the union that they were able to bring them altogether and get a majority to vote to take action under a single campaign over pay.
The union's national executive (NEC) will meet next week to decide the timing of any national day of action to kick off the industrial action part of the campaign. This will include sectoral action, ie, workers in the same sectors, for example, health, welfare, tax etc taking action and a national overtime ban. The PCS demands are reasonable, modest and achievable and are what members need and deserve to make some progress away from a downward spiral of low pay.
The college lecturers have accepted their pay offer of between 2% and 5% and the Police Federation has also accepted their recent pay offer of around 2.5%.
The PCS NEC should know by next week the outcome of the ballot amongst teachers in the NUT. If this is also successful the opportunity for joint action is on the cards.
The government seems determined to keep the lid on public-sector pay. It remains to be seen what happens in the negotiations opening up. It would be better if there was a united fight of all the public-sector unions.
But even if the rest of the public-sector unions take a step back, the PCS leaders will, if necessary, organise action alone to defend their members' living standards.
PCS has achieved settlements based on the sound tactical use of industrial action as part of its campaigning work to protect members' interests. Sticking together in a united campaign is the best way to avoid any attempt by the government to isolate the most militant union in the public sector.
Number of ballot papers returned 91,749
Spoilt ballot papers 971
Number of ballot papers returned 91,749 • Spoilt ballot papers 1,421
The turnout was 35%.
JCB has just announced a further reduction of 19% in direct labour costs. This equates to 500 redundancies across its UK group. This comes on top of several hundred redundancies already made since August this year.
We were told this after attending business review update meetings, where we were informed that JCB sales were expected to be 55% lower than this time last year. This is a result of the collapse of the housing markets throughout Europe, where whole housing projects have in some cases just been abandoned midway through construction.
At the meetings, alternatives to the redundancies were proposed. JCB believes that once these cuts are made, they will not be able to recover the loss of so many skilled workers if there is an upturn in the future.
One alternative was to move to short time working, from 39 hours to 31.5 hours a week. Socialists fight for a reduction in the working week with no loss in pay but this proposal would see us losing hundreds of pounds a month. We were told short-time working will last a minimum of six months. This is clearly unacceptable.
The GMB joint shop stewards' committee has been in negotiations with management over these proposals. It has now got an agreement and is recommending a 34-hour short time working week to us.
The role of the joint shop stewards' committee has been disgraceful to say the least. No meetings have been held with the workforce. All we have received is a single GMB members' update that was put on the notice board. The update said that the GMB's "fundamental aim is to preserve jobs". Yet hundreds have already lost their jobs without any attempt by the GMB to put forward any strategy to fight.
The short-time working will mean fewer redundancies. This is welcome but either of the options open to us will see us lose out. Workers are split. Many say that short time will mean they can't keep up their mortgages or other commitments. Those that have not been here for long know they will be the first to be made redundant and are hoping that short time will mean they keep their jobs.
There will be a ballot this week on these proposals. This should be a ballot calling for no compulsory redundancies and no reduction in the working week unless our full pay is guaranteed.
At JCB headquarters there is a lake that was modelled on one at the residence of Joseph Cyril Bamford (JCB) when he was a tax exile in Cyprus. Last year JCB made £100 million in profits. The year before was a previous record of £60 million.
We say open up the books and let's see where all the money has gone. If JCB can't guarantee our jobs and pay then it should be nationalised. Not as the banks have been, to bail out the rich. But nationalisation under democratic workers' control and management. This would end the crazy destruction of skilled jobs and allow a massive house building plan to provide cheap affordable housing for all who need it.
Staff at two Bolton schools took strike action on 21 October over issues arising from the "academies" programme. This will mean some schools close while others are given to corporate sponsors and religious groups.
Proposals to close Withins school and Top O'th Brow primary, and replace Heyward school with an academy, met with a storm of protest earlier this year. Forced to retreat then, the authorities and sponsors are now trying again, with heavy involvement from the Church of England.
Striking teachers together with supporters from Unison and others, lobbied the council cabinet meeting about the academy proposals.
At the lobby, Withins NUT rep Phil Roberts explained to Hugh Caffrey for The Socialist:
"They've launched what they consider to be a consultation. If you compare that with what happened in Sheffield or in Preston, there they actually had a ballot where everyone could vote, and they said they'd abide by the decision of that ballot. Here in Bolton there's a 'consultation'.
The people of the local area have already said by 90% that they oppose the closure of Withins school. That's pretty much the same figure as the union survey says oppose the academy within the school.
Proponents of the academy are saying only 30% within the school are opposed. We can only assume they're only talking about the NUT which organises about 30% of the staff. If that's the case, then they're ignoring Unison members who've been on strike with us, and the other teaching union (NASUWT) which has an official position against the academy.
At Heyward, supporters of the academy are claiming a massive majority in favour. Which is strange, because no or very few people have seen the forms [for registering their opinion]! So there's concerns about how that figure has been reached.
We've also got concerns about community cohesion. When the riots in Oldham and Burnley happened, everyone said it couldn't happen here because Bolton isn't as divided. But now, while in Oldham and Burnley the lessons are being learned, in Bolton they're doing the opposite and creating Christian schools, and other religious and ethnic schools."
Campaign website http://savewithins.exofire.net. Oldham demo against academies and school closures. 15 November, 10.45am, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham town centre.
Four teachers and members of the EIS teaching union at the Vale of Leven Academy in West Dunbartonshire are facing disciplinary action for refusing to cross a local government workers' picket line during the Scottish council workers' national strike on 24 September. The four include a member of the Socialist Party's counterpart in Scotland, Jim Halfpenny.
West Dunbartonshire Council, Garshake Road, Dumbarton, G82 3PU.
And a copy to: Stewart Paterson, Secretary, West Dunbartonshire EIS. email@example.com
Faced with escalating house repossessions, the government is now urging banks to be lenient on people falling behind with their mortgage payments. The Council of Mortgage Lenders predicts that 45,000 homes will be repossessed this year, up from 26,200 last year.
But the government owned Northern Rock bank is at the forefront of repossessions - being twice as likely to carry them out as other lenders according the charity Credit Action. Of the 19,000 homes repossessed in the first half of this year, about 4,000 were instigated by Northern Rock.
The Rock's directors must have taken the government at its word when it made it clear that there should be no socialist element to the nationalisation of the bank - except for the rich of course.
Peter Mandelson, recently restored to New Labour's governing cabinet, has said that he wants to continue with the privatisation of Royal Mail that he began ten years ago when he was trade and industry secretary. According to media commentators, the present Hooper review is conveniently likely to question the viability of the universal 'one price goes anywhere' postal service, so Mandelson could then seize on this to further dismantle our postal service. This must be vigorously fought against by anti-cuts campaigns and by the Communication Workers' Union.
As we go to press it appears that the government has done a rotten deal with the Ulster Unionists (allegedly in return for supporting 42-day detention) to stop a debate in parliament on amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill concerning abortion on 22 October. These amendments include further attempts to restrict women's access to abortion, as well as calls for an extension of abortion law, especially extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and the end of the 'two-doctor' law. Abortion is the only procedure which requires the consent of a second doctor.
If these amendments are not debated, abortion rights could still be threatened at a later stage if a committee is set up by parliament to look into them. Most worryingly, if the Tories are elected, the pro- and anti-choice balance in parliament will change and abortion rights could come under attack. The Abortion Rights campaign must warn about what could happen in the future and build a campaign which goes into working-class communities, the trade unions and workplaces.
The National Debt Clock in Times Square, New York City, has run out of digits to record the US government's rocketing debt.
Erected in 1989 to highlight the then $2.7 trillion of debt, the latest debt figure has exceeded $10 trillion. And, as a result of the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, is expected to reach a staggering $11 trillion. The clock's owners say two more zeros will be added, allowing the clock to record a quadrillion dollar debt.
Bail out the students - not the bankers! - Campaign to Defeat Fees protest, photo Bob Severn
The Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF) won a victory when students at Bangor University in Wales voted to support the campaign's aims in a student union referendum. This was part of the CDF national day of action on 16 October which saw students protest and campaign across England and Wales.
The result sent shockwaves through the National Union of Students (NUS) leadership. Our 'yes' campaign received 271 votes, outstripping the NUS leadership-backed 'no' campaign's 104 votes.
Through stalls, canvassing halls, postering and putting our case at student union meetings, we spoke to thousands of students. We convinced students that the most effective way of standing up for students is to build a campaign based on mass action at a local and national level.
A key demand must be the scrapping of fees and debt and the introduction of living grants and free education. CDF posters went up on campus and across town in chip shops, bars and takeaways. As a measure of our support one mature student remarked: "You guys are the real NUS - out in the rain politicising students"!
Unfortunately Socialist Students and others had to build this campaign in the teeth of opposition from the NUS leadership. NUS president Wes Streeting and NUS Wales president Ben Gray spoke at meetings against the CDF. They attempted to argue that the government could not afford to scrap fees, especially when the economy is in recession.
But these arguments didn't wash with students. The multi-billion pound bailout for the banks has shown that the money could be found to fund free education.
Instead of listening to Bangor students, it appears the NUS leadership will try to downplay this result. When questioned about the referendum by representatives of Sussex students union, Wes Streeting had the cheek to imply that this result does not reflect the will of students as the turnout was "disappointingly low". It seems that low turnouts are only 'disappointing' when they go against NUS leaders' wishes.
In fact the turnout was higher than the average for SU elections in Bangor and many other student unions. More ordinary students voted in this referendum than at the extraordinary national conference in December 2007, called by the NUS leadership to push through attacks on union democracy, where the majority who attended were full-time NUS officials.
But the NUS leadership will not be able to ignore us! We believe that if students had the opportunity to hear our case for mass action against fees, the scale of this majority would be repeated throughout England and Wales.
Northumbria Socialist Students and CDF activists are collecting signatures and campaigning for a referendum next term. Activists in many universities are pushing their student unions, through action and campaigning as well as motions and referendums, to fight for free education.
We have to make sure that, now this policy has been passed at Bangor, it will be acted upon. Socialist Students got a motion passed forcing the student union to call a demonstration on 5 November, as part of the NUS day of action on student debt.
But NUS Wales is not organising any events on this day. Given that the Welsh Assembly is discussing cutting back on the financial assistance that is available to all Welsh students studying in Wales, this day of action is of increased importance.
Students need a mass campaign to fight effectively against fees, cuts and privatisation and for free education. That's what the Campaign to Defeat Fees and Socialist Students is fighting for.
Every 11-18 year old in Lewisham is entitled to vote to elect the young mayor and their deputy. They work with a larger panel of youth to discuss what needs to be done to improve life for young people in the borough. I wanted to stand because I want to make sure that young people's voices aren't just heard, but our ideas are actually put into practice.
I put forward a programme which went down well at all the meetings I spoke at. I called for young people to unite and tackle discrimination, racism and violence. I wanted better youth facilities, including for young people with disabilities. In particular, my demand that schools should be more relevant for young people and that there should be more resources and specialist teachers got a lot of support.
I was one of the only candidates to put a clear programme on a leaflet and to get it out to as many places as I could. I spoke at school assemblies and hustings organised at youth clubs and in the town hall. International Socialist Resistance members helped me to get leaflets into other schools and colleges too.
I want to make sure that these positions aren't just created to make the council look good, but that real changes are made to help young people in Lewisham. I want to be a voice for youth, a voice that can't be ignored!
Bail out the students - not the bankers! - Campaign to Defeat Fees protest, photo Bob Severn
The chant of, "Stop the fees, stop the debt. Give us what the bankers get!" was heard up and down Victoria Street as Socialist Students protested outside the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. The demonstration brought together students from across London for the CDF day of action.
Placards reading 'Bail out the students, not the bankers' and '£16,000 in debt, but I'm an investment' highlighted the huge debt burden placed on students by high tuition fees and living costs. Students paraded up and down the pavement, chained together to symbolise the way young people are shackled by debt.
New members of Southampton Socialist Students canvassed student halls of residence as part of the CDF day of action. We spent the whole day speaking to students and got hundreds of signatures for the CDF petition. The university is holding a review of its structures which could mean the loss of over 400 administrative jobs. We mobilised students for a protest outside the university senate meeting on Thursday 23 October.
Together with the lecturers' union, UCU, we have launched a campaign to fight fees, cuts and privatisation at the university and have called a campus demonstration on 1 December.
Bail out the students - not the bankers! - Campaign to Defeat Fees protest, photo Bob Severn
The pièce de résistance of our CDF stall was the 'debt-o-meter', a graph of students' debt also showing the amount of time it would take them to pay it back (based on the average salaries for men and women; women taking up to five years longer to pay back the same amount of debt). Students were amazed by how long their three years of education would leave them burdened with debt.
With nearly 300 signatures for the CDF petition, students at Sheffield University are beginning to realise the need for a mass campaign against fees.
Dundee Solidarity Socialist Students Society ran a stall on campus signing up lots of students for a 'grants for students - not debt and loans' petition. We are also linking up with the activities of Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement in the city. As part of the day of action we gave out thousands of leaflets and covered student areas with posters for the Solidarity rally on 16 October with Tommy Sheridan, Solidarity convener and Jim McFarlane, chair of Dundee Unison speaking. The rally was a great success attracting over 100 people, including many students. Tommy Sheridan gave his public support to the CDF at the rally.
Northumbria Socialist Students ran all-day stalls on campus on 16 October and sent teams of activists into student bars to get signatures for the CDF. 120 students signed up to demand that the student union calls a referendum next term on whether to support the campaign's aims.
Socialist Students held a stall in the library foyer for the national CDF day of action. Although it was a quiet day, there was a lot of interest in our campaign. Socialist Students gained five new members and now has 170 signatures for the CDF petition.
Socialist Students from Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin campaigned with a street stall, petitioning and leafleting students. We will build support for the city-wide demonstration against fees and debt on 5 November, called as part of the NUS day of action.
Socialist Students ran a successful stall with many students supporting the CDF. We built support for the demonstration on fees organised by the student guild on 5 November.
After last week's humiliating vote at the Kirklees council meeting, where the ruling Tory cabinet was defeated by a two-to-one margin over its Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, a war of words has now broken out between the three main parties.
Labour and Lib Dem councillors are threatening a vote of no confidence in the cabinet if they do not withdraw their proposals. This would, in effect, bring down the minority Tory administration, which has so far been able to rule with the active support of the Lib Dems, a de facto coalition.
The leader of the Tory group has said they will not be blackmailed and they still intend to press ahead with BSF, whatever the consequences. Behind the sabre rattling, the Lib Dems and Tories will be trying to cobble together some kind of compromise to avoid the hung council becoming politically paralysed.
Council officials are worried that the promised £400 million sweetener from the government will be lost if there is any further delay.
This latest political crisis has resulted from the huge swell of public anger at the council's plans for school closures and an academy. Action groups will come together in a show of strength on 25 October, with a march through Ravensthorpe and Mirfield where one local high school is earmarked for closure.
Local Tory councillors in the area have now switched their public position to supporting the campaign, even though their party is proposing the closure programme! Perhaps they have one eye on the results of this year's council elections in Barrow in Furness, where anti-academy candidates unseated councillors who were in favour of privatising education.
At some of the meetings in Kirklees, parents and members of the community have directly called for action-group candidates to stand if these proposals are pushed through. Save Our NHS councillor and Socialist Party member Jackie Grunsell has spoken at one of the meetings and is giving her help and support.
Meanwhile the council's rolling programme of public consultation meetings continue in the schools affected. Staff are now becoming more bold and assertive in the meetings. Council officials sound increasingly uneasy.
Questions being frequently asked are: How can the council be sure the money is still available from the government, given the present financial uncertainty? And exactly which private backers have the capital to invest in new schools now? The answers sound increasingly unconvincing.
Although the public consultation ends by mid November, this will not end the campaign.
Public anger is not dying down. Further public meetings are planned and there will need to be more demos throughout the Dewsbury and Batley area.
When the plan was first announced, the council leader claimed there was political consensus for one of the boldest education initiatives ever taken by the council. The consensus has broken down under huge pressure and it is vital that the pressure for maintaining properly funded public education is sustained.
With the recent events in the world of high finance, we have seen many examples of the state bailing out private financial institutions. However this is not a new phenomenon. Within the field I work in, the NHS, the tab is frequently picked up for botch-ups within the private sector.
Patients who have 'gone private' often sing the praises of the facilities. But it's easy for the private sector, they have no obligation to train staff or to actually provide a service in the first place - meaning no demand for beds or pressure to get people home quickly.
These private health companies can pick and choose the services they provide, ie the less risky, quick and cheap treatments. These profiteers can also register as charities, meaning they are exempt from corporation and capital gains tax.
Altogether this means there is extra money in the pot for decent staffing levels and also for nice furnishings, single rooms and a more comprehensive menu at mealtimes.
Questions are asked about what happened to the government's pre-election plans for single sex wards for the NHS?
Instead we have seen PFI hospitals, and GP surgeries being sold off, privatisation by stealth.
Private health care is used by many in Britain, whether to jump the queue or to experience the more luxurious surroundings. Some people may be able to afford a one off operation or their health insurance may cover it, but often they can't afford (or their policy doesn't cover) ongoing care when things go wrong.
Working as a practice nurse, I see patients suffering from wound complications, infection and other problems, bouncing back to the NHS from the private sector.
This may be for dressings with me, prescriptions for antibiotics (free on the NHS in Wales) or GP consultations.
Imagine the problems when you have a very anxious person having undergone breast enlargement surgery in the US, presenting with one side 'deflated', with no information about the procedure they have undergone or the implant materials used.
We do provide care for these people, despite our local health board strongly recommending we do not carry out blood tests etc for patients undergoing private care.
So what can be done? These private profiteers need to be removed from the picture and investment placed directly into the NHS, ensuring quality care for all.
People suffering from diseases such as cancer should be able to receive the life-extending drugs they are currently denied.
The Socialist Party demands nationalisation of the banks and financial institutions under democratic workers' control and management. It also calls for the integration of private health facilities into a democratically run NHS, free to all.
With above-inflation price rises for tickets being announced for next year, only the rich will be able to afford to travel by train. This is the legacy of the Tories' privatisation of our railway network, rushed through in the death throes of John Major's unpopular government.
After this butchery, the Tories now have the gall to jump on the green bandwagon and support new high speed trains - which could have been developed in the early 1980s if it was not for their interference. Under New Labour, our railways have fared no better, leading to massive congestion on the roads. At this rate, Britain will soon be grinding to a halt in a massive traffic jam.
So much for government promises to cut carbon emissions by 80% - we are failing to meet even the modest Kyoto agreement target to reduce these to 1990 levels by 2010. None of the mainstream parties offer any solutions to combat this.
John Prescott's much vaunted plan to invest in the railways after the Potters Bar disaster never came to fruition. The West Coast mainline upgrade is years behind completion and the promised high speed rail link with the Channel Tunnel to major cities never happened.
Under capitalism, private railway companies have no incentive to invest. Much rolling stock is not owned by the train companies themselves, but is merely on loan to them. If banks collapse, this will put our trains in jeopardy.
It is scandalous that the one bit of the network that is in public hands - the Tyne and Wear Metro - is being sold off. We need to support the rail union RMT in fighting this.
Sub-contracted maintenance has resulted in companies like Jarvis cutting corners on safety, leading to an increase in accidents (though rail travel is still far safer than going by car).
In 1999, after the Paddington rail disaster, an ex-British Rail (BR) employee commented that with BR: "The railways were run by highly expert staff who thought of themselves as 'railwaymen', and whose overriding concern was safe operation. With privatisation, that mentality was swept away".
The only answer is to nationalise our public transport network, bringing buses and railways back under public control. Compensation should be only on the basis of proven need. Socialists stand for an integrated, publicly owned transport system, which would provide a viable, cheap alternative to the motor car.
We need a new political voice for ordinary people, not parties that listen only to the bosses of the companies who control our transport system.
Despite its geographical location, Iceland is not an isolated island economically. Its bankers and politicians gained everything they could from capitalist globalisation, leading the country to bankruptcy. The Icelandic currency, the krona, is no longer traded by foreign banks. Pensioners have lost billions, and the government is in conflict with Gordon Brown over British savings accounts.
Iceland's banks were only privatised in the early 2000s. However, they quickly adapted to the global casino economy. Their shopping rounds, buying into companies in Scandinavia and Britain, were financed by loans, and a credit bubble that, seemingly, guaranteed ever-increasing wealth. Last year, their combined assets were ten times the country's GDP.
Over the last weeks, all of Iceland's three biggest banks have been nationalised - first Glitnir, then Landsbanki and finally the biggest, Kaupthing. As late as 8 October, however, the chief economist of Kaupthing, Asgeir Jonsson, told the Swedish daily, Svenska Dagbladet, the bank would stay in private hands. Already by then, the Swedish central bank had de facto taken over Kaupthing in Sweden, through a loan of 5 billion Swedish krone (500 million euros).
The nationalisation of the banks makes their shares worthless. 10% of the Icelandic population - 30,000 out of 300,000 - owned bank shares. Most pension funds were also heavily involved, as were more than 100 local councils in Britain, with investments of more than £920 million in Iceland's banks. Britain's prime minister Gordon Brown has accused Iceland of acting "illegally", and used an anti-terrorist law to freeze British assets in Landsbanki.
Iceland's prime minister, Geir Haarde, warned of the threat of "national bankruptcy" in his TV speech on 6 October. He ended the speech, which was delayed for five hours because of behind-the-scenes discussions among bankers and politicians, by saying: "God bless Iceland". The following day, "God bless Iceland" was on many placards at the first demonstration against the government's handling of the crisis, with around one thousand people participating.
The anger of people in Iceland is directed at both the bankers and the government, who acted hand in hand. Luxury cars became a familiar sight on the streets of Reykjavik, and at the B5 club, bankers could enjoy their champagne in a specially designed bank vault. Many of the newly rich employed housemaids from Eastern Europe.
Many commentators now say it was only "20-30 people" who caused this extreme crisis. That in itself is a verdict of the undemocratic nature of capitalist economies, but it also says a lot about those trade union leaders, and others who did not fight against this trend. Capitalism seemed to be the answer to everything.
But that is now long gone. On 9 October, stock market trading was suspended, and will not re-open until 13 October. Trade in finance companies had already been stopped on 6 October.
The government also completely failed to stabilise the krona at 131 to the euro. A year ago, it was 85 krona to 1 euro, but last week it fell to 160. On Thursday 9 October, the complete collapse came, with the krona trading at 340 to the euro before trading was entirely stopped. "No bank wants to trade in the Icelandic Krona", said Elisabeth Gruie, currency expert at BNP Paribas.
This is a catastrophe for the people of Iceland. 30,000 people have their car and house loans in other currencies. There are also thousands of Polish workers in the fishing industry and service jobs, whose savings are shrinking to nothing.
On top of this, inflation is approaching 20-25%, and interest rates are the highest in Europe, [the central bank, in an act of desperation, has cut interest rates from 15.5% to 12%].
Sales of cars, houses and capital goods have collapsed. Some people have emptied their bank accounts, and others have started to store food. Worst hit are the pensioners, yet the government is proposing pension cuts that it has not yet dared to present figures for.
The capitalists are playing with different 'solutions' - a big loan from Russia, a deal with the International Monetary Fund, or joining the euro. Even the most pro-independence politicians, including prime minister Haarde, are considering joining the European Union. However, joining the euro, or pegging the krona to the euro, would probably be impossible since Iceland has very limited reserve funds.
Whatever the outcome of these talks, they will be followed by severe attacks on conditions for workers, especially in the public sector. The IMF and the EU, or Russia, will put forward very strong demands for budget cuts.
In Sweden, mass media portray the crisis as something typically "Icelandic". But they did not complain when Iceland's banks helped to push up Swedish shares and finance businesses. Neither did Gordon Brown, whose hypocrisy is limitless.
The casino economy has had devastating effects for Iceland. What is now needed is a mass movement against local and global capitalists and politicians, linking up with struggles in other countries, for an international solution to the crisis.
All account books should be opened; the entire Icelandic economy should be planned, and controlled by committees of workers and ordinary people, as a step towards a real solution: democratic socialism.
AER LINGUS* management has announced a vicious cull of quality jobs in Dublin, Cork and Shannon under the guise that they need to cut costs to survive. This is a total scam.
Over the past ten years, Aer Lingus made €275 million profits. In the first half of this year, revenue and passenger numbers in the company rose by 10%, while staff costs per passenger only rose by 1%.
Profits, however, have been squeezed by the rise in the price of oil (now falling), with a 50% hike in the company's fuel bill leading to a projected loss of €23 million in 2008. This and this alone has led to the company's projected losses.
The price of oil is affecting all sectors of the industry and the economy, but for a company with over €800 million in cash reserves, it's hardly a crisis. Instead, it's a convenient cover for a massive attack on jobs and working conditions, which has been underway over a number of years. This is the race to the bottom - it is Irish Ferries part two [see articles in The Socialist, December 2005].
It is the chance to replace (relatively) decent, permanent, pensionable jobs with insecure, minimum wage, contract employment. The jobs are all necessary; the airline will continue to grow, as air travel remains the key mode of international transport. People will have to get food on the planes, get checked in, have their bags loaded, and the planes need to be cleaned.
The only thing that will be different is the terms and conditions of those doing the work, which they want to outsource to low wage employers so that the shareholders who were given this company for nothing can pocket an even greater share of the profits.
This is robbery. Over the past ten years Aer Lingus workers have secured hundreds of millions in profits. Productivity has increased by 340%, vicious cost cutting programmes have already been implemented. But it's never enough. This is corporate greed, for which the government is responsible, due to privatisation of the airline [in 2006].
Now, as a result, over 1,000 jobs are threatened on Dublin's Northside, and hundreds more in Cork and Shannon. Shannon is being decimated.
This is no crisis, it is a deliberate ploy, which started with the axing of the Heathrow route from Shannon last year.
Gone is the role of a national airline, which played a key role in regional development. Now it's all about profit and to hell with the workers who built the airline over 70 years.
Where's the government intervention to protect these jobs? The privatisation of Aer Lingus has been a disaster. The government should immediately renationalise the company and only pay out compensation on the basis of proven need.
Enough is enough. If they get away with this, it is the end of decency in employment at the airport. The airport authorities will follow suit. A secure permanent job with decent pay and conditions will be a thing of the past. It's time to make a stand.
The Socialist Party fully supports Aer Lingus workers' defence of their jobs and calls on all other workers in unions and in the communities to mobilise to stop the race to the bottom.
Based on a graphic novel memoir written by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is a treat. An animated film, it is unlike anything I've ever seen before, mainly, but not entirely, in black and white and very simply drawn. It is incredibly beautiful but also dips into a wide range of subject matter; revolution, counter-revolution, war, plus the life-changing events that are part of everyone's adolescence. It is very much about both the political and the personal.
Having learned to love 'god's appointee', the Shah, in school, the seven-year old Marjane is then confronted with the enormous events of the 1979 Iranian revolution. All is in flux as teachers instruct the pupils to tear out the picture of the Shah in their school books.
Later on, under the repressive regime of the mullahs, Marjane and her classmates are once again taught propaganda about the nature of the regime.
Despite being depicted in black and white, our protagonist is a well-rounded questioning and challenging character. She comes from a middle-class background but her family includes many communist activists.
The film deals with the political events of this period, showing briefly but graphically the enormous suffering of ordinary people as a result of the Iran-Iraq war, the role of US and UK imperialism, and the repression of the Shah and then the mullahs. It is a human story, not a political analysis, but as such it is an engaging introduction to Iran's history.
Against a backdrop of the enormous social repercussions of war and repression, Marjane struggles to know how to deal with her personal issues. Spending some time in Europe, she faces racism and isolation. On her return to Iran she has to deal with trying to form relationships under the tyrannical eye of the regime.
A review of the film in Socialist Worker finishes by saying: "The film offers little in terms of a real understanding of Iranian society - an understanding that we so desperately need at a time when the image we get from the pro-war mass media is Iran as a brutal medieval theocracy. Unfortunately, Persepolis does nothing to dispel this myth."
I found it hard to sympathise with this assessment when some of the sharpest points deal with the nature of growing up in such a society. With humour and horror the film depicts a young woman's experience of growing up in Iran.
An art class attempts to discuss the merits of Botticelli's Venus, with the nudes erased from the slide. Over and over again the female characters are chastened for their attire and conduct. A whole generation of political activists is killed.
This is not a school text book or a political documentary on the nature of the Iranian regime. It is a memoir of a young woman from a middle class background and should be judged as that.
Fundamentally it is a piece of art, and a very beautiful and impressive one at that, and one which raises questions and ideas without providing answers. If a fully rounded out analysis and programme is your criteria for enjoying art I imagine you will be sadly disappointed - on a regular basis! Watch it, enjoy it, and then come to the session on the Iranian Revolution 1978-1979 at Socialism 2008!
The year 1968 was a momentous year for struggle. The monumental general strike in France and huge movements of students and workers in Italy and Germany; the uprising in Czechoslovakia against Stalinist rule; the launching of the Tet offensive against American imperialism by the North Vietnamese and the heightening of the anti-war movement in the US.
1968 also saw the assassination of Martin Luther King and a continuation of the struggles of African-Americans for justice in their home land.
The world political situation was likely to pass me, an eight-year old, by. Except that we all had to make an Olympic Games scrapbook at school - and the infamous images that were beamed across the world found their way into mine.
The image that went down in history was that of the black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal rostrum, one black-gloved fist of each raised in what became known as the Black Power salute.
In fact, their stance was something of a climbdown; the original intention of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) was a boycott of the games completely.
The OPHR had been formed by Harry Edwards at the San José State University. San Joséhad become the focal point of black protest against limited opportunities in education and in society in general. Smith, Carlos and Lee Evans, who won the 400 metres in Mexico, were all students at San José, radicalised by their experiences and each other.
Ironically, the eventual protest probably succeeded in highlighting the issue of black American poverty and racism more than any boycott would have done at the time.
When Smith and Carlos went to collect their medals, they wore black socks and no shoes, denoting black poverty, they wore beads, to commemorate those lynched, and of course black gloves.
The silver medal winner, Peter Norman, a (white) Australian, wanting to add his support for the protest, grabbed an OPHR badge from one of the (white) American sailing team. Norman was reprimanded by the Australian Olympic authorities who refused to select him four years later. When Norman died in 2006, Smith and Carlos were two of the pallbearers at his funeral.
Smith and Carlos were heroes amongst America's black population but faced death threats and physical violence. Both had to struggle to make ends meet. Carlos, just a few years after winning Olympic bronze, was chopping his furniture up to make firewood to keep warm. His wife, with financial pressures adding to her despair, committed suicide in 1977.
In fact, it wasn't until the run-up to the 1984 Olympic Games in the US that both were rehabilitated in some form.
As Tommie Smith said on the night of the protest: "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."