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Super-rich bailed out by public purse while the rest of us are sinking, photo Suz squashdonkey.co.uk
BT's recent announcement of 10,000 job cuts, as well as the loss of pension benefits, is an attempt by senior management to offset their poor performance. It seems that playing with people's lives is fair game when you are trying to boost the company's share price.
This is the latest in a long line of attempts to try to make BT look good to the City. This latest announcement comes on the back of their failure to make the 15% increased profitability target for Global Services that they had promised to the City three years ago. That had been seen as the growth engine of BT.
There was never any real chance of achieving the goal but it allowed management to put off the day when the City lost confidence and the shares crashed. This has now happened.
The shares recently fell below the initial price when BT was privatised over 20 years ago. This is a shining example of a national asset being devalued when placed in private hands.
Now, instead of promising growth they offer job cuts. Of the 10,000 job cuts announced, 4,000 have already gone. There is a growing number of full time BT employees in the UK being placed in redeployment units without any prospect of jobs in the near future. And work is still being sent abroad.
The CWU, along with other trade unions, has been part of what seemed to be a successful campaign to get agency workers the same terms and conditions as those people who had full-time contracts. This can now be seen as a pyrrhic victory as BT cuts agency jobs.
Now, agency workers will not receive the terms that they deserve. After in some cases, many years of working for BT, they will also lose their jobs.
There is no doubt that the CWU's policy of balloting for industrial action if BT announce even one compulsory redundancy has prevented the full brunt of the attacks being placed on BT employees. But the number of people being 'managed' out of the company due to 'performance' is increasing.
There is an urgent need to ensure that CWU members are prepared to take action to support their fellow workers who could be sacked due to the company's failure to manage properly. It is those same managers, only one of whom has been sacked, who continue to receive massive salary packages at the same time as low-paid agency workers lose their jobs.
While in the short term there is a need to organise to prevent workers from being thrown out of work, the BT announcement came only days after Virgin Media announced over 2,000 job cuts. The only real solution to the continuing failure of the market system to provide a secure telecoms and IT sector is to bring the industry back into public ownership, this time under democratic control.
I received a phone call the other day from the estate agent that arranged my current mortgage. The woman I spoke to said that they had been trawling their records since the credit crunch began checking that people had the correct products.
To be specific she noted that I didn't have redundancy cover on my mortgage and asked if I would be interested in it.
The fact that I work for BT will be on my customer file and this phone call came the day BT announced 10,000 job cuts. I don't believe that the phone call was randomly timed, it is much more likely that my mortgage provider was cynically trying to drum up business to restore their profits after the housing crash.
Capitalism messes things up, scares us and then aims to make money by taking advantage of the fear and insecurity caused. One more reason for nationalising the entire finance sector.
When Tony McNulty, New Labour's minister for (un)employment was asked by the TUC if the government would consider increasing unemployment benefit because of the number of workers now losing their jobs, he said no - because it would stop people looking for jobs if it is set too high.
Even the normally insipid TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said in response: "Unemployment figures are seen as the scrounger count by some and poverty level benefits are considered a way to drive people back to work. While always wrong, this argument now looks desperately out of touch".
Emphasising the growing social crisis of unemployment, Lambeth council has announced a modern version of the 1930s soup kitchen, with its plans to set up food cooperatives on estates and in community centres.
McNulty's callous response to rising levels of unemployment is an echo of the infamous 'stop moaning and get on yer bike to find a job' comment made by Tory Norman Tebbit, who was a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government.
Under New Labour, the value of so-called unemployment benefit has nosedived to a level that has not been seen in generations. There is no unemployment benefit, just job seeker's allowance, which is only £60.50 a week for over 25 year olds. This is what the tens of thousands who are weekly being thrown out of work, are expected to survive on.
What jobs exactly does McNulty expect the jobless to be chasing? With the rising levels of unemployment, the number of vacant jobs is dropping. It was down by 49,000 to 589,000 in October. New Labour's response to those thrown on the stones is: 'to hell with you, starve if you have to but we are not going to help you'.
Redundancies and job loss forecasts are now a daily occurrence. In the press last week it was reported that more than 20,000 workers have been told they are to lose their jobs. BT has announced 10,000 jobs are to go. JCB in Staffordshire announced another 400 job losses, despite the craven acceptance by the GMB trade union for the workforce to reduce their working hours and therefore their pay (see article below).
Virgin media is cutting 2,200 jobs. Taylor Wimpey, reflecting the deepening crisis of the building industry with the near collapse of house building, is telling 1,000 to go. Yell, Glaxo and Leyland trucks together are getting rid of over 2,200 workers.
Economists are vying with each other as to who can predict the biggest rise in unemployment. Some say it will reach two million by Christmas and at least three million by 2010. In the City of London last week, most building activity had come to a halt and the financial giants, Citigroup and RBS, announced 13,000 jobs are to go. A City economist, responding to the loss of City jobs, said: "This is going to get much, much worse".
Job losses are having a disproportionate effect on 18-25 year olds, people over 50 and amongst men. The number of unemployed men in October was 1.07 million, up 85,000 since last year. 750,000 women were unemployed in October, up 55,000. But the 18-24 unemployment figure grew by 16%. Brendan Barber has pointed out that 500,000 young people are not in work, education or training.
The scourge of unemployment is one of the greatest disasters to hit the working class. It can make people feel useless and unwanted. Just look at what happened to the unemployed in Longbridge in Birmingham once the Rover car plant closed. The government did not nationalise the company, unlike the banks. Instead it set up a "task force" to find jobs for the sacked workers. The average pay of the workers who found jobs fell by around £6,000 a year from £24,000, as they were shunted into all sorts of low-paid service type work. Their morale fell, not just because of the lower wages but as the author of the report, professor David Bailey said: "Workers rated highly the camaraderie they had at MG Rover".
45% felt that their new jobs were worse than their old ones (and working on the car track was no picnic). Sam Kendal, 38, who has been made redundant three time since Rover closed said: "There are a lot more Rover workers still out of a job than the authorities are letting on. People lost their homes and some committed suicide".
It is clear that the labour movement now has to face up to its biggest challenge for 50 years and more - how to respond to the prospect of long-term mass unemployment. If the union leaders do not give a lead but just wring their hands in despair, some of those who they abandon could turn, not to the labour movement, but to the false prophets of the BNP. The BNP seeks to blame migrant workers for the problems of unemployment and demands that they be 'sent back'.
Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of Unite and Paul Kenny of the GMB have both made vague calls on the government to 'intervene'. But these calls are not enough, what is required is a worked-out programme of action to force the government to intervene.
All three main parties have the same policies on the crisis, a few tax cuts here and there, propping up the banks but precious little else - just hope that eventually things will get better. The trade unions, with all their authority, should organise mass demonstrations now against the growing threat to jobs and living standards. As a starting point they should demand that companies making cuts open their books to the workforce for scrutiny. Where have all the profits gone? Instead of cutting jobs, work should be shared out, based on a maximum 35 hour week with no loss of pay.
As well, there should be a programme of government spending on publicly works - such as the construction of public owned housing - to provide new jobs and meet people's housing and services needs.
The union leaders should make a clear call for the government to take over all industries and services that are insisting on redundancies, with compensation to shareholders paid only on the basis of proven need. The entire finance industry should be nationalised and energy companies such as British Gas that are ripping off the poorest sections of society should be brought back into public ownership.
The unions' programme should also include the renationalisation of rail and other forms of transport, including the bus companies. They should make a clarion call that they will stand behind all workers fighting for their jobs at plant level, such as in the Ford Southampton plant, including if necessary physically stopping machinery being moved, by the occupation of those plants.
The trade unions have massive industrial muscle, which should be used. But as well, they need a political voice - a new workers' party - which they do not have at the moment, as an auxiliary weapon to the fight against the bosses in the workplace.
The ruling class will oppose with all its might a programme like this. But a call on union members and other workers to back it would gain huge support. A call for action to save jobs and to end the nightmare of mass unemployment and poverty under a worn-out system, will receive a tremendous echo.
A further 400 redundancies have been announced at JCB. This brings the total jobs lost since August this year to over 1,000 at its UK factories.
This announcement comes just two weeks after workers voted to take a £50 a week pay cut by moving to short-time working in the belief that it would save jobs.
JCB insist that some jobs have been saved as a result of the short-time working but many workers will now see that management are using the fear of job cuts to further undermine our pay and conditions. The latest cuts have been blamed on "extreme deterioration in business levels and confidence".
Many workers have been put on regular dayshift hours, losing over £200 a month in shift allowance. We are coming to the end of a two year pay agreement and the GMB should be formulating a claim for 2009. JCB have told us there will be no pay rise for 2009. With inflation running at over 5% this will mean a further pay cut in reality.
We have also lost our Christmas profit-related bonus, which last year was £1,000. When JCB chief executive Matthew Taylor was asked if there would be any more job cuts in the future, he replied: "Not at the current level of business. If it gets even worse than that then, at the end of the day, we will have to take a hard look at that."
In response to this the GMB convenor issued a statement saying: "It comes as a major blow after members voted for short-time to save jobs. Unfortunately, more GMB members will lose their jobs than was originally expected."
The reality is that workers voted for short time because no alternative was put forward by the GMB to fight these attacks. Most workers on the shop floor were under no illusion that the redundancies would stop there.
In a statement about the latest redundancies, JCB said they were retaining 336 shop floor workers, who would otherwise have been at risk of redundancy as a result of reduced production levels in the first quarter of 2009 - in other words we will be over-manned and jobs will be shared until things get better as management see it.
If this is the case, many will be asking why we should accept the bosses' figures, when they declare that orders are down and workers should take cuts.
The GMB should be demanding that the bosses open the books to the union for scrutiny. JCB has made big profits as a result of the recent boom in construction. We should demand that instead of cutting our jobs, hours and pay, we should share out the work without loss of pay.
If any more redundancies are threatened, then we demand that the government step up and nationalise JCB and run it under democratic workers' control and management.
It appears that the recession will not affect companies like BAE Systems. Some JCB workers fearing redundancy have been chasing other jobs for welders and came across an advert by BAE saying "forget the credit crunch. We have work until 2030."
Thing is, this work will be building seven Astute class nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy and a future aircraft carrier and the next generation of submarine development, plus possible work on the Trident programme.
If capitalism is not destroying factories and jobs along with people's lives then it is building weapons that could possibly lead to the destruction of the planet.
Leeds protest to stop Beeston post office closures, photo Nigel Poustie
In a delayed and surprise announcement last week, arch-Blairite Work and Pensions secretary James Purnell announced that the government is abandoning the competitive tendering process and awarding the continuation of the Post Office Card Account (POCA) contract to the post office for a further five years from 2010.
The POCA distributes pensions and benefit payments to 4.3 million people, making a £200 million a year profit for the post office. It is a key part of the post office's income as well as bringing customers in to spend money on other purchases.
It was widely expected that the contract would be awarded to private company PayPoint backed by Citibank. The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters warned that the loss of the contract would lead to the closure of another 3,000 post offices on top of the 2,500 already being closed.
Purnell cited the "exceptional circumstances" of the economic crisis for making this u-turn. Certainly it would have been hard to justify further cuts to the publicly-owned post office when New Labour has just bailed out private banks to the tune of £37 billion. This is a 180 degree turnaround from a government that has withdrawn many services and contracts from the post office.
It is a victory for post office campaigners around the country. Protests over the last 12 months have put the government under enormous pressure. Two million people signed petitions to retain POCA, leading 265 MPs to sign an Early Day motion in parliament and the prospect of a Labour backbench rebellion.
The scrapping of the competitive tendering process sets a highly significant precedent. If the government can be forced to scrap one privatisation, why not others?
Leeds protest to stop Beeston post office closures, photo Nigel Poustie
And if the government has reversed its policy then why should any more post offices close? There should be an immediate moratorium on closures. The £37 billion handed over to the banks would keep all post offices open for 250 years!
But we shouldn't be fooled into thinking that this government volte-face means that New Labour has changed its 'privatisation' spots. The Communication Workers Union and post office campaigners must remain vigilant with the imminent Hooper review of Royal Mail likely to recommend mail centre closures and an injection of private capital.
BUSINESS SECRETARY Lord Mandelson attempted to take the credit for the volte face over the POCA contract. In reality though it was the protests and petitions (including those initiated by the Socialist Party) - set against the background of the billions of pounds of public money given to the bankers - that forced New Labour's hand.
Indeed such was the scale of the opposition to awarding the POCA contract to the private company PayPoint that Labour cabinet ministers, including Jack Straw, Hazel Blears and Tessa Jowell, hypocritically campaigned against closures of their local post offices having voted for the closure programme in the cabinet!
Scandalously, the government intends to 'compensate' PayPoint for not being awarded the POCA contract.
Stroud campaign saves Uplands Post Office, photo Chris Moore
POST OFFICE campaigners in Stroud, Gloucestershire were celebrating the reopening of Uplands post office, despite the best efforts of the government and Post Office Ltd to close it.
A few months ago Uplands was closed along with six other local post offices and 26 in Gloucestershire, as part of the cost cutting exercise to close 2,500 nationally. This was despite Royal Mail, the parent company of Post Office Ltd, making £233 million profit in 2006 and paying its directors £4.5 million in bonuses on top of their £2.5 million salaries. Uplands is only the second post office in the country to win a reprieve, thanks to a heroic local campaign and Stroud town council pumping in £25,000 over the next two years.
A High Court injunction upheld that Mary Davies, a 74-year-old disabled person, would be discriminated against because of the difficulties she would face getting to another post office.
Mary explains: "They call me metal Mickey because of my two artificial knees and plates in my wrists and feet. I've got osteoporosis, asthma, angina, arthritis and brittle bones, I can't even stand let alone walk into town".
Post Office Ltd was forced to enter talks with the town council and sub postmaster, but the process has been tortuous.
As Stroud's independent deputy mayor Andy Reid explained: "Every time we won an argument with Post Office Ltd, the question was changed. People told us closure was a foregone conclusion. But this proves that if you believe in something you must never give in. The value of a post office to a community cannot be calculated on a purely profit-and-loss basis".
THE SOCIALIST Party and its councillors in Coventry have collected 5,000 signatures against the closure of Hertford Street Crown post office and the transfer of its business, by a national privatisation deal, to WH Smith.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist said: "Labour should never have promoted privatisation and opened the post office to competition with private businesses. The post office should be recognised for what it is, a national asset which should remain fully in the public sector.
"If it's serious about preserving the post office and the Royal Mail network, the government should start by putting its own house in order and give back the contract to carry DWP mail to Royal Mail. That could be one step towards removing some of the uncertainty over the 600 jobs at Bishop Street sorting office. If it's really serious the government could simply instruct the post office to retain a full mail centre in Coventry."
LAST WEEK saw another victory by Lewisham tenants in the battle against privatisation of council homes. The ruling New Labour councillors finally called off their efforts to hand over properties in the New Cross Gate area to Hyde housing association.
Last December the plans of this south London council were defeated in a formal transfer ballot, with 54.6% of tenants voting No to privatisation (see The Socialist, 10.1.08). This covered 1,820 properties, one third of them in the Socialist Party-held council ward of Telegraph Hill.
New Labour were determined to avenge this defeat. Every transfer ballot lost, is a blow to their pro-market agenda. And it was a double blow in New Cross Gate because the Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, were prominent in the Hands Off Our Homes campaign for a No vote.
So in March this year Lewisham's mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, announced a new stock transfer plan for 660 New Cross Gate homes in parts of the original transfer area where there had been majority support for Hyde. New Labour councillors were confident that, this time, they would get a victory.
To build momentum a letter was sent to every householder by Sir Steve making the false claim, again, that Lewisham didn't have the funds to bring council housing up to national Decent Homes standards. This was followed by an aggressive 'opinion polling' consultation where tenants were asked whether they wanted "to remain with Lewisham with uncertain prospects of gaining the necessary funding" or "transfer to Hyde Housing Association with guaranteed funding for a higher standard of work"! Having shown, they hoped, 'public support' for transfer by this loaded 'consultation', they would then organise another, legally-required, formal transfer ballot.
But it was not to be. A street by street breakdown of the vote in last year's ballot showed there had been a 59.7% to 40.3% majority for Hyde in the proposed new transfer area. But in a major turnaround, this time 51% told the polling organisation that they wanted to remain as council tenants. This did not "represent a sound platform from which to launch a second transfer", the New Labour councillors and Hyde forlornly concluded. "Both sides felt the results were less positive (!) than expected".
Hands Off Our Homes campaigners found that the changed economic circumstances since last year, when only Northern Rock had hit the buffers, made it easier to explain the dangers of privatisation. Many people signed our petition against a new ballot, who had supported transfer last year. But the arguments still had to be won. At the same time as the New Cross Gate 'consultation', a formal ballot to transfer 639 properties in Lee on the other side of Lewisham saw an 86% Yes vote with, unfortunately, no organised campaign against.
This shows the vital role of the Hands Off Our Homes campaign, and Lewisham's Socialist councillors. Lewisham council has spent more proportionately in New Cross Gate promoting transfer plans than anywhere else in the borough. In the comparably-sized Grove Park area, for example, they spent £637,000, against £1.4 million now in New Cross Gate - and yet here they were still defeated, twice! The task now is to spread the campaign to other areas of Lewisham where the threat of privatisation remains.
Women working full time will be paid £369,000 less over their working life than their male counterparts according to government figures. Men are paid 17% more than women for full time work. The difference for part timers is even greater, with men being paid 36% more. The male/female pay gap is widening at present rather than closing.
New Labour's leaders have already made it almost impossible for any Labour Party members opposing their line to be Labour candidates for parliament. Now, their control is being extended within parliament. Their new chief whip, Nick Brown, is proposing that any Labour MP who has voted against the government in the past year should not be allowed to sit in the all-party parliamentary committees. These committees are supposed to hold government ministers to account. Little chance of that if this measure is carried out.
Sir David Manning, a leading foreign office advisor to Tony Blair, who helped to prepare the war on Iraq, has become a non-executive director of arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Among its numerous 'products', Lockheed makes a hand-held Javelin anti-tank missile and the helicopter-launched Hellfire missile - both of which have been used by the British army in Iraq. Yet another example of a rich civil servant friend of New Labour benefiting personally from government policy - in this case the brutal onslaught on Iraq - which he himself had a hand in.
Lobby of Unison disciplinary hearings against the four Socialist Party members, here joined by the Hackney Unison branch secretary, photo Alison Hill
Onay Kasab, facing a witchhunt in 2008, photo Paul Mattsson
"On 24 November myself and three others will be facing a disciplinary hearing. Not from our employers, from our own trade union. I expected that at some point, after twelve years as a branch secretary, my employer might have a go at me. But I didn't expect my trade union to do it.
But I will say this, we are guilty of something. We are guilty of demanding that trade unions break from New Labour. We are guilty of demanding the election of all union officials. We are guilty of demanding democracy not bureaucracy.
But we are not guilty of the slurs. We are accused of racism because we used the ancient Buddhist proverb of the three wise monkeys to describe our union leaders. How dare they level charges of racism against Socialist Party members? It's our comrades who time after time have led campaign after campaign against racism and the fascists.
Lately we found out that the union leadership themselves have been using the image of the three wise monkeys. When I said I wanted to use that union leaflet as part of my case, I was told that they would not admit that evidence!
The hearing on 24 November will take place at the Hilton Metropole hotel. Once again union bureaucrats will be put up at a cost of thousands of pounds to hear our case over five days.
Why is this witch hunt happening? It is happening because the trade union bureaucracy, the right wing, New Labour, have no answers. They have no answers to the economic crisis that the bosses want us to pay for.
And it is happening because Socialist Party members articulate the anger felt by union members as a result of the failures by trade union officials. And it is happening because there are elections next year for the national executive and they are petrified they will lose their seats.
We are guilty of fighting for our members. We are guilty of fighting for services and saving jobs. The right wing have much to fear, there is a mood to fight."
>>View video of Onay Kasab's speech (10:05 mins)
"We are particularly grateful to Kaz this year. As team leaders we have been fighting a campaign to get an upgrade in our pay scale... We are very happy to say that our employers finally caved in... and made us an offer of a £3,000 lump sum which we were happy to accept. Kaz was at the forefront of these negotiations and although the money was offered in April it took Kaz threatening to take this to members before our money was finally paid on 3 October 2008. It has been a long and arduous battle and without Kaz's unfailing good humour, advice and support we may have given up.
We have much to be grateful to Kaz for and we strongly urge you to allow Kaz to remain as our branch secretary - he is committed to his job, is fair and honest and a brilliant negotiator."
The team leaders, Greenwich Neighbourhood Services
In a turnout of nearly 50%, Unison members in Scotland have voted by 51% to 49% to accept the latest offer from the local government employers, despite the recommendation to reject from the negotiators.
Unite, with a far smaller membership, have decided to reject the offer, which was 3% for 2008/9 and 2.5% for 2009/10, and take action.
Members of GMB, who have a larger number than Unite but less than Unison have voted by over 63% to reject. GMB senior stewards are meeting on 24 November to consider what to do. Unison has an overall majority of union members within local government in Scotland.
Unison members throughout Scotland have expressed their anger at the way in which the leaders of Unison conducted the 2008 pay campaign. In a high turnout for postal ballots, the 49% of the members who voted to reject the latest pay cut offer shows the potential which was there. The Unison leaders of the dispute should have been bold in their approach to escalating the action from the word go.
They told us for months that there was no appetite to escalate and yet when they consulted the members by ballot to ascertain their willingness to escalate the action, half of them agreed to take part in action, in an effort to obtain a better pay deal.
The lead full-time negotiator stated that the offer was not good and that it was the perilous state of local government finance, the unsettled wider economy and the fact that Christmas is almost upon us, which had forced our members to vote for the offer.
All the more reason why the material put out calling for a vote to reject should have made the arguments forcibly. The real story should have been told about local government finance and the wider economy and the billions of pounds just given to the bankers and the billions of pounds spent on useless wars.
It was the prevarication of the negotiators which led to them consulting members nearly eight months after the settlement date and just before Christmas. Their lack of an explanation of the real facts and their procrastination led to a certain demoralisation of the membership and yet 49% voted for decisive action.
Unison must learn the lessons of this dispute for the 2010 pay negotiations. There is a need for an early agreement with the other unions on the pay claim and its early presentation to the employers. At the first sign of the employers not meeting the offer, then a joint programme of escalating mass strike action should be instituted.
There should be early planning of the action and 'life and limb' cover under trade union control. Where it is possible there should be joint action with all other unions affected by public-sector pay policy. Members' resolve to fight for decent pay should be strengthened by production of regular hard-hitting written material.
Local government spending in Scotland is under threat. Acceptance of this pay offer, a cut in real terms, will not remove that threat. The employers may feel emboldened by the result and try to introduce swingeing cuts in services. If they do, the potential for a fight is shown in the result of this ballot. The trade union leaders should now start the campaign to realise that potential.
On 15 December, 500 workers marched to defend jobs at Dover Harbour Board (DHB), ahead of a 48-hour strike starting on 18 November.
Members of Unite voted 83% for strike action, with a turnout of 95%. They are demanding that contracts remain in-house, not outsourced to private companies. Workers at DHB are rightly worried about terms and conditions, as well as job security and pensions.
Despite the best attempts of the chief executive at DHB, the upcoming strike action has been well supported in the local community, and beyond.
The lively demonstration on Saturday attracted support from RMT members, who sail the ships, members of the local community, trade unionists from across the county and workers from other ports in the south east.
As the demo moved through the town, it received applause from passers by. The port provides 10% of all jobs locally, so this dispute is close to many people.
The demo was also met by workers from across the channel, members of the CGT in France, who marched in solidarity with the DHB workers.
In preparation for the strike, the senior management tried to train a group of former gurkhas to try and break the strike.
However, the plan backfired as the gurkhas walked out of training. This has raised the profile of the strike and attracted more support, given the great respect that many in the local area have for gurkhas.
The overwhelming majority of workers affected at DHB are optimistic that the 48-hour walkout can win, or at least force the management into talks.
Delegates to the Unite NHS national industrial committee agreed on 14 November to use their mandate for industrial action cautiously by calling a work-to-rule on 3 December, to be followed by escalating action, including strike action, in January.
The ballot of members, announced the previous day, gave a 76% vote for action short of a strike, and 53% for strike action. The turnout was 24%.
The 'yes' vote is a stunning answer to all those doubters, especially the Unison leaders, who scoffed at the Unite ballot - it was all 'posturing' according to them.
The committee is made up equally of ex-Amicus and ex-TGWU reps. The TGWU has a heavy representation from the ambulance service. Amicus draws its members from maintenance engineers and many other groups and professions. A work-to-rule would be different for each, while a strike allows the same action by all groups.
A number of factors have come into play since April when the three-year deal was imposed - not least the worldwide credit crunch. Delegates also thought that members would prefer to strike in January rather than in the run up to Christmas. By January we should know whether the biggest health union, Unison, is willing to seriously pursue its demand to re-open the deal.
The most left delegates argued to strike in December - the members have said yes, a majority is a majority, and to step back now risks demoralising the active reps and organised workplaces.
The nomination period for the general secretary election in the Amicus section of Unite has opened. This was necessary following a challenge made by sacked and victimised Rolls-Royce convenor Jerry Hicks to the trade union certification officer.
His challenge was that the rules drawn up when Unite was formed should not have allowed Derek Simpson, the current Amicus general secretary, to stay in office beyond his 65th birthday without further election.
In the previous election in 2002, Simpson was the candidate of the left, but since then he has moved to the right and has been a centre of controversy. He recently likened the TGWU section's organising unit to the Nazi SS!
Two candidates have emerged asking for the left's support. Laurence Faircloth, the south-west regional secretary, has won the support of the Amicus Unity Gazette group. While promising action on speeding up the amalgamation process, he has no record as a left in the union and previously stood as a right-wing candidate for the union's executive.
Jerry Hicks is also standing. A former SWP member, he is now in Respect Renewal. In his flyer to members, he is calling for, amongst other demands, the repeal of all anti-union legislation, a public ownership programme opposing privatisation of jobs and services and a programme of building affordable council homes for rent.
Inside the union, he supports the election of all officers of the union, has pledged that he will only draw an average skilled member's wage if elected and would pursue a merger strategy to increase lay-member democracy.
Jerry has not called for disaffiliation of the union from the Labour Party but wants 'slavish support for the Brown government' to end. He would only support candidates in local or national elections that pledge to support the union's policies.
Socialist Party members in Amicus were disappointed that Jerry did not attend the Gazette selection meeting.
Some of those at the Gazette meeting had also attended Simpson's breakaway meeting a few weeks' previously so their 'left' credentials are unclear.
The fact that Faircloth has no left record should have encouraged Jerry to seek Gazette support. Anyway, his campaign could revitalise the left organisations by showing what a fighting left campaign could achieve.
So Socialist Party members in Unite are supporting Jerry Hicks' campaign for election.
The ballot, for which nominations start immediately, will take place in February and March next year.
The well-supported strike at Appledore shipyard is currently suspended pending negotiations currently taking place between the unions and Babcock Marine.
The suspension has come at the same time as an announcement by the company of record profits of £50 million in the first half of the year, up 30%.
This is the same company that continues to make threats of closure and losing contracts in response to the reasonable request by Appledore workers that they earn the same as other Babcock workers in equivalent jobs.
At the moment, they earn around £60-80 per week less than their counterparts at Devonport dockyard. The company have tried to claim that this was due to the higher cost of living in Plymouth.
In reality, they have tried to take advantage of the fact that North Devon is a low-wage area.
We still need messages of support for the workers. Contact North Devon Socialist Party at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01271 328235.
Steve Acheson, an electrician at the Fiddler's Ferry power station, Merseyside reports: "The electricians are pawns caught up in a bigger struggle. The big companies haven't paid the smaller companies, so now we're being laid off. These are false redundancies because the work's there! The solidarity has been brilliant, there's only about 12 people working on a site of 700-800 workers, all the other trades are supporting us."
The divisional conference for the Eastern region of shopworkers' union Usdaw took place over the weekend. It was another success for the Robbie Segal campaign.
Both general secretary John Hannett and Tony McNulty MP faced a barrage of awkward and revealing questions from the angry shop worker delegates on the economy, fuel prices, Iraq and the Labour Party.
Hannett was clearly shaken by the 40% Robbie achieved in the general secretary election.
"Why is Brown pledging £500 billion to a bunch of bankers rather than increasing the minimum wage and pensions?" "Why doesn't he impose a windfall tax and nationalise the utility companies?" "Why do we always get told that it's about the needs of the business whenever we ask for something from our employer Tesco?" were just some of the questions.
Twelve copies of The Socialist were sold, four new people signed up to the activist Socialist Party network and £11 was collected.
If you want more information on Robbie's campaign for election as president of Usdaw, check www.robbiesegal.org. To help distribute leaflets or get involved contact email@example.com.
IT IS estimated that around 20,000 people, predominantly women and children, die of hunger every day. The United Nations estimates that 923 million people, approximately one in six of the global population, suffer from chronic hunger.
In the first three months of this year rice prices rose 141%. The price of one variety of wheat soared by 25% in just one day. And of course it was the world's poor in the neo-colonial countries, many of whom already spend around 80% of their income on food, who were hardest hit. In El Salvador, the poorest are now only eating half as much food as they were a year ago.
Although crop prices have fallen from the all-time highs of earlier this year, the FAO has warned against a "false sense of security".
On the impact of higher food prices, a spokesperson for the UN world food programme commented: "For the middle classes, it means cutting out medical care. For those on $2 a day, it means cutting out meat and taking children out of school. For those on $1 a day, it means cutting out meat and vegetables and eating only cereals. And for those on 50 cents a day, it means total disaster".
Even in the developed world, surging food prices have badly affected working class people and their families. In Britain the increased cost of food, alongside surging utility bills, has squeezed living standards. Food prices are 9.5% higher than a year ago, forcing many to drastically cut what they put in their shopping trolley.
In July, on a flight to a G8 summit in Japan which discussed the global food crisis, Gordon Brown strongly urged a reduction in "unnecessary demand" for food and called on British families to cut back on wasteful use of food. But his call for frugality didn't seem to apply to the world leaders attending the summit. Just hours later, he joined some them and their partners for a six course lunch followed by an eight-course dinner, both with plenty of luxury foods and wines. The staggering cost of the summit was estimated at £285 million.
The hypocrisy of Brown et al, feasting while discussing starvation in the developing world, was not lost on the world's working class and poor. A spokesperson from Save the Children commented: "It is deeply hypocritical that they should be lavishing course after course on world leaders when there is a food crisis and millions cannot afford a decent meal".
Governments across the planet continue to be fearful of the ensuing political and social unrest that is sparked by food hikes. As a spokesperson from the UN world food programme pointed out, unlike previous drought-induced famines, the recent food crisis was not about availability: "People can suddenly no longer afford the food they see on the store shelves because the prices are beyond their reach."
Strikes, protests and riots erupted in many countries. In Haiti protesters forced the prime minister to resign. In Egypt protesters chanting: "Aish! Aish!" - Bread! Bread! - pushed the president to order the army to bake bread for the hungry. Children in Yemen marched to highlight the hunger they were facing. In Mexico "tortilla riots" erupted as the cost of tortillas surged to as much as one-fifth of the wage of Mexico's working poor.
An article in The Times pointed out: "It is easier for urban slum dwellers to riot than for farmers: riots need streets not fields". Undoubtedly, food riots are worrying governments in both the developed and developing countries. However, the fear they have of riots pales when they begin to see how this resistance has the potential to develop into strikes or revolutionary movements when the organised working class moves into action.
In April, a general strike in Burkina Faso, where more than 46% of the population live below the poverty line, was triggered by soaring costs of food and fuel. Reuters reported that such is the discontent that workers from banks, shops, schools and government offices were joined by traders on informal stalls who scrape a living on street corners.
Numerous reports in the capitalist press point out that the causes of this year's world food crisis were "complex and interlocking". Speculation played a major role. Fears about investments in the US subprime housing market led to speculators taking billions of dollars out of financial institutions and ploughing them into basic food commodities.
The agricultural futures market was set up to lower the risk associated with price volatility for farmers and buyers. However, from the onset, speculators endeavoured to line their own pockets, regardless of the impact rocketing prices has on the world's poor. For spivs and speculators global shortages and hikes in food prices are good for business.
Other factors also played a role in food price rises, such as weather extremes, high oil prices, biofuel production and a growing global demand for meat. The surging cost of oil impacted on both the production and distribution of food. The manufacture of fertilisers requires petrol or natural gas (which also soared in price). In parts of East Africa farmers had to cut back on crops because they could not afford fertilisers.
High oil costs have led to the promotion of ethanol made from crops such as corn, oilseeds and sugar cane, as an alternative 'green' fuel. This year, 30% of US corn production is being used for the production of ethanol. The EU plans to get 10% of its auto-fuel from bio energy by 2020.
However, even if the entire US corn crop was used to produce ethanol, it could only replace 12% of current US gasoline usage. Therefore, as the price of oil continues to be unstable, the hunt for new sources of biofuels is underway.
In some of the poorest parts of the world, cassava, a potato-like tuber, is an important part of the diet. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa it provides one-third of the needs of the population, and it is the primary staple food for over 200 million of Africa's poorest people. However, its high starch content also makes it a good source of ethanol. Any surge in the production of cassava-based ethanol will have a direct impact on those who rely on it as part of their staple diet.
According to an article in Foreign Affairs: "Filling the 25 gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn - which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year".
Foreign Affairs also points out that in both the US and EU there has been a "panoply of subsidies, tariffs and mandates protecting the biofuel sector". However, alongside others it questions the assumption that biofuels are a green alternative.
For example, in the US, corn and soya beans used to often be planted in rotation. Soya beans add nitrogen to the soil, which is needed and used by the corn the following year. However, as corn is now increasingly being grown without the use of crop rotation, nitrogen has to be added to the soil. There are now major concerns in the US around this added nitrogen, as when it rains, the water leaks into waterways. In the Gulf of Mexico such leakage has resulted in a 'dead zone', an area of ocean the size of New Jersey that can barely support life.
Furthermore, scientific studies show the conversion of forest and grasslands to the production of biofuels incur a "carbon debt" from the release of biomass (which is material derived from living or recently living material). For example, in South-east Asia swathes of tropical forest are being burnt down to plant oil palms for the production of bio diesel. This craze for biofuels has been described as 'neither clean nor green'.
The impact of global warming, from record floods in China, to a prolonged drought in Australia, is having a catastrophic impact on harvests. Every year across the planet, drought, deforestation and climate instability ravage an area of fertile ground the size of Ukraine. Over almost a decade Australia has been gripped by a drought which has had a devastating effect on its wheat crop. Conversely, wheat and potato crops in the UK have been hit by flooding.
Capitalism is utterly incapable of the planning which will be necessary to overcome such environmental catastrophes, because the 'hidden hand' of the free market economy is driven by the capitalists' quest for profit. The capitalist system cannot engage in planning to meet people's needs, because of this inbuilt, insatiable drive for profits.
The globalisation of agribusiness has heavily favoured rich countries and large corporations. Neo-liberal policies enforced by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have effectively used third world debts as a tool to access their markets.
In order to obtain loans or debt relief, governments from the developing world have been forced to restrict food subsidies, which makes it easier for multinational corporations to dump cheap exports, thereby undermining local food production. Yet at the same time huge subsidies are given to agribusiness in the developed word.
Between 1999 and 2002, $76 billion was handed out to US farmers. However, two-thirds of American farmers do not receive a dime. In 2003 the richest 10% of subsidised farmers took 66% of the payouts, the top 5% received 55%.
World Bank and IMF directives have also forced farmers in the neo-colonial world to mass produce cash crops for the world market, rather than produce a wide range of staple crops that can feed the local population. The terms of trade between rich and poor countries were progressively worsened to the detriment of the poor, ie less money was paid for their cash crops and more money was charged for goods they need to import.
The multinational agricultural conglomerates benefited hugely from this. The planet's poor may be starving, but big businesses are raking in super profits.
In April Monsanto reported its net income for the three months up until the end of February doubled in comparison to the same period in 2007; its profits leapt from $1.44 billion to $2.22 billion. Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's largest agricultural processors of grain, saw its operating profit on its grains merchandising and handling operations soar 16-fold in the first three months of this year from $21 million to $341 million.
The food crisis worldwide highlights that capitalism is an inhumane, anarchic system which is incapable of feeding the world's masses. The Economist pointed out that in agriculture: "Yields cannot be switched on and off like a tap". However, the free market system is incapable of establishing a long term strategy.
For capitalism, food is just another commodity, from which profits can be extracted. When the market dictates that grain has a value as fuel, people in parts of the world go hungry. Likewise the price for seeds and fertilisers is based on the maximum profits that can be secured, regardless of the ability of neo-colonial farmers to buy at these prices.
We live on a planet where over a billion people barely exist on $1 a day and 1.5 billion live on $1-$2 a day. Capitalism has nothing to offer them - not even enough food in their bellies. In the developed world also working people are increasingly struggling to feed themselves and their families.
The strikes and protests that have rocked the neo-colonial world are a foretaste of future mass struggles that will develop across the planet. Such struggles can lead to the development of new mass parties of the working class that put forward an alternative to the brutality of the free market economy.
Ultimately, only a socialist society can eradicate hunger on a global scale. This would entail taking the agribusiness multinationals out of the hands of the profiteers. In their place would be a democratically run and publicly owned food industry; only then can we start planning production for the needs of the world's people.
IN THE last few weeks over 250,000 refugees have fled from North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) near the border with Rwanda. This brings the total of internal refugees in the region to over one million.
Rebels in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), under the control of ethnic Tutsi, Laurent Nkunda, have been advancing on government strongholds in the province - particularly the regional capital Gomu.
Although this conflict has only been major news headlines for the last few weeks it has been going on for years, since Nkunda rebelled against the DRC army in 2004.
The conflict has been a disaster for the people of the Congo. Since the civil war began in 1998 over five million people have been killed, life expectancy is only 45.8 years in the country as a whole, and in North Kivu it is 43.7 years; 73% of the population are in poverty.
Additionally the region has seen large usage of child soldiers and North Kivu province itself is the worst area for sexual violence in the world - according to United Nations (UN) 2007 figures there are around 350 rapes a month, although local figures suggest over 800 in April 2008 alone.
Yet the civil war in the DRC was supposed to have ended in 2003. Then, a peace deal was signed to end six years of fighting after the deposition of the dictator Mobutu Sese-Seko. Laurent Kabila, who headed the Rwandan-backed forces Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), tapped into the mass discontent with Mobuto's rule and declared himself president.
However, this coalition broke up almost as soon as Kabila took power and Rwanda in particular began backing a new rebellion, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) to look after its own mineral interests in the country. Kabila was backed with arms and troops by the regimes of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
In reality, however, an on-off civil war has been going on ever since the deposition of the first prime minister of the DRC, the anti-imperialist Patrice Lumumba in 1960.
The Belgian colonial government and other western powers had wanted a compliant stooge post-independence government. Lumumba was deemed too much of a threat to the imperialist powers and the CIA-backed colonel Mobutu took power in 1966.
The western powers considered Mobutu as a bulwark against communism in the region. He crushed the remaining Lumumba supporters (Lumumba had been executed in 1961) but sporadic revolts continued thereafter and were fought with the aid of western powers. Some rebels, such as Kabila, even carved out their own statelets within the country and financed themselves through trafficking gold and other materials.
The collapse of the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s meant that Mobutu's bloody regime became unnecessary for maintaining US interests in the country.
Added to the political crisis was the backlash from the ethnic civil war in Rwanda when over one million ethnic Hutus fled from the country - including many members of the Interahamwe militia which Mobutu used against the Tutsis in Kivu to prop up his failing regime. It is these same ethnic Hutu forces that Nkunda alleges government troops have been supporting in attacks on Tutsis and he claims that his rebellion is in defence of Tutsis, particularly his own native group the Banyamulenge.
The country's rich mineral resources (particularly diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan - which is used in mobile phones and computers) have been fought over in the civil war with various companies backing warlords with arms to facilitate their plundering of the country. A UN report named 85 multinationals that it believed to be "violating ethical guidelines" - such as Anglo-American, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers etc.
But it isn't just the companies themselves. It is no accident that when an anti-imperialist government under Lumumba was elected in 1960, Belgian imperialism sought to support the break away of resource rich Katanga province in a manner that parallels the moves to autonomy by the Media Luna provinces in Bolivia.
Regional powers are also in on the act. Zimbabwe, one of the backers of the Laurent Kabila regime, was granted concessions in the diamond industry for example, whilst Rwandan forces control some mines in the Kivu region that the country borders that are protected by the RCD it backs.
Imperialism and capitalism have devastated the DRC and it is ordinary people that are suffering.
However, many journalists, international human right groups and aid agencies are still calling for intervention by foreign troops. For example, Johann Hari in the Independent (30/10/08) suggests that UN peacekeepers will need to be kept in the region to 'stabilise' the country and that a coltan-tax should be created to fund this.
But Monuc, the current UN peacekeeping force, has over 16,000 troops in the country and is blatantly failing to stop the abuses. Indeed UN documents disclosed by Human Rights Watch demonstrate how UN peacekeepers in Congo took part in weapons trading with rebels and smuggling.
These forces are part of the problem because by their very nature they are subordinated not to the needs of ordinary Congolese but to the imperialist powers that dominate the UN security council.
Like in Iraq at present, what is needed to combat the abuses of militias, rebels, government troops and 'peacekeepers' alike are democratic, working class-based defence organisations that can cut across the ethnic divides and build up the mass resistance of workers and peasants to both militia-backed warlords, multinational companies and the major capitalist powers.
Capitalism has failed in the DRC.It is only socialist ideas, such as taking the mineral resources into public ownership to use for the common good of society and not to fatten the pockets of warlords and big business, that can provide a way out of the nightmare for the working class and poor in the DRC.
LAST WEEKEND, the world's political leaders gathered at the G20 summit in Washington - hosted by the soon to depart US president George Bush - in a bid to rescue the world economy from financial instability and deepening recession.
A conspicuous absentee from the meeting was US president elect Barack Obama - perhaps not wanting to be tied to the policy of a failed president.
But will this 24-hour conference solve the underlying crisis in world capitalism? Despite the upbeat comments of Gordon Brown it's clear that little of substance was agreed. Bush, for example, wouldn't accept more regulation over speculative hedge finds - despite the US financial system generating the lions' share of toxic debt, some $1.4 trillion.
Bush also wasn't enthusiastic about Brown's much vaunted 'stimulus package' policy, involving putting more resources from the richest countries at the disposal of the International Monetary Fund. Within the European Union countries there also wasn't a 'united front' on the way out of the current crisis.
And despite welcoming China's recently announced $600 billion stimulus package, the G7 countries are not keen on allowing China's rulers a bigger place at the table of the world capitalist institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.
Moreover, the hope that China's still expanding economy can save world capitalism is misplaced.
China, like Japan and Germany, is dependent upon high levels of exports to maintain growth but with consumer confidence slumping in the US - the world's biggest market - China's meteoric economic growth is slowing and Japan and Germany have moved into recession.
Likewise, oil rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia have seen their stock markets collapse and their revenues from oil and gas exports hit by sharp falls - with oil down from a July high of $147 a barrel to $50 last week.
Of course, many of the world's poorest and heavily indebted countries may well ask: since when has the IMF been the provider of financial stimulus to economies? On the contrary, the previous application of IMF financial prescriptions to qualify for loans has been the 'kiss of death' in many countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Often the IMF 'medicine' (privatisation, deregulation of markets, lowering of tariffs, cutting public services, etc) has been worse than the disease - pushing many countries into recession.
Typically the G20 summit was all about rescuing the global elites from the gigantic hole they have dug for themselves and ignoring the plight of billions of poor people throughout the world.
However, one thing the IMF has got right is predicting global recession, with outright contraction for the rich economies of North America, Europe and Japan for the first time since world war two.
BLACKED OUT of the corporate media, barred from the debates, and facing an electoral system rigged to favour the two big business parties, Ralph Nader's campaign for president persevered to reach millions of voters with a genuine pro-worker, anti-war alternative.
Teddy Shibabaw and Dan DiMaggio
Despite the difficulties, Nader achieved ballot status in 45 states, more than in 2000 or 2004, overcoming arcane and undemocratic ballot access restrictions. He raised over $4 million, opened campaign offices in 22 states, hired 40 paid field organisers, and built an impressive web presence, demonstrating the potential for building a national left electoral challenge in the years ahead.
Nader's poll numbers reached as high as 10% in several states and 3%-6% nationally in the run-up to the election, even though the corporate media never afforded him a similar percentage of coverage. This shows that an important minority of workers and youth were not contented with the Democrats' hollow rhetoric, and wanted a left-wing, pro-worker alternative.
By election day, however, fears of ballot fraud [which occurred in 2000] and illusions in Obama squeezed Nader's vote. His final tally was 678,544 or 0.54% of the vote. Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, running on the Green Party ticket, received 146,000 votes (0.1%). So in total over 800,000 votes were cast for the two main left-wing, independent candidates.
Nader's campaign faced a particularly difficult climate. The massive tidal wave of support for Obama and his message of "hope" and "change" swept up most of the left vote. Together with the voters' desire to punish the Republicans after eight years of corrupt rule by the Bush administration, these factors shrank the space available for an independent, left-wing alternative.
As an anti-corporate candidate refusing any big business donations, Nader was able to raise $4 million. But these days it costs at least half a billion to run a "credible" campaign for president, something only a corporate-sponsored politician can achieve. Americans were bombarded with coverage of Obama's and McCain's every move, while most voters were kept in the dark that Nader was even running!
Nader's results this year are less than the 2.8 million votes he received in 2000, when he was able to capture the mantle of change and build up tremendous grassroots support from the rising anti-globalisation movement after eight years of Clinton/Gore betrayals.
Nevertheless, he won more votes than his 2004 total of 465,000, when his vote was squeezed by the enormous "Anybody but Bush" pressure from the Democrats.
The significance of Nader's campaign cannot be measured mainly by the number of votes he received. Nader again helped to popularise radical, anti-corporate demands among the several million he reached, and to expose the subservience of the Democratic and Republican parties to corporate interests, along with promoting the idea of a left-wing break from the two-party system.
Nader opposed the bipartisan Wall Street bailout, even organising a rally on Wall Street in opposition. He also proposed a massive public works programme to put millions to work with green, living wage jobs.
While both Obama and McCain supported an expansion of the military by nearly 100,000 troops and an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Nader called for slashing the military budget and spoke out in favour of complete US corporate and military withdrawal from Iraq, for an end to military aid to Israel, and in opposition to the surge in Afghanistan.
Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party's candidate, also ran an anti-war, anti-corporate campaign. Unfortunately, McKinney relied too heavily on the Green Party leadership, which failed to mobilise any serious resources for the campaign. Tensions developed when they failed to raise federal matching funds, which require just $5,000 each in at least 20 states.
As in 2004, when they refused to support Nader, many Green Party leaders did not want a serious candidacy in order to avoid ruffling Democratic feathers. Ultimately, McKinney finished with just over 146,000 votes, around one-fifth of Nader's total, and only slightly more than the 120,000 votes the Green's David Cobb won in 2004.
While setting an important and positive historical marker, Nader's campaigns have fallen short in a number of ways. Most importantly, Nader has failed to use his campaigns as a serious launching pad for a new mass political party that will be an enduring political voice for workers, young people, and people of colour beyond the elections.
By failing to build a party, his campaigns for president every four years lack continuity. The only way to defeat the corporate media blackout is to build ongoing mass organisations with a powerful army of activists to go door-to-door to organise support in the community.
Since 2000 Nader's campaigns, alongside McKinney and others, have helped plant the seeds of political independence among several million workers and youth, including many who didn't vote for him, which will blossom into future bold challenges to the two-party corporate prison.
WHILE CONTINUING to organise against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and on community issues, Socialist Alternative energetically campaigned for a vote for Ralph Nader in the presidential elections. We argued that building mass movements independent of the Democrats and Republicans is the surest way to win the change we need.
Nader, while not a socialist, has offered the strongest left-wing challenges to the two-party system in recent years.
We were the first socialist group to recognise the importance of his presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and the only one to support his campaign in 2008 - while most of the left bent to the pressure to support Obama.
Across the country, we played a key role in building Nader rallies. In May, we helped organise a Nader rally of 400 people in Seattle, which had a prominent speaker from Socialist Alternative alongside Nader. We also organised a Nader rally of 130 people in Tacoma.
We also mobilised for a rally of 150 with Nader in Boston, and when our representative spoke to fire up the crowd before Nader came on, he was praised as "a tough act to follow" by the chair.
In Minneapolis we helped build a rally of 1,500 for Nader during the Republican National Convention (RNC), as well as a rally of 350 on Halloween where our speaker gave welcoming remarks, making the case for a new party for working people.
We collected signatures for ballot access, distributed yard signs, stickers, buttons, and campaigned on the internet to raise the campaign's visibility and help it break through the corporate media blackout.
We advocated our support for Nader at anti-war demos on 11 October and at the RNC protests. Our members campaigned in their workplaces and unions.
In Minneapolis, 60 people attended a debate we organised with two Democratic City Councillors, Elizabeth Glidden and Gary Schiff, on who to support for president. In Seattle, 75 people came to our lively debate with Seattle City councillor Nick Licata. The Seattle debate was covered by Real Change, a local community newspaper.
When Obama was facing accusations of being a "socialist" a columnist with the Seattle Times called us about it. An interview with the editor of Justice (our newspaper) was published on the front page of the local section explaining how Obama was a corporate candidate and how genuine socialists were supporting Nader.
One hundred thousand school students went on strike on Wednesday 12 November. This was the first ever national school students' strike in Germany. The largest was in Braunschweig (Brunswick) with 10,500 on the streets and thousands poured out onto the streets in many other cities and towns.
In May and June the increasingly angry mood among school students was obvious - 40,000 went onto the streets against the poor conditions in the schools. The idea to call for a national strike and a national conference in September was then born. SAV (CWI Germany) members played a vital role in publicising this and helped to organise both the conference and the strike.
Crucial to this national mobilisation were demands around which the movement could unite. Firstly, there was opposition to the so-called 'reform' of the Abitur, the school leaving and university entrance exam, which would put enormous pressure on school students and teachers.
Secondly, the demand was raised for smaller classes. At the moment, there are often more than 30 school students in one class. The demand is for classes of 20 maximum, which means around 100,000 more teachers are needed.
Thirdly, there is the demand for free education for all and an end to 'social exclusion'. This was a very important demand and ensured that strike mobilisation was strongest in schools with a high working class composition.
A lot of younger school students took part in this strike compared to previous actions. It is clear to young people that something is going fundamentally wrong when bankrupt banks get a rescue package worth €500 billion, but the sick education system is suffering from huge deficits. Many activists raised wider political issues during the school movement, and welcomed discussions about socialist ideas. Karl Marx is back on the bookshelves!
The authorities tried to stop the school strikes, sending letters to parents and school students warning that participation in the strike will be punished. In many schools the date of the strike suddenly became a date for exams. The day before the strike, some newspapers claimed left radicals were trying to influence young people and 'use them' for their own ends. None of this succeeded in holding back the numbers of students taking action - participation was even greater than expected - which meant widespread national and local media coverage.
The huge success of the strike was due to the self-organisation of the school students. In many schools, action committees were set up weeks before and they ensured that everyone at the school knew about the strike date, the demands and why it is important to strike, even if there are threats of repression.
Discussions about how to proceed will take place over the next few weeks. An important issue will be to combine the protests with workers' struggles and to get university students involved. One thing is clear: the national school students' strike has set a new tradition which many others will follow. Even if it takes a few months, the authorities will be aware that this was only the beginning. Young people are getting ready to fight back!
>>View video of David Redelberger's speech to Socialism 2008 (9:52 mins)
"Noi la crisi non la paghiamo" (We won't pay for your crisis) chanted hundreds of thousands of Italian students attending a mass demonstration in Rome on Friday 14 November against €1.5 billion cuts in the education sector.
Proposed attacks include 140,000 job cuts, that is 20% of the education workforce. Students travelled from all over Italy to show their anger at the Berlusconi government.
In the two days following the demonstration, there was a national assembly held at Sapienza, the biggest university in Rome, which has been occupied by students for over a month. Students are sleeping in lecture halls and say they won't leave until the movement is successful.
Speakers pointed out the need to unite the student movement with the trade unions and with demands for more than just preventing the current reforms being enacted. They raised demands for a student wage, a national minimum wage, decent affordable housing and transport and an end to the privatisation of utilities.
Several speakers highlighted the social inequality existing in Italy, most notably between the north and south of the county, and the lack of a decent welfare state.
Despite the positive achievements of the movement so far, the need for political and organisational leadership became more and more evident as events unfolded. There was confusion about when and where Friday's demonstration was starting and finishing which led to it breaking up early and the final rally being cancelled.
The students had also decided to march separately from the trade union demonstration on the same issues, resulting in the two groups marching past each other in opposite directions at one point. At the assembly, the proposal to elect representatives from each region to a steering committee was opposed by the anarchist elements of the movement leading to a threat of a split in the assembly.
The mass participation in the movement shows the militant mood of students, workers and young people across Italy which will only grow as further attacks on living standards are launched in an attempt to make the working class bear the burden of the economic crisis.
150 socialist papers were sold over the weekend by Lotta, the Socialist Party's sister group in Italy, and 60 people asked for more information about joining. Students were impressed by the fact that the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), the socialist international to which the Socialist Party and Lotta are affiliated, is active in over 40 countries, linking up similar struggles from around the world. Members from England, Ireland and Germany assisted Lotta.
A member of Sozialistische Alternative, the CWI in Germany, who spoke at Saturday's assembly about the strike of German school students was enthusiastically received. Many agreed that real progress can only be made through a mass political movement, linking the struggles of students to those of workers and to the need for a change in the way society is run.
>>View video of Christel Dicembre's speech (5:13 mins)
The National Union of Students (NUS) extraordinary conference in Wolverhampton on 12 November voted through a raft of attacks on union democracy contained in the NUS governance review.
Undemocratic methods ensured that the review passed by a majority of 614 votes in favour to 142 against. The pro-New Labour NUS leadership are now likely to call another extraordinary conference, as to be ratified the review needs to be passed through two consecutive conferences.
If these reforms go through, the NUS leadership will be even further insulated from ordinary students who, angry about fees and education cuts, want action. Previous issues of The Socialist have described the governance review, see http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/3571 for details.
The NUS leadership have made the incredible claim that this is the result of democratic consultation and debate with the NUS membership. But this conference was an undemocratic sham from beginning to end. The final version of the new proposed core constitution was not available until after the conference was called!
By pushing this process through so quickly, student unions had no time to discuss proposals with students, to put together amendments or to elect delegates to the conference. The result is that it was very difficult to mobilise opposition. Right-wing unions could appoint their delegates, bypass their membership and rubber stamp anything the NUS leadership gives them.
On the basis of our campaigning record, and despite these obstacles, Socialist Students had delegates from Kent, Sussex, Bangor, Kings College London, Cambridge and University of the West of England. Socialist Students activist and Sussex student union finance officer Lee Vernon used an amendment proposal from his union to argue against the review.
In reality, the NUS leadership is completely opposed to campaigning for students' rights. NUS president Wes Streeting has made it clear that he would like the governance review to go through before the government considers the upper limit on top-up university fees in 2009, which will most likely result in increases.
Socialist Students puts forward an alternative: a student movement that bases itself on action and mobilisations of students that genuinely provide opportunities for students to get involved democratically. See www.socialiststudents.org.uk for more information.
Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is a means-tested weekly payment of £10, £20 or £30 to further education college students. Despite its limitations, the EMA is a vital lifeline for food, materials and other essentials for many students, but it is paid on the basis of regular attendance. This year, because of privatisation of the application process, the EMA system is in crisis.
Private contractor Liberata was paid millions by the Learning and Skills Council, the government agency responsible for allocation of EMAs, but they have failed to process students' applications in time for them to start their courses. Thousands of students have waited nine weeks for their money. For example, 200 students at Cirencester College in Gloucestershire are yet to receive any EMA.
Many students are forced to borrow money from their families. Many are dropping out of college because they cannot afford the cost of food and travel. This month an NUS survey revealed that six out of ten FE college students would drop out if they could not claim EMA.
Socialist Students calls for EMA payments to be made to all students who are owed money immediately, including backdated money. It also says that the EMA administration should be taken away from cowboy privateers like Liberata, and brought back under public ownership, along with all other privatised college services.
Socialist Students fights for an increase in the EMA, taking into account the costs of living, study and travel for all students in colleges and schools. NUS vice president for FE Beth Walker has called for an "investigation" into why Liberata was unable to process the applications. Liberata should be exposed for what they are - a greedy, parasitic private company which the government has allowed to profit out of a vital service.
The NUS should do more than call for investigations. They should organise college and university students into a campaign based on mass action against fees, cuts and privatisation and for a free, publicly funded, top quality education system at all levels. That is what Socialist Students and the Campaign to Defeat Fees fight for. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for campaigning material.
I was not surprised, although deeply frustrated and distraught. I have been a social worker for a year and a half in a team that deals with children who have been brought into care. I believe many of the children that my team deals with should have been brought into care years earlier to avoid situations like Baby P.
I am not directly involved in the decision making processes for assessing whether children should come into care, but even when they are in care the support and resources for children are not available. Senior managers are only interested in cost implications, regardless of the risk to the child.
It is totally understandable that people are upset and, believe me, the vast majority of social workers are too. I have 14 children on my case load and others have similar numbers. Nearly all my cases are teenagers who are prone to continuous placement breakdowns. This is endemic with children that have been neglected and/or abused.
We are short of around 12-14 social workers, which is totally unsustainable and leaves children at serious risk. There are newly qualified social workers, such as myself, who are given some seriously difficult cases.
In the assessment teams, some social workers have up to 100 cases, sometimes more. This is extremely dangerous and must not continue. The majority of social workers work extremely hard in very difficult circumstances. Senior management do not support staff with the necessary resources, thus leaving children at serious risk.
At the moment the only private bodies I deal with are the private agency foster carers and private residential placements. We use them when we have exhausted all other placement options within our own resources. Although the foster carers in general are good, the agencies are there to make profit. Their own supervising social workers play a limited role in safeguarding children.
The cost is ridiculous. For example, I have a sibling group of four placed with foster carers in a different county and the projected cost until the youngest is 18 runs into seven figures! It is £700 a week, with £350 going to the agency and £350 to the foster cover for each child. If these children were looked after by our own foster carers it would be around £300 a week per child.
Similarly, with the residential units, we could be charged up to £5,000 a week for each child. Our own resources were sold off and the council will not build any more, which would save us more money in the long run and only cost around £900 a week. If we did not have any private resources, we would not have enough placements.
However, if the council had more resources, then in the long run we would save considerable amounts of money. The free market, pro-privatisation approach cannot provide sufficient support for young people and costs huge sums to the detriment of other children who desperately need help.
We must demand a huge influx of cash to build up public resources to support and protect children from harm. This must include spending on employing more social workers on decent wages to make sure that children have enough social workers to be effective.
Investment is needed in early intervention services to spot and ultimately prevent the situation with Baby P from happening again. We must demand an end to the budget cuts being imposed by councils across the country.
We must definitely say no to the privatisation of any public services, especially fostering agencies and residential placements for young people.
"I'd been in the job for about six or seven months and I hadn't had any problems whatsoever up until then. That's what I can't understand. Almost as soon as I told them I was pregnant I was suspended and then sacked.
My job was waitressing. But when things changed they decided to call me in the office and tell me that I was bullying people. I don't believe that's true.
They came forward with statements but there were no names on it and I've since been told it wasn't proper evidence anyway. It just looked like people had written a brief note on a piece of paper. It didn't look legit or anything. I also heard that the managers were up in the office rewriting them so I couldn't recognise the handwriting, but I'm not 100% on that. I think the real reason is because I'm pregnant.
Recently we got a new manager. That's when things started to change. He seemed to want to bring the place up to a higher standard, which is fair enough. But then he suspended me. And then he suspended two other members of staff.
I went in on the Sunday to do my night shift. They suspended me without giving me a chance to put my side of things. I didn't think that was normal. I actually got really upset. I was getting really stressed out and I was up at the A&E because I was losing blood. I got really worried over it, and I still am because, obviously, being sacked is a mark against my name if I want a job in the future.
Then I got in contact with a trade unionist who is a Socialist Party member and he helped me through everything. He's helped me with my appeal. Obviously I'm hoping the appeal will go my way. We're still in the process now. I don't think it's fair what they've done. They could do it to anyone else so I'm doing it for myself and for others in the future.
They called me to the investigation. I had it explained that they can't do an investigation and a disciplinary in the same meeting - you have to have a separate meeting for that. But they called a recess for 15 minutes and then called me back and decided that they were terminating my contract.
I don't think it was done professionally or properly at all. I think they'd made their minds up from the moment they suspended me from the way they went about things - they weren't organised properly.
They didn't want to hear my side of the story. I got to tell it but I couldn't really defend myself because I didn't have the dates of when I was supposed to have been bullying this particular person. All I could say was that I'm not a bully. I've never bullied anyone.
They can't just sack you for being pregnant but they'll disguise it in another way. I think they don't want to pay for my maternity leave. It's not fair. A new manager comes in and decides he wants to get rid of me because I'm pregnant. So I think he decided to make something up so he could get rid of me.
I've talked to my colleagues and they're all really shocked about it. They cannot get over it. If I was bullying they would have said something to me. I get on great with everyone there. It's sort of like a second family.
I've got to wait and see what happens with the appeal. I would still like my job back. I loved working there. I've still got loads of friends there. I think it's the first job I was ever really happy in. I actually enjoyed going to work so I would like my job back, but at the same time they'd probably be looking for another reason to sack me."