Socialist Party | Print
"If anyone is cynical about the potential power of the trade union movement, they should spend half an hour in one of the occupations. These workers have shown that it is possible to fight back and do something about the many attacks on jobs, pay and conditions.
Visteon workers are not asking for fat cat-style payouts. What they want is what they were promised by the bosses.
What's happened in Visteon is a warning to everyone. And particularly workers who have got a half decent pension scheme. Companies will be looking at what Ford has done and thinking this is the easy way to dump workers, their jobs and their pensions.
Workers picket Visteon at Basildon, photo Paul Mattsson
For instance GM, who own Vauxhall, is on the verge of bankruptcy protection in the USA. There are thousands of workers in Britain who work for GM in Ellesmere Port and Luton. That's why it's in the interests of all workers that the Visteon workers win this struggle.
What came over loud and clear in Belfast is the role that Ford have played. Visteon is a Ford creation which was used to try and attack terms and conditions.
Ford have made hundreds of millions of pounds worth of profit out of Visteon. If those plants had been closed ten years ago when they were Ford plants there would have been a big bill for Ford. They would have had to come out with proper redundancy agreements. Workers would have got access to their pensions.
You can see now the reason behind the creation of Visteon, it allowed Ford to get out of its responsibilities.
But what changes everything now is the occupations. Now these workers are in with half a chance. If they had walked away on that Tuesday this struggle would have been to all intents and purposes over.
Workers picket Visteon at Basildon, photo Greg Maughan
The Unite union leadership should now call on its members in Ford plants and Jaguar Landrover plants not to touch Visteon parts. If the union is then threatened for breaking the anti-trade union laws, the Unite leadership should tell Gordon Brown that they are going to stop funding New Labour.
Since Brown has been prime minister the union has spent £13 million funding New Labour - for what? Look at the power that alone could give the union.
The union leadership has a role in building the confidence of workers in this economic climate, and particularly those 600 Visteon workers."
If Ford refuse to reopen these plants, they should be nationalised and run under democratic workers' control and management. They could then be re-tooled to produce 'green' vehicles and other products for the benefit of society as a whole.
Workers occupy at Visteon Enfield, photo Paul Mattsson
The occupation of the West Belfast Visteon plant is rock solid. The plant is now adorned with banners attacking Ford for betraying the Visteon/Ford workers. Unite flags now fly from the factory roof.
Rob Williams, convenor of what, until recently, was the Visteon plant in Swansea, visited the Belfast plant over the weekend and got a rousing reception from all the workers. On Friday night the workers lined both sides of the gate to applaud his entry, and did the same on Sunday when he was leaving.
Meetings were arranged at various times over the weekend so that Rob, and the local stewards, could get their message across to every worker. The biggest applause on the first night came after Rob said that Unite national officials should issue an instruction to Ford workers to boycott parts from other suppliers and when he added: "Tony Woodley should ring Gordon Brown and tell him that if, as a result of this action, a hair of any worker's head is touched or a penny of the union funds is taken, the millions that Unite gives to New Labour will stop forthwith."
The second loudest applause came when John Maguire, the plant convenor, in thanking the Socialist Party for our support, said: "the Socialist Party is doing the job that the unions should be doing in supporting workers in struggle."
A special Socialist Party Bulletin has been very well received. The key issue in everyone's mind is to force Ford to honour their commitments on redundancy, and also to protect the pension rights. But the dispute is also about jobs. There is general agreement with the call in the Socialist Party bulletin for the plant to be taken into public ownership and - if there is no market for the engine components now made there - for the necessary investment in design, retooling and retraining to allow the skills of the workforce to be used to make alternative products.
Workers occupy at Visteon Enfield, photo Paul Mattsson
There is an eerie silence in the Visteon Enfield plant with all the machinery idle. There is also anger and sadness that this silence was caused by a deliberate act of sabotage by the Visteon management.
I spent Thursday afternoon and night inside the plant with around 80 workers. I was inspired by how quickly those occupying had organised: banner waving protest rotas on the roof, food collections, television etc. There was a real camaraderie amongst everyone there and genuine hospitality towards those of us that were there in solidarity.
In the early stages they were relying on their national union officials (Unite) to sort out the mess. They were limited to demanding fair treatment and for Ford who 'have a moral obligation' towards a workforce that was once employed by Ford to step in and offer proper redundancy payments or alternative jobs.
Workers occupy at Visteon Enfield, photo Paul Mattsson
However quite rapidly, as a result of the occupation, (there is not a lot to do but talk) many were coming to far more radical conclusions about things like the economy, the decimation of British manufacturing, and the lack of proper job opportunities for young people and other workers currently on the dole.
Overwhelmingly almost everyone I spoke to hated New Labour. Most were former Labour voters and most were saying there is no voice for ordinary workers in politics today with a very sympathetic ear to the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
Eventually some of us tried to bed down on cardboard. Some lucky ones had blow-up beds and some just chose to stay up all night chatting. I can't say it was comfortable but it was satisfying.
When I woke in the morning a worker who had bedded down nearby, on seeing my union bag and copy of The Socialist, asked where I was from. His next sentence was how much they were inspired and appreciated the fact that others were prepared to come along and support them and how we were keeping them going.
Workers occupy at Visteon Enfield, photo Paul Mattsson
It's difficult to reply to a comment like that. It seems inappropriate to say: "We're just doing our job". So I just said: "It's OK mate we'll be with you to the end".
It wasn't a nice feeling leaving the following day but solidarity is needed outside too. I was taught to always carry a copy of the paper wherever you go, I could add to that now 'always carry a toothbrush', you never know!
Workers occupy at Visteon Enfield, photo Paul Mattsson
On 31 March, after working an eight hour day, five minutes before the end of their shift, over 200 workers at Enfield Visteon got handed two bits of paper. These were to claim money off the government. Nothing more.
As one worker, Jay, said: "They used us like guinea pigs and then pulled the plug on us on Obama day when the cameras were pointing elsewhere."
Nine and a half years after the workers being promised 'jobs for life' under Ford and with £1.1 billion left in their coffers, how can Visteon still claim insolvency? This is the question on the mind of many angry workers.
Lloyd says: "We need immediate action and funds in our accounts. Our mortgages are coming out at the end of April.
They have taken the money out of our pockets and moved all the profits around to make it look like they have nothing."
Workers occupy at Visteon Enfield, photo Paul Mattsson
Visteon should be forced to open the books immediately to show where the money has actually gone. "It's all a smokescreen", says Lloyd. Already they have set up a new company, Visteon Engineering Services, to siphon the remainder into. "They want the government to pick up the tab for their mess and for them to just walk away", says Phil.
The basic demand on the hand-sprayed placards dotted around the balconies of the occupied site is 'give us our jobs back', on Ford terms and conditions as promised.
Unite leader Tony Woodley has called for a Europe-wide boycott of Visteon parts but as Kevin, the convenor and leader of the occupation says: "We need to see action off the officials, not words".
It is important now to keep the occupation going. "It's ours now", shouts one worker to his sister from the roof as she shakes her fist in support.
Workers picket Visteon at Basildon, photo Paul Mattsson
When they were moved over to Visteon by Ford the workers were promised Ford terms and conditions and a job for life. Some had brought the letters with that guarantee on it to the factory gates and could not believe that it had turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on. Their ID cards still say "Ford".
Many of the workers have worked there for 20 or 30 years. Some brought their "30 years' service" commemorative vases to the picket. They have families and big mortgages.
One guy had been to see his mortgage company already, who had told him they didn't want to evict people from their homes, and extended his mortgage till he is 75. Others were ringing up the job centre for appointments to start their entitlement to money and support for mortgages and rents, and couldn't get through due to the high volume of calls.
One worker said: "This is all I've done for 30 years. They don't use the machines we use in here anywhere else. I'll end up collecting trolleys in Tesco." Another had saved a few thousand pounds to help pay for his children's university tuition fees - now that will have to be sacrificed.
Workers feel that they have bent over backwards to keep the plant going, taking cuts in pay and bonuses, working beyond what was required of them to get work done, and now that's all been thrown back in their faces. Some say they've learned the hard way that all the bosses' talk about partnership and making sacrifices together for the good of the company means nothing - it's just raw exploitation.
Heavy-handed policing and threats of arrest forced the workers reluctantly to come out of the factory on Wednesday evening. But they were back en masse next morning to protest at Visteon Customer Technology Centre (VCT), just up the road from the Basildon plant. This is allegedly an 'independent' company, in reality another way of siphoning off Visteon profits to make it look like Visteon itself has been making a loss.
The VCT centre is still working, and Visteon workers protested at it to call for support from the workers inside. Some workers did come out to join the protest. The building was protected by two rows of tooled-up police. Managers were escorted to their posh cars by three policemen each. One worker leading chants was threatened by police for 'causing offence' to management!
The Basildon workers rightly call for solidarity from Ford workers, especially at Dagenham, not far down the road.
Workers picket Visteon at Basildon, photo Greg Maughan
The home-made signs outside Basildon Visteon plant summed up the angry mood of the sacked workers: "We want justice", "Sold out by Ford", "How do you sleep at night?"
Members of Basildon Socialist Party spoke to Wayne Stevens, Unite deputy convenor at the picket outside the plant: "We had been on short time doing three days a week, but there was no suggestion that the plant was going to close. There was even talk that we may get four days that week. However, at the end of our shift on the Tuesday we were called to a meeting in the canteen. The managers told us that one hour ago the company had gone into administration".
Workers were furious that administrators had been dealing with Visteon for at least 60 days, but no warning was given. In the time that the managers knew the company was 'going under' workers produced thousands of pounds worth of parts, which are now stockpiled in the plant.
While staff were grafting, management were breaking a sweat making sure their backs were covered. It seems a number of Visteon UK executives have had their pension funds transferred to Visteon Engineering Services so that they're protected. This is while allowing Visteon to go into liquidation so as to avoid the payouts the workforce are entitled to! No wonder banners hang outside the plant reading 'Frauds Motor Company'.
Alongside the constant pickets, other activity is being organised to make sure their situation is known as widely as possible in the area. Sunday saw a protest march and rally which was addressed by stewards Frank Jepson and Scott Edmonds, as well as Paula Mitchell from the Socialist Party, amongst others. Wednesday 8 April is 'family day' on the pickets, with workers getting their partners and kids along, while visits with leaflets to other local manufacturing plants are now being co-ordinated.
All on the pickets are solid and willing to stick things out until the situation is resolved.
What kind of a work/life balance is there for any teacher working a 52-hour week? More like all work/no life!
The government promised teachers that our workload would be cut. But even official statistics show that we're still working 50 hours a week and more. Despite the introduction of guaranteed planning and preparation time, the pressure continues to pile up. Just as we make one gain, more gets thrown at us either by government, local authorities or school managers.
After years of complaining, it really is time we put a stop to the abuse of this dedicated teaching workforce. It's not good for teachers, and it's definitely not good for children.
Is a 35-hour week too much to ask? A few years ago French workers went on strike, organised huge demonstrations and won 35 hours for many sections of workers. Isn't it time the NUT did something similar?
Last year, as we have done in previous years, NUT conference passed a motion agreeing to ballot for national strike action on workload. Conference also agreed it could be linked to pay.
Imagine if every school closed for a national strike day (for starters) to show we are not taking this terrible workload any longer, and we want decent pay too. It would lift morale and prepare for a vigorous nationwide action campaign. School-by-school negotiation, and even action, has undoubtedly brought improvements in some places, but national action would carry greater force.
Yet no such campaign has happened yet! One day of strike action on pay went ahead, but unfortunately, was not carried on any further. Moreover, there was no link with workload, as the conference had decided, a link that would have strengthened support for further strike action amongst overburdened teachers.
All that was done was to issue the same workload guidance as in previous years, guidance which really falls short - once again. It leaves schools and teachers to struggle in isolation instead of bringing the whole union together in united action. Even local NUT casework officers are suffering overwork by continually dealing with the fallout from overworked teachers!
The NUT executive must not hesitate again. A comprehensive strategy that links pay, class size and working conditions in a firm campaign of national strike action must be adopted and acted upon.
The G20 meeting, hosted by Gordon Brown, in London was met with an outpouring of anger. However, of all the many protests against the summit, the 'youth march for jobs' on 2 April stood out a mile. The clarity of the demands marked it out. This was a march of young people, organised by young people, fighting for their future. Throughout the day around 600 young people participated.
Entering the park, protesters were greeted by a handful of red t-shirt wearing activists. As coaches from around England and Wales found their way through the traffic, this swelled to a substantial crowd.
Having dined in style on the bacon butties provided, the marchers set off. Among them were university and college students, young workers and unemployed people. There were seasoned activists, but also people who have only recently got in touch with Youth Fight for Jobs (YFfJ).
Some had seen the posters on the G20 protest demonstration the previous Saturday and decided to turn up.
Wondering what all the noise was about, students from Tower Hamlets College thronged the pavements. We explained the purpose of our march was to bring a message to the G20 that young people refuse to pay for the bosses' crisis. Hearing this and our demand for the right to a decent future - decent jobs, free education, training linked to secure employment - a number of students joined the march.
As we left Canning Town Docklands Light Railway station a group of school students not only joined us, but pushed to the front of the march shouting out the chants at the tops of their voices.
This protest not only referred to the heroic marches of the past, such as the Jarrow march of the 1930s, but also passed through some important sites of labour movement history.
At the junction of Cable Street marchers shouted "No Pasaran!" They linked the anti-fascist struggles of the 1930s to the fight against the far-right racist BNP today and the need to put forward a viable alternative for working class people.
We passed through Poplar and commemorated the struggle of the Poplar councillors, sent to prison in 1921 for standing up for unemployment rights.
Passing through Wapping where print workers launched an heroic struggle in 1986, we pointed out the need for trade unionism and for socialist leadership.
Rallies at the start and lunch break were addressed by trade union and youth activists, as well as a Tower Hamlets Respect councillor.
Approaching the ExCeL centre, the site of the G20 summit, the sea of red t-shirts was engulfed in a media scrum. The closing rally was addressed by Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party, who lambasted the rotten profit-driven system of capitalism which cannot provide a secure future for young people.
Nick Parker, an activist in the public sector union PCS, illustrated this point with examples from the frontline of unemployment at the Jobcentres across the UK.
Sean Figg, YFfJ national organiser, explained how the march for jobs was only the beginning of the campaign. It is now crucial to build the campaign in towns and cities across the country by organising public meetings, local stunts and marches and continuing to build the support in the trade unions and colleges.
Video of the march (opens in new window)
After seeing a poster for the 'youth fight for jobs march' I decided that, as an unemployed youth, I should stand up and fight for my future. I brought along my friend, who felt the same way, and we had an amazing day at the march.
It was so encouraging to be a part of something where hundreds of other people were all there for the same reason.
As young people, we need to throw aside the apathy that so many British people have, and collectively channel our passion for equality into making a difference, and stopping Gordon Brown and the like from taking advantage of us!
Out of all the different anti-capitalist marches I have been a part of, this one will stick out in my memory for the rest of my life, because what we saw was a genuine feeling of anger and resentment against the bank bailouts. Everyone was in unison, no one caused any trouble, and we shouted loud and proud about what we believe in. It was a collective of a multitude of different people, from all parts of the country. The government does not seem to understand how unemployment affects everyone from each part of society, except, obviously, themselves.
With the vast numbers of unemployed in this country and constant attacks on the remaining jobs, we need to protect every single job we can. I have been unemployed for a long time. I worked part-time in my last job and was sacked unfairly as the company's profits fell.
The march got a very good response from the majority of passers-by with some joining in. It was a very productive and enjoyable day.
I was on the march representing my members who face pay cuts and redundancies because we are expected to pay for the recession. I went on the march to say it's not our mess and we won't pay for it. We in Greenwich have fought and won before and we are prepared to fight again. Unlike the union leaders who only talk, we were on the march because we want to take action.
I went because I think that it's important that, as young workers and students, we stand up for our rights and fight for a better future. It was a real inspiration to see so many young people on the march. We have a long way to go but I feel that this could be the start of something big.
I decided to go on the march to make a stand for what I believe in. I'm not going to have enough money to go to university as I have three sisters and my parents can't pay for all of us. And even if I do get to university there's no guarantee that I'll get a job at the end of it. I value my future and I'm not prepared to give it up.
I think the march was really good and fun. I met loads of people who are inspired to change the world.
I think the campaign is an excellent idea and I hope it carries on and gets bigger and bigger. There are thousands of young people who have plans for their future and will not stand by and let them go to waste.
I heard it said on the day, and I agree, they're putting money and power before people and that's unacceptable!
I am currently the young members' officer for my trade union branch, and even there it is clear that young people are overlooked, which is wrong. They are the future. It is time for change and time for youth to fight for jobs!
Cruciform, Lecture Theatre 1, University College London (UCL), London WC1E 6BT. Near Euston and Warren Street tube and rail stations
Speakers include Bob Crow, RMT general secretary; Tracy Edwards, PCS young members network; and activists from the campaign.
Topics include: current workplace struggles to save jobs; organising the YFfJ campaign; the politicians' reaction to the crisis; and defending your rights at work.
Speakers include Sean Figg, Youth Fight for Jobs national organiser, activists from Greece, and more...
IF YOU judged the atmosphere on student campuses by the policy that got passed at National Union of Students (NUS) conference, you wouldn't have known that there have been occupations and protests against the Israeli invasion of Gaza or that many universities are facing savage spending cuts. But with a NUS leadership that believes a 200 strong lobby of parliament is better than a near 1,000 strong march through London to do something about the crippling debt students face, this was hardly unexpected.
Despite the depressing nature of the conference, Socialist Students managed to make several good interventions, including contributions from conference floor, a rousing 'Bloc of 15' (elected reps of part-time students) election speech and discussions with student delegates about our ideas.
Our mood was kept up by the news of Visteon car workers occupying their plants over redundancies and the fantastic 2 April Youth Fight for Jobs march, which inspired us to do a short lunchtime stall in Blackpool town centre. The conclusion that the Socialist Students delegates to the conference drew was that the leadership of NUS is incapable of leading the struggles of students which will unfold in the coming year.
"THEY ARE not talking about us. They don't care about people like us." This is the verdict on the London capitalist G20 summit of a worker occupying, together with others, the Visteon car parts firm in Enfield. He represents the workers' answer - the 'G3' of occupied plants, Enfield, Basildon and Belfast - to the rich capitalist club that met in London. He was also speaking for the world working class and poor who have been given to believe that this gathering has begun the 'fightback' against the frightful world economic crisis.
In truth, the meeting achieved very little, apart from perhaps temporarily papering over the divisions between the nations and regions that make up the G20.
The International Labour Organisation says that an additional 30-50 million workers will be made redundant. The G20 have done little to avert this. A pledge for a $1.1 trillion boost was the main 'achievement'. But it is not certain how much of this is new money or part of the stimulus packages which capitalist governments throughout the world are already implementing.
The IMF, representing world capitalism, is to see a trebling of its resources to $500 billion. This will merely allow it to deal with 'emergencies' where there are chronic balance of payments problems, particularly in eastern Europe and the 'submerging' countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. But it will do little or nothing to fundamentally alter the downward spiral of world capitalism. Economist Joseph Stiglitz, for example, has estimated that the cost of the crisis so far will drive 200 million more people into poverty, mostly in the neo-colonial world.
The US alone has committed a colossal $11.6 trillion in lines of credit and 'rescue initiatives', the equivalent of "four wars, a moon landing and the [post-1945] rebuilding of Europe: all that and more could have been paid for with the cost of the US government's proposals for saving its banking industry" (Observer).
Yet, unemployment in March, in the US, increased by a 'headline figure' of 663,000. This is now 8.5% of the workforce. But, if those working part-time or not claiming benefits were included, then over 15% would be unemployed!
Most of the IMF's resources will probably be concentrated in the collapsing east European region. Here, Turkey, Ukraine, Serbia, Latvia and Romania already have the economic status of zombie countries. But they threaten to drag down Austria, whose bank exposure in the region is equivalent to 75% of the country's GDP, as well as Italy and Belgium.
As the G20 met, the institutions of world capitalism sought to outdo each other in the 'gloom' stakes. The IMF, for instance, estimated that global GDP fell by an unprecedented 5% in the fourth quarter of last year, with the 'advanced economies' contracting by around 7%. The US, still the Atlas of world capitalism, declined by 6% on an annualised basis, while Japan plummeted by 13%. Little wonder that the London meeting was declared a "summit of irrelevance" by the chief economist at UNCTAD.
Global industrial production is due to collapse by an astonishing 30-35% on an annualised rate in the first quarter of this year. This represents a speeding up of the crisis, which Paul Volcker, economics adviser to Barack Obama in the US, declared before the summit as plunging at "a faster rate" than even during the 1930s great depression. The IMF boss himself, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said on the eve of the London event: "Bluntly, the situation is dire." He went on to say that millions of people will be pushed into poverty and hardship which will "affect dramatically unemployment and beyond unemployment for many countries it will be at the roots of social unrest, some threat to democracy, and maybe for some cases it can also end in war".
This is a more realistic appraisal for the prospects of capitalism than the soothsayers gathered in London. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, can claim the meeting as a triumph over 'Anglo-Saxon unregulated capitalism'. He undoubtedly scored a bulls-eye when he took this tilt at Gordon Brown. As recently as June 2007, Brown praised London City financiers, lauding their innovative skills and development of "the most modern instrument of finance". He added that it was vital "to advance with light-touch regulation, a competitive tax environment and flexibility". But before the crisis, Sarkozy was also a signed-up member of the world capitalist unregulated neo-liberal club, along with the rest of the 20 leaders gathered in London.
They have only been compelled to switch tack, to propose a number of minimal 'regulations' because of the fear of the social upheaval which this crisis has unleashed. Most of the economies of the capitalist world "face bankruptcies and unemployment [which] are about to rise to the highest levels since the great depression" (Wolfgang Münchau, Financial Times).
US president, Obama, for instance, offers a trillion dollars 'cash for trash' of government money for the banks' dud loans. Previously, these were 'toxic', then a 'problem', and now merely a 'legacy'. Yes they are a legacy of unrestrained, neo-liberal capitalism, particularly the greedy who are now set to be bailed out by ordinary workers, both in Britain and the US, for their economic crimes.
Nothing that was done in London will quickly resuscitate house prices, down 30% in the US. The collapse in world trade was estimated by the IMF at 9% before the summit and is now put at a likely staggering 13% by the OECD. This will have a profound effect on exporting countries, such as Japan, China, Germany, and eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, where exports account for around 80% of GDP. Asia will also be seriously affected with, for instance, Malaysia's exports exceeding 100% of its GDP.
There is not one part of the world which remains unaffected by this crisis and it will be the working class who will be called upon to pay the price. In Britain, it is estimated now that 100,000 people a month will be thrown out of work if this crisis continues at its present rate for the rest of this year. Currently, 200 shops a day are closing. There are 600,000 school leavers due to come onto the jobs market in the summer. A total of 3.5 million unemployed in this country now looms as the 'cost' of this crisis.
Moreover, there is the collapse in government income; because of unemployment, lower taxes, etc, the strategists of capital are already talking about 'years of austerity'. In the first instance, this will mean slashing public expenditure, particularly aimed against the rights, conditions, pensions and pay of "greedy" public-sector workers.
The budget deficit for Britain, the difference between government income and expenditure, could be 13% of GDP in 2010. This could mean that Britain, along with Greece and possibly Spain and Ireland, could sink to 'pariah' status in the bond markets for the buying and selling of government debt. Along this road, as Iceland indicates, is 'national bankruptcy', which is a real possibility for Britain and other countries arising from this crisis.
With this background, the debate between capitalist economists on the meaning of 'recession' or 'depression' becomes meaningless for its victims, working-class people. In the modern era, 10% unemployment is, in effect, a depression. Moreover, there is little solace for the working class in the promised economic 'sunny uplands'. The effects of the crisis could permanently affect the lives of millions, so long as this system survives. There has been the dramatic deterioration already in the US, for instance, of net household 'wealth', arising from the collapse in house prices: "The wealth effect has reversed with a vengeance" (Financial Times).
The former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, also bluntly states: "The scale of lending needed to support a normal cyclical recovery will not materialise". In other words, even when there is an economic revival at a certain stage, it will leave in its wake, not the 'rock pools' of unemployment, as in previous recessions, but great oceans of unemployment and its associated depredation. We already see in the US the beginnings of shanty towns in California and elsewhere, as well as in Italy and even in Britain with Polish immigrants.
In other words, a grey future, at best, of social deprivation looms for significant sections of the population of Britain and the world. And nothing that the G20 has proposed will alter this. Yes, a certain cushioning could develop - a slowing down in the rate of growth of unemployment, for instance - as a result of the various stimulus packages and the printing of money (quantitative easing) which are now being undertaken by the capitalist governments. But the underlying problems will remain, of insecurity, no jobs, or only 'precarious' jobs, stagnant and falling wages, and all the social ills that flow from these.
Before the G20 meeting there was a rising tide of anger, signified by the toppling of governments in eastern Europe - Latvia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary - as well as the mass uprisings in France against the Sarkozy government, and the Fianna Fáil government in Ireland. Such is the mood today, even in the US, that a friend of Obama's economic guru, Tim Geithner, declared: "There are times, nowadays, when you think Hugo Chávez could win an election in America."
Obama himself warned the bankers that he alone stood between them and 'pitchforks'. The indignation and mass anger against the bankers are symptomatic of this. Therefore, the verdict on the London G20 summit must be, from the standpoint of working-class people and the labour movement, that it has solved very little, that the crisis is likely to get worse, and that this means more suffering and pain for those who produce the wealth, the working class, and the poor.
Not only in the books of Karl Marx - which now are increasingly turned to, even by capitalist commentators, to make some sense of the contradictions of their system - but in the living reality of economic failure and all that flows from this, it is revealed that the capitalist system offers no way forward.
We, the working class and the poor must prepare for a socialist future by building a powerful point of reference for workers in struggle so that the initiatives taken in Basildon, Belfast and Enfield do not run into the sand but, on the contrary, become a new benchmark for struggle against diseased, rampant capitalism in this country and worldwide.
YET AGAIN the right to protest is under attack. Last week's anti-G20 demonstrations were greeted with a violent and heavy handed response by the police. Protesters were hit with truncheons and contained for hours inside police cordons, or 'kettled', as it has now become known.
One man died on the protest outside the Bank of England. It's not clear as yet exactly what happened, but there are rumours that he was injured by the police before he died and was possibly held inside a police cordon. Campaigners and lawyers are currently trying to get to the truth. But one thing is clear, the police launched unprovoked attacks on peaceful protesters last week and kettling is a very dangerous tactic. It causes crushing and panic and no matter what is happening inside the containment, protesters are not allowed to leave.
Even the avowedly non-violent climate camp was encircled by police for hours. The police defence for containing protesters for long periods has been that it is necessary to prevent violent protesters attacking police and property. But this was clearly not the case when it came to the climate camp last week.
The reason for using the tactic of containment or kettling is obvious; it's about frightening and intimidating protesters to stop them from demonstrating.
The May Day 2001 detainees, who took the police to court for false imprisonment, did so because they were contained for up to nine hours with no warning. There had no water, food or toilet facilities; unfortunately they lost their case in the high court and on appeal.
The judges preferred to believe police reports of hundreds of violent protests, despite evidence and police logs that described the May Day protesters as overwhelmingly peaceful. The May Day detainees are now going to the European Court to fight again to get the use of containment by police on demonstrations ruled illegal.
Anyone who was held during the protests last week should contact the Justice for May Day Detainees campaign (via the Socialist Party). We need as many people as possible to come forward if we are to challenge and stop the use of kettling on demonstrations and defend the right to protest.
"We were siting down at the front of the crowd of demonstrators surrounding the Climate Camp at Bishopsgate around 10pm. After telling us to move and warning us they had a right to use force the line of police attacked, wearing visors and carrying shields and batons.
"They began by pushing and battering us with their shields. When this failed to move protestors who were packed up against the crowd, they began arresting those sitting down at random. When we were forced to move to rescue each other the police moved forward with increasing violence.
"Soon there was a small space between the line of demonstrators and police and any movement or provocation in this area was dealt with by the police kicking, punching or striking with a shield. Instead of resisting, we talked to them about what they were doing and asked who they were serving.
"My friend was hit in the face with the edge of a shield and punched simply for talking, and another friend was kicked after complaining about the unprovoked violence! Faced with arrest and blows, the demonstators began to retreat and the police chased us down the street, using their batons to beat anyone who came within range."
The Battle to defeat the poll tax, photo Steve Gardiner
A RESIDENTIAL school setting in West Linton in Lothian outside Edinburgh seems a weird place to start the story of the Poll Tax: but given the history of its demise it is as good a place to start as any.
At a Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the International Socialists in Scotland) conference there, called to discuss resistance to the poll tax, Labour councillor Chic Stevenson moved that we begin to organise for total defiance of the imposition of the poll tax, arguing for all councillors to refuse to implement it and arguing for a mass non-payment campaign should it be implemented.
The decisions which were taken shaped the campaign over the next few years. The ideas of a mass campaign against the poll tax, for building anti-poll tax unions, for mass organised non-payment and non-compliance by local authorities and council trade unions, and for industrial action to defend those victimised for non-payment or non-implementation were brought together in a Militant pamphlet in April 1988.
Militant began to set up anti-poll tax unions in the localities. These attracted thousands to meetings, many to find out about its implications for them and their families but many about how to fight it. Federations of anti-poll tax unions were set up with democratically elected delegates from the unions and executive committees for the Federations.
The Strathclyde Federation was set up in July 1988. The words of Glasgow Labour councillor Chic Stevenson, the vice-chair of the Strathclyde Federation, became its watchword: "I'm having nothing to do with Thatcher's poll tax. I am voting against Glasgow district council setting its part of the tax at £92 per person, along with five other councillors. A mass non-payment campaign will still have to be organised. It has the support of local Labour Parties and the mass of people in the housing schemes. With that support, Labour councils could make the poll tax inoperable if they called on people to refuse to pay. It is not the job of Labour councils to do the Tories' dirty work. I was elected to fight Thatcher, not to bow the knee to her poll tax."
Against this background the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation was set up. Later in the struggle it promoted the successful creation of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation in November 1989.
The initial community meetings consisted of explaining the tax and the collection methods, including the use of force, and then moving on to how to defeat the tax. When the difficulties were explained that the state would face in collecting the tax if the mass of the people refused to pay, then support for non-payment gathered apace.
Unfortunately one by one the councils in Scotland began to bow the knee and when people did not pay, sent in the Sheriff's Officers to get the debts paid. This was Labour at its worst - all talk and posing, but no action other than sticking the boot into the poor.
To prepare for mass non-payment the Scottish Federation of anti-poll tax unions organised a demonstration in Glasgow on 18 March 1989. More than 10,000 people attended. The 'Can't Pay, Won't Pay' poll tax movement was here, and we were determined to build it further.
There were street stalls to inform and recruit to the non-payment army. A play by Peter Arnott and Peter Mullen, which caught the mood of the time, performed over all of Scotland in the community centres. Its theme of 'Can't Pay, Won't Pay' reflected what was going on.
There were marches and demonstrations - large and enormous. There were many innovative features of the campaign - including occupations of council offices and Sheriff's Officers' [bailiffs'] offices - the terrorists were being forcibly resisted.
One of the most famous involved an occupation lasting a few days with food parcels being transferred from an adjacent building, much to the annoyance of the watching police. Sheriff's Officers' cars became well known and they were constantly hounded.
There was a week long hunger strike in George Square, Glasgow, to highlight the plight of the poor having to choose between paying the tax or feeding their bairns [children]. There were mass demonstrations outside the homes of people threatened with 'poindings' (labelling of possessions for selling to pay the debt) by the Sheriff's Officers.
One of the first was outside the house of Jeanette McGinn (widow of Matt McGinn, the Calton folksinger and activist). The Sheriff's Officers based in Lanarkshire made special efforts to carry out 'poindings' of possessions and there were regular mass demos outside people's houses over the years. There was one outside the home of George Galloway, then a Labour MP.
Very few 'poindings' took place and the actual sale of the possessions became the scene of one of the most famous episodes in the poll tax struggle.
The Sheriff's Officers had given up even trying to arrange the sales in their normal salerooms and they set up a sale in the courtyard of the St Andrew's District Court where there was always a police presence. A young Tommy Sheridan, who was secretary of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation and had built up a very strong base in Pollok, south-west Glasgow, was served with court papers - an interdict - banning him from doing anything to stop the sale.
In defiance he organised hundreds to be there and ripped up the interdict as he led them into the courtyard. The police read the writing on the wall and instructed the Sheriff's Officers to cancel the sale.
That way of recovering the debt became unworkable and arresting bank accounts, wages and benefits became the weapon of choice of the state. It was much easier to carry out those actions from the computers and phones in their warm offices rather than facing the direct wrath of the people. Funnily enough, that led to files disappearing and computers stopping working after a visit from the anti-poll tax occupiers!
There was a consequence of Tommy's action on that day. He was brought to court for breaching the interdict and jailed for six months which he spent in Saughton Prison in Edinburgh. From there he stood for the council and parliament. He achieved a fantastic vote in the Parliamentary election and was elected as Glasgow's first Scottish Militant Labour councillor. This was another first for the campaign, the first councillor elected from jail.
The mass defiance spread to England and Wales where Militant spearheaded the mass non-payment campaign. Many others were jailed including the late Terry Fields, the member of Militant who was the Labour MP for Liverpool Broadgreen. As defiance spread, the Tories realised that the poll tax was finished. There was mass demo after mass demo and on 31 March 1990 the biggest of all the demos took place. 50,000 marched in Glasgow and after speaking in Glasgow, Tommy flew down to London to address the 200,000 strong demo there. Much was made of the violence in London but it was the size and working-class composition of the demo and above all the growing mass defiance, that was the real reason for the Tories backing down.
There were further demonstrations directed at defending those jailed for non-paying and those jailed for 'violence' on 31 March. The 40,000 strong demo in London in October 1990 greeted many young marchers who had marched from all over Britain spreading the message.
In November 1990 Thatcher was forced to resign as Prime Minister, a victim of the campaign to abolish the tax she had introduced. The fight to defend the non-payers continued for many years after that. The last two large demos in March 1991 in Glasgow (15,000) and in London a few weeks later (50,000) were an indication of that determination to continue. The Tories brought forward plans for a new local government tax.
Labour's response to this victory was to attack those who resisted. Having worked hard to implement the poll tax, even though it was almost universally hated, they began to expel those in Militant who had led the fight to get rid of it. When the question was posed: Whose side are you on? Labour made it clear - the bosses and the Tories.
The struggle against the poll tax is a landmark in the long history of working-class activity in Britain. It is full of stories of innovative actions, heroism and solidarity which makes me proud to have been part of a working class capable of such a mass act of defiance. It brought down a notoriously unyielding prime minister and we, in the International Socialists, are proud of the part we played in leading such a resistance.
THE POLL tax, or Community Charge, was a piece of Tory legislation devised by the right-wing Adam Smith Institute. It blatantly redistributed the cost of paying for local government services away from the wealthy onto the shoulders of the working class.
As a per capita charge, it replaced the rates which had been levied on the value of people's notional rental value of a house. This meant that a family of two adults in a council flat for instance would pay more than a millionaire living in a mansion!
Or, as the Militant pointed out before the tax's introduction: "The Thatcher family in Dulwich will save £2,300 per year... an average family in Suffolk will pay an extra £640."
The Battle to defeat the Poll Tax, photo by Phil Maxwell
"YE CANNAE beat her son, she's faced doon Galtieri [the Argentine general during the Falklands war] and beat the miners. She's the iron lady".
This was a common response at the early anti-poll tax meetings organised in housing schemes across Scotland in 1988. A battered and bruised working class had witnessed a rampant and brutal Prime Minister, in the shape of Margaret Thatcher.
Her victories over Argentinian conscripts and the proud National Union of Mineworkers emboldened her to implement even more assaults on the welfare state, trade union rights and the very concept of 'society'. "There's no such thing" she declared at a Royal Geographical dinner to the applause of the rich and powerful throughout the land - who welcomed her determination to destroy socialism, human solidarity and the collectivist spirit which renders a society worthy of the description.
Sure, the odds seemed stacked against us at first but Thatcher's arrogance and intoxication with power led her to make a crucial mistake. Up until the poll tax the ruling class tactic of 'divide and rule' had been applied with distinction. The steelworkers, nurses, printers and then the miners were all taken on separately.
The battle to defeat the Poll Tax, photo by Dave Sinclair
To their shame the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress leaders never united the movement in opposition to her assaults. But the poll tax was different. Here the whole of the working class were being attacked at once.
The fact it was an 'unfair, unjust and immoral' tax, the most common description at the time, was compounded by the decision to introduce it in Scotland a year before England and Wales. They ignored petitions, protest marches and rallies and the ballot box. All we had left was the right to defy: civil disobedience through mass non-payment.
People were understandably worried, even scared. Disgracefully, Labour councils voted to implement this 'immoral' tax and thus dispatched sheriff officers to harass and intimidate non-payers. The dreaded warrant sale threat was used to frighten families across Scotland.
What the authorities didn't reckon with was the size and determination of the grassroots movement to stand up and be counted. We refused to be cowered. We would not allow non-payers to stand alone. Poverty was undoubtedly the most demanding recruiting sergeant to our cause but through the network of housing scheme anti-poll tax unions and the regional and all-Scotland Federation we gave strength and solidarity to those under threat.
Scotland was in revolt against the tax and the grassroots nature of the uprising left the politicians out of step and the authorities in despair. By the end of 1989 the non-payment army approached the one million mark. Marches and rallies involved tens of thousands. Council chambers were occupied. Sheriff officers were barred entry to non-payers' homes and often returned to find their own offices under siege.
The tax was fatally wounded and when we spread the campaign to England and Wales the 13 million new recruits to the non-payment army rendered the poll tax a dead duck. Or as John Major was forced to admit in Parliament in 1991 it was being repealed because it had become "uncollectable".
The anti-poll tax campaign made it "uncollectable" and its unbreakable spirit rested in its grassroots character - the thousands of 'ordinary' people who became extra-ordinary campaigners. Well done to each and every one of the anti-poll tax campaigners on the 20th anniversary of our almighty struggle.
£10.99 p&p. Published 1995. 570 pages paperback.
Available from Socialist Books PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. 020 8988 8789. email@example.com
A detailed account of Tommy Sheridan's 1992 election campaign, fought from prison, can be found in his book A Time to Rage; 176 pages, paperback. Published by Polygon
LAST WEEK'S summit of European Union (EU) finance ministers gave the British government six months to come up with plans to cut public spending.
Meeting in Prague, the EU finance committee warned the UK to cut its budget deficit to the EU 'Stability and Growth Pact' limit of 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) within four years.
In a press statement issued by the No2EU-Yes to Democracy electoral alliance, Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist argued that, with a government deficit of £78 billion last year equivalent to 5.4% of GDP, meeting the EU target would mean cutting £35 billion of public spending in one year.
"Local authorities are already conducting a 'doomsday study' of the potential impact on local council budgets of up to 30% funding cuts and it paints an horrific picture for local services", he said. "Local councils would no longer be able to provide even the current standard of services, particularly in fields such as social care".
The No2EU-Yes to Democracy convener Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT transport workers' union, also condemned the EU decision. The EU's public spending criteria has enforced the privatisation of capital projects to keep them off the government's books, by means of private finance initiatives (PFI) and the disastrous PPP on London Underground, which increased the costs of public services and subsidised corporate profits.
"It is clear that EU leaders want ordinary working people to pay for the recession, by cutting essential public services, instead of the banks and finance companies that contributed so much to the economic crisis in the first place", he said.
"That's why a vote for No2EU-Yes to Democracy against the EU's privatisation agenda is so essential on 4 June".
HOUSING minister Margaret Beckett is the latest government minister to be caught with her hand in the parliamentary expenses till.
Beckett, along with chancellor Alistair Darling and transport secretary Geoff Hoon, rented out London flats while living in 'grace-and-favour' homes and claiming expenses for another home, in Beckett's case totalling £106,000.
Workers are sick to their back teeth of seeing MPs living the 'life of Riley' while being expected to make sacrifices to bail out a failed capitalist economy.
A MASS demo of workers, called by the Italian trade unions, marched in Rome on 4 April attacking the Berlusconi government's handling of the economic crisis. Italy's economy, Europe's fourth largest, is expected to contract by over 4% this year according to the OECD. Unemployment in the last quarter of 2008 reached its highest level for over two years. Some 1.73 million people are currently unemployed.
GREEK WORKERS staged a general strike on 2 April, coinciding with the G20 summit, in opposition to the right-wing Karamanlis government's austerity programme to deal with the recession. 10,000 marched through Athens in a peaceful protest. The general strike, the fourth in 12 months, halted transport and closed public services. It was called by the GSEE and ADEDY union federations which organise half the country's 4.5 million workforce. They are demanding an end to cuts in public spending and attacks on pay and pensions.
GORDON BROWN'S plan to create 400 academies, undermining comprehensive education, has hit troubled waters as a third of academies have lost their head teachers, many leaving within the first year. Academies are sponsored by millionaires or religious groups and opt out of democratic, accountable control.
Two heads have quit 'flagship' London schools in three months. Both schools were sponsored by Christian charity United Learning Trust. At one of them, Walthamstow Academy, the NUT teachers' union was threatening to strike over an unacceptable "blame culture" in the school.
400 school students and supporters marched through Manchester on 28 March against the closure of their school. Socialist Party members joined the demonstration, with our Youth Fight For Jobs leaflets and petitions very well received.
St Georges School in Walkden is threatened with closure by Salford council under the 'Building Schools for the Future' programme. The demo was organised by the 'justkids4georges' group of pupils demanding their school is saved.
It took place a year after the last, hundreds-strong, march in Salford. This time protesters had to march in Manchester, as Salford's Labour council threatened to charge them thousands of pounds to march in Salford! The campaign will mount a legal challenge later this year to the closure.
The ghastly slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka continues daily and an official 'end' to the war will not mean an end to this nightmare. Last Sunday's Observer report by Annie Kelly confirms the worst fears of Tamils everywhere and of all who have been campaigning for an end to the bloodletting.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting of the past few weeks, 200,000 have been 'internally displaced', 60,000 forced into government-run Nazi-style concentration camps.
Those Tamil people who manage to remain in or near their homes will be plagued by murderous paramilitary groups competing with each other to terrorise them.
The scale of disappearances, already the second highest in the world, is unlikely to diminish. The white van gangsters, who drag people from their homes and kill them, operate unmolested by the official forces of the state.
The Rajapakse government dismisses every allegation of its own dictatorial and blood-thirsty behaviour as propaganda from the 'Tamil Tiger' forces they are aiming to defeat.
There is a mounting number of human rights and refugee bodies, journalists and commentators who have struggled against the odds to establish the truth and break the silence under cover of which this genocide has continued.
The United Socialist Party (affiliated, like the Socialist Party in England and Wales, to the Committee for a Workers' International) continues to campaign for the rights of Tamil and working people, for a united struggle of Tamil and Sinhala workers to end war, mass poverty and dictatorship.
It fights for a socialist alternative to capitalism and imperialism.
Campaigning in provincial elections to take place on 25 April, USP activists have been told by Sinhala chauvinists that their party secretary, Siritunga Jayasuriya, should be hanged for the statements he has made criticising the Rajapakse government, including on a recent visit to India.
Wednesday 8 April was designated as a day of international protest against the Rajapakse government, but in particular, against the role of the Indian government of Sonja Gandhi in sustaining that government and its war against the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
Charu Hogg, associate director at the international thinktank Chatham House, believes that the destruction of the Tigers as a fighting force will only mark the beginning of a new and ugly phase of civil repression. "The end of the territorial fight will undoubtedly lead to a more authoritarian regime. The fighting forces might be wiped out, but the end of the battle will not mean the end of the [Tigers] or their striking potential," said Hogg.
"There will be severe human rights repercussions for any civilians suspected of being affiliated to or sympathetic to the [Tigers]. Disappearances have been an ugly side of this conflict and are likely to continue as a counter-insurgency tactic used by the government and the pro-government armed groups."
ON 30 March, it felt as if the city of Chennai waited with intense expectation as the famous writer, Arundhati Roy, was due to deliver a speech in a public meeting condemning the war in Sri Lanka. Her views on globalisation, imperialism and war are clear. But she had raised many an eyebrow and irked many a person with her strong condemnation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) methods, calling them a terrorist organisation.
Sharing the platform with her was to be Siritunga Jayasuriya, a leading member of a Sri Lankan political party (United Socialist Party - USP - affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International).
What line would the speakers argue? What would their demands be? What is the character of this campaign that is putting them on the stage? These were the burning questions.
Tamil Nadu, with its close ethnic ties to Sri Lankan Tamils, has always been a strong base of support for the Tamil rebels. Nationalistic tendencies dominate the political scene, voicing demands for a separate Tamil Eelam without acknowledging the complexities of the issue.
There is, on the other hand, a significant few who believe that any support for Eelam is an undeclared and indirect support to LTTE, who they consider to be a terrorist organisation with fascist attitudes.
The campaign (stoptheslaughteroftamils.org) has attracted a lot of criticism from groups tied up with these two extreme positions. Some political groups went to the extent of canvassing people against participating in the meeting. But members were sure that we would be able to convince the critics with our strong ideas.
The demands of the campaign, based on humanitarian and full democratic values, were a result of a fine grasp of the situation on the ground and the experience that comes with the long history of our struggle internationally.
The day dawned with the disappointing news that Arundhati Roy, the main speaker, would not be able to attend the meeting. But, at the behest of the campaign, she released a strong indictment of the Sri Lankan Rajapakse regime. (It was carried in full by the Times of India and in the Guardian - see www.socialistworld.net)
Calling for an immediate end to the slaughter; she called it a racist war that was taking genocidal proportions.
Nearly 600 people assembled for the meeting well before time. Students and workers, political activists, and concerned citizens had come to listen to the speakers. Professor A Marx, the convenor of the Tamil Nadu section of the campaign, presented the campaign's demands.
Sudha Gandhi, a student activist, while calling for the immediate end to the war, stated very clearly that a permanent ceasefire is impossible without a just political solution and that it is ridiculous to ask one side to put down their weapons while another continues to wield weapons with impunity.
Sathya Sivaraman, a journalist and human rights campaigner, presented the fuller ramifications of this war, piecing together the geo-politics of this conflict and the need for the people of South Asia to respond against this unjust war.
His insistence on the demand for a political solution based on the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil people clarified our stated position. The audience began to respond to his ideas and he was more than once interrupted by applause.
Siritunga Jayasuriya of the USP detailed how the present regime in Sri Lanka systematically prepared for war and steadily destroyed any democratic opposition. Concluding his address, he called for the one billion plus population of India to raise a united voice against this unjust war.
There was a lot of excitement among the audience with small informal groups forming around the speakers for greater clarity and more debate. There were arguments and criticisms of the campaign's stand but we had successfully argued for our demands and had called for a united international struggle against the Sri Lankan government.
The issue had spread nationally and the impact of the meeting could be gauged from the fact that the Sri Lanka Foreign Office quickly drafted a counter to Arundhati Roy, claiming lamely that she does not have the full facts and their war was only against the LTTE.
In the teeth of criticisms and opposition from some, the campaign had successfully presented its demands. The campaign had gained momentum in the struggle for the inalienable rights of the Tamils as well as the struggle of the Sinhala working class against a rotten capitalist regime.
"THERE ARE 55,000 property tax collectors, in every city and village. The official government union for public sector employees did not work for the workers, just its leaders' personal interests. We felt we couldn't fix the problem with the government union and make the leaders talk about our problems and rights.
"In 2007 we sent a message to every city and state. 15 agreed to be leaders of a strike committee. We did training and made a network, so that if the government arrested strike leaders there would be three or four others ready to step into their place.
"The strike started in September 2007 and 90% of the government's property tax collection stopped. In December, 5,000 strikers a day staged a sit-in outside the Ministry building in Cairo, which lasted 13 days. Strikers from different parts of the country took part in shifts. We caused no damage in the streets and gave no excuse to the police to arrest us. People living in the street gave water and food to the strikers. After the strike finished the workers gave the people a gift for the help they had received.
"Every evening there was a meeting to talk about the strike and discuss what was to be done the next day. One delegate from every city attended. Negotiators played a game with the government minister, telling him we needed to talk to all the leaders to settle, and then advising the meeting not to settle. In the end, the strike won a 325% pay rise.
"Every leader wanted to follow this by building an independent trade union. Since then, one leader from Mansoura has rejoined the government union, but another has stepped into his place.
"The government tax collectors' union has nine offices in 26 cities. We have one small office, but people talk to us in every city. We have over 30,000 members. The government union now has 4,500. Half of them are leaving to join us. The other half want to leave but have been threatened with losing their jobs if they do.
"There haven't been free trade unions in Egypt since the 1920s. The government philosophy has been to build unions to control the workers and so they've not allowed independent unions to start. They are scared more independent unions will succeed. They are scared a revolution will happen."
The interviewee agreed with the CWI that a political party to represent workers is needed in Egypt:
"We want to start a political party to join independent unions, students and farmers. Workers want a good salary, good health service and the right to be free; 80% of workers want socialism but don't know it.
"We've done the first step. We want change from the bottom to the top - not from the top to the bottom. The government unions and the state security forces try to break us to make the President safe. We are not scared of the police and security forces. Hosni Mubarak wants to stay in power with his son following on. Independent unions are a problem for them."
DOCTORS PROTESTED outside the Ministry of Finance in Cairo on 31 March after the government broke a promise to raise their pay. The basic pay for a newly qualified doctor is only LE250 a month (US$44) while a consultant gets US$250 a month. To be able to live, they have to work long hours in private practice - often a 16-hour day. Many doctors are demanding a basic wage of LE1,200.
After protests last year, prime minister Ahmed Nazif promised a pay rise in two instalments. Some doctors have received the first, but the government now says that due to the world economic situation, it does not have the funds to pay the rest.
The doctors' syndicate (official trade union) is led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Their strategy is to ask for gradual pay rises until an acceptable level is reached. Other doctors on the protest, from the group Doctors Without Rights, felt the MB leadership were just organising a token protest and that strike action for the minimum of LE1,200 was needed.
One doctor spoke to the CWI about the general situation: "In 2005 there were lots of movements. Kefaya ('Enough') was launched as a broad democracy campaign. The government held a referendum for constitutional changes which were very restrictive. It was the first time in nearly thirty years that there had been such protests on the streets, under the umbrella of Kefaya. This ended in 2006 after the protests by judges. Mubarak was re-elected. The movement went into hibernation.
"It started again in 2007/08 with strikes by workers and movements of the professions, such as tax collectors, doctors and pharmacists. Doctors wanted to strike last year but the syndicate didn't approve. In 2004/05 more of the protests were with general demands - against the inheritance of power by Mubarak's son, Gamal. Now they are more related to economic questions.
"The protests have been quite successful in bringing out the difference between the professions and the government, but limited as to real change. There are barely 50 doctors here today, with five trucks of security forces (about 120 men) intimidating the protesters. The idea of resisting the state is quite scary. Doctors will be questioned by their hospital managers when they return about why they went on the protest."
Nearly 2,000 workers at the Burgylai oil wells at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, are on strike demanding the nationalisation of their plant and that the government take emergency measures to stabilise the economic situation, stop mass sackings and guarantee the payment of wage arrears.
Unable to get the agreement to start negotiations on these questions, 14 members of an independent workers' trade union at the plant launched an indefinite hunger strike.
The authorities are trying to isolate the strikers and maintain an information blockade. The trade union leaders are being pressured by the local government administration and the 'special police' to end the strike and to prevent it spreading.
However, workers in another ten oil fields carried out a one hour solidarity strike on the 26 March in support of the Burgylai workers and sent delegations to meet with them.
"Our textiles and dyeing firm, Stead McAlpin, was sold by the John Lewis Partnership in September 2007 to a newly set up company called Apex textiles. We were told by John Lewis managing director Andy Street, that all John Lewis benefits, including enhanced redundancy payments would be honoured by Apex for two years from the date of the sale.
But on 1 April, we endured the sickest April fool of all. We were asked to the works dining room, split into two groups and told that over 60 of us were redundant. We were given a form to fill in and send off to claim statutory redundancy.
We had 15 minutes to empty our lockers. After over 25 years service, all that many of us had was a carrier bag, some boots and a paper to post off, along with friends we had worked with all our lives.
We are in the unenviable position of facing the loss of our homes.
We are planning a protest on 8 April. A 24-hour vigil at the gates of Stead McAlpin in Carlisle, where our families will also support us.
We are also planning a walk from the plant in Carlisle to John Lewis head office in London to register our disgust at their failure to help us, after being part of John Lewis since 1965. Let's face it we have nothing else to do!
We were conned by John Lewis."
While over 100 journalists from local newspapers under threat gathered inside Manchester town hall on a Friday night to discuss the way forward, one in every three of Stockport's black cab drivers circled the building in a show of support. Coincidentally, several hundred 'Critical Mass' environmentalists cycled around the same area, to the bemusement of passers-by!
Stockport Express journalists have supported black cab drivers in the past. Now those journalists are under attack from their employers, on 27 March the cabbies were returning the favour. At the same time, they highlighted how Stockport council threatens their livelihoods with deregulation.
The number of black cabs is fixed by councils, which issue the licenses and a waiting list operates. Stockport council wants to increase the number from 120 to 180 but with still only two taxi ranks.
This will mean overcrowding of the ranks, and a cut in income for all black cab drivers. For the many drivers who are deep in debt from buying and fitting their £30,000+ vehicles, this will be a catastrophic blow. Dave Hulbert, spokesperson for the protesting drivers, told me:
"Tonight we're here in support of the Express, their workers and reporters. In terms of the issue about the council removing the limit on the number of black cabs on the road, the limit is there to make sure everyone has a fair crack of the whip, that there's enough work for everyone.
"There's actually a fare formula, to work out what level of fares are charged, which is linked to the number of vehicles on the road. So if they doubled the number of vehicles, by definition they have to double the fares. So how's that supposed to be supporting the public in any way?"
The council has apparently spent tens of thousands of pounds on three failed court cases against the cab drivers. Why is the council so determined to push this policy through? Why does it want to hammer down the income of black cab drivers? If Stockport council now believes in job creation, as it claims, why is it putting cab drivers out of work? Unemployment is high in Stockport already, and will rise further through 2009.
Now the council has to consult again on this ludicrous policy. They cannot be trusted though. It's not long since they tried to force all black cab drivers to re-paint their cabs green, with the council logo, at a cost to each driver of over £2,000! That crazy scheme failed, and so can this with a sufficient show of strength against it.
On 1 April, around five hundred students, lecturers and other further education (FE) college staff from across Wales protested and lobbied Welsh Assembly members over threatened redundancies and cuts to funding, pay and conditions.
The forecourt of the Welsh Assembly was packed, to listen to trade union reps and Assembly members supporting the demonstration. Assembly members from every political party, including the Tories and the ruling coalition of Plaid and Labour all expressed disgust at the Assembly's several million pound shortfall for FEs in Wales. It begs the question: if everyone is against it then who is voting for these vicious cutbacks? FFORWM, the employers' organisation for FE in Wales estimates 500 jobs could go.
Ronnie Job, Socialist Party Wales member and Unison rep at Gorseinon College was the main Unison speaker and received by far the biggest cheers for his demands for the end of incorporation - the colleges to be returned wholly to the public sector and a united militant fightback as the only way to reverse the cuts, and strike action against any compulsory redundancies!
These protests have put huge pressure on the Assembly government which must be followed through by industrial action if any Welsh college makes compulsory redundancies or tries to alter terms and conditions of staff.
Following a four-month campaign by local communities and the opportunist intervention of local politicians of all parties, Wirral council's library closure programme has been suspended. Secretary of State for Culture, Andy Burnham, 'called in' the decision, for a public inquiry.
The first four libraries due for closure on 4 April will remain open for now. This gives a limited breathing space during which campaigners can prepare for the next round of struggle.
Preparation includes strengthening links between the anti-cuts groups, a clear plan of action to mobilise around, and a renewed appeal to the council workforce. Any facilities under threat must continue to be resolutely defended!
It is unclear at this stage whether the suspension will also be applied to the planned closure of other leisure facilities including leisure centres and swimming baths.
What is clear is that the suspension is only a temporary victory. The inquiry will only look at whether the council's controversial Strategic Asset Review (SAR) is consistent with its statutory duty.
Indeed the Labour leader of Wirral council has already stated in the local press that he is "confident the inquiry would support the authority's plans to close the libraries".
The local Tories have called for Lib Dem and Labour council cabinet members to resign, which is a demand echoed by the people of Wirral. But would the Tories act differently if in power?
They too are a neo-liberal party committed to privatisation, cuts in services, and spending restrictions.
If the Tories were in power, even if they didn't go ahead with these closures, they would make cuts elsewhere!
This is why WAC has been set up to fight all these attacks on our services and importantly to provide a viable anti cuts/pro public services alternative to the three main parties at next year's council elections.
WAC is meeting again on 9 April. Whilst we cautiously welcome the suspension of the council's closure plans, Socialist Party members will be proposing that we take our campaign more widely into our communities.
By taking part in peaceful direct action and by coming out to vote for WAC candidates in next year's council elections, the people of Wirral can send a clear message to both local and national politicians that they will not accept these cuts.
Rail union TSSA members gathered to protest at 160 redundancies outside the East Midlands Trains (EMT) HQ in Derby on 31 March. They had a joint meeting with RMT the same evening.
In spite of the recession EMT have had a 14% increase in profits. They have had more passengers and are 'gating' the stations - meaning more demand for counter staff.
TSSA leaflets were handed out at the station, where 12 people were waiting for one counter at 9:15am. "This is why you'll have to wait even longer", explained the workers.