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While desperate survivors in Haiti's destroyed capital of Port-au-Prince tried to find food, water and shelter, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton breezed into the main airport for a photo opportunity, diverting aid relief flights which included a field hospital from the charity Médecins Sans Frontières.
The US government has brushed aside the Haitian government of René Préval, taken over the main airport and sent in 10,000 troops. Aid has barely trickled out from the US/UN guarded stockpiles to the millions of Haitian refugees.
The United Nations - which has been occupying the island state for the last six years - seems instead to be concentrating its efforts on policing the wealthier and commercial areas of the capital.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon visited the devastated capital and in the face of hungry and thirsty people blithely told them to be "patient". But patience has run out and people have desperately been sifting the ruins to find food and water. Yet much of the western media condemned their efforts as 'criminal looting'.
Ordinary people worldwide have dug deep into their pockets to donate to the emergency. But despite pouring trillions of dollars into rescuing the capitalist world's banks and financial institutions, western governments have only donated a few millions.
And why is it that this earthquake can claim 200,000 lives but a similar sized earthquake claimed only 63 people when it struck northern California in 1989? The answer is obvious. California is in a rich country but Haiti is the poorest country in the western world with three quarters of its population scraping by on only $2 a day.
And whereas in California sound construction materials, building methods and regulations have been brought about over decades through public pressure on the authorities, Haiti has been subject to the exploitative rule of a corrupt local elite, favoured by US and French imperialism, which has made massive profits and siphoned off investment and aid money.
Haiti's richest 1% owns nearly half the country's wealth. Western companies have also used Haiti as a sweatshop to produce cheap agricultural goods and manufactures.
And when poor Haitians voted in the radical president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to change the situation he was removed (for a second time) in a 2004 coup by the rich elite, supported by the Bush administration.
Under the domination of imperialism, few Haitian people will benefit from any reconstruction. But the alternative is not to despair. Haiti has a revolutionary heritage going back two centuries, when a slave revolt led by Toussaint L'Ouverture defeated the country's French colonial rulers. Today it is that tradition that Haitians need to draw on to liberate themselves from poverty, destitution and exploitation.
As the top bankers worldwide award themselves obscene 'bonuses' to feed their greed-fuelled, decadent lifestyles, the workers and poor people of Haiti suffer conditions of unimaginable horror. The billions of pounds, euros and dollars the banking fat cats are taking for themselves should be confiscated and used to meet the desperate needs of the injured, orphaned and homeless in Haiti!
And in the richer countries of the world in which the major banks are based, how about some of the excessive banking profits going to the victims of the recession, an economic crisis that these banks have worsened through their profiteering and speculation? For instance, to the rapidly growing number of unemployed and to all those who can't make ends meet, through no fault of their own?
Yet the British government even refuses to ban outrageous top salary levels and bonus payments in the failed banks it was forced to take effective ownership of, like RBS. The chief of RBS, Stephen Hester, has an astounding potential pay packet of £9.7 million.
In 2010, many trade unionists will take industrial action to defend their living standards. Also, working class people in a number of areas will have an opportunity to express their anger through the ballot box, in the areas where the newly formed Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition stands a candidate in the general election. The coalition argues for taxing the rich and for the banks to be brought into "true public ownership and democratic control, instead of huge handouts to the very capitalists who caused the crisis".
The humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen Haiti beggars belief. The powerful earthquake that struck on 12 January left many thousands dead, with estimates running to 200,000 and more. The flimsy slum dwellings in Port-au-Prince, the capital, collapsed, as did public buildings, including schools and hospitals. Many thousands are still missing and more are badly injured.
Power supplies and communications were destroyed and only one airport runway operates. It is estimated that some three million people, most of whom have been made homeless, are in dire need of water, food, clothes, shelter and essential medicines.
The desperately poor country has few resources to deal with the catastrophe. People are reduced to trying to rescue victims from rubble with their bare hands.
Like grotesque scenes from a medieval battlefield, thousands of bloated bodies piled up high in the streets of Port-au-Prince. There are no basic state services to deal with the dead with any dignity, let alone rescue the living or see to the survivors.
Many Haitians are now in rudimentary outdoor 'informal camps', described as "insanitary" and "dangerous". A lack of clean drinking water, food and sanitation means that infectious and deadly diseases can spread. Medical staff are overwhelmed. The injured, often with broken bones, are facing limb amputations or death due to a lack of basic medicines and treatment.
It is very different for the rich; their large homes in the "cool, green suburb" of Petionville were "mostly spared" and they have food "supplies to last" (Washington Post, 18/01/10). International rescue workers report being directed first to find foreign nationals in collapsed large luxury hotels. The Washington Post predicts that the rich in Petionville will "receive a large portion of the US and international aid and reconstruction money".
Working people around the world are understandably horrified and appalled at this heartbreaking humanitarian tragedy. Many people instinctively and generously rushed to give donations to aid relief efforts. Compare this to the paltry funds promised by the UN and biggest world powers. The UN initially said it would raise $550 million in aid for Haiti - a mere fraction of the over $100 billion that is being paid out worldwide in bankers' bonuses this year. No doubt in an act intended as 'good PR', the New York-based bank, Citigroup, said it will give $250,000 to the American Red Cross that can be used for immediate relief in Haiti. Yet Citigroup's overall 2009 'bonus pool', mainly for top managers, is expected to be about $5.3 billion.
At the same time, the slow response of the major powers, particularly from Haiti's rich neighbour, the US, is causing growing frustration and anger around the world. Despite the rhetoric from Washington, little aid arrived for days after the earthquake, when most needed and when people trapped under collapsed buildings were still alive. Furious at the paltry aid provided, some Haitians resorted to protesting with road blocks made from dead bodies and construction debris. Many Port-au-Prince residents have given up all hope of overseas aid and are fleeing by foot to the countryside.
The US administration and the UN repeatedly claim that their abysmal response is due to the lack of infrastructure and coordination in Haiti. Even though this excuse for inaction is undoubtedly vastly exaggerated, Haiti certainly was already in a very poor state prior to the earthquake. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and has a history of destructive natural disasters. But whose fault is this? It is the baleful role of US imperialism, along with a series of corrupt, pro-US Haitian regimes, which has left the country so impoverished and vulnerable to natural disasters.
Although the earthquake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, the scale of the human disaster was due to Haiti's poverty. The country has just two fire stations and no 'quake-proof' housing. Similar earthquakes have much less impact on neighbouring Dominican Republic, where building regulations are much better enforced or in nearby Cuba, where emergency management is "infinitely" better.
In Haiti, some 80% live below the poverty line and the country's GDP per capita in 2009 was just $2 a day. Joblessness sits at a staggering 75%. The survival rate of newborns is the lowest in the western hemisphere. "For many adults, the most promising sources of income are likely to be drug dealing, weapons trading, gang membership and kidnapping and extortion", commented the Guardian (15/01/10).
Rather than rush in large scale emergency relief and aid to Haiti, the White House embarked on a large-scale armed intervention. The US refers to "widespread looting" to justify the need for thousands of US soldiers and marines. But with shops destroyed or shut, this is the only way for many to get water and food. To date, according to the Guardian (18/01/10), "warnings that Port-au-Prince would descend into anarchy have not materialised".
The US "military's takeover of emergency operations in Haiti" meant US military aircraft were given priority at Port-au-Prince's airport, forcing many non-US, humanitarian flights to divert to the Dominican Republic. This provoked a furious response from other powers with an interest in the region, including Brazil and France. The French foreign minister accused the US of treating the airport as an "annexe of Washington".
Fearing mass riots and protests as aid fails to reach survivors, the US is putting troops on the ground to maintain 'law and order'. This could mark the start of what, in effect, will be US military rule, which will be used against the people of Haiti, just as the 9,000 strong UN forces were employed in Haiti before the devastating earthquake.
Given that the Obama administration and other powers failed for several crucial days to provide even the most basic aid needed by the Haitian masses, who can seriously believe they will provide the major resources needed to rebuild and modernise the country, including making its buildings 'quake-proof'? The US, the UN and the foreign NGOs - already widely ridiculed by Haitians for creaming off 50% of their income on "overheads" - will only be further discredited in the eyes of the poor.
For decades, Haiti has been plagued by poverty, joblessness and military dictatorships (see below). Only the masses of Haiti, with the working class playing the leading role, can find a way out of the endless impoverishment, violence and coups.
Today, more than ever, a workers' and poor people's mass alternative has to be constructed in opposition to the tiny rich elite. The earthquake disaster and abject failure by big powers to provide aid and a proper 'reconstruction programme', will cruelly highlight to the Haitian masses the need for democratic control of the resources in society.
On the basis of capitalism, the vast majority of people will remain impoverished, jobless, illiterate and hungry and living in shantytowns. This existence means that the mass of people will remain highly vulnerable to 'natural disasters'.
Workers and the poor in Haiti need their own independent class organisations, trade unions and a mass party with a socialist programme, to fight for real fundamental change, making an appeal to the working class and poor across the Caribbean and the whole Americas.
The current government of President René Préval is widely seen as corrupt and feeble. But this descent into a "failed state" was not inevitable or somehow to do with the 'national character' of the Haitians, as some western politicians and sections of the mass media would have it.
In the 1780s, under French rule, Haiti exported 60% of all the coffee and 40% of all the sugar consumed in Europe. Just over 200 years ago, the black masses abolished slavery in Haiti and won national independence from France; deeds that inspired the masses of the Caribbean and the world.
But the world powers were vengefully determined that the 'black republic' would fail and embarked on a series of interventions and endless meddling. In 1825, Haiti was saddled with paying enormous 'reparations', which it was paying until 1947!
US marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Between 1957 and 1986, the US backed the notorious regimes of 'Papa Doc' and 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, until the hereditary tyranny was overthrown by a mass movement of workers and students.
A series of highly unstable and short-lived regimes followed. Unfortunately, these years of radical urban movements did not have a revolutionary socialist leadership that could take power, sweep away capitalism and realise the demands of working people.
Last week, President Obama was joined by former US presidents Clinton and Bush, promising to meet Haiti's "moment of need". This was in fact a moment of nauseating hypocrisy, given the role Clinton and Bush played when in office in deepening Haiti's poverty and corruption.
Jean Bertrand Aristide won Haiti's 1990 presidential elections by promising to tackle poverty and social injustice. His initial reforms were popular with the poor, if timid by the standards of what is actually needed to end poverty and joblessness. Nonetheless, Aristide was viciously opposed by the reactionary rich elite.
Aristide was subsequently overthrown by General Cedras, in 1991, but returned to power, in 1994, on the back of 20,000 US troops after the Clinton administration eventually lost patience with the general's volatile and defiant Haitian regime. Clinton ensured that Aristide would not threaten vital US interests or the continuation of the rule of the Haitian elite.
In 2000, Aristide was again elected president with over 90% support but his support lessened as he failed to make any real change to poverty conditions and as allegations of corruption and vote rigging increased.
The Bush administration nevertheless opposed Aristide and blocked international aid to Haiti. The reactionary opposition mounted an uprising in 2004, with the support of members of the Republican Party in the US, and Aristide was bundled out of Haiti by US troops.
The years since Aristide's removal have seen continuing crisis and violence and a succession of prime ministers. In 2006, René Préval was announced winner of the presidential vote. The increase of foreign troops, led by Brazil (playing a regional imperialist role), saw bitter clashes between UN troops and armed gangs in Cité Soleil, one of the largest shanty towns. Food riots, in April 2008, forced the government to announce a plan to cut the price of rice.
Despite President Préval's description as "a champion of the poor" he has not tackled the deep inequalities in Haiti. The huge social gap between the poor Creole-speaking black majority, that make up 95% of the population, and the French-speaking mulattos, 1% of whom own nearly half the country's wealth, remains unaddressed.
Trade policies imposed by international financial agencies left Haiti dependent on food imports, particularly from the US. Soaring rice prices and other staples in 2009 hit the Haitian people very hard. Haiti is burdened with $50 million a year in debt servicing. Last week, a $100 million IMF "emergency loan" was granted but on condition of a public sector pay freeze.
Before the earthquake Bill Clinton, UN special envoy to Haiti, was promoting yet more sweatshops, from which US and Canadian corporations and Haiti's elite would profit.
After months of 'warnings', Bosch have announced that they will close their car components plant in Miskin, south Wales, in 18 months' time - and move production to Hungary. They say that their Hungarian operation can do the work for two-thirds the cost.
If Bosch get away with this, 900 workers at the plant will lose their jobs, along with thousands of other jobs in the car industry supply chain.
In October, a Bosch spokesperson told the press that the South Wales plant was working with Bosch Germany on the next generation of alternators - cutting edge technology. But, it seems, the plant will not be allowed to put the alternator it helped to design into production.
This multinational company is moving, after years of profit-making at the workforce's expense - and at least £21 million in grants from the Welsh Assembly - in order to make even more profit in the low wage economy of Eastern Europe.
Thousands of jobs in Wales have gone in the last 18 months. We cannot afford to lose these jobs - some of the most skilled we have. Bosch also runs an apprenticeship scheme, which receives an avalanche of applications every year.
When Bosch cut 600 jobs at the plant last year, no action was taken because those workers were on casual and agency contracts. Despite all the Welsh Assembly's retraining efforts, a large percentage of those workers still haven't found jobs. Even many of those who are in work have had to take a big cut in pay and conditions.
Bosch workers need to demand nationalisation. If the government can take over banks, they can take over factories to save jobs. Bosch is not ready to move production yet, so workers can still have leverage on the company.
In the mass meeting held at the plant on 16 January, the union told workers that the only issue was how much redundancy they could get. But the threat of industrial action could change the situation completely and put the company on the back foot.
If workers at Bosch fight, they have the chance of keeping the plant open. At worst, a fight would force Bosch to put more money on the table.
Last year, Unite members in the car component sector showed it was possible to fight and win victories against the odds. Workers at the three (ex-Ford) Visteon plants occupied their plants, when the company filed for bankruptcy. Although the occupations didn't manage to keep the plants open, they did force Ford to offer improved redundancy payments.
At the Linamar (ex-Ford/Visteon) plant in Swansea, management sacked the union convenor, Socialist Party member Rob Williams, last summer - and then were forced to reinstate him after the workforce took an overwhelming vote for strike action.
Workers from car plants far and wide had pledged their support and hundreds came to Swansea for a rally of support. Bosch workers will have the same support - and support from the general public - if they decide to fight.
From Vectis buses, to Vestas, to Fords, to Royal Mail and more; on every strike and picket line in Hampshire in 2009 we encountered workers' anger at their employers' attacks, but also their dismay at the failure of the Labour government to give them support.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) recently registered to stand candidates in the general election. This is a vital opportunity to give workers a voice in the fight for jobs and in defence of public services and working conditions.
The No2EU - Yes to Democracy coalition for the June 2009 European election meant that workers, trade unionists and socialists could unite in a common political fight to oppose the bosses' parties and the far right.
Since then the Portsmouth Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) branch has campaigned for the RMT to continue to participate in an electoral challenge.
When asked why Portsmouth RMT supports the coalition, branch secretary Richard Howard said: "Since becoming a union rep, members are constantly asking why we can't do things. I have to explain that the law is not on our side and that past victories on balloting and workplace solidarity have been taken away by the New Labour government.
"The RMT has been evicted from the Labour Party and we want to have a voice. As socialists we have to fight for public ownership and win people to a real alternative."
'No2EU Wessex' has been transformed into 'TUSC Portsmouth' and support is growing to back Mick Tosh, an RMT activist and former RMT executive committee member, as a candidate in Portsmouth North for the general election.
Mick says: "Portsmouth needs a real debate on the things which concern our society. By standing in the forthcoming election and arguing for the principles of the People's Charter, to protect jobs, provide affordable housing for all and renationalise public services. That process will start gathering a needed momentum toward a genuine alternative for the less well off and working people of Portsmouth."
All the main parties are outbidding each other, under pressure from big business billionaires, to slash public services, jobs, wages and pensions in the biggest attack on working class people for decades. Tusc will give a real alternative to their agenda, saying 'we won't pay for their crisis'.
To promote the launch of the new coalition Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, is speaking at a public meeting in Portsmouth on Monday 25 January, alongside local activists.
HUNDREDS OF declarations of support have been received for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) election challenge to New Labour.
Serving on the coalition steering committee, in a personal capacity, are, among others, Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport workers' union, Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), and Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service union.
The coalition's stand, for a working class alternative to the pro-cuts agenda of the capitalist parties, is receiving enthusiastic support from fighting trade unionists.
To add your name as a sponsor of the Tusc, in a personal capacity, either return the slip below to Tusc, 17 Colebert House, Colebert Avenue, London E1 4JP or email: email@example.com
Some of the initial sponsors, all in a personal capacity:
Secretary, RMT Wessex regional council & Portsmouth RMT
National Union of Teachers (NUT) senior vice-president elect
Unison National Executive Committee (NEC)
Unison Health Service Group executive
Communications Workers Union (CWU) NEC
PCS DWP Group Vice President
Vice chair, PCS DWP Leicestershire general branch
Secretary, Glasgow City Unison
Chair, Portsmouth City Unison
Secretary, Unison Manweb branch
Secretary, Surrey County Unison
Secretary, Lewisham NUT
Vice president, Lewisham NUT
Chairman, National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Wales
Unison Tenant Services Authority branch secretary
RMT rep, Edgware Group LU
Joint Unison convenor, Leicester Partnership Trust
Secretary, Unite LE 1/1228 branch
Bath & NE Somerset NUT committee
Manchester Metro University Unison Equalities Officer
Chair, Bracknell Unite
Vice chair, Manchester NUJ
North Devon Unison Healthcare branch committee
East Midlands PCS DWP Young members' officer
Treasurer, Ipswich NUT & president, Ipswich Trades Council
Secretary, Cardiff Trades Council
Leeds Metro University UCU rep
South Derby Unison health branch rep
Bracknell Unite branch committee
West Midlands PCS Learning & Skills branch committee
West Yorkshire CWU branch committee
North Somerset NUT branch officer
HSBC Bank Unite workplace rep
Coventry Unison steward
Waltham Forest NUT rep
Secretary, Stevenage Trades Council
Vice President, West Sussex NUT
Without money to fund the work of the Socialist Party, the party would not be able to take its ideas to workers and young people. This is why the party is appealing to its members, supporters and readers of The Socialist to donate to its 2010 general election appeal to raise £50,000 to help show a socialist alternative at election time.
The pro-capitalist Tory, Labour and LibDem parties cosy up to the millionaires (and billionaires) to boost their election funds and in return deliver business friendly policies. The Socialist Party stands for 'the millions' not the millionaires and that it is where our funds come from to finance our work.
In the southern region, seven Socialist Party branch secretaries pledged £1,270 at our recent regional meeting. This is a sign of the enthusiasm to stand candidates as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) and build support for our ideas.
A further twelve southern region Socialist Party members have pledged £1,325. We aim to raise £3,500. Donations in the Southern region have ranged from £10 to £400, from young students to better paid workers, some donating one week's income. We value every pound that is donated and recognise the sacrifice it means to our members and supporters at this time.
The Socialist Party has argued consistently for the need for a political voice for working class people. In Southampton the party stood in the 1997 and 2001 elections and warned what a New Labour government would mean as New Labour is a big business party. Since then anger at New Labour has grown amongst youth on the question of university cuts and tuition fees, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and amongst workers and trade unionists on the destruction of industry with jobs losses, the privatisation of public services and attacks on wages and pensions.
The 'No2EU-Yes to Democracy' 2009 European election campaign brought the Socialist Party closer to other like-minded workers and the general election will be an opportunity to take this further. We are confident that by the time of the party's southern region conference on Saturday 30 January we will have smashed our £3,500 target and be ready to take our ideas to cities and towns across the region.
Please help the Socialist Party reach the national target of £50,000 by completing and posting the form below or by phoning 020 8988 8777. Donations can be given as a single payment or spread over a few months, as long as all payments are made by 10 April 2010. If you have already made a pledge to the appeal, please make sure you complete payment of your donation by that date.
* Click here to donate over our secure server
Alternatively please send your cheque to: General Election Appeal, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD, giving your name and address.
Barking in east London is a deprived area by most measures, consistently facing attacks on services, jobs and homes. Unemployment in Barking and Dagenham has risen from 5.2% in July 2008 to 8.6% in July 2009 and has continued to rise.
Attacks on education have led to 39.5% of the population aged 16 to 74 having no qualifications. Cuts to the health service come alongside the fact that 19.9% of the borough's population have a limiting long-term illness.
However, Barking is no stranger to attacks. The borough once thrived off the skilled employment offered by the Dagenham Ford plant. At its height, the plant had 40,000 workers, and thousands were in subsidiary industries, which provided a future for many working class young people. Now that workforce has shrunk to 4,000, as Ford gradually scale back the plant to protect their profits.
Local council housing reached 40,000 at the height of Ford's employment and the massive Becontree estate was expanded to house the workers of the plant.
Within 20 years that figure dropped to 20,000, despite a housing waiting list today that would take eight years to clear at the current rate of provision. Now the Becontree estate is the far-right BNP's strongest base of support in the area.
The skilled work offered by Ford has virtually gone and now people in Barking have the lowest average income in London. Over 10% of families are single parent families and 55% of children grow up in poverty.
Failed by Labour policies on employment, housing, education and health it is possible for the BNP's anti-immigration rhetoric to gain an echo where no alternative is offered to the problems faced by the working class of the area.
Local Labour MP Margaret Hodge, embroiled in the MPs' expenses scandal, voted for introducing ID cards, foundation hospitals, student top-up fees and Labour's 'anti-terrorism' laws. She also supports the Iraq war and opposed an investigation into it. It is no wonder the people of Barking are fed up with their millionaire MP.
The BNP have no solutions to the problems faced by workers and young people. In a borough where class unity needs rebuilding, the BNP's divisive tactics are no cure. BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing here in the general election but this very rich, Cambridge educated landowner is far removed from the working class of Barking. The BNP, with its 12 local councillors, have failed in their role as the official opposition on the council to New Labour and have voted through cuts like all the other political parties.
Youth Fight for Jobs will be campaigning at schools, colleges and jobcentres in Barking against attacks on young people and to build a united fightback against cuts. Neither Labour, Tories, LibDems or the BNP can represent unemployed young people, and none of them will solve our problems.
Click here for YF4J leaflet
When the government announced plans to tear up the longstanding agreement on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS) they badly underestimated the anger of civil servants at this attack on their contractual redundancy and early retirement scheme. The new proposals would mean potential losses of tens of thousands of pounds for members in the event of voluntary or compulsory redundancy.
PCS members recognised this is an undisguised attempt to cut jobs and privatise on the cheap. In reality, the "savings" that ministers want to make can only be made on the basis of massive redundancies and privatisation. While the government is cynically trying to portray these proposals as an attempt to tackle "excessive" redundancy pay-outs for the tiny amount of highly paid civil servants, it is the low-paid majority who will be affected.
The PCS Democracy Alliance-led national executive committee (NEC) launched a consultation process with over a thousand meetings attended by over 35,000 members who overwhelmingly endorsed the union's opposition to the proposals. They backed the campaign to win a fair settlement, including taking legal and industrial action.
Over 18,000 members directly responded to the management consultation by letter and email, an astounding response that rattled permanent secretaries [civil service bosses] and ministers alike. Over 2,500 directly contacted their constituency MPs and 115 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion supporting the union's case.
Despite government promises that meaningful negotiations would take place, permanent secretaries, in a breach of trust that does them no credit, have tried to impose a settlement, which also, apparently, represents the government's "final position". This settlement actually contains concessions, but they are minor and affect few people. Overall, the proposals still represent a major detriment for the vast majority of PCS members.
Despite their so-called "impartiality" the majority of departmental permanent secretaries are a highly politicised bunch committed to the same pro-market ideology as their political 'masters'. They cynically ignore the overwhelming evidence that public servants deliver services better and more cheaply than the private sector and drive the cuts and privatisation agenda regardless of the damage to services.
They display staggering disloyalty to their own low-paid staff. They care even less about the communities that will be stripped of services through job cuts and privatisation, with a potentially catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised in society.
The government has learned nothing from the recession. Their response has been a stepping up of their cuts and privatisation programme as witnessed in their interim budget some months ago.
In an astonishing con trick the debate has been manipulated to focus on the "un-affordability" of public spending and the need to reduce the spending deficit rather than on the failure of the banking system and the unrestrained free market that caused the economic crisis in the first place.
Incapable of seeing any alternative to the pro-market ideology that has created economic chaos, this rudderless government is allowing the most hawkish of the permanent secretaries to lead them into a dispute, rather than reach a negotiated settlement. This, before a general election, will lose them the votes of hundreds of thousands of civil servants and their families.
There can be no justification for attacking the contractual rights of low-paid workers at a time when the rich and big business are evading tax to the tune of £100 billion a year. These proposals are aimed at clearing the path for a more generalised assault on jobs and conditions following the general election, PCS is correct to oppose them.
The PCS NEC is now launching a ballot for national discontinuous industrial action in order to force the type of fair settlement our members need and deserve.
It is likely the industrial action campaign will begin with a two-day national strike to be followed by further action if required. There will also be a national overtime ban.
A judicial review has been launched. Political lobbying will be stepped up and working with other civil service unions will be a top priority.
The union's National Campaign Liaison Committee, which consists of leading lay activists from all the various departments and bodies, met following the NEC and unanimously endorsed the national union strategy. This committee will be reconvened throughout the campaign - planning, accountability and consultation has always been at the heart of the NEC's campaign strategy.
As the PCS NEC was due to meet, management said they are prepared to talk further, this is of course very welcome but only if the negotiations are meaningful.
By sticking together, we protected pension rights when they came under attack in 2005, securing rights for existing staff and negotiating one of the better deals in the public sector for new entrants. We went on to secure a major agreement on job protection.
Campaigning works and action gets results. Our members understand this is a fight for jobs and services and we are determined to secure a fair and reasonable settlement, which is entirely achievable.
On 15 January, Sodexo workers at North Devon district hospital finally won their battle for pay rises, sick pay, and a lump sum payment of up to £3,600. The new terms and conditions, which apply from 1 January this year, are now in line with the Agenda for Change agreement.
The lump sum compensates the Sodexo workers for lost earnings from October 2006, when Agenda for Change was supposed to be implemented. Years of requests from Unison did little to move the Trust and Sodexo to honour the agreement.
It was determined strike action that moved them, with the resolve of the strikers deepening as the dispute went on.
The strikes were well organised and received widespread support from other hospital staff, the public, and other Unison and union branches.
Saturday's rally in support of the Sodexo workers was transformed into a victory celebration.
Speakers rightly highlighted the importance of strong union organisation, which has only got stronger as a result of the struggle.
Unison membership among Sodexo staff has risen from about 80 to around 200, out of roughly 300. The experience and confidence gained will be invaluable for future struggles which, as Jessica Pearce of the PCS union pointed out in her speech, are sadly inevitable.
Jessica stressed that a united struggle will be required in the face of the onslaught workers currently face, which is set to intensify over the course of 2010.
Workers who are employed by private sector contractors still face a raw deal in many parts of the public sector.
Alongside important struggles such as the one at North Devon district hospital, we must continue to fight to bring back in-house all services performed in the public sector, and for the renationalisation of services and utilities currently in private hands.
Only with publicly owned and democratically controlled public services can we be sure that workers and the public don't see wages and services cut to fill the pockets of shareholders and bosses.
South Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has called a strike for 24/25 January and another from 27 January to 4 February. This is against bullying management's threat once again to sack firefighters if they don't agree to detrimental and imposed shift changes.
Fire chiefs, backed by the Labour-controlled Fire Authority, have been trying to force through 12 hour shifts for 18 months.
But firefighters fear these changes would make it easier for management to cut night-time fire cover and reduce staffing levels further.
FBU members went on strike seven times in the autumn, forcing the bosses to withdraw threatened dismissals and agree to go to ACAS arbitration to resolve the dispute, so further strike action was suspended.
But management have reneged on this deal, wanting to set pre-conditions to arbitration.
After FBU members rejected a further 'offer', South Yorkshire fire chief Mark Smitherman sent letters to all South Yorkshire firefighters saying they would be sacked if they didn't sign up to the new shift patterns by 18 January.
In response to the FBU's renewed strike call, Smitherman said: "Considering all the job losses and pay cuts being implemented elsewhere, I would urge the FBU to get into the real world!"
Fireman Sam from Barnsley replied on a blog:
"Priceless!, a quote from a man who had a 10% pay rise last year on top of the firefighters' below inflation 1%. He has probably had the same this year too!
"His wage this year is set to rise to £167,000 from £148,000... how dare this person tell anyone to get in the real world?
"By the way, the latest white elephant and complete waste of South Yorkshire people's taxes are the four appliances he bought which are not fit for purpose so cannot be used. This has cost over £500,000 each and are still no good."
Firefighters could be joined on strike by Sheffield First bus drivers who are threatening to call renewed strikes after their negotiations over disciplinary procedures broke down.
650 Unite members at the Olive Grove depot took four days of strike action in the autumn, winning victories on five individual disciplinary cases and reinstating the 'day-board'.
But negotiations since to change the disciplinary and sickness procedures that are routinely used to bully and intimidate drivers and get these changes in writing have broken down.
With the 91% strike ballot still live, further action is due to be called.
Rail union TSSA members in Coventry were on strike on 15 January for the second time in as many weeks, as the dispute with Virgin Trains management continues.
Ticket office staff walked out between 4pm and 7pm. This will be followed by further action.
Once again, pickets received support from the public - what they are fighting for is in the interests of the rail users as much as the staff themselves.
Pickets distributed a TSSA leaflet, which explained how the union are fighting for a commitment to the future of the ticket offices, no job losses, shift cover, and a fair deal for staff.
It said: "Virgin trains have refused to commit to any of these requests - a response that is indicative of a privatised rail industry where maximising income and shareholder dividend always seems to get priority over the interests of rail users."
The Socialist Party agrees with this - one of the many reasons we oppose rail privatisation and support the full renationalisation and public ownership of the railways.
Despite the cold, the workers were in a determined mood, and were warmed by samosas and onion bhajis on the picket line.
ONE YEAR ago, on 20 January 2009, the largest gathering of people in US history witnessed the inauguration in Washington DC of Barack Obama as president of the United States. For many older African-American workers, this was viewed as the most important political event of their lives. Millions of young people gained a renewed sense of optimism after growing up with an instilled hatred against Bush and the Republicans.
After eight years of a widening wealth gap, adventurist wars, declining civil liberties and an increasingly embarrassing circus in the halls of power, people deeply desired a sharp shift away from Bush and company. With Cheney, Rove and Bush on their way out, big business needed to restore credibility to an important institution of US power and prestige, the presidency.
In the 2008 elections, even Republicans were running their fastest to distance themselves from Bush. Anti-establishment sentiment was funnelled towards Obama's campaign in massive numbers and some towards the "rouge hockey mom" Sarah Palin. The landscape was swept up in a desperate mood for change as politicians of every stripe struggled to be considered an 'outsider'. Hillary Clinton and John McCain could not attempt to match the outsider credentials of Obama.
Still, big business had concerns about the enthusiasm of young people and African-Americans becoming engaged in politics. In an editorial on 17 February 2008, the Washington Post warned Barack Obama against stirring up "class warfare" and cautioned him from making promises "implying that he would pay for new domestic programs with an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and in exaggerating the 'millions' of job losses attributable to trade agreements."
After the conventions of both parties, the McCain/Palin ticket was gaining, even leading in some polls. Then the financial sector collapsed. As the subprime crisis raged on, McCain said "the fundamentals of our economy are sound." Both sections of big business and voters swung decisively behind Obama and his hallmark of "change" in the fall of 2008.
Despite the rhetoric, the same people are running Washington; the top stockholders of corporate America. After one year of the Democrats in power, fundamental change has not come. Controlling both houses of Congress and with Obama in the White House, the ruling party cannot point to a single significant accomplishment that will improve the lives of working people or the future for youth.
In the euphoria of Obama's surge towards power, he declared ordinary Americans "will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally [been] reserved for the wealthy and the powerful." Now, Obama is surrounded by former executives at Goldman-Sachs and established corporate politician kingmaker Rahm Emmanuel.
Matt Taibi wrote in Rolling Stone: "The aid that Obama has provided to real people has been dwarfed in size and scope by the taxpayer money that has been handed over to America's financial giants" (12/9/09). The big banks are compensated for triggering the financial crisis to the tune of trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, state and local budgets face the most colossal cuts in the history of the country in coming years.
Real unemployment figures are in the double digits. The days of not having a job being a 'personal problem' or a 'family issue' in the US are gone for good. Social services will come under attack as the politicians and their big business masters cut budgets. Privatisation of public services like water and even education is occurring at a more rapid pace.
Meanwhile, executive bankers are giving themselves massive bonuses from their record profits. These profits were gained through cynically taking taxpayer dollars and then funnelling the money back into the markets at lowered rates. This will continue to fuel the class anger in US society which will eventually find an industrial and political expression.
When Obama was in the Illinois state senate, he was an outspoken proponent of a single-payer health system, similar to Britain's NHS before the attacks of the recent years. On the campaign trail, Obama was asked how the US could achieve a single-payer health system. The passionate response was, "first, we have to take back the White House, the Senate, and the House..." Done, done and...done!
Still, the healthcare debate was reserved for the "wealthy and powerful." When doctors and nurses from Physicians for a National Health Plan politely requested a hearing on the floor of Congress, they were arrested!
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical and insurance companies sat down with the politicians that they fund in order to agree on how the sickness vultures can make more profits.
The health bill now in the process of becoming law is a far cry from single-payer. At the very beginning of the debate, Obama and other top Democrats declared that single-payer was "off the table." The bill does not even have the strong "public option" that labour and community activists had hoped for.
While some pain may be relieved for the 45 million people without health insurance, the very basis of the crisis - a health industry dominated by massive profits for insurance companies - will remain intact and can only worsen.
The new health bill is also an attack on women's right to choose when and whether to have children. In the House, a Democrat named Bart Stupak initiated a successful amendment to make sure that no future "public option" or even government-subsidised private plan includes abortion. In the Senate, another Democrat (Ben Nelson) put forward a somewhat similar amendment.
With both parties clearly favouring big business and war, women's rights is often pointed to as a defining difference which makes the Democrats worthy of support. This is clearly not the case.
February is Black history month in the US. On this occasion, we now have a full year's experience with the first ever black president. The fact that Obama was elected will always be seen as a marker in race relations in this country. The fact that white voters helped elect Obama shows a step away from racist attitudes amongst ordinary Americans.
While Obama is still hugely popular amongst African-Americans, polls show that enthusiasm is waning. After all, institutional racism is still a massive factor in US society.
In 2009, a year of immense job destruction, the unemployment rate for blacks averaged around 15%-16% and climbing. One of the most shocking facts of life for black youth is the catastrophic rate of unemployment. In November 2009, over 48% of African-Americans 16-19 years of age were unemployed. The rate for whites of the same age was half of that.
The subprime crisis was severe in African-American neighbourhoods, promp-ting a housing activist in Boston to say: "The amount of black people left without homes in Boston over the last two years is bigger than the amount of people displaced in New Orleans. Boston is Katrina without the water."
If the social misery created by economic injustice were not enough, racial discrimination is also rampant in the policing and legal systems. There are daily risks and humiliations in communities of colour, where police behave like an occupying power.
While blacks are only 13% of the total population, they make up half of the prison population. Over half a century since the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Project annual report shows that 39% of blacks now attend intensely segregated and underfunded schools.
Yet, there is not a single Obama policy aimed at specifically addressing the racial disparity in unemployment, foreclosures, or mistreatment by the police and legal system. What Obama has offered to African-Americans can be narrowed down to his presence in the White House along with some stern lecturing about personal responsibility.
The existence of Obama in the White House has massive symbolic significance as the elimination of another racial barrier. But in the long run, the symbolism will not have much meaning without real initiatives to challenge institutional racism and the capitalist system that it helps uphold.
The relationship between labour leaders and the Democrats in election years is much like the Santa Claus myth. The politicians say, 'if you're good, you'll get a present'. The promised present this time was the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
EFCA would have made it much easier to join a union and much harder to fire workers for union activity. Thousands of workers every year in the US are sacked for pro-union activity.
The labour leaders upheld their end of the bargain. They spent hundreds of millions of workers' dues dollars on getting Democrats elected. The number one reason, of course, was EFCA. Now, EFCA is "dead in committee."
The original Congressional signatories of EFCA have now switched positions and are firmly against. Obama had promised to sign EFCA if it reached his desk, probably knowing full-well it never would.
For their part, the labour leaders have been trained in defeat, demoralisation and dwindling influence since the early 1980s. A mass mobilisation, beyond the realm of thought for many top labour leaders, could have won EFCA and built the labour movement in the context of the colossal anger against the bailouts that had politicians running scared from their constituents in the fall and winter of 2008.
On the issue of education, Obama is actually worse than Bush. Bush wanted to privatise elements of US education and bust the unions, but he wanted to do it through the back door. Obama is knocking right on the front door with a proposal for "merit pay" which would tie students' high-stakes testing performance to teachers' pay and security. Underfunded schools could then be called "failing" as a precursor to privatisation. This has happened in areas locally, but it was never put forward as a consciously national scheme before Obama.
Merit pay and education cuts are part of an overall attack on the public sector, particularly the unions that were set up across the country after the wave of Civil Rights struggle that inspired workers in the 1960s. There are battles looming, and in some places have already begun.
In the 1990s, when Democratic president Bill Clinton passed the North American Free Trade Agreement and virtually ended welfare, many labour activists revolted politically.
In this period, Socialist Alternative was the only organised force to put full support behind the historic initiatives towards political independence, the Labour Party and Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. Should an industrial struggle break out openings like these will re-emerge with potentially longer-lasting opportunities.
Many youth are disappointed and even infuriated with Obama's war policies. The Democrats are a party of imperialist war, from World War One to Vietnam to Iraq. Still, Obama flaunted anti-war credentials on the campaign trail for having opposed the war in Iraq before it started. Well, just recently, Obama asked Congress for another $33 billion in war appropriations. A further 30,000 troops are being deployed to Afghanistan.
During the later stages of his campaign, Obama let big business know that he could be fully relied upon to carry out their international interests militarily. He spoke to the main pro-Israel lobby in the US called AIPAC, declaring that the US would back Israel in potential military actions against Iran. Naming hawkish Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State sent a clear message that the US ruling class will still use its military might.
The ruling class needed Obama for a policy shift of imperialism. The unilateralism and anti-diplomacy of the Bush days can no longer be employed. A massive power in relative decline needs a friendlier face to attempt to assert a dominance that is no longer as all-encompassing.
The Los Angeles Times commented in February 2008: "An Obama presidency would present as a distinctly American face, a man of African descent....with a childhood spent in Asia, among Muslims. No public campaign could do more than Obama's mere presence in the White House to defuse anti-American passion around the world..."
Despite a certain change in foreign policy, the death and destruction inflicted by US military dominance will continue until capitalism is challenged.
The contradictions of perception and reality were fully on display when the Norwegian Nobel Committee granted Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama's acceptance speech defended the US use of military might just one week after announcing the troop surge in Afghanistan. Socialist Alternative helped to organise anti-war protests on the day that Obama received the Prize.
Anti-war actions are likely to be small for a period of time due to the Democrats occupying the halls of power, but it will be a more politicised section of youth and workers who will want to take action against the financial and human costs of war as our jobs and services are left to crumble.
Many liberals will apologise for Obama by saying that he was "pushed to the right" because the US population "isn't ready for change." This is absolutely 100%, unequivocally false. The majority of people in the US wanted single-payer health care before the debate broke out. Despite all the right-wing propaganda, a broad majority still support a strong "public option."
Most people in the US want all troops home now from Iraq. Even Afghanistan, a war tied in people's minds to the tragedy of 9/11, is unpopular, with most opposing the troop surge and wanting a withdrawal of forces. Over 80% of people in this country say big business has too much control over their lives. Ordinary people want jobs. Ordinary people want services. Ordinary people want peace. The US public is not holding Obama back from providing change.
Big business is the force stopping progress, and the Democratic Party is more than tied to big business. Democrats are bound, gagged and held by the puppet strings of corporate America.
While the general population is not pushing Obama to the right, there are populists on the right wing that will gain from the growing discontent. They will scapegoat immigrants as the economic crisis continues. They will even cite the bailouts as "socialism." While the accusations of socialism didn't undermine Obama, they did provide both an increased interest in Marxism and a fuelled hysteria for the ultra-right.
Without a mobilised labour movement and other struggles to confront Obama's policies, there is a danger of a growing extreme right both inside and outside of the Republican Party. With a Republican base feeling further isolated from a society that they had the illusion of controlling, this could be quite a dangerous scenario.
In California, deemed a "failed state" by capitalist commentators, a revolt of trade unionists and youth is taking place, with strikes and demonstrations culminating in a day of action on 4 March. This could be the music of the future. The test for public sector unions is coming. Reaching out to the people using those services would be necessary to achieve victory.
A few winning struggles could potentially rebuild a labour left in the US that would have to rapidly face the issue of a break with the Democrats and the need for anti-cuts, anti-war election candidates. Otherwise, the right will build out of the discontent, and the labour movement will become further isolated.
Socialists built the unions in the US, were the backbone of the Civil Rights movement and were the driving force in the struggle to end the Vietnam War.
Socialist ideas will again be discovered by a new generation moving into struggle. Real change will not come from big business politicians. It will come from movements built by ordinary workers and youth fighting in their own interests.
ON 14 January, the European International Committee on Trade meeting in Brussels, Belgium, heard powerful evidence from Senan, the international coordinator of Tamil Solidarity, and from Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP, Ireland, of gross human rights violations by the Rajapakse government in Sri Lanka which warrant trade sanctions.
They also warned of further abuses, whichever of the two main candidates wins the presidential election in Sri Lanka. The importance of a campaign for genuine democracy was stressed and backing urged for Siritunga Jayasuriya the presidential candidate of the United Socialist Party. Right, we print part of the Tamil Solidarity press release.
THE EU trade committee held a hearing on 14 January to debate the removal of the GSP Plus (generalised system of [trade] preferences) concession to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka faces charges of human rights violations.
The Sri Lankan ambassador argued that Sri Lanka is improving its human rights record, claiming that "former combatants have been released and sent for rehabilitation or held back for closer investigation... All child combatants are being rehabilitated." This 'improvement' was challenged by Senan in the debate.
Senan accused the Sri Lankan government of creating 'transit centres' where released detainees are held and of, in effect, turning the north "into an open prison".
Tamil Solidarity pointed out that there is evidence that children as young as eight years old are kept in special detention centres, in effect, torture camps.
The ambassador stated that the "Reporters sans Frontieres website listed only one alleged attempt to kidnap a journalist in the last year". But Vincent Brossel of RSF explained that on the previous day "a local journalist from the BBC was beaten by supporters of a minister because she was covering the election campaign."
Hypocritically the ambassador made a plea on behalf of those suffering the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004. But the Tamil Solidarity coordinator pointed out that the majority of the aid and tax relaxation made available to Sri Lanka has not reached most of the victims. He accused the corrupt Rajapakse government of spending the aid on further curtailing democratic rights.
Joe Higgins MEP spoke in favour of GSP Plus withdrawal and accused the Sri Lankan government of spinning a 'good news story' which is far from the reality of the experience of ordinary people.
He said that "absolutely no one wants to create a situation that can cause problems for the ordinary working and poor people in Sri Lanka. But it is the government of Sri Lanka that will carry the full responsibility if a decision is taken to withdraw the special status."
In the end the European Commission representative reported that it will withdraw the GSP+ to Sri Lanka in six months if no genuine improvements are made.
Here is the link for the video of the Tamil Solidarity speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03znhPYKdzQ
LAST WEEK the European Court of Human Rights ruled that 'stop and search' powers given to the police by the Terrorism Act 2000 are unlawful.
Protester Kevin Gillan and journalist Penny Quinton brought the case. They were both detained and searched by Metropolitan Police officers on the way to a 2003 demonstration against an arms fair in London's Docklands.
Penny Quinton was stopped and searched even after showing the police her press card. Kevin Gillan was told he had been stopped because there "were a lot of protesters about" and the police thought they "might cause trouble". These were protesters campaigning against bombs rather than carrying them!
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 gives the police the power to stop and search on a "hunch". No reasonable suspicion is needed that an offence has been committed or that the person detained is carrying anything which might be used for terrorist purposes.
In theory, the power is only usable in a specific area designated by the police for no more than 28 days, so the Metropolitan Police designate all of Greater London every 28 days.
The power was used around 250,000 times last year. Black and Asian people are four times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 44 than white people. Less than 0.1% of those stopped using this power are arrested for terrorism offences, let alone charged or convicted.
The power is useless as a tool against terrorism, so why keep it? To harass protesters and deter others from joining them as well as giving the police and state an extra bit of control over society.
New Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson intends to appeal the judgement and says that there's no need to change the law. It seems likely that the government will simply ignore a problem ruling. The Tories and LibDems have voiced concern but opposition parties become keen on repressive powers when in power and charged with protecting big business.
Even if the section was repealed, the police could use other powers. Kent police stopped and searched protesters at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp in 2008, including eleven year old twins.
They used Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which requires reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is carrying weapons or articles that could be used for criminal damage.
As this could include a nail file, the power is almost as wide as the Section 44 power.
Alternatively, the police can use their common law powers, as when Kent miners were stopped from crossing the Thames on their way to pickets in the North during their 1984-85 strike.
The damage has been done by the time anyone can bring a court case, which most people cannot afford to do and which might not succeed. Judges are not noted as being sympathetic to protesters.
Trade unionists have to act to defend the right to protest and organise. Ditching New Labour and setting up a party committed to democratic rights would be a good start.
THE FIRST crown court non-jury criminal trial in England and Wales has begun, marking a serious departure from a fundamental principle of justice.
The case concerns the trial of four men over a robbery that took place at the Menzies World Cargo warehouse at Heathrow airport, in February 2004.
Isabella Sankey, from Liberty, warned that the non-jury trial is a "dangerous precedent" and that trial by jury is "a practice that ensures that one class of people don't sit in judgement over another."
Trial by jury is a principle that traces its roots back to the Magna Carta in 1215. Not since 1641 and the abolition of the Court of the Star Chamber, have citizens faced trial for serious criminal offences without a jury. The principle, however, was limited in New Labour's Criminal Justice Act in 2003, and this came into force in 2007.
Following the third collapse of the trial arising from the Heathrow robbery, the Lord Chief Justice allowed the Crown's appeal for a new non jury trial. He tried to justify his decision by stating that the financial costs of a jury trial are too high. In response, the Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association said: "Some principles of justice are beyond price. Trial by your peers is one of them."
Non-jury trials have actually long been a feature of the legal system in Northern Ireland. The infamous 'Diplock Courts', were introduced in 1972 following a review by the then Law Lord, Lord Kenneth Diplock. Supposedly in response to witness intimidation by paramilitary groups, Diplock courts were condemned by civil liberty organisations and reviled by working class communities in Northern Ireland, particularly in Catholic areas.
Diplock courts marked an attempt at 'criminalisation' of the conflict. At their height, over 300 trials per year were held in Diplock courts, with many people found 'guilty' and imprisoned on the decision of judges alone.
Although legislation concerning Diplock courts was eventually repealed in 2007, as a result of their general discrediting and the wider 'peace process', provision remains in place in Northern Ireland for such trials to take place in "exceptional cases". In 2009, it was decided to hold a trial of a Derry solicitor in a Diplock court, for alleged involvement with loyalist paramilitaries.
Under New Labour, civil liberties and human rights have come under relentless attack and have been seriously eroded. While government ministers claim they only have serious criminal and 'complex' fraud cases in mind for non jury trials, how long will it be before non jury trials are used in cases involving anti-capitalist activists, anti-climate change protesters and workers in industrial struggles?
These new Diplock courts must be opposed not only in the interests of justice but also from the point of view of the wider working class.
THE TEDIUM of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war was briefly interrupted when Tony Blair's former spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, was summoned to testify.
Like a scene from the political satire The Thick of It, Campbell gave a robust defence of the 'dodgy dossier' which underpinned the Blair government's decision to go to war. He denied fabricating evidence about Iraqi WMDs saying: "I defend every single word of the dossier; I defend every single part of the process." And, as a fallback to this risible attempt to justify this work of fiction, Campbell put Sir John Scarlett - the former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee - in the dock over the dossier, saying he "held the pen".
Unfortunately, Campbell's own diaries show that he "bombarded" Scarlett with at least 15 suggestions on how to 'improve' the dossier, which led to assessments of Saddam's nuclear weapons programme becoming more alarmist.
Reg Keys, a founder member of Military Families Against the War whose soldier son Tom was killed in Iraq, said: "I believe he [Campbell] is a liar. He's lying to save his skin. He knows that the truth was massaged."
As part of their 'progressive cuts' agenda, the Liberal Democrats have now backed down from their pledge of abolishing tuition fees. LibDem leader Nick Clegg now claims: "the world has changed" and that "money does not grow on trees".
But the Liberal Democrats have calculated that abolishing tuition fees would cost an 'unaffordable' £3.5 billion, and they backed the bailing out of the banks which cost over £800 billion, showing where their principles really lie.
The LibDems in the past have tried to win over the student vote by putting on a 'radical' front. Sadly this has caused some students to come to the false conclusion that the LibDems are an alternative to New Labour and the Tories. Even though they have never been elected to power, the LibDems have proved many times that they are in the same league as the rich and powerful.
Where they have been elected to council positions they have voted through cuts and privatisation of public services, such as the Tyne and Wear Metro system which is used by many students every day.
The LibDems are perhaps positioning themselves even further to the right in an attempt to show themselves as reliable coalition partners in a Tory-led government, which will inevitably cut our public services. However, no matter which combination of the main parties we get in government, it will only represent the bankers and the rich, making sure they don't suffer for the crisis they caused. Instead it will be ordinary workers and students who suffer.
The cuts, which all three main parties put forward, will put many more working class students off going to university. Unlike the LibDems, the Campaign to Defeat Fees and Youth Fight for Jobs fight for a free, publicly owned education system with living grants for all. The only way we will defeat tuition fees once and for all is by building a mass campaign involving students and linking up with workers in struggle and the trade union movement.
On the day when the TUC and others write to the government to express their concern that 620,000 people have been out of work for over a year, we hear that Gordon Brown is to expand the army cadet forces in state schools.
The Mirror explains how this is part of Gordon's plan to stop the "upper classes dominating the top ranks of the armed forces".
Could we be forgiven for thinking that, rather, these are desperate measures to keep the youth unemployment figures down?
If the government is so concerned about "social mobility" why are ministers proposing cuts in education and public services?
The Socialist Party's National Committee (NC) met on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 January.
The first discussion, on political developments in Britain and worldwide, was introduced by the party's general secretary Peter Taaffe.
2009 saw some important workplace disputes, including construction worker strikes, factory occupations, the postal workers' dispute and local public sector action involving bin workers and fire fighters among others. Bigger and more frequent workplace and political struggles are likely during the next few years.
Saturday ended with a discussion on the potential work of the new Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition during the 2010 general election.
The Sunday discussion on building the Socialist Party showed that there has been a big increase in the number of people interested in socialist ideas during the last 12 months.
While this resulted in record numbers of people joining the Socialist Party, this could just be a foretaste of many more people joining the party in the near future. A NC statement on the methods and opportunities for building the Socialist Party was agreed.
The meeting ended with a report from the international executive committee of the Committee for a Workers' International, which had met in December.
The NC is elected by the Socialists Party's national congress and has representatives from every region in England and Wales. Socialist Party branches should arrange to have a detailed meeting report from a NC member in their region.
Education bosses in Greenwich have begun laying off workers and slashing and burning terms and conditions of some of their lowest paid workers. They are preparing the ground for a new education trust run by the University of Greenwich. The two schools selected to be part of the trust are Eltham Green school and Eglinton School in Plumstead.
Teaching assistants (TAs) from the two schools lobbied the council on 8 December. Michelle Nimmo, a TA at Eglinton school, explained how she was sacked while on maternity leave.
Michelle was called to a meeting with no one to represent her in a room full of strangers and given notice that she was being made redundant. The school's head teacher didn't even attend the meeting because she was on holiday in Indonesia!
Meanwhile at Eltham Green school 39 workers have been made redundant as part of a so-called "restructuring" package. TA Kirsty Gibson explained that this has been done so that bosses can "pick off the most vulnerable workers". As a result the school has lost experienced workers.
She also explained that this is an attack on staff pay, terms and conditions as the council have now opened up 39 new vacancies at the school. Former staff will be able to apply for these positions but those that get the jobs will do so on much lower terms than before.
The next night a meeting was held to discuss the fightback. The meeting was first addressed by Onay Kasab, Greenwich Unison branch secretary and Greenwich Socialist Party member who said: "the trust proposition is a very real threat that we mustn't lose sight of. The redundancies, cuts and the trust are all linked, in spite of the council's denials."
His call to stand candidates at the next council elections, that would really represent parents and teaching staff was well received.
Lewisham National Union of Teachers branch secretary and Lewisham SP member Martin Powell-Davies then told the meeting about a similar attack being carried out by Lewisham council, who are trying to impose a trust on parents and teaching staff.
He explained that councils' new found enthusiasm for trusts is because of the unpopularity of academies and that trusts are simply "academies lite".
He pointed out that one danger of academies is that "staff would no longer be working for the council but competing trusts who want to hammer down terms and conditions". Also so-called "difficult children" could be turfed out or denied places at schools as the trusts compete with each other.
This was backed by a TA from Eltham Green school who said that "difficult" students are already being expelled on flimsy reasons in preparation for the trust.
The meeting finished by agreeing to organise a demonstration in Eltham.
The Russell Group, consisting of the top 20 UK universities has attacked the government's cuts in higher education. The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that savings of £2.5 billion will be needed in the higher education (HE) sector as part of an overall plan to reduce the public deficit. New Labour has already announced plans to cut HE by at least £600 million by 2013 should it win the election.
The situation for students is bad enough already. Along with the threat of higher fees, these cuts could affect every student on every course. Teaching and learning resources will be decimated, campus buildings will not be maintained and many 'non-profitable' courses will be axed.
The UCU education trade union estimates that 14,000 academic staff will be forced onto the dole queue and that within three years British universities will have the largest class sizes in the world.
But this revolt by the Russell Group is not motivated by heartfelt concern for the overall state of HE. One author of the Russell Group's statement in the Guardian was Michael Arthur, vice chancellor of Leeds University. From the start of the academic year Arthur has attempted to force through huge cuts in courses and jobs, even before universities minister Peter Mandelson's cuts package was announced.
Instead this is a press campaign to remind the government and the Tories that the group's research base and output is lucrative for big business and that their academic standing is key to the international reputation of British capitalism. The Russell Group doesn't oppose cuts on principle - it thinks the Group should be protected at the expense of other public services.
They are not concerned about young people, who hope to get jobs in hospitals, schools and the civil service after they graduate, finding no opportunities as these services are slashed. Also these cuts will be used as an excuse by vice chancellors to plead poverty and put more pressure on the politicians to raise university fees.
The Russell Group's funding for research is largely protected by the government and they can tap into funds from the private sector, wealthy alumni and charities that are not accessible to lower ranked universities.
If this agenda, shared by both the politicians and the Russell Group, is implemented, access to a high quality university education with the opportunity for postgraduate study will be even further blocked to those who can't afford it.
Since the late 1990s, on the basis of working hard, saving, getting into debt and making huge sacrifices, a minority of working class young people and their families, despite rising fees, have been able to get into HE - but this will now be out of reach for many.
Recent protests at Sussex, Leeds, Bangor, London Metropolitan and other universities show the anger of students and staff. This will only increase as the implications of these cuts become known. The need for a united struggle against cuts would be clearer to the mass of students if student unions nationally and locally had shown they were willing to organise a fight back.
The pro-New Labour National Union of Students leadership has met Mandelson's cuts with silence. Bar a few exceptions like Sussex, most local student unions have failed to act. Even worse, student unions like Leeds and Gloucestershire are supporting the cuts agenda of management and have condemned strikes and protests of staff and students.
Nonetheless the angry mood that exists can be escalated into organised mass opposition capable of making attacks from the government and university managements unworkable.
Socialist Students calls on students and workers to unite to stop all cuts, fight for every job, every course and demand the scrapping of tuition fees. This could be organised on a national basis by the trade unions taking industrial action and student unions mobilising students.
We call for a one day walkout strike of all education workers and students against cuts, fees and job losses, coordinated nationally by the trade unions, student unions and campaign groups.
I am a student who enrolled on the 'Stepping Stones Employability Skills' course at Leeds City College, Park Lane Campus. When I first chose this course I thought it would be a quick and easy way to get my GCSEs done so I'd be ready for going on to my A-Levels. The course included English, maths, IT and an additional subject choice of photography, art, science or general studies.
After enrolling I was informed that I would also be taking a new course that had started at the college; a course so 'new, fantastic and shiny' that they were only teaching it in certain colleges and universities around the UK.
This course is called 'Deloitte Employability Skills' and is run by a company called Deloitte & Touche. They are one of the four largest, global accounting firms along with Price Waterhouse Coopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG.
The Deloitte website's list of colleges and universities hasn't been updated since 30 July 2009 but it lists educational institutions across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I knew from the first five minutes that this class was a horrible joke. The tutor started off by trying to give a motivational talk about how this course was going to help everyone to get a job. Apparently we would be boosted to the top of the list, or if we were already employed that we would be pushed to the top of the list for promotions and pay rises.
We were promised that this course was going to be confidence-building and that it would teach us team building, what to wear to work, job interviews, and generally what is expected by your employers.
I asked him how he could promise all of this and what about the trade unions? He hadn't mentioned anything about our rights as workers. Needless to say I got nowhere with my questions, they were brushed away and ignored.
He carried on the lesson by making us do a role-play in the style of reactionary TV presenter 'Jeremy Kyle', implying/assuming that we all must know who Jeremy Kyle is. Most of the first few weeks of this class were spent in role-playing games; pretending to be CEOs in charge of our other classmates and role-playing how to tell workers that their pay has been cut and frozen.
We were also made to sign a class contract that was set out like, as the tutor put it "a McDonald's employee of the month chart". This chart was supposed to represent what Deloitte see in our futures. It had the whole class's names on it, so if we did anything wrong in the class, a little black dot was put next to our name and at the end of each month the best-behaved 'employee of the month' was supposed to get a prize.
I was in this class for around two months and no one got a prize, people were constantly being told off.
Youth unemployment is already over a million. It will take more than this to provide my generation with a decent future.
"I write to express my disappointment at the union's decision to ban someone like Brian who has worked tirelessly to support staff in Hackney for so many years.
I am not a particularly political person but I would defend anyone's right to vote and campaign freely and without prejudice or sanction...
Having been a Unison member for over 13 years I am now questioning whether this is a group I would want to belong to."
"I have never heard a complaint about [Brian] from other people. I could not believe that he could be accused of committing a racist offence even by his own trade union. I myself cannot accept any such accusations against him as a member of this union."
"I have followed the disciplinary case against Onay Kasab aka Kas with some interest particularly as I have been a member of Greenwich Unison for about 16 years.
I was shocked to find out that he has been suspended from holding office for three years.
Although I don't share his politics 100% I have found Kas to be a very hard-working trade unionist and a very able branch secretary. I have seen quotes from the likes of Rory Bremner and Mark Thomas that Unison is making itself look foolish, stupid and authoritarian and I agree with them."
"I am very worried that the integrity of our union is under threat. My opinion is that this is a flagrant misuse of my union subscription for political cleansing.
I would ask you what measures are being taken to ensure a democratic union? I would ask you what measures are being taken to ensure a legal, even-handed and respectful union?"
"I would have thought that the union should respect the democratic wishes of the ordinary members who have repeatedly re-elected them [the witch-hunted four].
The disciplinary committee are out of touch with the members and are themselves bringing the union into disrepute in the eyes of the members whose actual jobs, wages and conditions are under the worst attack we have faced in decades.
The only people who will take solace from this are the out of touch NEC members and the bosses. It will do nothing to inspire the members I represent that the union leadership is serious about fighting the real enemy - the bosses and government who are trying to cut the jobs, wages and conditions."
"I hear today that the four have been found guilty, this beggars belief! This decision could have a profoundly negative effect on members, many of whom in my own branch are totally disillusioned with the union nationally and would view this as no more than a bloody minded and spiteful attack on four honest and genuine union representatives who have a proud record of standing up for their members' interests no matter what their ethnic background.
Maybe that was their true crime, because by their actions in fighting for the most vulnerable in society, for fighting against low wages and privatisation, and by their past record of fighting and putting real alternatives to the scourge of the BNP and of exposing the fraud that is New Labour, they have shamed a spineless and impotent union bureaucracy, a bureaucracy that despite recent sound bites is in shameful collusion with a morally bankrupt New Labour government, and offers no alternative to the issues that affect the day to day existence of ordinary - dare I say - working class people, ...but then life is just more comfortable that way isn't it?"
"I have been appalled over the last few years at the lengths to which certain people in Unison have gone to try to discredit Glenn Kelly and his three colleagues.
I am a Unison member in Bromley and have always thought the charges spurious, brought to fulfil some hidden agenda.
Now the tribunal has revealed that certain people do have a hidden agenda - I ask you to immediately organise an independent enquiry into the allegations...
Our union must be shown to be democratic and fair and above board in all its dealings otherwise people will leave in droves over this and good people will be unwilling to stand for office. How can we stand against other organisations/people where unfairness and dishonesty rule when we are just as bad?"
"We cannot afford to lose the input of these activists with a Conservative government on the horizon. At present we are fighting job cuts, offshoring and low pay rises in our industry. These are our priorities, not spending Unison resources investigating so-called rule breaches like this one."
"The racism slur does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny and would be almost comical, were it not so damaging to the good names of these activists and the sentence returned so severe.
As for the charge of attacking the integrity of the Standing Orders Committee, I cannot see that this serves any purpose; least of all Unison or the Committee themselves.
What has Unison got to fear from open debate? Dragging names through mud on trumped up charges and the crushing of dissenting voices are not the sign of a strong organisation at ease with itself."
"I am urging you to remove the charges from my branch secretary and the other three activists. On a personal level, I would not want to continue to belong to a union which treats its members in this mean spirited and manifestly unjust way."
THIS EXCELLENT short book gives an insight into the current attacks on Royal Mail workers from the viewpoint of an 'ordinary postie'. It is not a political polemic or a campaign resource.
There are other sources you can go to for facts and figures on the effect of cuts and the like, but this book offers something just as important. It is an insight from the 'front line' into how the job has changed over the last thirty years, written with candour and affection.
One accusation that could be levelled is that the book views the past with 'rose tinted spectacles', but I don't think so. What it does reflect is the shift in balance of power between postal workers and Royal Mail (previously Post Office) management.
One section deals with Roy's first few years on the job. It describes him being trained up by other postal workers and learning to sort his round on the 'frame' (the workstation where mail is collated by hand) in the morning. This shows that a certain element of workers' control existed in the past. The simple fact is that when it comes to sorting things out like round routes, shifts, etc, the people who do the job know best.
The book also shows how current managers resent this and gives examples of petty impositions just to 'show them who's boss'. For instance, Roy gives an example of a new manager who forced workers to stop storing mail bags underneath the frame on the grounds of 'health and safety'. The workers duly comply, but with nowhere else to put the bags they spend a week "stumbling over our own bags in the name of 'health and safety'" until the new manager quietly backtracks and the bags go back to where they've always been!
That might be a minor example, but others in the book show the all-too-familiar reality of a management trying to impose its will and break a workforce - "I've seen people hauled up before management because they were in hospital for a hernia operation and exceeded the total number of days allowed off in any one year."
That struggle over who controls the workplace is at the heart of this book. Should postal workers be pliable and part-time, or organised with job security? Is Royal Mail a business or a service?
Roy also outlines the implications of these attacks on people who rely on the post service. There are touching stories about the relationship that he has built up over the years with the people on his rounds and the little ways he has been able to help them.
There is also a stark warning about what a part-time, casualised workforce would mean. "Sometimes we get thieves among us, it's true: people who steal your credit cards, or open your birthday cards to see if there's any cash in them. They always get caught in the end. When one man does one round, the customer notices, and they know who it is. Once the mail is broken up, once the relationship between a postal worker and his customers has been destroyed, then what? Then it will be the end of the security of your mail."
The book then goes over the different 'modernisation' proposals being put forward and picks each of them apart. On 'Walk Sequencing Machines' he concludes that: "In the end the actual timesaving each of these multi-million pound machines provides is, on average, about seven minutes per round"! He also looks at the impact of deregulation and the threat of privatisation.
The book doesn't offer any particular way forward or programme to roll the balance of power in the workplace away from a profit-hungry management and back towards ordinary workers, but it never promises this.
I would recommend this book. For postal workers, the experiences and situations written about, as well as tales of workplace 'craic', will be very familiar. Other socialists and activists will recognise much from chatting to postal workers on last year's picket lines. It is an insight into a sector that will see more struggles in 2010.