Socialist Party | Print
AFTER 13 years of Labour rule, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is now wider than at any time for nearly 70 years. A new 460-page report from the 'National Equality Panel', a group of academics, shows that the wealth of the richest 10% of Britain's population is now 100 times that of the poorest 10%.
The top 1% (600,000 people) each share wealth per household of £2.6 million or more, whilst one in ten of those living in local authority accommodation on the edge of retirement have assets worth less than £3,000 - little more than the furniture in their homes and the clothes they wear.
That's the consequence of Labour's transition to a big business party, "intensely relaxed" to quote Peter Mandelson, "about people getting filthy rich".
Recently the right-wing press accused Gordon Brown of playing the 'class war card' after he said that Tory inheritance tax policy was "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton".
But Labour accusations of Tory policies promoting inequality now look hollow after this report shows Britain as one of the most unequal societies in the 'developed' world, and with the highest rate of poverty in Western Europe.
Relative standards of living are not merely 'statistics'. As the Independent said: "children of poorer people live much harder and shorter lives than those of the wealthy". In Coventry in the area I represent, St Michael's, the average age at which men die is 65; in the next-door ward, Earlsdon, represented by the Tories, it is over 77.
The report explains that some of the biggest inequalities opened up in the 1980s under Tory governments. But three terms of a Labour government have not narrowed the gap because they have championed, rather than challenged, the bosses' economic system. Why should we give them another term of office?
We were warned - Peter Mandelson (again) wrote in his book The Blair Revolution: "New Labour's ..... strategy is to move forward from where Margaret Thatcher left off". These damning figures show that the seamless transition from Tory government to Labour only accelerated the disparities of capitalist society.
Whatever the exact mix of MPs from the three main parties in the next House of Commons, all three stand (with minor differences of pace or degree) for the defence of the market economy, and the leading role of profit in determining how society is structured.
That leads them all to the same conclusion, that to 'balance society's books' requires not reducing the disparities of wealth and poverty, but their retention. They believe that the bill for bailing out the bankers, their bonuses and their casino economic system should be passed on to ordinary working people and their families.
The report asks "whether the costs of recovery will be borne by those who gained least in the period before the crisis, or by those who gained most and are in the strongest position to bear them". Left to the existing parties the answer is clear.
The ever widening inequality in British society shows the urgent need for a socialist alternative, and for a new independent political voice rooted in the organisations and communities of the working class.
Socialists and trade unionists establishing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) are taking the first steps towards building a mass force to challenge that inequality.
WITH THE body count of UK troops at over 250 and with a general election looming, Gordon Brown is desperate for an exit strategy from Afghanistan.
A recent conference of ministers and delegates from 70 countries and organisations that was hosted by Brown in London, agreed to "building up the Afghan institutions, the army, the police, civilian government", and continuing to buy the loyalty of former Taliban fighters with a increased pot of $500 million.
However, one former Taliban commander, Mullah Mohammad, bitterly complained: "They [the peace and reconciliation commission] told us they'll protect us, and that we would have the chance to have jobs. Now we have nothing."
This reconciliation 'strategy' is on top of the additional 30,000 US troops pledged by US president Barack Obama to join the more than 100,000 Nato and foreign troops already fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Exactly how the Afghan institutions - riddled with corruption and dominated by violent warlords - are to be 'built up' so that they enjoy the support of the Afghan people, remains unclear. To start with, if Gordon Brown et al want to see 'clean government' in Afghanistan then why are they entertaining Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whose re-election last year was widely condemned as fraudulent?
The reason why many Afghans are bitter and disillusioned after eight years of occupation by the western powers and being ruled over by a pro-western regime is that their plight has got worse.
Mass unemployment, widespread poverty, growing inequality, bloodshed, insecurity, and a lack of democratic rights combined with government corruption, have undermined any legitimacy that Brown and Obama are so desperate to see in Afghanistan and instead, have boosted support for the right-wing Islamist Taliban.
According to Actionaid, 40% of the country's 25 million population are unemployed and a third of Afghans live on under a dollar a day - while suffering a 27% inflation rate. Five out of six people in rural areas have no electricity. And many Afghans remain as displaced internal refugees without work, land, schools and access to clean water. Religious extremism and feudalism has enforced women into semi-slavery despite an equal rights constitution.
Although official figures are not collected, an estimated 30,000 Afghans have been killed, thousands more maimed and injured, with 3.7 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Now the head of British forces in Afghanistan gloomily talks of another 40 years of occupation before there will be 'stability'.
To bring an end to the continued cycle of war and poverty a political alternative is needed. All foreign troops must be immediately withdrawn and the Afghan people must be allowed to determine their own future.
Central to this is the need to support Afghan workers and poor peasants in forming their own independent political voice. Such a force could raise the demand for the creation of jobs and investment in education and health services.
Public ownership of the country's raw materials and key industries could be used to invest in developing the economy and turning it away from opium production.
United by their common interests, workers and peasants across Afghanistan could create multi-ethnic defence forces to oppose the sectarian forces such as the Taliban and establish full democratic rights.
A socialist movement could transform the lives of ordinary Afghan people. Promoting international solidarity and linking up with trade union organised workers and socialists in the region, it could help threaten the corrupt and reactionary regimes throughout the middle-east and Asia and begin to lay the basis for a democratic socialist government of Afghanistan as part of a socialist confederation of the region.
WHILE HUNDREDS of anti-war protesters gathered outside the conference centre in Westminster, inside, Tony Blair gave his 'evidence' to the Chilcot inquiry on 29 January. Since stepping down as an MP, Blair has reportedly made more than £10 million from deals including books, advisory roles and event appearances.
The real reasons behind the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq were never going to be discussed in this inquiry. Namely, the control of Iraq's oil wealth and the reasserting of US imperialism's military might.
Not only did Blair repeat the same lies on which he sent troops into Iraq but he also showed a breathtaking ignorance of the situation in the Middle East.
Despite being a UN Middle East envoy, he claimed to be wholly surprised by the emergence of Iran, and also al-Qa'ida, as forces destabilising the occupation of Iraq.
Breathtakingly, Blair went on to argue: "We didn't end up with a humanitarian disaster. In fact we averted it".
Tell that to the people of Iraq who have seen their country destroyed with over 100,000 being killed or injured and those remaining facing life with high unemployment, frequent sectarian bloodshed and without regular electricity or water supplies. Or tell the families of troops who have been killed or injured in this conflict.
Blair claimed that the world is a more secure place since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. But this too is a lie. Since the invasion terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, have increased massively in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These have spilt over into increased attacks in Europe and the US.
The case of the suspected Northwest Airlines bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is a recent example. In London, the horrors of the 7/7 bombings on the transport network in which 56 people died, was a consequence of the war in Iraq.
The Socialist Party long opposed the brutality of the Saddam regime and supported workers' struggles against his regime. Yet US and British Imperialism supported and armed his regime for decades until the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait. The western powers helped him put down struggles against his regime because he supported their interests.
Even after the 1991 invasion of Iraq, US troops stood aside to allow Saddam's revolutionary guards to brutally put down a major Shia uprising against Saddam because Bush senior preferred Saddam to a radical Shia regime possibly replacing him. Yet none of this got a mention.
During his six hours of testimony Blair described Saddam as "a monster" who had to be removed. What about all the other brutal regimes around the world? From Putin's onslaught against the Chechens, to the military regime in Burma and Mugabe's vicious repression of opposition in Zimbabwe, - why not 'regime change' in these cases? Because it is not in imperialism's interests or capabilities to take action against them.
As expected, this inquiry hasn't shed any new light. But it does underline the importance of building a mass movement that not only opposes war but also capitalism itself.
"Once again I nearly kicked my TV in. The sight of this poisonous warmonger makes me physically sick with anger. Why didn't anyone throw at least a shoe at him?"
Pete, North Warwickshire
"Blair's performance was a master class in misdirection. Unfettered by probing questions about his claim that Saddam was able to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, despite no such weapons having been found, he was free to take charge and began questioning the panel! 'What if Saddam was still around?', he asked! The sheer gall of the man and his utter lack of remorse for the devastation he has caused to hundreds of thousands of people is truly sickening".
Glen, postal worker
"Blair looked like a guilty man in the inquiry and so he should. He was the man that led the country in to this conflict without a mandate from the people. He is still adamant that what he did was right and refuses to apologise to those who lost someone as a result.
However this inquiry is a joke as it has no powers and is another vast expenditure from the taxpayers' pocket. Blair should be indicted for war crimes."
Keith, joint chair Coventry Unison (personal capacity)
HOSPITALS ACROSS London will close, accident and emergency departments will be lost, and thousands of beds will go. So says NHS London, the strategic health planning authority for the capital. The British Medical Association warns of £5 billion cuts in London's health services in a report called "London's NHS on the Brink". What is posed is a wholesale ransacking of the NHS by private companies, accompanied by dramatic cuts.
David Cameron's advertising hoardings claim: "I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS". All the main parties would have us believe that the 'savage cuts' they all propose will not touch essential frontline services such as the NHS and schools.
This is a lie. All the big business parties promise to 'deal with' the historically high government deficit, £178 billion this year, and they are determined to do this by making working-class people pay.
For the rich to be let off the hook, frontline services will have to be savaged. Even the head of the Audit Commission, the spending watchdog, has declared the idea that the NHS and schools can be protected as "insane".
Initially it could be that there are not actual cuts in the NHS as such, but a freeze on spending. This amounts to a cut, because health costs steadily increase.
Some would say that the NHS is a bottomless pit and there simply isn't enough money to keep pouring in. This is a difficult argument to sustain when the bankers are taking home £60 billion in bonuses in the same city that faces £5 billion NHS cuts!
And there is a simple reason why health costs are high - profit.
It has always been the case that huge sums of money are sucked out of the NHS by the pharmaceutical companies.
For some years now, health costs have also increased due to the profits leeched by building and supply companies through Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and other privatisation projects. PFI was the Tories' brainchild but was carried on with a vengeance by New Labour.
To take the cost of construction of new buildings out of the government's public borrowing figures and give money-making opportunities to their big business friends, contracts are awarded to private companies to do the work. The NHS then pays the company for use of the building or services over a period of years.
Once the contract is entered into, it is difficult to break without incurring large penalties. But it means that the cost to the NHS escalates beyond all proportion. According to the British Medical Association in London, works costing £2.65 billion will ultimately lead to total payments of £16.7 billion.
Costs are also escalating because of the profits grabbed by private service providers. Currently around £7 billion of NHS money a year is spent in the private sector, with, for example, contracts given to private firms to provide cataract operations (paying for a certain number of procedures whether or not they actually carry them out).
But this privatisation could dramatically increase. From 2007, private companies have been invited to tender for primary care in the NHS, which accounts for 80% of the NHS budget. These issues have already been the focus of local campaigns.
In Tower Hamlets, for example, patients, health care workers and members of the public have protested at GPs surgeries being handed over to multinational private company Atos Origin. In Camden, American firm United Health runs three GP practices, and another company called Care UK has been offered a health centre.
BEHIND THE devastating changes proposed for London's NHS is the Darzi framework for London. Two years ago when this report was first launched, we warned: "The re-organisation of London's health service is really about saving money and opening the door to private health companies to buy up a cost-effective and very profitable London health service" (The Socialist, 21-27 February 2008).
London district general hospitals will be downgraded to local hospitals and polyclinics, losing A&Es and other services. Services will be concentrated into a handful of 'specialist' hospitals, so-called 'centres of excellence', across the city. This process has already happened in South East London, for example, where Queen Mary Hospital in Sidcup has been downgraded to a local hospital, and A&E and maternity departments have been closed.
We all want excellence in our services. But not when this 'excellence' is hiding huge cuts and privatisation!
Polyclinics, already spreading across the capital, mean that local GPs' surgeries are merged into 'super-surgeries' offering a number of services that hospitals offered previously.
There is a tendering process to decide who will run these poly-clinics. Health bosses in Camden planned to close down four local practices in Bloomsbury and secretly courted a private company, Branson's Virgin Healthcare, to run a polyclinic at University College London Hospital.
A few years ago campaigns sprang up all over the country when the government suddenly demanded that NHS Trusts had to balance their books. Many had run big deficits for years, made much worse by spiralling PFI contracts, and balancing the books meant big cuts.
Most of these campaigns have died down, and health bosses probably think they can push through these latest proposed changes behind our backs.
But as the article on King George's hospital in Ilford (see right) shows, once the concrete reality of NHS cuts becomes apparent, campaigns in local areas have to be renewed. Once again we demand that there is a co-ordinated trade union response, linking up local campaigns, to defend our national health service.
The Socialist Party demands:
DESPITE OVERWHELMING public opposition, health bosses are pushing through their plan to 'reconfigure' NHS services in north east London. If implemented, this will result in the closure of the Accident and Emergency department and maternity services at King George's Hospital in Ilford. Patients in an emergency will have no choice but to travel all the way to Queen's Hospital in Romford.
Transferring the A&E, critical care and maternity services will put even more pressure on overstretched resources at Queen's. Patients' lives will be put at risk. Yet, unbelievably, health officials claim that "operating A&E from fewer sites can deliver better care".
The real reason behind this closure threat is the health trust's decision to make cuts to claw back its huge accumulated deficit. Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust is £100 million in the red.
One reason for the deficit is successive Tory and Labour governments' market oriented policies. After years of chronic under-investment and saddled with high Private Finance Initiative (PFI) interest charges, many trusts have a deficit, pushing them to bankruptcy.
All new hospital buildings, including Queen's, are financed through PFI. Private corporations build and own the new hospital, then are paid by the NHS to use it, usually for 30 years, and then the private firms still own it after that!
PFI schemes are like buying a house with a credit card instead of a mortgage. Interest payments come out of running costs so beds and staff are cut (by an average in England of 25% and 15% respectively).
This attempt to downgrade King George's must be fought, with protest rallies, meetings, lobbies and demonstrations, linking the local community with health service workers and trade unions throughout north east London.
Many politicians and big business representatives say the public sector is over resourced and has had it 'too good for too long'. The press seem intent on portraying civil servants and public sector workers as overpaid, under-disciplined, workshy pen pushers. They equate the majority of civil servants, who in the main are low-paid, with Whitehall mandarins and consultants.
Instead of acting in the interests of ordinary people and looking at ways to protect vital services that millions of people rely on every day, the politicians want to protect and reward their friends in big business at our expense. By closing tax loopholes that exist and collecting the tax from the wealthy elite, the government could raise £130 billion.
Even though we have a strong voice in many areas of the civil service because our union, the PCS, is prepared to fight for its members, the reality is our members are constantly under attack. We are told to work harder, for longer hours, for less pay. Life in many processing/contact centres, where workers are watched and monitored every minute of every day, is comparable to the Victorian workhouses.
It is crucial that more young workers join and get active in our union and in our young members' network. We need them to help recruit young workers and join the fight for a decent future.
Young members in PCS have a vital role to play in the national campaign to defend the civil service compensation scheme (CSCS, see page 4 for more details).
If the changes to the CSCS are implemented, it will be younger, lower-paid members of staff who will be at most risk of job cuts and privatisation.
That is why one of the main campaign objectives is to include all new civil service entrants after July 2007 in the CSCS. We will continue to build our network and develop more young workers into effective workplace organisers. Our network supports the vital Youth Fight for Jobs campaign and we will continue to build links with other young workers, students and the unemployed to fight for a decent future for young people.
Held annually, the PCS youth forum brings together up to 100 young workers from across the civil service and associated areas. The forum will be used to plan activities for the year and elect the officers to the national committee.
It is an excellent opportunity for young members to develop skills in organising and campaigning as well as discussing how we can fight back against public sector cuts, shape the union's agenda and recruit and organise young workers.
This year a number of debates and discussions will take place, including on how to build Youth Fight for Jobs locally, on tackling climate change, on the Make Your Vote Count campaign and on taking trade unionism into schools.
Day-Mer Youth are official supporters of the YFJ campaign and sent a contingent on the YFJ demonstration on 28 November 2009.
They see YFJ as an important campaign to bring different cultures together and build class unity to unite against the causes of crime and unemployment and for a decent future for young people.
A night of music, dance and discussion featuring: Sudden Exit, Mariama (of At Risk of Offending), Anatolia, Turkish Folk Dancing and more.
With unemployment continuing to rise, anyone would expect to see greater numbers of adults returning to education to re-train. However Harlow College near London reported just 1,000 mature students this year compared to 6,000 eight years ago.
The reason? Funding cuts and mismanagement have meant cuts in courses. This is combined with steep increases in fees for adults returning to further education (FE). Now the government's latest review of FE, launched alongside the review of university fees, is expected to conclude that FE fees should go up for courses such as plumbing and is not ruling out fees for A-level courses for under 19 year-olds. How will this help those thrown into unemployment by the recession and its aftermath?
But this is not the concern of any of the three main parties. Their concern is how to force the cost of the bank bailout, demanded by their friends in big business, on to us in the form of cuts in public services. The government is considering forcing those who are paying the price of the economic crisis with job losses to also foot an increased bill for their re-training. What a damning exposure of their claims to care for ordinary working-class people!
The review's findings are due to be published in July. This means the main parties won't have to admit their support for what will be unpopular attacks on education until after the general election. Opposition from students who will be sitting their exams will be minimised.
These attacks must be resisted. In the current climate people need their right to education more than ever. When the capitalist parties and their paymasters in big business call in unison that they cannot afford to fund our right to education we must respond in unison that we cannot afford capitalism. Workers seeking to re-train and school and college students seeking to learn will see these attacks for what they are: a cold, callous and calculated attempt to push the recession's cost on to the backs of ordinary people.
Youth Fight for Jobs calls for action by students linking up with the education workers' unions to defeat these proposed cuts in the FE sector.
New Labour plans to reduce the higher education budget by £2.5 billion and already the Higher Education Funding body for England (HEFCE) has begun to outline how spending on teaching, research and university facilities will be cut this year.
Universities UK, the body representing university vice chancellors, has warned that the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of young people to get access to higher education will be blocked as a result of these cuts. But they have no alternative to the cuts.
The National Union of Students (NUS) president Wes Streeting was given a platform on BBC television news to respond to the HEFCE announcement. Unfortunately all he could say was that he hoped that after this savage round of cuts the government would realise they should increase higher education funding for the good of society.
For the NUS leaders the re-election of a New Labour government is more of a priority than defending students from the onslaught on the right to a decent education. But Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs are willing to organise young people against attacks from pro-big business politicians.
Students, local student unions and education workers and their trade unions need to unite in a mass campaign against all cuts, all job losses, fees and privatisation of education. Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs activists are leading campaigns and protests against attacks on education across the country.
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.
"You're committing a crime. Do you like being a criminal?" These were the words of Waltham Forest's Environmental Crime enforcement officer as he confronted members of Walthamstow Socialist Party. Their 'crime'? Running a campaigning stall in the town square for two hours on a Saturday morning.
Three of the members have since received hand-delivered letters citing a 1906 bye-law. Now, using a stall to campaign against war, racism or the privatisation of our public services can result in a fine of £500! This is outrageous and the Socialist Party has initiated a local campaign to defend the right to campaign and protest in the borough.
The background to this shocking attack on democratic rights is the Independent Panel Report into Waltham Forest council. The council has been found to be undemocratic, lacking in transparency and their privatisation schemes are clearly rotten.
To the Socialist Party this is not news but it is a vindication of the dozens of anti-cuts and anti-privatisation campaigns we have led and participated in. In all of these campaigns and now, the Socialist Party has demanded that the council opens the books and that all councillors are subject to the right of recall.
A council that stands accused of wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds if not millions on privatisation schemes it has never assessed, has "recouped £26,785 from fixed penalty notices, £13,760 from fines and £16,282 in court costs" in its crackdown on 'environmental crime' according to the Waltham Forest Guardian.
Locally this 'zero tolerance' campaign is seen as a clampdown on campaigning groups. 50 people crammed into the Socialist Party's meeting on Thursday 28 January to organise a united local campaign to defend democratic rights.
Experiences were shared of being stopped from campaigning in the street and even an instance of being challenged and threatened for advertising a charity event.
Many public spaces and resources in Waltham Forest have been privatised, denying local activists access to them or a say in how they are run. While the council attempts to silence campaign groups, it has free rein to hang its banners anywhere it wants and has all the articles it desires in the local newsletter.
The Socialist Party argued that mass action by ordinary people is our key tool in the fight for our rights. Trade unionists, socialists, charities, campaigners, artists, musicians and young people committed to mobilise for a protest at the town hall and a day of action.
We are demanding access to the square for campaigners, adequate public notice boards and meeting rooms and no harassment of campaigners.
Many forms of opposition to this attack will be employed by the campaign, including getting legal advice but especially calling for a slate of 'No cuts! No clampdown' candidates to stand in the local elections. This rotten council will not be allowed to silence dissent and prevent a fightback when it pursues further cuts and privatisation schemes.
ON 20 January, for the second time in two months, over 50 parents came out to protest against horrendous conditions at John Gulson primary school in Foleshill, Coventry.
Parents' complaints include toilets right next to classrooms, overcrowded reception classes, a non-functional school hall, no medical room and structural problems.
The protest followed one in December and was again 'loud and proud'.
The Parents Action Group petition was presented to Coventry's Tory cabinet member John Blundell. The Tory council attracted a lot of blame for these issues and rightly so.
But both main political parties voted for a schools' reorganisation when the city was New Labour-controlled and a number of primary schools were needlessly closed. This was only completely opposed by the Socialist Party group; we correctly predicted that the city's population would grow and called for smaller classes.
The expectation of schools like John Gulson to take additional pupils into already worn-out buildings created the spark that ignited the protests. Parents fail to see the sense in making plans to extend a school where the core buildings are already decaying - they want a new school.
They hope to invite New Labour education minister Ed Balls to the city. If this happens, let's hope he denounces his government's bailing out of bankers and tying schools' improvement plans into unaffordable private finance schemes and instead offers the cash to build a new school.
We fully supported the parents in organising protests, which were covered on Central TV as well as local media, and will continue to do so.
After the longest and deepest recession since 1945, which saw the economy shrink by 6% in under two years, a battered UK finally limped into 'growth' territory last week. City economists had expected GDP to expand by 0.4% over the October-December quarter, but the announcement that growth was just 0.1% has underlined again the deep structural obstacles that remain.
Brown's hopes of claiming credit for steering the economy through the minefield of financial meltdown and job losses were dealt an instant blow when the world's biggest buyer of government bonds warned: "The UK is a must to avoid. Its gilts are resting on a bed of nitroglycerin".
This was followed by the publication of an officially commissioned report into wealth distribution which revealed that Britain now has the highest level of income inequality since 1948. The richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10%.
Adding further to New Labour woes, the international credit ratings agency Standard and Poor then waded into the debate by downgrading Britain's banking industry, claiming significantly that: "The weak UK economy will continue to hinder the credit profile of the UK banking industry".
Even this anaemic recovery has only been made possible by an enormous injection of government support. The budget deficit has been expanded to a post-war record and teetering banks have been nationalised. Interest rates have been slashed to a historically low 0.5% since March 2009 and the Bank of England has purchased £200 billion of government bonds, through 'quantitative easing', which in essence means printing cash that banks can then lend to families and firms.
All these schemes, mirrored to one degree or another in the US, Germany, Japan and China have been designed to steer the world economy away from the precipice of depression. Even so, the last three years will enter the textbooks as the 'Great Recession', though that description won't begin to describe the suffering and plunging poverty levels experienced by millions of workers across the planet.
Britain may at last have joined most of the global economy in being jolted temporarily into life, but none of the fundamental factors that led to this synchronised crash have been resolved.
Put simply, the scope for profitable investment in production has not kept pace with the accumulation of capital, leading the capitalists into searching out easier and bigger returns. A big gap exists between the productive capacity of the economy and actual output.
Hence their obsession with exotic financial speculations that promised instant returns for little or no apparent risk, but ultimately led to what the deputy governor of the Bank of England called the largest financial crash of its kind in history.
Blair and Brown were happy to embrace and develop Thatcher's neoliberal market model, encouraging a largely unregulated banking system. Half of Britain's growth between 1997 and 2007 came from finance, construction and property. Over the same period, manufacturing shrank from 20% to 12% of national output.
Before the crash, bank assets were equivalent to four times national output - proportionately higher than in any other country except Iceland and Switzerland. Even Tory MP John Redwood observed that Britain is now 'a large bank with a medium-sized government attached to it'!
Working people have borne the pain in the last two years as jobs have haemorrhaged with high street names like Woolworths, Dolcis, Borders and MFI disappearing. Household debt, relative to income, is still only slightly below its peak, making more likely a prolonged weakness in private spending.
Many workers borrowed heavily against the rising value of their homes before the crash. 28 months on, house prices have plummeted by over 20% and may not rise to their August 2007 peak until the mid-2020s, conjuring up a renewed threat of negative equity.
With a general election due, the leaders of the three main parties, Brown, Cameron and Clegg are fighting over a miserable inheritance. All demand massive cuts to restore the state of public finances. With the budget deficit forecast to equal 12.6% of GDP in 2009-2010, PriceWaterhouseCoopers has said that spending needs to be cut twice as fast over the next four years as implied in the last budget. That would mean cuts of 11% a year across departmental spending. If health is to be ringfenced, the figure rises to 15%.
These threatened attacks on public sector jobs, wages and pensions, combined with the ending of quantitative easing, will exacerbate the already very real risk of a double-dip recession.
The trade-weighted value of the pound has fallen by almost 25% since 2007, which improves the situation for British exporters, but a sustained rise in exports is limited by the weak state of British manufacturing, the fragile world outlook and the fact that other countries too are looking to export aggressively.
The OECD predicts UK growth of 1.2% in 2010, but even if a double dip recession is avoided, any upswing will be muted because consumer spending, which makes up nearly two-thirds of GDP, fell 3% in 2009 and is likely to remain stagnant.
A great period of austerity opens up for workers if the main parties have their way, with household finances squeezed through higher taxes and vicious cuts.
A long, flat bottom of weak growth is the best that capitalism can offer. This is our spur to challenge and replace their diseased system.
'GOOD RIDDANCE' are the printable words many a postal worker and Royal Mail customer said following the announcement of the departure of the company's boss, Adam Crozier.
When he departs later this year to head ITV, Crozier is expected to receive a £2 million golden handshake from Royal Mail as part of a three year bonus scheme based on 'efficiency targets'. This bonus comes on top of receiving £1 million in pay and bonuses for 2008/09, earning him the title of the 'second highest paid public sector boss'.
Not bad for someone who imposed a pay freeze on the mail service's 140,000-strong workforce and is responsible for the industry's worst ever industrial relations - managing to provoke two bitter national strikes in 2007 and 2009.
In fact, the shameless Mr Crozier has raked in £6 million in bonuses and pay since taking over as chief executive in 2003 - his reward for axing 60,000 jobs, closing thousands of post offices and ending second deliveries of mail.
Staying with overpaid bureaucrats, it has been revealed that Sir Ian Kennedy, the man put in charge of monitoring MPs' expenses at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, has himself made outrageous expenses claims.
During his tenure as a £170,000 a year chairman of the Healthcare Commission quango, Kennedy claimed expenses raging from £17 to £35 on each of the roughly 200 cab fares taking him from his home to work each year. A journey that usually would take only 40 minutes on the London underground at a cost of £2.30.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) annual report on global employment trends predicts that the unemployment rate worldwide will continue to rise in 2010. The first year of the new decade is likely to witness an additional two million lost jobs in the developed and EU economies, it added.
Young people were the most vulnerable, accounting for one-third of the rise of 34 million unemployed over 2007, an increase of 13.4%, the highest rate for youth unemployment since 1991.
The number of workers and their family members living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day in 2009 was 215 million higher than the 2008 figure of 633 million people.
The so-called 'friends of Haiti' group of countries which recently met in Montreal, Canada, failed to deliver policies to help rebuild Haiti following the devastating earthquake.
Foreign ministers and senior officials from 14 countries ruled out cancelling Haiti's $1 billion debts.
They also failed to tackle the issue of farm subsidies in rich countries on agricultural goods which have flooded Haitian markets, undercutting Haitian domestic prices and causing widespread rural unemployment.
THE DECISION to establish the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has been widely welcomed by many fighting trade unionists.
Three regional councils of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) have declared in support of an election challenge. Applications are going in to the union's national executive from RMT branches for authorisation to back local candidates. The RMT executive has made its first such endorsement, for the contest in Carlisle.
Last week's meeting of the TUSC steering committee agreed the first 24 coalition candidates, including the former RMT executive member Mick Tosh, standing in Portsmouth North, and Keith Gibson, a leader of last year's Lindsey Oil Refinery construction workers' unofficial strike committee, challenging cabinet member Alan Johnson in Hull West.
Other candidates endorsed include the Socialist Party councillor and former Labour MP Dave Nellist, standing against Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth in Coventry North East, and a former Labour parliamentary candidate, Dave Hill, in Brighton Kemptown.
Last week also saw a meeting to establish a TUSC steering committee for Scotland (see report). Drawing in representatives from the regional council of the Fire Brigades Union, and branch officers from the RMT, the Communication Workers Union, the PCS civil servants' union and the largest Unison branch in Scotland, it was a further indication of the potential of TUSC.
The list of TUSC sponsors continues to grow, reflecting the enthusiasm of many workers that, at last, there is a prospect of a trade union rooted challenge to the 'savage cuts' pro-capitalist consensus of all the establishment parties.
Many trade union leaders, however, still clinging to New Labour, don't see the situation in that way. This, of course, will have an effect amongst some rank and file trade unionists also, who are increasingly apprehensive about the likely outcome of the election.
New Labour, beginning with chancellor Alistair Darling, has made it clear that massive attacks on workers' living standards, including draconian public spending cuts, are planned post-election. But then, looming in the background, is the spectre of a revived and even more vicious Thatcherism. The former Tory minister Michael Forsyth, a hated Scottish office minister during the battle against the poll tax, has called, for example, for annual cuts of £75 billion under a new Tory government. Surely in this situation, the argument goes, trade unionists should back the 'lesser evil'?
This, at bottom, was undoubtedly the key consideration behind the decision made by the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) at its January executive committee meeting not to participate in TUSC. As one of the core organisations of the 'No2EU-Yes to Democracy' European election coalition, from which the discussions to establish TUSC developed, the CPB's decision is a disappointment. But more importantly, it offers no way forward for trade unionists on what can be done now - in this particular election - to begin to overcome the crisis of working class political representation.
The Socialist Party believes that the Labour Party has now been totally transformed into New Labour, which bases itself completely on the brutal logic of capitalism. Previously, as a 'capitalist workers' party' (a party with pro-capitalist leaders but with democratic structures that allowed the working class to fight for its interests), the Labour Party always had the potential to act at least as a check on the capitalists. The consequences of radicalising the Labour Party's working class base was always a factor the ruling class had to take into account.
Now the situation is completely different. Without the re-establishment of at least the basis of independent working class political representation, the capitalists will feel less constrained in imposing their austerity policies.
TUSC will not fully provide the necessary alternative but it is still an important step forward. Above all, by drawing in the most combative sections of the working class in defence of jobs, public services and workers' rights, it can help to prepare the necessary forces to take forward the argument for a new political vehicle for workers in the post-election period. Not to do everything possible to help that process is a mistake.
The Communist Party's decision was also shaped, they argue, by the fact that to date there is no official national trade union participation in TUSC. This is in contrast to the No2EU campaign, which was officially endorsed by the RMT.
The TUSC steering committee includes, all in a personal capacity, the RMT general secretary Bob Crow, the general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Brian Caton, the PCS assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, and PCS vice president, John McInally. But the argument has been made that, nevertheless, TUSC is a step back from No2EU.
The lack of formal endorsement of the coalition from even left-wing trade unions like the RMT and the POA reflects a concern that more time was required to convince the broader membership of the need to take such an important step. But it is wrong to say that TUSC is a step back from No2EU.
The RMT's backing of No2EU was significant, the first national challenge to New Labour by a trade union since Labour's formation. The European elections, however, are not viewed as being as important as a general election is, not least by opponents of the union leadership within the RMT.
TUSC has attracted support from many RMT members but has also sharpened political debate in the union. No doubt New Labour apparatchiks are looking on for any opportunity there may be to undermine a militant trade union leadership, in the same way they aided the Blairite candidate who unseated the left wing general secretary of the Aslef train drivers' union in 2003. In this context, the enthusiastic participation in TUSC in a personal capacity by leading trade unionists - in the RMT and other unions also - is highly significant. It is a clear signal that 'non-political' trade unionism will increasingly be seen as 'not an option' when the axe men are coming.
A new mass political vehicle for workers, a new workers' party which could fill the present vacuum, will not necessarily develop through the official structures of the unions. It is certainly unlikely that a majority of the larger unions, at least nationally, would initially embrace a new party - in the same way that the biggest unions remained wedded to the Liberal Party in the early days of the Labour Representation Committee (the forerunner of the Labour Party).
But big events loom, as the next phase of 'the great recession' unfolds, which will relentlessly pose before trade unionists in struggle that there must be an alternative. TUSC can play a critical role in developing this consciousness.
Trade unions are still the basic organisations of the working class, which gives them enormous social weight. It is not for nothing, for example during the British Airways dispute or the postal workers' strikes, that the capitalist media routinely denigrate the unions as 'holding the public to ransom' or 'crippling the economy'. For long periods, it is true, the formal structures in some unions can atrophy, with limited participation by rank and file members, but even these unions still possess social reserves.
For the Socialist Party the importance of TUSC lies above all in its potential as a catalyst in the trade unions, both in the structures and below, for the idea of working class political representation. It can also play a role in drawing together anti-cuts campaigns, environmental campaigners, anti-racist groups etc. It is, however, only secondarily a vehicle for developing 'left unity', in other words, of socialist organisations collaborating for specific goals, or 'left regroupment', the bringing together of different socialist groups into one organisation.
This conception of the role of the coalition was not accepted, however, by the Alliance for Green Socialism (AGS), another of the No2EU core organisations, in the discussions prior to TUSC's formation. AGS representatives, for example, proposed that one criteria for a socialist organisation to be admitted onto the steering committee should be a membership of "at least 100", while opposing trade unions from having more than one representative (the RMT has 80,000 members). This proposal would have 'crowded out' the most important component of the coalition.
The AGS's other concern was to include an environmental reference in the coalition's name, which was not accepted by the other participants. The Socialist Party insisted that the threat that capitalism poses to the planet must be reflected in the coalition's core policies. But when, as recent polls show, 59% of the population believe that the establishment politicians, all claiming the green mantle, are using climate change as a back-door way to raise taxes (The Guardian, 12 January), including 'green' or another environmental term in the name could be a potential barrier and not an aid to dialogue with broader layers. Unfortunately, despite an offer that the AGS could stand under their own name where they provided the coalition candidate but still have a place on the TUSC steering committee, they decided to withdraw.
TUSC HAS been established as a federal 'umbrella' coalition, with an agreed core policy statement but with participating candidates and organisations accountable for their own campaigns. The steering committee welcomed the support of a number of socialist groups, including the Walsall-based Democratic Labour Party and its councillor, Peter Smith. Amongst the first tranche of TUSC candidates approved, are members of four different socialist organisations, including Socialist Resistance and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
The admission of the SWP to the coalition was not automatic, however. TUSC is a federal coalition but each component, its candidates and participating organisations, will be scrutinised, certainly by New Labour opponents inside the trade unions. With this in mind the record of the SWP was questioned.
Bob Crow, reflecting the response of RMT militants as last year's Lindsey strike unfolded, immediately and rightly condemned those "misrepresenting the strikers as xenophobic - a posh word for racist" (in a letter to The Guardian, 6 February 2009). The SWP, on the other hand, criticised the strikes as 'nationalist'.
The SWP took a similar stance towards No2EU, the electoral body which was supported not just by the union tops but a big majority of RMT activists. These and other political mistakes by the SWP will not make winning support for TUSC easier inside the RMT, and other unions too.
Moreover, there is also suspicion amongst many activists of the methods of the SWP when working in broad coalitions. The SWP rejected a federal approach in the Socialist Alliance, for example, using its weight of numbers to dominate, which compelled the Socialist Party to leave and led to the eventual demise of that organisation in 2003.
On the other hand, it was argued, the SWP's record will not be known particularly to workers moving into struggle for the first time. They could be attracted to TUSC and would naturally want to see the widest possible unity. It is necessary not to do anything that could be a potential barrier to them.
On balance then, it was felt that the potential drawbacks of the SWP's involvement could be overcome. So, after assurances that they would accept the federal character of TUSC, the SWP have been invited onto the coalition steering committee.
THE FOUNDING of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) in February 1900 was greeted by The Clarion, a popular socialist newspaper of the time, as "a little cloud, no bigger than a man's fist, which may grow into a United Labour Party".
TUSC is certainly not a new LRC, which itself was not pre-ordained to develop into a mass party. It contested just 15 seats in the 1900 general election and affiliated union membership halved in its first year.
But the capitalists' offensive then against the workers' movement, typified in the Taff Vale court decision to open up the railway workers' union funds for strike damages, compelled the unions onto the political plane.
The period ahead will be no less turbulent than then, in fact more so. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is today just a modest step on the road to establishing independent working class political representation but its potential role, as it fills out or as a precursor to future developments, could be immense.
"Every victory we've won since the war is up for grabs." That was the rallying call from RMT general secretary Bob Crow as he launched the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) general election campaign in Portsmouth North by outlining the need to defend jobs, homes and services from the most savage attacks in a generation.
Over 60 local trade unionists and socialists attended the meeting at Unity Hall in Fratton and unamimously endorsed Mick Tosh, RMT activist and former RMT executive committee member as the TUSC parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth North.
While Bob's speech was mainly aimed at the attacks being prepared by the big three parties against working people he also stressed the danger of the far right. When considering his own constituency of Barking, where BNP leader Nick Griffin intends to stand, Bob commented: "You need to build homes, build hospitals and give people jobs, that's how you beat the BNP and that's how we'll lay the foundation for a new political party for working men and women."
His message of defiance was matched by contributions from the floor, as speakers who have participated in industrial struggles across the region, including the postal strike, the Ford dispute in Southampton and the Vestas occupation on the Isle of Wight, declared their support for Mick Tosh and TUSC.
As people queued to volunteer to help and make donations the spirit of the meeting was summed up by one local man who, on collecting his TUSC Portsmouth North membership card, said: "I've been waiting over thirty years for something like this."
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition held a successful meeting in Glasgow on Saturday 30 January. Participating organisations included the Scottish region of the Fire Brigades Union, the Scotland No 2 branch of the Communication Workers' Union, Solidarity, the International Socialists (sister organisation of the Socialist Party), the Lanarkshire Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, and Dave Nellist, Socialist Party Coventry councillor, introduced the meeting by reporting on the setting up of TUSC and the agreed core policies that form the "glue that will bind the coaltion together".
The coalition is aiming to stand in around 40 to 50 seats in the Westminster general election this year.
The meeting welcomed the initiative and agreed to set up a Scottish steering committee of TUSC, made up of two representatives per organisation and an invitation to leading trade unionists from the RMT, PCS and other unions to take part in a personal capacity. The Scottish Socialist Party have refused to take part in the coalition.
All representatives agreed to report back to their organisations and meet again on 13 February to finalise candidates and the Scottish constituencies that TUSC would aim to stand in.
There was enthusiasm for this step forward in building a working class alternative to the big business parties, including the Scottish National Party that is carrying out major cuts in public services.
It was agreed that the Scottish steering committee of TUSC would look at adding to the core policies, particularly around the issue of a referendum on Scottish independence.
This welcome start needs to be built on. The attendance of leading trade unionists in Scotland augurs well for the ability of TUSC to build a base of support among important sections of workers in the run up to the general election and beyond.
More declarations of support have come in this week for the TUSC general election challenge, some of which are listed below. All sponsors appear in a personal capacity.
To add your name as a TUSC sponsor either return the slip below to TUSC, 17 Colebert House, Colebert Avenue, London E1 4JP or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations can also be sent to TUSC, with cheques payable to Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
Stan Herschel RMT North East regional organiser
Micky Thompson RMT National Executive Member for North East England and North Yorkshire
Pete March RMT National Executive Member for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire
Pat Collins RMT National Executive Member for the Midlands
Owen Herbert RMT National Executive for South Wales and the West
John Lyons PCS Ministry of Defence group executive
Sean Hoyle Portsmouth RMT branch chair
Dave Salt Secretary, CWU Birmingham & Black Country
Tim Sandle Secretary, NW London Unite Health branch
Len Hockey Joint secretary, Unison Waltham Forest Health branch
Dave Hill Former Labour Group leader, East Sussex council
Sasha Callaghan Past president, University and College Union (UCU)
Brian Powell Chair, Walsall Democratic Labour Party
Steven Cox Dudley Labour councillor, 1995-2003
Richie Veitch RMT
Councillor Chris Flood Lewisham Socialist Party councillor
Tony Greenstein Secretary, Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre
Jimmy Gill Chair, Cardiff DWP PCS branch
Ewart FitzGerald RMT
Bronwen Handyside Chair, Unite L&E 524 branch
Arti Dillon Bectu WPD branch secretary
Richard Banks Vice President Lincoln Trades Council
Annoesjka Valent Unite 1/128 branch steward
Elizabeth O'Hara Unite steward, Shelter
Liz Hammond Unite workplace rep,
Aviva Robert Jones Salford Unison steward
Clive Walder Assistant Sec, CWU Birmingham & Black Country
Steve Ballard Haringey NUT branch committee
Neil Singh CWU organiser
Following the announcement of an election for the general secretary of Unison, a meeting of the left in the union took place on 30 January. This was an attempt to reach a consensus on standing one left candidate to confront the incumbent Dave Prentis.
Socialist Party members in Unison want to see one genuine fighting left challenge.
At this point we have three possible options: Socialist Party member and general secretary candidate on three previous occasions, Roger Bannister; Paul Holmes; and Delroy Creary.
The Socialist Party would be happy to stand down if we believed that there was a candidate who would have a better chance of defeating Dave Prentis than Roger Bannister, even if that meant making concessions on our political programme.
We would be prepared to stand aside for Paul Holmes, despite the weakness of his political programme and our disagreements with it, in particular over the issue of the Labour Party.
But our assessment is that Paul Holmes does not have a genuine chance of beating Prentis and we do not believe that he would secure a better vote than Roger Bannister. Roger has a long established record of nationally challenging the bureaucracy on all the key industrial and democratic issues. He has played a key role in building the left and organising against and opposing the witch-hunt of socialists publicly.
Roger and the Socialist Party were the ones to seek to rebuild some left unity by proposing the 'Reclaim the Union' initiative, which even at this stage has achieved the most united electoral challenge to the union bureaucracy for many years.
Roger has secured the highest vote of any left wing challenge in the last three general secretary elections. This has been when other lefts - for example Yunus Bakhsh and Jon Rogers - stood against him and split the left vote.
At the meeting on 30 January we were asked by some to stand down for Paul Holmes, who is standing on the same political programme as Jon Rogers and who is less well known than Jon. This is despite the fact that in the last election Jon came last and was soundly defeated by Roger Bannister.
In the last election a key plank of Roger Bannister's manifesto was a call for 'not a penny more for New Labour' and for a ballot on disaffiliation from New Labour. This was described by some at the meeting as being secondary but it actually reflects the mood of the members and is what is politically required.
Our position has been reaffirmed in the last six months by the results of the last national executive (NEC) elections where Socialist Party members won three more seats. If this had been matched by the rest of the left it would have meant we would now have a left majority on the NEC. Despite Socialist Party members' gains, the left as a whole went backwards in those elections.
In our view it was that success that forced Prentis to, in rhetoric at least, launch an attack on the Labour Party at last year's conference. He repeated the Socialist Party's phrase: "It's time to stop feeding the hand that bites us". This received a rare standing ovation.
He later warned the Labour Link conference of the threat that Socialist Party members posed because of the increase in our NEC seats.
Whilst we accept that not all on the left support our position, this did not stop us agreeing a joint platform for the Reclaim the Union election list in the NEC elections. We are happy to have those discussions again.
Delroy Creary is in favour of a break with New Labour. He put a "yes it's time to leave" position to conference. Paul Holmes is not in favour of breaking the link with Labour. Only last week he stated that he believes that: "it is untenable at the moment for a Unison general secretary not to be a member of the Labour Party".
Paul made a point of telling the left meeting about how he came under pressure from the bureaucracy to speak for them against the motion from the Bromley local government branch at the 2008 union conference.
This called for consultation with the members on whether we should continue to fund Labour.
Whilst it true Paul did not speak for the bureaucracy at the conference, he did not even try and speak in favour of the motion - a position which he now says he holds. This was the key debate of that conference.
Someone who aspires to be the leader of the union and the voice of the left has to do more than resist the call of the bureaucracy to back them on key issues. We expect them to be leading the charge.
We note that Paul has now said that he is in favour of a special conference on affiliation to the Labour Party and for that conference to make a recommendation to the members in a ballot.
We welcome Paul's move now on something that has been an issue in the union for many years.
The problem for us is that Paul would undoubtedly be calling for a 'stay in Labour' vote in that conference and ballot.
In our opinion this runs counter to the mood of the members and is why Prentis and co have been forced to make noises in our direction whilst being determined not to allow a ballot to take place.
But let us repeat, even with this significant political weakness, if Paul had a better chance of beating Prentis than Roger, we would be prepared to stand down.
But on the basis of Roger's long standing record industrially and politically, his defence of and organising of the left in the union, his previous votes in elections and his position in the union, our view is that Roger is the better candidate. Paul Holmes and Delroy Creary should stand down in the interests of having one candidate with the best record and the best chance of defeating Prentis.
Once again the courts have shown their class prejudice in the recently-published employment tribunal ruling against the four Socialist Party members fighting the witch hunt in Unison.
Not satisfied with blocking the BA workers' right to strike, a court has now effectively ruled that socialists and Marxists do not have the right to be protected in law from discrimination and harassment in the workplace or in a trade union.
Incredibly the judgement went on to say that the four's beliefs in the right for housing for all and the right of workers to take unofficial strike action were views that were "repugnant in a democratic society" as they were seeking to deprive other individuals of their rights and freedoms by imposition!
Emboldened by the backing of the employment tribunal, the following day the union sent a letter to the four telling them that they have lost their internal appeal against the ban from office that was previously imposed and will now face a mitigation hearing on 24 February.
Negotiations between civil service union PCS and management and ministers to reach a settlement on plans to change the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (see issue 608 of The Socialist) have failed. A settlement could easily have been reached within the financial parameters set out by the government. But the real issue here is not money but the ideological imperative that dictates the government must be seen to be tough on the civil service.
There is real anger already amongst civil servants at this attempt to tear up their contractual rights. It represents the theft of their accrued rights but they also know the new proposals are designed to make it easier to cut jobs and privatise on the cheap.
Members know these attacks on rights, terms and conditions are part of the race to the bottom that is intended to strip back to the minimum any job security working people may have.
Concessions were secured in previous talks and more were floated in the latest negotiations. But even these would have left up to 40% of PCS members suffering substantial financial detriment in event of redundancy. And concessions were based on the demand that the union gives up its rights to take industrial and legal action.
This was clearly not acceptable. A special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) confirmed its previous decision to ballot members from 4 February on industrial action and action short of a strike, in order to bring the employer back around the table to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement. The ballot runs until 25 February.
There has been a real sense of unity within PCS on opposing these changes and that must now be translated into the best possible ballot result. That will be the way to maximise pressure for a fair settlement.
PCS will increase direct political pressure too by urging members to contact MPs in their own constituencies. So far 130 have signed an early day motion opposing the changes.
PCS will do all it can to keep all the other unions in the Council of Civil Service Unions together in the campaign. But this "final" offer, the fifth final offer, has seen some unions moving to acceptance.
This is short-sighted, especially given the experience of the pensions battle in 2005 when we were told a deal protecting rights for existing members was fantasy. Yet by demonstrating determination and solidarity this was precisely what was achieved.
PCS will continue to demand further talks to resolve this dispute but the over-arching priority right now for PCS activists is to deliver the best ballot result to secure negotiations.
A delegation from Warrington trades council visited the Unite members picketing at Fujitsu's Warrington site on 1 February.
The strikers cover a wide range of occupations - distribution, warehouse, engineering, recycling and sales - and there was real anger at the spectacle of Fujitsu making huge profits while simultaneously cutting benefits for the workforce to a minimum.
"£192 million they made in profit last year, but there's people been here for eight years who are only on £12,000 a year" said one striker. "And two directors got £1.6 million between them when they left the company!"
Pay for the workforce has been frozen after these huge profits and payouts for top management.
"Normally we get a glossy brochure when the annual report comes out, not this year though! It's as if they wanted to hide the figures".
Another issue is that Fujitsu put 6,000 staff 'at risk of redundancy', modified now to 1,200 following the strong reaction from the union. Discussions are continuing.
And if all this wasn't enough the company are also messing with the pension scheme.
Pickets explained how, despite the lack of union recognition, they have been gradually building the union.
They were confident of passing the 50% membership mark soon, at which point they have a legal right to the union being recognised.
The pickets were cheerful and determined. A lot of money has come in donations to the strike fund and support was good from passing motorists.
This is the first national dispute in the IT sector in the UK. It is also an important dispute as it proves that unions can organise and grow in 'new' industries in the private sector.
AFTER THE most violent election the country has seen, Mahinda Rajapakse remains president of Sri Lanka. Organised attacks by gangsters on opposition election campaigns left offices burnt out and four people dead.
While the result was being announced, Fonseka (the former army general who pursued the government's war against the Tamil Tigers) was being held under 'hotel arrest', surrounded by hundreds of state forces. After threatening to mobilise on the streets if the vote went against him, he ended up in fear of his life and 'contemplating' a legal challenge.
As far as the working class and poor of Sri Lanka were concerned - majority Sinhala, or minority Tamil or Muslim - the two main candidates offered no solution to their day to day problems.
In the first election after the decades-long civil war, they had been given a gruesome choice - between the president responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians and the army commander who carried it out! Between 'The devil you know' - Sinhala chauvinist warmonger, Rajapakse, and the 'lesser evil' - Fonseka, the Sinhala militarist, appearing in democratic sheep's clothing.
It is clear from the turnout of Tamil voters in the North - as low as 25% in Jaffna - that many were not enthusiastic about voting for either of their oppressors. Very few Internally Displaced Persons, or the tens of thousands still in the detention camps, were registered to vote, let alone able or willing to do so.
It is also clear that, even if there had been a 'fair fight' and Fonseka had won this election, not one element of real self-rule would have been granted to the Tamil people. As Chris Patten, co-chairman of the International Crisis Group warned before the election: "Tamil humiliation and frustration could well lead to militancy again."
In the last presidential election, in 2005, Tamils were mistakenly 'advised' by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), to boycott the vote. This was in line with the position of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, still at war with the Sri Lankan state at the time. Mahinda Rajapakse became the first president in Sri Lanka to be elected almost entirely by Sinhala votes.
This time, too, the Tamil politicians made a fatal mistake. The majority of Tamil MPs, in the TNA, recommended a vote for the butcher Fonseka, arguing that he could beat Rajapakse and carry out 'regime change'.
The United Socialist Party, affiliated, like the Socialist Party in England and Wales, to the Committee for a Workers' International, was the only party to represent the real interests of Tamil-speaking people as well as Sinhalese.
It consistently defended the Tamil rights throughout the war period. It has defended, in courageous campaigns, their right to self-determination and calling for united, working class action to defeat all chauvinists, warmongers and representatives of the ruling capitalist class.
The recommendation of the TNA MPs indicates their roots are in the existing class (and caste) society. They promote the illusion that the national aspirations of the oppressed Tamil people could be achieved without overthrowing existing class relations.
A new 'Singapore' in the Tamil homeland is the dream they have constantly promoted rather than a break with capitalism and a fight for a socialist federation in the South Asia region.
As expected, in the predominantly Tamil North and East, Fonseka did receive more votes than Rajapakse. In the war-devastated Jaffna and Vanni districts, in spite of massive intimidation and election violence, including bomb attacks in Jaffna on election day morning itself, the ex-commander got more than twice as many votes as the president - 167,630 against 66,052. In the Eastern Province, he got 386,823 compared with 272,327.
In the predominantly Sinhala South, whether by foul means or fair, Rajapakse apparently received a clear majority. The final 'result' gave him 58% of the vote island-wide.
At one point in the election, it was reported to a meeting of candidates that government vehicles and personnel were being used to assist the president's campaign. Posters and cut-out figures of Rajapakse were breaking all the regulations about maximum size and the police claimed they could do nothing about it.
Siritunga Jayasuriya, the candidate for the United Socialist Party suggested that, if that was the case, the people should be encouraged to take things into their own hands!
In a tireless campaign the length and breadth of the country, Siritunga and the USP stood for a united struggle of workers against the Rajapakse dictatorship and the bosses' system.
In spite of having no rich patrons and tiny resources, they were able to get their message across to hundreds of thousands of people through heroic leafleting sessions, postering and street meetings. (See USP website for campaign reports.)
In addition the party's candidate managed to get a small amount of coverage in the government-dominated media including the minimal legally allocated time on TV and radio.
But the USP was fighting an uphill battle trying to cut through the barrage of lies, distortions, misinformation and confusion that plagued this macabre election. In the last presidential election, Siritunga came in third with 35,425 votes. This time it was much lower.
Many, even left-leaning, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim voters, who might agree with the fighting programme of the United Socialist Party, misguidedly voted for Fonseka to get rid of Rajapakse.
Nevertheless, more than 8,352 people across the country voted for the USP - every one of them undoubtedly very conscious of the need for a bold socialist alternative to Sinhala chauvinism, war and capitalism. The USP recorded a higher vote than any other 'left' candidate in the election.
None of the problems of working and poor people in Sri Lanka will be solved by a new Rajapakse presidency. The USP will face up to the huge struggles of the future with the same courage and determination they have shown throughout the recent, very ugly period in the life of Sri Lanka.
STRIKING WORKERS at Tekel, the former state-owned tobacco and alcohol monopoly, travelled last December from all over Turkey to protest in the capital, Ankara. Despite cold weather and snow, the workers stayed in tents, fighting to defend their jobs and wages.
Their strike reached a peak on 17 January, when a demonstration of almost 100,000 was held in Ankara. Railroad workers, fire fighters and other workers showed their solidarity and held 'warning strikes' in support.
As a part of their privatisation programme, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sold the Tekel company to the US multinational, BAT (British American Tobacco) in 2008. 12,000 workers are threatened with huge wage cuts and taking temporary jobs lasting only eleven months.
The Tekel workers and protesters put a lot of pressure on the Turkish union leaderships, demanding a general strike.
The leaders of six union federations finally threatened the government with warning strikes, in all industries. But the government's subsequent concessions are very limited, so far.
Union leaders said they will meet again to decide whether to hold a general strike, but as The Socialist goes to press this has not been decided.
This struggle has changed Turkey: workers from Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds are struggling together. The coming battles around privatisations and redundancies will be inspired by the determination of the tobacco workers.
The political situation over the last few years was dominated by the two struggling wings of the ruling class. The so-called conservative, 'Muslim' section is represented by the 'moderate' political Islamist party, the AKP, and the so-called 'modern, liberal and secular wing', is represented by the military and the opposition CHP (Republican People's Party). But now the Tekel strike is seeing the working class starting to enter the political arena.
Initially, Tekel workers went to the Ankara offices of the ruling AKP, which many of these workers previously voted for. But instead of support, the government sent police to meet the workers.
The opposition parties originally tried to opportunistically jump on the Tekel strike bandwagon but as the workers' struggle became more radical, they backed off. For many Tekel workers and for working people in general, it is becoming clear there is no party representing their interests.
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), the international organisation the Socialist Party is affiliated to, stands for:
With over 250 UK servicemen and women tragically dead on Afghan soil since 2001, generals, politicians and tabloid editors regularly weep crocodile tears for the 'fallen heroes' - but they say much less about the damage suffered by the survivors.
Ex-soldier Danny Fitzsimons, 29 and from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, is on trial in Baghdad accused of the murder in August 2009 of two other security guards, Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare, in a drunken brawl. His trial was due to start in November 2009 but was postponed because of a bomb attack on the court. He has been held in what his solicitor describes as a 'dungeon' and faces death by hanging if convicted.
His family are calling for his return to face trial in the UK where he can receive appropriate care and would not face the death penalty if convicted. They are supported in this by their Labour MP Jim Dobbin and prisoners' rights organisation Reprieve. Danny's solicitor John Tipple has seen at first hand how justice in Iraq is subject to bribery and intimidation and it is hard to see how Danny could obtain a fair trial in Baghdad.
Danny joined the Royal Fusiliers at 16, and was sent on his first tour shortly after his 18th birthday. On his first tour, to the former Yugoslavia, Danny experienced some extremely disturbing events - the discovery of mass graves, and finding the dismembered body of a young boy who had previously delivered bread to the troops.
Danny left the army and like many ex-soldiers turned to work as a private security contractor in Iraq, where he witnessed further traumatic events, including the death of a close friend burned alive inside a truck hit by an IED.
Danny was diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in January 2004, while still in the army. Assessments by consultant psychiatrists in May 2008 and June 2009 reported that the symptoms had worsened. In May 2008 he was told that PTSD was: "having an impact on his day to day life and he use[d] drugs and alcohol to combat that and escape from those experiences."
Despite this, in August 2009, Danny was hired by ArmorGroup and sent out to Iraq without undergoing a full medical assessment. Within 36 hours of his arrival, the incident took place in which two colleagues died and an Iraqi was injured.
ArmorGroup is now part of global security company G4S. G4S has so far tried to wash its hands of Danny with a one-off payment of $75,000 towards his legal fees. But a capital trial and the situation in Iraq mean that a proper defence would cost up to $1.8 million.
Danny Fitzsimons has been treated appallingly by G4S. But there are also major questions for the Ministry of Defence in this case, and the many other cases where service personnel are diagnosed with PTSD.
What support or counselling did Danny receive while in the army, or for his resettlement when he left the army at such an early stage in his career? What psychiatric support is available for serving soldiers to deal with PTSD? What counselling or other support is available for soldiers leaving the army to ensure they return to civilian life and are not re-cycled into the violent world of private security?
The charity Combat Stress has seen a 66% increase in referrals since 2005 and is currently supporting 316 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffering from PTSD.
It was recently revealed that a quarter of the homeless are ex-squaddies. 10% of the male prison population consists of ex-service personnel - hardly surprising given that the psychological trauma of war-time experiences, plus the culture of drinking and drug-taking when off-duty, bring many ex-squaddies into conflict with the law.
Danny's trial opened on 20 January but was adjourned for psychiatric reports. It is due to resume on 18 February but his family are still pressing for the government to arrange a 'prisoner transfer' to a UK jail.
G4S is the second largest private employer in the world, with over 500,000 employees, 40,000 of them in the Middle East. In 2008 G4S had a turnover of £5.943 billion and saw its profits rise by 22%.
Its board of directors includes Sir Paul (now Lord) Condon, who was commissioner of the Metropolitan Police between 1993 and 2000. Since 2008 John Reid, formerly home and defence secretary, has acted as a consultant to G4S.
G4S runs immigration reporting, detention and removal centres and executes repatriation of asylum seekers to their homeland, in some cases to renewed persecution and death.
It provides bodyguards for staff in Iraq and Afghanistan. It operates prisons and secure training centres in the UK, provides police 'support' duties, rail security and is likely to be a contractor for the Department for Work and Pensions Flexible New Deal Phase 2.