Socialist Party | Print
The Tory/Lib Dem budget included a rise in VAT to 20%, a pay freeze for most public sector workers and the cutting and erosion of a number of key benefits - including housing benefit.
These vicious measures will hit millions of workers and the poorest people in society very hard, and there is much more to come, such as large-scale public sector job losses and attacks on pensions. At the same time, the richest in society were handed the lowest rate of corporation tax of any major western economy, a cut to 24% over the next three years.
But does the final word on the government's destruction of jobs, welfare and services lie with 23 Tory and Lib Dem cabinet ministers, or with the seven million trade unionists who don't want to see the living standards of ordinary people degraded?
The potential strength of the trade unions is massive. They can ultimately decide, through collective action, what is done, made, and moved in society. They would receive huge support from their members and from workers beyond their present membership if a determined fightback against the government's attacks is conducted.
The bosses' organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), has pleaded with the government to do more to prevent "debilitating strike action" by trade unions in response to the cuts. Yet it should be the Trades Union Congress (TUC) that is in the forefront of warning of strike action, and from an entirely opposite point of view - that of the interests of working class and middle class people.
Our welfare state is under attack, the biggest attack since its creation. The entire public sector is being hacked away relentlessly by this new government, carrying on from where New Labour left off.
This onslaught can be stopped, but only if the destructive zeal of the government ministers is met with an equally determined and intransigent response from ordinary working people - saying NO to cuts, job losses and privatisation.
For a start, the TUC should call an emergency meeting - as Bob Crow, RMT transport union leader, has publicly demanded - and should as a first step set a date for a national demonstration, against cuts to jobs, pensions, pay, benefits and services.
Then, that event needs to be properly prepared for and organised, it is not enough just to call it. It would most likely be tens of thousands strong even if the trade unions do not properly mobilise for it, but it would attract hundreds of thousands of people if they do mobilise.
This would mean producing hundreds of thousands of leaflets and posters, organising the distribution of them throughout the trade union movement and issuing guidelines for getting them into as many workplaces and communities as possible.
It would mean the TUC and major unions funding prominent national adverts, and trade union leaders using every media interview and article they are involved in, to explain about the demonstration and urge workers and their families to participate in it.
The trade union leaders also need to put forward a plan of action for after the demonstration, in particular a call for a one-day public sector strike. Again, this needs to be thoroughly prepared for at all levels of the labour and trade union movement, and the National Shop Stewards Network would also be able to play an important role in building for it (see page 5).
The driving down of the living standards of a vast layer of workers in society is not inevitable. The government can be stopped in its tracks if a mighty opposition movement is built up.
What we think
The new government hasn't stopped cutting during its first seven weeks in power. First came £6.2 billion of cuts, followed by more, suddenly-announced cuts of £12.5 billion just a few days before the 22 June budget. Then came the budget with its VAT increase, housing benefit cuts, attacks on lone parents and disabled people who claim benefits, and so on.
This catalogue of horror is far from complete as far as the government is concerned. More is coming in its Comprehensive Spending Review in October; a further £17 billion a year will be cut from government departments by 2014/15, taking the total combined amount of spending cuts and tax rises to around £80 billion a year before the government has finished. Most departments are targeted for cuts of around 25% over the next four years, with the hardest hit to include schools, transport and housing. Up to one million public sector jobs are being lined up for the axe out of the present six million, and public sector pensions are particularly in the government's firing line.
The chancellor, George Osborne, claimed that the rich have been hit proportionately harder than the poor in the budget. This is a farcical assertion. It will badly affect working class and middle class people, but the super-rich layer at the top of society will suffer almost unnoticeably in comparison. They have plenty of amassed wealth to fall back on.
Most public sector workers on the other hand, who are already very hard-pressed financially, face a two year pay freeze, which means a pay cut when inflation is taken into account. Those earning under £21,000 will receive a flat rate increase of £250 a year and all workers will gain from a £1,000 increase in the tax free allowance, but these small concessions will quickly become outweighed by the extra costs of the VAT increase and other government attacks. The VAT increase will have a major impact on all working and middle class people - it is a regressive tax that affects the poorest the most.
Poorer areas of the country are being hit hardest by the government. Many of these areas rely heavily on the public sector for jobs. A recent study by the Work Foundation showed that over three quarters of net new jobs in the north of England over the last decade were in the public sector.
As well as using leading Liberal Democrats to help execute the cuts, Tory prime minister Cameron has given government roles to two Labour Party ministers, helping him to spread the blame further. John Hutton, former Work and Pensions secretary, is to find ways to cut public sector pensions and Frank Field is helping the government to cut state benefits.
John Prescott - the Labour former deputy prime minister - attacked these two for becoming "human shields for the most savage and heartless Tory policies for 20 years". But Prescott's own actions, and Labour's as a whole, were no different when in power; New Labour carried out huge cuts and planned to make £51 billion of cuts and tax increases by 2014/15 if re-elected. They paved the way for the cuts of this Tory/Lib Dem government. It was a Labour chancellor who said his cuts would be "tougher than Thatcher" and they have raised no alternative to making working class people pay the price of the capitalist economic crisis.
There are great fears among capitalists worldwide and in Britain that the vast austerity drives being carried out will finish off the feeble economic growth that is only just emerging. In Britain, government money accounts for 50% of all spending in the economy and 20% of jobs, so clearly the cuts will damage the prospects for growth.
In Lithuania, government attempts to cut the budget deficit from 8% of GDP to 3% over three years helped to send the economy into a 15% contraction last year.
Driven by this fear, US president Obama has warned governments against withdrawing stimulus packages too quickly. Even the neoliberal fanzine, the Financial Times, in an editorial on 21 June, called for Osborne to have "an emergency plan of action to be followed were the UK to fall into a deep recession ... from tax rebates to infrastructure projects, to expand demand temporarily with extra public spending".
In the event of renewed recession, the Bank of England will not be able to help the government manoeuvre economically by reducing interest rates further, as they are already near zero. Further recession would pile even greater suffering onto ordinary people, through higher unemployment, wage cuts etc.
So although the capitalists and their economists are united on demanding cuts, they are divided on how fast and far the government should be going. At 11% of national income, the UK's budget deficit is the highest among the G20 leading world economies. But those who urge a slower pace of cuts, point out that at present the government is having no problems in 'selling' its debt. On the contrary, the pound has recently been seen as relatively safe by investors, compared to the euro for instance.
The Socialist, however, while completely rejecting the idea that the national debt should be passed on as a burden to future generations, has explained that no cuts in workers' jobs, terms, services and benefits should be made today in order to reduce it. It is the capitalist class who should pay, as they have the wealth to do so, and the economic crisis is a consequence of their system, not the fault of ordinary people.
In all Osborne's screaming about an "out of control" welfare state and a "truly awful" mess he has inherited, nothing is said about the massive bailouts that were given to the bankers. These bailouts added £134 billion to the national debt - and could add hundreds of billions more if some of the government's guarantees and liquidity bailouts eventually become bad debts. In an attempt to appease the widespread anger that exists on this issue, Osborne brought in a levy on the banks. But it will only raise £2 billion a year - peanuts compared to the amount the banks have received and the profits they can rake in.
Also, billions of pounds in corporation tax have been handed by successive governments over decades back to the owners of industry. Now, in this budget, Osborne is reducing corporation tax further still, down to the unprecedented level of 24% by 2014/15. All the reductions in corporation tax and income tax for the rich should be reversed!
But also, the case for taking the major companies and finance institutions into public ownership is overwhelming. Then, all their assets and potential wealth can be ploughed into new productive investment for the benefit of society as a whole, and into the public sector to rebuild and strengthen it.
The Socialist will continue to shout loud on the burning need for such bold socialist measures and will explain that nationalisations must be carried out on the basis of genuine workers' democracy and socialist planning, with compensation to shareholders only paid when the need for it can be proven.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment has risen by 23,000 since April. On average there are five benefit claimants for every one job vacancy throughout the UK. This is the grim reality of how ordinary people are being affected by the crisis.
The figures show a noticeable north-south divide. Scotland, the North East and Yorkshire each have six claimants for every vacancy whereas further south there are around four.
However, London is the worst hit area with a ratio of eight to one. Seven out of the ten unemployment blackspots are in the capital. Top of the list is Hackney with a staggering statistic of one job to every 24 claimants!
In Lewisham, third on the list, the ratio stands at 14 to one. Despite this, the government has decided to close the jobcentre in Deptford, transferring all Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) claimants three miles away to Catford with no intention of subsidising travel.
Young people are hit particularly brutally, with close to a million unemployed 16-25 year olds already.
School and college students who leave education in the next couple of months will find few options open to them.
Cuts to the planned increase in the number of university places means that thousands of eligible students will be denied access to higher education.
The latest figures prove that many will have nowhere to go other than to join the 2.47 million people on the dole queue.
When Youth Fight for Jobs members protested outside Iain Duncan Smith's surgery last week, this new government secretary for Work and Pensions could only shrug when asked what he expects young people to do (see page ten).
His Labour opposition counterpart in Parliament, Yvette Cooper, meanwhile claimed that it would be "mad" for the government to be cutting support for jobs at this time.
However, despite Labour's attempts to pass themselves off as being opposed to all these cuts, in reality they would be doing exactly the same.
The Tories are merely continuing New Labour's neoliberal policies of putting the interests of big businesses before those of ordinary people.
We need to build a united campaign of workers, the unemployed and students, led by the trade unions to demand a future for young people.
We should fight for a mass programme of job creation instead of job cuts, decent benefits for those out of work and a minimum wage of at least £8 an hour.
All we hear from both the government and the mainstream press are the sickening cries of Cameron and Clegg's love child, TINA - There Is No Alternative. They will never acknowledge that there is an alternative; a socialist alternative.
But for the millions bearing the burden of the crisis, it will become unendurable and they will seek an alternative.
I was invited to address the UCU union's day of action rally in Nottingham on Sunday on behalf of Youth Fight for Jobs. I was joined by speakers from the UCU, NUT and Unison trade unions and the rally was filmed by regional TV. Also on the platform was Lillian Greenwood, Labour MP for Nottingham South.
Lillian said that Labour would always defend education from cuts because Labour believes that education should be open to all. I was the only speaker to spotlight her hypocrisy, mentioning the fees review led by Lord Browne, a former head of BP who left under allegations of corruption. It was set up by Labour peer Peter Mandelson and looks set to recommend massive increases in annual tuition fees this autumn.
In response to the new Con-Dem Higher Education minister David Willetts calling university funding a "burden on the taxpayer", I argued that the only real burden on the taxpayer is the banking sector, which was bailed out using £850 billion of taxpayers' money. If the banks' profits went back into society, public services like education could be expanded dramatically rather than being cut.
I spoke immediately after Lillian and got a much bigger round of applause!
AT LEAST 5,000 people marched in Tower Hamlets last Sunday (20 June) to keep the racist and hooligan English Defence League (EDL) out of the London borough. A large number of young people in particular came out, despite the EDL announcing a week before that they weren't coming after all.
The march was still absolutely necessary to bring people together and show that the vast majority of people in Tower Hamlets oppose the EDL's divisive politics. It had a big effect in counteracting the fear that the EDL's original threat to march in the borough had caused and it also gave confidence to people that the EDL can be stopped.
Asian, white, black, Muslim and non-Muslim, students, unemployed people and trade unionists marched together in a common cause, with many of the large number of bystanders expressing support.
Socialist Party leaflets called for the demonstration to be a springboard to unite the local community around opposition to government spending cuts as well as opposing racism and social division. These leaflets were snapped up and eagerly read.
The Youth Fight for Jobs contingent's chants of "jobs and homes, not racism" was appreciated by other marchers. Unfortunately, most of the platform speakers didn't adopt this class approach and therefore missed an excellent opportunity to rally thousands of young and overwhelmingly working class people against cuts as well as the EDL.
As the Con-Dem government spending axe comes down on jobs and public services, the best way to stop racist groups like the EDL turning anger against the government into racism and divisions, is to build a strong fightback of workers' organisations united together with youth and local communities.
ON FRIDAY 18 June, Youth Fight for Jobs held a demonstration outside the MP surgery of Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), former Conservative party leader and current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
The protesters gathered in Chingford, east London, angry at the lack of employment opportunities and proposed changes to the welfare system that may see them working for their benefits. Some came dressed for work, angry at being categorised as lazy or feckless, one came as the grim reaper, the lettering on his scythe bemoaning "Iain's Dickensian Society".
Chingford is part of Waltham Forest borough which has one of the country's highest unemployment rates. Almost 13 people receive unemployment benefits for every job vacancy. Proposed cuts to local colleges and to Education Maintenance Allowance will leave many young people facing an even bleaker future.
IDS would not speak to anyone, shuffling quickly past the protest, pausing briefly to shrug when asked about his proposals to improve opportunities for young people. He plans a complete overhaul of the welfare system with the purported aim of 'simplifying' the system and 'providing greater incentives to work'.
However he recently oversaw the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund, and ignores the reality that for many people the jobs simply are not there. Not surprising for a man described by party colleagues as "not the sharpest knife in the drawer".
An unemployed graduate civil engineer from Chingford said: "The situation is dire for young people at the moment. The government should be helping by encouraging the creation of decent jobs, not by looking to use them as cheap labour.
"Why not invest in creating sustainable infrastructure for the country rather than bailing out large private companies and financial institutions?"
Others expressed anger at being forced into student debt with the promise of a decent career, only to find no jobs were available when they graduated. Some were angry at the lack of training courses and apprenticeships. The government must invest in young people and not leave us in poverty and unemployment.
The CBI is calling on the government to introduce even more anti trade union laws. The bosses' union is demanding that in a strike ballot, 40% of all those in a workplace who are entitled to vote should have voted 'yes' for the vote to be carried. So this means that all those who don't bother voting are deemed to have voted 'no' to strike action.
If that applied to the recent general election then there would be no government, given that only 38% of the total electorate voted for the Tories and Liberal Democrats.
The CBI is also demanding that the 90 day notice, required at the moment for redundancies to be made, be reduced to 30 days "to reduce uncertainty to the staff".
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said in response to both suggestions that the attack represented a "demolition job on the rights at work of their members' staff" (ie much of the national workforce). He said "while we expect the CBI to lobby against rights at work, please spare us the hypocrisy of pretending that a cut in the period of consultation over redundancy is for the benefit of employees".
Barber also said that strikes in Britain are at low ebb and therefore there was no need to curb them. But the bosses, who have a bit more perspective than the TUC leader, are preparing for the future. They don't expect this low level of struggle to last much longer.
They already have on their side all the panoply of the legal system, including the judges. The judges have proved over and over again - in the BA dispute and many rail disputes - that they will generally try to come down on the side of the bosses.
Recent strike figures released by the government show that the level of strikes in April (the latest figures available) was no more than 2,000 days lost. The commentators in the press who noticed this said that it was an indication that British workers had accepted the logic of the crisis facing British capitalism.
Such a low level of strikes, we were told, is an indication that a large number of workers are prepared to keep their heads down and hope that things will get better soon. One indication of that was that job losses have been lower than they might otherwise have been, because workers were accepting pay cuts by working less hours. Therefore the employers haven't had to lay off so many workers.
But you can only kick a dog for so long, eventually it will bite back. Cuts in the public sector and the threat to services and thousands of jobs are already affecting large numbers of workers up and down Britain.
The NSSN conference this week is an opportunity to begin the process of putting in place a rank and file organisation that will seek to bring together those in struggle or preparing to go into struggle, maybe for the first time. The struggle will not be wholly restricted to the organised trade union movement. But undoubtedly workers will be looking to the unions for support and guidance, as they seek to defend their jobs and those in the community who depend on their services.
Workers are facing a brutal period of cuts and job losses. One of the most recent attacks is in the Refugee and Migrant Justice organisation (RMJ) whose 340 staff were told last week they are to be made redundant. This is a direct consequence of government funding being squeezed.
The cuts in the public sector will also have a direct effect upon the private sector as the economy contracts and workers have less money to spend.
The NSSN is made up of shop stewards and other trade unionists from a broad swathe of the public and private sectors. It has developed deep roots at national and local level that can give leadership and help to those in struggle.
It can act as a catalyst, particularly at local level to draw together trade union activists and workers involved in disputes, across trade union branches, trades councils and workplaces. Also community organisations are beginning to spring up as services are cut. As the statement (left) makes clear, NSSN supporters should contact their local trade union branches, trades councils and workplaces and also local community organisations and prepare to work together to defend jobs and services.
The NSSN can act as a focus to unite struggles from below and demand that the national union leaders act. British workers can see that across Europe general strikes and massive demonstrations are taking place but nothing on a national level seems to be happening yet in Britain.
The recent TUC general council heard a plea from the PCS, reported by Janice Godrich, the president of the union, to organise a national demonstration against the cuts. What is needed now is for the TUC to name a day for the demonstration so that work can begin, to ensure a massive turnout for the demo.
The general council has asked the Public Services Liaison Group (PSLG), a subcommittee of the TUC, to report back to the next general council meeting on 22 July on campaign plans to defend the public sector.
It was the PSLG, under the pressure of the PCS, that negotiated with the Labour government in 2005 over the threat to public sector pensions. Then, the threat of a near public sector general strike forced the government into retreat and it guaranteed to keep the pension rights of existing public sector workers intact. At the time the Financial Times called it "abject surrender" and Digby Jones, the then leader of the CBI, called the retreat a return to the 1970s, "with the unions calling the shots".
The minister who led the negotiations with the unions at the time was Alan Johnson, who was eventually replaced by John Hutton, who has now been taken on by the Tories as their 'advisor' in attacking public sector pensions.
With the TUC's present schedule of meetings, the earliest feasible date for a demonstration would be in September, perhaps 11 September, the Saturday before the TUC conference.
In truth the demo should be soon after the crisis budget on 22 June but given the ponderous nature of the British union leadership, September is more likely. But it will take a mighty effort to mobilise the mass ranks of the British trade union movement - something unfortunately the TUC is lacking.
That is why the left-led unions in a 'coalition of the willing' should meet as soon as possible to prepare their own plans for a demo if the TUC drags its feet.
We are entering a stormy period where the seeming inertia of the trade union movement can be swept aside in mighty battles, laws or no laws.
Now is the time to act.
This conference is taking place a few days after the Tory/Liberal Democrat government has announced in its 'special' budget the biggest cuts in public expenditure since the 1930s. True to his election promises Cameron is driving through "painful cuts" and "difficult decisions on pay, pensions and benefits" which will affect "our whole way of life".
These cuts will axe jobs and reduce services. They will impact upon the lives of millions of ordinary people in every community and workplace up and down the country.
We say the working class should not accept these cuts, and we the NSSN will organise to assist in the fightback. The working class will not pay for a crisis caused by the bankers and the capitalist system.
We appeal for the maximum unity of the trade union movement in defence of the public sector and the welfare state, and support the call by the PCS and others for the TUC to organise a national demonstration preferably before the TUC conference in September 2010.
As soon as the date of a demonstration is announced our central priority will be to build for the maximum possible turnout on it. If a demo is not called, the NSSN will call a mass lobby of the TUC conference in Manchester, urging the TUC to organise a united national demonstration with a view to further organising a one-day public sector strike, as the beginning of a serious fightback against these vicious cuts.
AS A council workers' representative I sat awaiting our fate from part one of the Con-Dem government's bloodbath budget.
Without an ounce of irony, George Osborne told the country that while "public sector workers were not the cause of recession we must share the burden to clean it up" and that this was "a progressive budget where the rich will pay more".
All of this, of course, is before the massive onslaught of 25% cuts in our jobs to be announced in the autumn.
The government has delivered its intentions to us today, now it's time for us to send them a message, that we will organise the biggest fight possible against these attacks!
TAXING THE poor to bail out the rich! The Conservatives and disgracefully their Liberal lackeys have produced a budget that hits the low-paid hardest. Increasing VAT to 20% means that the poor will be hit disproportionately hard when paying for the staples of life.
A 25% cut in the transport budget means huge job cuts and a terrifying dilution of safety, and destroys all pretence of a 'green transport policy'.
The freezing of public sector pay is a vindictive attempt to hit those on low incomes and scapegoat public sector workers, (whose average pension is only £4,000), in order to pay for the bankers' crisis.
We must unite all workers from the public and private sectors to smash these proposals by protest demonstrations and industrial action. The RMT tubelines workers will start a 48-hour dispute from 19:00 on 23 June.
OSBORNE ANNOUNCED cuts of £1.8 billion in housing benefit saying that the system was "completely out of control". But spending is high because of the shift away from 'bricks and mortar' subsidy - in other words, historically low levels of building social housing leading to long waiting lists meant that people had to go into the private rented sector and pay very high rents. Landlords get tax breaks and, in effect, a further subsidy for high rents from housing benefit. It's not the tenants that get rich through housing benefit.
"THIS GOVERNMENT have abolished the Future Jobs Fund with no replacement", said Ben Robinson, Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) chair.
"Benefit cuts announced today of £11 billion are expected to include Job Seekers Allowance and nearly £2 billion from housing benefit, both already lower if you are a young person.
"With the intention to sell off the Student Loans Company, the first step towards charging commercial interest rates, and cuts already announced to further and higher education funding, this is a government that is taking from youth without returning any offer of a future.
"All the while big business is offered the lowest corporation tax rates ever."
"The recession has seen the future promised to young people shattered. This government is not even offering to help pick up the pieces."
"WE WILL fight these cuts" was the loud message from the Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) protest outside Deptford Jobcentre in south London on budget day. Speakers from the lecturers' union the UCU, the NUT teachers' union and the PCS civil service union graphically spoke of what this government and the local council cuts already mean.
After a marvellous campaign to save Deptford Job centre Tony Reay, PCS rep, said the government had now reneged on the deal and the Jobcentre faces closure for the second time in recent years.
NUT secretary Martin Powell-Davies highlighted the attacks on schools with the Academies Bill. Martin also spoke of the need to try to unite the different anti-cuts campaigns into a Lewisham wide anti-cuts campaign.
Annie Holder, UCU representative in community education, Lewisham, outlined the cutting of crèche services to parents in adult education with 26 crèche workers facing the sack.
Mark Nicholson from Lewisham YFJ spoke of the attacks facing young people. All the speakers made clear the determination of their union members and people in the local community to fight these cuts.
In summing up the protest former Socialist Party councillor Ian Page spoke of the need to build a new mass party based on socialism to provide the political alternative to all the parties carrying through these cuts.
THE FOLLOWING motion was agreed unanimously at Lewisham National Union of Teachers (NUT) general meeting on 21 June. In part it states:
"This Association agrees that the union, locally and nationally, must mount a determined campaign to defend pay, pensions and conditions and our schools and public services from this government's cuts and privatisation plans.
We are angered that the budget is targeting public sector workers by proposing that teachers and other colleagues pay for a financial crisis that was none of our making.
These cuts will only damage our living standards and damage the economy as well.
We call on the NUT executive and the emergency SFC committee to:
THE CIVIL service union PCS organised a lively protest outside the Treasury on budget day. Angry protesters chanted: "It's better to tax the rich than break the poor." PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh explained that public sector workers face "the mother of all battles" to defeat the massive attacks on public services and jobs. We therefore need coordinated action with other public sector unions.
Speakers include Dave Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party councillor and former MP who took a worker's wage, a Youth Fight for Jobs campaign speaker and local trade unionists.
THE PUBLICATION of the Bloody Sunday inquiry report, known as the Saville inquiry, has brought to light, once again, the brutal lengths the British capitalist state is prepared to go in defence of its interests.
The Saville inquiry, which cost nearly £200 million and lasted 12 years, has officially confirmed what everyone has known all along - that those who were murdered by the British Army on Bloody Sunday in 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, were innocent.
What the inquiry has failed to expose, or even attempt to explain is, what was the role of the Edward Heath Tory government and the British army chiefs in the events of Bloody Sunday and in the subsequent cover-up. On these crucial questions, the Saville inquiry is silent and has failed. In that respect, it is another form of an official cover-up.
On 30 January 1972, 27 innocent people were shot on the streets of Derry by British soldiers. Their crime was to march against internment without trial and to demand civil rights. 13 people died that day. A fourteenth died several months later, as a result of a bullet-wound.
A tribunal was quickly established by the Tory Heath government, headed by Lord Widgery. In April 1972 the infamous Widgery report concluded that the soldiers from the Parachute Regiment (Paras) were justified in shooting marchers; that shots were first fired at soldiers from the crowds on the streets in Derry and implied that those killed had been in close contact with weapons.
It also found that both the Unionist government in Stormont - the seat of local power in Northern Ireland - and the British government in Westminster, shared no blame. The Widgery report was a complete whitewash; a cover up for murder carried out by the British state.
Incidentally, four years later, Widgery was to turn down the first appeal by the Birmingham Six - six Irishmen who were framed by police and wrongly imprisoned for 16 years for the IRA (Irish Republican Army) Birmingham pub bombings. From the British ruling class and Unionist establishment point of view the Widgery report was the last word on Bloody Sunday.
For the past 38 years, the families of the Bloody Sunday victims have campaigned tirelessly to uncover the truth of Bloody Sunday and for the British government to recognise the innocence of the victims.
Thousands joined the families on the day the Saville report was released to retrace the 1972 march.
In the weeks leading up to Bloody Sunday, there were signs that the establishment was preparing to shoot protesters. The British army commander for land forces in Northern Ireland, at the time, Major General Robert Ford, was on record supporting the 'shooting of selected ringleaders of rioters', to set an example.
It was Ford's decision to send the Paras to Derry, a city with a large Irish nationalist population, major parts of which were 'no-go' areas for the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) police force and the army.
Ford had visited Derry in January 1972 and wrote a confidential memo to the general officer commanding, Sir Harry Tuzo. Ford referred, in particular, to the so-called "Derry Young Hooligans" as a factor in the 'continued destruction of the city' and expressed the view that the army was virtually incapable of dealing with them.
The Derry Young Hooligans was a derogatory name given to the young people involved in fighting against state repression, many of whom were members of the Derry Young Socialists, the youth wing of the Derry Labour Party - which grew rapidly in opposition to the Unionist state and the right-wing Nationalist Party.
What deeply concerned the British and Unionist establishment at the time was the rapidity with which socialist ideas and organisations were beginning to grow. Inspired by the revolutionary events in France 1968 and the civil rights movement in the US, they challenged the poverty and class discrimination which blighted not just Catholic areas but also Protestant workers and youth.
One of the soldiers who gave evidence to Saville, known as Private 027, has written in his memoirs that as a 19 year-old soldier in Derry, on the night before Bloody Sunday, a lieutenant told his platoon: "We want some kills tomorrow". Private 027 also went on to claim that he did not write 'his' statement that was given to the 1972 Widgery Inquiry whitewash, but that this 'account' was actually written by Crown lawyers and that it was an untrue account.
Yet Saville concludes: "In our view, what is likely to have happened is that Private 027 felt that he had to invent a reason to explain providing a statement for the Widgery inquiry that was inconsistent with his later accounts; and chose to do so by falsely laying the blame for the inconsistency on others."
Given Private 027's evidence, it is not a minor flaw but a fundamental flaw of the Saville report that it concludes that neither the Unionist government in Northern Ireland nor the British government in 1972 were directly or indirectly responsible for Bloody Sunday.
Saville claims that Bloody Sunday was the result of several soldiers deciding independently to deliberately kill unarmed peaceful demonstrators, without orders from above. This conclusion lacks credibility. Likewise, there appears to be no comment whatsoever in Saville's inquiry findings on why the Widgery report, which it strongly contradicts, was supported for so long by the establishment.
Unfortunately, while the Bloody Sunday families have succeeded after 38 years to clear their loved ones' names, the truth behind who ordered the shooting of innocent people with live rounds, how far it went up the command chain and who was involved in covering up Bloody Sunday still remain to be discovered.
Prime Minister David Cameron has stated there will be no more inquiries into the past in Northern Ireland. It is clear the establishment want to bury the questions remaining over Bloody Sunday. You can have an apology but do not ask any more questions!
This does not just include the British government. The Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), Brian Cowen, praised Cameron's "brave and honest words". Irish President, Mary McAleese, paid tribute to the families 38 year battle for justice, while she was visiting the butchers of Tiananmen Square, in China, on an official state visit. Sectarian politicians in Northern Ireland, on both sides, will also attempt to cloud the issues with their sectarian poison.
Questions have been raised about why there has been no inquiry into the deaths of other innocent victims of the 'Troubles', including many people killed by paramilitaries often for no other reason than they happened to be a Catholic or a Protestant. The families of these victims also deserve to hear the truth.
The issue of victims' rights to justice and the truth cannot be dealt with satisfactorily by politicians who were part of the sectarian bloodshed on both sides.
The working class in Northern Ireland paid the biggest price for the Troubles. A genuinely independent inquiry, consisting of representatives of the working class, which examines the role of all participants in the conflict, is needed to find the truth for victims.
Bloody Sunday was a defining moment in the history of Northern Ireland. Brutal state repression, in the form of the Lower Falls (Belfast) army curfew, internment without trial and Bloody Sunday, pushed thousands of young people into the Official and Provisional IRA.
The Bloody Sunday murders, in particular, created the idea amongst some of the most radical sections of the Catholic youth that the civil rights era was over, that it and 'politics' had failed and fostered the mistaken belief that individual terrorism was the only way to take on the British state.
Due to the absence of a mass socialist alternative, and the failure of the labour and trade union leaders, some of the most comb-ative Catholic youth followed the false and counterproductive ideas of individual terrorism, which ultimately failed and cultivated greater sectarian division amongst the working class.
Bloody Sunday was an outrage and tragedy for which the families of the victims and the working class of Northern Ireland paid an enormous price.
Brian Doherty, a young member of the 'Militant' at the time in Derry (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) part-icipated in the civil rights march on 30 January 1972. He gave eyewitness evidence to the Saville Inquiry: "I had been watching the riot for a few minutes when the scene changed. This was when a number of foot soldiers came through the barrier towards the crowd... They were wearing full combat gear and were not carrying riot shields.
"After I had been looking at the soldiers for perhaps a second or two, a young man appeared in my field of vision. I believe he came from my right and was running hard in the direction of the gap between Block I and Block 2 [housing apartment blocks]. All at once, the young man fell. I remember seeing his body roll over more than once when he fell because he had been running fast. At the same time I heard the sound of a shot which seemed to me to have come from the direction of the soldier who was standing at Point D. I also saw this soldier's rifle appear to recoil, as if he had just fired."
The Parachute Regiment was sent to Derry from Belfast, where they had a reputation for brutality. The journalist, Robert Fisk, recounted this week how shortly before Bloody Sunday he was in Belfast and witnessed paratroopers viciously beat Protestants in the Shankill Road area, after they had blocked a street with vehicle tyres, peacefully protesting over a lack of security.
Fisk also tellingly recalls a protest march to the internment camp on Magilligan beach, near Derry, on 22 January when peaceful protesters were brutally batoned by British troops.
Internment without trial had been introduced in August 1971 and all marches were deemed illegal. John Hume, who was to become an MP for Derry and leader of the SDLP (a mainly middle class nationalist party) represented the right wing section of the leadership of the NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association) and was on the Magilligan protest.
Fisk recounts how "a Para officer walked up to Hume and - in a very English public school accent - threatened him. I realised something new was happening, Hume was to tell me years later: 'Some decision had been taken by the military. I was very worried about this. These were very hard men. There was no way of negotiating with them.'" Hume chose not to participate on the march on Bloody Sunday.
The Tory/Liberal coalition plans to make working people pay for the crisis created by their friends in the banking industry and big business, by launching an unprecedented assault on the public sector. This will be resolutely opposed by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
At its recent meeting, the national executive (NEC) agreed to campaign for the implementation of the anti-cuts strategy set out at conference. This includes building the widest possible campaign in the trade union movement and communities to defeat the cuts and privatisation programme.
PCS entirely rejects the propaganda from the main establishment parties and the press that cuts are inevitable. We also reject Cameron's calls for "consultation" on where cuts should fall, a cynical publicity stunt designed to divide workers and pick off unions and communities individually to prevent them fighting collectively.
The union will tackle the argument that there is a "need" for cuts head-on by producing material for members and activists exposing the lies that underpin this idea. While negotiating in members' interests, PCS will not get into the game of accepting there are 'deserving' and 'undeserving' public services. That is the road to division and defeat.
All public services are vital to the communities in which our members live and work, they are an investment, not a 'debt' and are key to improving the economy, including the private sector, which would lose at least £18 billion in spending, on the basis of suggested cuts.
PCS will campaign hard to ensure the alternative to the government's barbaric intentions to enrich the minority at the expense of the many is heard loud and clear.
PCS called for and organised activity on budget day on 22 June, including lunchtime workplace meetings and rallies and helped to organise and support public sector demonstrations and meetings.
The NEC agreed to call on the TUC to organise a major national demonstration in defence of public services in the autumn of this year in London, and to effectively and properly organise for it.
President Janice Godrich raised this at the TUC general council and this will be discussed at an upcoming Public Sector Liaison Group.
PCS will do all it can to ensure the call for this demonstration, which has the potential to galvanise workers' opposition to cuts, gains the widest possible support.
The NEC has also called a meeting of PCS activists from the various groups, national branches and departmental bodies before the July NEC that will set out the union's strategy in greater detail.
PCS has won another tremendous victory in court over the government's attempt to rip up our contracts under the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which covers redundancy payments, in order to push through cuts and privatisation on the cheap.
In May the judge ruled that the Labour government's attempts to impose detrimental changes were unlawful. The Cabinet Office would not agree the terms of the order with PCS and went back to court in an attempt, effectively, to water it down.
The judge has rejected this attempt and dealt a real blow to the government by effectively requiring it to enter into negotiations with the union if it wants to change the scheme, including on voluntary as well as compulsory redundancy.
ONCE AGAIN, Socialist Party member Roger Bannister has won a very respectable vote in the Unison general secretary election.
He spoke to Jane James shortly after the vote was announced: "Against the background of the Con-Dem government and today's budget statement heralding major attacks on public sector workers, the result of the general secretary election shows increased support for socialism and militant trade unionism. I believe this is the beginning of the process of radicalisation of Unison members which will be accelerated as the Con-Dem attacks continue.
"As I predicted, the result for the United Left demonstrates once again the lack of support for their programme and tactics.
"In particular, the failure in the United Left to put forward a clear position on disaffiliation from the Labour Party meant they suffered in this ballot.
"If they do not re-consider their position as a result of this election then the only victors will be the right wing at next year's national executive elections."
Turnout: around 17%
Unison's national delegate conference met in Bournemouth on 15-18 June. Against the background of the attacks of the Con-Dem government on public services and public sector workers, this was the most important conference to be held by the union.
Despite outbreaks of anti-Tory/Con-Dem rhetoric, the mood however seemed fairly flat. Part of the reason for this is that the agenda items were formulated before the general election, so nobody knew which party would be in power. Further, the Con-Dem's budget proposals were only known the week after the conference finished, making it difficult to focus on specific areas.
Add to that the large number of items kept off the agenda by the Standing Orders Committee, suspected of deliberately trying to create a non-controversial 'showcase' conference and the lack-lustre quality of the union's national leadership. The preparation for battles ahead had a damp squib air about it.
In his keynote speech, general secretary Dave Prentis at least promised national industrial action if the Con-Dems attacked our pension schemes. But for other aspects of fighting cuts it seems that branch by branch action, with no national industrial action, is all that is envisaged.
This means that stronger branches will make a stand, inevitably with mixed results, whilst weaker branches could go under in a welter of attacks on jobs, pay and conditions of service. More worryingly the right wing national executive (NEC) backed agenda items indicating a favourable attitude to privatisation by co-operatives and other mutual organisations, as if that made it much better! An emergency motion from the NEC and certain branches had a shopping list of measures to fight cuts, but again devoid of a national industrial action strategy.
There were three main points of contention between the NEC and the delegates during the week. One was where the creation of a new service group, combining higher and further education members was rejected, largely as a result of poor pre-conference consultation with the branches concerned.
A central role for trades councils in the battle against the Total Place privatisation scheme was successfully opposed by the NEC. A rule change proposed by the Bolton branch seeking to limit the length of time that Unison members could be banned from holding office as a disciplinary measure to two years was backed by a majority of votes, but narrowly missed the two thirds necessary to change the rules.
In effect this item became a referendum on the witch-hunt, and conference delegates were angered by the initial refusal of vice president Angela Lynes to allow a card vote, despite having allowed one on the previous item, that no delegates actually requested.
A stand-off between platform and delegates developed, with delegates stamping their feet and demanding the card vote, refusing to move on with the business. Eventually Lynes was forced to back down and allow the vote!
The witch-hunt against Socialist Party members and other lefts rumbled through the conference, and was dealt with by tactics worthy of the East German Stasi secret police. Delegates who referred to it had the microphone turned off, one delegate was ejected from conference for wearing a T-shirt in support of Yunus Bakhsh, a witch-hunted activist from the Northern region!
A Coffee Republic coffee bar with a public entrance and an entrance that only delegates could access was forced to close its public entrance in case any expelled or banned members used the public entrance and spoke to conference delegates!
A Reclaim the Union fringe meeting, addressed by Glenn Kelly, Caroline Bedale and Yunus Bakhsh, all witch-hunted activists, attracted a large turnout, over 300 of whom marched behind the speakers back to the conference in order to protest at the witch-hunt. Most Unison members understand that the fight against this vicious Con-Dem government to defend jobs, pay and conditions of service will be undermined by the scandal of the ongoing witch-hunt.
50 attended the Socialist Party meeting, where Peter Taaffe, Glenn Kelly and Roger Bannister spoke. Almost £2,000 was collected for the Fighting Fund.
This year's Times Rich List revealed that the combined wealth of the richest 1,000 people rose by £77.3 billion. Zenn Athar gets angry when he hears this. The 19-year-old is the vice chairman of the West Area Project (WAP), a Nottingham day centre that helps adults with learning difficulties.
The centre is expected to close its doors this month as Nottingham city council is unable to come up with the £32,000 to keep it open.
The centre, which opened in 1984, is run by a committee of volunteers and aims to help its service users integrate into society by teaching them vital life skills such as cooking, reading and writing.
Along with the occasional small grant, the centre relies on annual council funding of £32,659 per year. "That used to only be 70% of what we got," said Zenn.
"We received the other 30% from the county council, but that funding was cut a few years ago when the Conservatives gained control. Now the city council wants to cut the rest."
The service's users are all over the age of 18 and suffer from a wide range of conditions including Asperger's Syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and severe autism.
In the middle of March the council gave the West Area Project 90 days notice that it planned to end its funding. "The news came as a shock to everyone involved at the centre. We informed the service users last week and they are all devastated. There was a very sombre mood in the place. There were people in tears."
The city council originally stated that it was a lack of finances that led to the decision to cut funding. However, two weeks ago the group was told by the council that their premises does not comply with the Disability Discrimination Act as the three storey building lacks an upstairs fire escape or a lift for physically impaired people.
Zenn has not accepted this as the main reason for their decision. He said: "They seem to be looking for any excuse to close us down. This was only brought up recently."
The leader of Nottingham city council, Jon Collins, met Zenn and others involved with the West Area Project last month in an attempt to reach an agreement, but to no avail. However, a source at the council slammed the decision to end funding for the project and rubbished the claims that there was no money.
Part of a Nottingham Socialist Party meeting was shown in a 10pm BBC News report on 16 June about the growing opposition to public sector cuts and plans for action against them.
The report from the BBC One programme can be viewed at www.socialistworld.net/doc/4356
DHL Supply Chain lorry drivers working from the giant Howden's Kitchens depot in Runcorn, Cheshire have won their dispute against 10 redundancies.
The company had drawn up the redundancy selection criteria unilaterally, without consulting with the Unite trade union. The criteria coincidentally seemed to select some of the leading union stewards at the depot!
Following a ballot with over 80% of members voting for action against the redundancy criteria, the depot was on strike last week, with expressions of solidarity from DHL depots round the country. The company have now withdrawn the redundancies.
The Howden's contract has a very well organised union and is a model for union organisation across the road transport industry. Originally the union was not even recognised but through the efforts of a group of committed stewards the TGWU, now Unite, won recognition a number of years ago. These redundancies were a threat to all that had been achieved.
It is an important dispute to have won with implications across the industry.
Striking librarians and staff, mainly Unison members, held a demo and rally outside Southampton civic centre on 21 June. The two New Labour MPs made a very rare venture into the daylight to give their support. I for one am not convinced that these MPs would have been any different to the Tories if they had won the election. You could say they were enjoying the role of opposition - pointing their finger at the Tory council for the cuts. This is one of the first actions in Southampton against the cuts in public services. I am sure it will not be the last.
Alongside library strikers, university workers were out in protest, as well as 100 Medirest cleaners at Southampton general hospital fighting for pay parity with NHS workers. Campaigners, including Socialist Party members, were celebrating an important victory that NHS care home Crowlin House would remain open. This shows that campaigning can work.
All unions are invited to bring their banners and support the march.
Ring 07907 307853 for further details.
Hosted by Shropshire and Telford Trades Union Council.
Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) has 11 offices nationally providing legal advice and representation to those seeking asylum in the UK.
The 340 staff were told on 16 June that we are to lose our jobs on 23 June. So we held a magnificent demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice on 18 June. A PCS rep from the Ministry of Justice, Austin Harney, came out to give solidarity with the RMJ workers. He said he 'stood shoulder to shoulder' with us and called for a joint campaign against cuts from the Con-Dem government.
We are proud to be trade unionists standing shoulder to shoulder with other workers.
As trade unionists we have more in common with workers in Greece and Spain fighting against public sector cuts than we have with the likes of those fat cat lawyers trying to break BA workers in struggle.
We are amongst the most determined and committed defenders of the rights of those seeking asylum in the UK. We are being forced into administration by the Legal Services Commission, who are the legal aid funders of the government, because we are good at our job.
Over the past years, our union has warned management that the new system of payment for our work, the Graduated Fee scheme, was unsustainable. Our employers told us that if we opened and closed more cases then we would win through.
These are the same arguments that industrial workers face when conveyor belts are speeded up leading to increased stress, sickness and a high turnover of staff.
There are rumours of last minute bailouts but what do these mean in practice? One office has been offered a possible department in a private solicitors but with conditions attached, including dramatic cuts in terms and conditions, redundancy money to be put into the venture, liability if the venture fails and a 15% cut in pay.
What service will we be told to stop providing to make the Legal Service Commission's job easier? Will it be cuts in the work we do for children or cuts in defending torture victims?
How much will our pay be cut and how long will our working day be extended to make the system work?
Our union members in the RMJ have shown that we have the determination and will to fight on behalf of our clients.
We will show our employers and this Con-Dem coalition that we have that same will and determination to defend our organisation and our jobs.
This death can be added to the thousands of Afghan civilians and Taliban insurgents killed in the last nine years.
Prime minister David Cameron reckons the deaths are a price worth paying to defend 'democracy' in Afghanistan and to prevent terrorism having a base in that country. However, neither argument holds water. The Afghan government of president Hamid Karzai is little more than a regime of corrupt warlords. Its authority does not rest on the popular support of ordinary Afghans but instead is propped up by 10,000 UK troops and tens of thousands of US and other NATO forces.
The failure of the puppet Afghan government and the occupying foreign troops to tackle the mass unemployment, poverty and insecurity faced by Afghans is actually fuelling the terrorist insurrection.
Withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan is long overdue. Only a democratically elected workers' and peasants' government can begin the process of rebuilding the war-torn country.
Unite in the West Midlands held a 'Community and Youth Rally' in Coventry on 19 June. Originally organised to support youth workers in Coventry whose pay, terms and conditions had been attacked by the previous Tory council, it was broadened to take into account the onslaught of the Con-Dem government against the working class.
The youth workers led the way with a number of them outlining just how little they were rewarded for a socially important job, working with young people. Unfortunately, the new leader of Coventry council, Labour's John Mutton, was not very helpful. Using the same arguments as George Osborne, he said when Labour came into office, the cupboard was bare! So he could not make any commitments towards them or any other workers! Neither did he rule out more cuts.
Unite assistant general secretary Len McCluskey made a fighting speech, blaming the banks and capitalism for the crisis, not ordinary working people. He urged union members to fight back.
Youth worker and Socialist Party member Teresa Chalcroft reminded the rally that Labour in Liverpool had fought for jobs, houses and services in the1980s and Coventry council should do the same. Socialist councillor Dave Nellist urged Unite to support the motion being put before the TUC from the PCS chair Janice Godrich for a TUC demo against the cuts in the autumn. Eric Segal from threatened legal service RMJ also addressed the rally.
With workers in Coventry lobbying the council on 22 June, the stage is set for further struggles in Coventry against cuts and attacks. This would draw on the militant Coventry traditions praised by Len McCluskey in his speech.
We have repeatedly heard the government say that although the forthcoming cuts will be 'savage', the most vulnerable in society will be protected. Yet in Nuneaton cuts have targeted people already under stress and on the edge of society.
The Pastels day centre in Nuneaton provided support for people who experience social exclusion, long term unemployment, broken family life, anxiety, depression or other similar conditions.
As well as counselling adults, the staff and volunteers provided advice, comfort and stress management services for vulnerable school children.
But in a 'back door' cut this service was withdrawn by Nuneaton and Bedworth council with little more than 24 hours notice.
This underhand cut to a discreet yet vital public service has left many already vulnerable people even more isolated and distressed, particularly since some were part-way through a potentially life-changing course.
The Socialist Party in Nuneaton has already launched a campaign against cuts at our local hospital, but events like this point to the need for a broader campaign against all cuts to public services, a campaign which needs to involve trade unionists and community groups. We call on all concerned citizens to join us on Wednesday 30 June for the Nuneaton People's Protest Day.
On 19 June Socialist Party activists held a successful stall in the Acocks Green area of Birmingham, which saw the growing anger of working people who are being told to pay the price for a crisis they did not create.
We had strong support for our petition against the 2,000 job losses looming at Birmingham city council and the cuts in services such as nurseries, care homes and mental health support that will result.
We sold 45 copies of The Socialist, raised over £25 for the Socialist Party fighting fund, and there was a lot of interest in our 5 July public meeting against cuts.
On Saturday 19 June around 150 residents and community campaigners marched through Beeston, south Leeds, in opposition to council plans to close South Leeds Pool and Leisure Centre.
It was a lively protest and residents were extremely angry at the council's decision.
The last Tory-Liberal council chose to close the centre, but the current Labour-Green coalition has done nothing to reverse this decision.
JUST HOURS after agreeing a $20 billion compensation deal with US President Obama over the oil spill, oil giant BP again had to apologise, this time for BP chairman Svanberg's claim that the $240 billion multinational cares about "the small people".
A US congressional hearing on 15 June heard that other oil companies "are just as unprepared to respond to a major oil spill in the Gulf [of Mexico] as BP". Far from caring about Svanberg's "small people", the entire capitalist industry cuts corners to boost profits.
The bill for Deepwater Horizon including clean-up costs, fines and further compensation could reach $49 billion. The environmental cost, meanwhile, keeps growing. Obama encouraged people who lost out from this spill, to claim part of the $20 billion compensation and announced that BP was setting up a "$100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers."
$100 million is small change to BP's bosses. Chief Executive Tony Hayward paid himself $36 million last year alone! How many oil workers will actually benefit from this fund? How will money be distributed and in what amounts?
Many 'City experts' call this a 'good deal' for BP. They feared Obama might go further as 83% of Americans "disapprove of BP's performance". The $20 billion equals two years' standard payouts (dividends) to shareholders. The estimated total cost of $49 billion is equivalent to suspending dividends for five years.
However, after suspending dividends this year, BP intends business as usual in 2011. To help pay for the clean-up, $10 billion worth of assets will be sold and $10 billion of capital spending, ie investment, will be cut.
Former Clinton government official, Robert Reich, suggested that BP's American operations should be temporarily nationalised so "Obama can ...use its expertise to stop the leak and clean up the mess as soon as possible." As Reich noted: "BP's first responsibility is to its creditors and shareholders, not the public."
The Socialist Party calls for fully and permanently nationalising BP, under democratic workers' control and management. This would allow workers' expertise to be used in the interests of society, not just to clean up after disasters.
A socialist government would take BP into public ownership, replacing the board with elected representatives of oil workers and trade unions in the majority, and with the government also represented. Through democratic public planning this could safeguard employment and incomes, and move towards developing renewable energy.
Capitalists claim that "attacking BP means pensioners will suffer", as many pension fund investments depend on BP shares. This disaster shows why gambling pensions on the stock markets is madness. A publicly owned BP could repay the pension funds through its sizable profits, but a far better solution would be also to have democratic public ownership of the entire pension funds 'industry' to protect workers' savings and deliver living pensions for all.
'You can't nationalise a multinational company' scoff right-wing politicians. Socialists are internationalists; we fight for socialism worldwide, not just in one country. A socialist British government would nonetheless need to nationalise the largest 150 companies, many of which are multinationals.
It would appeal to the overseas workforce of these companies, including BP's 23,000 employees in the US, to support this. Introducing workers' democracy, guaranteeing rights and improving pay and employment terms, one socialist government would inspire workers the world over to bring in others.
In the last five years, there have been 26 deaths, 170 injuries and 760 safety violations on BP rigs. Regulation cannot make safe this dangerous capitalist industry. Socialist public ownership is required. Until then, this disaster, an environmental Hurricane Katrina, will tragically not be the last.
MEDIA ORGANISATIONS are first and foremost businesses. Whatever chief executives of media companies may say about providing news and serving the public interest, the first thing the vast majority of them are obliged to provide, is a high return for their major shareholders.
With some exceptions, newspapers and media outlets do not exist to report the news or act as public watchdogs, they exist to make money just like any other business. How far they defend the public's interests or report news is guided overwhelmingly by their need to succeed as a business.
The main means of making money for newspapers, TV, radio and now online media is advertising. Until the recession began, media companies worldwide were raking it in, with colossal rates of return on fairly limited investment.
Even with the advance of the 'online revolution' shaking up many sectors, advertising poured huge sums into the media. In 2007, advertising spend across all media in the UK totalled £19.4 billion. This, along with new technology and a decimation of journalists' and ancillary staff jobs, led to newspaper conglomerates achieving 20% or higher rates of return on investment, compared to 5% for businesses like Tesco.
This prospect of hyper-profits made media bosses feel immune to the threat of new media or the prospect of advertising revenue dropping in any future recession. But the economic downturn came, finding media companies with no alternative business plan to deal with a cataclysmic drop in advertising revenue and falling sales and audiences.
Readers, listeners and viewers were increasingly disenchanted at a product clearly declining in quality after years of media bosses slashing staff numbers and believing that journalists don't need to get out of the office to obtain news. Nick Davies accurately and vividly described much of the result as "churnalism" in his book Flat Earth News.
It is no exaggeration to say that the media in Britain is experiencing crisis and turmoil. Media owners have no thought-out policy for the future, except to snipe at each other and to slash jobs and costs.
Despite the flowering of new sources of news and information online, power and influence in the media still remains in the hands of those with the most financial resources. Veteran investigative journalist John Pilger says 50 multinational companies controlled the world's media in 1983, by 2004 this had reduced to six. Pilger said: "The 'new global media' is less diverse than ever before".
Britain is not immune to monopolisation. From the mid-1990s to 1997, 77% of the regional press changed ownership but this reinforced a monopoly position: just four companies controlled three-quarters of all Britain's regional papers. In national papers and broadcast companies, four companies control 80% of the printed output.
Despite the perceived rise of "citizen journalism" and the supposed "democratisation" of news through the internet, with much more material obtained from new, non-traditional journalistic sources, news was still a monopoly business.
The online revolution has changed the sources where people obtain their news markedly in recent years. Despite examples of the internet giving ordinary people a route to disseminate news - such as in Iran in 2009 - online news, like its traditional counterparts, is still overwhelmingly dominated by the media's big players.
But these media giants have not yet found a way to make online news pay. In general, only specialist niche 'publications' and blog sites make money from online news and information. Media corporations originally saw online news as an adjunct to their traditional news outlets. But, people quickly thought 'why go to the front of the shop and pay for something, when you go round the back and get it for free'.
Recently Johnston Press, owner of many big UK regional newspapers, dropped after just a few months the experimental pay walls it implemented on some of its local papers. It had erected barriers on six weekly newspaper websites last November. Many people saw the trial, which charged readers £5 a quarter to access web content, as a test to assess whether pay walls could be implemented on flagship titles such as The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post. But, inside sources claim, the number of subscribers paying to access stories on the website of some of their papers was in the low double figures.
Another problem for the Murdochs and other print barons is that the BBC already provides an extensive, highly professional online service for free - hence the ferocious campaign of James Murdoch and right-wing newspaper owners about the BBC's dominance. But the other problem for big media companies is that they are trying to provide an online news service on the cheap. After years of cutting journalist numbers and editorial resources, they now have too few staff to provide a simultaneous print news service and what is effectively a broadcast information service online.
As ITV's experience shows, private-sector firms have no intention of providing the same quality of service using the same level of resources as the BBC. Instead, they want the BBC removed, or downsized to the point of ineffectiveness, so they can have an unfettered stranglehold on local online news provision, and make greater profits from their dominance of the sector.
By far the biggest online presence is the BBC, which provoked Rupert and James Murdoch to call for an end to the BBC's "monopoly" and for a reduction in the BBC's online services. Local newspaper owners also want the BBC to be 'scaled back' in the nations and regions, to allow them greater opportunity to develop micro-local news websites.
The Newspaper Publishers Association wants the BBC banned from developing phone apps, just as they opposed BBC plans for ultra-local video news services. Others simply want the television licence fee axed; they believe there is no case for any public subsidy. However, this is all plain hypocrisy from these media organisations. Murdoch's Sky business shows no sign of giving up its 'monopoly' over satellite broadcasting - particularly of sport - even when instructed to.
The commercial regional newspaper proprietors say the 'market' needs a level playing field. However, the newspapers' problems are much more to do with the collapse in advertising revenues following the banking crisis and their own mismanagement over a number of years.
Many big newspaper companies enjoy a virtual monopoly of print and online news provision in most of Britain's major towns and cities. And, because of cost cutting, the quality of news and service they provide is nowhere near that provided by the BBC.
Yet, in response to these attacks, the BBC currently proposes making £600 million worth of 'savings', including closing 6Music and the Asian Network, halving its number of website pages, reducing staffing by 25%, and sharing more programmes across local radio. It is also conducting a review of its publications, specifically magazines, probably leading to outsourcing and offshoring.
The BBC has no less money than it did before, but is making these cuts purely in response to other media owners' sniping and political pressure from both Labour and Tories. Its bosses hope that taking action now will head off criticism from politicians and commercial rivals. The BBC already spends large sums in the private sector, spending £1.3 billion externally with third-party suppliers (excluding spend on independent producers).
But all these attempts will only increase the appetite of the commercial sector media barons to demand more. Commercial rivals like Ten Alps want a quarter of BBC web activity to be outsourced to the private sector, and commercial radio bosses want Radio 1 to be privatised.
The BBC hopes to show politicians that if they self-harm there is no need to cut BBC funding. Yet, the Conservatives said before the election that they would still freeze the licence fee and then reduce it, and Labour and Lib Dems both say the BBC is too dominant.
Socialists would not defend the BBC uncritically. Much of its news service is dominated by the same pro-big business and establishment values as the rest of the media while its senior executives and 'stars' earn high pay that is far removed from the reality of most journalists and working people.
However, the BBC should be critically defended as a public-service broadcaster, because the alternative is a media where news becomes the mouthpiece solely of the Murdochs and the Berlusconis.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has initiated an urgent discussion on new forms of media ownership. The union insists, correctly, that the provision of quality news nationally and locally is still needed. But the media moguls feel that providing that service doesn't fit in with their business plans, which is making hundreds of journalists redundant and threatening thousands more, while still maximising their advertising revenue.
The last Labour government stepped in to save the banks, but it did not view media organisations as providing an important enough service in society, locally and nationally, to be worthy of similar support.
The NUJ has also raised the idea of "creating a level playing field in the media", and advocates a system of levies on the profits of internet media giants such as Google, O2 or Virgin Media, which could be used to fund local TV news in the regions and to help rebuild the regional newspaper sector as it emerges from recession.
But socialists realise that there can never be a "level playing field" while big business dominates the ownership and control of news and entertainment.
In some cases, where papers are closing down or have been closed down, and the government has refused to intervene, the NUJ and socialists have supported genuine initiatives aimed at keeping papers alive in communities - like the community based, 'employee owned' West Highland Free Press - or initiatives like the local news networks being explored in Wales and elsewhere.
In some quarters, the question of some kind of state support for media organisations is being discussed and is winning backing at local level.
Socialists would not argue for public money to be thrown at failing media companies who would take state cash while still providing news on the cheap.
And the Socialist Party has always demanded that companies who lay off workers should be told to open their books. If it can be shown that these companies are not viable enough to keep all their staff, then they should be taken out of the hands of the media tycoons and be taken into public ownership and handed over to the media workers themselves to run.
This should not be nationalisation as carried out with the banks and other large organisations in the past. It should instead be nationalisation under democratic workers' control and management.
But socialists would not call for a state monopoly of the news. Instead, the resources of media companies - particularly printing and broadcast facilities - should be utilised for the benefit of all sections of society, by allowing all groups in society (except racists and fascists) access to media facilities based on the level of support that each group has.
Most journalists want to provide a service to their communities, holding politicians, business owners and government bodies to account. Nationalisation of the resources used to produce newspapers and other media should be seen as handing the media back to the community. It would allow journalists greater freedom to investigate and report without fear of offending political or commercial interests.
Even where jobs are not immediately threatened, socialists argue for nationalisation of the major media resources and facilities, so that they can be used for the benefit of all in society.
Such public ownership could guarantee the resources to have quality newspapers in every major town at least, with good working conditions and pay. Workers' control of the resources available would be necessary to ensure editorial independence and balance.
Capitalism is a system of recurring crisis, causing suffering and hardship for millions and cannot guarantee a stable and decent life for working people. So the taking of control of our news out of the media profiteers' hands and replacing it with a more independent media, is part of the fight for a democratic socialist society.
BARELY TWO months have passed since the April revolutionary events in Kyrgyzstan led to the overthrow of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the emergence of a 'provisional government' led by Roza Otunbayeva. Now the country is going through a brutal ethnic conflict which could lead to the collapse of the state.
Whole areas of the cities of Osh and Jalalabad on the edge of the Fergana Valley in the south west of Kyrgyzstan have been torched to drive out ethnic Uzbeks. Officially, over 170 people have been killed and thousands injured. Unofficial sources, including the Red Cross, say that hundreds have died. Neighbouring Uzbekistan has been overwhelmed by over 700,000 Uzbek refugees fleeing the pogroms and has now shut its borders to stop more arriving.
In many ways, these scenes are reminiscent of the ethnic conflicts that swept the Balkans and Caucasus in the 1990s.
The Bishkek government in Kyrgyzstan announced a general 'call up' of all males under 50 to the army and declared a 24-hour curfew over the three southern regions. The president ordered the troops to "shoot to kill" to restore order. But many Uzbeks accuse the troops of collaborating with armed Kyrgyz thugs engaged in pograms against Uzbeks.
The former president, Bakiyev, comes from Jalalabad and had his power base in Osh, the country's second city. In the weeks after the April events, his supporters attempted to mobilise for an uprising in the region, at one stage even taking over government buildings. His support had been seriously weakened, however, and the attempt was quickly put down. Bakiyev is currently in exile in Belarus. His most notorious son, Maksim, was recently detained in London on charges by the Kyrgyz authorities that include abuse of office and misuse of state funds.
It has not taken the provisional government long to alienate the masses. It did reduce the tariffs paid by the population for electricity, gas and water - but this is about the only promise it made in April that it has gone any way to implementing. The benefits from these actions have been wiped out by the escalation of the economic crisis; a blockade imposed on the country by both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has seen GDP drop by a further 15% since April.
Economic activity in some regions has practically ceased and the budget deficit is mushrooming, meaning that by the autumn, workers in the state sector will probably not be paid.
The other key demand of the masses last April was for the nationalisation of major parts of the economy. This demand was popular due to the way the Bakiyev regime ruthlessly used privatisation to exploit the country's resources.
Within days of coming to power, the provisional government 'nationalised' two of the country's main banks, until then controlled by the Bakiyev clan, and reportedly a further 30 companies have since been taken over. But there have been no benefits for working people.
Around $16 million was reportedly looted from the safe deposit boxes in one of the banks - money which quickly found its way into the pockets of the new government ministers. Taped recordings have emerged that indicate a minister accepting $400,000 for appointing a relative to a foreign ambassadorship. One gang of crooks has simply been replaced by another.
But it is not just bureaucrats and businessmen whose positions have been threatened by the change in government. Osh city is a key centre for the trafficking of drugs from Afghanistan, through Central Asia to Europe.
Under Bakiyev, the drug barons who control this trade had created a modus operandi with the authorities, bribing to ensure officials ignored their activities. These same barons are worried that if the provisional government manages to establish a degree of stability it will be forced to address the drug trade issues, maybe not to stop it, but more to take part of the trade under its own control.
Claims that the uprising is inspired by pro-Bakiyev elements attempting to disrupt the country in the run up to next month's constitution are credible. But it is also without doubt that they are working hand-in-hand with criminal elements, which played a role in provoking the violence that broke out last May and now over the past week.
It is clearly in the interests of both the Bakiyev clan, and the drug and criminal barons, to destabilise the southern region, if not Kyrgyzstan as a whole.
And the region is a tinderbox. Osh was the centre of the brutal ethnic conflict that shook the Fergana Valley in 1990, before being put down by Soviet troops. Nearly all the country's 750,000 Uzbeks live in and around Osh. Many are refugees from the brutal neighbouring Uzbekistan regime. Excluded from the few benefits that went to the region during Bakiyev's rule, the Uzbeks tended to support the new provisional government.
But the world economic crisis has even affected this part of the world. As soon as the crisis hit Russia, millions of migrant workers, many from Central Asia, were forced home, putting even more stress on the stretched resources in the region.
As the poor of the region saw hope in the April uprising in Kyrgyzstan, they began to take things into their own hands, by taking over the land and homes of those they saw as guilty of the crimes of the past. But due to the sporadic and unorganised way in which this happened, this inevitably led to further social and ethnic tensions. Now these various factors have led to an explosion of ethnic conflict.
What is important to underline however is that many witnesses and officials believe that the fighting did not erupt spontaneously between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks but was whipped up. Several Uzbeks reported that before being forced to flee the region, Krygyz friends and neighbours had offered help and warned of the dangers. There are even reports of Krygyz and Uzbek neighbours joining up to defend their homes.
However, the local and national authorities do not see this instinctive unity, even now still demonstrated, as a basis for resolving the crisis. Instead they look to outside forces for help.
The Kyrgyzstan provisional government that came to power on the back of a revolutionary uprising is incapable of carrying out radical reforms and is doing all it can to stop the development of further revolutionary events. But only a renewal of the revolutionary protests, linked to radical reforms, could cut across this inter-ethnic conflict.
Instead the actions of the provisional government are leading the country down the path to catastrophe. Commentators have speculated that the government could prove to be incapable of bringing the south under control, thus leading to the de-facto split of the country into two or more warring regions.
The crisis is causing problems for the country's neighbours. What has happened in Kyrgyzstan is a clear example of what could happen in any other of the corrupt dictatorships and semi-dictatorships of Central Asia. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan immediately closed their border in April during the mass uprising.
Faced with tens of thousands of Uzbek and lesser numbers of Tadjik refugees massing on its borders, Uzbekistan was forced to allow about 50,000 refugees in, before closing its borders again, claiming it had no more facilities available to deal with them.
Unable to solve the crisis using its own resources, Kyrgyzstan's head, Roza Otunbayeva, appealed to Russia to provide military assistance. She went on to say that the Khirghiz army is not strong enough and that the police are completely demoralised.
This appeal was rejected by the Kremlin, although Russia immediately sent troops to reinforce its airbase just outside Bishkek, as well as some well publicised humanitarian aid. Otunbayeva attempted to sweeten the pill by suggesting that, if the Russians intervened, the American air base at Manas near Bishkek would at last be closed.
(For now, the US has transferred flights to Afghanistan that are normally routed through Manas, so that these flights now have to depart from Romania.)
Last April, the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) warned that the replacement of one pro-capitalist president by another in Kyrgyzstan will not lift the majority of the population out of unemployment and poverty. Now that the country has become embroiled in ethnic bloodletting, the need for a workers' organisation, with a socialist programme, has become even more acute.
Such an organisation is needed to fight the attempts by the sections of the ruling elite and criminal bands to divide the poor masses along ethnic lines. Trans-ethnic defence forces need to be formed to protect all workers and poor people from ethnic attacks.
A workers' organisation is also needed to oppose the attempts of the ruling government and elite to introduce a new constitution to consolidate their power. Instead, revolutionary committees of workers and the poor should organise new elections to the people's 'kurulta' (assembly) to discuss and organise a genuine form of people's power.
A socialist alternative would see genuine nationalisation, by expropriating the wealth of all the ruling elite and ensuring that the nationalised industries are controlled and managed by workers' committees, as part of a democratic planned economy.
Socialists call for political and economic power to be taken out of the hands of the ruling elite and criminal bands, for the creation of a government of workers and poor to establish a socialist Kyrgyzstan, as part of a central Asian socialist federation.
The full version of this article can be read on www.socialistworld.net
WE ARE appealing to all members and supporters of the Socialist Party and readers of The Socialist for a donation to aid the work of our sister party, Xekinima, the Greek section of the Committee for a Workers' International.
We have all watched the heroic struggles of the Greek workers and youth as they resist the onslaught of cuts imposed by the EU, the IMF and the Papandreou government. As we reported in last week's Socialist, there have been four general strikes in the last five months against attacks such as the 20-25% cuts in public sector wages and soaring unemployment.
But there is an urgent need for a political programme that can take the struggle forward. Xekinima has stood virtually alone in saying that the Greek debt to capitalist banks should not be paid and linking this with the nationalisation of the banks and building a socialist alternative.
Their slogans and material have been taken up eagerly by layers of workers and Xekinima is gaining many new members. However, they are still a relatively small party and urgently need more resources to be able to intervene in all the protests, meetings and demonstrations, which can develop very quickly in the present situation, with leaflets, posters and other material.
Members of Xekinima are also campaigning for a fighting socialist programme in the main left-wing coalition, Syriza. As Peter Taaffe pointed out in last week's Socialist, an explosive social situation is developing in Greece. What is missing is a broad, socialist, fighting workers' party that can act as a mass pole of attraction.
Xekinima is playing a vital part in all these developments and you too can play a part by helping them build their forces.
Can you make a donation of £5, £20, or £50 or more to assist in the struggle? Please donate at www.socialistparty.org.uk/donate, marking your donation clearly as Appeal for Greece, or by phoning 020 8988 8777.