Socialist Party | Print
Anyone opposing cuts must think they've fallen through the rabbit hole to 'Wonderland' if they've been watching the television this week. Pro-cuts propaganda voiced by Con-Dem politicians, ministers and supportive 'experts' is everywhere.
The BBC served up a textbook case of 'debate rigging' in a series of regional programmes called Spending Review: the Debates. In London the title was 50% accurate. The programme was about the impact of the upcoming spending review, but it certainly was not a debate!
We were treated to an hour of almost exclusively pro-cuts arguments. The presenter asked the carefully hand-picked audience "what should be cut? And what should be saved?" Hang on a minute! So now it is no longer a question of if there should be cuts but how they should be done.
In reality the reason cuts are being made is because the last Labour government, supported by the Conservatives and Lib Dems, used billions of pounds of public money to bail out the banks that had just plunged the economy into the worst recession since the 1930s. But the Wonderland version of events is that we were too greedy, demanding money for wages, benefits and public services.
Participating in the 'debate' we had James Caan, the Dragon's Den millionaire. He supports cuts. We had spokespeople from the Taxpayers' Alliance and the right-wing Reform think-tank. They support cuts. We had Tory and Lib Dem politicians. Maybe with one eye on their electorate they will only support 'fair' cuts. We had renowned economists, the commissioner for Transport for London and the editor of the right-wing Evening Standard. They all told us how we should take our cuts medicine.
The only dissenting voice present was from the London Health Emergency campaign who pointed out that 6,000 hospital beds across London are being cut in the so-called ring-fenced NHS.
Where were the trade unionists? The London Underground workers had been on strike just two days before to stop the cutting of 800 jobs. All of London was brought to a standstill by thousands of militant workers fighting against cuts. Did the producers not think that they might have something to say about cuts?
It won't work. When the spending review is announced and the cuts really hit home no amount of pro-cuts propaganda will wash. Workers, young people, pensioners and service users will see the brutal reality of this pro-big business government of millionaires. People will see that our living standards are being sacrificed to the benefit of big business and the banks. Our justified anger will turn on the super-rich elite and their politicians who got us into this mess. Our 'propaganda' will be that of organised workers' action as we build a mass movement that can turn back these attacks and stop all cuts.
The very successful lobby of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Manchester, organised by the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), points the way forward for the trade union movement in the looming conflict between the organised working class and the brutal Con-Dem government.
In the very commendable demonstration, the meetings and the speeches that took place, the growing anger and demands for action now against cuts which will slash to the bone the welfare state and effectively dismantle it was forcefully expressed.
The Socialist Party consistently stressed that this battle is a "new poll tax". Brendan Barber now agrees, which is a step forward. Unfortunately he has not drawn sufficiently clear or correct conclusions from this epic struggle. He ascribes the defeat of the poll tax to "pressure" exerted on MPs.
This grossly underestimates the colossal organised resistance, set in train by the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, under the influence of Militant, now the Socialist Party. This body organised what was till then Britain's biggest demonstrations in history in London and Glasgow. More significantly, it mobilised 18 million people "illegally" not to pay the poll tax.
If it had been left to the official trade union leadership, never mind the cowardly Labour Party leadership of the time - the present multimillionaire 'Lord' Neil Kinnock - the tax would have been pushed through by Thatcher. Over 100 were jailed, 34 of them Militant supporters. A commentator in the Guardian reminded us last week that "a [nameless] Labour MP" was jailed and expelled from the Labour Party for not paying the tax. That MP was the heroic and never to be forgotten Terry Fields, a Militant supporter. Dave Nellist, also a supporter of ours, although not jailed, was thrown out of the Labour Party for similar reasons. But their courage and sacrifice, together with thousands of others, smashed the tax and evicted Thatcher from office.
Let no working man or woman be under any illusions. Osborne and Cameron - with the backing of the overwhelming majority of the bosses - are absolutely determined to ram savage cuts through Parliament. They have already pushed through a law, without proper parliamentary scrutiny, reversing the PCS civil service union's legal victory on redundancy payments in the civil service achieved just before the general election.
Even the capitalist press now agrees with The Socialist that these cuts will be on the scale not seen since the Geddes Report attacks proposed in 1922, which were major contributors leading to the 1926 general strike. Brendan Barber takes one step forward - calls for opposition to cuts - and then two steps back when he ruled out immediate measures of a "general strike character".
Conciliation and prevarication, an attempt to convince Cameron to step back, is clearly the preferred option of the right wing of the trade union movement. The 'people' are not ready for action to oppose the cuts, argue those like the right-wing candidate for Unite general secretary Les Bayliss.
The same case could have been used as in relation to the attacks in France. The pension counter-reforms have not been implemented as yet. This however did not prevent the trade unions in France from organising not just a huge demonstration but also an immense one-day general strike, which exceeded the previous one against the cuts.
'Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me'. Name-calling against the coalition will have no effect. Rational argument and the outlining of alternatives will be water off the back of these case-hardened "deficit slashers". Only action, and the most decisive action at that, can force this government to step back.
In the first instance this requires, not in the 'mists' of 2011 but now, a national demonstration. If the 'elephants' of the TUC do not respond to the lobby and the undoubted moods that are maturing in the ranks of the working class then further decisive action from below is necessary.
On 23 October an indoor rally has been organised at the TUC headquarters in Congress House. There should be a march of all trade unionists on that day - led by the NSSN, together with the left-leaning unions like the RMT, the PCS, the FBU, etc - to this rally demanding the immediate organisation of a national demonstration. Failure by the TUC to respond to this pressure must then lead to the NSSN together with the left trade unions calling the demonstration themselves.
The argument that the 'people' are not ready is belied by even the opinion polls themselves. They showed tremendous insecurity - 69% of the population believe their families will suffer from the cuts. A national demonstration will be a huge step forward. But it will not be sufficient in itself to inflict a defeat on this government. A one-day general strike must now be seriously prepared for, beginning with public-sector workers. If it is organised in a proper way this will invoke tremendous support also from private-sector workers.
The TUC itself has pointed out that most areas of Britain will not receive gains in private-sector jobs to compensate for those lost from the public sector for at least 14 years! In the case of the North East it will take 24 years for the losses to be made up! The very future of big sections of the working class, particularly in Scotland, in the North and in Wales - with young people severely affected - is at stake.
The coalition is hiding behind the anti-union laws installed by Thatcher which were untouched by Blair and Brown when in power. But these will be nullified in a mass industrial uprising to defeat these cuts.
A 24-hour general strike either in the public or the private sector, almost habitually resorted to in other European countries, is 'illegal' here. But coordinated ballots for action on a similar day must be prepared for. Even then, as the experiences of the BA workers and others have shown, the bosses can still hobble us through legal injunctions preventing effective strike action.
No serious trade unionist would lightly jeopardise the resources of the trade unions through 'illegal' actions. But the threat of these cuts are so serious that the full might of the trade unions - if necessary by breaking unjust laws - must be mobilised. If one union, group of trade unions, a worker or group of workers, are then dragged before the courts then a 24-hour general strike should be called.
In 1972 this forced the Tory Heath government to release jailed workers. The NSSN, in organising the lobby of the TUC, is in the tradition of organised resistance from below of the past, like the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions in the 1970s and the Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC) of the 1980s. This seeks not to replace the official trade unions but acts as a lever to force them into action at the base of the unions. Decisive action organised from below and above by the unions can defeat this government.
The TUC has committed itself to a national demonstration against youth unemployment by the end of the year. This important resolution was first discussed by the youth TUC and was carried at the main Congress on 14 September.
The resolution recognises the fact that trade unions and trades councils nationwide are already supporting a mass mobilisation of young people through the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign.
Helen Flanagan from the PCS spoke in support of the resolution. She said: "The key to the resolution is point eight, which calls for a national demonstration against youth unemployment to be built for by the trade union movement before the end of 2010. Actually I think the TUC should have had a national demonstration against all cuts in October."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the general council supported the resolution.
I didn't want to get up at 6am in the morning on my Sunday off to make a four hour journey to Manchester and then a four hour journey back to ask the TUC Congress to name the day for a national demonstration.
The reality is for the public sector workers crammed onto the Waltham Forest mini-bus and for the 700 working and young people who participated in the rallies, march and lobby outside the congress the mood was that we really didn't have much choice, we had to go.
With budget cuts already starting to bite and a daily tirade undermining public services and particularly libraries (a service I work for) the reality is I could have lost my job by the time the first all Britain anti-cuts demo is organised if the TUC delays. Timing in the struggle is of the essence. A retrospective fight can be waged but it is not the best strategy and speaker after speaker on Sunday climbed the podium to address the crowd and say so.
In these days of sound bites, spin and airbrushing it was good to see two trade union general secretaries climbing onto a makeshift stage to speak to the crowd. Bob Crow and Billy Hayes both reiterated their support for a coordinated Trade Union Congress fightback.
It was good to hear leading members of the PCS along with firefighters, BBC engineers, shop workers and young unemployed people adding their voice to the push for the TUC to name the day for a national demo in 2010.
The march seemed to pick up local youth and passers-by as we made the short walk to the Manchester Mechanics Institute. It's a long time since I've been in a labour movement meeting where there were not enough seats but people sat on the floor and huddled around the doors to hear the speeches. Time and time again workers' representatives got up and explained that the shock therapy which is being proposed in the October comprehensive spending review needs to have a resistance, like the anti-poll tax campaign, prepared now.
In the mini-bus on the way back workers from the local hospital were being sent texts saying we had made the national news. It is strange that sometimes 20,000 can march and there is a virtual media blackout but it seemed that this protest was covered on all the major news programmes along with the breakfast news the next day. This made the eight-hour round trip in a cramped minibus seem worthwhile.
Our job from this lobby is to build the momentum for action, for a united campaign spearheaded by the TUC drawing in families and friends that could break this shaky Con-Dem marriage.
A small fire was set under the seat of the TUC general council. Our job is to make this fire an inferno.
The first day of the TUC opened with reports of the congress as the main item on the breakfast news, showing footage of the National Shop Stewards Network lobby as the backdrop.
The congress is taking place during the most serious attacks on the working class in Britain this side of world war two.
There is a weight of responsibility on the leadership of the trade union movement to do what their name suggests and give a lead in fighting these cuts. But also to arm our class with the political arguments against the cuts.
It was therefore disappointing when Brendan Barber stated in his opening address that cuts were "too fast and too deep". The implication here is that he would be in favour of cuts if the pace was slower.
Much better were the arguments put forward by the left trade union leaders in the debate on the composite motion on public sector cuts.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka explained how the cuts would affect all working class people. "The divide is not public sector versus private sector, it is the haves versus the have nots... We cannot accept one penny of cuts or one job lost."
This is the stance that the trade union movement needs to take and was backed by other speakers. Bob Crow of the RMT explained how "all of the gains that were made in society have been on the basis of the trade union movement pursuing them." Bob talked about the solid strike action that members in the RMT and the TSSA took on London Underground last week and said: "It would be madness not to coordinate action" when unions were in dispute.
Matt Wrack of the FBU condemned the government and the media for trying to "shift the blame for the economic crisis from bankers onto public sector workers."
A composite motion was passed overwhelmingly which commits the TUC to both coordinating industrial action and organising a national demonstration against the cuts.
Speaking in the afternoon session, Janice Godrich of the PCS underlined the importance of this commitment to a national demonstration and stated: "It is now up to us to build for it and build confidence amongst workers."
The commitments in the composite motion against public sector cuts are important. It is now down to activists in the ranks of the trade union movement to hold their leaders to their word and make sure that a mass national demonstration takes place as soon as possible and industrial action against the cuts is built for and coordinated.
Universities UK (UUK), the vice-chancellor's organisation, has issued a warning that the Con-Dem 'reforms' to higher education will lead to a two-tier education system.
The UUK report said that a clear social divide will be created if only the rich are able to attend university in the traditional way. Those from poorer backgrounds who decide to go, in spite of the fees, cuts and poor job prospects, will only be able to do so using distance or part time learning.
Students already face leaving university with crippling debts - an average of £25,000 for those leaving university this year.
And now leaks in anticipation of the Browne Review into university funding suggest it will recommend that fees are raised to at least £7,000 a year.
This is despite the fact that a National Union of Students (NUS) survey showed that more than half of all students would have been put off going to university if fees were £5,000 a year.
This year's university places shortfall has left 150,000 students without a university place at all and many scrambling around trying to find alternatives to a degree.
There is also the prospect of more funding cuts in the October spending review.
As £2.5 billion has already been chopped from the higher education budget, further cuts will be devastating to the quality of education most universities are able to provide.
The Con-Dem coalition has already revealed its intentions for higher education in Britain by giving the go ahead for the first private university to be opened in 30 years.
This is again enforcing the prospect of one type of education for the rich and another for the rest of us. The lecturer's University and College Union (UCU) has warned that the move represents the beginning of a "slippery slope for academic provision in this country."
This government is turning education into a privilege for the minority who can afford it rather than a right for all.
These plans must be opposed. Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs will be organising students who want to fight for the right to a decent education at every university and college.
On 20 October we will be holding a day of action across the country to oppose all cuts and fees. If you refuse to be part of a lost generation and want to fight for your future then join us in building the fightback against the government's savage onslaught.
In October the review into university funding will be published. This report, initiated by the previous New Labour government with the backing of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, is focusing on the question of university fees.
In recent months though, differences seem to be emerging between the two ministers with responsibility for universities. Liberal Democrat business minister (who has overall responsibility for universities) Vince Cable, has publicly stated he is in favour of a tax on graduates.
On the other hand, David Willetts, Conservative minister for universities, has made it clear that he opposes the idea of a direct graduate tax because it may encourage more students to study abroad rather than in the UK.
This reflects the Liberal Democrats' long-standing opposition to university fees which was a big contributing factor in them obtaining 50% of the student vote in the general election.
In the coalition agreement, the Conservatives granted the Lib Dems the right to abstain on a vote which proposed fee increases. But if the other parties are left to vote with no opposition, university fees will almost certainly be increased, possibly to more than twice the current level.
Many possible problems have been raised with a graduate tax. Most importantly, a report by the lecturers' union, UCU, showed that this system would mean the lowest paid public sector workers would end up paying more for their degrees than they already do.
Many details of how the scheme would work are unknown. In most models a graduate tax would be a debt that you never pay off, affecting graduates throughout the entire course of their working lives. Even if it is introduced at a relatively low rate, as with any other tax it could be increased by the chancellor at any stage.
The Socialist Party opposes any charges for education, whether up front, loaned or taxed. This is to guarantee access to university for all, regardless of their ability to pay.
One of Labour's arguments for introducing fees 12 years ago was that it would mean workers did not have to pay for the education of the rich. But slashing corporation tax means that the contribution from the rich has been massively reduced.
A graduate tax is opposed by the Conservative Party and the heads of the most prestigious universities because it conflicts with their vision for higher education. Funding education through taxation would tie universities into public ownership and state funding.
The government review is clearly skewed towards big increases in fees and further privatisation. The board is made up of bankers, former advisors to Tony Blair and of course is chaired by Lord Browne, the ex-chief executive of BP.
Leaked reports indicate that the review panel is going to recommend fees of £7,000 a year. This, or some variant, is undoubtedly going to be the Tories' preferred option.
However, the issue of university fees has proved to be one of the most publicly contentious issues of this weak coalition government. Under the pressure of a movement of workers and young people, as well as the discontent of Liberal Democrat members, they could be forced into a u-turn.
A recent report for the Scottish Parliament recommended introducing fees. This will correctly be seen as a huge attack on Scottish youth and could provoke a mass response. If this develops parallel to a movement in England and Wales, the two could reinforce each other.
A growing tide of protest in the universities has been seen over the last two years. Increases in fees, on top of cuts to places and funding, could give a big impetus to these movements.
However, it does not currently seem like these movements will be led by the National Union of Students (NUS).
Their alternative to higher university fees is to call for a graduate tax! The model that they propose is better than many others but would still mean that the average graduate would end up paying more than they do at present.
Aaron Porter was the first ever NUS president to address the universities vice-chancellors' conference this year and 'outlined the importance of meaningful collaboration' between students and management.
Under pressure, NUS has called a national demonstration on 10 November. But it will be up to genuine activists on the demonstration and in local anti-cuts campaigns to formulate a strategy to defeat the government and to fight for free education.
Young people face increasing attacks on their future. For the first time in decades a whole generation will be worse off than their parents - a damning indictment of a system that has failed to provide for working and middle class young people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
The onslaught of cuts to university courses and staff and increasing fees coupled with growing youth unemployment, cuts to benefits and cuts to training schemes will undoubtedly see an increase in young people looking for ways to fight back.
As young people search for the most effective tool to channel their anger, many different methods of struggle will be explored including occupations, protests, days of actions and strikes.
Historically student strikes have been one of the most effective ways for young people to fight back. Two of the most notable examples in the UK were when hundreds of thousands walked out internationally in the 2003 school students' strikes against the Iraq war and the successful 1985 student strikes against Thatcher's Youth Training Schemes (YTS).
The 1985 student strikes against the threat of conscription to the YTS, which involved 250,000 young people, won a massive victory against the government.
The YTS was essentially legalised slave labour with young people being used by employers to work for a low wage, then thrown back onto the scrapheap when the scheme ended. When the scheme was cancelled, a whole new generation learnt that if you fight, you can win!
Similarly in 2003 the Iraq war aroused a huge wave of anger across the country.
Young people were being told that there was not enough money for education, jobs and training - yet the government could afford to blow millions of pounds on the war in Iraq.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR), a youth organisation, distributed 60,000 leaflets on the two million strong 15 February demonstration in London, calling for school student strikes. Up and down the country young people organised and walked out of schools against the war.
Student strikes can take on a different character to other forms of action. They have to involve a mass of students to be successful.
Other useful methods, like occupations, are important but can sometimes involve a small number of experienced activists who, whilst attempting to further the campaign, can isolate themselves from the majority of students and staff.
Student strikes will need to be a vital tool used in anti-cuts campaigning in schools, colleges and universities.
Campaigns need to coordinate action that focuses on patiently building the confidence of students that struggle can be effective. They also need to propose demands that will take the movement forward.
Just as students can take inspiration from workers in struggle, mass student strikes could also play a role in inspiring the older generation of the trade union movement nationally.
This December, Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students will meet to discuss strategies to defeat the cuts. There will be an opportunity at these conferences to vote on policies and elect people to national positions.
See www.socialiststudents.org.uk for details.
On 20 October, the Chancellor, George Osborne, will announce the results of the spending review.
There is little doubt that he will announce even more cuts, including to education, jobs and young people's services.
Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students are organising a day of action in protest at these attacks.
Read about last year's anti-cuts campaigns and how to take them forwards, what the English Defence League (EDL) is and how to defeat it, international reports and what a socialist education system would look like.
Over the last ten years or so a lot of books have been written saying that women have reached equality or that equality is just around the corner.
A lot of women seemed to be doing jobs that previously had been thought of as 'just for men', girls seemed to be doing better in exams than boys, young women's expectations about their futures were higher, they were more confident about their sexuality.
All of those things together were giving the false impression that it would be possible to achieve equality. Unfortunately there was a need to challenge this idea that within the capitalist system it is possible for discrimination and oppression to be completely ended and for women to have complete equality.
Well the current economic crisis has revealed that it isn't possible. Capitalism is a system that is organically in crisis and the capitalists will always try and increase their profits at the expense of working class people.
When economic attacks take place, women tend to be particularly hard hit. The big cuts that are now being prepared - the almost decimation of the public sector - will hit women particularly hard because they work more in the public sector.
And of course women also rely on the facilities, services and benefits that the public sector provides or funds - childcare, housing benefit, the NHS etc, enabling women to go out to work and have a bit of economic independence.
When those services are attacked, because women even now still have most of the responsibility for looking after the family, they are particularly affected.
Some people say that women have always been oppressed and that there has always been inequality between men and women and therefore there always will be. Look at all the books that are written about men and women's brains being wired differently.
I think it's important to be able to look back over 99% of human history when there wasn't systematic discrimination and oppression against women. Men and women sometimes had different roles but those were equally valued and roles were very flexible.
If we can see that there was a time in history when women weren't oppressed we can see that it is possible to struggle for a system where they won't be oppressed in the future.
Yes, that was something that really struck me as I was writing the book. There's such a big similarity between the two - the terrible exploitation that women in those countries are facing is very similar to the exploitation that women faced here during the industrial revolution.
Obviously it's a negative in terms of the terrible conditions these women have to work in - the fact they face sexual harassment in the workplace, sometimes can't even go to the toilet, that they can get quite serious diseases because of their working conditions.
But on the other hand the fact that they are actually together in the workplace means that there is the potential for collective struggle and that is a positive effect. It can have an effect on the aspirations of those women. It has already led to some big struggles and I think it will do more so in the future.
New sexism is often used to describe the fact that things, which in the past would not have been considered acceptable and that women's movements have fought against (for example naked women being used in advertising), are now considered acceptable.
The fact that more women have jobs, that girls are doing better at school, that they feel more confident about their sexuality are all thought to mean it's not sexism in the way that it was in the past. It's a 'bit of a laugh' or its tongue in cheek or empowering and therefore we should accept it. The same in colleges, things like beauty pageants are not sexism, they're just a bit of a laugh.
But of course they are sexism because the discrimination against women in society has not disappeared. It's still there. And those kinds of things reinforce the idea that women are second class, inferior, just bodies and not thinking human beings.
And so although we have to be aware that there have been big changes in society and in people's attitudes, that kind of sexism needs to be challenged just as it was in the past.
I think it is partly because attitudes to sex have changed, which on the one side is a positive thing. Even some young women accept those things because perhaps they feel confident about their sexuality and they think its ok without seeing how it undermines women more generally. I can understand that.
But I think it's also that there haven't recently been many big collective struggles in the workplaces or in society generally nor political organisations with a mass base advocating this way of fighting back.
Therefore the idea that you can challenge these things hasn't been in a lot of people's consciousness. Perhaps they feel that they're on their own. Perhaps they would like to do something about it but they don't feel that they can because they feel that it's just them as an individual that has to deal with these issues.
Some feminists argue that if we didn't have men in positions of power, if women were in those positions, then things would be different because women are less aggressive or more collaborative.
But it's not a question of gender but whose interests, which class interests, people represent. Many female politicians enter government and end up cutting money for things that could help women like refuges or council housing; they end up attacking them because of the logic of the capitalist system.
It's not necessarily the case that women's movements will only take place when there are industrial struggles but obviously when there are collective struggles (and particularly successful ones), that will have an impact on other sections in society.
So I think there is a link between the two and historically women's movements have tended to take place when there are big movements taking place in society generally.
On their own, women will not be able to change this system because it needs the majority of working class people to be actively and consciously involved in changing it. But that doesn't mean that we would accept sexism on the part of men, I think it's important that sexism is opposed wherever it occurs. But we have to work towards the maximum unity of men and women if we're actually going to really achieve the liberation of women.
Domestic violence is a good example of that. There are many reasons why women stay in violent relationships or find it difficult to leave and some of those will be emotional.
But there are also many economic reasons as well because you have to have somewhere to go if you want to leave. And if a refuge is being cut, that is going to limit your options. If you have money and economic independence, then that might make it easier. If you haven't and are on a low wage then it can make things much more difficult.
The same is true of abortion rights. Everybody theoretically has access to abortion but in America for example, if you live in an area where there isn't an abortion clinic, then it's very difficult for you. But if you have money, you can travel to another area.
It's true that all women can experience those problems but they are all linked to class society because this is a society which is based on inequality, not just of wealth but of power as well.
It's a society that has based itself on the oppression of women, particularly within the family but also within society generally.
Questions like domestic violence are linked to power and control and traditional ideas that men should have control over women within relationships. They're quite deeply ingrained in society, obviously there have been important advances but nevertheless those ideas still exist. They are rooted in class society and class society helps to perpetuate those ideas as well.
Obviously economically it would make a huge difference. If we were able to plan production in society and we were able to decide democratically where resources were to be allocated then it would be possible for people to have a decent wage that would enable them to have economic independence. It would enable us to have decent childcare and other public services.
It would also not just be an economic question because the ideas and values of society are reflected in personal relations.
We live in a society which is based on inequality, hierarchies, power and control and that is reflected in the way that people relate to each other. If we lived in a society which was based on equality, cooperation and planning that would reflect itself in people's personal relationships as well.
I'm not saying that if we get rid of capitalism and replace it with socialism then over night everything will be ok because some people will still have some of the old ideas of the previous society, but it will lay the basis for those ideas to disappear.
Well there are a lot of myths about what happened in Russia, particularly since the collapse of Stalinism 20 years ago. That chapter was to explain what really happened in Russia, to explain that the Russian revolution made a huge difference to women's lives, even in a very backward country.
Those gains were undermined because the revolution was isolated, because there weren't successful revolutions in the advanced countries like Germany and Britain and this led to the rise of Stalinism, which undermined the gains women made. It's to show that it is possible and it will be possible in a socialist society to radically change women's lives.
Domestic violence is obviously a huge issue; one in four women will experience it at some point in their lives. I think the campaign was important because it didn't just highlight the question of domestic violence - it was important to raise awareness and say that women didn't have to put up with it and that they could actually do something about it.
But it also put forward practical points about what women could do. For example what was needed to be achieved for women to have economic independence - more spending on refuges, more building of council housing and better childcare.
And it orientated to the trade unions, which, with all their faults, organise around seven million workers in this country. Therefore they are a collective force that can potentially fight for change.
And it was very important that as a result of that campaign, virtually every national trade union in the country had a policy on the question of domestic violence.
But it's an ongoing campaign because, so long as we have this system, domestic violence is going to continue.
The economic crisis and its aftermath is now the main threat to women's rights in the workplace and in wider society. In particular, the bloodbath that's being prepared in the public sector. There will be no let-up in the attacks unless we organise and resist, in the workplaces and in the communities.
We have to fight every individual attack - job cuts, privatisation, worsening conditions, closure of services - while placing these in the wider context of a capitalist system that is rotten and flawed and needs to be overturned.
We need a workplace, social and political struggle. That means building and strengthening organisations that will be capable of waging those struggles - the trade unions, social and community organisations, a new political party that will represent the interests of all working people and campaign on issues of particular concern to women.
I've no doubt that women will be in the front line of those struggles - our rights are under attack from every angle and we have the most to gain from fighting back.
Click here to buy a copy of It doesn't have to be like this - Women and the Struggle for Socialism by Christine Thomas
THE ANNOUNCEMENT by business secretary Vince Cable last week that the Con-Dem coalition intends to sell off Royal Mail (RM) came as no surprise to anyone in my office.
The exact details are still to be revealed but it's believed that a compromise between the Tories and their Liberal poodles will involve the privatisation of the majority of RM (most likely to a state-owned European postal operator, ironically) with the remainder held 'in trust' for the workers.
This portion of shares would provide dividend payments while remaining unable to be sold, at least for a few years. It is also intended to neuter the Communications Workers' Union (CWU) by discouraging workers from opposing a sell-off or from taking industrial action against attacks on pay, pensions and workloads. After all, who would want to hurt the company financially when they're a shareholder!?
The Con-Dem argument for selling RM is that the company needs 'an injection of capital' to allow further modernisation and to reduce the pension deficit of £8.4 billion (down from £10.3 billion last year). This argument falls down on both counts and is shown up to be the ideological claptrap it really is.
First, workers in RM created profits of £321 million in 2009 and £408 million in 2010 during the worst recession in living memory and in the face of (supposedly) falling mail volumes, doing more work for the same wage with less staff.
Second, the pension deficit which successive governments allowed to build up, while siphoning off profits, has reduced over the last 12 months by £1.9 billion and under a plan agreed between RM and the fund's trustees, the deficit will be eliminated over 38 years as a result of increased funding by the business.
There is a third reason now being spouted by RM's new chief executive, Moya Greene, as to why privatisation is necessary and that is the £1.2 billion loan New Labour made to the company for modernisation. Repayment began this year but I was unable to find any figures as to how much this is. Greene has stated that she is seeking to suspend the repayments, otherwise RM will become insolvent by Christmas.
Greene has been in the job since June, having previously been in charge of Canada Post, where she was extremely unpopular with the workforce. Profits increased in her time there but so did injuries at work, grievances and strikes.
The Montreal Gazette (27/5/10) was under no illusions as to why she was head-hunted by RM: "Moya Greene is going to the UK to execute something the Canadian government doesn't yet have the political appetite for here - privatising the mail service."
The issue of RM's finances in relation to the loan were commented on by John McFall, then chairman of the Treasury select committee (the Guardian 17/6/09). He questioned (former business secretary) Peter Mandelson and (former RM chief) Adam Crozier's assertion that privatisation was the only way of ensuring RM's modernisation programme was completed.
They had said that the company needed hundreds of millions but McFall argued that, as this was not billions, then the government could convert some of its loan to equity as sole shareholder, or simply reschedule the loan repayments.
Whatever happens to RM in the future will depend on what action we take now. The CWU needs to make it clear to workers and the public exactly what privatising the postal service would mean - job cuts, wage cuts, increased workload, reduced or withdrawn services and public subsidies for private companies.
As a union we need to raise the consciousness of workers and the public and link the fight to the anti-cuts campaigns and to organise and cooperate with other unions planning action, like the London FBU, RMT and PCS.
Royal Mail has existed for 350 years but if the Con-Dems get their way, it could be lost forever within 350 days.
PRIVATISATION of Royal Mail would have disastrous consequences for the workers and the public.
The universal service requirement would surely cease.
This is the obligation for RM to deliver to every address in the country, six days a week for a uniform and affordable price.
Deliveries could be reduced to three days a week, with charges made for extra days.
Cherry picking of 'profitable' towns/areas would occur, with rural residents losing delivery services altogether as these are seen as unprofitable, having to collect their mail from the nearest office instead, or having to pay for a delivery service, either individually or as a community.
THE BBC reported last week that spending cuts will 'hit the north harder', with Middlesbrough being ranked as the "least resilient" local authority.
Local news programmes have also highlighted the plight facing the north. One-in-three north-east jobs are in the public sector (the highest in England). Around 28,000 public sector jobs are under threat in the north-east.
The north-east only became so reliant on public sector jobs because of the decimation of mining, shipbuilding and the steel industry.
The report also asserts that a clear north-south divide is evident.
I was phoned by BBC Radio 2, who wanted to know if I could go on air to argue that workers in the south should be taking more of the brunt of job losses - a blatant attempt to set one group of workers against another.
However, when I outlined the Socialist Party's stance - that it's the bankers, big business and the capitalist system that got us into this economic mess and they're the ones who should pay the price - I was no longer wanted on their show!
This Con-Dem government is living in cuckoo land if they think workers are going to roll over and accept a public sector massacre.
And New Labour councillors will not be forgiven if they try to hide behind the excuse that there is no alternative but to accept cuts.
IN MIDDLESBROUGH over one-third of jobs are in the public sector following the loss of heavy industries.
A big call centre has recently closed with hundreds of jobs lost. On the positive side, the mothballed Corus steel plant has recently been bought but it is unclear how many redundant workers will be re-employed.
In the NHS, despite government promises to 'ring fence' funding, efficiency savings have to be made on yearly basis.
Cuts in local government services are also on the agenda with little prospect of a fightback from councillors.
The setting up of a local union-led public services alliance is to be welcomed and a rally will take place in Middlesbrough on 29 September.
OIL GIANT BP's internal report into the fatal Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion appears to be a blatant attempt to spread the blame for the disaster in order to avoid hefty fines under US law.
If the US authorities concur with BP's report then the profitable oil company would be able to restrict its liabilities under the US Clean Water Act to £3.5 billion rather than being fined £13.5 billion, based on an estimated oil spill of 4.9 million barrels.
A favourable ruling for BP would also allow it to claim back millions of dollars from rig owner Transocean and contractor Halliburton, as well as partners Anadarko and Mitsui who have refused to contribute to BP's £5.2 billion clean up costs.
But while the feuding between different players in the Gulf of Mexico disaster continues, one thing 'big oil' agrees on is that the US government moratorium on deepwater drilling off America's coastline is immediately lifted.
Driven by the lure of greater profits, big oil is continuing its highly risky deepwater operations in the pristine waters of the arctic and also in the North Sea off Britain's coast where there is no moratorium.
SRI LANKA'S president Mahinda Rajapakse now enjoys dictatorial powers following the national parliament's rubber stamping of the 18th amendment to the 1978 constitution last Wednesday. This change scraps a two-term limit on the presidency and gives sweeping new powers to the president. In particular the law allows Rajapakse to appoint officials to key posts in the judiciary, police and election commission.
Since Rajapakse's armed forces crushed the separatist Tamil Tigers' insurgency in May 2009 (killing an estimated 10,000 civilians in the final stages of the conflict), his clique has tightened its grip on power, unleashing sectarian forces to intimidate the media and opposition politicians, and further marginalising Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.
USING PRIVATE companies to 'incentivise' people claiming incapacity benefit back into work has been an expensive flop. The parliamentary public accounts committee spending watchdog said that private contractors on the £760 million Pathways to Work programme have "universally failed by considerable margins to meet their contractual targets".
Despite 'cherry-picking' claimants, private companies only managed to achieve a third of their targets, easily outperformed by the Department for Work and Pensions' own Jobcentre Plus offices.
THE PROSPECT of a 'double-dip' recession hitting the UK economy grew after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted a further slowdown in growth to just 0.4% in the last quarter of 2010. This gloomy assessment coincides with the UK economy's largest ever trade deficit in the three months to July, despite the lower pound which should favour exports.
IN AN enthusiastic response to the call by the major French trade union organisations, three million workers took to the streets of France on 7 September for a day of massive strikes and demonstrations in protest against the Sarkozy government's attack on the country's pension system.
The rejection of president Sarkozy's pension 'reform' is only part of the wider reasons which brought people massively onto the streets.
"People are sick of seeing the rich allowed to get away with everything while we are expected to give up the rights we have won over many years," said a car industry middle manager.
Workers throughout Europe will be taking action against their respective governments' austerity budgets on 29 September, including a general strike in Spain.
For full reports on the action in France and Europe see www.socialistworld.net
A LEAKED letter from chancellor George Osborne to work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith reveals that the coalition government intends to slash spending by £2.5 billion on disabled people or those too ill to work.
The letter - circulated to both David Cameron and Nick Clegg - shatters the big lie of the Con-Dem government that the pain of reducing the budget deficit will not fall on the most vulnerable and needy.
This assault on welfare also reveals the savagery of cuts expected to be meted out in chancellor George Osborne's comprehensive spending review next month.
It is widely anticipated that Osborne will slash public spending across all government departments by up to 40%, causing huge job losses and cutting welfare benefits to the bone.
These draconian cuts come at the same time that the bonus culture amongst top directors has returned to its pre-financial crash levels. A survey by Deloitte found that average bonuses for directors in FTSE 100 firms amounted to 100% of their salaries, rising to 140% in the top 30 companies.
So having bailed out the fat cats with public money the government will now claw back billions from those people with the lowest incomes.
Socialist Party members recently spoke to a couple of Hastings Labour councillors who claimed they were socialists and that they were putting socialism into action in Hastings.
The new Asda supermarket in Silverhill is advertising 350 jobs; 1,600 people applied for them in a single day! Is that socialism?
Hastings Labour council has made 'in-year' cuts of close to £300,000 and is preparing for more cuts after the 20 October comprehensive spending review.
At least two youth centres are scrambling for funding to deal with the cuts already made, and the 43% of people in employment in Hastings who work for the public sector are holding their breath waiting for the axe to fall.
We asked the councillors why they are not making a stand against these cuts and they replied they had no choice. They both argued that if they took a stand their jobs and lifestyles would come under threat - never mind the jobs and lifestyles of ordinary people!
We made it clear that if they set a budget which reflected the local needs of people for jobs and homes, instead of the cuts the government demands, and then wage a campaign to mobilise local people behind such a budget, then they can win concessions.
Thirty people gathered in Shrewsbury on Thursday 9 September for a Socialist Party (SP) public meeting entitled 'what is the socialist alternative?' with the party's deputy general secretary, Hannah Sell, as the guest speaker.
Hannah discussed topics ranging from the imperialist war in Afghanistan; the proposed public sector cuts; the vicious attack on the working class and trade union movement; to the importance of building the Socialist Party.
Hannah also drew comparisons between the success of Militant in playing a leading role in the 1983-87 Liverpool Labour council that won £60 million from Thatcher's Tory government, the defeat of the poll tax, and the need for the mobilisation of a broad, trade union based movement ready to fight the impending cuts.
Jake Moore spoke about the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign; our perspective on the current economic crisis; and what it means for young workers. Shrewsbury SP branch secretary Jim Reekie chaired the meeting.
Meeting attendees included Shropshire SP members, members of the Shropshire trades council, teachers and students. A finance appeal by the Shropshire SP youth secretary, Sam Morecroft, raised over £150 for the party's fighting fund. Shrewsbury Socialist Party also gained a new member following the public meeting.
The overtime ban on London Underground is beginning to bite. In the last few days some stations have closed, including Charing Cross which had to be closed for 20 minutes over the weekend.
RMT and TSSA's strike on 6-7 September was rock solid on every line. Even on the Northern Line only a special Sunday service ran. But the management gave the impression that a full service was running.
Well over 100 stations were closed and on a number of lines management were running trains through a series of unstaffed stations, a health and safety risk.
At Belsize Park station on the Northern Line, they told people that the station was open. But when passengers got off the train they were horrified to find they had to go up 219 steps. This included many patients visiting the nearby hospital.
Both unions being out on strike was historic and the mood amongst the workforce is very strong. There is also a growing realisation that there has to be a wider struggle for jobs, involving other trade unions and the community. This is not a strike for more money, it is a strike for keeping the number of staff needed to run a safe service for staff and passengers.
Even the overtime ban shows that they can't run the service on the numbers working now, let alone with the 800 jobs they want to cut.
The next tube strike is due to begin on 3 October.
On 8 September the University and College Union (UCU)'s general secretary, Sally Hunt, announced that the union would carry out a ballot for strike action over pay and job cuts. In June UCU's congress voted overwhelmingly to ballot for industrial action if no better pay and job offer was forthcoming from university management body UCEA. UCEA's final offer remains unchanged from the 0.4% pay rise with no guarantee on job preservation.
But instead of running the ballot, UCU's Higher Education Committee (HEC) is preparing for fresh ACAS-sponsored talks with UCEA.
HEC's decision reportedly hinged on the chair's casting vote. The executive members, who voted to ignore UCU's congress and defer a ballot, point to an unscientific poll of the membership, which found that only a narrow majority of members would probably or definitely support strike action. HEC say they will launch an additional survey of the membership.
UCU branches have led a series of strikes at individual universities over the past year. HEC's lukewarm response to their survey is a sign of members' lack of confidence in the HEC's ability to lead a strike.
Many UCU members feel the last national HE strike, in 2006, was poorly-coordinated and relied too heavily on action short of a strike.
However HEC have dramatically under-represented the potential gains of industrial action. The 2006 action consisted of a one-day strike followed by extended action short of a strike, and won, among other things, pay rises that kept UCU members' pay up with RPI inflation from 2006 to 2009.
A well-led strike could win a huge victory for all academic workers.
HEC have only themselves to blame for squandering the enthusiasm of UCU's membership.
They have done nothing to show they have improved their willingness to lead action since the 2006 strike.
If HEC plan merely to defer the ballot in order to build during the autumn, rather than during summer holidays, their decision is justifiable, although they remain guilty of exceedingly poor communication with the membership.
If, however, HEC do not immediately take concrete steps toward a Yes vote to strike, then the UCU Left is justified in its call for a special sector conference.
The membership have mandated UCU to pursue a strike ballot. Strikes work. UCU should lead its membership in preparing for a national strike.
This week pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), a company that makes over £8 billion profit a year announced another 206 redundancies at its manufacturing site in Ware, Hertfordshire.
This follows on from redundancies since 2008 bringing the site number down from 1,800 to a proposed 739 in 2011, more than halving the workforce in less than three years.
Staff were briefed on 8 September by the site director, who gave no opportunity for questions or comments, from either staff or trade union representatives.
The company claimed that these further reductions were necessary to protect GSK's position in the market, obviously whilst still maintaining their enormous profits.
When at further departmental meetings management claimed that these actions were necessary to safeguard jobs, workers pointed out that this was the same promise made two years ago yet this is another 20% cut of the workforce.
In the last two years workers have accepted permanent staff being made compulsorily redundant, while contract staff are kept. Large proportions of the workforce accepted no pay-rise and an increased workload and are expected to work longer hours.
All this when each employee worldwide contributes on average £80,000 towards the £8 billion company profit.
In the words of one worker "Enough is enough!"
The senior stewards are under growing pressure to call both an immediate Joint Shop Stewards meeting and a site Unite meeting
The local Socialist Party and the NSSN will be actively supporting these workers in struggle.
Members of Bectu, NUJ and Unite unions at the BBC are planning strike action on 5-6 October and 19-20 October. These coincide with the Tory Party conference and the public sector spending review.
This is because of the BBC's attempt to cut the pensions of 19,000 staff whilst paying the 15 most senior executives £4.76 million last year. Director general Mark Thompson has already made some concessions on this, following a majority for action in the strike ballot. These resulted in plans to strike during the Lib Dem conference being called off.
There will be a ten-day period of consultation with staff from 20 September before the unions meet together on 1 October to approve strike action.
Civil service union PCS branch secretary Sam Buckley is the fifth union officer at the Child Support Agency office in Hastings to be sacked on trumped-up charges since 2007.
PCS, backed by Hastings trades council, have called a demonstration and rally for Saturday 18 September. Assemble 1pm, at Hastings Pier.
At a meeting in Stevenage last week over 70 postal workers met to hear from their branch officials, their regional representative and the secretary of Stevenage TUC. The issue was the threatened closure of the sorting offices in Stevenage, Watford and Welwyn Garden City.
All the work and jobs are due to go to Hemel Hempstead, only delivery would remain.
The meeting decided to launch a campaign including petitioning and having a march and rally in the town in six weeks time. It was clear the mood was 'enough is enough, we have to make a stand'. With that spirit the bosses will have their hands full in the coming months.
Stevenage TUC will discuss at its next meeting how to support the CWU.
OVER 300 angry, defiant marchers took to the streets of Huddersfield in a joint trade union demo against cuts and job losses on 11 September. Unison, Unite, NUT and trades council members were joined by rank and file Unison members who sent the Labour council a message, loud and clear, that we mean business.
Spirits on this noisy, enthusiastic demo were high and hundreds of shoppers applauded us, so we took the march around the town centre for a second time. Many people joined in for this 'lap of honour'.
Just as significant was the support from young people. Over 50 protesters marched with the Youth Fight for Jobs contingent after active campaigning outside all the local colleges. More young people joined in as we passed through the town. The meeting after the demo attracted 30 young people.
Unfortunately little mention was made of the looming industrial action since the Unison officialdom postponed the strike ballot at the eleventh hour. The council had agreed to postpone some, but not all, of their proposals for cuts and to enter into 'meaningful talks'. That was enough for regional officials to agree to postpone the ballot.
Negotiations begin on 15 September. Pressure from below has clearly forced a change of heart on the council's part. However, activists in the branch believe the ballot should have still gone ahead but were not given any opportunity to have a say.
Unfortunately the branch leadership agreed with the postponement, but the unions' chief stewards voted to condemn the postponement and to demand the ballot's reinstatement.
This dispute will be crucial to the future of any organised opposition to these vicious cuts. The demo showed that ordinary members will respond to a call to action where a clear lead is given.
Postponement must give heart to those in the TUC who believe we should wait before we act. Jobs, services and conditions are under attack now and we cannot afford to wait any longer.
The next few weeks will show whether this council is serious about talks or just trying to buy time. A strong fighting strike committee in the Unison branch is playing a critical role in giving a lead to members in the dispute. Over 30 workplace meetings have taken place which also helped build for the demo.
We are all clear that more demonstrations and ultimately strike action is going to be necessary - but this demo was first blood to the workers!
ON 13 September, about 50 park rangers, members of the GMB union in Hull, marched to the city's BBC buildings. They were protesting against the cuts which would mean halving the park rangers service in Hull, with the loss of over 20 jobs.
The cuts would represent the death knell of the park rangers service in Hull, depicted by the coffin carried on the demonstration. The park rangers are responsible for maintaining security and general well-being in the city's many parks. Hull Youth Fight for Jobs supported the demonstration, and were well received by the park rangers.
At the rally outside the BBC buildings, Les Dobbs (GMB full-timer) outlined the park rangers' case. Mike Whale (Hull NUT secretary) brought greetings from the wider trade union movement in the city, and got a warm round of applause, when he called for a return to old-fashioned trade union solidarity and a socialist alternative to the Con-Dem cuts.
THE TRADE Unionist and Socialist Coalition's (TUSC) steering committee met on the eve of the TUC congress. They heard reports on where the participating organisations and leading trade unionists now stand in relation to TUSC, set up this year to contest the general election.
RMT transport union executive member, Craig Johnston, on TUSC's steering committee in a personal capacity, reported on June's RMT conference decision to endorse the executive's backing of 21 TUSC candidates at the general election. The job now, he said, was to promote TUSC in anti-cuts campaigning, ready for elections next year.
Clive Heemskerk reported that the Socialist Party still saw the TUSC coalition as an important part of the anti-cuts movement. Nothing that has transpired since the election answers the question: 'what do we do at the ballot box to fight the cuts?' The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) representative said they were committed to TUSC and would seek to run candidates under its banner in May 2011.
PCS civil service union vice-president, John McInally, present in a personal capacity, reported on efforts to create the broadest possible trade union resistance to the cuts. He also gave an update on the PCS consultation process underway on how to develop the union's political campaigning.
The meeting also discussed how participants saw TUSC developing, including how structures could be created to allow local campaign groups and individuals to participate in national decision-making.
A conference for local groups planning to stand candidates in the 2011 council elections will be held in January. A draft local elections policy statement will be circulated to local groups for discussion.
A CAMPAIGN group has been fighting to save The Big House, in Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, which provided short-term respite care for families of young people with very challenging behaviour and learning difficulties.
The County Council wanted to close it, claiming it would cost £1 million to repair. The alternatives suggested were in the families' opinion, unsuitable for very mentally disabled children, or were many miles away.
On 8 September the County Council voted that a new, purpose-built facility should be built on the site of The Big House, with the house and much of its land being sold to private developers, but remaining open while the new facility is built.
The best outcome would have been to keep the house open with money spent on its renovation, but the families see this as a victory. It will mean less distress for the children, and peace of mind for parents, who will be able to use this facility for years to come.
This campaign showed that battles can be won against the cuts. Users of The Big House did not create this huge deficit! Make the bankers and the rich pay instead!
AT A mass lobby of Bristol councillors on 7 September, several council trade unions warned of impending industrial action should the Lib-Dem council try to carry through compulsory redundancies.
A petition from the local Unison branch highlighted the position apparently taken by councillors in Blackburn who say they will not implement cuts which could lead to financial destruction of their city. The Unison spokesperson was applauded when he demanded that Bristol's elected representatives make a similar declaration.
This echoes the defiant note initially promised by many Labour local authorities in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher tried to take the axe to public spending. Then, only Liverpool council, courageously led by supporters of the Socialist Party's predecessor, Militant, transformed words into deeds to become 'the city that dared to fight'.
National Union of Teachers (NUT) senior vice-president, Nina Franklin, warned that teacher redundancies would be likely to lead to industrial action in Bristol schools.
The GMB union attacked a 50% cutback in the city's 'rat catcher' provision. Previously Bristol's rat population had been reduced though curiously, the speaker said, there appears at present to be an explosion of rats in the council chamber, a fact enthusiastically endorsed by anti-cuts protesters!
As this phoney war comes to an end, the battle lines, here and everywhere else, are being drawn up for a life or death struggle to protect public services.
ON 1 September, hundreds protested at Labour-led Bolton council's plans to cut 40% off its budget at an estimated cost of 1,400 jobs, not to mention the effects on services.
Bolton's Trades Union Council brought together community groups and members of the public under the banner 'coalition against cuts'. Each councillor attending the council meeting was being paid £936 to attend and pass off 40% worth of cuts to frontline services. They were greeted with well deserved boos.
Socialist Party members replied to their claims of 'no alternative' with: "What about Liverpool between 1983 and 1987? Do what the socialist council did there!" The councillors of Bolton decided first of all to congratulate each other on the A level and GCSE results. Well done, guys! Now where do we send them? Oh that's right, there aren't enough college and university places due to more cuts!
This well-attended and well-planned demo must be a starting point in fighting these savage cutbacks.
Most scientific and political commentators now accept that the human race has to take action to avert catastrophic damage to our planet and to our societies which depend on its resources.
Recently, however, we have had various graphic illustrations of the increasingly desperate and risky methods capitalists are willing to go to in order to acquire the last remaining reserves of cheap energy, such as oil and gas.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico exposed the hypocrisy of oil giants like BP who claim that they are 'green'. Hydraulic fracturing of bedrock to acquire natural gas (fracking) is poisoning the water supply and environments of communities across parts of America.
This kind of environmental destruction has long been endemic in the third world. A vivid example comes from the largest exporter of oil to the US, the Niger Delta, where spilt oil and polluted air have helped cause civil unrest.
Ensuring stable supplies of cheap energy is an intrinsic part of governments' foreign policy. The war in Iraq was more about Iraq's oil fields than any threat Saddam Hussein posed to the West.
Increasing political instability, especially in parts of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, has been caused by the lack of clean water. Rivers are poisoned by heavy industry, increased demand is draining aquifers, a changing climate is lessening surface reserves, and the relocation of bodies of water to provide reservoirs and hydroelectric power is damaging local geology.
Issues such as these demand a concerted international response, and a desire to move toward sustainable infrastructure and sustainable living. Under the auspices of capitalist-led agencies, such as the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this is happening far too slowly, if it can be said to be happening at all.
How the world's environment can be saved will be debated at Socialism 2010. Can the future of the planet be trusted to capitalist governments and agencies? Can energy companies help stop and reverse global warming or will profit always come first? What would a socialist energy plan look like? If you have questions or ideas about building a movement to save our climate, then come to Socialism 2010.
THE ALL-India general strike on 7 September showed the enormous potential for workers' struggle in India, but also exposed a number of complicating factors.
The strike gave a glimpse of the potential power of the working class in India. In Mumbai it was reported that 90,000 auto-rickshaw drivers struck. Nationally hundreds of planes were grounded and rallies and protests took place across the country.
In Bangalore, where garment workers are super-exploited, members of New Socialist Alternative (NSA), the Socialist Party's sister party in India, helped to bring out workers from six garment factories to join the strike.
However, the experience in Chennai gave the impression that more planning and preparation could have yielded much greater results. Auto drivers complained that they had not received a single poster or leaflet to help them advertise the strike. Most areas did not have preparatory meetings either.
There is a myriad of reasons for the workers, poor and young people to strike and protest in India. Poverty, dire working conditions, lack of public services, oppression on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, caste or language, state repression and many more transgressions of human rights.
This strike was particularly focused on the enormous price hikes in food and fuel which further punish the poor. Government figures show that 77% of India's population lives on less than Rs20 (about 28p!) a day.
The cost of staples like rice and dal have rocketed while wages stagnate and hours and jobs are cut. Meanwhile, the wealthy of India live on a different planet of air-conditioned restaurants and chauffeur-driven shopping sprees.
The NSA leaflet called for genuinely elected committees of working and poor people to control food prices and for the general strike to be followed by further action - well-organised and prepared.
The strike was called by a number of trade unions mainly, but not all, affiliated to the Communist Parties. Even unions affiliated to the biggest ruling party - Congress - came out.
The attitude of some Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) members was that the general strike should sound a warning shot to the government. But a 'warning shot' with no clear signal of a determined and organised follow up is unlikely to put sufficient pressure on the government.
However, the workers who took action showed courageous determination. Young women working at Gold Winner Oil near Chennai were striking for better wages. They described their conditions as "semi-slavery" and were angry that the mainstream Indian and Tamil Nadu media did not cover their conditions and struggles.
Young men working at RSB, a supplier for the giant US-based firm Caterpillar, were striking against the price hike and against job insecurity. They were members of a new independent trade union, the United Labour Federation (ULF).
Their complaints were many. While managers took home Rs1.5-2.5 lakhs (lakh=100,000), 400 workers shared one toilet, received no lunch or dinner at work and faced suspensions over minor issues.
When they established their union, RSB management set up a new boss-friendly union, bringing in political parties for support. Not surprisingly, these young militant working class fighters felt there was no political party that represented them. They hoped that Caterpillar workers in the US would organise solidarity with their struggles.
The police made mass arrests at the CPI-M unions' rally. Hundreds of workers were driven away in trucks. However the presence of western tourists with cameras seemed to keep the police at bay at the ULF rally.
The ULF's honorary president, V Prakash, described the horrendous wealth gap and the conditions of the workers. He condemned the political parties and the way that the trade unions had ordered the strike from the top when it should have been organised from the bottom up.
There was a warm welcome for visiting socialists (from the CWI) who gave solidarity greetings, with particular applause for the call for a new workers' party to be built across all sections of society and with no discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, sexuality, religion or language. This point was made in the NSA leaflet and repeated by V Prakash. Many expressed an interest in finding out more about the NSA.
HUGE BILLBOARDS of Kazakhstan's president Nursultan Nazerbayev are displayed on the road between the newly built capital city Astana and the mining area Karaganda, 200 kilometres south of Astana. They show the president surrounded by happy looking people. The billboards seem to portray the image of a widely popular "leader of the nation". Nothing could be further from the truth.
In June 2010, a law was passed that essentially turns Nazerbayev into president for life. The same law forbids any criticism of the president and members of his family. Disgracefully, this law was passed while Kazakhstan chaired the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), an international organisation that claims to defend and monitor democratic rights. However, according to OSCE sources, no official criticism of this law was made by any of the 56 member states of the OSCE.
Nazerbayev has ruled Kazakhstan for the past 20 years and receives Stalinist-type election results of 91% support, which subsequently leaves Nazerbayev's party as the only party in the parliament. These results were not only questioned by the opposition but also by international monitoring organisations. This has turned the country into a very difficult climate for oppositionists.
Vadim Kuramshin, a well respected lawyer and human rights activist was arrested two days before our first meeting in Karaganda where he wanted to give evidence of the humiliating conditions prisoners face. [Vadim was released from prison in Kokshetau, in the north of Kazakhstan only hours after Joe's delegation left the country.]
The prisons in Kazakhstan are overcrowded. In August, self-inflicted mass cuttings of wrists and stomachs took place in a prison in the Karaganda region in protest against the barbaric conditions of the prison regime which they face day in and day out.
The authorities are obviously frightened that the truth travels around the world and that is why Vadim Kuramshin was arrested.
"If this government does not even grant the basic democratic and workers' rights to its population, then it is not surprising that they treat prisoners in this disgraceful way", reports an activist of Kazakhstan 2012, a political movement that tries to unite the different protest and social movements across the country.
One of the priorities for Kazakhstan 2012 is the building of independent trade unions that can effectively defend the interests of working class and poor people in the country. Most of the official trade unions are remnants of the old Stalinist state unions and are in the pockets of the government, others are company based and very often controlled if not set up by management itself.
Families of miners, scientific researchers, medical workers, oil workers, railway workers - some of whom spent 44 hours on the train to meet with us - spoke about explosions in the mines that leave workers dead or injured due to the lack of health and safety rules.
Despite the repressive character of the regime, we met dedicated fighters who want to see change in the country and are determined not to bow to the regime.
There is also a widespread understanding of the corruption of the regime and the fact that the huge wealth of the country is handed over to big multinational companies while people live in dire economic circumstances.
It seems that it would not take much to spark a major movement across the country. "We will need to fight until we become bosses in our own home again", said another activist from Kazakhstan 2012 who thanked Joe for coming and listening to the ordinary people of the country.
New Labour politician Peter Mandelson's tome has now been overshadowed by the deluge of publicity received by his soul mate Tony Blair. Nevertheless, a review of The Third Man can provide an insight into the methods of the capitalists in their constant mission to disarm the working class.
The purpose of this review is not to repeat the dross about personal rivalry which has been a feature of New Labour for a decade, but to analyse how Mandelson, a declared lover of the free market, a friend of the oligarchs, a foe of the trade unions, a drooling seeker of celebrities, and an implacable enemy of socialism, penetrated the very heart and took control of a party which generations of working class activists had spent over 100 years building into a mass organisation.
The self-centred character of the author is striking. The language is vacuous and obsessed with personality. Advising Gordon Brown that "If you look better on the outside, people will feel you're more in control of things" is typical of the empty phrases which pepper the book.
Delighting in name-dropping he relates how: "I had received a phone call from Matthew Freud, the PR supremo married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth. She had been one of my key advisors during my challenging stewardship of the Millennium Dome, and had become a good friend. Matthew wanted me to join them in Corfu for his daughter's birthday which was being organised at the house there of my friends Jacob and Serena Rothschild."
He enters the Greek taverna where the event was organised when Sun editor Rebekah Wade and Tory George Osborne competed for his company. "I planted myself next to George (Osborne) as he seemed to be the most insistent."
Mandelson worked for the Weekend World television programme with a political brief, before becoming Labour Party director of campaigns and communications in 1985.
He declares that Labour's policies in the early eighties were "hopelessly extreme" and how he, therefore, tailored Labour's policies to ensure the approval of the press barons.
In a parody of Stalinism, he established a "Shadow Communications Agency" which took decisions, not only on presentation, but the actual development of party policy.
The extent of his influence is summed up: "I was their [the media's] one-man, one-stop source, for what Labour was doing, thinking and saying."
His hostility to the unions is encapsulated by his stance during the Wapping dispute when Murdoch broke the print unions. Labour's national executive committee banned the Murdoch press. Mandelson circumvented this by asking Murdoch's hacks to leave the official press conferences, while briefing them in private later.
Discussion on the NEC is dismissed as "ideological bickering". Tellingly, he quotes John Smith's assessment of Kinnock as being a formidable "infighter in dismembering Militant, but that was about it." Mandelson avers that Kinnock would "end up by being both the hero and the fall guy of history."
Mandelson's own objectives are unambiguous. On entering parliament he immediately teamed up with Blair and Brown, dubbing the trio the "three musketeers".
"My aim was," he writes, "alongside Gordon and Tony... to complete the work Neil had begun to bring a genuinely modernised Labour Party back into government." Again: "Almost by default Philip (Gould), Gordon, Tony and I began laying the foundations for a new Labour Party virtually on our own. It was exhilarating."
The key element in creating such a party was found when John Smith died. A feverish debate in the media about the qualities of the two front runners, Blair and Brown, ensued.
Brown attracted substantial support, but the media pack smelt blood. Brown, although right wing and a free marketeer, was seen as a product of old Scottish Labour. They recognised that Blair, like a confidence trickster with a permanent grin and engaging personality, had the qualities to sell New Labour to the electorate.
With the Tories mired in sleaze, leaderless and with support melting away, the capitalists needed a safe Labour Party to replace them. The 'Blair for leader' ball was set rolling by Alastair Campbell, key mouthpiece for New Labour. When asked on Newsnight whom he thought should be the next Labour leader he immediately answered 'Tony Blair'. The bulk of the press took up the cry. Thus the ruling class, through its placemen, installed Tony Blair as the leader of New Labour.
The miners and the Liverpool 47 council were defeated, the command economies had collapsed, and the leadership of the labour movement succumbed to the notion that class collaboration was the order of the day and in the rush to 'modernise' they aped the antics of the Gadarene swine.
Mandelson's capitalist outlook meshed with the pessimism of the trade union and labour leadership. Thus they embraced New Labour which saw the support from Labour's traditional base melting away.
Robert Harris's book The Ghost is based on a Blair-like character who was sent into the Labour Party by the CIA with the brief to turn it into an agency of US foreign policy. This is unlikely. But the success of the Mandelson project would suggest that such a notion is not too great an exaggeration.