Socialist Party | Print
Hundreds of thousands of young people have taken to the streets against the Con-Dem destruction of education. Cutting Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), raising tuition fees to £9,000 and huge funding cuts have seen students from schools, colleges and universities up and down the country walk out, protest and demonstrate in defence of their right to a free, high-quality education.
This hated government is full of millionaire ministers, who themselves enjoyed the privilege of a free education and full grants.
They will be hoping that their vote to raise fees to £9,000 this week puts an end to the protests. However, this is only the beginning of the fight. The poll tax was voted through in 1988 only to be thrown out in 1991 after a campaign of mass non-payment made it unworkable. This movement not only defeated the Poll Tax but ended Margaret Thatcher's reign.
The Con-Dem government is much weaker. A mass movement of students alongside workers, who have the power to bring the country to a standstill, would shake the coalition government to its core. Students have already started to win. As a result of this campaign the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament have said they will not cut EMA and the Welsh Assembly will subsidise the increase in fees.
After the vote on 9 December the movement must maintain momentum and offer a way forward for students and young people. Local anti-cuts campaigns need to be built in every school, college and university across the country to respond to events in the new year. January will see the end of new EMA claims; March may see strike action by teachers and lecturers in the National Union of Teachers and University and College lecturers' Union. A national education shutdown in defence of education is needed to escalate the campaign in this period.
The current leadership of the National Union of Students have is guilty of a dereliction of duty by stepping back from leading a campaign against the biggest ever attacks on education in this country. That is why local campaigns need to come together on a national scale to organise the next stage of the movement.
The attacks on education are only one part of the government's wider attacks on all public services. It is vital these attacks are not fought in isolation but combined with the struggle in defence of every job and service.
AN UPRISING has occurred of school, college and university students, fighting for their futures. The trigger has been the trebling of tuition fees, but the anger is wider - against the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the massive cuts proposed in education, and the robbing of a decent future from an entire generation. The culmination of this phase of the student campaign will be when parliament votes on fees on Thursday 9 December, as thousands upon thousands of students walk out all over the country and demonstrate outside parliament.
The movement has shocked the government and mainstream parties. Already there have been victories in Wales and Scotland. However, defeating the Con-Dem government, ideologically wedded to a rolling back of the welfare state, is a taller order.
Immense anger has been expressed against the Lib Dems who pledged not to increase fees and are now advocating the opposite. Their party is in chaos and their leadership vilified just months after taking their places in the coalition government. Even Tories are wobbling, with David Davis, former shadow home secretary, saying he will vote against the government.
Nevertheless, the likelihood is that the increase in fees will be voted through on Thursday. If so, many young people will be bitterly disappointed and may think that there is now nothing that can be done. Many will be furious and that rage could explode onto the streets.
The first thing young people need to know is that this is not the end. The fees increase will not be implemented until autumn 2012. There is time. The poll tax, for example, was not beaten in one rush; in fact it became law in 1988 and was defeated in 1991. The withdrawal of EMA will start, for new applications, in January. Devastating cuts facing universities will come in over a period of time, with the 80% cut in teaching budgets being declared in April. Massive cuts are planned in further education (FE) funding.
The key thing now is to get organised. Up to now there has been no real overall leadership or organisation, although in many local areas Youth Fight for Jobs/Education has organised the protests. The National Union of Students (NUS) has displayed a complete dereliction of duty. From the high of the 10 November demonstration, the size of which surprised leaders of NUS more than anyone, they immediately plunged to the depths of attacking protesters at Millbank, and have since failed to act. Their call for a "glow stick vigil" on Day X - not even at parliament! - underlines the irrelevance NUS has quickly become to many students.
This is a long game, and we need a strategy. The protests have been exhilarating, but it will not be sufficient to just keep calling days of action on Facebook, as has largely been the case so far. If students do not have a say in what action is called, there is a risk that they will get worn down. It is a step forward that there are now regular London Student Assemblies being called. However, these mainly involve university students, not school and FE students, who have been the most audacious so far.
To defeat fees and save EMA, action on an even greater scale will be necessary. The Socialist Party calls for a huge national shutdown of education in the New Year. This will take organisation in every school, college and university. Students will need their own meetings, to discuss what they are doing and why, to learn lessons from previous struggles, to elect their own committees, and plan serious action.
Where there are no existing anti-cuts campaigns or Socialist Students groups, which is particularly the case in schools and colleges, Youth Fight for Education groups should be set up. Student groups can then be linked up on a city-wide, regional and national level.
Students in colleges and universities need to develop demands of their own college managements. Most occupations currently demand that university vice-chancellors issue statements opposing cuts and the rise in tuition fees. We should go further and demand that vice-chancellors do not implement cuts or fee increases, and instead set deficit budgets and join with students in campaigning for more funding.
Students should also make demands of local councils. It is councils who handle EMA payments and they should be pressured - like the Welsh Assembly - to keep EMA and fund it themselves. It would only cost councils a small proportion of their overall budget, while they mount a major campaign alongside students and parents for government to restore funding. Local anti-cuts unions are demanding that councils do not implement cuts.
Rightly, students are starting to link up with these campaigns, joining protests at councils. Students could go further, and support Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and anti-cuts candidates at the council elections in May 2011, demanding that councils maintain EMA.
Students have made a tremendous start but to defeat the enormity of the government's attacks they now need the might of the working class to come alongside them. There is a view amongst some in the student assemblies, and which was on display at the recent Coalition of Resistance conference, that writes off the working class and trade unions, and that simply advocates "new methods" and "direct action".
No one would argue against the freshness and audacity of the student actions. And of course students can achieve victories. In 1985, for example, a national school student strike involving 250,000 defeated the Tories' plans for slave labour YTS 'youth training schemes'. But the scale of the planned attacks is so great, with the capitalist class attempting to force the working class and youth to pay for their historic crisis, that student power alone is limited. The working class, on the other hand, when it moves, can threaten the very heart of capitalism. Strike action can bring society to a halt.
The student movement has been an inspiration to workers. On Day X, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) has called for trade unionists to march behind their banner. How tremendous it would have been if there had been a national Trade Union Congress (TUC) demonstration on 11 December, as the Socialist Party had campaigned for. However, the conservative leadership of the TUC and some of the trade unions cannot hold back the working class forever - the public sector cuts are so devastating that workers will be forced to act. A movement is possible that brings together the energy of youth with the power of the working class. We must now demand that opposition to the increase in fees and the abolition of EMA should be one of the demands of the TUC 26 March demo.
The NSSN anti-cuts conference on 22 January will be an important step in bringing together students and trade unionists. Rooted in the trade unions, the NSSN has worked in alliance with some of the most militant workers at this stage, and in January will be debating launching a national anti-cuts campaign with the organised working class at its heart, alongside young people and community campaigns (see page 11).
The TUC has been forced, by pressure from Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) and the PCS civil service union Young Members Network, to organise a youth rally on 29 January. YFJ has decided to call a demonstration to this rally, to gather together young workers, unemployed and students. In March, the teaching union NUT and university and college union UCU are likely to be taking coordinated strike action. It is important that students support these actions. In fact students should visit the picket lines of other workers on strike to make links - as some students did, visiting the RMT tube worker pickets in London in November.
In these early stages of the movement, political understanding is raw, but young people are learning fast and, in tasting their collective strength for the first time, are also questioning everything. For many, an understanding will develop that at the root of this crisis in education is a crisis of capitalism, and that a socialist alternative is necessary.
OVER 60 young people were arrested after the protest action at Millbank on 10 November. Students as young as 13 were kettled for nine hours in London on 24 November. Young people learned from this experience, and on the next protest day, played cat-and-mouse with the police to avoid being kettled. However, 30 November ended with over 150 arrests. Heavy policing has marred every student demonstration in Bristol.
The police are being used to intimidate young people from protesting. The capitalist class and their government are very aware of the revolt that is brewing and want to warn off not just students but also public sector workers from daring to take action. It is an indication of the depth of anger and determination that young people have continued to protest. Nonetheless, it demonstrates the importance of proper democratic organisation and stewarding. It is possible to avoid police traps with sufficient stewarding and planning - as was shown, for example, by the leadership of socialists in the face of police aggression at the G8 protests in Rostock in 2007. In preparation for a massive education shutdown, students need to elect stewards in every school and college.
Again, trade unions can play a vital role, providing stewards for student demonstrations. Trade unionists need to also demand that there are no victimisations or prosecutions as a result of the student protests, and campaign for the right to protest. Trade unions should donate to the Youth Democratic Rights Campaign, set up by YFJ, to help provide legal assistance to the young people arrested and due up in court in February. Big protests will be needed in their support at that time, of students and workers together. To start this, there will be a 'kettling' of Scotland Yard on Saturday 11 December from 3.30pm.
It is also important that trade unions try to limit the ability of the police to act against protesters. We should oppose attempts to beef up police powers and arsenals, and support any reforms which limit their powers, such as demanding democratic controls over the police. Many of the police in these protests so far have been brutal, but we should raise demands which could divide the police and call some to question whose side they are on. For example, it was right for students on recent protests to chant "don't your kids need uni too" to the police. Workers should demand trade union rights for the police. The police tops can be forced to weigh up the consequences of deploying their forces to intimidate young protesters if the protesting voice of the labour movement is clearly heard.
To donate, please send cheques made payable to Youth Democratic Rights Campaign at PO Box 858, London E11 1YG. If you are one of the students accused or victimised then please contact Youth Fight for Jobs: email@example.com
Sunday 5 December saw the launch rally of Youth Fight for Education (YFE) - a campaign formed by Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) to help coordinate some of the actions taking place in defence of education and with the aim of giving a strategy for victory to the protests.
The first speaker was Jethro Waldron, Youth Fight for Jobs college organiser. Jethro outlined the determined mood on the recent student protests, especially amongst college students.
They have often been the most interested in the wider questions around the cuts and the keenest to link their campaigns with workers fighting job cuts.
The attacks in the further education sector (including a 25% total budget cut, the dropping of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and attacks to the Adult Education Grant) means that many working class people will be priced out of any post-16 education.
The next speaker was Lenny Shail, who took part in the recent occupation at Warwick University.
In Warwick they were able to build a fighting anti-cuts group which united the students with staff and acted as an attractive alternative to students angry at the lack of leadership by the National Union of Students (NUS) since the national demo on 10 November.
Lenny also spoke about the potential for victories in the movement as in Scotland and Wales, where EMA has been saved. These gains should be used to inspire students across Britain and to push the struggle on.
Claire Laker-Mansfield, national organiser of Socialist Students, was the final platform speaker. Claire outlined the background to the current struggles as the most far reaching attack on young people in decades. The Browne review, the Comprehensive Spending Review, the betrayal of the Liberal Democrats, the planned trebling of tuition fees, and the cutting of EMA, have all left students with no option but to fight back.
Since the NUS demo, there have been days of action on 24 and 30 November, with another planned for 9 December when the parliamentary vote on tuition fees takes place. Claire explained that whatever the outcome of the vote it will not be the end of the campaign to defend education. The protests need to be escalated, with the aim of a national education shutdown in the new year.
There were plenty of speakers from the floor including college students, university students, education workers, and other trade unionists showing the breadth of support for YFE and the kind of unity that will be necessary to defeat these cuts.
An explosive new period of mass action against the government and its cuts agenda has opened up. Students have protested in their thousands and have walked out and occupied colleges and universities up and down the country.
Despite the extreme weather, the Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) conference on Saturday 4 December was attended by students, young workers and trade unionists sharing their experiences and debating the way forward.
It was decided that our urgent priority is to unite the fightback at both local and national level.
The government has been stunned by recent actions of students and their supporters, and our movement has already won victories in Scotland and Wales where EMA has been saved.
But anger alone will not defeat this government. We need organisation, both at local and national level. United for education and for every job and service this government wants to slash, we can defeat the Con-Dems.
YFJ and its new initiative Youth Fight for Education (YFE), with the support of six national trade unions, and with the ideas we need to win, is uniquely placed to help give this organisation and lead the movement to victory.
There are almost one million people aged 16 to 24 who are out of work, and this figure looks set to grow. A lengthening dole queue, coupled with massive cuts in benefits, will mean condemnation to many years of poverty and joblessness.
As well as getting involved in the campaigns against education cuts, YFJ will continue its important work in the trade unions and amongst the unemployed to fight for a decent future for all young people.
After the opening discussion we broke into sessions on various aspects of the campaign (see reports below)
Time and time again YFJ activists are faces with the argument of the supposed necessity of the cuts. This discussion focussed on developing effective arguments against the practically unchallenged view of the mainstream media and politicians.
Topics included how the government justifies the cuts, how best to expose the lies and inconsistencies within their arguments and what counter-arguments are most effective in building a mass movement. For many, myself included, the discussion helped to inspire new ideas and build confidence for the long debate ahead.
This session discussed the need to build the YDRC to defend our right to protest, which is under attack on several fronts. A legal defence is necessary for those who have been charged with offences on the various protests. The YDRC is working with a solicitor and we talked about the need to protest outside the courts when cases are heard.
In some schools and colleges we also need to campaign against people losing their Education Maintenance Allowance or being disciplined in other ways for missing lessons.
We also need a political campaign to highlight that the reason the police have been so heavy handed with some of the protests is to scare young people off from continuing to campaign.
The discussion on welfare reforms looked at campaigning against attacks on the unemployed and connecting this to the wider anti-cuts movement. It was said that welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith's plans to force the unemployed to work for benefits are an attack on the jobs and pay of all workers. Unemployed young people are not 'work-shy', but victims of the capitalist economic crisis. Matt Dobson gave good examples of campaigning by Dundee Youth Fight for Jobs which could be replicated across Britain.
This crucial discussion focussed on the role YFJ and YFE could play in coordinating and sustaining the movement against attacks on education.
It was agreed that we should support and build grassroots campaigns against fees and cuts and that these campaigns should be as democratic and open as possible. There was consensus that occupation can be a useful tactic but that to be effective it is essential that they be based on mass activity. Activists agreed to help build alliances with the trade unions and to connect student struggles to generalised campaigns against public sector cuts.
On 5 December Socialist Students members met for our conference to discuss how we can build the fightback against the government's brutal onslaught on education.
In the opening speeches we heard from Neil Cafferky from Ireland and Navid Lari from Belgium giving an insight into youth movements in Europe.
Closer to home, Claire Laker-Mansfield gave a speech summarising the excellent work done by Socialist Student members in the movement against cuts and fees in higher education over the past month.
In the discussion we heard about the successful protests that had happened across the country and how our members played a key role in organising them, including from some who had come straight from occupations at Leeds and Brighton universities. We also discussed the demands that socialists should raise regarding tuition fees and how we can help sustain and build the movement into the new year.
We ended by voting on a resolution describing our view of the movement and potential developments within it, as well as one on fundraising for Socialist Students. We also elected activists to the positions of National Organiser, Chair and Treasurer.
All those who attended should now be ready to go back to their universities and colleges and take a lead in building a movement that can defeat the Con-Dems' attacks on our right to a decent education.
Thousands of students marched again on 30 November, to protest as tuition fees were to be debated in parliament.
Over 2,000 people, mainly school and college students, gathered in Trafalgar Square, climbed the plinth on Nelson's Column and filled the air with lively chants.
They then set off on a hectic march around central London, winning the applause of shoppers and workers. The students ended in Trafalgar Square with a spontaneous rally, inside a police cordon.
Socialist Student organiser Claire Laker-Mansfield spoke and announced to great applause the latest victory in this battle - that the Welsh Assembly had pledged to subsidise the fee increase for Welsh students.
Students were let out in small numbers and many went to visit the various university occupations continuing around London.
2,000, mainly school and college students, marched in Bristol on 30 November. Unlike on 24 November and in spite of police attempts to block our way, students were able to march into the city centre - twice!
Honks of cars and shouts of good luck from shoppers confirmed the support of workers in Bristol. As we marched, the demo almost doubled in size, with around 1,000 of us starting the demo and 2,000 leaving the city centre and marching up to the financial offices of the University of Bristol.
The demo went on for hours. Around 400 students were 'kettled' near Bristol University, held for over two hours, and eventually all photographed as they were let out one by one.
But the students of Bristol are not going to stop fighting until we have won our right to free education.
Over 300 students marched the two miles from Sheffield University to Nick Clegg's constituency office on 30 November.
As we assembled, the police gave us all a Section 14 Public Order Act notice, trying to restrict protesters to only 100 at a designated site 50 yards away from Clegg's office. Neither police threats nor snow could prevent students voicing their anger against Clegg's broken pledge to scrap fees.
School students from King Edward's School in Clegg's Hallam constituency had walked out for a second time. Of course, Clegg wasn't at home, despite chants of "where's our MP?" and "answer the phone".
Marching back, a spontaneous occupation of the Richard Roberts building by around 100 students began the second occupation at Sheffield University in a week.
On 30 November, a very lively demonstration was held in Stafford. Students from local secondary schools, the FE college and Staffs University were involved in organising the protest.
Even though people only had a few days notice and despite almost continuous snowfall, over 100 people turned up.
The chants of "no ifs, no buts, no education cuts" and "Tory scum" along with singing, whistling and horn blowing, made for a loud demo despite the numbers!
The plan had been to march to the Tory HQ, just outside the town centre, however we were stopped by the police and were only allowed to march around the pedestrian area of the Market Square. The route also took in some council offices where there was supportive clapping through the windows!
On arriving back at Market Square, the students were 'kettled' by the police for about 15 minutes.
Gorseinon, a few miles west of Swansea, was brought to a standstill for the second time in a week by hundreds of protesting students.
The 300 students from Gower (Further Education) College who protested on 24 November invited students from other local colleges to join with them this time - notably a delegation from Swansea University.
At least 600 swept through the streets and got a fantastic response when they reached the high street, giving everyone in this working-class town a huge lift.
The same day, unions in the Labour-controlled Neath/Port Talbot council recommended that their members give concessions - including a 2% pay cut after the council shamefully gave 90-day notices. These students showed that the Con-Dem cuts can be fought through militant action.
Already the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has been forced to backtrack on cutting EMA and bringing in big rises on tuition fees.
Swansea Socialist Party, Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Education are raising the idea that students in every school, college and university should meet at noon in Castle Square in Swansea city centre on 9 December for a mass demo that will lift the sights of workers and students in South West Wales.
Socialist Students members from around Yorkshire built for and participated in the second National Day of Action against cuts and fees on 30 November, despite the appalling weather.
18 attended a Youth Fight for Education meeting in Huddersfield after a demonstration.
Around 400 from York University, York College and several schools attended an end of day rally in the city centre.
In Leeds Socialist Students members have, alongside others, been occupying the Michael Sadler building at Leeds University. Around 500 marched from the Parkinson Steps down into Leeds, where protesters were shamefully kettled by the police, before marching back to rejoin the occupation.
Showing the impact of the mass student protests over the past few weeks, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has pledged to maintain Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) despite the funding from Westminster being stopped from next year.
The move proves that rather than cuts being about how much money there is or isn't in the bank, these attacks are a matter of choice.
After seeing hundreds of thousands of angry students take to the streets to demand the right to education, suddenly the funds are available. The same has happened in the Scottish Parliament.
This should give a new optimism to the campaign to save EMA across the country. It's not only the Welsh assembly and Scottish parliament that have control over how money is spent.
Youth Fight for Education demands that local councils follow suit and continue to provide EMA even if the central funds stop.
Any council that did this would be backed up by a surge of support from workers and students in their area and beyond.
The WAG has also promised to subsidise the increase in fees for Welsh students meaning that none will pay more than the current £3,290. This will cost around £330 million and again shows the pressure that politicians are feeling from students.
This move, however, is not as straightforward a victory as the decision to maintain EMA.
It is likely that it will be compensated for by further cutting the higher education budget and assuming Welsh universities can make the money back from English students paying full fees. This shows that the fight is far from over in Wales.
The WAG decision was also clearly influenced by the fact that Welsh students have already had their fees doubled this year as the previous scheme where they received half the cost back was ended from September. The WAG undoubtedly feared that fees jumping from £1,285 to £9,000 a year would create even more anger amongst Welsh students.
However, it is still a significant move that will prevent tens of thousands of students being burdened with the levels of debt being foisted upon the rest by the Con-Dems.
The movement against cuts and fees must avoid falling into the divisive trap of seeing this as what the Daily Mail calls "fees apartheid".
On both fees and EMA, there is the potential to force the Con-Dem government to back down, even if the cuts are formally voted through.
The WAG decisions have made it clearer than ever that we can win and, in fact, that we are winning. They are victories for the whole movement, which must be built on.
Sixty students from Haberdasher Aske's Hatcham College in New Cross Gate joined the central London protests on 24 November. They were led by Jack Jordan, a year 11 student from the school. I interviewed him to find out a bit more about building for the walk-out.
Jack had been thinking about joining the protest with a few of his friends, when he realised that there were a lot more students interested too.
He created a Facebook group, which had over 100 members in three days. It was gradually noticed that with so many people going, the most effective course of action was to stage a walkout, and meet up with students from nearby Goldsmiths University.
The number of students that took part in the walk out made it impractical to punish them when they returned to school.
Jack also attributes the lack of reprisals to a statement from the National Union of Teachers that pledged its 'strong support' for students and teachers in the struggle against tuition fees.
Jack also spoke of the importance of making any action as well publicised as possible, and open to everyone.
The Tory/Liberal-led Birmingham council is preparing to trim £300 million from its budget by 2014 by cutting 10,000 jobs and devastating services. Amongst the cuts is its chilling proposal to set eligibility criteria for social care at 'super-critical'. This will become the norm for disabled and older people across England and Wales unless the Con-Dem cuts are stopped.
Adult social care services are provided under a 'Fair Access to Care Services' policy.
This identifies the four social services eligibility bands - low, moderate, substantial and critical.
Birmingham council is aiming to restrict formal council-funded care to people with critical personal care needs, excluding those with substantial needs and those with critical needs who do not need help with personal care.
In layman's terms, the only social services that will be funded are those that ensure disabled people with the most complex needs are fed, bathed, dressed and toileted, and kept safe from serious harm, neglect or abuse.
This move will go much further than the already draconian critical eligibility criteria of Northumberland, West Berkshire and Wokingham councils.
For now, these councils meet all critical needs, including help with involvement in work or adult education and vital social relationships or family responsibilities.
Those disabled people and family carers living in Birmingham who will no longer be eligible for help will be expected to turn to charities and the voluntary sector for information, advice, advocacy and support.
This will not be much comfort for those who need a lot of physical help to get dressed, stay clean and tidy their homes, or those who are being neglected or abused but do not qualify for support.
Neither will it help the thousands of children under 16 in Birmingham who already provide care and support to parents and siblings, or the tens of thousands of family carers.
In keeping with Cameron's Big Society, Birmingham council is emphasising the role of volunteers in the provision of some council services.
But the thousands of social care workers who struggled to work every day during the severe weather have a right to ask if volunteers would do the same thing even if a vulnerable person was relying upon them.
When Birmingham council goes 'super-critical' it will be the logical conclusion of the underfunding of social services by successive Tory and New Labour governments since the 1980s.
The Fair Access to Care Services policy was introduced by New Labour to ensure social services provision was consistent across England and Wales.
It turns out that the only consistency being achieved is the decimation of essential social services for hundreds of thousands of working class people.
ON 1 December the Daily Mirror published an article revealing secret plans by the Tory dominated Local Government Employers (LGE) group on how to sack workers using stealth tactics and to prepare for a bitter battle with unions.
As well as advising councils to sack thousands of low paid workers it also suggests this should be attempted without union involvement. The plans include replacing full-time staff in libraries, museums and sport centres with volunteers.
Council chiefs are urging a hard line with the unions in negotiations. These tactics expose the true anti-union nature of LGE and show that they are prepared to use any means possible to make working-class people pay the price for the crisis in their system.
Many local authorities are already applying an 'over the top' attitude to sickness absence and capability procedures in order to get rid of workers without the need to pay redundancy payments.
The trade union movement needs to expose these anti-union and anti-working class plans and organise resistance both to the cuts and the methods used to implement them.
The leaked document shows that the ruling class and their hatchet men and woman in local government are prepared to co-ordinate on a national scale to attack the jobs and pay and conditions of public sector workers. Only a similarly determined approach from the unions on a national scale will be effective in stopping this onslaught.
The bosses have always been prepared to use illegal methods such as blacklists or intimidation to get rid of trade union activists. Even where they have been shown by the courts or employment tribunals to have broken the law, employers have regarded any cost awarded against them as being a price worth paying.
The LGE plan is just another example of how the drive to make cuts in local government has lead to a total disregard for the rights of workers and their unions. Hampshire County Council for instance has attempted to carry out cuts bit by bit as they restructure each department in turn. Often they have only given a short period of notice to the unions of their plans and attempted to present us with a fait accompli.
However, Hampshire Unison has not been prepared to accept each cut in isolation and is campaigning amongst members to resist the whole cuts package. As trade unionists we need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to fight back.
NEATH AND Port Talbot local authority has reached an agreement with the majority of unions, including Unison, representing its 7,000 workforce on implementing massive cuts.
The deal confirms what Unison Socialist Party members have been predicting and many activists have feared, that Unison's leadership, with some exceptions, is prepared to concession bargain away hard fought for terms and conditions in the forlorn hope that this will protect jobs.
The agreement includes a pay cut for most staff of up to 2% on top of a three-year pay freeze already announced, reductions in unsocial hours and overtime payment and this is just the start.
Instead of providing leadership and opposing these cuts massive concessions on terms and conditions are conceded without a fight. This will give the green light to local authority employers to go for gold.
Whilst the phrase 'dented shield' has not been used by the union bureaucracy in Wales and nationally, this is their policy in all but name. Concede on terms and conditions, batten down the hatches and wait for the New Labour knight in shining armour to arrive to save the day.
Aside from the fact that New Labour before the general election was planning a similar attack on the public sector, our members can't wait five years for a reprieve.
Neath and Port Talbot is a Labour council which threatened to sack the whole workforce. We need union leaders that will stand up to the employer, the Welsh Assembly and the Con-Dem government.
The cuts to terms and conditions in Neath and Port Talbot, massive though they are, will not protect jobs. In many areas of Wales anti-cuts campaigns have been set up to organise the fightback. The students have shown the way in fighting back. We need to link with students, other unions and community campaigns to build a campaign that will defeat the cuts.
As part of a national day of protests on unpaid tax, Nottinghamshire SOS (Save Our Services) organised a protest outside a Vodafone store before moving on to other stores to expose tax avoidance by companies. Each Vodafone store closed during the protest outside it.
The HMRC permanent secretary for tax, Dave Hartnett, has allowed the phone giant to avoid paying an estimated £6 billion tax. As one placard nicely put it, "Dave Hartnett - Vodacrony".
The protest raises the question of how to stop tax avoidance schemes when large corporations wield massive economic power and will threaten governments if they feel their profits are threatened.
For example, how can Kraft, the owners of Cadbury, be stopped from moving substantial parts of the chocolate manufacturer to Switzerland which has a far lower rate of corporation tax? The answer: public ownership under democratic workers' control and management.
The march was joined by students from both Nottingham universities who arranged to meet after the ending of the University of Nottingham occupation.
This was followed up by a meeting to discuss building for the 9 December protests.
Just as the student movement reaches Day X, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) has set out the agenda for its anti-cuts conference on 22 January. On 4 December, the NSSN steering committee agreed that the conference will launch the 'NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts Campaign - unions and communities together to save jobs and services'.
It was agreed to ensure the maximum amount of discussion time at the conference to encourage trade union activists, students and anti-cuts community campaigners to discuss the strategy needed to defeat the Con-Dem cuts.
There was a big debate at the meeting, which reflected the different views on the steering committee about how the NSSN should move forward. From its inception in 2006 as an initiative of the RMT transport workers' union, the Socialist Party recognised the possibilities of the network as a vehicle to revitalise the trade union movement.
In many ways, the launch of the NSSN was an anticipation of the hectic times over the last few months, which have begun to see fresh forces coming into the anti-cuts movement. Last year, we saw, albeit on a smaller scale, the NSSN prove to be a crucial organiser in Lindsey, Linamar, Visteon and Vestas.
This year, it has been a key component of the anti-cuts campaign. It held the first conference of the Con-Dem era in the summer, from which it organised the lobby of the TUC in September, which definitely had an impact in pushing the trade union leaders into calling the March 2011 national TUC anti-cuts demo in London.
On 23 October, we called for the TUC to organise a national march but in its absence, the NSSN was one of the prime movers in getting local demos off the ground in London, Bristol and Cardiff. Its supporters have been involved in the setting up of countless anti-cuts campaigns all over the country.
Therefore, for those on the steering committee who tried to argue that, given the existence of the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) and the SWP's Right to Work campaign (RTW), the NSSN's anti-cuts campaign is 'divisive', is to ignore the successes of the NSSN in helping build the movement from the beginning. They also ignore that the NSSN actually pre-dates CoR and RTW.
The NSSN does not propose to declare ourselves as the anti-cuts movement, as is wrongly alleged. We don't ignore the other organisations. In fact, the NSSN officers, on the advice of Socialist Party members, were the first organisation to write asking for a meeting to discuss how we can work together to ensure that we avoid clashing meetings, protests etc.
We participated in the RTW forum the day after the steering committee in this spirit and, along with CoR and RTW, we will attend the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group meeting on 14 December, with Labour left MP John McDonnell and the leaders of the left unions.
However, we are still at the beginning of this movement and while the NSSN is opposed to all cuts - including those of Labour councils and the Labour/Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly - we aren't convinced of the position of the other organisations. We believe that this will increasingly become a major issue of the anti-cuts movement as Labour councils start to implement Con-Dem cuts, like Neath/Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff in Wales who between them have issued 17,000 90-day notices to their workforces.
This has resulted in the threat of a 2% pay cut in Neath/Port Talbot on top of a three year pay freeze! Ignoring this and inviting such councillors into the anti-cuts movement is to give them a left cover and will divide the council workers from the anti-cuts campaigns.
We are in favour of practical unity on a step by step basis to build trust and confidence. There must also be a democratic process in the movement. We believe that the establishment of an anti-cuts committee can bring in fresh forces.
A strong NSSN in the anti-cuts movement, is the best guarantee for the effectiveness of that movement. Yes there are sharp debates in the NSSN but that is a good sign, and something which we are not convinced occurs in the SWP-dominated RTW.
Some other members of the steering committee are opposed to the NSSN's involvement in the anti-cuts movement full stop, because they believe it distracts from the task of building a shop stewards' movement.
We don't believe, however, that the NSSN can achieve its goals in a vacuum. The best trade unionists will be involved in fighting the cuts. The role of the NSSN is to reach them, organise them, put them in touch with other activists and also re-orientate them to transform the unions as fighting organisations. It is in the anti-cuts movement that these activists will come up against the conservatism of the trade union full-time officials, many of whom will be encouraging workers to accept concessions. The class struggle isn't static but fluid and the NSSN like all organisations must adapt to survive.
The NSSN steering committee agreed on 2 October to organise this anti-cuts conference (see details below), a direct follow-on from the statement agreed at its annual conference in June to get involved in the anti-cuts movement. The NSSN is in a unique position to be a unifying force for everyone who faces these brutal cuts because it will ultimately be the organised workers who have the economic power to stop the Con-Dems in their tracks.
About 100,000 have marched in the countless local demos since the cuts were announced on 20 October and of course a student movement of perhaps 200,000 and counting has exploded onto the streets to raise everyone's sights that our class can win this battle.
Tell your workmates, your friends and family and your classmates - get in touch with every union branch and workplace, every fighting student group and every anti-cuts campaign. Get organised and come to the NSSN anti-cuts conference on 22 January.
Saturday 4 December saw approximately 2,000 people march through Norwich. This was in protest against cuts to vital services that the Tory administration in Norfolk County Council will implement on behalf of their millionaire club puppet masters in Downing Street.
The march brought together students, trade unionists, workers, service users and carers, and many others, who again made loud and clear the message to county hall that the people of Norfolk will not accept any cut to any service.
One of the speakers at the rally which followed the march was Felicity Dowling, one of the 1983-87 Liverpool 47 councillors, who demanded and won £60 million out of the then Tory government with the mass support of the people of Liverpool. Her experience of fighting and defeating ideological cuts was undoubtedly an inspiration to all.
It is also worthy of note that not one of the county's MPs attended the march and rally, proving that they are indeed 'all in this together' in their blinkered ignorance of the desires and needs of their constituents.
The same week saw a student occupation and separate protest at the University of East Anglia against the proposed trebling of tuition fees. There was also a protest by students from City College Norwich against the impact that cuts in public transport would have on those who live in the rural areas of Norfolk, essentially denying them access to further education opportunities.
Up to 400 people marched through Coventry city centre in a demonstration called by the Coventry Against the Cuts campaign on Saturday 4 December.
There were banners and placards from the PCS, Unite, Unison, Coventry TUC, GMB, NUT, TSSA unions and many more. Socialist Party 'Fight the Cuts' placards were also prominent.
The loud, vibrant demo finished with a rally with excellent speakers from Coventry TUC, Unison, Unite, NUT, disability rights campaigners and student activists. One of the student speakers, Lenny Shail, gave a barnstorming speech calling for students and workers to link up.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist called for the Labour council to refuse to implement cuts. The council plans to make huge cuts and has recently sent out letters to all employees warning their jobs could disappear. The council also wants 1,000 workers to give up their jobs as part of a voluntary redundancy programme.
The rally was addressed by Coventry Labour leader John Mutton, who tried to explain that the Labour council will not be making any cuts. This was met with disbelief from many council workers. A Connexions worker directly challenged Mutton over job losses and how the council are making cuts.
Over 120 people attended a protest against the cuts in Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday 4 December, organised by North Staffs Against Cuts (NSAC).
Trade unionists came together with local community members to tell the local Labour-led city council and the Con-Dem government that we will fight all cuts. There were speakers from the NUT, Unison, PCS, NUS and Unite trade unions, Youth Fight for Jobs and local community anti-cuts campaigners.
Mark Weston explained how parents and NHS workers are taking part in the Save Buttercups NHS Nursery campaign.
Liat Norris from Youth Fight for Education said that if the TUC gave its sanction, millions of workers would take action against these brutal cuts. This is proved by the recent student strikes and demonstrations, including in the nearby Tory bastion of Stafford.
Socialist Party member Andy Bentley, speaking on behalf of NSAC, had a message for local councillors: "Instead of sitting in rooms planning how they can stop us marching, who they can sack or what they can cut, close or privatise, they should join with the growing campaign of opposition to cuts."
Over 70 people attended the launch of Salford Against the Cuts, an initiative of Salford Trades Council, including 'Shameless' TV star and ex-Salford University student Maxine Peake.
Sarah Davies, a midwife and midwifery lecturer at Salford University, spoke for the long-running campaign to save maternity services at Salford Royal Hospital. Sarah appealed to people to support the lobby of the strategic health authority (see page 3).
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, gave examples of the realities of daily life under capitalism, the impact of the cuts and the need for a change of society.
Jane Warburton of the PCS Young Members' Network, said how the cuts effect young workers and promoted the Rally Against Youth Unemployment in Manchester on 29 January.
In the discussion the deputy leader of the Labour council, councillor Lancaster, said nothing had been decided yet about cuts and negotiations were continuing with the unions.
However, in response to pressure from the meeting on a 'no cuts' policy, he said that the meeting could not ask councillors 'to put their house on the line' - ignoring the fact that councillors can no longer be surcharged like the 1983-87 Liverpool councillors. Nonetheless a 'no cuts' policy was agreed, as was support for a lobby of the council at its January meeting.
55 people attended the launch of West Cheshire Against Cuts on 2 December. The mood was lively and the idea of putting forward a Socialist alternative to cuts was greeted with much applause.
The PCS civil service union highlighted stopping tax avoidance by the rich and job creation as alternatives to the government's cuts agenda. Socialist Party members promoted the 9 December student protests, the 11 December Liverpool demo, and the TUC national demo on 26 March. Many people spoke of the need for a movement similar to the one that defeated the poll tax.
Unison's Scottish council, made of delegates from all branches in Scotland, voted on 3 December to raise with the other public sector trade unions the need for a Scottish industrial action strategy beginning with a one-day Scottish public sector strike to fight the cuts. The meeting of over 100 delegates also supported a call that the Scottish Parliament and local councils should set "needs budgets" that protect jobs and services.
The motion on industrial action was moved by Glasgow City branch and supported by the Scottish Unison leadership, with the caveat that any action must be within the law. Speakers from several branches spoke in favour of the motion which was passed unanimously.
The motion calling on elected politicians to stand up to the Tories by setting "needs budgets" was jointly moved by Glasgow City and the North Ayrshire branch, with Dundee City lending support in the debate.
A section of the leadership opposed the motion on that basis it was 'gesture politics' and councils would not agree to it. The movers made the point that Unison must have a 'no cuts' position and that the concept of setting needs budgets was a political tool to deliver that in the short to medium term. It would mean that Unison had a clear position of encouraging Scotland's politicians to fight the Tories.
Earlier in the meeting Unison general secretary Dave Prentis had called on political parties to "oppose the cuts" and stand with working people. The movers of the motion suggested that the call for needs budgets was in tune with this demand. The motion was carried by a clear majority.
Scottish Unison must now use these decisions to step-up the fight to defend jobs and services.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will be standing candidates in the May 2011 local council elections that are taking place in every area of England except London. TUSC is also involved in discussions to organise an election challenge for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections.
The TUSC draft policy platform starts from the basis that councillors can refuse to pass on the cuts. Local groups, trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigns who want to stand candidates under the TUSC banner are invited to a conference on 22 January 2011 to discuss and finalise the platform.
The conference is scheduled to follow the NSSN conference against the cuts also being held on 22 January 2011.
For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The proposals on housing benefit caps have dramatically revealed the tensions within the Con-Dem coalition. High profile opposition from both Liberals and Tories such as Boris Johnson reflects fears of the social and political impact. Leading Lib Dem Simon Hughes said the caps were harsh and draconian and Johnson spoke of stopping "Kosovo style" social cleansing of poor people from London on his watch as mayor, although he backed down later, saying he was quoted "out of context". An unnamed government minister told the Observer that the plans would produce a phenomenon like the highland clearances in the 18th century!
Cameron has taken a hard line so far, dismissing criticism from within the coalition and repeatedly asserting that housing benefit payments of over £20,000 are 'unfair' to hard pressed taxpayers. Meanwhile he claims over £20,000 for his second home.
The housing benefit caps have produced a political row, but the £70 million a year savings are only a fraction of the total £2 billion a year savings the coalition is planning to get through housing benefit cuts. Cameron fears that concessions at this stage would make it harder to implement the full programme.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has claimed that 400,000 social homes will be built over ten years but the National Housing Federation (NHF), the housing associations' trade body, has scotched that claim. NHF points out that, even if built, these houses would not be social housing as previously understood: "The government's strategy will turn the traditional understanding of what constitutes social housing on its head by creating a system based around high rents and short-term tenancies."
The funding would simply cover social housing already in the pipeline. This is at a time when over 1.7 million households are waiting for social housing.
It seems that the government is dreaming of a world in which housing associations build grant-free rented homes for relatively well-paid workers on a commercial basis.
The NHF says that in poorer low rent areas the new higher ("affordable" in Con-Dem speak) rents will still not be high enough to fund new building. In high rent areas, the rents would be so exorbitant that most tenants would be pushed back on to housing benefit.
The NHF calculates that tenants living in higher value areas, such as the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Haringey, would have to earn £54,000 a year "before they could get off housing benefit and be in a position where they could keep the bulk of their additional salary and find themselves better off in work". How many people currently on waiting lists will be able to afford this?
According to the housing charity Crisis, the coalition's plans would mean that the average working family of three would pay £140 more a week for an "affordable" rent than they would for a social rented home in a high rent area.
For example, in Islington, the rent for a two-bedroom social property would rise from £91 a week to £232. The NHF calculates that the effect of the reforms will be a 123,000 decline in the number of social rented homes in the next four years as new lettings are made at the new commercial rents.
Some big housing associations seem to be rubbing their hands with glee. They love the prospect of a fully commercial future. For the boss of London and Quadrant, an association with 66,000 homes, the spending review presents "positive opportunities". He says: "Housing associations now have the flexibility to match their rents on new lets to the marketplace. We remain attractive to private investors, we can commit our reserves and take a step forward as the state steps back."
He doesn't mention that big housing associations were able to build up these reserves as a result of huge amounts of government grants over the years and stock transfers from local authorities.
David Orr, NHF boss, has said: "The new funding model for low cost housing is predicated on high rents... The real solution to the current controversy over housing benefit is to deliver more social housing at affordable prices. In the long term, this is cheaper for the state to deliver than bankrolling ever-increasing housing benefit payments.
"Ministers urgently need to rethink their plans and give housing associations the flexibility to respond to the growing housing crisis in the most effective manner possible."
Councils and housing associations must pledge not to use the new insecure tenancies proposed by the Con-Dems. Housing associations should pledge not to use the higher, near market level rents, and local authorities should terminate preferred partner status and any other support for associations which fail to make such a commitment.
The Department of Communities and Local Government has made it clear that there is no compulsion to use these new arrangements, so Labour councillors and others who claim to regret the cuts but feel they cannot put up a fight on budgets have no reason to backtrack on this issue. Tenants' groups, anti-cuts campaigns and trade unions should urgently seek these pledges.
Independent experts from the University of Cambridge have found that the effects of these cuts will mean that around the country:
Margaret Thatcher's government ended rent control in 1988. In addition they introduced a range of measures to boost the profitability of private renting and reduce landlords' responsibility to keep property in good condition. They also reduced security from eviction for tenants.
The idea, quite openly, was to increase the supply of private rented property by making it easier and more profitable to be a landlord. After the Second World War, there was a massive expansion of council housing and the private rented sector declined to just 11% of households. Thatcher wanted to reverse that.
In recent years, rent increases were fuelled by the housing bubble which was blown up by cheap credit and the availability of buy-to-let mortgages - reflecting the financially driven boom which crashed in 2008. It was no surprise that rents rose. Between 1999 and 2007 rents went up by 44%.
Rent control was introduced in Britain in 1915 as a response to rent strikes and industrial action, such as in Glasgow. A degree of security of tenure was introduced by the first Labour government after the First World War.
In 1957 the Tories introduced legislation to deregulate the private rented sector. This act became hated, led to widespread abuse, famously epitomised by the slum landlord, Peter Rachman.
For a time Labour called for full municipalisation of the private rented sector. When Labour came back into power in the 1964 general election the Tory act was reversed. But Thatcher's 1988 legislation turned back the clock.
Disgracefully the recent Labour government made no move to restore rent control and worse, in the recent Parliamentary debate on housing benefit, shadow Work and Pensions minister Douglas Alexander made it clear that Labour was "not against caps in the housing benefit system" and simply expressed concern at the speed of change.
Does housing benefit buy luxury accommodation for claimants? Shelter research shows that almost one million people have been the victim of a scam by a private landlord in the past three years alone. Nine out of ten environmental health officers working with tenants have encountered landlords who are harassing or illegally evicting them.
The private rented sector has some of the worst housing in the country and tenants fear complaining because the lack of security means it is easy for landlords to get rid of tenants they see as giving them problems. Even if you have a "good" landlord, you must live in the knowledge that if they want to sell up at some point you must move.
In the past, politicians excused the lack of security for private renters saying it was mainly for people needing temporary accommodation while moving for jobs, studying, or saving up to buy their own home.
But now first time buyers' average age is 37 and while it is true that prices are falling, mortgages are hard to come by and jobs are increasingly insecure, pushing home ownership out of reach.
Previous governments expanded private renting through a range of subsidies. This has proved expensive and resulted in a large amount of insecure and substandard housing.
Their solution is to victimise tenants. Anti-cuts and tenants' campaigns should call on councils to use the limited powers they do have to regulate landlords. They could, for example use compulsory purchase proceedings against multi-property landlords who move to evict tenants suffering housing benefit cuts.
Currently, people under 25 can only claim housing benefit for a room, not for a flat - a measure introduced by the New Labour government - but the coalition proposals move the age you can get support to live in a flat up to 35. Spending review documents estimate this will save £215 million a year by 2013/14.
There are 88,000 people affected so it seems they will lose £2,400 a year on average. Citizens Advice say this will: "lead to an explosion of homelessness and will hit single working people on low incomes as well as the single unemployed".
Research for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2005 showed that 87% of single room rate claimants were facing a shortfall even then. They were paying an average of £35 extra a week to cover their rent.
Trade unions must demonstrate their commitment to young people through a high profile campaign on this issue, fighting to reverse the changes - and for pay increases to prevent homelessness.
They should research the impact of housing benefit changes on their members and incorporate the impact into pay claims. The TUC should call for an emergency revision of the minimum wage to reduce the risk of homelessness for low-paid workers. It should be argued that the cost of pay increases would be offset by benefit savings.
Research by the housing charity Shelter shows that one in six home owners are struggling to pay their mortgages, a 78% increase since last year. They also report a 10% increase in calls to their home owner helpline.
So far Britain has avoided the massive repossessions seen in America - although they stand at the highest annual level since the 1990s. But the Con-Dems have now cut support for mortgage interest as part of their benefit "reforms".
When taken with the effects of large scale redundancy and falling house prices locking people into negative equity, it is clear that owner occupiers will not be insulated from the government's attacks on working class housing. In the US and other countries the phenomenon of "jingle mail", where house owners have to give up and send their keys to their lender in the post, has become common. Even that way out is not available in the UK where lenders can relentlessly pursue former owners for debts.
In the casino years before the crash, capitalists turned to the finance sector and speculation for profit, reflecting the developing crisis of capitalist production. Supported by a range of government policies, house prices rocketed. The housing academic Peter Ambrose calculates that if house prices had risen in line with general inflation between 1975 and 2005 the average house price would have reached £60,000. In fact prices were around three times that. He shows that, allowing for inflation, housing debt increased between 1980 and 2003 from 23% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 72%, or £774 billion, and the figure will have risen since then.
Ambrose comments: "This is not just a housing issue. There are much more productive uses for this 'extra' £600 billion of investment than stimulating house prices - building hospitals and schools, investing in research and development for UK industry and repairing Victorian water mains spring to mind. But of course we live in a market economy dominated by a powerful and international finance sector. Short term returns for shareholders rule."
The focus of debate so far has been the cap to housing benefit and the impact on London, where estimates show that over 200,000 people would have to move. But analysis shows that these cuts will affect hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
Shelter comments: "Many are those already on low incomes such as pensioners, disabled people, carers and people in low paid jobs who will really struggle to find the extra money they will need to keep a roof over their head.
"For a pensioner surviving on £98 a week, or those on the minimum wage of £218 a week, these losses represent a significant proportion of their income."
Shelter's research shows the cuts affecting nearly 780,000 people outside of London renting privately who get local housing allowance (LHA).
Of 283 local authorities outside the capital, 81 (29%) will see two bedroom households in their area lose an average of £50 or more, while 156 (55%) will see households losing an average of over £30 a month when the rate at which LHA is paid is cut from October next year.
Ministers repeatedly paint housing benefit claimants as scroungers and set them against "hard working families". Of course rising unemployment is not a result of lifestyle choice. But the unemployed are actually a minority of housing benefit claimants. The rest include pensioners, the disabled and 300,000 workers.
As we reported last week, workers employed by Medirest at hospitals in Buckinghamshire are balloting for strike action to achieve their rightful terms and conditions. These low-paid ancillary workers are working for a company, part of the Compass Group, who make £ millions in profits but won't pay their workers the agreed rates under the Agenda for Change agreement.
Please send messages of support and donations to their hardship fund to: Bucks Health Unison, Room 42, Tindal Centre, Bierton Road, Aylesbury, HP20 1HU, tel: 01296 565568. Please make cheques payable to Bucks Health Unison Hardship Fund.
THIRTY PEOPLE, including midwives, parents, children and Socialist Party members, lobbied a North West NHS board meeting that was expected to rubber-stamp the already deferred decision to close Salford Royal Hospital's maternity services.
A major reorganisation of maternity services in Greater Manchester aims to reduce 12 units down to eight and Salford's unit, probably the best performing unit in the North West, is due to close.
But they had to move the meeting to a larger room as there were more protesters than board members. Protesters Sarah Davies and Sam, a young mother whose baby had been born in the unit, demolished the case for closure.
The CEO had to admit that the reorganisation could not proceed and the final decision is again deferred, this time to February. This is an important, if temporary, victory and testimony to an outstanding local campaign.
Sarah Davies said: "The campaign has so far collected 40,000 signatures on petitions, held a rally which attracted 500 people, gained the support of local celebrities, such as Ryan Giggs whose pre-term baby was cared for at Hope; we have enlisted the support of the council and all local MPs.
"Fighting and having a success, as we have done this week, gives people confidence. Since the decision the mood at the hospital has lifted, and all those people who said 'I don't know what you're bothering to fight it for' have been very quiet!"
We now need to use this respite to lobby local GPs and get them to publicise their opposition to closure, and continue to mobilise opinion in the city through the trades council, the newly formed anti-cuts campaign and the Shop Stewards Network. We can win.
FOLLOWING A BBC South 'Inside Out' programme in October that showed the moment in January 2009 when a nurse switched off a ventilator that led to a disabled man being permanently brain-damaged, film of the incident went 'viral' on the internet.
The victim, Jamie Merrett, a former plumber who was paralysed in a car accident in 2002, received care at his home in Devizes, Wiltshire which was funded by his local primary care trust. Before the 2009 incident Jamie used a ventilator both day and night, but like many who are tetraplegic he lived independently, operated an electric wheelchair on his own, and used a computer.
Media reports painted his personal situation partially in tragic tones. But examples, such as the writer and academic Mike Oliver and BBC radio producer and New Statesman blogger Victoria Brignell, illustrate that tetraplegia itself is not a barrier to a full and varied life.
Rather it is social factors such as access to personal assistance or care workers, accessible housing and transport, high-quality health services and comfortable living conditions that are key. The tragedy of Jamie's situation is that a lack of support was not a factor, but rather the way it was delivered.
Because of his concerns, Jamie had set up a camera above his bed to record how he was being cared for. After his ventilator was switched off, the BBC film showed the nurse and a second care worker panicking as they did not know how to restart it. The nurse tried to manually resuscitate Jamie using an Ambu bag, but failed to connect it to his tracheotomy. 21 minutes later, paramedics restarted the ventilator.
As someone who uses ventilation at night, I am aware of how critical it is that my helpers do not alter the settings on my ventilator. I am fortunate that the health element of my support is delivered through my local authority care package so I am able to use the same personal assistants all the time.
They are therefore familiar with the various pieces of equipment I use, and follow my instructions and respect my approach to personal care matters.
In Jamie Merrett's case, he used agency staff from Ambition 24hours. The assumption is that agency staff have the skills to follow a care plan and use any equipment. The fact that both the nurse and care assistant could not restart the ventilator demonstrates this assumption is wrong. Equipment and personal care routines differ from person to person. Therefore training and shadowing should be carried out first.
But the resources are simply not available to do this for agency based care packages that already cost in excess of £90,000-£100,000 a year.
For many years I have used the British Nursing Agency (BNA) for cover when my personal assistants are on holiday or are sick. Recently I rang my local office to find I was speaking to someone based in South Africa. BNA had been taken over by the A24 Group and its administrative operations merged with Ambition24hours. The local BNA office had closed.
Whilst the South African staff are always friendly and diligent, workers in a local office get to know both their staff and disabled clients over time, and understand which workers are the best match for particular disabled people.
In a globalised world where capitalist companies are looking to cut costs, moving administrative functions abroad to countries where labour costs are much lower makes sense to them. Profit is the bottom line. If this can happen with an agency, it is easy to imagine how the administrative side of local authority social services could go the same way.
Jamie Merritt understood straight away the gravity of his situation and made clicking sounds through his face mask to warn the nurse and care assistant.
For severely disabled people, small mistakes can be catastrophic as the impact on Jamie shows.
DESPITE THE crushing electoral defeat for the British National Party (BNP) in May 2010, and the internal struggles it caused them, the discontent and anger they were exploiting still exist in Barking. This documentary clearly shows that many working-class people in Barking feel that Labour no longer understands or represents them.
It's a good introduction to why a far right, racist group like the BNP has been able to build support. The tragedy of the BNP supporter whose son died in Afghanistan, fighting in a war his father didn't support, brought home the failure of Labour's policies in a deeply personal way. The BNP quickly exploited his grief, asking him to be part of their election broadcast.
The Labour Party's total inability to adopt pro-working-class policies to create a positive alternative to the racist, far-right BNP comes across clearly. This left Margaret Hodge's campaign at a severe disadvantage, with her strongest argument being that voters should "hold their noses and vote for me to keep the BNP out".
The footage of Hodge wearing Jimmy Choo shoes at a building site for a photo-opportunity about a few new houses being built by Labour summed her up.
The documentary concentrated on the personal and unfortunately didn't show the true colours of either Hodge or the BNP. Hodge came across as a well-meaning liberal who hated racism, but she has been prepared to whip up racism and anti-immigrant prejudice to win votes back from the BNP and save her parliamentary career.
Three months before the election, Hodge wrote an article in the Daily Mail calling for migrants to "earn" the rights to benefits and council housing - as if most migrants were given these things automatically on arrival at the airport.
A few facts like this, or about Labour's record at scapegoating migrants for their own failures in government, would put Hodge's complaint that every issue "is seen through the prism of immigration" in context!
One BNP canvasser in The Battle for Barking says "most of us who were in the party, we're ex-Labour members and ex-Labour supporters, we just believe that the party's left us behind." But, faced with a voter who refuses to consider voting BNP because they are "Nazis", the canvasser dismisses this as "nonsense".
Similarly to Hodge's actual record, none of the BNP's Neo-Nazi links, ideas or history are really discussed. It's almost as if the word "Nazi" is just an insult without real meaning thrown by both sides at each other. The documentary let people present themselves as they choose without real challenge, so the BNP's rich backers and their anti-working-class, divisive policies were not discussed.
It also reflects the de-politicisation of the anti-BNP campaign by Hodge, the Labour Party and groups like Unite Against Fascism (UAF) who would not criticise Hodge or the Labour Party publicly for their role in opening the door to the BNP.
This allowed the BNP more support than they would have got if a more radical campaign, promoting a real left alternative locally, had developed in time. A march through Barking during the election organised by Youth Fight for Jobs, demanding work on a living wage and free education, got an excellent response.
Fortunately, as the documentary shows, the BNP got plenty of opposition from both voters and local youth. But until a new party of the working class is built, the door remains wide open to the far right. Anti-cuts, trade union and socialist candidates standing in next year's local elections can help towards building this party!
On Saturday 4 December around 250 local activists in Hull, including trade unionists, Kurdish people and users of the Pearson Park mosque, joined together to oppose a hate-spreading demonstration by the British National Party (BNP).
The BNP oppose a planned extension in the tiny Mosque, one of only three in the city. BNP members met just outside the park but, when they saw the number of anti-racist protesters, cancelled their demo, as they would have been outnumbered by 20 to one.
The anti-racist protest heard speakers from trade unions and local groups.
Matt Whale, from Youth Fight for Jobs, spoke of the need to link anti-racist campaigns with the anti-cuts movements to fight for jobs, homes and services.
Though BNP members were prevented from holding their planned demonstration, police effectively kettled the anti-racist demonstration, leaving the BNP free to campaign and hand out leaflets.
PROTESTERS VOICED their anger at Global Coal Management Resources Ltd (GCM), outside the mining company's annual general meeting (AGM) in central London on 6 December. The focus of the protest was GCM's aim to develop one of the world's largest opencast coal mines in Phulbari, northwest Bangladesh.
Clearly nervous at the attention, they locked themselves into the building. GCM then announced the AGM's 'success' at 11.46am - just three-quarters of an hour after it was due to start!
If this project goes ahead, up to 120,000 people will be displaced and vital food-producing land will be destroyed in a country where there is widespread hunger. On top of this, water access of tens of thousands of people will be cut while the risk of pollution to existing water sources will be greatly increased. A huge area of mangroves, which play a critical role in controlling extreme weather event devastation, will also be severely damaged.
There is mass opposition to this project. This came to a head when over 70,000 people demonstrated in Phulbari in August 2006 against the same plan by Asia Energy - as GCM was known at the time.
Paramilitary forces opened fire on that demonstration killing three young people. But the determination of that campaign and of its supporters internationally, forced Asia Energy out of Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Awami League went on to win the subsequent general election in 2008 promising to protect the interests of the people in Phulbari.
Enjoying a massive majority, the government then broke its word. Once again, however, the government is being pushed back by the strength of the campaign - which recently organised a long march through Bangladesh. (See Socialist Party website's interview with the leader of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports - posted on 18 November.)
The protest in London was organised by the London branch of that campaign and its speakers were supplemented by other eye-witness reports, the London Mining Network campaign group, and the Socialist Party, among others.
GCM's plan is to ruthlessly exploit the resources of Bangladesh, exporting massive profits while leaving devastation in its wake - a new colonialism.
What is clear is that the company does not like to be put under the spotlight, as it was by the London protest. The campaign continues, as does the Socialist Party's solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Bangladesh.
WIDESPREAD INTIMIDATION of voters and opposition candidates and blatant ballot rigging resulted in 'victory' for Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in the country's recent parliamentary elections.
Many polling stations were closed to voters, who also faced violence from security forces. Ballot boxes were stuffed with forged ballot papers. Candidates' representatives and independent observers were barred from polling stations. One candidate got no votes, even though he voted for himself!
The NDP won 97% of seats. If the results are to be believed, over 90% of Egyptians want the NDP regime to continue! It's more likely that 90% want it to end. Independent estimates put voter turnout at 10%-15%, compared to 25% at the 2005 election.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) won 88 of the 508 seats in 2005 (standing as independents as the MB is illegal), becoming the largest opposition party.
Laws were then changed, making it harder for opposition candidates to stand and even harder to win. Supervision of elections by judges was ended. They have a history of independence from the regime. In 2006 hundreds of judges protested against victimisation after electoral fraud was exposed.
Prior to this election, repression of the MB was increased. 1,400 leaders and activists were arrested, MB businesses closed and student members targeted by police. A media campaign was launched, aimed at undermining MB's reputation for being relatively free from corruption.
In the first round of voting the MB did not win a single seat. Other parties that contested the election won five seats between them. The MB and Al-Wafd, a liberal party, then withdrew from the second round of voting, although Al-Tagammu, an ex-workers' party, continued.
While the outcome of the election was never in doubt, the battle within the NDP to become candidates was fiercely fought. A non-refundable, minimum application fee of LE10,000 (£1,100) - three years pay on the minimum wage - did not deter a stream of businessmen keen to gain parliamentary immunity and government contracts.
Many recent scandals have exposed NDP politicians and wealthy businessmen profiting from close connections with ministers and the state. At the centre of this web are 82-year old president Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal. A presidential election is due next year. The government was determined to prevent opposition in the new parliament.
This election took place after a year of protests on a wider scale than for over 30 years.
Workers have been on strike and in occupations. Evicted residents protested over housing and property development. Poor farmers, people with disabilities, students, democracy protesters, opponents of police brutality and others have all been out on the streets.
Last spring at least four different protests took place each day outside parliament, some camping out for weeks.
Inside parliament nobody will be speaking for workers and the poor - against desperate poverty, high unemployment, rising prices and lack of housing, decent health services, education and welfare. This farcical election will fuel their anger.
A workers' party is needed to draw together these different protests. It could win mass support with a programme of democratic rights, free elections, an end to the dictatorship of big business, socialist nationalisation and workers' democracy.
HOWLS OF outrage greeted the news that the Oxford Union debating society had invited Sri Lankan president and suspected war criminal, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to address it on 1 December. But with thousands of Tamils in Britain preparing to picket the event, the Oxford Union cancelled Rajapaksa's invitation citing security concerns.
Earlier that week hundreds of protesters went to Heathrow airport as the man with the blood of tens of thousands of Tamil-speaking people on his hands touched down in Britain. Rajapaksa was being wined and dined at the Dorchester hotel and later met with secretary of state for defence, Liam Fox - while we pay the bill for his security.
Tamil Solidarity had contacted the Oxford Union by phone and email (see below) to demand that the event was cancelled, pointing out the long list of well-founded, well-documented allegations against Rajapaksa and his regime.
These allegations have been given extra weight by Wikileaks - which published a cable sent in January this year from the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, pointing the war crimes finger at Rajapaksa and his crony regime: "... responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka."
However, the US administration weren't prepared to expose an important political ally in south Asia.
Wikileaks also published a US Embassy memo which quotes a British Foreign Office official who claimed that David Miliband, as Labour's foreign secretary in 2009, (cynically) championed aid to Sri Lanka during the bloody end of the country's civil war in order to win the support of expatriate Tamils living in key Labour marginal seats.
"He said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite [the FO official] that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka."
The following letter was sent by the campaigning organisation, Tamil Solidarity, to the president of the Oxford Union calling on the debating society to withdraw its invitation to president Rajapaksa.
We note with grave concern your invitation to president Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the Oxford Union this week.
Despite protestations to the contrary by the president and his regime, the brutality and excesses of the Sri Lankan armed forces in their prosecution of the civil war have been well documented. Let it be clear, we are not talking here about unsubstantiated reports. There is irrefutable evidence of the massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians, especially in the final weeks of the war last year. Irrefutable proof of the bombing by Sri Lankan armed forces of emergency hospitals and aid centres. There has been a series of criticisms from agencies such as the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, to name just a handful. Now, this week, Channel 4 News has released further footage of summary executions which everyone, apart from the Sri Lankan regime and its representatives, agrees is authentic.
Following the brutal finale of the war, hundreds of thousands of Tamil-speaking people were rounded up in open prison camps and held in the most horrendous conditions, lacking basic sanitation, health and other essential services. Still, today, so-called 'secret' camps are in operation.
We could add many more examples - and invite you to look at the reports on our website - to illustrate the true nature of the regime, the head of which you have now invited to address your meeting.
This decision is a gross insult to the hundreds of thousands of Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and worldwide, who are still grieving the loss of loved ones and who are trying to cope with the trauma, distress and fall-out from this most brutal of conflicts.
We urge you to rescind this invitation immediately.
TIMUR KULIBAYEV is married to the daughter of Kazakhstan's dic-tatorial president Nursultan Nazarbayev. In 2007 he paid his golf partner Prince Andrew - fourth in line to the throne and Britain's special representative for international trade and investment - £15 million for his 12-bedroom mansion at Sunninghill Park, Surrey, paying £3 million over the asking price. It had been on the market for five years and is still empty and is now dilapidated.
Leaked US state department cables refer to Kulibayev as the "perfectly tanned" "manicured billionaire", "the ultimate controller of 90% of the economy". He paid Elton John £1 million to sing at his 41st birthday bash in 2007.
But while the rich oligarchy in the former Soviet republic enjoy a jet set lifestyle, Socialist Resistance Kazakhstan - the counterpart of the Socialist Party in Kazakhstan - and other activists have been subject to a vicious wave of repression by the authorities.
Censorship, beatings, frame-ups, imprisonment and torture were used by the dictatorial regime in an attempt to frighten campaigners and trade unionists in the run up to the 1-2 December 2010 summit for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This was a meeting of 56 heads of state in Astana, Kazakhstan, which holds the OSCE presidency for 2010. Mockingly, Nazarbayev opened the OSCE conference on 'tolerance and non-discrimination' earlier this year.
Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, visited Kazakhstan as part of a European parliamentary delegation to investigate the human rights situation last September and was able to report to the European Union (EU) Human Rights committee on the brutal, repressive regime in Kazakhstan and its blatant breaches of human, civil and political rights.
But this doesn't appear to concern the EU or the OSCE who have eyes only for Kazakhstan's oil and are keen to do business with Andy's golf and dining partner.
See www.socialistworld.net for more information about Kazakhstan.