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Editorial of the Socialist issue 969

Westminster sexual harassment scandal: symptom of a rotten system

Eight years after Westminster was first engulfed by the expenses scandal a new outrage is threatening to swamp parliament.

The Tory government, already clinging to power by its fingertips, is terrified that further revelations of sexual harassment or abuse by MPs or, worse still, ministers could force them to call byelections or even a general election.

It is not yet clear how far-reaching the allegations of sexual misconduct by MPs will be. They are, however, no surprise. We live in a capitalist society which is based on a small minority - above all the capitalist class, the billionaires who own the major corporations and banks - having power to exploit the majority.

Inevitably in such a society, among those with power will be people who habitually try to use their status to sexually abuse or harass women and men with less power than them, not least their employees.

No-one should be shocked that among MPs who happily made a mint fiddling their expenses, and who have callously presided over savage cuts to public services and the longest period of pay restraint in over a century, there will be some who also use their power and status to sexually harass others.

Countless women workers have had similar experiences at the hands of employers or managers up and down the country.

Women have also been at the sharp end of the consequences of austerity both as users of, and workers for, the public sector.

Nor should reports that the institutions of Westminster have systematically covered up such behaviour for decades (for example parliamentary whips storing up records of misbehaviour, not to report it but to use to make sure MPs voted the 'right way') come as a surprise after years of revelations about how different capitalist institutions covered up the crimes of Jimmy Savile.

Saville, we should not forget, was a personal friend of Maggie Thatcher just as Harvey Weinstein, whose horrendous crimes have triggered the latest wave of revelations, was a personal friend of the Clintons.

Beyond Westminster

That is not to suggest that sexual harassment is only perpetrated by those at the top of society. On the contrary, it exists and must be combatted at every level of society.

Over recent decades important gains for women's rights have been made as a result of struggle, but the oppression of women remains deep-rooted in the structure of society.

Male dominance stems from the existence of a class society based on the private ownership of wealth, science, technique and industry. Therefore to be fully successful, the struggle to end the oppression of women has to be linked to the fight for democratic socialism.

And in order to be able to successfully unite the working class majority in a struggle for socialism it is vital that the workers' movement actively combats all oppression in society, including putting the fight against sexual harassment and for women's rights to the fore.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has rightly said MPs must be held to account for sexual abuse and harassment and that a culture of such behaviour has thrived in Westminster for too long.

Any measures would be welcome that make it easier for workers in parliament to report abuse by MPs, and for that abuse to be dealt with.

However, the Labour leadership should not stop there but raise demands for Labour MPs to be held accountable to their local constituencies and for parliament itself to be transformed into a far more democratic institution than it currently is.

The deep-seated anger at the MPs' expenses scandal is still widespread in society and is likely to be further fuelled by the current revelations regarding MPs' behaviour.

Labour not unscathed

Labour was in power when the expenses scandal first erupted and had more MPs convicted than other parties.

While at this stage it is the Tories who seem most effected by the current scandal it is highly unlikely that any parliamentary party, including Labour, will be unscathed by it.

Part of Jeremy Corbyn's appeal is his record of claiming extremely low expenses throughout his time as an MP. He needs, however, to declare that he supports the transformation of Labour into a party where all MPs are held to account for every aspect of their conduct as a political representative, including their voting record.

The reintroduction of mandatory reselection contests for all Labour MPs, so that local constituency Labour Parties can democratically choose who represents them, would be an important first step.

Labour MPs would then feel the hot breath of the membership on their necks, rather than, as has been the case, imagining they have the right to be an MP for life, regardless of their behaviour.

Alongside this Corbyn should argue for Labour MPs, as MPs who supported Militant (now the Socialist Party) did, to only take the average wage of a skilled worker.

Where expenses are needed, they should be strictly necessary ones only - similar to what some building workers and others are paid as they travel the country in pursuit of their work.

Moreover, rather than the MPs checking and auditing their own expenses, why not scrutiny committees made up of workers, the unemployed, those forced onto benefits and small shopkeepers and business people threatened by the next recession?

Transform parliament

Alongside fighting to transform the Labour Party into a democratic mass workers' party, a campaign should be launched to transform parliament itself.

Socialists and the workers' movement fought for and defend the democratic rights that exist. Our forebears made the greatest sacrifices for the right to vote, a free press, trade union rights and representative systems at local and national level which reflect 'the will of the people'. But the present parliament is a million miles away from this ideal.

The pioneers for democracy in Britain, the Chartists - the first independent workers' party in history - demanded annual parliaments.

The election of any representative for five years to an institution like the present parliament is inherently undemocratic. These MPs are not accountable to the constituents who elect them, other than once every five years, and even then their record is never properly put under scrutiny.

Socialists support all democratic rights, including voting for parliament. We would fight along with the mass of working people against a capitalist attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government as happened in Chile in 1973 and Spain in the 1930s, and is taking place now in Catalonia.

But a more representative and accountable system than we have at present is necessary. The House of Lords should be abolished; there should be a single assembly which combines the legislative and executive powers hitherto divided in Britain.

Members should be elected for a maximum of two years with votes at age 16. MPs could then be elected on the basis of democratic local assemblies with the right of recall by their constituents, and should receive the salary of a skilled worker.

Democracy like this would lead to greater participation by the mass of the population, not least working class women who have borne the majority of capitalist austerity.

Of course, no democratic structure can, in and of itself, prevent individuals sexually harassing others, but it could ensure that they were immediately and effectively held to account for doing so.

In addition, the stinking atmosphere of privilege and the right to act with impunity that pervades Westminster would be destroyed by the fresh air of workers' democracy.

The popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and other similar figures worldwide - like Bernie Sanders in the US - is a reflection of a profound and growing discontent with what capitalism has to offer. Endless wage restraint and growing poverty on the one side and a few at the top drowning in wealth on the other.

Alongside this is increased anger at a truncated democracy which allows unpopular and unaccountable politicians to implement policies against the interests of the majority.

The sexual harassment scandal emerging at Westminster is one symptom of a rotten system. In combatting it the workers' movement should call for its complete transformation along socialist lines.


Come to Socialism 2017

Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th November, central London

Two large rallies and lots of workshop discussions, including 'Women and the Fightback'.
Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 31 October 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.


Catalonia: Rajoy's furious response to proclamation of Republic

Izquierda Revolucionaria, CWI in the Spanish state

The proclamation of the Catalan Republic by the Catalan parliament provoked an immediate, furious response from the Spanish ruling class, state, and right-wing PP government as well as from Ciudadanos (a right-wing Spanish nationalist party) and Psoe (ex-social democratic party).

Through the application of 'Article 155' of the Spanish constitution, they are taking a series of measures which, in practice, mean a coup against democratic rights in Catalonia and a serious threat to workers throughout the Spanish state.

The court proceedings against Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and other members of the Catalan government, accused of "rebellion" and "sedition", are the biggest attack on democratic rights in 40 years.

This attempt to crush a mass movement in favour of democratic rights, undermines the Spanish capitalist regime (known as the "regime of 1978" after the end of Francoism) and underlines its authoritarian features and Francoist past.

We do not wish to exaggerate. It is enough to read the content of the charges drawn up by the state prosecutor, Jose Manuel Maza, to get an idea.

The charges read that the 1 October referendum and the days leading up to it and after it, were "an insurrection, a violent uprising, in which the section of the population in favour of secession, fired up by its leaders, publically disobeyed and resisted legitimate state authority...

"The violence seen in the voting centres was the result of the accused who would pursue at any cost the un-constitutional referendum, imposing it by force of the mobilised multitude."

This state prosecutor, appointed by the PP, says that the millions who peacefully resisted fierce repression in order to exercise their right to vote were involved in a "violent uprising". And all the politicians - including Psoe - who support this accusation say they are defending democracy!

The accusation also refers to the general strike on 3 October. "The strike was not called in defence of workers' rights but as another act of force".

They say that "the events leading up to the proclamation of Catalonia as an independent Republic put in danger fundamental legal rights... which are based on the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation, common fatherland of all Spaniards..."

The crime of "rebellion", which legally implies the use of violence, carries a penalty of 30 years in prison. To justify this accusation the state prosecutor now says that this crime does "not require the use of arms, or combat, or grave violence", and cites as a precedent the case against the leaders of the attempted military coup d'etat against Spanish democracy in 1981!

This shows the nature of the reactionary monarchist bloc in power in Spain today. They aim not only to inflict a severe defeat on the people of Catalonia who have dared to defy the unjust laws which deny them the right to self-determination.

It is also a clear warning to the whole of the working class in the Spanish state of how far the state and Spanish, Catalan or other ruling class, is willing to go to defend their system and interests.

An extraordinary act of democracy

The events of the last months in Catalonia have great lessons. The level of class struggle, triggered in this case by national oppression, which has tested all political forces, has been historic.

It is said that none are so blind as they who refuse to see. The blindness of the Spanish parliamentary left is so extreme that there are now only two positions put forward in prominent media: those who support Article 155 and hold hands with the right wing, wrapped in the Spanish flag and nationalism - and those who speak of the need for "dialogue", and state that Article 155 and the declaration of the Catalan Republic are 'two sides of the same coin'.

The latter figures compare the actions of a reactionary government in defence of the Spanish and Catalan oligarchy, with a mass movement of people which challenges national oppression in the streets, exposing the reactionary nature of the regime of 1978.

The idea that the results of the 1 October referendum cannot be implemented because it was not "legitimate" is an insult to the will of the people. More than 2.2 million people expressed themselves in the referendum, facing batons and rubber bullets from tens of thousands of military police.

What better example of real democracy than a people resisting state violence and the "legality" of crushing their rights.

The turnout in this referendum was as high as the European elections of 2014! The number of votes in favour of the Catalan Republic was greater than the votes cast in favour of Catalonia's current 'statute of autonomy' (which regulates the relation of Catalonia with the rest of Spain and was approved in a 2006 referendum). What election could be more legitimate than one which had to be fought for against all the repressive machinery of the state?

The capitalists, Catalan, Spanish and European, have understood better than the reformist leaders of the left the political meaning of the referendum on 1 October and the general strike on 3 October.

The example of the Catalan people, showing that mobilisation can defeat repression, has won the solidarity and support of oppressed people around the world, and become a point of reference for millions of workers and youth.

Through their direct action on 1 and 3 October the Catalan people, with the youth in the vanguard, opened up a revolutionary crisis.

All sectors of the ruling class are united to close this crisis as soon as possible, inflicting a severe defeat on the movement in the process, to serve as a lesson to other peoples in struggle and to all the exploited.

The reactionary monarchist bloc

Conscious of what is at stake, and of the power of the mass movement for the Catalan Republic, the state apparatus, the monarchy, army and all parties of the regime - with Pedro Sanchez's Psoe to the fore - have a clear strategy. Maintain historic levels of repression while at the same time, combining it with calling Catalan elections on 21 December.

They prefer to base themselves on the terrible political mistakes of the leaders of PDeCat (main, right-wing Catalan nationalist party), and try to resolve the situation via defeating them in elections, securing their own social base inside and outside Catalonia.

At the same time, they have launched a momentous campaign of fear, and another campaign to sow division among the working class and people of Catalonia.

These campaigns have been underway for weeks. Around 1,700 companies have announced their withdrawal from Catalonia since 3 October, sending a clear message: the Catalan Republic is a threat to jobs, and could lead to thousands of redundancies.

We must recognise that this campaign has had some effect, because the leadership of the movement in Catalonia, in the hands of PDeCat but also of the 'left' nationalist ERC and anticapitalist nationalist CUP, has not answered it in any concrete way.

The only way to respond is by making clear that the Catalan Republic will take immediate measures against cuts, in defence of health and education, and against the sabotage of capital, through the nationalisation of the banks and big companies to defend jobs and wages and improve the living conditions of the working people.

None of this has been done. On the contrary, since 3 October they have allowed reaction and the Spanish capitalist regime to take the initiative.

Moreover, since the application of Article 155 the leaders of the Catalan government's response has been pathetic. They have accepted all the repressive measures since then without proposing any response based on mobilisation.

Their cowardice has nothing to do with the heroism of the Catalan working people. They betray the cause of the Republic because they don't want to break with the capitalist system.

Taking advantage of the weakness of the movement's leadership, the PP and Spanish ruling class continue to take the initiative.

The organisation of marches, like the march on 29 October, in defence of the "unity of Spain", which more than 300,000 attended, has been accompanied by a media offensive aimed at winning sympathy from workers.

They stoke up fear about job losses, and criticise Catalan nationalism as an ideology of the exploiting, racist elite, against the immigrant population of Catalonia.

In this dirty work, they have been able to count on the service of a section of the Left, from the social democratic and Stalinist tradition, who have surpassed all precedents of political degeneration.

One case deserves a special mention: the participation in the Spanish nationalist protest on 29 October of Paco Frutos, a former leader of the Communist Party and CCOO union.

A feature of his participation in this reactionary spectacle was to attack hysterically the general student strike called by the Sinidat d'Estudiants on 25 and 26 October against Francoist repression.

This is no accident. The ruling class uses this discredited figure's "communist" anti-Franco past to address sections of the Spanish-speaking working class which has a left tradition, in order to sow the maximum division, confusion and conflict.

The role of these leaders, enthusiastic in their support for the PP's Francoist repression and contributing to spread Spanish nationalist chauvinism, is a crime. There is only one way to defeat this reactionary offensive: mobilising the masses on the streets like on 1 and 3 October.

For this, it is totally necessary to win over the sections of the Catalan working class who initially remained on the margins of this struggle, many of whom were drawn into the mobilisation on 1 and 3 October against repression and the PP, and who today are looking on events with a mixture of uncertainty and scepticism.

The cause of this is not that working class people are not prepared to struggle against the PP or the system.

The reason is that, following the 3 October general strike, instead of maintaining the mobilisation, organising and extending the Committees in Defence of the Referendum (CDR), holding mass assemblies in neighbourhoods and combatting the fear campaign of the ruling class with a working class, socialist policy, the masses were sent home, and the initiative was left in the hands of Puigdemont and co.

The Catalan Republic will only triumph if it is linked to a political programme of action against austerity and cuts, which breaks with the logic of capitalism and the domination of big capital, both Spanish and Catalan.

The Republic must be of the people and for the people, the workers and youth. We cannot leave this Republic and its defence in the hands of capitalist politicians from PDeCat who have resisted executing the will of the people up until the last minute and continue to show their cowardice.

In the face of the offensive of reaction, it is scandalous that the 'leaders' of the movement, especially in PDeCat and ERC, refuse to put forward a plan of consistent struggle to defend the Republic which has been proclaimed.

They fear the mass movement more than the Spanish ruling class, because the movement pushed them further than they wanted to go and the revolutionary process could eliminate them too.

For this reason they try to limit the proclamation of the Republic to a symbolic act, and demobilise the masses.

The "equidistant" left

The fact that the reactionary bloc is allowed to sow division and stoke up Spanish nationalist prejudices among sections of Spanish workers, is not only down to the role of Psoe or the leaders of the CCOO and UGT trade union federations, who in practice collaborate with the Spanish and Catalan ruling classes.

The leaders of organisations with big parliamentary support and which are to the left of Psoe, like Podemos and Izquierda Unida ('United Left' - IU), are also adding to the confusion.

They defend a position of 'equidistance' between the regime of 1978 and the mass movement in Catalonia, and say that the Republic is not "legal" or "legitimate".

Far from helping the cause of the working class and youth in Catalonia or the struggle against national and class oppression, they strengthen the arguments of the Spanish ruling class.

At a moment like this, all organisations are tested. What should be the role of Unidos Podemos (the parliamentary alliance of Podemos and IU)? The answer is obvious: lead and organise the mass response on the streets against 155 and a movement in solidarity with the Catalan Republic, linked to a programme against the cuts and corruption, to remove the PP from government and defeat the regime of 1978.

However, far from this, they continue to insist on arguments which echo the attacks of the Spanish ruling class: that 155 and the Catalan Republic are a result of the lack of "dialogue" and political "responsibility" of both sides.

It is as if these leaders had never heard of class struggle and do not realise that we have reached this point precisely because the Spanish ruling class will never accept a legal referendum in Catalonia.

They will not accept it because the Spanish capitalists will not abandon a market like the Catalan one, which represents almost one fifth of Spanish GDP.

They will never allow the Republic to be proclaimed "legally" as this would open the door to a movement - as we are now seeing - which would sooner or later spread to the rest of the state and threaten their regime.

Of all these leaders, Alberto Garzon, leader of IU, is the one who has most virulently opposed the democratic national aspirations of millions of Catalans, pouring scorn on a movement which has faced the PP and the state with a determination which has inspired millions around the world.

Garzon has always preached "Republicanism" but now is viciously opposed to the Catalan Republic, because it breaks with the legality of the Spanish ruling class! The worst aspect is that he tries to justify his position with reference to the great Marxist thinkers, when in reality he falsifies Marxism in a grotesque manner, approaching the position of Spanish nationalist chauvinism, assisting the Spanish ruling class in sowing division in the working class movement and feeding Spanish nationalist prejudices.

Garzon claims to be a Marxist but the principle of Marxist dialectics is that the truth is concrete. It was not Puigdemont or PDeCat which put the regime of 1978 in crisis but the mass revolutionary movement of the Catalan masses.

In fact, the different political formations of the Catalan bourgeoisie have been pillars of capitalist stability for decades, supporting the right-wing governments of Psoe's Felipe Gonzalez and the PP's José Aznar, and defending the interests of the oligarchy.

It is true that the turn of PDeCat towards a pro-independence position was, at the time, a political manoeuvre to distract attention from their cuts policies and neutralise the mass opposition to them on the streets of Catalonia.

It is also clear that the position of the CUP and ERC, of providing parliamentary support to PDeCat to implement its neoliberal agenda in exchange for support for independence, is a complete mistake.

However, it is equally if not more mistaken to refuse to support a mass movement, calling it reactionary, and implore Puigdemont and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy to sit down and negotiate, precisely at a time when PDeCat is being totally surpassed by the mass movement which has brought about a revolutionary crisis. With who exactly should the movement negotiate? How can we demand an "agreed and legal" referendum from those who respond with police brutality and coup methods against the Catalan people?

Garzon has said repeatedly that "Rajoy and Puigdemont sitting down to talk would solve part of the problem already".

What does this have to do with the position of Marx and Lenin on national oppression and revolution? Nothing, but it has a lot to do with the position of Santiago Carrillo (former leader of the Communist Party of Spain - CP) in 1976-78 when the CP - then a mass working class party - called for dialogue and consensus with the Spanish ruling class and inheritors of the dictatorship, in order to abort a revolutionary situation which was escaping their control.

Carrillo and the CP, together with Gonzalez and Psoe, were the main architects of the regime of 1978. At the time the CP was the main party of the working class.

Today, despite the dignity and commitment to socialism of many of its members, it is not a shadow of what it once was.

Does its collapse have nothing to do with its policy during the 'Transition' (to 'democracy' after Francoism)? The CP leadership then were enthusiastic supporters of the Spanish flag, king, and Francoist amnesty law which left the dictatorship in impunity following its crimes.

The CP leadership sacrificed the heroic struggle of its membership in order to "consolidate democracy", which in reality meant allowing the capitalists to regain control of the situation.

The CP leadership opposed the right of self-determination of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia, and as a result became politically insignificant in these territories. Why does Garzon draw no conclusions from this?

More than 100 years ago Lenin wrote a magnificent text - The Right of Nations to Self-Determination - establishing the position of revolutionary Marxists.

Lenin was not nationalist, nor was Marx or Engels. They were internationalists but understood that the defence of self-determination of oppressed nations, like Catalonia today, was a priority in the fight for socialism.

Fighting against national oppression is just as important as fighting class oppression. Of course, in a national liberation movement, Marxists never subordinate ourselves to the capitalist class of the oppressed nation, in this case the Catalan bourgeoisie, or their political representatives (PDeCat).

On the contrary, at the same time as we fight for the right to self-determination - which of course includes the right to independence - we link it to the fight for a revolutionary programme and the socialist transformation of society.

The current crisis in Catalonia, as in other historical epochs, has opened up the possibility of winning a Catalan Republic through revolutionary means, based on the direct action of the people, youth and workers.

This is what terrorises the Catalan bourgeoisie which has made an ultimatum to the masses: abandon your revolutionary pretensions or we will unleash economic chaos and plunge you into misery. The same as the Greek bourgeoisie did to the Greek people!

Do these facts not make Comrade Garzon reflect? What conclusion should we draw from the alliance between the Catalan and Spanish bourgeoisie against a Catalan Republic? Garzon and other leaders of IU and Podemos call for a "constituent process", sometimes for a "federal republic" in Spain.

But they do not clarify the class character - capitalist or socialist - of these proposals. Also, how do they plan on initiating this process for this republic? Via an 'agreement' with the Francoist state and PP? Via a 'consensus' with the Spanish bourgeoisie?

The proclamation of the Spanish Republic on 14 April 1931 was the result of the revolutionary action of the masses, of the city and country, who brought down the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and with general strikes and mass mobilisations in 1930 and 1931 forced King Alfonso XIII into exile.

The proclamation of the Republic was accepted by the capitalists as a lesser evil, to try to contain the movement of workers, peasants and youth towards a socialist revolution.

This historical analogy is important. A Catalan Republic won through revolutionary action would mean necessarily a fight against PDeCat and Puigdemont, against the political and economic elite which has ruled Catalonia with the same neoliberal policies as the PP.

The battle against capitalist oppression would be the key to mass action. It could open the door to a government of the left which would have to immediately end the cuts and confront the dictatorship of big business in Spain and Catalonia, nationalising the banks and big companies.

The Catalan, Spanish, French and European capitalists know it well, which is why they try with all their might to crush the movement.

The capitalist media know it well, which is why they publish their incendiary reactionary articles. Garzon however, continues to repeat that the heroism of the Catalan people in their fight for a republic only benefits the forces of reaction.

The tasks of the mass movement

In proclaiming the Catalan Republic in words, the capitalist politicians leading the Catalan government from the PDeCat party have gone much further than they wanted to, pushed on by the mass movement.

Their faces when they declared the Republic were funeral faces. Since the Catalan capitalists have understood that a revolutionary crisis had been triggered, they have piled pressure on Puigdemont and co to retreat.

Since then, they have constantly manoeuvred to retreat and give in to the PP and Spanish state. They are now in total chaos, with speculation that they will seek asylum in Belgium.

The Catalan capitalists and their representatives in PDeCat are again betraying the cause of Catalonia and the Republic.

Instead of calling for mass mobilisation against 155 and repression, and suffering the same situation as hundreds of thousands of working class fighters have, these bourgeois politicians prepare to heroically flee, and become symbolic figures in exile.

This does not serve the interests of the struggle, only their own image and personal prestige.

The balance of forces in Catalonia is still favourable to defeating the plans of the ruling class and its attempt to end this revolutionary crisis by dividing the working class along national lines.

Against the campaign of fear the left in Catalonia and throughout the Spanish state must call a campaign of mobilisations based on a programme of social and economic demands which answer the urgent needs of millions of workers and youth.

This programme should be clear: an end to evictions and cuts, defence of public health and education, and nationalisation of the banks and big companies under democratic control to create millions of jobs on decent salaries.

The fighting left must show the working class of Catalonia, especially those who migrated to Catalonia in the post-war years and whose families have suffered under class oppression, racism and humiliation from the Catalan bourgeoisie, that the Catalan Republic we want is not that of the oligarchy, but of the oppressed and working people.

The more time which passes without this programme being adopted, to build a Catalan Republic as a workers' republic, the closer the forces of reaction will be to achieving their objectives.

Abstract declarations of the Republic mean little in the face of a concrete counterrevolutionary attack.

The leaders of the left must be decisive and base themselves on the immense capacity to struggle shown by the Catalan masses, organise a general strike, implement a left government to build a workers' republic, and remove Puigdemont and PDeCat from the leadership of the national liberation movement to end their betrayals.

This is the task of the CUP, Catalunya en Comú (a left alliance in the Catalan parliament) and of Unidos Podemos.

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans view the elections on 21 December as a strategy to liquidate the movement which has led to the Republic.

They are correct: the forces of reaction want to give their repression a "democratic" façade with these elections.

However, it is now clear that these elections will take place, as PDeCat and ERC have promised to participate.

We must understand that mass mobilisation and defending socialist policies is the best way to defeat the Spanish nationalist right wing and their allies, both now and in the 21 December elections, and ensure that the perspective of the Catalan Republic remains viable.

Turning towards the working class of Catalonia, in factories and workplaces, is key to this process. The working class must be in the front line of struggle against repression and for a Catalan workers' republic.

However this can only be achieved if the Republic is given social content, showing that a socialist republic is preferable to a capitalist monarchy which defends the interests of big business, corruption and Franco's political descendants.

The only way to end the confusion, and neutralise the Spanish nationalist campaign, is uniting the workers and youth of Catalonia with their brothers and sisters throughout the Spanish state in mass mobilisation against the PP.

Izquierda Revolucionaria clearly states: this is the task which the leadership of Unidos Podemos, especially Pablo Iglesias (leader of Podemos) and Ada Colau (left-wing mayor of Barcelona), have before them.

The Spanish and Catalan ruling classes look with terror on the proclamation of a Catalan Republic. This is not only because it would ruin their nationalist idea of a great, united Spain.

They know that this would be the prelude to an even more intense and deep struggle in the interests of the oppressed against capitalist domination, against the established social order and for a socialist republic in Catalonia, and a federal socialist republic throughout the Spanish state, based on the free and voluntary unity of peoples and nations.

This struggle is already winning the active solidarity of the oppressed masses of Europe and the world.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 31 October 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.


Socialism 2017: ideas to change the world

The billionaires of the world have increased their combined wealth by almost a fifth in the last year. They now own a staggering $6 trillion - more than twice the UK's GDP! Josef Stadler, UBS bank's 'head of global ultra-high net worth', said that the "$1 billion question" is how society will react to the concentration of so much money in the hands of so few.

What he means is - how long can they get away with it? Young people today are 43% poorer than their equivalents in 1995. Workers in Britain have had their incomes drop by 10% since the economic crisis of 2007-08. Anger is growing.

Capitalist politicians and commentator have no solutions.

Speaking just before her disastrous Tory conference speech, Theresa May said: "A free market economy... is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable, means of increasing the living standards of everyone in a country." But who would believe her?

Even a former government minister and banker recently told the Financial Times: "The underlying promise of western capitalist economies - that a rising tide lifts all boats - has been broken and 'a better model' is now needed."

But it is capitalism, a system that puts profit before people, that is not just broken but incapable of meeting the needs of the vast majority of the world's populations. Instead it brings crisis, war, poverty and division.

At Socialism 2017 we won't be relying on bankers or Tories for ideas on how to defend our living standards and fight austerity.

Socialists discuss and debate the lessons of past struggles, the ideas that our movement has developed through experience, and what needs to be done now to change the world.

We discuss to learn from each other to make our movement stronger and better prepared to fight back.

We fight all cuts and austerity, but also go further. As well as supporting nationalisation of rail and mail, we say that the other major monopolies (banks, companies and businesses), need to be brought into public ownership - under the democratic control of working class people.

In this way, the economy could be planned democratically, to genuinely meet the needs and aspirations of the many, not just the few.

Workshops will include plenty of time for everyone to contribute, raise disagreements and ask questions

How can we make Corbyn's policies real now?

We can't wait until 2022 for a general election - we need Jeremy Corbyn's policies now! And the Tories out! From free education, to rent control, to nationalising the railways, to a £10/hr minimum wage - we need to build a mass movement to win these things and force the Tories to call a general election to get them out.

The Tory chancellor, Hammond, recently described Corbyn as a "clear and present danger" - a danger that is to the interests Hammond and his party represent, the capitalist class of bankers and bosses.

This means that although the Tories are completely split and very weak, they will do all they can to cling on to power to keep Corbyn out. They fear that a Corbyn-led government would unleash a movement of working class, middle class and young people to fight for Corbyn's policies and more - which would challenge their control of the wealth in society.

The Socialist Party has put forward the idea of a mass trade union-led demonstration to smash the Tory pay cap. We also back the call from Socialist Students for an 'education shutdown' on budget day. This should be part of building for coordinated strike action across the public sector. A movement on this scale could force the Tories to call a general election, and bring a Jeremy Corbyn-led government to power within months.

But the Tories are not the only split party. A threat to Corbyn's manifesto also comes from within Labour - the right-wing MPs, councillors and officials who have carried out austerity and attempted to remove Corbyn.

The Labour Party remains 'two parties in one' - the radical wing which has been inspired by Corbynism on one side and the pro-capitalist Blairite wing, which includes the majority of MPs, on the other. Although the general election result has forced some of the right-wing Blairites to eat humble pie, it would be a major mistake to imagine that they are now genuine converts to opposing austerity. We all know that Labour councillors continue to vote through cuts.

In fact, the Blairites are now trying to surround Corbyn to force him to retreat from his radical programme. A battle needs to be waged to transform Labour into a socialist and democratic party of workers and young people that can be a reliable body in the fight against austerity.

Sessions on this theme include:

Young people need socialism

Today's 18-year-olds were eight years old at the time of the world economic crisis in 2007-08.

Is it any wonder that they are now ready to resist and are open to socialism?

Generation Crisis has had enough. Unless they fight back, their future is dominated by debt mountains, precarious working and housing horrors. Two-thirds of young people backed Jeremy Corbyn at the general election in an electoral revolt.

Bernie Sanders, who stood for a "political revolution", is now the most popular politician in the USA, reflecting the rejection of the neoliberalism offered up by the Democrats and Republicans alike.

In the movement against low pay at McDonald's and in the fight against the repressive Spanish state we are seeing young people to the fore.

Sessions on this theme include:

The Russian revolution and Marxism

At Socialism 2017 we will discuss the Russian revolution 100 years ago. But Socialism 2017 will not be a history lesson!

1917 provides a powerful example of how it is possible for the working class and poor to take their destiny into their own hands and transform the world. We will be discussing the impact of the revolution, and also why the Soviet Union degenerated into dictatorship.

The leaders of the Russian revolution used Marxism as a guide to answer the same questions we face today - how can the working class organise to end injustice, repression and exploitation? Leon Trotsky, a leader in 1917, described the revolutionary party, as the Bolsheviks were, as "the memory of the working class" in that they carried all the lessons and understanding of workers' struggle and experience to aid the movements they participated in.

The onset of a deep-going world economic crisis, beginning in 2007-08, which capitalism has still not recovered from, has opened up a new period of social and political instability as the opposition of the working class and the youth has grown. These lessons and ideas will be invaluable to these new movements.

Sessions on this theme include:

Working class internationalism

The leaders of the 1917 Russian revolution, Trotsky and Lenin, were clear that the success of the new workers' state depended on the spreading of the revolution to other countries. They were internationalists - and so is the Socialist Party. We are part of the Committee for a Workers' International, a world socialist organisation organised in 45 countries.

Our internationalism can have nothing to do with international organisations that pursue war and austerity. For example Nato, which has the push towards military intervention written into its foundations. Or the EU, which bans nationalisation of industries and has pushed the living standards of the Greek people crashing through the floor. Working class internationalism means standing and fighting in solidarity with workers and young people across the world against repression, austerity and war.

That is why the situation in the US, where the election of Donald Trump has provoked huge protests and growing hunger for an alternative. And in the Spanish state, where the movement for a Catalan socialist republic is moving to the next stage. Other examples will feature at Socialism 2017.

Sessions on this theme include:


Info

Socialism 2017 is a weekend of discussion and debate hosted by the Socialist Party

It takes place on 11 and 12 November at the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL

All the details of speakers, rallies, workshops and debates are available on the website: socialism2017.net

You can also book tickets, accommodation, free creche places and let us know if you will need mobility support. We need this information by 6 November. Please email socialism@socialistparty.org.uk if you have any queries

As well as the rallies and workshops, we will have the following extra events:

Socialist Books will host launch events to celebrate its first two publications.

Socialism bookshop, lower ground floor on Saturday 11 November:

2-2.30pm: Peter Taaffe will introduce his new book, From Militant to the Socialist Party, which details the Blairite takeover of the Labour Party and the processes which prefaced the world economic crisis of 2007-08

5-5.30pm: Judy Beishon who wrote the introduction to Socialist Books' new edition of Trotsky's essential Lessons of October, will introduce the central ideas of the book and be available to sign copies

On Sunday 12noon - 12.45 there will be readings by renowned writers Meena Kandasamy and Edward Wilson. Room tbc


Robber bosses own $6trn

Take the wealth off the 1%

Come to Socialism 2017!

Andrew Carss, Salford Socialist Party

The combined wealth of the world's billionaires has now reached an eye-watering $6 trillion. Up by nearly a fifth from last year, vast profits wringed from the workers of the world are concentrated in ever fewer hands.

The most powerful force in the universe, Einstein is said to have remarked, is compound interest. Never before has greater wealth been accumulated.

In 2016, nine individuals owned as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world's population, according to Oxfam. At the start of this year it was eight.

Stunning wealth inequality epitomises our generation and is a damning indictment of the capitalist system. The latest numbers come from Swiss bank UBS and financial services and outsourcing giant PwC.

Their report on what they call "value creators" demonstrates how insidiously the world's billionaires have bought influence. 109 billionaires own the top 140 sports teams. Of the top 200 art collectors, 72 are billionaires.

They set up private art galleries, ostensibly to share a small part of what they have with the public. But at best these are vanity projects - which help secure favourable tax treatment.

How long can this volatile situation be sustained? It cannot continue indefinitely. The same report shows wealth concentration is at its highest since 1905! Its lead author Josef Stadler says we are now in a second "Gilded Age."

In fact, Stadler worries wealth inequality could lead "society" to "strike back." Even the IMF - notorious for inflicting vicious, punitive austerity on the workers of Greece and other countries - has suggested tax on the wealthy should be "significantly higher."

100 years after the Bolshevik-led socialist revolution in Russia, the ruling class once again rightly fears a dynamic, increasingly politically active and unified working class.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell's income tax proposal of 50% on earnings of over £123,000 is very welcome. But we cannot fight this system with reforms alone. Recent history, like in Greece, shows all too clearly they can be watered down or reversed.

The working class are the only real "value creators" in society. But we get back just a fraction of the wealth we create for the bosses.

The Socialist Party says the solution is a complete restructuring of society: public ownership, and democratic working class control and management, of banks, industry and top corporations. A socialist plan of production would provide for all, not enrich the gilded billionaires.

Themes of discussions include the 1917 Russian revolution, capitalism today, the fightback against austerity, and what is socialism?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Fight for free education: join the budget day protests!

Iain Dalton, Yorkshire Socialist Students organiser

Ever since June's snap general election, the Tories have been running from one crisis to another, after Jeremy Corbyn's radical manifesto proved far more popular than their brutal austerity policies. Key in this was Corbyn's pledge to end tuition fees from September 2017 if Labour won, winning the support of many young people who face a lifetime of debt.

Socialist Students has met thousands of students over the course of this year's freshers events interested in making that pledge and others in the manifesto a reality.

That's why Socialist Students has written to Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner calling for them to put a free education amendment to the Tory budget. And we're also organising for direct action to take place across the country on budget day, 22 November, in support of this demand.

Maddy Steeds from Leeds University Socialist Students said: "We believe education is a right not a privilege. Increasing tuition fees are pricing people out of education and saddling students with tens of thousands of pounds of debt. This, paired with the cuts to all sectors, means university graduates are increasingly sucked into a debt trap. We need change now."

On 22 November, we'll be marching in Leeds for free education. In the meantime we're lobbying our local Labour MPs to get them to back a free education amendment, with an online petition and campaign stalls on campus.

But we also see the need to link up with others fighting the Tories' austerity - which is why we're linking our demonstration with the fight to smash the pay cap, including with unions in the education sector. A defeat on any of these issues has the potential to bring May's rotten government down - let's fight to make 22 November the end of austerity.

Discussions include: can Corbyn's promise of free education be realised?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Tories u-turn on social housing benefit cap and borrowing to build

Strikes can end this zombie government

Dan Smart

Theresa May's backtrack on capping housing benefit for social tenants is the latest in a catalogue of u-turns. The Tories are in utter disarray.

The proposed cap was responsible for an 85% fall in new home building for some of the poorest in society, according to a National Housing Federation survey. Uncertainty over the callous changes meant plans for 8,800 - a meagre sum to begin with - fell to just 1,350 built.

Of course, the Socialist Party welcomes the scrapping of the cap. But it really serves to show the Tories are feeling the heat following June's disastrous election result.

This followed Communities Secretary Sajid Javid suggesting the Autumn Statement could promise up to 300,000 new houses a year. The last Socialist remarked that he fears the power of young voters priced out of the rip-off housing market.

This proposal was, however, quickly extinguished by Chancellor Philip Hammond, who persists down the blind alley of austerity.

Crisis

Like so many, I have suffered from the housing crisis. When I recently moved to Bristol, I was very excited about living there.

But I quickly found it is nigh-on impossible to rent affordably anywhere near the city centre. In fact, I discovered many young people are now resorting to living out of vans parked on the sides of streets!

London's housing situation is just as bad, if not worse. Blairite mayor Sadiq Khan has finally responded by requesting that the government quintuple London's housing grant to build "affordable" accommodation.

"Affordable" may be a stretch of the imagination. That can mean prices up to 80% of already sky-high market rates. And he says this need only represent 65% of new builds.

Khan should build the whole lot as council homes, and Corbyn should tell Labour-run boroughs to halt their knocking down of working class estates immediately.

Working class and young people's willingness to vote for an anti-austerity manifesto has got the Tories on the run. This must now be harnessed. Corbyn and the trade union leaders need to go on the offensive, with mass demonstrations and coordinated strikes, to finish off this vicious, zombie government.

Discussions include: local government - the next scene of the anti-austerity battle?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

300,000 a year forced to leave work

Unions must fight workplace mental health crisis

Jac McAllister-Green, Northampton Socialist Party

Workers with mental health problems are leaving their workplaces at a rate of up to 300,000 a year.

For those of us who have suffered with poor mental health, the findings of the government's 'Thriving at Work' report are unsurprising.

Work is becoming more stressful. The financial uncertainty and instability of poverty pay, zero-hour or other insecure contracts, and bullying management is becoming more apparent.

Too many of us cannot cope with conditions in our workplaces. We are effectively forced into leaving jobs, finding ourselves at the mercy of a punishing 'welfare' system.

I have experienced this first-hand in more than one previous workplace. I can state with conviction it has a deleterious effect on your confidence. It makes you question your ability to do the job.

I was subject to workplace bullying in a public sector role. I was forced to explain bouts of absence to my colleagues - the presumption being my mental health issues were insignificant.

At the time, I was homeless, having been made redundant from another public sector job and unable to keep up with increasing living costs. I was sofa-surfing at friends' houses for a number of months.

My story is by no means unique. This is an all too common occurrence in austerity Britain. After five months, I was out of work once more.

6% of people with long-term mental health conditions move from employment to unemployment each quarter. For long-term physical conditions it's 3.5%.

On top of the huge human cost, the report attributes an economic cost of up to £99 billion a year to failure to support those with mental health problems.

The Socialist Party fights for full funding for the NHS, including massive expansion of mental health facilities, and an end to bullying and insecure work. There can be no doubt the rapid deterioration of morale in workplaces across the country is due to the draconian policies of the Tories and Blairites.

Increasingly, people have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Sometimes even that is not enough to cope with rising living costs. Claimants of in-work benefits are also on the rise. It is simply unacceptable that we are forced into this situation.

The Socialist Party campaigns within trade unions for effective action against poor pay and conditions, and for coordinated strikes to bring down this bosses' government.

The situation will only improve with a leadership willing to bring workers together to fight, demanding decent conditions and the right to real support at work.

Discussions include: mental health and young people - how would socialism be different?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

No to 'Carebnb' privatisation of hospital beds

Nancy Taaffe, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

In the week of Halloween, a truly chilling proposal haunted the NHS under Theresa May's zombie government. Start-up company 'CareRooms' set up a stall in the canteen at Southend University Hospital to find Airbnb-style 'hosts' to take in recovering patients.

It was looking for people who live locally and have a spare room to house hospital users for £50 a night. Hosts would be asked to welcome patients recovering from minor procedures, cook three microwave meals a day, and offer conversation.

According to CareRooms, the scheme targets patients who do not have a family to care for them at home.

Southend Hospital pulled out of the pilot as soon as the story broke. But the supposed justification for the scheme was a 40% increase in so-called 'bed blocking' - peaking at up to 6,000 a day, and blamed by one research team for up to 8,000 deaths.

However, the villains of this horror story are not vulnerable people stuck in hospital beds. It's vampire-like cuts and sell-offs that are sucking the lifeblood out of the NHS and social care.

The Tories and Blairites have drained the whole system of resources, from the moment you walk through the door at A&E to the aftercare at home. Gig economy models like Airbnb are part of the problem, not the solution.

CareRooms is part of the NHS 'clinical entrepreneur programme'. The very existence of that government project reveals the spreading tentacles of private interests in public healthcare.

The chair of one of the Tories' 'sustainability and transformation plan' cuts schemes, Mike Bewick, is an unpaid advisor to CareRooms. Bewick is also NHS England's former deputy medical director. There's a revolving door between management overseeing cuts and privatisation, and firms seeking to profit from it.

What the NHS truly needs is a stake through the heart of all privatisation. The Socialist Party campaigns for an NHS fully funded, fully staffed and free at the point of use. Only a socialist programme can end the Tory and Blairite nightmare in our NHS.

Discussions include: can NHS privatisation be stopped before it's too late?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Them and us

£250k for sexist charity...

The Tories are still going to hand a quarter of a million quid to anti-abortion charity 'Life'.

Who will pay for 'Life' to attack women's right to choose? Women. The gift comes from the Tories' tampon tax, which defines essential sanitary products as 'luxury' goods subject to VAT.

The Socialist reported in April that some young women have skipped school because they can't afford sanitary protection. That's when May's anti-choice handout first came to light.

Capitalist 'feminists' are nothing of the sort. It's no good to women having a woman attacking your rights. Kick out the Tories and their Tampon tax. Fight for free abortion on demand. Only socialist feminism can end misogyny.

... refuge cuts for us

Meanwhile, one east London council has halved its funding for women's refuges since 2010.

Newham in east London, run by the Labour right, provides just more than the legal minimum refuge spaces. And even Newham's spend is 40% higher than neighbouring Barking and Dagenham, also under Blairite control.

In fact, London boroughs as a whole have cut refuge spending by up to three quarters, according to the Newham Recorder and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism.

The Socialist says: reverse the refuge cuts! Defend and extend vital women's services.

Discussions include: women and the fightback - 1917 revolution, 1967 abortion, 2017 against austerity

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Big pharma's bucks...

Giant drugs firms are suing the health service over plans to ration expensive medicines. NHS England wants to limit prescriptions of drugs costing over £20 million a year.

The 'Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry' says this will "delay access to cost-effective medicines." What they mean is it will eat into their obscene extortion of the NHS.

But NHS bosses are set on passing these costs onto patients through rationing, not dealing with the problem at source.

We say: nationalise the big drugs companies. Pay compensation only on the basis of proven need. Use the bosses' profit margin for cheaper prices and more research.

... docs beg for drugs

Meanwhile, doctors have to write begging letters just to get routine treatments for patients.

GPs and consultants wrote almost 50% more exceptional requests for surgery or medicine in 2016-17 than 2013-14. The rise from 50,188 to 73,927 emerged in Freedom of Information requests by the British Medical Journal.

Minor skin problems were the most common complaints. But mental health problems, cataracts, joint surgery and carpal tunnel also made the top ten.

Health workers will do anything to help their patients. End the madness of forcing them to compete for ever-shrinking resources. The junior doctors showed the way: a coordinated strike of health workers could topple the teetering Tories.

Discussions include: can NHS privatisation be stopped before it's too late?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

What we saw

This ad for boots in a Hong Kong shopping centre is a little on the nose. It seems capitalism's not content with working us till we drop for its profits. Now it wants us to buy more stuff to deal with it too.


Discussions include: workers v bosses - who will win the low-pay war?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Coordinated strike action on five rail networks against driver-only operation

Socialist Party RMT members

Rail workers' union RMT has announced coordinated strikes on five different networks to defeat the threat of driver-only operation (DOO).

Workers will walk out on Southern, South Western Railway and Greater Anglia for 48 hours from 8 November and will be joined by those on Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North for 24 hours on the same date.

The RMT has been in dispute with Southern for over 18 months now with strike action spreading to Merseyrail, Arriva Rail North and most recently Greater Anglia. South Western Railway will be taking action for the first time.

Train drivers' union Aslef has held talks with Southern and is currently balloting members on a deal to end the dispute there. Though Aslef rejects DOO, the deal would accept the argument for train guards becoming non-safety critical and for trains to run without them under various operational circumstances.

The result will be known on 8 November - the same day as the RMT strikes. Aslef members on Southern should reject this deal. If they do DOO extension will suffer a fatal setback.

It's clear the government is using Southern as its battering ram to begin the final destruction of the guard grade on Britain's railways. Any settlement which allows a passenger train to run without the second member of staff - under any circumstances - will open up a breach in the battle to retain a safety-critical second member of staff on trains.

The Socialist Party supports the RMT's strike action. DOO should be totally eliminated from the railway, not extended.

Discussions include: Labour and the trade unions

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Arriva bus workers' dispute continues

Coordinate the action with rail strike

Hugh Caffrey, North West Socialist Party regional organiser

The bus drivers' strike at Arriva remained completely solid on the third day of action on 30 October. Big turnouts by Unite members on pickets across the region defied the management's increased attempts to encourage scabbing.

The company's real agenda is clear from their new pay 'offer' - it's worth less in April to July next year than a previous offer! The new offer is of £12.04 an hour backdated to April 2017 and £12.10 from January next year, until the deal would expire in July.

This compared to a previous offer of £12.32 from April next year.

A 3% rise and then a levelling up of the lower-paid Greater Manchester and Cheshire areas, to the Merseyside rate, is what Unite wants and can be won.

A Unite member said that Arriva is immensely profitable and that its British operations are sending £26 million a year to Germany.

There is no shortage of cash for higher wages (and lower fares), and further industrial action can force the company to cough up.

We need the buses restored to public ownership so that profits are no longer siphoned off and stashed away, but reinvested in improving the service.

Understandably some drivers will be looking at the run-up to Christmas, and worrying about the cost of sustained strike action. But so will Arriva! Solid action has already inflicted big losses on the company. Stagecoach backed down in the face of strike action.

Drivers at the Firstbus Manchester garage, also in Unite, are on strike every Monday in November.

Unite has announced further strike action at Arriva, on Mondays through to Christmas. One additional strike day has been added, on 8 November when the RMT rail union strikes on Arriva Rail North and Merseyrail.

Unite and the RMT are both confronting Arriva and coordinated action can strike a serious blow.

Linking the disputes is an obvious tactic. An RMT members' meeting on Merseyside resolved to organise a public lobby of the transport committee to demand they keep guards on Merseyrail.

This is on 7 December, 1-2pm at the Cunard Buildings in Liverpool. Having coordinated industrial action, the two unions should come together to mobilise in force for joint mass action including lobbies and demonstrations to tap into the huge public support.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 31 October 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.


PCS pay cap ballot closes soon

The civil servants' union PCS is stepping up its pay campaign by holding a consultative ballot, timed to coincide with the autumn budget.

The average pay of a civil servant will have fallen by 20% since 2010.

The decision to ballot follows the union's correspondence to the prime minister after the general election demanding an immediate end to the 1% cap.

Damian Green, minister for the cabinet office, in a complacent and dismissive response to the union, claimed that "the civil service offers an exceptional package of benefits which are among the best available". Despite 120,000 jobs cut, there is a "trade-off" between pay and jobs, he added.

PCS is sending a message to the government - scrap the pay cap and fund inflation-proofing pay increases. PCS is demanding a rise of 5% or £1,200, whichever is greater. The ballot ends on 6 November.

Discussions include: workers v bosses - who will win the low-pay war?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

North east England blacklisting conference success

Historic Wallsend, with its strong traditions of trade union militancy in mining and ship building, was the scene for an excellent conference of regional and national anti-blacklisting activists on 28 October. Supported by the National Education Union, general union Unite, and public services union Unison, it brought together activists and campaigners who've fought bitter battles against bosses and even some union officials who break the law to prevent trade unionists from being hired. Tony Seaman was elected this year to Unite's executive committee. He explained that he was unable to secure work in his home area of Teesside for 28 months as a result of construction firms seeking to prevent him fighting for compliance with sectoral agreements.

National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and Socialist Party activists from Unite and the RMT supported the meeting and made contributions from the floor.

William Jarrett, Newcastle Socialist Party

Discussions include: what is the socialist approach to the state?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Teachers, students and parents demand an end to the schools funding crisis

Southampton headteacher and NEU member

Over 1,000 teachers, staff, parents and students put the question to MPs on 24 October: "What are you going to do to end the school funding crisis?"

Schools are facing further cuts due to a change in the government funding formula. But what came across at the National Education Union (NEU) rally was the severity of the crisis right now - a combined attack on schools of underfunding, a squeeze on teachers' pay, draconian testing regimes, a narrow curriculum and privatisation through academies and free schools.

This financial squeeze means that schools are shedding staff, both teachers and teaching assistants, with growing class sizes and no-one to teach subjects such as music, IT and other core subjects. As older more 'expensive' teachers are pushed out or jump under the calamitous pressure of a huge workload and squeezed pay, schools are finding it hard to recruit and retain younger and less experienced staff.

To cheers, John McDonnell gave his and Jeremy Corbyn's commitment: "If Labour had won in June we would have ended school cuts and introduced free school meals. Restored education maintenance allowance for sixth form students. Lifted public sector pay for all. Scrapped tuition fees and restored grants. To provide education from the cradle to the grave, free at the point of need."

His speech was followed by a standing ovation from most sections of the hall. It was a glimpse of the mood of anger across the country and the potential for a fighting campaign linked to Corbyn's manifesto, in mobilising a mass campaign that could force an early general election.

Given the enthusiasm towards John McDonnell's speech, imagine the impact if he was to call on every Labour council to use its powers to fund schools using 'licensed budget deficits', which an incoming Labour government would reimburse. It would rally teachers and parents to build a mass movement to back Labour councils, with demonstrations and strike action to back their stand.

This was what was missing from the lobby. Rather than a launch pad for such an offensive, the opportunity to spell out what needs to be done was missed.

Such is the severity of the schools crisis, battles at a local level are inevitable. The left of the NEU and Unison, alongside other unions, must push a clear strategy forward to ensure these battles are not left isolated but are linked together in a country-wide movement alongside others entering the struggle against this weak, divided and hated Tory government.

Discussions include: local government - the next scene of the anti-austerity battle?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

The "club no-one wants to be part of" - march by families of those killed in custody

Arti Dillon, Southwark Socialist Party

It was heartbreaking to take part in the annual march of Unite Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC), made up of those affected by deaths in police custody, prison and similar situations as more families "joined the club no-one wanted to be part of."

UFFC was originally set up to network black families affected since the death of Leon Patterson in 1992. The campaign includes people of all ethnicities who have been hit by police abuses. They particularly affect working class people.

The march on 28 October ended with speakers - the sons, daughters, mothers, nephews and others related to those who had died. It linked to the wider unnecessary deaths of working class people in Grenfell Tower.

The daughter of one of the Hillsborough victims also spoke of how she had been taken into care after her mother was killed and fought to defend her mother's name due to the vile ways in which the media and state attempted to undermine those who seek justice.

All those who spoke faced massive barriers getting information over what had happened and any attempt at justice. Some have become aware of also being spied upon by undercover police surveillance, including those seeking justice for the murder of Christopher Alder from Hull.

Family after family not only showed the ways lives were being stolen by the state but also how families and friends can and will stand up for justice, despite the trauma they are facing.

Solidarity and practical support was encouraged, inviting families to meetings, sharing information online and backing up calls for change:

Socialism 2017 (11 and 12 November, central London)

Themes for discussions include fighting racism

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Derby: expenses for councillors, cuts for everyone else

Ian Hunter, Derby Socialist Party

The recent publication of the allowances and expenses of Derby city councillors for 2016-17 should cause more than a few raised eyebrows. At a time when the Labour-led council continues to make severe cuts to local jobs and services, the total of £812,749.45 will seem excessive to many in more straitened circumstances.

The figures show that the total each councillor receives consists of a basic allowance of £10,076 a year plus certain allowances such as a special responsibility allowance, travel, subsistence, and carer's allowances. Over half a million pounds is spent on councillor's basic allowances.

In the last four years the council has made cuts of £116 million and intends to make further cuts of £45 million by 2019. Planned cuts for 2017-18 will be £15 million.

The council continues to meekly and slavishly follow the Tory government's austerity policies even though this always affects the most vulnerable in society as local services have been axed and working people's wages have consistently fallen in real terms for over a decade. Simply to say you are anti-austerity is not enough, action is required.

A no-cuts budget could be prepared using council reserves and by borrowing money to restore essential and key services.

Services the council is legally obliged to fund like education support services, libraries and so on, have been cut to the bone.

A range of discretionary services, which carry no legal obligation but have traditionally been funded, include leisure, entertainment, grants to local organisations. These have either been severely reduced or cut altogether.

As an example, Derby Women's Centre, which for years has provided valuable assistance and support for victims of domestic abuse and violence, and is now no longer funded by the council. The support is required as much as ever but the centre and its supporters have to scuttle around constantly trying to raise funds wherever they can in order to maintain some semblance of vital support.

The current Tory government is weak and divided as the recent general election and support for Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto showed. It is time for Labour councils like Derby to be bold and determined to make a real difference and offer hope for the future by ending the programme of cuts.

Discussions include: local government - the next scene of the anti-austerity battle?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Health campaign groups come together in Barnsley to protest closures and downgrades in the NHS

Michaela Bower, Huddersfield Socialist Party

Around 150 people came together from across the north of England in Barnsley to protest against NHS cuts on 28 October. With campaign groups from Lincoln, Huddersfield, Chorley, Liverpool, Leeds and many more, these campaigners long ago realised that, while they must campaign for their local services, this is a widespread threat to the entirety of the NHS across the country.

The strength of the campaign groups will depend on linking up and coordination. As we chanted on the demo: "One fight, we all unite!"

The decision to demonstrate in Barnsley was taken due to the impending closure of the Mount Vernon hospital by the end of this year once services have been relocated to other NHS sites in the area. This will force residents to travel further, and increase the potential for overcrowding of services in other NHS sites.

Socialist Party members from across Yorkshire attended the demonstration, with Huddersfield Socialist Party secretary Mike Forster invited to speak at the rally at the end of the demonstration. Over 70 people bought copies of the Socialist.

Discussions include: can NHS privatisation be stopped before it's too late?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Anger over plan to build housing on Yorkshire flood plain

Peter Robson, Todmorden resident and Bradford Socialist Party member

One resident at a recent meeting in Todmorden shouted out at Tory MP Craig Whittaker: "We know who you are Whittaker - a friend to the builders!"

The government currently requires local councils to produce a local plan which identifies land to meet their requirements for new housing and economic development, over the next 15 years.

The latest estimates indicate that Calderdale, West Yorkshire, will need over 17,000 new houses by 2032.

Calderdale council wants to build somewhere in the region of 7,000 homes on local green belt land in the near future through this plan.

Whittaker and the council representatives failed time and again to recognise the housing crisis in this community, which of course, is mirrored around the country. These will not be affordable homes and will also be built on a flood plain as well as placing a heavier burden on the town's roads and services.

Whittaker said of the Labour-run council: "The council has serious questions to answer about the way in which this consultation process has been managed and publicised and they urgently need to take steps to rectify this." This is true but it is the Tory government and Communities Minister Sajid Javid who are creating the proposals in the first place.

The whole process has been a farce from day one, with forms to submit objections being delayed by a system that clearly could not cope with the number of objections to these plans.

This was clearly demonstrated at the packed public meeting with 200 people in attendance. Fair to say Whittaker did not have an easy time, struggling to respond to fears and concerns.

Discussions include: local government - the next scene of the anti-austerity battle?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Interview: We Are the Lions, Mr Manager

Grunwick: new play celebrates watershed moment in workers' struggle

Forty years ago, super-exploited workers at Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in London were on strike.

Most were migrant Asian women. They demanded trade union recognition and the reinstatement of sacked colleagues.

The Socialist spoke to actor Medhavi Patel, and actor, writer and Socialist Party member Neil Gore, about Townsend Productions' new play 'We Are the Lions, Mr Manager'.

So why the Grunwick strike?

Neil: It was a watershed moment, really. It was a major event in the mid-1970s. A battleground between the right and the left.

The 'National Association for Freedom' [a right-wing anti-union front] and the right wing of the Conservative Party saw it as an opportunity to start their assault on the trade unions.

Between them, this small event in north London became a massive national campaign on both sides, a way to build up their respective stances on the future of this country. There was a great debate about what the role of trade unions should be.

The union rank and file, as always in these events, showed its vast difference with the leadership. There was a massive difference when it came to supporting the Grunwick strikers. The strikers did feel let down in many ways by the trade union leadership.

It lasted two years, 1976-78. It was astonishing really. It was led mainly by Asian women, and that's what made it more extraordinary.

There were a handful of strikes led by immigrant workforces, like Imperial Typewriters in Leicester. But this was the first major strike by Asian women in this country.

Grunwick was instrumental in changing attitudes to race and migrant workers within the labour movement.

And Medhavi, you play one of the strikers?

Medhavi: I play Jayaben Desai. She was the first woman on the picket line, along with some of the others who walked out in support of her, and so she led the strike.

And you're 'Mr Manager', Neil?

Neil: I'm Mr Manager, yes - a fellow called Malcolm Alden. He's still alive.

The pressure of the work, the pressure of upper management on middle managers to get the work through as quickly as possible. Because they were undercutting big companies like Kodak and so forth.

They paid poor wages, insisted on compulsory overtime. The workers were ruled with an iron rod by the mail order department, his department.

They would have to put up their hands it they wanted to use the toilet. They couldn't leave their seats. They couldn't talk with each other.

A lot of commentators, a lot of MPs, said they were Dickensian conditions. They weren't: this was the future of industry. We now see it, in glorious Technicolor, with Sports Direct and Amazon and so on.

Alden had the foresight to see the potential, taking on immigrant workers and treating them badly - and thinking they wouldn't answer back. He picked on the wrong person this time!

[During the strike] they bought a double-decker to get his 'loyal' workers in so they didn't have to face the pickets. And Malcolm Alden used to drive the bus.

This is an important piece of history, then.

Neil: It's the birth of neoliberalism. This is the starting point.

It's interesting to see who was behind the National Association for Freedom. That's the people who then started to campaign for Thatcher and get behind Keith Joseph [architect of Thatcherite economics] and so forth.

I see that Jacob Rees-Mogg is trying to start it up again. We get to meet them.

They gave [Grunwick owner] George Ward a load of money and fought all his legal battles for him. They dragged the whole strike through the courts as much as possible.

The postal workers refused to deliver the mail to Grunwick. It was nearly game, set and match. They got the courts involved. That's when the union leaders said 'we can't have that! Run away! Run away!'

Is the story still relevant today?

Medhavi: Oh my god, yes! Immigrants get the blame for the state of the country. There's zero-hour contacts; the gig culture, the gig economy. People aren't getting paid what they deserve. It's all come full circle.

More and more people are on the breadline. There never used to be foodbanks. People are desperate to get work. There are those who want to exploit these people, immigrant or not. It's very relevant.

This production is inspiring. When being an immigrant is against you already, being a woman is against you already - if they can do it then and still have the strength, what's stopping us now? Like the workers who walked out at McDonald's.

But where does it go to? How quickly does it get swept under the rug? Who knows about the Grunwick strike today? These sorts of things should be taught in schools. Young people can fight for their rights.

Townsend Productions is known for creative staging. What can audiences look forward to this time?

Neil: It was a big challenge this one, it's a big story. We always try to reflect the period. There's a rock concert in there.

Medhavi: You're not supposed to say that, that's meant to be a surprise!

Can we print that or not?

Neil: Yes, you can print that. There's a very inventive set.

Medhavi: We've actually created picket lines.

Neil: I also play Jack Dromey [then president of the local trade union council and a key supporter of the strike; now a right-wing Labour MP].

I play John Gouriet [of the National Association for Freedom] - an ex-army officer-type chap. I play a copper - all those aspects of the strike, I tend to play. Medhavi gets the easy option and just plays one.

Medhavi: I play two, thank you very much!

What's really cool is we use projection on the set to put ourselves in different periods. It becomes part of marches, part of pickets.

It sounds like great fun.

I think there's a really bad rap for political theatre, it can be dreary, but this is a proper show. It will keep you entertained, engaged - emotionally engaged as well.

Neil: There's songs as well, songs from the time.

Medhavi: I think it's a great piece. I think it's fantastic that Neil's written this play not just about the strike but about strong Asian women. You don't often hear about strong Asian female leaders.

It's a fantastic way to engage different audiences and show them that everyone's struggle is the same, regardless of what colour or caste or creed you are.

Socialism 2017 (11 and 12 November, central London)

Discussions include: 'Can art and literature provide a voice for the left?'

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 26 October 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.


Skipton show proves draw of socialist art

Peter Harris, Lancashire Socialist Party

One in six people have never visited an art gallery according to a recent survey for gallery Rise Art, no doubt due to feeling intimidated.

So how did we manage to attract nearly 100 people and local press coverage to a political arts event, the 'Bad Art' Skipton exhibition?

We stressed that all ten artists are socialists and internationalists - and that as supporters of the Bad Art campaign we are not just another art group. We are active in the fightback against austerity, and the struggle for a society of freedom for artists and all workers: socialism.

On entering the gallery, visitors passed through trade union banners and photographs of demonstrations, and could read statements of our political aims.

In the exhibition itself you were immediately confronted with a diversity of artworks. Some made overtly political points. Others were more surreal, but nevertheless presented another world view.

This diversity of work was underpinned by our stressing the primary need for the socialist transformation of society. It made the show a vibrant success, particularly for the young people who attended. We raised money through programme sales and donations.

As socialists, involvement in the arts can be an extension of our main day-to-day political campaigning. The Bad Art project, initiated by members of the Socialist Party and its sister organisations around the world, aims to help further that.

Discussions include: can art and literature provide a voice for the left?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

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He's our neighbour

Everybody knows it, but what a lie it was that austerity cuts wouldn't affect frontline services.

Our next-door neighbour was a long-distance driver and removal man. He's done heavy work all his life.

He's now retired and lives alone, but has friends and neighbours. And thank goodness he has.

He suffers from a range of medical conditions. Most pressingly, he struggles to breathe.

He can't walk anywhere anymore so he drives to the local shops. He eats his dinner every day at the café at the top of our street.

Periodically he is taken off to the local hospital in an ambulance because of his breathing. But more and more often, he is discharged in the night, into an empty house.

Gentrification means that the café at top of the street has closed down and will become a 'bistro'. So Geoff and his friend now drive a mile away to another café every day.

But then he had a prang in his car which has put him off driving. Now his friend is away for a couple of weeks.

He was discharged again a few days ago into a completely empty house - hardly able to walk from the kerb to his door, his breathing was so bad.

He's been assigned a social worker, but so far all she has been able to do is ring us, his next-door neighbours.

We have cleaned his kitchen and bathroom. We have shopped for him, and take milk in most days.

At least until his friend is back, we are taking him a dinner every day. We were going away one weekend - so had to get him stocked up with dinners before we went.

We don't mind. He's our neighbour. But he's embarrassed. A bit humiliated really.

It makes you so angry. He's worked all his life and this is what it has come to.

Paula and Ken, Walthamstow, east London

Discussions include: local government - the next scene of the anti-austerity battle?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net

Gunpowder plotted

The 'Gunpowder' trilogy on BBC has drawn criticism for the violence and cruelty it portrays. This is understandable.

However, the tortures shown in such shocking detail are historically accurate. So was execution by hanging, drawing and quartering.

Any depiction of royalty which gives a romantic, fairy tale view of the splendour of the court - and ignores the methods by which the autocratic rule was maintained - is frankly dishonest.

In the second episode, chief conspirator Robert Catesby (Kit Harrington) witnesses the burning of two "heretics" in Spain - Jews in this case. This is a fair indication that the methods of autocracy did not vary much between England and Spain.

The persecution of Catholics in England was clearly depicted as a means by which the aristocracy, and in particular Lord Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss), enriched themselves. Religion was used as a means of social control and a pretext for torture and murder.

The interchange between Father Henry Garnet (Peter Mullan) and Cecil in the final episode is particularly telling. Cecil accuses Garnet of causing the gunpowder plot.

Although he is not named by any conspirator and is depicted opposing the plot, his preaching is enough to hang him. Garnet responds by drawing attention to Cecil's role in causing the conflict. You cannot expect that people so persecuted will not respond in kind.

Anne Vaux (Liv Tyler) plays a strong woman in a period when society kept women firmly 'in their place'. I wouldn't dream of giving the plot away - no pun intended! - but for most of those involved it was unlikely to end well.

Although gruesome, this is a very good series and well worth watching.

Derek McMillan, Worthing

Discussions include: what is the socialist approach to the state?

Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/26397