Socialist Party | Print
This week has begun with one of the biggest battles in parliament ever - a major showdown between parliament and the prime minister.
Boris Johnson threw down the gauntlet when he imposed - backed up by the constitutional power of the unelected monarchy - the longest suspension of parliament in modern times.
This attempt to head off opposition to his Brexit plans came not from a position of strength but one of great weakness and precarity.
His government has a majority of only one [now nil, later in the day, at the time of posting this editorial!] and his party's MPs are attacking each other relentlessly.
The major divisions at the top under Theresa May continued from the outset in Johnson's new cabinet - most of whom he didn't even tell in advance of his move to prorogue parliament.
He even appears to have fallen out with his chosen chancellor, Sajid Javid, not helped when Javid's media aide was suddenly sacked by Johnson's advisor Dominic Cummings and escorted from her office by an armed police officer.
The precarity extends to Johnson himself. Faced with a significant rebellion from Tory MPs in parliament, attempting to thwart a no deal Brexit, he has felt compelled to threaten a general election on 14 October.
The sooner the better! This must be the urgent message of the trade union movement.
Workers, young people, people struggling to get by on benefits or pensions, all need the opportunity to kick out the Tories without delay and vote in a Jeremy Corbyn-led government and much needed socialist policies.
The surest way to stop a no-deal Brexit was Corbyn's plan of moving a no confidence vote and then leading a caretaker government which would ask for an extension of Article 50 and then move to a general election.
This should have been backed up by a call from Corbyn for mass extra parliamentary protests by working-class people.
It's a sign of the degree of panic in ruling-class circles that, despite their fear of Corbyn gaining authority as leader of a temporary government, voices were emerging in the capitalist media which reluctantly advocated that scenario.
Among them was the Financial Times (FT), which in an editorial on 29 August said: "Ousting Mr Johnson in time to affect the Brexit process may also require the creation of a caretaker government under Labour's Jeremy Corbyn."
In Sunday's Observer, the paper's former editor Will Hutton admitted that Corbyn's proposed interim government was the "only surefire way to stop a no-deal Brexit", but Hutton cautioned that Corbyn should "introduce no new policies"!
Instead of adopting Corbyn's proposals, however, the 'rebel alliance' decided to attempt a legislative route: seize control of the parliamentary order of business - aided by the expected defying of precedent by the Speaker of parliament - and create legislation to force Johnson if necessary to extend Article 50, ie postpone the 31 October withdrawal if there is still no deal with the EU by then.
Corbyn's mistaken acquiescence to this approach has fed the false idea that the working class has some kind of common 'national interest' with pro-capitalist politicians, including on the Labour right, who are desperate to avoid a general election - because it might lead to Corbyn coming to power! He now needs to clearly put the fight for a general election central.
Johnson was considering ways of stopping the progress of a new law, or ignoring it if passed, or even trying to engineer a veto at EU level of an extension to Article 50. But he finally decided to challenge Tory rebel MPs with the threat of a snap election.
At the same time he's declared they will have the Tory whip removed and be deselected as election candidates if they vote against the government.
The Socialist has long been urging Corbyn to decisively move against Labour MPs who vote in opposition to policies which can aid the transformation of Labour in a socialist direction - by forcing them to face reselection contests.
This prospect is regarded as beyond the pale by Labour's Blairite MPs, backed by other pro-capitalist MPs and the capitalist establishment.
The fact that this action is now being imposed by the present group at the top of the Tory party - historically the main party of British capitalism - should serve to spur on trade unionists and other workers to firmly reject all hypocritical howls aimed against deselection.
In the labour movement this should be done on a democratic basis - asserting the will of the rank-and-file majority over their representatives.
This is not to say, though, that the capitalist class overall supports Johnson's actions. Much of big business is clearly alarmed and some enraged or in despair as the disruption of a no deal Brexit looms ever larger.
The lengthy prorogation of parliament was described as an "act of constitutional vandalism" by the FT.
The FT also expressed angst about what Johnson is doing to the reputation of western capitalist democracy, saying: "If Mr Johnson's prorogation ploy succeeds, Britain will forfeit any right to lecture other countries on their democratic shortcomings."
While democratic rights in capitalist society have been hard-won and must be defended, for the ruling class 'democracy' has always, in reality, been one of the tools it uses to help obscure from view its power to rule in its own class interests.
It bears no relation to what genuine democracy would be like in a socialist society. Capitalist media like the FT are warning about the consequences of more exposure of the limits of capitalist institutions and democracy, which have already faced growing levels of mistrust and disillusionment.
A vast number of different scenarios are still possible between now and the 31 October withdrawal date, such is the extreme volatility of this prolonged crisis faced by British capitalism.
Johnson, on his part, in a right-wing populist manner portrays himself as 'with the people', and in conflict with the divided parliament and the capitalist establishment.
A YouGov poll taken after his prorogation move showed a slight majority of Tory voters and Leave voters viewing his action as acceptable.
However, this Eton-educated millionaire has only an eleventh hour, mark two, Tory-negotiated Brexit deal possibly on offer, or alternatively a no deal Brexit, neither of which will in reality satisfy the millions of working-class Leave voters when the aftermath is arrived at.
Corbyn has rightly warned again this week that, given the chance, Johnson's government will enter into race-to-the-bottom free market trade deals that will only benefit big business.
The spending promises being announced this week are clearly aimed at trying to win the coming election not at genuinely addressing people's needs. Then afterwards, if they win, the Tories would turn back to inflicting austerity.
Preparation is therefore urgent in the workers' movement, not just for ensuring an immediate general election and the election of a Corbyn-led government, but for the vital period after that, when all cuts must be reversed and living standards for working-class and middle-class people set on a path of rapid improvement.
This would need to include Corbyn negotiating an exit deal with the EU from the standpoint of working-class interests.
The 'Boris bounce' has put the Tories ahead for now in the opinion polls. But if Corbyn were to dynamically campaign on his programme of ending austerity, reversing benefit cuts, abolishing universal credit, building social housing, scrapping tuition fees, extending workers' rights and nationalising gas, electricity, rail and Royal Mail, it would be possible to once again overturn the Tories' lead and this time win a general election.
Calls by Momentum leaders for the holding of rallies and the blocking of roads are grossly insufficient and no substitute for a big mobilisation of the organised workers' movement - the six million workers in trade unions - for a general election and a Corbyn-led government.
Corbyn and the left trade union leaders have a vital role to play, which can't be just responding to ongoing events and waiting for the government to collapse.
A bold offensive is needed, firstly by the TUC naming the day for a huge mass demonstration of trade unionists, drawing in the millions of others who will benefit from socialist policies.
Then building and escalating that movement and basing it on democratic discussion and decision-making at rank-and-file level in the trade unions and in a Labour Party being transformed in a socialist direction.
Leaders must be accountable to those who elect them, including MPs in Parliament who should only take the wage of a worker. All of this would mean the right kind of preparation is underway.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 3 September 2019 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
An unelected prime minister suspends parliament for weeks. The Tories remain in office despite a huge political crisis and splits in their own party. Working-class people continue to face attacks on their living standards at the hands of the super-rich. What can be done to change all this?
Decisions about Brexit, jobs and services go on over the heads of working people. How is it possible for us to influence what happens?
One thing is for certain, we can't just rely on MPs and parliamentary manoeuvres. Do we have the power to do anything ourselves as working-class people? The Socialist Party says emphatically yes!
When we organise and mobilise in large numbers, we can change things. When millions move, then governments and leaders can be brought down.
On BBC Newsnight, left journalist Paul Mason referred to the Poll Tax protests in 1990 that defeated a massively unjust tax and ultimately brought down Tory prime minister Thatcher. The Socialist Party is proud of the role that we played - as Militant at the time - in that movement.
But it wasn't just the massive demonstrations alone that won. Nor was it 'riots' that took place when a demonstration was attacked by police in Trafalgar Square.
It was a sustained and organised mass campaign of civil disobedience, the mass non-payment campaign proposed and initiated by Militant supporters. At its height 18 million people were defying the law and refusing to pay.
It was the organisation of that movement and clear ongoing tactics and strategy that succeeded. Many different types of tactics in struggle have been used in the past: protests, rallies, marches, occupations of different kinds, road blockades.
The climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion hit the headlines recently with their campaign of civil disobedience, but none of these methods are new. All of these can be valid as long as they are part of a strategy aimed at widening and building a bigger movement.
A couple of years ago in my own area, Leicester, we won a victory against the proposed closure of the Glenfield Children's Heart Centre - the only one in the whole east Midlands. Local demonstrations of 2,000, numerous protests and other methods involving tens of thousands, succeeded in forcing a u-turn by NHS England and the government.
On different issues, differing scale of struggle is needed - a national battle will need more.
Thousands took part in protests against the suspension of parliament by Boris Johnson. That was a start.
The Socialist Party believes that Jeremy Corbyn and the trade union movement need to launch a mass campaign to demand an immediate general election now. Jeremy Corbyn has the national platform, the trade unions organise over six million members.
This kind of call could potentially mobilise millions onto the streets. Clear leadership can transform the mood of those who currently feel powerless.
The potentially most powerful force in society is the working class, organised in the workplaces. It's here that bosses can be hit in their profits and huge pressure can be brought on governments.
Every sector has its reasons to fight. Pay has been cut, jobs lost, services slashed and privatised, working conditions attacked.
Already there are a number of strikes taking place around the country. If all these grievances were pulled together and coordinated action took place, it would take the battle against the Tories to a higher level.
The occupation at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast to save jobs could even be extended to other workplaces where jobs are threatened.
Action in the workplaces can also be linked to the wider community - over issues such as attacks on benefits and cuts in services - drawing bigger numbers into in mass demonstrations and other protests.
The movement needs a strategy - an aim and an idea of how to achieve it. But it also needs a programme - demands that link to the needs of working-class people.
That is why we call for a general election and the coming to power of a Corbyn-led government with a socialist programme.
You know there's an election in the offing when the Tories say they will raise spending on education despite decimating school budgets in their previous terms of office. While the education unions have welcomed the increased funding of £14 billion over three years, it comes with worrying caveats.
In my school in Coventry in the last four years, we have lost over £650,000. That equates to a fall of £350 per pupil.
We now have fewer teaching assistants (TAs) supporting our pupils. Most classes have to share TAs across the year group.
The has meant that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have had their support cut, while class sizes and teachers' workload have increased.
Across Coventry we have seen £40 million in cuts. There have been job losses and cuts to resources, school trips, swimming lessons and basic school supplies.
In some areas of the country, schools have been forced to reduce teaching time by a half - or even a whole - day per week. This is alongside a marked increase in child poverty with many local people having to use food banks to feed their families.
The Tories know that education cuts lose votes. The National Union of Teachers (NUT, now part of NEU) campaign on school budget cuts helped make education one of the biggest issues in the 2017 general election.
Even the Tories had to admit that it cost them dearly. According to polling company Survation, 10.4% of voters changed their mind about who to vote for because of the campaign - 795,000 votes.
It's no surprise that the 'magic money tree' has been shaken to increase funding now. But this isn't going to solve the crisis in education.
Teachers and other education workers have left in their droves over the last few years. This won't stem the flood.
There are no promises to reduce workload or increase SEND funding. Instead we are told that there are too many teaching assistants and the main issue in schools is poor pupil behavior.
Instead of tackling children's mental health, ending the exam factory culture or other causes of behavioral difficulties, the Tories are considering a 'zero-tolerance policy'. Staff will be given explicit powers to use 'reasonable' force against unruly pupils and permanent exclusions are to be encouraged.
Staff have always been able to use reasonable force but are understandably reluctant to do so. Permanent exclusions will lead to more pupils being referred to Pupil Referral Units which are often where drug gangs recruit to 'county lines' and other forms of exploitation and abuse.
The money won't go where it's needed most. The Tory heartlands are likely to see more of the funds than the cities. Boris' rich friends will benefit while the poorest families get the crumbs off the table.
There'll be no money to reopen youth centres, but money to continue the privatisation programme of academisation. The Tories won't be happy until every school is an academy presumably, with a private-run Pupil Referral Units attached.
The education unions, including the National Education Union, have welcomed the increase in funding but have not gone far enough to condemn the policies attached to it. We desperately need the extra funding, but it must go to areas that need it most.
Millionaire Johnson is cynically combining a headline spending pledge with attacks on education, to deflect attention away from his pro-rich and anti-working-class policies. In August, the Socialist Party described Boris' spending plans as "an insult to our intelligence".
If Johnson is promising this, there must be more money in the Tory coffers.
We shouldn't be bought off by promises of money that only account for what was likely to be added anyway. We should not be bought off by the promise of increasing newly qualified teachers' pay to £30,000 a year, as there's no increased budget for this.
The NEU executive will need to discuss the funding crisis and how we keep education at the forefront during a general election. NEU should be central to pushing the Trade Union Congress to organise a national demonstration and should link up local strikes already taking place.
We need to fight for a socialist education system, democratically run by workers, parents, pupils and the local community, that puts children and education staff at its heart.
After 134 years, two FA cups and three league titles, Bury Football Club has been expelled from the football league and is teetering on the edge of existence.
Why? Because of the greed and wanton mismanagement of big business, hell-bent on making huge profits.
Bury owner Steve Dale is an archetype of a businessman that holds football, fans and players in disdain. He has taken to the radio to tell players - who risk losing their homes - they should be grateful for their union, the Professional Football Association, paying 50% of their wages as a loan. He explained he never even knew Bury FC existed prior to ownership!
Football has come to mirror the rotten capitalist system as a whole, with a tiny minority getting rich at our expense. It is run in the interests of big business at the very top raking in billions in television money.
It is run with huge financial risk and increasing debts, putting workers' livelihoods at risk. It is run with contempt for the fans without whom the game would not exist!
Our game is being stolen from us. Workers are priced out with extortionate tickets and unaffordable TV packages. Grassroots pitches are sold off for property development. Over 700 have closed since the beginning of the economic crisis.
Football fans at the vast majority of clubs up and down the country know all too well what it is like to live with the constant insecurity that comes with the poor financial health of our clubs.
But there is no lack of money in football. The next three years of Premier League broadcast rights have been sold for over £4.5 billion, not including international TV rights and sponsorship.
This money should be used to keep clubs like Bury and others afloat, as well as to invest in grassroots football and facilities owned by us. The wealth in football needs to be kept well out of the hands of the likes of Steve Dale and others looking to make a quick buck.
Clubs should be collectively owned, and run by delegates elected from the supporters, from the players and employees' unions, and from the local community. This workers' democracy should be emulated in the ruling bodies of the game too.
Supporters have a common cause to reclaim our game. We want football that we can afford to watch, football that we run, and facilities that we own!
In response to Boris Johnson's undemocratic suspension of Parliament, tens of thousands of people descended on towns and cities to protest.
Reflecting the mix of opinion on the protests, a BBC journalist asked Socialist Party Glenn Kelly whether he was a supporter of the EU - he didn't get the answer he expected. Glenn said: "I am not in support of a bosses' club, I am in support of the European workers of Greece, Spain and Italy but I don't support a bosses' club in Europe."
Socialist Party flags, posters, leaflets, and campaign stalls could be seen all over the news.
We were demanding a general election to get Johnson and all the Tories out and a Jeremy Corbyn government with socialist policies in. We said that mass workers' action is the best way to achieve that and advertised the National Shop Stewards Network rally at the Trade Union Congress on 8 September, where action could be coordinated.
Socialist Party member Wally Kennedy opened the BBC news. He could be prominently seen and heard opposing cuts to public services while the rich get richer and bankers continue to benefit from bonuses.
We also opposed a 'national unity' government, encompassing a rainbow of capitalist parties. Those politicians have voted for almost a decade of cuts and will always defend the interest of the ruling class.
Record high temperatures; raging forest fires from the Arctic Circle to the Amazon; accelerating extinction of animal species, insects and plants; more polluted waterways; and an ever expanding mountain of plastic waste...
This depressing list of environmental catastrophes is the product of unplanned, profit-driven capitalist production. That's why we say to halt climate change and save the environment we need to change the system of capitalism and replace it with socialism. This is the message that needs to be shouted loud and clear on the 20 September climate action day.
The Socialist Party will be supporting young people that walkout from school or college on the day and linking up these youth strikes with workers, who we are also encouraging to take action on the 20th. Mobilising the organised working class, given its central role in production, is the key to changing society.
Obviously the likes of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, as representatives of the capitalist class, actively encourage the commercial exploitation of the land and seas, as well as of workers.
Johnson may protest that he supports measures to halt climate change but his headline speeches do not match the reality. Most scientific research suggests that the Tory government's measures to clean up our air, water, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and plastic waste, etc, are too little and far too late.
Moreover, under successive Tory-led governments 'big energy' has enjoyed tax breaks and subsidies and more recently given the green light to start fracking.
And according to the Guardian, Johnson's adviser Lynton Crosby has produced unbranded Facebook ads on behalf of the coal industry. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund reckons that governments worldwide subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of $5 trillion a year!
Yet, expenditure to protect the environment has been slashed, especially to local authorities, since 2010 as part of the Tories' austerity drive.
An estimated 40,000 early deaths are linked to toxic air pollution but the government has failed to act despite repeatedly being found guilty in the courts to enact a clean-up strategy.
Of course, a tiny handful of super-rich people are handsomely profiting from this disaster capitalism. That's why we need to build a mass movement to drive out the Tories and get a Corbyn-led government committed to socialist policies that can end austerity, clean-up the environment, and get rid off capitalism.
Such policies have to include the nationalisation of the major industries and banks. After all, you can't plan what you don't control, and you can't control what you don't own. That's why socialist nationalisation and democratic control by the working class majority is essential to plan production on a sustainable and environmentally friendly basis. That's why we need socialist change to halt climate change.
Socialist Party members successfully tabled a motion at Cardiff Trade Union Council (TUC) to support the call for trade union meetings and stoppages on the day of climate action on 20 September.
The TUC agreed that climate change is a trade union issue because working people will be worst affected by the effects of climate change, and because our members' jobs and conditions are under attack from the same corporations that are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emissions.
It was also agreed that the trade union movement should intervene to ensure a just transition away from carbon emitting industries to green industries that protect jobs and ensure decent pay and conditions.
The TUC noted the appeal by the University and College Union for a 30-minute stoppage on 20 September and agreed to support the call for trade union action on that day. It called on affiliates to organise workplace gate meetings or stoppages where appropriate. It was agreed that Cardiff TUC would organise a lunchtime rally for workers in the city centre at 12 noon on 20 September and requested the support of the Wales TUC for the rally.
Socialist Party member Sue Atkins, got a motion passed at the trade union council calling for a meeting on the 5 September to coordinate activity for the 20 September climate action day. This will be open to all unions and groups, not just those affiliated to Southampton TUC.
Fellow Socialist Party member Bea Gardner raised the 20 September climate strike at the local executive of her union, UCU. The executive agreed to organise a lunchtime rally and has written a blog to members who are already coming forward wanting to get involved.
Bea is the student union UCU link officer and has been in contact with the student union about working together. Socialist Students will be involved and Labour Students have been in touch.
In July, Waltham Forest TUC organised a public meeting with climate change activists, Extinction Rebellion (XR). The meeting was a debate between XR and trade unionists, as well as discussing how to organise workers for 20 September.
Suggestions included calling a 30-minute lunchtime stoppage, with workers holding placards, signs and giving out leaflets. The TUC agreed to email all its affiliates and supporters to take part in this action.
Waltham Forest has been awarded 'Borough of Culture' in 2019. Socialist Party members effectively exposed the hypocrisy of Waltham Forest Council which has voted through a plan that involved destroying 81 trees as well as public spaces around it. They are also carrying through cuts to libraries and vital services while at the same time declaring a 'climate emergency' for the borough.
We linked the campaign to Save Our Square and against cuts in services to the climate change issue.
The TUC agreed that it will ask local authority workers to take part in the climate strike action and demanded that Waltham Forest Council does not discipline any workers who do so.
The disillusionment among the Welsh working class with the political establishment was reflected in the 53% vote to leave the EU in 2016 and the current rising support for independence. All the Westminster-based parties that have implemented austerity have lost support in Wales.
Fundamentally this discontent is rooted in a near decade of austerity that has blighted the lives of millions and wiped out one third of public services. The disgust with the austerity parties and the Brexit impasse is reflected in both a rise in support for independence for Wales and paradoxically also support in some sections of the working class for the populist Brexit party whose leadership hides many of its right-wing anti-working-class policies.
The Assembly is celebrating its 20th anniversary and Welsh Labour governments have been in power in Cardiff Bay since its inception. For half of that time they have presided over the most devastating cuts to public services in history, tamely implementing the cuts demanded by the Tories and Lib Dem Westminster governments.
And as well as the right-wing policies being pursued by Welsh Labour in the Senedd, Labour dominates Welsh councils that have implemented Tory cuts to local services.
The discontent with the main political parties and Labour in particular has been reflected in different movements within the working class especially within the depressed area of the South Wales valleys - the areas patronisingly referred to in the metropolitan press as 'Left Behind'.
These areas traditionally had big Labour majorities, and have been hit hardest by austerity, with Universal Credit just the latest attacks that have devastated living standards.
The Leave vote in the 2016 EU referendum, among the highest in the UK in these areas, was a reflection of the rejection of the political establishment and the status quo.
The growing support for Welsh independence is also a reflection of a rejection of the Westminster elite. The Brexit gridlock in parliament has added to the general opposition to the status quo. Support for independence which dipped as low as 3% in 2014 is rising above the normal 12%. 8,000 marched for independence in Caernarfon and over 2,000 in Cardiff.
There is renewed positivity for independence in working class areas in the south. The marches revealed a new layer of 'indy-curious' working class and young people who are also interested in the ideas of socialism.
The vandalism of the memorial to Tryweryn, the village in North Wales flooded to provide water to England, has led its slogan, "Cofiwch Dryweryn" (Remember Tryweryn), to be spray painted on walls across Wales. Many of the fears that Wales is too economically poor to be independent have been pushed to one side as people fear that it cannot get any worse than it already is.
The support for independence is partly an indication of the feeling that devolution has failed. The Welsh government has weaker powers and far less resources than the Scottish parliament. Welsh Labour governments have merely managed the decline of the Welsh economy and the emasculation of public services.
One reflection of the discontent with the Welsh Assembly is a feeling among a layer of older workers that it is a waste of money. But a growing layer of young people want more autonomy and even independence to break away from austerity-ridden and corrupt Westminster.
The Indy movement is at an early stage but if Corbyn fails to win the general election and a Tory coalition were to hang on to power then the movement would gain even further momentum and support could rise rapidly to unprecedented levels across Wales.
If Corbyn wins and his government fails to carry through the reforms promised in his manifesto or continues the Tory cuts then equally there could be a rise in support.
A Corbyn government would have to contend with not just the bitter opposition of the British capitalist elite but with the Blairite saboteurs in his own government who together will try to thwart reforms by a Corbyn government.
Such a government would also give rise to new struggles by the working class and the trade union movement, but they would not necessarily cut across a rise in support for independence.
Socialist Party Wales supports autonomy for Wales with a Welsh parliament that, with a socialist government, could break with Westminster austerity and pass measures to abolish Universal Credit in Wales, abolish zero-hour contracts, introduce a £12 an hour minimum wage, nationalise firms like Ford that threaten closures, and nationalise the commanding heights of the economy.
It could implement a socialist green programme to transition from polluting industries without loss of jobs and invest in providing jobs in green industries like tidal power.
Such a government would need to mobilise the working class in Wales to implement those policies in the teeth of opposition from British and international capital. It would also inspire similar movements in England and Scotland, if it were to succeed in transforming society.
This is in contrast to Plaid Cymru who call for an independent capitalist Wales. Plaid leader Adam Price has called for more tax cuts for the rich corporations in Wales to 'attract investment'. He has tried to create the illusion that Wales could emulate Ireland as a tax-free playground for the global corporations.
Plaid is riding high in the polls as support for independence or autonomy rises and a YouGov poll had the party leading Welsh Labour in polls for the Welsh Assembly.
But Plaid's deal in Brecon and Radnor to help the Lib Dems, partners in austerity crime with the Tories, shows that Plaid is not an anti-austerity party. Plaid councils have been just as bad as Labour councils in carrying out cuts.
If Jeremy Corbyn was to put forward a manifesto with socialist policies then it could cut through the scepticism with Labour in Wales and win a big majority of Welsh seats. Even a manifesto with radical policies similar to the 2017 manifesto could win a majority.
The last few years have seen swathes of closures of shops across the UK as whole chains have collapsed while others close considerable numbers of stores. In 2018, the Centre for Retail Research said that 18,443 stores closed, while 137,719 retail jobs were lost, the worst year since the 2008 economic crash.
The huge scale of this crisis, which looks set to grow in 2019, has forced the shop workers' union Usdaw to launch its Save Our Shops campaign.
The second day of action was at the end of June, in addition to the launch of the union's Industrial Strategy for Retail at parliament, attended by MPs including Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
The strategy makes numerous suggestions derived from policy passed as Usdaw conferences - many of which socialists fully support. These incorporate the major points of Usdaw's Time for Better Pay campaign, such as changing redundancy law to remove the loophole which allows chains to close stores of less than 20 employees without consultation.
The Save Our Shops campaign itself is summarised in three core demands:
Despite the crisis, retail remains an important part of the UK economy. It is the largest employment sector with 3 million people employed and a further 1.5 million jobs directly dependent upon it.
Even with the growth of online retail, most shopping still takes place in stores. The strategy cites statistics showing that online sales accounted for 18.6% of all retail sales in the UK in March 2019.
It also cites Next's annual report for 2019 which pointed out that "every additional order online has increased variable costs, such as warehouse picking and delivery costs... Last year, every pound of Next business that transferred from retail to online cost an additional 6p."
Other interesting facts are that 80% of their online returns come through stores and half of their online orders are delivered to stores.
Online retailing is clearly here to stay. And in some areas, such as music and non-physical media, it may be very significant. But physical stores are still important to many customers.
This is reflected in online giant Amazon's moves to establish physical stores by buying the Whole Foods chain, establishing seven Amazon Go stores in the USA as well as various 'pop-up' shops. Indeed the strategy advocates retail companies establish a 'clicks and mortar' approach.
But online-only companies do benefit from an uneven playing field linked to the question of rents, taxes and business rates.
All retailers require adequate warehousing and a logistics network, but bricks-and-mortar retailers have the additional overhead of a network of shops across the country which accrue additional business rates to online retailers. For example, the strategy cites Tesco paying business rates of £700 million in 2016-17, while Amazon paid £63.4 million.
The report essentially argues for a reorganisation of taxes without coming down on a particular formula.
However, the strategy does quote Tesco CEO Dave Lewis saying: "I believe it's time to consider an online sales levy... 2% would raise £1.5 billion... that could fund a rate cut of 20%, levelling the tax playing fields between physical retailers and their online competitors."
This essentially would equate to a tax cut for the big retailers such as Tesco at the expense of the online retailers, in effect a form of protectionism for the bricks and mortar retailers.
Indeed, as the strategy points out, any cut in business rates would have a big impact on the finances of local government, which is increasingly dependent on this source of income due to government 'reforms' cutting their finances over the last decade.
The strategy also calls for reducing tax avoidance, which we would fully support. Yet it highlights the problem that even the most progressive tax reform will face attempts from retail companies to avoid it, stating "...we know of instances where online retailers are reporting their sales through separate companies registered in countries such as Luxembourg... There is no easy solution on this front."
This is because we are dealing with capitalist corporations driven by the need to maximise profits.
The report is hampered by its failure to recognise this source of the crisis in retail. Numerous points are made in the strategy about the short-term outlook of the retail bosses, but this is not fully drawn out.
It is the very nature of the capitalist system, driving companies by the need to generate profits to meet the demands of shareholders that forces them into this short-term outlook.
While some retailers, and indeed representative bodies such as the British Retail Consortium, may recognise this and even support some reforms, this is not the same as those retailers being prepared to be the first one to put their profits on the line and implement such reforms.
The strategy's approach to trying to win such demands includes "legislation to ensure that workers have guaranteed seats on the boards of large companies, with the same duties and responsibilities as other directors."
But the experience of British Leyland and other companies where such worker representation on boards existed in the past was that this was used to gag those representatives, forcing them as a minority to support the bosses approach. This inherently undermines collective bargaining for workers (which the strategy also supports) as their representative(s) on the board can be seen to be responsible for, or supportive of, employers' attacks on pay, terms and conditions, and other negative policies.
Indeed, retail workers are increasingly fighting the attacks by the bosses with strikes by Usdaw members at Tesco and Sainsbury's distribution centres as well as strikes at Matalan, Wilko and the looming Asda dispute around 'Contract 6'.
The crisis on the high street means that the big supermarkets are all cutting thousands of jobs and imposing worse terms and conditions. Retail trade unions should launch a joint campaign, including future coordinated industrial action, to stop this 'race to the bottom', instead of proposing workers sit on the boards waging these attacks.
The best way to develop the real 'collaborative approach' the strategy talks about is to remove the capitalist profit motive from the equation altogether to allow a genuine collaboration between working people across retail and associated sectors. The only way to do this is to bring the big retail companies into public ownership under democratic workers control and management.
At Usdaw's 2017 conference members passed a motion calling for raising "the question of nationalisation of companies who go into administration or other situations where the jobs of our members and other retail, distributive and allied trades workers are under threat."
The resolution went on to argue: "Bringing such companies into public ownership, would save jobs and stores, while the government could pursue their former owners regarding any alleged irregularities.
"Such nationalisation, should not be of a top down nature, but of one run on a democratic basis [to] allow staff representatives, customers representatives and the wider trade union movement to be involved in the revitalisation of these companies."
Usdaw should be putting forward the ideas from this proposition as the core of its industrial strategy for the sector. It means not bowing to the inevitability of job losses and store closures but fighting to take control of companies out of the hands of (mis)management that have led to such closures and staffing cutbacks.
This is also the most efficient way of making use of "the knowledge and experience of staff" talked about in the report.
This needs to be linked to a wider programme of public ownership including the banks, transport and big manufacturing companies to develop a democratically planned and integrated economy capable of meeting the material needs of ordinary working-class people.
Only such a strategy can save the high street while creating a society capable of delivering for workers.
I work for a well-known high street retailer and recently one of my colleagues came to me, the unofficial union rep, because they were being conned out of 70 hours of holiday.
Without any justification the manager stopped anybody taking any holiday for the last two months of the financial year. When the worker requested pay in lieu of a holiday he was flat out refused and told he should have taken his holiday earlier.
Throughout the year this worker has slogged through many long shifts and picked up overtime to cover everyone else taking holidays but the manager made no allowance to ensure this worker got to use his holiday entitlement. What gratitude!
Working together we drafted a grievance to try and get back what was owed. Despite the manager outright lying that he had given the worker plenty of opportunity to take holiday the company disagreed and we managed to win more than £450 in holiday pay. For the company this would be a drop in the ocean but for this particular worker it has made the world of difference.
This isn't the first time that these kinds of dodgy practices have taken place but workers are getting wise to it and see the potential strength that unionising and workplace organisation can have. Off the back of this victory we organised a workplace meeting off site away from the ears of management.
Nearly all of those who have recently joined the union attended and were keen to both recruit and take up the union campaign for a £10 an hour minimum wage and an end to zero-hour contracts. Seeing that organising and collectively challenging the bosses can get results has meant that these union members have now been inspired to become union activists.
We will now be looking to build on our collective strength by recruiting more people from our workplace to the union. We're confident that we can try to push for a workplace agreement in the near future so that we can go beyond stopping management from pulling a fast one. We are in desperate need of £10 an hour and we want to see the end of zero and low-hour contracts. If organising has got us this far then management better be ready for the demands to come!
No hyperbole needed this year - the Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference really is taking place at a critical time.
But the labour and trade union movement must put its stamp on these crucial events and expose the pro-boss agenda of Boris Johnson. Workers who voted to leave the EU did so precisely because they wanted to send a message of protest against decades of governments carrying out the bosses' austerity and privatisation.
For the tenth year, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) is holding a rally at the TUC Congress. We are calling on the TUC and the unions to name the date for a union-led mass demonstration to bring this government down, end austerity and elect a Corbyn-led government.
We want to see the election of a Corbyn government on a pro-worker, anti-austerity manifesto; a manifesto that builds on the programme he stood on two years ago of renationalisation, a £10 an hour minimum wage and abolition of tuition fees.
Workers know that you can't have unity with those like Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and Remainer Tories who dished out brutal cuts in the Con-Dem coalition.
Together they gave us a lost decade of living standards. It's the union movement that must stand and fight together against Boris and all the Tories, on both sides of the Brexit debate. In or out, they will act in the interests of big business.
Come to the NSSN TUC Rally - march together and if necessary strike together to get rid of all the Tories.
University and College Union (UCU) members at Nottingham College are to begin 15 days of strike action. Organised over five weeks, the first stoppage will be on 11 September. This will be followed by a two-day strike in week two increasing to a week-long strike in week five.
The action follows a successful one-day strike on 1 July, in which teachers boycotted the college's professional development day in favour of their own picket line festival outside the college's Clarendon campus.
The strike is over a contracts and pay dispute at what is now the city's sole further education institution, formed after the merger of Nottingham's two remaining colleges in 2017.
In June of this year, the college tabled a contract demanding increased teaching hours, cuts in holiday and professional development entitlement, a reduction in long-term sick pay and the loss of important contractual protections, including a workload agreement that would set reasonable limits on weekly teaching hours.
The contract proposals followed a job evaluation exercise that, while giving pay rises to many teachers whose pay had eroded over years without pay rises, would have meant pay cuts of up to £1,500 a year for over 150 teachers.
UCU had already informed management that they were willing to agree a new contract for the merged college (as they had after previous city mergers) but that this had to be on the basis of 'no overall detriment'.
Over the course of negotiation, the college agreed or proposed a number of 'concessions'. These include restoring three days holiday, protecting long-term sick pay for existing staff and reducing the number of staff suffering reduction in pay.
However, UCU rightly argue that these shifts are inadequate given management's extreme starting point. It is unreasonable that 20% of teachers would still lose pay of around £1,000 a year.
A workload agreement is essential to protect both staff well-being and the quality of their students' education. UCU point out that, despite other colleges facing financial constraints, deals over pay and conditions are being achieved in the sector.
UCU members have been particularly incensed by the college's aggressive 'sign or be sacked' stance in which teachers were given the ultimatum either to accept the new contract or be dismissed.
The branch balloted for action over in May, and achieved a 96% vote for action on a 72% turnout. The dispute follows two years of post-merger uncertainty and turmoil at the college, which has been marked by redundancy, failing IT systems, cuts in learning support, exam chaos and a collapse of morale.
UCU are urging the college management and its corporation to reconsider their position.
They point to the recent announcement of £400 million new funding for the sector, which, although insufficient to make good the cuts suffered since 2010, removes the financial argument that the college has relied on to attack its teachers' terms and conditions.
The UCU is balloting university members in the universities superannuation scheme (USS) for strike action against bosses' proposals that would see members pay 9.6% of their salary into the scheme, compared to 8.8% at present. Further hikes are planned from 2021.
Workers took strike action against plans to scrap the scheme in 2018, taking 14 days of determined action which forced bosses organisation Universities UK to back off and to offer major concessions.
UCU will now ballot its members at 69 universities The ballot will open on Monday 9 September and close on Wednesday 30 October.
13% over four years. That's how much workers in the Science Museum Group (SMG) have lost in pay over the last four years of below-inflation pay deals.
Members of the Prospect trade union across the SMG, which includes the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and the National Railway Museum in York, took 24-hour strike action on 30 August demanding as a minimum, the Living Wage Foundation rates of pay.
The SMG gets 40% of its funding from central government which, given the squeezing of culture funding, staff expect the current government to freeze. However, the SMG made a £4.4 million surplus in 2018-19 including a £1.3 million tax credit which can be spent however SMG management chooses.
This hypocrisy has outraged staff in the museums. In York, one placard pointed out the SMG director's bonus was more than their annual wage!
Although a few workers have been on strike before (including a veteran of the 1977 firefighters strike in York), many of the workers were taking strike action for the first time. But that doesn't make them any less determined to make their voices heard.
In Bradford staff are not only concerned about their own plight but also with workers facing winter closing and reduced hours at the council, where Unite are currently balloting staff. Clearly there is scope for workers in the culture sector to come together to challenge cuts to services and the low pay rife throughout the sector.
PCS civil servants' union members at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency are on strike for four weeks from 22 August.
There are various issues that the national dispute is about (see 'DVSA workers strike for four weeks over conditions and workload' at socialistparty.org.uk). In Nottingham the main issues for the workers called out are staff numbers, why long term staff not directly employed are not made permanent, and bullying and harassment.
Agency workers are not on strike but like other staff have shown support. One agency worker, told the Socialist: "At about 15:40 [2 September] I was given my notice with immediate effect. I found out from my agency it was for having my photo taken with you [pickets] all last Friday.
"Once leaving the agency I got a call offering my job back. A union member had called up to fight my corner. They can't sack me for supporting the union as I am part of the union. I was reinstated 36 minutes after being terminated."
A lesson to all agency workers as to why they should be in the union.
Apparently, the employer is using call centre staff (for the public) on the IT service desk phone line, logging and passing on the jobs to keep abandoned numbers down. Yet today [3 September] before half a day had gone, dropped calls are over twice as high as they would normally be in a full day.
Management clearly realise the effect the strike is having. They have resorted to sending letters to strikers saying they will soon receive a mock payslip with the estimated amount of deductions and also saying "we welcome you back to work at any time" - trying to scare strikers and also pretend to be caring; all to encourage members to go back.
But one striker, Jordan, said: "Morale is high, we feel we have had to go on strike to get a resolution to the issues around staffing, bullying and harassment."
Another said being on strike has meant they are now happy to come into 'work' because they're not looking over their shoulder all the time.
The union welcomes support at the picket line outside The Axis Building, 112 Upper Parliament Street, Nottingham NG1 6LP, Monday-Friday from 7am to 9.30/10am.
Guards in the RMT transport union on the picket line at Salisbury on 2 September - the fourth day of their current strike - were angry and defiant.
A letter had been sent by South Western Railway (SWR) to everyone concerned in the strike. The letter contained an admission by SWR that they intended to move to driver-only operation of trains (DOO) despite assurances that they had given over the past two years that this would not happen. DOO would mean there would not be a fully-trained guard on board. Much concern was expressed about the safety issues inherent in DOO trains.
Geoff Kite, RMT national executive member told the Socialist: "The RMT will continue to fight for a safety-critical guard on every train. We will not allow the company to put performance over safety by diluting the role into a token gesture to the travelling public.
"The guards and drivers on SWR have returned five ballots in the defence of the role of the guard and against the extension of driver-only operation. Our members will not give up the fight and are more resolute after the latest talks with the company.
"We urge the company to get around the table and work with the RMT to come to a resolution suitable to all, and stop procrastinating believing our members will finally give up. The RMT are open for talks any time."
Around a hundred bus drivers and supporters joined a Unite the Union-organised London bus drivers' demonstration outside City Hall on 29 August. It coincided with the publication of an investigation by Loughborough University into the causes of bus driver fatigue commissioned by Transport for London. Bus drivers are demanding shorter hours without loss of pay and better working conditions.
The Socialist Party's leaflet demanded: An end to Tory Transport for London budget cuts; one pay scale for all London bus workers - the best; shorter, safer hours of driving to combat fatigue - with no loss of pay; and the return of London buses to public ownership democratically run by workers - no private profits from public transport. The Socialist will feature an analysis of the Loughborough report in a future issue.
After three months of unprecedented heroic mass struggle in Hong Kong against the Carrie Lam administration, there seems no sign of an end to the conflict.
The beginning of term for school and university students in Hong Kong was marked by strikes and protests, human chains, speeches and mass demonstrations. This was in spite of huge pressure from police and university authorities to cancel the rally.
Workers also organised hours-long blockades of police stations and a certain amount of 'flash strike' action. Nurses, for example, lined up along hospital corridors holding pro-democracy placards.
Over the weekend before this, there had been huge unsanctioned demonstrations, including at Hong Kong airport, the world's third busiest. The airport was besieged by protesters, angry at the sacking of staff for involvement in earlier protests, including the chair of the airline stewards' organisation, Rebecca Sy On-na.
The tactic of the heavily armed police seems to be to allow large numbers to gather peacefully and then attack viciously.
Hundreds of protesters have been arrested including well-known activists. Undercover provocateurs are at work among the demonstrators and the police are not averse to gangster 'triads' being involved in the confrontations.
Carrie Lam, who, as Hong Kong's chief executive, represents Beijing, held a press conference to reaffirm there would be no movement on the five democratic demands, which include an amnesty for the more than 1,000 arrested, an end to the threat of extradition and establishing universal suffrage.
Lam threatened she could use "a colonial-era law" to close down the internet and impose a curfew. She also warned (again) of possible army repression. However, Reuters news agency reports her telling business leaders that she regretted the "unforgivable havoc" she had caused and "would quit if I could"!
The Beijing government is clearly threatening some kind of intervention. It fears the consequences this movement could have in the rest of China.
Another Tiananmen Square-style crushing of the movement is not entirely excluded - although difficult, given the scale of the movement - or other brutal repressive measures.
The regime of the so-called Communist Party in power in Beijing is increasingly alien to most people in Hong Kong. They are well aware of the total lack of democratic rights across the length and breadth of China - anathema also to any genuine socialist.
But if the battle to defend and extend democratic rights in Hong Kong is to gain a lasting success, it must include a conscious appeal to workers, the poor and the youth of China to join them in a struggle to achieve genuine workers' democracy and a democratic planning of the economy based on nationalisation and genuine socialism.
In a month's time, the government of Xi Jinping wants to be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory of Mao Tse Tung and the Red Army over imperialism in 1949. That overthrowing of landlordism and capitalism in China did not result in the establishment of a socialist state with genuine control by elected representatives of workers together with the poor peasants, but adopted the bureaucratic, repressive Stalinist model of rule.
In recent decades, the Chinese regime has moved towards the restoration of market forces but with special features of state capitalism, including state intervention and control of significant parts of the economy, and maintained a one-party regime.
The so-called communist leaders are still terrified of being pushed out of their extremely privileged positions from below by a movement of workers or of a rival upstart gang of capitalist robbers. If the threat to their rule represented by the movement in Hong Kong shows no sign of abating, then a direct military intervention could be organised.
In this situation it is vital not only to step up the fight for the movement's five democratic demands but to go further.
General strike action which can bring the working life of Hong Kong to a halt is vital for developing a political struggle against the big banks and businesses that furnish the Hong Kong-based oligarchs with their vast fortunes.
In fact, even if the five democratic demands of the movement were achieved, the victory would be only temporary, and basic democratic freedoms of expression, organisation, press, etc, would be hard to maintain.
This is why it is vital to build representative elected defence committees in the neighbourhoods and workplaces and elect from them representatives to go onto area action committees, all based on the principle of workers' democracy. The logical aim would be to elect representatives to a revolutionary constituent assembly and discuss programme and organisation to take the movement on to socialist demands.
Some participants in the movement could have illusions in the US, British or other governments coming to their aid. But these governments act purely to defend the profits and interests of their capitalist classes and have no qualms about cooperating with, and supporting, dictatorships.
No trust can be placed in the ruling elite and capitalists of Hong Kong, or their political representatives, to struggle to defend the rights and interests of workers and youth. They need their own party to struggle for a programme to offer a way forward.
Only a struggle for genuine democratic socialism - in Hong Kong and the rest of China - would assure a lasting victory and a better life for all working and poor people. This would also be the only way to establish the right to genuine self-determination, not only for the people of Hong Kong, but for the numerous national minorities oppressed by the central Chinese state machine. A confederation of socialist states in the region would then be on the agenda.
The movement in Hong Kong has been inspiring. With a sage and sober leadership it could be the spark for revolutionary movements across Asia and beyond.
If, at this stage, the movement does not go further, it will nevertheless have provided huge lessons for future struggles to throw off dictatorship and open the road to a socialist world.
Young Socialist Party activists from across England, Wales and Scotland met for a weekend of discussion on 31 August - 1 September, just as the capitalist political crisis in the UK was tipping into a new explosive phase.
The scene was set for the discussion by Socialist Party members attending the London protest against Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament beforehand.
We took to the streets with the demands to fight for a general election to get the Tories out, to elect a Corbyn government with socialist policies, and no to unity with the austerity politicians.
September will see students return to college and university in the midst of this crisis. The 'Earth strike' on 20 September has the potential to take on a new dimension as a means to fight the Tories, and the issue of free education could re-emerge with Corbyn fighting another general election on his anti-austerity programme.
This term will also see University and Colleges Union (UCU) college union ballot its members for strike action in universities on the issue of both pensions and equal pay. In the event of a strike we can anticipate a groundswell of support among students, with Socialist Students at the fore, in the same way as we saw in the UCU pension strikes of 2018.
A key factor in events in the next period will be the extent to which the working-class through the trade unions take a lead. We discussed the what we can do about the problems facing us as young workers in our workplaces. We discussed the issue of unpaid hours foisted on us at work, along with the issues of zero-hours and insecure contracts, of bullying bosses and low pay.
Members reported on the task of building our trade unions into effective organisations to take on these issues; whether by transforming our union branches or by building the union in workplaces from scratch.
Being a member of the Socialist Party gives us a unique advantage in this struggle and young members are determined to build the party. We understand that workers and young people will play a central role in transforming the political crisis in Britain but also in the struggle to change society along socialist lines.
Southampton Pride has grown year on year. The parade on 24 August was a huge spectacle, greeted by cheers and clapping from shoppers in the streets we passed. But behind the party atmosphere is a growing resentment at the direction this event has taken.
It was the trade union council that originally got the event started four years ago. But the trade union banners are now well and truly side-lined in favour of corporate sponsors like the cruise liners, Ikea and Sainsbury's.
We parked the 'Pride is Political' Socialist Party stall outside the main entrance, as like many other groups we couldn't afford the hundreds of pounds to set up inside.
We attracted those who wanted to talk about cuts to local services and how this affects LGBT+ people. We heard stories that made it very clear that the fight for LGBT+ rights is far from over as the organisers and their corporate sponsors would have us believe.
At our public meeting the following Thursday a number of groups and individuals attended interested in a much more political Pride here in Southampton. They spoke of their anger at being ignored by the event organisers.
It was pointed out that from the Pride stage gushing thanks were given to the big companies investing in the parade but, shockingly, local groups and charities were shunned, with no mention of the valuable work they do.
Those attending from the local support group, Chrysalis (which provides lifesaving counselling and support for Trans people), felt it had become an event organised by
almost exclusively white gay men interested in having a party.
We discussed the history of Pride and how the New York City Stonewall riots in 1969 did not happen in isolation but at a time when collective struggles like the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, and the anti-war movement were at their height.
The miners' strike of 1984-5 in Britain was also seen as a turning point in the struggle for support for LGBT+ rights; when the solidarity of 'Gays and Lesbians support the Miners' was then reciprocated by the support the National Union of Mineworkers gave them through the Trade Union Congress and the Labour Party.
The common enemy - an anti-working-class Tory government - was recognised by many different sections. It should be the same today. We must take every opportunity to draw all sections of workers together to oppose this unelected and hated Tory government. It's often LGBT+ people who are hit hardest by austerity, homelessness and the housing crisis, cuts to health services, particularly mental health services; not to mention the harassment and discrimination LGBT+ people still suffer.
There was much discussion of setting up an alternative Pride to reflect the struggle we still face and the real diversity of our movement. But it was also felt we should have a political presence on the parade and keep up the pressure on the event organisers to recognise that many people want and need more than just a party once a year.
We will give our support to all those who have been priced out of Pride so that together we can have an event that truly reflects our diversity and the struggles ahead.
Up to 5,000 people attended a rally outside Bradford Town Hall on 26 August under the banner of 'Free Kashmir'. While many of those attending were from Bradford, some had travelled across the Pennines and even from as far away as London.
This response came after the recent suspension of Kashmir's 'autonomous' status by the right-wing BJP government in India and the arrests of thousands throughout Indian occupied Kashmir.
Hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces are now present in the territory. Several people on the demonstration told us that they had been unable to contact family members in Kashmir because the Indian BJP government has cut communications.
From the speakers' platform there were varied ideas on the way forward. Many of the speakers emphasised the need for United Nations intervention, including one speaker calling for UN armed forces to replace the Indian army.
Yet the UN is dominated by the same capitalist powers vying for trade ties and links with the Indian capitalists whose interests the Modi regime represents.
On the Socialist Party stall, and in the leaflet we were distributing, we pointed out that the real allies of the Kashmiri oppressed masses are the working class internationally, in particular in India and Pakistan.
The leaflet we distributed was based on the statement produced by our sister section of the Committee for a Workers' International in India (New Socialist Alternative) and CWI supporters in Pakistan.
We also sold many copies of the Socialist which contained a much longer analysis of the Kashmir national question. Many Bradford demonstrators were inspired by our comrades in India taking part in protests against Modi's repression and facing arrest in cities like Pune for doing so.
Approaching my 96th birthday, I thought the other day: why am I a socialist? I've been one, a revolutionary socialist, for a very long time - and do you know what? Every day that passes I am more convinced that I've chosen the right path.
I started out in the Young Communist League, the youth wing of Britain's Communist Party, in 1937. Then the war came. In the decades following, I never lost my beliefs, but the pressures of daily life took over.
It wasn't until 2009 that I finally reconnected organisationally with my past, but this time by becoming a true communist - a proud Trotskyist member of the Socialist Party and Committee for a Workers' International.
When people are introduced to the concept of socialism - whether in the popular media or at school - they are presented with a simple equation: socialism equals a crippled economy that fails to meet people's basic needs, plus a totalitarian government.
Stalinism, for example, is held up as a warning of where socialism leads to. The youngsters who learn in school about the Soviet Union are told socialism means brutality and weary consumers standing in endless lines to purchase defective products.
But with capitalism today in an increasing state of disorder, which promotes and intensifies world poverty and the risks of new wars, it's becoming increasingly urgent to raise the question that capitalism always prefers to dodge. Which system is superior, capitalism or socialism?
When the question is posed in a bread-and-butter form of how well off the working class will be, socialism triumphs decisively. But socialism is more than about being well paid for the work one does. It revolutionises how society operates.
The capitalist system, in which a small number of bosses are allowed to steal the products of our labour and subordinate everyone else's interests to their own, is replaced with a democratic structure in which the working class itself runs society collectively.
The working class directs society's progress according to a conscious plan that is drawn up after a full debate throughout society, conducted through a real 'parliament', not the sham one we have today: democratically run workers' councils at every level - workplace, town and national.
In other words, we can begin to create a world in which all members of society will become informed, and encouraged to participate in determining the fundamental policies that will guide the direction of society.
With a reduced workweek, universal, quality education, and a system where everyone contributes to running society, a new culture can gradually emerge - in which "the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour... has vanished" and "the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual."
Thus, we will finally be able to claim "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs"!
That's why I'm a socialist. I hope you will become one too if you are not already.
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"No unity with austerity politicians" - it's a great slogan, and distinguishes us from all pro-austerity remainers.
Like the whole Liberal party. They are looking to have the same presence on the streets with their placards and orange colours as during the run-up to the Iraq war, when they cultivated an oppositional presence only to betray us later on.
Or the likes of openly vicious Tories, like Anna Soubry, who voted continuously for austerity and hates Corbyn. No unity with austerity politicians!
The queen allows an unelected prime minister to suspend a parliament with no single party enjoying a majority - which itself wants to ignore the "democratic" referendum vote - to defend a government propped up by the support of a party that scuppered devolved democratic government in its own country. Are we surprised that people don't have much faith in our democracy? I don't.
Brexit continues to split the UK capitalists as never before - even the Financial Times is attacking Johnson and calling for a general election!
Johnson's move will gain some support from working-class people, seen as firm action and leadership required to deal with a crisis. In the meantime, Corbyn compromises and dithers faced with the Blairite hounds baying for his blood.
The result is that the Tories are about 10% ahead in the opinion polls, a frightening fact considering the rampant austerity under this Tory government. Labour should be miles ahead.
Time is short. We have the opportunity to see the back of the Tories very soon, and the election of an anti-austerity government, but also the extremely real danger of a decisive Tory victory.
Boris de Pfeffel and Rees-Mogg 'on the side of working people'? Went to Eton at a cost of £42,500 a year - or 140% of a UK worker's average wage. Up the workers!
Boris Johnson wants to play off 'people versus parliament'. The real difference is working-class people versus the rotten system that Johnson represents.
There is no different class interest between the Blairites, Tories and Lib Dems. Brexit is concealing the real issues such as poverty, homelessness, cuts to local services, privatisation of the NHS, and so on. Whether we stay in the EU or not all these issues will remain.
Labour can only win the upcoming general election if it campaigns against austerity, poverty and privatisation. With the populists like Trump, Farage and Johnson building political alliances, Labour must send out a clear message: no dirty deals in Westminster! Only a Corbyn-led Labour government with socialist policies can definitely defeat Boris and his right-wing populist agenda.
Corbyn's domestic agenda is his ace card, but he also needs a socialist response to the current right-wing Brexiteers versus pro-EU liberals cul-de-sac - namely a genuinely inclusive Brexit position, which must accept that in 2016 leave won the referendum.
Sadly, in recent days, Corbyn has chosen to meekly swim in the right-wing slipstream. When Jo Swinson and Anna Soubry emerge from a meeting with him beaming with satisfaction you know that a left-wing agenda hasn't been advanced.
It's not too late for him to advance a very clear left leave message, however. Anything else frankly risks totally abandoning the ground to Johnson, Farage and the right-wing Brexiteers, and Corbyn might never become PM.
In many public sector jobs, workforces have been reorganised to bring in workers on much lower rates of pay to do much of the job previously done by trained professionals on higher wages.
I currently work in the criminal justice system. We have experienced a downgrading of our role and our wages while still doing much of the work that was done on a higher grade.
My grade is totally undervalued. A family member works for the police and there has been a similar process there.
This suits the employers in two ways. First of all it is cheaper, and secondly it creates the potential to divide and rule.
An article appeared in issue 1051 written by a teaching assistant in Wales ('Huge workload, low pay and unpaid hours - a day in the life of a teaching assistant'). I am a retired teacher. On reading the article I can see that many of the problems faced by classroom assistants are also faced by teachers.
Teachers are also paid pro rata. They get an annual salary which is then divided into 12 monthly payments. I used to get fed up explaining to people that we didn't get paid for 'long holidays' - which were never that long given all the extra work that takes place during non-term time!
Teachers also do not get paid for extra hours worked. When I was a teacher we were paid for a statutory number of hours per year. But you could never do everything you were expected to do in that time.
I regularly went into school for 7am, worked through breaks, and left at 5pm to cook dinner and look after my children (I was also a single parent) - and then worked into the evening marking work, preparing lessons and writing reports. We also ran parents' evenings, rewrote curriculum, and organised extracurricular activities.
Like TAs, teachers are dedicated and will step in to support struggling families - to ensure their child can go on a trip, provide clothes, dinner money and so on.
A good teacher values the support from teaching assistants. I definitely did. Especially when I taught classes where 15 children were on the special needs register.
We stress the common cause of teachers and teaching assistants. The blame for being low-paid, overworked and undervalued lies with employers and the government.
We should fight for proper funding for schools, and unity in action to address issues common to teachers and teaching assistants - especially now the National Education Union organises both.
Greta Thunberg has helped inspire a generation of young people to fight climate change. The vicious attacks on her by capitalist politicians show their fear of youth anger.
However, some tactics risk alienating the very people that can stop the destruction of the planet: namely, the working class.
Greta's latest much-publicised venture - to travel across the Atlantic on a boat that has no carbon emissions - is very laudable. But it separates her from ordinary working-class youth who could never afford such transport. Apparently, the boat (powered by solar panels) cost £4 million just to build!
Air travel offers relatively affordable holidays to working-class families wanting to get away from the daily grind of capitalism. They shouldn't feel guilty about flying.
Individual stunts will not tackle climate change. What we need is collective action from the organised working class to shift production and mass transport to clean energy. Trade union action on the 20 September climate strike would be a good start.
To hear an audio version of this document click here.
What the Socialist Party stands for
The Socialist Party fights for socialism – a democratic society run for the needs of all and not the profits of a few. We also oppose every cut, fighting in our day-to-day campaigning for every possible improvement for working class people.
The organised working class has the potential power to stop the cuts and transform society.
As capitalism dominates the globe, the struggle for genuine socialism must be international.
The Socialist Party is part of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), a socialist international that organises in over 40 countries.
Our demands include:
To hear an audio version of this document click here.