Thursday, 31 January 2013

Save Lewisham hospital’s A and E, could be your hospital next!

Last Saturday saw one of the biggest local demonstrations in south London in protest to save the local A and E at Lewisham which is threatened with closure. Over 25 thousand marched on the day and from what I’ve gathered was a tremendous atmosphere with young and old on the demo. This was a real community demo. The scale of support for the campaign was shown by the presence of the local football team Millwall's bus at the closing rally. Such was size of the march that it had to move off about half an hour early so that everyone could join. Despite it causing traffic to come to a standstill, many drivers tooted their support for the protest. Among the many union banners were the National Shop Stewards Network and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. This was the second demo organised against recommendations in a paper authored by Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw who was commissioned by the Con-Dem government to do a hatchet job on NHS services in South London. It was in anticipation of 1 February when Kershaw will submit his plans to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for rubber-stamping. Petitions, letters and marches have been organised, but these alone will not save Lewisham Hospital. Today we hear that the A and E services at Lewisham are to be down graded. The A&E department at Lewisham hospital in south-east London is to be downgraded and made smaller as part of cost-cutting measures. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also said the maternity unit at Lewisham would be replaced with a midwife-led facility. The cuts aim to help tackle debts of £150m at the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust Jos Bell, a Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner, called the announcement "a complete travesty". She rejected Mr Hunt's estimate that journey times to other Ages in the area would only take one minute longer. Ms Bell, who collapsed with heart and respiratory failure in 2006, added: "I'm only alive because Lewisham is where it is." Lewisham's mayor, Steve Bullock, said: "The secretary of state is riding roughshod over the people of Lewisham. This is not the end of the matter. "I do not believe that the Trust Special Administrator had the statutory power to make recommendations about Lewisham Hospital and the secretary of state therefore has no power to implement them. "I will be talking to our lawyers and we will also of course need to talk to our colleagues at Lewisham Hospital in order to fully understand the implications of Mr Hunt's statement." SO on the demo given all this Socialist Party members on the demo raised the idea that our strategy must be based on the health trade unions and pressure on them to ballot their members for strike action to save the NHS, solidly backed by the community. A workers' occupation of Lewisham Hospital could be organised to stop equipment being removed and facilities run down. Over 2,500 Socialist Party leaflets calling for strike action to defend Lewisham A&E were taken by demonstrators. This attempt to attack jobs and services at Lewisham Hospital is not the first. During 2006 the then Labour government proposed the closure of A&E, maternity and paediatric services. Socialist Party former councillors Chris Flood and Ian Page launched a petition opposing the attacks to build up pressure on MPs and councillors. Chris Flood proposed a motion to the council for 'referring back' Labour's outrageous plans. Although Labour and Lib Dem councillors opposed this, pressure eventually forced the government to back down and the hospital was saved then. What’s clear is this is just the start and the battle to save Lewisham A and E will need a serious fightback including the workers if it is to succeed. Labours opportunist role in this has not gone unnoticed either their last governments role in PFI schemes up and down the country has been raised time after time in this campaign The hypocrisy must be exposed having Tories march on demo’s to save their local NHS when the national government is ripping it apart is a disgrace. But now this time round it are Labour councillors and MPs who are giving lip service to the campaign to oppose the closures, while at the same time pushing through £28 million of council cuts to jobs and services over the next three years. They are doing the Con-Dems' dirty work. Recognising the links between all the cuts to jobs and public services, one street cleaner clearing up after the demo proudly displayed a Socialist Party Save our NHS placard in his cart. At the end of the march, demonstrators were queuing up to sign the Socialist Party petition in defence of NHS services in south London. They recognised that we need to save all NHS services and not allow the campaign to be just about defending Lewisham A&E at the expense of other NHS services in south London. With thanks to Susanna Farley and Chris Newby For extracts from the socialist this week which can be read at

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Reclaiming the labour party, was it ever really ours?

Many on the left now to fill their vacuum of ideas and principles are now calling to reclaim the labour party including Unite general secretary Len McCluskey who says we must all join labour to reclaim the party for us. He claims it is our party, working people’s party. I am a member of the socialist party and am of the view this is a non starter the democratic structures for reclaiming the party are no longer there plus there is no mass enthusiasm for going into labour to have a big battle to change it. But as the argument is back again I thought I’d look at if the party was ever really “ours” to reclaim. As Lenin described at the time the labour party was a bourgeois workers party with a conservative pro market leadership with a working class mass base. Those who wish to try and argue as the likes of the SWP do that the labour party has stayed the same only have to take a look at where labours mass workers base has gone. It’s been hollowed out. Yes the party still has the trade union link and those like left wing celebrity Owen Jones argue that it’s still tied to the working class and is still a worker’s party due to that link. I disagree; the Democrats in America have a trade union link yet are still an out and out capitalist party much like the labour party today. To understand why today we say the labour party is a fully capitalist party we must understand the transition and factors which have lead to this point. From its very inception it’s been a battle of ideas, of principles and factions. One hundred years ago, on 27 February, 1900, a conference of trade unionists and socialist organizations met to establish the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party. This was to be a culminating step in a long struggle by workers in Britain to break with the Liberal Party and establish their own party. The Labour Party was from its inception a bourgeois workers party. At its head were the 'liberal' leaders such as Ramsay Macdonald and Philip Snowden, through whom the pro-capitalist ideology of the ruling class could be transmitted to the working class below. In parliament those leaders succumbed to opportunism, following the lead of the Liberal Party which they had separated from organisationally but not ideologically. But at the same time the party had its roots in the working class, with its working class base acting as a certain counter-weight to its bourgeois tops. One hundred years later, however, in the wake of the collapse of Stalinism and the boom of the 1980s, the pro-capitalist leadership is now completely dominant. The channels through which the working-class base of the Labour Party could hold the leadership in check have been cut off, and the party has made the transition to an openly bourgeois party. The historic task of building an independent mass workers' party is posed once again. But not under the same conditions. Despite the lowering of socialist consciousness generally in society over the past decade, a capitalist workers' party has been in existence for almost a century and that experience will influence the character of a new workers' party, especially in its early stages. In addition, the leadership of the trade unions today is more integrated into the capitalist state than it was at the end of the 19th century. That too will affect the process towards a new workers' party, making it much less likely that the leadership of large national unions would move to embrace a new party as they did in the past. Nevertheless, as in the 1880s and early 1890s, it will be mass struggle arising from economic, social and political crisis which will create the conditions for a new mass workers' party to emerge. And, as then, the intervention of revolutionary socialists in that process will be crucial. Socialists paved the way for an independent workers' party through their propaganda and involvement in the day to day struggles of the working class. But however determined they were to see a new party come into being, they could not transcend the limits of the objective situation. It was the interplay between mass struggle and socialist propaganda and activity which created the conditions under which they could take concrete initiatives to create an independent party of the working class. We believe that, without a major influx of workers into the Labour Party any campaign for rank-and-file control will be ineffective but, as the LRC discovered when it attempted to launch a recruitment drive in the anti-war movement, workers and young people entering struggle have no interest in joining the party they are fighting against. But reclaiming the Labour Party for the working class would require a mass influx of workers, organised around a campaign to remove the Blairites and recreate the party's democratic structures. A socialist programme would need to be adopted, including opposition to all cuts. The Socialist Party has concluded that this is not possible - and that instead what is required is the creation of a new mass party of the working class. If such a party stood on Unite's programme of opposing and reversing all the cuts, abolishing the anti-union laws, etc, it would provide a positive pole of attraction for all those millions of people opposed to the Con-Dems' austerity. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is an attempt to build a bridge to such a party. Plans to build it should be stepped up, including holding meetings and debates on the issue of political representation and developing supporters groups inside the unions. With e extracts from Christine Thomas’s excellent article in socialism today on the history of the labour party

Monday, 28 January 2013

Solidarity with NHS workers in mid Yorks on a 5 day strike this week

While the NHS is ripped apart little in the way of industrial fight back is forthcoming from the unions which represent workers in the NHS. There is one exception though this week in mid Yorkshire Unison members will be on strike for a full 5 days this week. They will need your support and hopefully this can give confidence to other Unison workers and branch’s to take action if their leadership will not. Below I republish the press release that the local branch put out a few weeks back now. Thank you for your support for our strike against ‘downbandings’ . We have received £1000′s in solidarity donations and 100′s of messages of support from TU branches and individuals across the country. So far our members have taken strike action on 1st November and 20th – 22nd November. Over 500 staff has taken strike action. The Trust is still intending to press ahead with dismissing and re engaging our members on lower pay bands. During our negotiation meetings they refuse to discuss alternatives to the downbandings and insist on discussing only the length of protection paid. Following downbanding. Their latest offer of 18-24 months protection was unanimously rejected at meetings of the members last week. The Trust refused to discuss the new Admin ‘model’ at a meeting last Wednesday. Yesterday both UNISON and Unite gave the Trust notice of a 5 day strike starting next Monday – 28th January. Our members are determined to resist the cuts in their pay and the attacks on the Agenda for Change agreement. We know we can rely on the support of people like you, Trade Unionists and the General Public. Please send messages of support to this email address. financial donations to our hardship fund can be sent to UNISON mid Yorkshire Health 20671 c/c Trade Union Office Pinderfields Hospital Aberford Road Wakefield WF1 4DG Yours in Solidarity Adrian O’Malley

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Irish Socialist party withdraws from the ULA new workers party still needed

In new developments I’ve come across our sister section in Ireland part of the CWI the Committee for Workers International has today ended its relationship with the ULA United Left Alliance. This is a great shame I feel but something I think that has become increasingly inevitable given the circumstances and the recent developments in the ULA. A full statement is republished below. The Socialist Party has ended its membership of the ULA. We do so with regret as we initiated the negotiations that led to the ULA and are genuine in our preparedness to work with others on the left in a respectful, democratic and principled fashion. However some in the ULA, including TDs, have moved away from a principled left position and have ditched the collaborative spirit. Apart from the Socialist Party, the other groups in the ULA have accepted this situation, leaving us with no choice but to withdraw. These developments decisively undermined the ULA, which was already in a weakened state as ordinary working class people had not joined it in any significant numbers, along with the withdrawal of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group (Tipperary) last autumn. As a result, any potential that the ULA had of playing a role in building a new mass Left in Ireland is now gone. New opportunities for the political re-organisation of the working class At the same time, the struggle against the Household and Property Tax emerged as a real challenge to the Troika's and the Government's disastrous policy of austerity. This struggle, which more than any other issue encapsulates the opposition to austerity, has now reached a decisive stage with the threat of deducting the tax at source from people's wages and benefits. It is clear that a major struggle on the Property Tax will politicise tens of thousands of people and will give an enormous impetus to the political re-organisation of the working class, something that unfortunately the ULA proved incapable of achieving. The Socialist Party remains committed to building a mass and Democratic Party of the working class and believe that all who are committed to that objective should register the potential significance of the Property Tax issue. At the start of last year 30,000 people attended meetings organised by the Campaign against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT). 15,000 marched on the Fine Gael Ard Fheis and by the end of the year nearly 700,000 households, 52% of single home owners, had not registered or paid for the Household Tax. The threat to rob people’s wages and benefits at source poses difficulties for the campaign and for ordinary people, but it has also deepened the anger. If a strong lead is given on the Property Tax there is a real possibility of even stronger protests this year than last. An aspect of this struggle should be to connect to the widespread mood to punish Labour and Fine Gael. If out of the struggle came the proposal for a slate or an alliance of anti-Property Tax / anti-austerity candidates for the Local and European Elections next year, that would really ratchet up the pressure on the Government, and on Labour in particular. Such a proposal could gain huge support and could lead to the involvement of thousands of working class people in a political struggle, with the possibility that many working class activists could get elected. Such developments would not only be a massive step towards forcing the scrapping of the Property Tax, but would also represent a big step towards a new mass party of the working class. Lessons from the ULA's demise The original idea of the ULA was for an electoral and parliamentary alliance of groups. On the suggestion of the Socialist Party, a membership was established to try to build a more significant alliance. The launching of the ULA was a positive development coinciding as it did with the imposition of the Troika’s Programme and the looming general election. However, the worsening austerity combined with the abysmal failure of the trade union leadership to mount any struggle against it in the wake of the major public sector strike and mass demonstration in November 2010, dented people’s confidence and there was a tendency to wait and see if the new Fine Gael / Labour Government might be different. Unfortunately, the absence of industrial struggles or battles against austerity, combined with a feeling that there was no alternative to austerity, meant that working class people weren’t pushed towards getting politically involved and the ULA didn’t grow despite many public recruitment meetings. Overwhelmingly the very limited numbers who did join were already established left activists, so instead of growing, the ULA barely got off the mark. Last summer sections of the media consciously used Mick Wallace’s tax evasion and Clare Daly’s close political connection to him to attack the Left. This damaged the Socialist Party and the ULA’s standing as principled Left organisations. The Socialist Party insists that its elected representatives must be politically independent from business or capitalist interests or people who represent such interests, even more so when tax evasion is involved. In this instance, the fact that the Socialist Party was prepared to lose a TD rather than compromise on an important principle meant that we overcame that damage and gained considerable credit among working class people in particular, who strongly disapprove of Mick Wallace's actions. Political independence of the left can't be compromised Unfortunately Clare Daly and another ULA TD, Joan Collins, intensified this political connection with Mick Wallace. They co-presented the X case abortion bill with him in late November. Furthermore on 20 December they organised a major press conference with him, and also Independent TD Luke Flanagan, on the issue of alleged corruption among certain members of the Garda in erasing penalty points for traffic offences. These generated significant media coverage. They consciously chose not to organise on these issues under the ULA banner but instead opted to promote what is essentially a new alliance of parliamentarians who are not of the Left. This was a body blow to the already diminished credibility of the ULA. Just as damning for the future of the ULA as these actions, was the fact that none of the other groups in the alliance, the People Before Profit Alliance, the Independent / Non-aligned Group nor significantly, the Socialist Workers Party, opposed this approach of supposedly being committed to a left project but in practice contradicting that by organising a political alliance with others in the Dáil Technical Group who couldn't at all be characterised as on the Left. On 25 November, at the ULA Council, a motion moved by the Socialist Party on the need to end the political connection with Mick Wallace was voted down by all the other groups. In so doing they assisted in the jettisoning of a cornerstone principle for any left organisation, that it must take seriously its political independence from business interests or forces representing business interests. Around the same time, the “Daly Bill” on the X case was resubmitted for the ULA’s Private Member’s slot on 27 November but, unfortunately, this was done without any consultation and in defiance of a specifically agreed procedure which necessitated discussion and consensus. If the Socialist Party had the opportunity, we were going to advocate that the ULA submit a bill on the X case but that it should be expanded to cater for a risk to a woman’s health as grounds for an abortion, with a view to broadening out the debate and discussion on abortion in the wake of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. ULA at an impasse, but a real basis for optimism for the future This subverting of democratic procedure undermined the structures and relations in the ULA. Despite the facts, any wrong doing was denied and again unfortunately, none of the other groups made any serious objection to what had happened when it was raised at the Council meeting. These developments destroyed any basis for principled political collaboration and the ULA has been at an impasse ever since. The ULA is compromised and cannot now be seen as an independent, principled Left alliance nor any longer there be hope that it could prepare the ground for a new mass workers' party in the years ahead. These are the reasons why, as well as the need to avoid any future damaging associations for the party or for struggles that we are involved in, the Socialist Party is withdrawing from the ULA. The Socialist Party is open to work with those who remain in the ULA on specific issues, on an agreed basis, both inside and outside the Dáil. However we believe that the key to building a Left alternative will flow from a serious struggle against the disastrous austerity and bailout agenda and in particular from the involvement of thousands of working class people in the battle against the property and water taxes in the year ahead. Socialist Party members will be among the most active fighters in all aspects of the battle against the Property Tax. As part of that our members will raise in a democratic fashion, locally and nationally, the idea that an anti-Property Tax and anti-austerity challenge in the Local and European Elections in 2014 should be pursued by the campaigns. Such an electoral initiative, combined with the active struggle against the tax and mass mobilisations against the Government, has the potential to pose a more real and substantial opportunity to build a new mass party of the working class. Through the establishment of the ULA, initiated by the Socialist Party, an alternative was posed in half the Dáil constituencies in the last general election. We believe that the hopes engendered for a genuine left and socialist alternative which that stand raised, can be surpassed in the months ahead, if the unprecedented opportunity that the next elections offer, is fully grasped. Full statement and website here

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Building TUSC – The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition a reply to Nick Wrack

TUSC is at a very fragile period in its development. It’s hard to write it off equally its hard to write it into the history books as a huge success. I speak of TUSC as a socialist party member who is extremely passionate and buy in totally to the idea of a new mass workers party with socialist aims and principles. I left the labour party due to that very point as its failed working people and continues to do so day in day out. So with TUSC I feel we have an opportunity. Just an opportunity not inevitability at all TUSC could be that vehicle that working people turn to but it could equally be cast aside in the development of the class struggle. We in the socialist party accept TUSC is not the final product or is anything near what we’d like to see in the future it is as we say in progress and will stay so for sometime I feel. TUSC must start to grow and be seen to be growing. I do accept our position in the SP to not go towards a membership based system of a one member one vote system just yet we are still too fragile and I do not feel as do the party that would be the best thing for TUSC in its development at this stage. I feel the current arrangement of factions including us the socialist party the SWP, independent socialist network and the RMT so far with a steering committee with one vote one veto we can use working on a consensus basis is fine for now. But this format cannot continue and Nick Wrack of the ISN the independent socialist network has produced a good thought provoking post in the last day or so. Nick writes I went on the ‘Save Lewisham A&E’ demo today. There was a fantastic turnout of around 20 – 25,000. The area was bedecked with campaign posters. It seemed as though every passing car honked its horn in solidarity. It was a really significant development in the anti-cuts movement to get such a response for a local demo. There should have been a serious attempt by TUSC to raise its profile at today’s event, showing solidarity and offering help. Any anti-cuts electoral challenge would have to engage with such an event. Every one of the 20,000 + people on the demo should have seen TUSC activists and gone home with TUSC literature. TUSC should have been seen as having something to say about the NHS and this threatened closure. However, the two big socialist organisations in TUSC - the SWP & the SP – both prioritised their own party building activities, selling papers and running their own stalls. That is their prerogative and nothing I say is going to change what they do. I am told that the some SP members brought the TUSC banner but I didn’t see it. TUSC has no organisational centre or apparatus, no money, no relevant leaflets and consequently had no impact on the march at all. The new National Health Action Party’s banner, on the other hand, was prominent. If TUSC is to make any impact at all in the next two years it has to completely change its approach. It needs to think and act like a national party and intervene in protests like todays as though it had something serious to say. Independent socialists, trade unionists and other activists who want a new party should seriously discuss how we can work together to increase our weight and influence. Join the Independent Socialist Network. While Nick has his own ideas and thoughts and feelings on TUSC I do believe he is genuinely interested in building a new workers party with socialist aims I totally respect Nick for this important contribution to the on going debate on TUSC. I may shock some of my SP comrades but I do largely agree with Nick I think as a party the SP do very well in pushing TUSC and are by far the most out spoken in pushing for TUSC far more than the SWP and that isn’t a sectarian jibe its simply the truth. Take last TUSC conference last year we had by far the biggest turn out and whilst turnout isn’t everything it showed our support and our passion for the project to succeed. We in the SP try to talk up TUSC as much as we can while many on the left deride TUSC and write us off we’ve always taken the long term view that things can progress quickly yet can also take time to develop. TUSC I feel needs promoting whenever and wherever we can. Just bringing a banner of TUSC to demo’s is fine but for me still does not go far enough in building Tusc’s name and profile on a national scale. Nick is entirely correct in stating on a big demonstration like the one today in Lewisham TUSC should have had a big presence and profile on the demo handing out leaflets on standing for TUSC and getting involved. As Nick says the NHS party had a good intervention so why couldn’t we? Of course the SP my party and the SWP will always focus on building their own parties I accept as much as Nick does but a greater emphasis must be put on building TUSC. Of course those who join the SP are made fully aware of TUSC and do tend to end up supporting TUSC so a recruit to the SP isn’t a loss for TUSC but I accept Nick’s frustration. I think branch’s are one answer to the on going issue of building TUSC and its structures giving branch’s a seat on the steering committee would be good too but we need to find a way of involving large numbers of workers in TUSC without diluting any of its core components. I think this is where the ISN needs to step up to the plate I wont criticises this organisation but it could be that area of TUSC where mass membership could evolve from potentially. There is no reason why many workers on a demonstration such as the one today could not be signed up to join the ISN. Giving it much greater weight on the steering committee. Why not change the name of the ISN to a more formal membership type name if not fully a membership based faction of TUSC it could at least act as much in the short term until we come to a bigger decision on the structures of TUSC and its long term future. So in reply to Nick Wrack I’d say I totally agree that the SP and SWP need to do far more to build and promote TUSC is there not a way that the ISN could playa bigger role in TUSC too ?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Unison branch in Stoke to suspend funding to labour, more should follow!

In very interesting developments in Stoke-on-Trent Unison one of the most right wing difficult to organise in unions in the country stead fast seemingly to the labour party has seen one of its biggest branch’s make a big leap into the unknown. Weather this will come to much or be the start of other branch’s following suit only time will tell. I’d urge all branches and unions affiliated to the labour party to do the same and disaffiliate do not fund a party which’s destroying your pay, conditions and jobs and services. Stand on your own fund yourselves its got to be better than funding labour. Take a look at TUSC where the RMT is officially backing now and support anti cuts candidates. So in Stoke the city's biggest trade union is to withdraw its funding for Labour in protest over cuts to workers' pay. Unison members in Stoke-on-Trent have ordered regional bosses to stop supporting the city's Labour party in an unprecedented bid to force a U-turn on £2 million cuts to staff terms and conditions. It comes after senior Labour councillor Andy Lilley yesterday quit the party over his refusal to support the cuts. The Sentinel has learned that a further six councillors in the city's ruling Labour group – about one-third of its backbenchers – are part of a growing rebellion against cuts which are set to hit hundreds of the authority's lowest paid workers. Unison pays £1,500 grants to constituency groups and also helps with leafleting during elections. Unison branch secretary Clive Rushton said: "The Labour party was born out of the trade union movement and is there to represent the working man. It is now attacking the working man." Cuts to contractual rights including allowances for working nights and weekends, will see low paid workers like social carers lose up to £6,500 a year. An interesting development indeed and something TUSC should really try and push for other unison branches with TUSC influence to popularise. There is much we can do to undermine blink support for labour by unions themselves coming into conflict with labour councils making cuts. Developments like this can be the start of a fight back an expression of the anger and frustration at labour for carrying out the cuts. TUSC will be standing in Stoke this year against all cuts it would be great for us to approach this branch and discuss working class political representation given this recent development. I’d love to see this be the start of something but we cant over state this its just one branch but it shines a beacon now for other branch’s tied to unison who fund the labour party to the tune of millions that they can force the issue if they wish.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A socialist opposition to the “boss’s club” EU

Now all this week we have heard on the news of David Cameron’s speech on Europe it really wasn’t as big as they made out if the Tories win the next election we will get a referendum after the Tories have re negotiated the deal with EU so many if’s there this is supposable to win over the Tories back bench’s and block the rise of UKIP. But so far the debate on Europe has been dominated by the right well there is opposition to the EU from the left and I will look to outline the opposition to the “boss’s club”. The EU had lots of support at its inception from even some on the left who’d brought into the idea that there was no alternative to capitalism even some ex Marxists in fact peddled this line. For many years the EU and the Eurozone with the single currency sustained healthy levels of growth. In 2013 this is turning into a nightmare due to the straight jacket of the Euro and the deepening euro crisis. The Socialist Party and Committee for a Workers' International (CWI, to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) predicted from the start though that the eurozone could not stay intact. The economies across the zone varied significantly in their features, strengths and weaknesses, yet were confined to a straitjacket of a single currency and interest rate. This was workable to some extent in a period of economic growth but was bound to come under insurmountable pressure in a recession. Reflecting the depth of the crisis, Europe's ruling classes and governments now have no achievable solutions to the crisis to offer and are deeply divided within and between them on what to do. Some argue in vain for a new EU constitution with more central powers and an end to national vetoes on treaties. Others want a looser relationship with the EU or to be out of it altogether. All reveal their bankruptcy - they cannot deliver stability and growth. However, their floundering is not taking place in isolation. Millions of working class and middle class people have participated in strikes and demonstrations against the onslaught on their living standards that is being spearheaded by the EU chiefs. The EU is increasingly being seen as the bosses' club that it is - that has enshrined in its constitution the rule of the market and the attacks that flow from that. Opposing the capitalism-serving institutions that make up the EU certainly doesn't mean rejecting international links and cooperation between ordinary people. The key questions are: What is the character of the institutions, who is controlling them and in whose interests are they acting? The EU is controlled by 27 of the European capitalist ruling classes and flowing from this they act in the interests of big business and the rich. Socialist societies across Europe would be able to democratically elect representatives to an entirely different type of institution - ones serving workers' interests. This would be the basis for a European socialist confederation - an alliance of socialist states - that could democratically, and with full accountability, enable economic, environmental, social and cultural cooperation in the interests of the overwhelming majority of people across the continent. In the last European elections we stood candidates under the No to EU yes to democracy banner no doubt we will try and stand candidates again for a democratic socialist alternative to the EU maybe tagging the no to EU yes to democracy slogan on to the end of our TUSC material perhaps. No doubt UKIP will benefit in these elections given their firm opposition to the EU from the right but its right workers are offered an opposition to the EU from the left a non reactionary class perspective which can help overcome the divisions in society and unite people under a common cause for socialist policies. Lets not let the right dominate this debate let us speak up loudly from the left with our own confident ideas of a democratic socialist alternative with true internationalism not right wing nationalism

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The scandal of blacklisting Trade union response needed

Blacklisting has been going on for year’s workers have found them unable to gain work and haven’t been able to understand the reasons why. This has often happened to trade unionists who have highlighted health and safety concerns and became a thorn in the side of the boss’s but it has also happened to MP’s and MSP’s with Tommy Sheridan admitting that he felt he’d been blacklisted for fighting for workers rights in the past. This is a national disgrace and the TUC must take this up as a major campaign. National Shop Stewards Network chair, Rob Williams, recently interviewed Dave Smith, a blacklisted construction worker. At last there has been publicity about the disgraceful blacklisting of workers, largely because Ian Kerr of the Consulting Association (CA) had to go in front of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which is investigating these anti-union practices. Dave explains the significance of these new revelations. What was the CA and how did the big companies use it to victimise union reps and activists? The CA ran the blacklist for the 44 largest construction firms in the UK. It held a database of over 3,200 union members. The senior HR managers supplied information on workers – including work history and union activity. What has been the effect on the lives of blacklisted workers? The firms paid for access to the database. They checked the names of workers applying for work. If a name came up the worker was refused a job or sacked. Union activists were out of work for years. Some lost their homes. Two blacklisted workers from the Jubilee Line project in London have committed suicide. After Kerr’s testimony, what should happen? GMB union general secretary Paul Kenny has written to every Labour councillor in the UK arguing that no blacklisting firm should be allowed to tender for publicly funded projects. In September, 28 workers on the Crossrail project were sacked. The shop steward, Frank Morris has been protesting daily. Crossrail and the contracting consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier deny wrongdoing. Does this show that blacklisting and victimisation is still going on? Blacklisting is definitely still going on. Ian Kerr admitted that there was an awful lot of discussion at blacklisting meetings about the Crossrail project. He also admitted there was lots of blacklisting on the Olympics. We have known it for years – Frank Morris is the latest. The Sparks’ defeat of the Besna contract showed how workers can fight back and win. Two union reps at Ratcliffe and Grangemouth were suspended but through action and pressure by their members, both were reinstated. What does this show? Blacklisting takes place across every sector of the economy; it is part of the struggle between capital and labour – and is not likely to go away. But we will fight for justice in every way – in the courts, in legislation, in the press – but most importantly industrially. The Besna and Crossrail dispute put blacklisting centre stage – thousands of flyers have gone into building sites. Thousands of building workers have responded by taking industrial action to defend our reps. It was interfering with production that won successes, not reliance on employment tribunals. This is not about one or two people but a collective struggle based initially among blacklisted workers. We try to draw in support from the unions, lawyers, academics, politicians, Occupy and human rights activists. Our small fight is part of a bigger struggle to change the world. The NSSN is playing an ongoing part of the campaign against blacklisting. More info on disputes and updates on fighting against blacklisting you can read at Aswell as the baclisting support group which is on facebook too.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Opposing the Tories police cuts in Hertfordshire

Today we hear in our local newspapers that the popular choice for the Hertfordshire PCC who gained a huge mandate when he was elected with 14 % of the turnout last year is set to set to work in attacking our police force and the numbers on the streets. s By Ben Endley More than 130 police officers and staff are set to be cut in Hertfordshire as part of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s first budget. Councillor David Lloyd is proposing to freeze the budget precept for 2013/14 while making £6.3 million of spending cuts. The budget anticipates the loss of 60 police officer posts and 76 police staff posts during the next financial year. This would reduce the number of officers working in the county to 1,900 and the number of staff to 1,762. A percentage of these officer posts will be lost from crime investigation roles which is losing £350,000 from its budget, while savings will also be made in intelligence support, in the control room and through collaboration with other forces. The socialist party and TUSC in Hertfordshire condemn these cuts and urge all to add their voices to ours in opposition. As socialists we are against cuts to the police too as crime disproportionably affects working class communities we therefore oppose cuts to the police. We do not take a ultra left position that some on the left do that the police are our mortal enemy we do have serious criticisms of the police and their roles in phone hacking, breaking up picket lines and much much more injustices we do not excuse them for that but when it comes to cuts and how this will affect local communities we will oppose police cuts. When we say we’re against all cuts we have to be clear we are against police cuts too even if they show little solidarity wit anti cuts protesters and students on demonstrations. At the end of the day the polices with the army recruit largely from working class backgrounds the fact they are not allowed full trade union rights and have always up till now been paid fairly well in comparison with other public sector workers was always the ruling class’s attempt to draw them away from the working-class and more importantly the labour movement. But we do oppose these cuts by the Tories a no doubt labourPCC’s around the country will be making cuts too we oppose cuts whoever is making them. The socialist party stands for full democratic trade union rights for the police For the police to have the right to strike For the police to affiliate to the TUC and be able to have a political voice more so than the limp Police Federation which can only mummer opposition to government policies at present. Ensuring the police are democratically accountable to us the working class is a first step to drawing them nearer our position and could one day open up splits in the state but this is something much further down the line. But for now we oppose these dangerous cuts to the police service.

The unite general secretary election

Very soon there will be an election for general secretary of Britain’s biggest trade union – Unite the current general secretary Len McCluskey who has only been in the post little over 2 years is holding a snap election to gain a second term. I do feel this is quite an undemocratic move even if his intentions are too sure up support for the left. Many have excused this move and said well we’d not be happy if the right wing did this but its ok for the left to? Seems a little contradictory to me. But putting this all aside the short time given for any challenger is all designed to make it as hard as possible for anyone to challenge Len’s record to date. So far only one has declared and has enough nominations and that is Gerry Hicks who stood last time and gained 50 thousand odd votes. I myself am a unite member and am in a community branch. The community membership set up last year to give the unemployed students and low paid workers a voice. So far this has not been a big success for Unite with only a few thousand joining since its launch. As for Len’s reclaiming the labour party only 5000 have joined the labour party since he urged unite members to join the party and exert influence. With what democratic structures len ? As with Kingsley Abrahams a Labour councillor in Lambeth who voted against cuts in the labour group not even in the council chamber was suspended for his actions yet Len told Kingsley to go back into the labour group therefore accepting the cuts agenda and unite cannot garuntee support to councillors voting against cuts. This is just not good enough for a union supposably against the cuts.It must put its money and support where its mouth is. The united left which is a broad left organisation of left unite members containing the socialist party is backing Len Mccluskey and the socialist party itself is giving critical support to Len. The socialist party did support Gerry Hicks back in 2009 in the leadership contest for what was Amicus back then Gerry stands for a lot of what the socialist party stands for repealing of anti trade union laws confronting them when necessary and for democratic election of all unin officials. To me our position to back Len McCluskey appears more tactical than strategic. There doesn’t appear to be a challenger from the right wing as yet no Les Baylis like before so the idea critically supporting Len will sure up the left in the union i’m not convinced on personally. I myself am torn I actually agree with allot of what Gerry Hicks is standing for. For example he pledges to stand on a average wage of a member in unite this for me is a very important principle and one of the reasons I joined the socialist party and their strength and feeling around this issue that no elected official should receive more than the ordinary man or woman in the street in that area they live in. Now Gerry seems to be quite open and clear about this as for Len I can’t find any mention of him pledging to do this if re elected. As far as I know Len is on a very nice 6 figure salary paid to him by our membership subs. While Len’s record is far better than his predecessors who wasn’t hard to do he still lacks in many areas for me. For example Len claims that unite do no longer give blank cheques to the labour party. This is simply not true Unite has given 6 million pounds to labour over the last 10 years and with no strings attached. His gushing speech for Ed Miliband at last year’s labour party conference really wound me up too claiming it was one of the best speech’s he’s ever heard was disgusting Given the fact that Labour will carry out the cuts if re elected Unite should be pulling its funding on the labour party until it pledges to reverse all cuts, if it does not then we look again at working class political representation . Len does support calls for a 24 hour general strike to give him his due but will this be more hot air from a leader who loves the big speech, the big moment the applause from the crowds yet has been found excusing Labours austerity light cuts agenda when around the Labour party. Unites role in the public sector pensions sell out can’t be ignored either of course it wasn’t down to one union but Unite had the weight it could have used. But McCluskey’s rhetoric doesn’t meet reality. He talks about coordinated national strike action. But back in March Unite’s leadership pulled the plug on action over pensions and isolated the PCS and NUT. The real reason for the election – and McCluskey has admitted this – is to avoid a clash with the general election in May 2015. But it would seem Len with his reclaiming labour project is missing a trick here if there was an election in the same year as the unite general secretary election unite could use its weight to force labour into supporting anti austerity policies. As it is it could be the case that Unite backs labour to the hilt in 2015 whether it supports the union’s policies or not that is an unhealthy relationship. I am for the breaking of the labour party link none of the candidates standing pledge to do that I think unite should be backing anti cuts candidates with a proud record of fighting all cuts. So I am still very unconvinced by Len yet I agree with a lot of what Gerry says I’m still not sure I can vote for him. I’ll have to decide between now and the election but at present the jury is still very much out for me with Len.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

RMT step up campaign for renationalisation of the railways

Support for bringing the railways back into public ownership is as strong as it’s ever been. The case to bring railways back in-house is something the RMT union and others have been demanding for years. The campaign is building momentum all the time. TUSC is committed to bringing the railways back in to public ownership but disgracefully the Labour party still will not commit to pledging to bring the rail back in house. The cost of running the railway has increased since privatisation when Tory propaganda said costs would fall. Fares have risen 50% in ten years, and are up to ten times higher than in other parts of Europe. A rail season ticket is a major item of expenditure. Freight charges have played a part in discouraging more freight on rail. A senior accounting lecturer at the University of Essex, John Stittle, offers the following view: "The state is putting an awful lot in. If British Rail had the same funds now we would have a gold-plated state railway." Clearly some increase in costs resulted from more services being run and catch-up expenditure on infrastructure which was neglected. Even so, privatisation has seen virtually no increase in electrification which benefits reliability and the environment. Costs of privatisation Costs, which the authors say would be cut out by public ownership, include Network Rail debt interest which would be less expensive to the government, fragmentation costs, profits for contractors at various levels, and rewards for investors. Removing these costs could lead to an 18% reduction across all fares, rather than the 6% increase introduced this month. It is estimated that 5% of Train Operating Companies' costs are caused by their interface with Network Rail, and that between 300 and 500 rail workers are engaged in delay attribution (identifying reasons for delays). The industry guide to delay attribution runs to 90 pages. When maintenance work was brought back in-house by Network Rail, the savings were £264 million a year. Renewals and enhancements to infrastructure are still outsourced with profits estimated at £200 million a year. The small numbers of companies which own trains and lease them to the Train Operating Companies are hugely profitable, one estimate is that profits before tax and interest are 41% of income. But the case against privatisation is not solely based on avoidable costs. There is effectively no competition in the privatised railway. There is hardly ever a real choice because one franchise has an effective monopoly. Overcrowding is now a major concern for travellers with implications for safety. The rush hour becomes crush hour and the festive season a battle to find a seat. Ticket purchasing can be very complex and the lack of cooperation between service providers means passengers can be stranded. There is increasing pressure from firms to cut ticket office and station staffs - more potential travellers is discouraged and turn to the car. The promised electrification between Manchester and Liverpool will use quarter-century old trains; such is the lack of a viable UKbased train building capacity. Section six of Rebuilding Rail is a discussion on the objections which supporters of privatisation make to proposals to remove the profit motive and franchise system. These include objections that privatisation means innovation, investment and efficiency, the cost of buying assets back, and the restrictions imposed by European Union law on public ownership. While these issues can't be ignored, the main problem to be solved is to develop a movement with the political will to overcome these and other obstacles in the way of returning the rail industry to public ownership, and to introducing for the first time measures to ensure democratic control. In the part of Rebuilding Rail dealing with "The Solution", the authors list many aims for the rail industry with which socialists would agree and have been campaigning for. They point out that "the purpose of the railway system is primarily to provide a public service not private profit". Public ownership is therefore the solution - including train operating, infrastructure, rolling stock, etc. There needs to be a structure to provide integration, expanding capacity, more freight on rail and rail industry manufacturing. Some other points have not kept pace with reality, eg "devolution to regions and counties" at a time when county councils are withdrawing from doing anything themselves and becoming commissioning bodies handing contracts to private firms. Interesting figures are given relating to train and rail manufacturing and comparisons of the UK with other European countries, Japan and New Zealand, in terms of public/private ownership, and the rail share of the freight market. The authors show that "a unified public sector train operator" along with direct public ownership of Network Rail, control of buying and building trains and increased use of freight on rail are necessary and beneficial. Even so it is clear that every problem would not be solved overnight. The skills shortage in building trains, long-term plans for training enough drivers and guards, improving communications systems would need planning and investment over a period. But bringing the rail industry into democratic public ownership is not in the end a legal or technical issue, the impression given by some of the arguments in this report. The real problem is political will. Rail unions, passengers and the wider working class all support renationalisation. We need to build a mass workers' party that, unlike the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, will carry out this measure. Using electric trains is far more efficient and potentially far better for the environment. Britain's first electric line was the City and South London railway in 1890, London's first deep tube, now part of London Underground's Northern Line. Most of the Southern Railway network was electrified between 1923 and 1939. Yet today there are still large parts of the railway yet to be made electric. A socialist plan for the rails would include electrifying the remaining lines. Of course, this needs to be linked to a socialist plan for renationalised utilities that would replace polluting energy such as coal and gas with renewable sources. Train Operating Companies (TOCs) 'predict' their revenue - if a TOC takes less than 98% of that forecast, it gets bailed out by the taxpayer for 50% or 80% (depending on the size of the shortfall) of the missing takings. In October, it was announced that the annual 'revenue support' totalled £451 million, a big chunk of the railways' annual £4 billion government subsidy (double the subsidy for British Rail). Socialist nationalisation British Rail wasn't perfect - though far better than the mess that exists today. When it was first formed, in 1948, many of the same bosses stayed in place. Regions competed with each other. The Socialist Party calls for the railways to be renationalised under democratic working class control and management, using the experience and expertise of rail workers and passengers, to run trains as a public service and not a big business cash cow. With extracts from this fantastic article with an interview with RMT general secretary Bob Crow on rail renationalisation

2013 the year the fight back to save the NHS is stepped up

The NHS is still facing a huge crisis due to huge funding cuts and privatisation. Big struggles were waged last year in 2012 but 2013 the battle to save ourNHS needs to be stepped up hugely. The tories that have always had it in for the NHS due to the fact the rich don’t use it and see it as unnecessary to the progression of capitalism. Recently the 2013 'State of the Nation' poll found huge support for the NHS and 72% agreed that: "we must do everything we can to maintain it". The NHS is said to be more valued to our nation than the royal family I think that tells you a lot about people’s feelings today. Never before has this support been so needed. The Con-Dems' attacks so far include 5,000 nurses' jobs axed, a 4% cut in the money hospitals will receive for treatment in 2013 and plans for hospital closures. But both health workers and the public reject this. The strike by Unison members in the Mid-Yorkshire Hospital Trust against 'down-banding' pay cuts is an inspiring example. Branch secretary Adrian O'Malley pointed out that: "workers will support action to defend the NHS when a lead is given. We've recruited 200 new union members which show what can be done". A massive campaign in Lewisham, south London, is fighting threats to the local hospital. After a very successful protest march in November, another demonstration is planned for 26 January. Health axe-man Matthew Kershaw recommended to Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt that the South London Healthcare NHS Trust should be broken up. Some services, he said, would carry on under new administration, others would perish. He asked Hunt to order the closure of Lewisham hospital's A&E department, used by 125,000 people a year. Kershaw added an extra insult in his report by insisting that Lewisham's maternity unit should become a midwife-led 'birthing unit' i.e. one with no obstetricians or paediatricians. This is fine if there are likely to be no complications in labour. But more than half of the 4,400 pregnant women who use Lewisham hospital are classed as at 'high risk' of complications. And as with the A&E closure, neighbouring hospitals will come under increasing pressure. Both Kings College and Queen Elizabeth hospitals have recently been diverting ambulances carrying women on the verge of giving birth because local cutbacks mean they cannot cope. The cuts measures would lose the hospital £195 million by 2015-16. All in order to safeguard the huge investments and profits of the private PFI firms whose greed caused the Trust's bankruptcy in the first place. With a battle bus touring the region, door-to-door leafleting and leaflets aimed at fans of local football teams, the community campaign has done good work. Staff at Lewisham hospital and other units facing attacks wants to get involved - even when their own union leaderships try to hold them back. Socialist Party members are encouraging nurses and other NHS workers to press hard within their union branches for a workplace ballot for industrial action. Health workers would be widely supported if they went on strike to save our local hospital and the beleaguered NHS. The Socialist Party demands on the NHS include: • No cuts, closures or job losses in the NHS • End privatisation. Scrap PFI and refuse to pay back the 'debt' • Nationalise the pharmaceutical companies under democratic control and integrate them into the NHS • For mass action to defend the NHS, including a 24-hour general strike With extracts taken from this week’s article in the socialist

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The life and times of Rosa Luxemburg

Many socialists coming to Marxism for the first time will go straight towards your Marx, Engel’s, Lenin and Trotsky but someone who should not be forgotten and her works are very important and a major contribution to Marxist politics is Rosa Luxemburg the anniversary of her brutal murder this week seems a good time to revisit her works and life and ideas. She was not perfect as none of us are but gave a huge contribution to Marxist thought and revolutionary politics. Below I republish a fantastic article by Socialist party general secretary Peter Taaffe who looks at Rosa’s contribution to the workers movement and the fight for socialism in Germany and beyond. On 15 January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the finest brains of the German working class and its most heroic figures, were brutally murdered by the bloodthirsty, defeated German military, backed to the hilt by the cowardly social-democratic leaders Noske and Scheidemann. On this important anniversary, it is vital to look at Luxemburg’s inspirational, revolutionary legacy. By Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (England & Wales) Their murders, carried out by the soldier Otto Runge, were decisive in the defeat of the German revolution but were also indissolubly linked to the victory of Hitler and the Nazis 14 years later. Wilhelm Canaris, the naval officer who assisted the escape of one of Rosa’s murderers, 20 years later was to command the Abwehr, German military intelligence, under the Nazis. Other luminaries of the Nazi regime were similarly ‘blooded’ at this time for the future murderous activities in their own country and throughout Europe. Von Faupel, the officer who, at the time, tricked the delegates to the recently-formed workers and soldiers’ councils, 20 years later was Hitler’s ambassador to Franco’s Spain. The political power behind the throne to better-known generals was Major Kurt von Schleicher, who became German Chancellor in 1932 and a gateman for Hitler and the Nazis. But if the German revolution had triumphed then history would not, in all probability, have known these figures or the horrors of fascism. Rosa Luxemburg, as a top leader and theoretician of Marxism, could have played a crucial, not to say decisive, role in subsequent events up to 1923 and the victory of the revolution if she had not been cruelly cut down. Karl Liebknecht is correctly bracketed with Luxemburg as the heroic mass figure who stood out against the German war machine and symbolised to the troops in the blood-soaked trenches, not just Germans but French and others, as an indefatigable, working-class, internationalist opponent of the First World War. His famous call – “The main enemy is at home” – caught the mood, particularly as the mountain of corpses rose during the war. But Rosa Luxemburg, on this anniversary, deserves special attention because of the colossal contribution she made to the understanding of Marxist ideas, theory and their application to the real movement of the working class. Many have attacked Rosa Luxemburg for her ‘false methods’, particularly her alleged lack of understanding of the need for a ‘revolutionary party’ and organisation. Among them were Stalin and Stalinists in the past. Others claim Rosa Luxemburg as their own because of her emphasis on the ‘spontaneous role of the working class’ that seems to correspond to an ‘anti-party mood’, particularly amongst the younger generation, which is, in turn, a product of the feeling of revulsion at the bureaucratic heritage of Stalinism and its echoes in the ex-social democratic parties. But an all-sided analysis of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas, taking into account the historical situation in which her ideas matured and developed, demonstrates that the claims of both of these camps are false. She made mistakes: “Show me someone who never makes a mistake and I will show you a fool.” Yet here is a body of work of which, read even today almost 100 years later, is fresh and relevant – particularly when contrasted to the stale ideas of the tops of the ‘modern’ labour movement. They can enlighten us particularly the new generation who are moving towards socialist and Marxist ideas. For instance, her pamphlet ‘Reform and Revolution’ is not just a simple exposition of the general ideas of Marxism counterposed to reformist, incremental changes to effect socialist change. It was written in opposition to the main theoretician of ‘revisionism’, Eduard Bernstein. Like the labour and trade union leaders to day – although he was originally a Marxist, indeed a friend of the co-founder of scientific socialism, Friedrich Engels – Bernstein under the pressure of the boom of the late 1890s and first part of the 20th century, attempted to ‘revise’ the ideas of Marxism, which would in effect have nullified them. His famous aphorism, “The movement is everything, the final goal nothing,” represented an attempt to reconcile the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) with what was an expanding capitalism at that stage. Rosa Luxemburg, as had Lenin and Trotsky, not only refuted Bernstein’s ideas but in an incisive analysis adds to our understanding of capitalism then, and to some extent today, the relationship between reform and revolution (which should not be counterposed to each other from a Marxist point of view) and many other issues. She wrote: “What proves best the falseness of Bernstein’s theory is that it is in the countries having the greatest development of the famous “means of adaptation” – credit, perfected communications and trusts – that the last crisis (1907-1908) was most violent.” Shades of today’s world economic crisis, particularly as it affects the most debt-soaked economies of the US and Britain? Social democracy supports the war Moreover, Luxemburg was amongst the very few who recognised the ideological atrophy of German social democracy prior to the First World War. This culminated in the catastrophe of the SPD deputies in the Reichstag (parliament) – with the original single exception of Karl Liebknecht – voting for war credits for German imperialism. The leaders of the SPD, along with the trade union leaders, had become accustomed to compromise and negotiations within the framework of rising capitalism. This meant that the prospects for socialism, specifically the socialist revolution, were relegated to the mists of time in their consciousness. This was reinforced by the growth in the weight of the SPD within German society. It was virtually “a state within a state”, with over one million members in 1914, 90 daily newspapers, 267 full-time journalists and 3,000 manual and clerical workers, managers, commercial directors and representatives. In addition it had over 110 deputies in the Reichstag and 220 deputies in the various Landtags (state parliaments) as well as almost 3,000 elected municipal councillors. Apart from in 1907, the SPD seemed to progress remorselessly in electoral contests. There were at least 15,000 full-time officials under the sway of the SPD in the trade unions. This was, in the words of Ruth Fischer, a future leader of the Communist Party of Germany, a “way of life… The individual worker lived in his party, the party penetrated into the workers’ everyday habits. His ideas, his reactions, his attitudes, were formed out of the integration of his personal and his collective.” This represented both a strength and a weakness. A strength because the increasing power of the working class was reflected in the SPD and the unions. But this was combined with the smothering of this very power, an underestimation by the SPD leaders, indeed a growing hostility to the revolutionary possibilities which would inevitability break out at some future date. Rosa Luxemburg increasingly came into collision with the SPD machine, who’s stultifying conservative effect she contrasted to the social explosions in the first Russian revolution of 1905-07. Luxemburg was a real internationalist; a participant in the revolutionary movement in three countries. Originally a Pole, she was a founder of the Social Democratic party of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP), in the Russian movement as a participant in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) and a naturalised German and prominent member of the SPD. She contrasted the flair and energy from below in Russia, witnessed at first hand, to the weight the increasingly bureaucratic machine of the party and unions in Germany, which could prove to be a colossal obstacle to the working class taking power, she argued, in the event of a revolutionary eruption. In this sense, she was more farsighted even than Lenin, who passionately absorbed in Russian affairs and who saw the SPD as the ‘model’ for all the parties of the Second International, and its leaders, such as Kautsky, as teachers. Trotsky pointed out: “Lenin considered Kautsky as his teacher and stressed this everywhere he could. In Lenin’s work of that period and for a number of years following, one does not find a trace of criticism in principle directed against the Bebel-Kautsky tendency.” Indeed, Lenin thought that Luxemburg’s increasing criticisms of Kautsky and the SPD leadership were somewhat exaggerated. In fact, in his famous work, ‘Two Tactics of Russian Social Democracy” of 1905, Lenin wrote: “When and where did I ever call the revolutionism of Bebel and Kautsky ‘opportunism’? … When and where have there been brought to light differences between me, on the one hand, and Bebel and Kautsky on the other? … The complete unanimity of international revolutionary Social Democracy on all major questions of programme and tactics is a most incontrovertible fact.” Lenin recognised that there would be opportunist trends within mass parties of the working class but he compared the Mensheviks in Russia not with Kautskyism but with the right-wing revisionism of Bernstein. That lasted right up to the German social democrats’ infamous vote in favour of war credits on 4 August 1914. With the initial exception of Liebknecht and later Otto Rühle, they were the only two out of 110 SPD deputies who voted against. Indeed, when Lenin was presented with an issue of the SPD paper, ‘Vorwärts’, supporting war credits, he first of all considered it a ‘forgery’ of the German military general staff. Rosa Luxemburg was not so unprepared, as she had been involved in a protracted struggle, not just with the right-wing SPD leaders but also with the ‘left’ and ‘centrist’ elements, like Kautsky. Trotsky also, in his famous book, ‘Results and Prospects’ (1906), in which the Theory of the Permanent Revolution was first outlined, did have a perception of what could take place: “The European Socialist Parties, particularly the largest of them, the German Social-Democratic Party, have developed their conservatism in proportion as the great masses have embraced socialism and the more these masses have become organized and disciplined… Social Democracy as an organization embodying the political experience of the proletariat may at a certain moment become a direct obstacle to open conflict between the workers and bourgeois reaction.” In his autobiography, ‘My Life’, Trotsky subsequently wrote: “I did not expect the official leaders of the International, in case of war, to prove themselves capable of serious revolutionary initiative. At the same time, I could not even admit the idea that the Social Democracy would simply cower on its belly before a nationalist militarism.” Spontaneous mass action It was these factors, the immense power of the social democracy, on the one side, and the inertia of its top-heavy bureaucracy in the face of looming sharp changes in the situation in Germany and Europe, on the other side, which led to one of Luxemburg’s best-known works, ‘The Mass Strike’ (1906). This was a summing up of the first Russian revolution from which Luxemburg drew both political and organisational conclusions. It is a profoundly interesting analysis of the role of the masses as the driving force, of their ‘spontaneous’ character in the process of revolution. In emphasising the independent movement and will of the working class against “the line and march of officialdom”, she was undoubtedly correct in a broad historical sense. Indeed, many revolutions have been made in the teeth of opposition and even sabotage of the leaders of the workers’ own organisations. This was seen in the revolutionary events of 1936 in Spain. While the workers of Madrid initially demonstrated for arms and their socialist leaders refused to supply them, the workers of Barcelona – freed from the inhibitions towards ‘leaders’ – rose ‘spontaneously and smashed Franco’s forces within 48 hours. This ignited a social revolution which swept through Catalonia and Aragon to the gates of Madrid, with four fifths of Spain initially in the hands of the working class. In Chile in 1973, on the other hand, where the working class listened to their leadership and remained in the factories as Pinochet announced his coup, the most militant workers were systematically rounded up and slaughtered. We also saw, without a ‘by-your-leave’ to their leaders, a spontaneous revolutionary explosion in France in 1968 when 10 million workers occupied factories for a month. The leaders of the French Communist Party and the ‘Socialist’ Federation, rather than seeking victory through a revolutionary programme of workers’ councils and a workers and farmers’ government, lent all their efforts to derailing this magnificent movement. Similarly, in Portugal, in 1974, a revolution not only swept away the Caetano dictatorship but meant that, in its first period, an absolute majority of votes to those standing in elections under a socialist or communist banner. This led in 1975 to the expropriation of the majority of industry. The Times (London) declared that “capitalism is dead in Portugal”. This proved not to be so, unfortunately, because the initiatives from below by the working class, and the opportunities they generated, were squandered. This was because there was no coherent and sufficiently influential mass party and leadership capable of drawing all the threads together and establishing a democratic workers’ state. These examples show that the spontaneous movement of the working class is not sufficient in itself to guarantee victory in a brutal struggle against capitalism. The ‘spontaneous’ character of the German revolution was evident in November 1918. This spontaneous eruption of the masses, moreover, flew in the face of everything that the social-democratic leaders wanted or desired. Even the creation before this of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), which came from a split in the SPD in 1917, arose not from any conscious policy of its leaders – including Kautsky and Rudolf Hilferding, as well as the arch-revisionist Bernstein. It developed because of the indignation and revolt of the working class at the SPD’s executive throttling within the party of all objections and resistance to their policy on the war. This split was neither prepared nor desired by these ‘oppositionists’. Nevertheless, they took with them 120,000 members and a number of newspapers. The general strike Connected to Rosa Luxemburg’s emphasis on ‘spontaneity’ was the issue of the general strike. Basing herself on the mass strikes of the Russian revolution, she nevertheless adopted a certain passive and fatalistic approach on this issue. To some extent, this later affected the leaders of the Communist Party (KPD) after her death. Rosa Luxemburg correctly emphasised that a revolution could not be made artificially, outside of a maturing of the objective circumstances that allowed this possibility. However, the role of what Marxists describe as the ‘subjective factor’, a mass party, far-sighted leadership, etc, is crucial in transforming a revolutionary situation into a successful revolution. So is timing, as the opportunity for a successful social overturn can last for a short time. If the opportunity is lost, it may not recur for a long time, and the working class can suffer a defeat. Therefore, at a crucial time, a definite timeframe, a correct leadership, can help the working class to take power. Such was the role of the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Russian revolution. The opposite was the case in 1923 in Germany. The opportunity of following the example of the Bolsheviks was posed but lost because of the hesitation of the KPD leaders, who were supported in this wrong policy by, among others, Stalin. This was partly conditioned by historical experience until then, in which ‘partial general strike action’ featured in the struggles of the working class in the decades prior to the First World War. In this period, there were instances where governments took fright at the general strike at its very outset, without provoking the masses to open class conflict, and made concessions. This was the situation following the Belgian general strike in 1893, called by the Belgian Labour Party with 300,000 workers participating, including left-wing Catholic groups. A general strike, on a much bigger scale, took place in Russia, in October 1905, on which Rosa Luxemburg comments. Under the pressure of the strike, the Tsarist regime made constitutional ‘concessions’ in 1905. The situation following the First World War – a period of revolution and counter-revolution – was entirely different to this, with the general strike posing more sharply the question of power. The issue of the general strike is of exceptional importance for Marxists. We do not have a fetish about the general strike. In some instances, it is an inappropriate weapon; at the time of General Lavr Kornilov’s march against Petrograd in August 1917, neither the Bolsheviks nor the soviets (workers’ councils) thought of declaring a general strike. On the contrary, the railway workers continued to work so that could transport the opponents of Kornilov and derail his forces. Workers in the factories continued to work too, except those who had left to fight Kornilov. At the time of the October revolution, in 1917, there was again no talk of a general strike. The Bolsheviks enjoyed mass support and under those conditions calling a general strike would have weakened them and not the capitalist enemy. On the railways, in the factories and offices, the workers assisted the uprising to overthrow capitalism and establish a democratic workers’ state. In today’s era, a general strike, ‘generally’, is an ‘either-or’ issue where an alternative workers’ government is implicit in the situation. In the 1926 general strike in Britain, the issue of power was posed, where ‘dual power’ existed for nine days. In 1968, in France, the biggest general strike in history posed the question of power but for the reasons explained above, the working class did not seize it. The German revolution of 1918-1924 also witnessed general strikes and partial attempts in this direction. The Kapp putsch in March 1920, when the director of agriculture of Prussia, who represented the Junkers and highly-placed imperial civil servants, took power with the support of the generals, was met with one of the most complete general strikes in history. Like France in 1968, the government “could not get a single poster printed” as the working class paralysed the government and the state. This putsch lasted for a grand total of 100 hours! Yet even with this stunning display of the power of the working class, it did not lead to a socialist overturn, precisely because of the absence of a mass party and leadership capable of mobilising the masses and establishing an alternative democratic workers’ state. In fact, the erstwhile followers of Luxemburg in the newly-formed Communist Party made ultra-left mistakes in not initially supporting and strengthening the mass actions against Kapp. The role of a revolutionary party The issue of leadership and the need for a party is central to an estimation of Rosa Luxemburg’s life and work. It would be entirely one-sided to accuse her, as has been attempted by some critics of both her and Trotsky, of ‘underestimating’ the need for a revolutionary party. Indeed, her whole life within the SPD was bent towards rescuing the revolutionary kernel within this organisation from reformism and centrism. Moreover, she herself built up a very ‘rigid, independent organisation’, that is a party, with her co-worker Leo Jogiches in Poland. However, her revulsion at the ossified character of the SPD and its ‘centralism’ meant that she did, on occasion, ‘bend the stick too far’ the other way. She was critical of Lenin’s attempt to create in Russia a democratic party but one that was ‘centralised’. On the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, Luxembourg she was a ‘conciliator’ in her approach, as was Trotsky (shown in his participation in the ‘August bloc’). She sought unity between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in Russia. But after the Bolsheviks had won four fifths of the organised workers in Russia by 1912 a formal split took place between them and the Mensheviks. Lenin understood before others that the Mensheviks were not prepared for a struggle going beyond the framework of Russian landlordism and capitalism. Lenin’s approach was vindicated in the Russian revolution, with the Mensheviks ending up on the other side of the barricades. Following the 1917 Russian revolution, Rosa Luxemburg did come close to Bolshevism subsequently and became part of its international trend, as did Trotsky. The main charge that can be made against Luxemburg, however, is that she did not sufficiently organise a clearly delineated trend against both the right of the SPD and the centrists of Kautsky. There were some criticisms both at the time and later that suggested that Luxemburg and her ‘Sparticist’ followers should have immediately split with the SPD leaders, certainly following their betrayal at the outset of the First World War. Indeed Lenin, as soon as he was convinced of the betrayal of social democracy – including the ‘renegade Kautsky’ – called for an immediate split, accompanying this with a call for a new, Third International. A political ‘split’ was undoubtedly required, both from the right and ‘left’ SPD. Rosa did this, characterising the social democracy as a “rotten corpse”. The organisational conclusion from this was of a tactical rather than a principled character. Moreover, hindsight is wonderful when dealing with real historical problems. Rosa Luxemburg confronted a different objective situation to that facing the Bolsheviks in Russia. Spending most of their history in the underground, with a relatively smaller organisation of cadres, the Bolsheviks necessarily acquired a high degree of ‘centralisation’, without, at the same time, abandoning very strong democratic procedures. There was also the tumultuous history of the Marxist and workers’ movement in Russia, conditioned by the experience of the struggle against Narodya Volya (People’s Will), the ideas of terrorism, the 1905 and 1917 revolutions, the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, the first world war, etc. Rosa Luxemburg confronted an entirely different situation, as a minority, and somewhat isolated in a ‘legal’ mass party with all the attributes described above. Although she was a naturalised German citizen, Luxemburg was considered an ‘outsider’, particularly when she came into conflict with the SPD leadership. Indeed, despite this, Luxemburg’s courage and fortitude shines through when one reads the speeches and criticisms that she made of the party leadership over years. She criticised the “clinging mists of parliamentary cretinism”, what would be called “electoralism” at the present time. She even lacerated August Bebel, the ‘centrist’ party leader who increasingly “could only hear with his right ear”. At one stage, accompanied by Clara Zetkin, she said to Bebel: “Yes, you can write our epitaph: ‘Here lie the last two men of German social democracy’.” She castigated the SPD’s trailing after middle-class leaders in an excellent aphorism appropriate to those who support coalitionism today. She wrote that it was necessary “to act on progressives and possibly even liberals, than to act with them”. But a vital element of Marxism, in developing political influence through a firm organisation or a party, was not sufficiently developed by Rosa Luxemburg or her supporters. This does not have to take the form necessarily, on all occasions, of a separate ‘party’. But a firmly-organised nucleus is essential in preparing for the future. This, Luxemburg did not achieve, which was to have serious consequences later with the outbreak of the German revolution. Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches correctly opposed “premature splits”. Luxemburg wrote: “It was always possible to walk out of small sects or small coteries, and, if one does not want to stay there, to apply oneself to building new sects and new coteries. But it is only an irresponsible daydream to want to liberate the whole mass of the working class from the very weighty and dangerous yoke of the bourgeoisie by a simple ‘walk out’.” Working in mass organisations Such an approach is entirely justified when a long-term strategy is pursued by Marxists within mass parties. Such was the approach of Militant, now the Socialist Party, when it worked successfully within the Labour Party, in the 1980s, in Britain. Militant established perhaps the most powerful position for Trotskyists, in Western Europe at least, probably since the development of the international Left Opposition. But such an approach – justified at one historical period – can be a monumental error at another, when conditions change and particularly when abrupt revolutionary breaks are posed. Rosa Luxemburg and Jogiches could not be faulted for seeking to organise within the social democracy for as long as possible and, for that matter, the USPD later. Indeed, Lenin, in his eagerness to create mass communist parties in the aftermath of the Russian revolution, was sometimes a little impatient and premature in his suggestions for splitting from social-democratic organisations. He proposed a rapid split of the communists from the French Socialist Party in 1920 but changed his mind after Alfred Rosmer, in Moscow during that year, suggested that the Marxists would need more time to bring over the majority to the stand of the Communist (Third) International. Even Lenin, while proposing a split from the Second International and the formation of the Third International, following the August 1914 debacle, was even prepared to amend his position if events did not work out as he envisaged. For instance, on the issue of the Third International he wrote: “The immediate future will show whether conditions have already ripened for the formation of a new, Marxist International… If they have not, it will show that a more or less prolonged evolution is needed for this purging. In that case, our Party will be the extreme opposition within the old International – until a base is formed in different countries for an international working men’s association that stands on the basis of revolutionary Marxism.” When the floodgates of revolution were thrown open in February 1917 in Russia, and the masses poured onto the political arena, even the Bolsheviks – despite their previous history – had about 1% support in the soviets, and 4% by April 1917. The real weakness of Luxemburg and Jogiches was not that they refused to split but that in the entire preceding historical period they were not organised as a clearly-defined trend in social democracy preparing for the revolutionary outbursts upon which the whole of Rosa Luxemburg’s work for more than 10 years was based. The same charge – only with more justification – could be levelled at those left and even Marxist currents that work or have worked in broad formations, sometimes in new parties. They have invariably been indistinguishable politically from the reformist or centrist leaders. This was the case in Italy in the PRC where the Mandelites (now organised outside in Sinistra Critica) were supporters of the ‘majority’ of Bertinotti until they were ejected and then left the party. The SWP’s German organisation (Linksruck, now Marx 21) pursues a similar policy within Die Linke (the Left party) today as the left boot of the party and consequently will not gain substantially. Luxemburg politically did not act like this but she did not draw all the organisational conclusions, as had Lenin, in preparing a steeled cadre, a framework for a future mass organisation, in preparation for the convulsive events that subsequently developed in Germany. It was this aspect that Lenin subjected to criticism in his comments on Rosa Luxemburg’s’ Junius’ pamphlet, published in 1915. Lenin conceded that this was a “splendid Marxist work” although he argued against confusing opposition to the First World War, which was imperialist in character, and legitimate wars of national liberation. But Lenin, while praising Luxemburg’s pamphlet, also comments that it “conjures up in our mind the picture of a lone man [he did not know Rosa was the author] who has no comrades in an illegal organisation accustomed to thinking out revolutionary slogans to their conclusion and systematically educating the masses in their spirit”. Here lie some of the differences between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin systematically trained and organised the best workers in Russia in implacable opposition to capitalism and its shadows in the labour movement. This necessarily involved clearly organising a grouping, ‘faction’ – one that was organised as well as based on firm political principles. Lenin organised for future battles, including the revolution. Rosa Luxemburg was an important figure in all the congresses of the Second International and generally carried the votes of the Polish Social Democratic party in exile. She was also a member of the International Socialist Bureau. However, as Pierre Broué points out: “She was never able to establish within the SPD either a permanent platform based on the support of a newspaper or a journal or a stable audience wider than a handful of friends and supporters around her.” The growing opposition to the war, however, widened the circle of support and contacts for Luxemburg and the Sparticist group. Trotsky sums up her dilemma: “The most that can be said is that in her historical-philosophical evaluation of the labour movement, the preparatory selection of the vanguard, in comparison with the mass actions that were to be expected, fell too short with Rosa; whereas Lenin – without consoling himself with the miracles of future actions – took the advanced workers and constantly and tirelessly welded them together into firm nuclei, illegally or legally, in the mass organisations or underground, by means of a sharply defined programme.” However, Luxemburg did begin after the revolution of November 1918 her “ardent labour” of assembling such a cadre. A programme for workers’ democracy Moreover, Luxemburg posed very clearly the ideological tasks: “The choice today is not between democracy and dictatorship. The question which history has placed on the agenda is: bourgeois democracy or socialist democracy for the dictatorship of the proletariat is democracy in a socialist sense of the term. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not mean bombs, putsches, riots or ‘anarchy’ that the agents of capitalism claim.” This is an answer to those who seek to distort the idea of Karl Marx when he spoke about the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which in today’s terms, as Luxemburg pointed out, means workers’ democracy. Because of its connotations with Stalinism however, Marxists today, in trying to reach the best workers, do not use language which can give a false idea of what they intend for the future. This, unfortunately, includes the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which can be construed as connected to Stalinism. The same idea is expressed in our call for a socialist, planned economy, organised on the basis of workers’ democracy. The German revolution not only overthrew the Kaiser but posed the germ of a workers government through the institution of a network of workers and sailors’ councils on the lines of the Russian revolution. A period of dual power was initiated and the capitalists were compelled to give important concessions to the masses such as the eight-hour day. But the social-democratic leaders like Gustav Noske and Philipp Scheidemann conspired with the capitalists and the reactionary scum in the Freikorps (predecessors of the fascists) to take their revenge. General Wilhelm Groener, who led the German army, admitted later on: “The officer corps could only cooperate with a government which undertook the struggle against Bolshevism … Ebert [the social-democrat leader] had made his mind up on this … We made an alliance against Bolshevism … There existed no other party which had enough influence upon the masses to enable the re-establishment of a governmental power with the help of the army.” Gradually, concessions to the workers were undermined and a vitriolic campaign against the ‘Bolshevik terror’, chaos, the Jews, and particularly, “bloody Rosa” was unleashed. Bodies like the Anti-Bolshevik League organised its own intelligence service and set up, in its founder’s words, an “active anti-communist counter-espionage organisation”. In opposition to the slogan ‘All power to the soviets’ – the slogan of the Russian revolution – the reaction led by Noske’s Social Democrats mobilised behind the idea of “All power to the people”. This was their means of undermining the German ‘soviets’. A ‘constituent assembly’ was posed as an alternative to Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s ideas of a national council of soviets to initiate a workers and farmers’ government. Unfortunately, the muddled centrist lefts, whose party grew enormously as the social-democratic leaders lost support, let slip the opportunity to create an all-Germany council movement. The discontent of the masses was reflected in the January 1919 uprising. Such stages are reached in all revolutions when the working class sees its gains snatched back by the capitalists and comes out onto the streets; the Russian workers in the July Days of 1917 and the May Days in Catalonia in 1937 during the Spanish revolution. The events of the German revolution were dealt with in Socialism Today (Issue 123, November 2008) and The Socialist (Issue 555, 4 November 2008). The July Days in Russia developed four months after the February revolution whereas in Germany the uprising took place a mere two months after the revolutionary overturn of November 1918. This itself is an indication of the speed of events that developed in Germany at this stage. Given the isolation of Berlin from the rest of the country at that stage, a setback or a defeat was inevitable. But this became all the greater for the working class with the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. It was as if both Lenin and Trotsky had been assassinated in Russia in July 1917. This would have removed the two leaders whose ideas and political guidance led to the success of the October revolution. Lenin – extremely modest on a personal level – was quite aware of his own vital political role and took steps, by going into hiding in Finland, to avoid falling into the hands of the counter-revolution. Despite the urging of those like Paul Levi to leave Berlin, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht remained in the city, with the terrible consequences that followed. There is no doubt that Luxemburg’s sure political experience would have been a powerful factor in avoiding some of the mistakes – particularly ultra-left ones – which were subsequently made in the development of the German revolution. In the convulsive events of 1923 in particular, Rosa Luxemburg with her keen instinct for the mass movement and ability to change with circumstances, would probably not have made the mistake made by Heinrich Brandler and the leadership of the KPD, when they let slip what was one of the most favourable opportunities in history to make a working-class revolution and change the course of world history. Luxemburg and Liebknecht are in the pantheon of the Marxists greats. For her theoretical contribution alone, Rosa Luxemburg deserves to stand alongside Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Those who try and picture her as a critic of the Bolsheviks and the Russian revolution are entirely false. She hailed the work of Lenin and Trotsky. Her book written in prison in 1918 – in which she criticised the Bolshevik regime – was a product of isolation, which she was persuaded not to publish and did not pursue later when released from prison. Yet still in her most erroneous work she wrote of the Russian revolution and the Bolsheviks: “Everything that a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness, and consistency in a historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and the other comrades have given in good measure… Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian revolution; it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism”. Only malicious enemies of the heroic traditions of the Bolshevik party circulated this material after her death in an attempt to divide Luxemburg from Lenin, Trotsky, the Bolsheviks and the great work of the Russian revolution. Luxemburg made mistakes on the issue of the independence of Poland. She was also wrong on the difference between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks (even in July 1914 supporting the opportunists who stood for the ‘unity’ between them) and, as Lenin pointed out, also on the economic ‘theory of accumulation’. But also in the words of Lenin, “In spite of her mistakes she was – and remains for us – an eagle”. So should say the best workers and young people today who have occasion to study her works in preparation for the struggle for socialism.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Fighting the bedroom tax can’t pay won’t pay!

There are so many cuts we could and should be fighting but we simply cannot spread ourselves in so many directions as a small revolutionary party in the socialist party so focusing in Harlow anyway on the so called Bedroom tax will fit in with the local council tax benefit cuts and a wider campaign involving local communities allowing us to build links with different campaigns. It is not clear whether the so-called “Bedroom Tax” which comes in this spring is intended to revive the practice of taking in lodgers. It applies only to tenants of councils and housing associations, who will find their housing benefit cut by an average of £14 a week if they leave a bedroom unoccupied for more than thirteen weeks. We are told that the aim of the measure is “to make better use of social housing”, either by persuading people to exchange their home for a smaller one or, presumably, by renting out their spare room. The “under-occupancy penalty” is forecast to save the taxpayer £480 million a year; housing benefit costs £20 billion. There are so many grey areas here I mean what if you have a son or daughter who lives with you goes off to university how will that work as and when they come back ? If you take in a lodger is that not sub letting? How do they even plan on collecting this will they snoop on your homes day in day out seeing who comes in and out of the house? If your house is what they decide under occupied moving to a smaller property isn’t always easy with the lack of affordable housing in this country as it is. Yet it’s a fairly nasty measure for other reasons too. Many others among the 600,000 people affected must be middle-aged couples whose children have left the parental home, but who are happy to have a spare room to accommodate children or grandchildren on occasional visits. Others are old people who will now feel they have to move to a smaller house simply because they have one spare room in the property they have occupied for years. And what counts as a spare room anyway? It probably requires very little ingenuity to find another use for an unoccupied bedroom. Put a TV set into it and explain to the snooper that your wife (or alternatively husband) likes to watch television and you don’t. Information on the tax from the National Housing Federation says: Welfare reforms will cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This measure will apply from April 2013 to tenants of working age. The power to do this is contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and is commonly referred to as the bedroom tax, size criteria or under-occupation penalty. What do the changes mean? The size criteria in the social rented sector will restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions: • Children under 16 of same gender expected to share • Children under 10 expected to share regardless of gender • Disabled tenant or partner who needs nonresident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom Who will be affected? All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes: • Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit) • Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation • Foster carers because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes • Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household • Families with disabled children • Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties. How much will people lose? The cut will be a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent. The Government has said that this will be set at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms. The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average. How many people will see their benefit cut? The proposal will affect an estimated 660,000 working-age social tenants – 31% of existing working-age housing benefits claimants in the social sector. The majority of these people have only one extra bedroom. Need more detail on how the bedroom tax will be applied? Read the regulations on the social sector size criteria or bedroom tax. Do the regulations define a bedroom? No. The Government’s view is that it is for landlords to specify the size of the property and this ought to match what is on any tenancy agreement and reflect the level of rent charged. The bedroom tax will not take account of whether a room is a single or a double bedroom. A room either is a bedroom or is not a bedroom. How will the bedroom tax operate under Universal Credit? There are some differences between how the bedroom tax will operate under housing benefit (from April 2013) and under Universal Credit when it is introduced. These differences are summarised in the table below. From April 2013 Under Universal Credit Those over State Pension Credit age will not be affected, including where one member of a couple is over. Mixed age couples - both will need to be over pension age to not be affected by the bedroom tax. Those where one is already in receipt of Pension Credit will however be protected. Non-dependant deductions (NDD): six separate rates varying by income and under 25s on benefit are exempt. One, flat-rate Housing Cost Contribution (HCC). All under 21s are exempt from HCC. Non-dependants: couples get one room between them. They pay the NDD unless both are exempt. Each adult non-dependent gets a room. Each pays the HCC unless exempt. Lodgers get a room but income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from first £20. No room allowance but any income from lodgers is disregarded. In joint tenancy cases the bedroom tax can still apply. Bedroom tax not applied in joint- tenancy cases. Protection on death for up to 52 weeks. Benefits run-on for 3 months. 13 week protection where the tenant could previously afford the rent and Housing Benefit has not been claimed in the last 52 weeks. Size criteria apply immediately. What about lodgers? From April 2013 lodgers will count as occupying a room under the size criteria rules. Any income from a lodger will be taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from the first £20. This reverses under Universal Credit – lodgers will not be counted as occupying a room and the size criteria reduction will apply, but any income from lodgers will be fully disregarded and will not impact on the amount of a claimant’s Universal Credit award. DWP have produced a factsheet on things to consider when renting out a room. Taking in a lodger will also have an impact on many home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating a policy or raising the premiums. What about students studying away from home? Households where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or 6 months (under Universal Credit). Under housing benefit rules students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, however full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit. All young people under 21 are exempt from the HCC, but students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week. Are pre-1989 tenancies exempt from the bedroom tax? No. It seems so vague the details and how the local councils will collect this tax there could be so many anomalies thrown up. In a letter sent to a Harlow resident we read that the council are suggesting an occupant thinks about finding a job if they did not have one, how do they know they didn’t? Also ask them to consider taking a lodger? In affect telling people how to live their lives, Nanny state much? So in Harlow and I’m sure elsewhere we will be fighting this cruel unnecessary cut raising awareness with a petition and local public meetings and leaflets etc. This is cruel and unfair when the rich have mansions with hundreds of empty rooms we are forced into tiny rabbit hutch’s of homes and to use all possible space and get charged if we don’t. Since the con-dem government ruled out any form of a mansion tax this seems so clear now it’s a attack on the poorest in society and those who are seeing their pay cut, jobs cut, and austerity forced on them even further. So we stand by the principle can’t pay won’t pay! Keep in touch if you wish to find out more about our campaign on this.