Monday, 30 September 2013

Workfare the blight of Britain

The Tories plans are for mass workfare in affect lowering the minimum wage to a new level that is below poverty wages. Working for your benefits is the new workhouse I’d say. So many people who are out of work will experience workfare at some point if they cannot find a job. George Osborne's latest idea to be presented at Tory party conference this week which his latest attacks on the poorest in society and the unemployed. His latest idea is to force everyone who is looking for a job to attend the job centre every day in a working week to sign on. This is similar to a punishment for not having a job. Anyone can lose their job through all sorts of reasons and could turn from a hard worker to being on the doll at the turn of the day. Workfare is horrible and very degrading for anyone having to work for your benefits becomes working for low pay not seen for a long long while. Workfare could be the new low pay society in this country where labour costs are driven down to a new level. This is all in order to make the UK competitive again on the world market apparently the global race for capital to become profitable once again. Take the Tories latest idea that the unemployed which are all stereotyped to be lazy work shy scroungers of course are to pick litter for their benefits. Those out working will maybe think oh good they shouldn’t be getting something for nothing as George Osborne would most probably agree. Yet cleaning litter is already someone’s job. Not a very well paid one granted but by paying someone’s benefits to pick litter is taking someone’s job further division even more. Can you start to see yet where this is all going? It is clear to me that workfare on a mass scale will likely become the norm if capital in Britain gets its way. Fighting back is a must but so many are on the verge and finding getting by incredibly hard as it is. The threat of losing their benefits which are at a low level is something many do not wish to go through with so does end up going along with it. I think this is where solidarity must come in. Those of us who are in jobs should in my view be looking to set up hardship funds for those who are possibly looking to boycott workfare to help out those who will lose their benefits as a result. I am not sure how this could work but this is certainly something I think could help if we are going to look to take on workfare with mass action. Making people aware of what workfare is and who is still involved in the scheme is key. The actions taken by boycott workfare for example calling out companies and charities involved in the scheme is a good way of targeting them but clearly bigger action is needed to really take it on. Another question is will we see workfare workers in the public sector such as the fire service, police etc? Could we see this? It’s possible I guess with the help of the private sector no doubt. This is the route we are heading unless we do something about it. This post is simply highlighting my fears and thoughts of workfare and where we are heading. I would be interested and happy to cover anyone who has been on workfare and their stories keeping your identity hidden if you so wish.

Groveling to the bourgeois media

All last night I was reading my twitter after the big NHS demonstration at Tory party conference numbers seem large it’s hard to put a figure on it but its widely thought it was 50 thousand plus with many coming from all over the land to show their anger to the Tories. In one of the only big demonstrations for a long time this was going to be big as there has been little else going on on a national scale anyway. But yet all I was reading last night is how angry people were that the BBC apparently didn’t film the protest. This is quite remarkable really the BBC has not covered any of the changes to the NHS and the planned privatisation up till now so why all of a sudden will they start covering a protest against it? Appealing to the likes of the BBC and sky news even more hilariously is going too far since when have the bourgeois press given workers movements and struggles a fair hearing? They haven’t and they never will. Unless there is violence or damage to buildings like a window smashed or something they won’t bother reporting. In other words if there is no shit smashed up there is no interest here no narrative to sew. These are just moderate trade unions on a day out in the sun being lead up the garden path once again only to be lead down with no action planned or named to follow. I wasn’t there as I say but was strike action named or even suggested from various trade union, community and labour party figures? I doubt it somehow. I am sure we were told how nasty those Tories are despite the labour party laying the grounds for a lot of what is happening to the NHS today. The hypocrisy of union leaders and labour party officials knows no boundaries I’m afraid especially when it comes to boosting your own popularity. March’s from A to B with a few rousing speech's from the likes of Owen Jones and Len McClusky is not my idea of radicalism. For those who wish their struggles to be covered how about setting up our own alternative radical media outlets? There is a few about already with Novara media being my pick of the lot. This is all amateur run with volunteers from radical traditions student movements contributing to an excellent production every week. Websites and twitter streams can be useful tool in a protest with actions being covered and reported. Although covering shouldn’t be putting us at risk to the police by having a live stream which can be used to identify protesters the police may have their eye on. But I was not surprised that the likes of the BBC and Sky did not cover this demonstration they are at the end of the day backers and supporters of big business and ultimately capitalism and the regime in power I’m not surprised so neither should you all. Let’s think about covering our own protests with good coverage in our own publications and media independent of the ruling class. Taking control of our own battles is a start a means to an end if the BBC and others choose to cover things we do that are up to them but let’s not sew illusions in them that they are in any way on our side. They are not. Ultimately the NHS will not be saved by holding illusions in labour undoing anything the Tories do or holding March’s up and down the land we need mass action. Strikes should be firmly on the table with local strike committees in hospitals set up with a mass drive to recruit to the unions within the workplace. Building confidence is a must. NHS workers are under huge pressure so allowing them to express how they feel and what they feel is possible even on a limited scale to start with is a good place to start. Calling for all out strike action at this point would be jumping head of the situation on the ground. Organizing will take time going hospital to hospital but it is I’m afraid necessary to building a fight back within the NHS and beyond. Linking up with community campaigns is key too with patients being kept on board at all times. There will be support shown to NHS workers if they take action as yesterdays March showed there is the numbers there if confidence is built on. We will see what comes of anything after this march. I am not holding my breath.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

What labours free childcare policy really means

Wage suppression for the majority in affect. Labours plans to roll out free childcare to more people than ever is on the face of it a good bit of social justice but is it? If you look closely it’s very clever bit of wage repression. So now a mum or a dad can return to work with the benefit f free childcare estimated to be up to 25 hours a week we can only guess at what jobs this would cover. It would most likely be short term, part time and low paid often with poor working conditions. This is a way of driving down wages for employers and is not the social justice idea that it seems from the outside. It’s a cleverly wrapped up policy which is pro capitalist as you would come to expect these days from labour. Last week we heard Ed Milibands conference speech which excited many it seems who seem to want a labour government however bad they are and the example above is beyond them. Labour is clearly trying the popularist approach now after their slide in the polls of late. Promising big things seems the order of the day with the big headline coming out of last week was the promise to freeze energy prices until 2017. How they would do these remains unclear but clearly is something that would be popular with many given the sky high energy prices today. Whether token gestures like this whilst maintaining austerity and the public sector pay freeze will be enough to see a labour win in 2015 still remains up in the air. With other popularist policies no doubt still to come you can see labour walking into government fairly easily given how the electoral system is stacked in their favour heavily. They will not need much to get back in it would seem. But tax cuts for small business are again small tokens which will do nothing to help ordinary people on the ground suffering from austerity, tax hikes in other areas like VAT which labour said they wouldn’t reverse either last week interestingly. With labours pledges for things like their universal job guarantee which is in affect their own version of workfare which has in all honesty been very successful for capitalists to drive down wages and get cheap labour from the workers. This for me comes as no surprise but too many that still hold illusions in the labour party or parliament in general this will not make good reading. With the terminal decline of establishment political parties including those on centre left and right with less than 1% of the population in Britain being a member of a political party the crisis of representation will only continue if labour does get elected in 2015 in my opinion. Labour may tell you it is bringing socialism back and that Ed is still red Ed while he never was of course if people continue sucking up this nonsense then there will be no real change. As Einstein so famously said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think that phrase is quite apt today in so many ways.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

What is the cause of the capitalist crisis ?

At last a debate is taking place within the CWI on the cause of the current capitalist crisis. The opening document released by the Socialist Party EC on the 20th September here However, there is a growing number of comrades within the CWI,I was one of them untilla few weeks ago , who disagree with this "analysis" and we have published our document online here I believe debate on important issues such as this should be aired publicly and oriented towards the workers' movement to win the best workers to our cause and programme Just adding to the debate. I fully support the opposition or the minority if you like. I do think many comrades in the CWI are accepting the leaderships position uncritically with little thought sadly. A critical mind is important for any revolutionary or would be revolutionary . Do take time in reading both documentsa nd make your own mind up not because I or anyone else has told you to think this or that. Remember to think critically at all times. Hold those in control to account.

What is meant by a rank-and-file organisation?

The rank-and-file in a union or a work place truly hold the power in a struggle if they decide to flex their muscles and act independently of the union leadership they can be a very powerful force within the work place. Over the years various rank-and-file organisations have been set up and have had their day but today in 2013 there is a need for them once again. I am less than convinced with the left wing attempts at rank-and-file organisations with much emphasis being put on being taken over and run as anti cuts groups which in themselves are fine and do a job but workers are still left with little to no organisation to join or to lean towards if they are in struggle in a workplace or a community. If they do not wish to blindly follow their union leaders line if they wish to control and own their own struggles there is no organisation there they can turn to right now. The NSSN the National Shops Stewards Union could have been this but is now another anti cuts group which is up to them of course but does not negate the need for a truly rank-and-file owned and controlled movement if not organisation operating from below. The NSSN which has turned itself through the leadership of the socialist party has turned itself into a propagandist group organising regularly lobby’s of the TUC to call for this or that recently it has been to call on the TUC to call a 24 hour general strike. This as I’ve explained before is a failed strategy which’s quite frankly going no where anytime soon. Why appeal to the TUC in the first place who are a load of highly paid bureaucrats and secondly if this so called 24 hour general strike actually happened which I admit is highly unlikely in the coming period although if it happened I would welcome it of course what would it actually achieve? The socialist party actually admit that a 24 hour general strike will not stop austerity although reading much of their recent literature on the lobby’s and the like you’d be forgiven for thinking one day all out will see off this government and the cuts in one fail swoop. No no no comrades where do they get all this from? A genuine real rank-and-file organisation would start from the premise that we are at a very low period of class struggle pretending anything else like some left groups do that we are just on the verge of mass class struggle and anger is to dress thins up as fiction I’m afraid we are not in a pre revolutionary period and are as far off that than ever in my view. Of course things can change but recognising where we are not where we want to be has got to be a start and that for me is a very low point and must be built on. Building workers confidence in taking action and actually winning is key. Pointing to the likes of the sparks and the Hovis workers who have won against 0 hour contracts recently is key to winning the argument for acting and action from below.  Decision-making by mass meeting  Recallable delegates, not representatives, where necessary  Local control of strike funds  Rank-and-file controlled strike committees  Direct action On which basis, people can learn the power in their own hands and to act on their own initiative. Mass meetings on a democratic basis are just a start any workplace any area of struggle must be held accountable from those below. Handing power and representation to those above loose’s you that power. Do beware of those looking to act and represent you. DO they really have your best interests at heart? Ultimately, if the aim is to have ordinary people taking action for themselves, then the ideas are the most important part of the equation. We can promote a culture of resistance, but by the nature of the beast we cannot produce a formula or a rigid programme. If people are to take control of their own struggles, they must decide how for themselves. The role of militants within the workplace is simply to be part of that, and to argue and demonstrate that it can be done.

Friday, 27 September 2013

What has the TUC ever done for us?

What has the TUC ever done for us? Is a very good question indeed right about now with attack after attack coming all the time the TUC which over sea’s the trade unions and keeps them in check has done much to prevent struggle I would argue and in my view is a barrier for change in a big way. Before I get labelled ultra left I think it’s worth bearing in mind since 2010 anyway since modern austerity has begun what role the TUC has played. In many ways the TUC has been that lever that has let off steam from workers anger from below. That’s not to say that there’s a constant and an ever bubbling class anger as some on the left like to constantly claim. If only those pesky trade union leaders would just call a 24 hour general strike their minds tick over and over. Yet the TUC has had its role historically as a mediator in the class struggle it is a capitalist body which was absorbed into the system many moons ago. It is there not to facilitate struggle but to actively police it. In September 2012, TUC Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for co-ordinated national action, up to and including a general strike. It’s nearly 88 years since the last General Strike in Britain was sold out by the leadership of the Labour Movement. Countless times since then, trade union leaders, like the Grand Old Duke of York, have marched us up to the top of the hill with fighting talk and the promise of victory, then marched us down again, demobilising struggles and selling out rank-and-file members. We must learn from history, not repeat it. As workers, we need to directly control our own workplace and community struggles by organising direct action (e.g. indefinite wildcat strikes, solidarity pickets, occupations, blockades). That means having confidence in our ability to take matters into our own hands and organise resistance to austerity and exploitation, without relying on the ‘official’ channels. I am a firm believer in workers controlling their own struggles once you allow a bureaucrat to decide what is best for you you loose all sense of power and identity in the struggle all attempts to co opt power in the hands of a bureaucratic elite must be resisted n my view. Histories shows, the only way to ever make a difference are by direct action, whether it is on the streets, or in the workplace. Posturing and words alone achieve nothing. We all know that any fightback will not come from the Labour Party (or any other party); it’ll be from workers, public service users, parents, pensioners, students, the unemployed. If we see a mass working class fightback, we can expect the trade union leaders to be there, at the rallies and demonstrations, urging us forward. But looking at the struggles of the past few years, should this fill us with confidence? Are these union leaders behind us? Some recent defeats and ‘almosts’ In 2009, Visteon factories in London and Belfast were occupied. After dragging its heels and giving poor legal advice, Unite encouraged workers to leave the occupied factories. Eventually a deal was done behind closed doors and the union recommended acceptance of a partial offer that left the crucial issue of pensions untouched. In 2008, strikes were prepared across the public sector. Workers in Unison, NUT and PCS all took action against the government’s 2% pay-cap, sometimes even on the same day. After only two days of strike action Unison, the biggest of the three unions, took its dispute to ACAS. The arbitrating body’s decision being legally binding, this effectively removed its members from the dispute. The other unions soon followed suit. In 2007, as the government threatened 40,000 job cuts at Royal Mail and attacked pay and pensions, wildcat strikes spread across Britain with postal workers refusing to cross each others’ picket lines. The CWU soon called off all action to enter ‘meaningful negotiations’ which lasted weeks and came to no firm conclusion. Demoralised and demobilised posties accepted an agreement basically unchanged from the first one. But the CWU declared victory: they were guaranteed a ‘consultation’ role in the cuts. These are just some examples; you can pick many more from recent and not- so-recent history. And they all raise the question: why are our unions so bad at what we expect them to do? Not being a force for revolution or anything, but bog-standard, Ronseal-advert, doing-what-it-says-on-the-tin, fighting for their members’ interests. Union troubles, outside and in.. Trade union officials will blame the membership, saying they don’t want to fight. This might be true sometimes but didn’t the wildcatting posties want to fight? The Visteon workers, after occupying their factories, didn’t want to fight? There’s more going on than just the ‘workers aren’t up for it’... It’s not all the unions’ fault. Since the Thatcher years we’ve seen so many new laws restricting strike action that British industrial relations legislation is amongst the most anti-worker in the developed world. Where once wildcat strikes and secondary picketing were common, now they are a rarity. Even things like forcing ballots to be done in secret, posted from home, where workers can’t sense the solidarity of their workmates, is intended to discourage militant action. But there’s a problem with this argument too. These laws were pushed through as a result of working class defeat, a defeat that the unions were complicit in. Unions had been disciplining their members for decades before these laws were even a twinkle in Thatcher’s eye. Whether it be NUM official Will Lawther’s 1947 call to prosecute wildcatting miners “even if there are 50,000 or 100,000 of them” or the UPW slapping members with fines totalling £1,000 and threatening expulsion from the union (thus losing their jobs, as it was a closed shop) for refusing to handle post during the 1977 Grunwick strike, one thing seen time and again is union leaders moving against the militant action of their members. Putting it down to legislation passed in the last 20-30 years does nothing to explain such actions before then. Bureaucrats So the problems aren’t just external: we can’t just act like proud parents and say they fell in with a bad crowd. The fact is the unions have come to resemble the companies we expect them to fight with highly paid executive decision makers, a downward chain-of-command and a career ladder that goes beyond the union and into the halls of social democratic governing institutions (think-tanks, Labour Party etc). Such a structure needs people to fill it: bureaucrats, who by definition are separate from the lives of the workers they represent. This is true even of former shopfloor militants. Having left the workplace, their everyday experiences are not the same as those they used to work alongside. Their priorities and, more importantly, their material interests are not the same. A victory for a worker means an improvement in working conditions; a victory for a bureaucrat means a seat at the negotiating table. But this seat for the bureaucrat doesn’t necessarily mean any improvement for the worker, as the CWU’s consultation ‘victory’ proves. To say union bureaucrats have different priorities and interests is not just spite. It’s to underline that it’s not about them being “baddies.” Many committed militants become union officials because they want to be employed spreading struggle rather than just working for some arsehole boss. But the trouble is that ‘struggle’ and ‘the union’ are not the same thing and spreading the latter does not mean encouraging the former. This has always been the case. The contradiction between workers and union bureaucrats has been going on in the UK for over a century. One such example was with the anarchist John Turner, an unpaid leader of the United Shop Assistants Union for seven years who in 1898 became a paid national organiser, travelling up and down the country recruiting to the union. Though it grew massively, Turner had also started to change his approach. As conflicts flared up so would branches of the union; but as conflicts died down so did the branches. To keep a stable membership, he introduced sickness and unemployment benefits as perks of union membership. The plan worked. A stable membership was established and by 1910 the Shop Assistants Union was the biggest in the London area. But the nature of the union had changed. And even if Turner couldn’t see it, the workers could. The union bureaucracy became seen by many as an interference with local initiative and in 1909 Turner was accused of playing the “role of one of the most blatant reactionaries with which the Trades Union movement was ever cursed” . The tragedy of John Turner1 is not as simple as him ‘selling out’; he remained an anarchist to the day he died. But as a full-time organiser paid by the union his priority began to be perpetuating the union rather than organising conflicts and soon his union was no different from the other unions. This is because in the eyes of a trade union official, the union is not just the means to encourage struggle but the means through which struggle itself happens. Building the union is top priority and stopping things which get the union in trouble (like unofficial action) take on the utmost importance; after all, if the workers get the union into too much trouble, how will struggle happen? Of course, an individual can take on a full-time union job and concentrate on organising conflicts rather than just recruitment. But full-timers aren’t freelancers, their bosses (the union they work for), like any other boss, needs to see results. And ‘results’ doesn’t mean class conflict, it means membership recruitment and retention. Because without members, official trade unionism can’t do what it most needs to. Meeting employers half-way Criticisms of the bureaucratic nature of the trade unions are not uncommon on the far-left. Many conclude that we need to democratise or ‘reclaim’ the existing unions, while others more radically conclude that we need new unions, controlled by the rank and file. However, this misses the point about what bureaucracies are and why they happen. Unions don’t play this role because they’re bureaucratic, they’re bureaucratic because of the role they play. That is, they try to mediate the conflict between workers and their bosses. The primary way this happens is through monopolising the right to negotiate conditions on behalf of the workforce. What is crucial when trying to do this is maintaining as high a membership as possible, regardless of how detached from the workplace such a union becomes. As union density drops generally, unions solve this problem with endless mergers as high membership figures help maintain their influence with management (not to mention the TUC and the Labour Party). If a union is to secure its place as the negotiator in the workplace, it not only has to win the support of its members but also show bosses that they can get the workforce back to work once an agreement is reached. By having membership figures which they can point at to make sure management recognise them as the body able to negotiate wages and conditions, unions are also able to use this position to retain and attract members. Equally, this influence with the workforce is what’s useful to management. Union bureaucrats offer stability in the workplace, diverting workers’ anger into a complex world of employment law, grievance procedures and casework forms. As Buzz Hargrove, leader of the militant Canadian Auto Workers union, wrote in his autobiography: “Good unions work to defuse [workers’] anger – and they do it effectively. Without unions, there would be anarchy in the workplace. Strikes would be commonplace, and confrontation and violence would increase. Poor-quality workmanship, low productivity, increased sick time, and absenteeism would be the preferred form of worker protest. “By and large, unions deflect those damaging and costly forms of worker resistance. If our critics understood what really goes on behind the labour scenes, they would be thankful that union leaders are as effective as they are in averting strikes.” The legal restrictions on unions mentioned earlier are often called “anti-union” laws. However when looked at like this, it becomes apparent that these laws are not so much anti-union as anti-worker. If anything, it strengthens the union’s hand by giving it a total monopoly on all legally recognised (and therefore protected) forms of action. The same laws which help employers maintain order in the workplace can also be seen helping the union maintain its half of the bargain with the employers. As a result, pro-union radicals often propose the ‘wink and nod’ strategy: that is, the union officially saying “come on, back to work, the union doesn’t condone this...” while giving a sly little wink while the boss isn’t looking. But if bosses don’t think a union can keep up its end of the bargain then they won’t recognise them as negotiating “partners.” Why would they? Why would anyone repeatedly reach an agreement with someone else if they knew that person wouldn’t uphold their side of the bargain? In order to function as representatives of the workforce, unions have to play by the rules including, where necessary, policing the workforce and directing militancy into the “proper channels.” The anti-strike laws reinforce this pressure by threatening unions with financial ruin if they don’t rein in legally unprotected actions. This is where the pressure to discipline members comes from. It’s not a question of the right leaders with the right politics or of having the right principles written down in a constitution. It’s not about individuals, it’s about how structures work to fulfill their needs. From John Turner through to today via the French CGT, American CIO, Polish Solidarnosc and countless others, unions have turned, through their role as mediators, away from their origins as expressions of class anger and into organisations disciplining the working class against its own interests. Notably, the unions that avoided this fate are those that adopted explicitly revolutionary perspectives and consciously refused to play a mediating role, such as the Spanish CNT’s refusal to participate in works councils and union elections2. So what then? This article is just the start of a wider criticism of unions. But where unions seek to act as mediators and representatives they necessitate the creation of bureaucracies to take on this task and bureaucrats, separated as they are from workers’ lives, have different interests from them. They need primarily to maintain their seat at the negotiating table. Therefore it’s no surprise that where gains have been made (even within a union framework) it has been through the threat or actuality of unmediated direct action: from the Lindsey Oil Refinery strikes to the wildcat-prone refuse workers of Brighton to the solidarity of truck drivers not crossing Shell truckers’ picket lines. And most recently the sparks dispute which won big gains was won through rank and file organisation. These strikes, which ended in unqualified victories for the workers, pushed the boundaries of trade union action, breaking anti-strike laws and taking place outside the official union structures (even if organised by lay-reps at local union level). Our task is to encourage this sort of independent activity, to encourage the control of struggles through workplace meetings of all workers affected (regardless of union affiliation) and to encourage the use of direct action to get results. These should be the guiding principles for us in workplace organising. Leave ‘reclaiming the unions’ to the ones who have time for that sort of thing , they can build career ladders for bureaucrats. If union density is what creates militancy then the UK (at 27%) would be far more militant than France (8%). Clearly this is not the case. We’re done building new bureaucracies; we need to take action without them. With thanks and credits to

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Hovis workers make toast of 0 hours contracts dispute

Much solidarity and congratulations must go to the workers and members of the BFAWU over at Hovis in Wigan who could well have set a new stage in fighting 0 hour contracts potentially in the UK. A historic win in many ways is coming to an end today and this sis something we should all be shouting about I feel. With few victories about right now for workers its worth making the most of all that we do get and show to other workers look you can win if you fightback. From The excellent Union news Uk website: More than 400 bakery workers have voted overwhelmingly to end two weeks of strike action in a protracted dispute over zero hours contracts at the Hovis bakery in Wigan. Under a settlement which was put to the workforce on Saturday (21 September), agency employees who work 39 hours per week for 12 consecutive weeks will be moved to parity pay. BFAWU said the strikes had been triggered after the company broke an agreement designed to limit the number of agency workers at the Lancashire bakery, so that people were only employed on “zero hours” contracts in absolute emergencies. Following talks last week, the company has now agreed that future production will be covered from overtime and “banked hours” by members of the full-time 400-strong workforce. Union reps say the increasingly confident wave of strikes had secured “everything we were looking for”. However, negotiators have insisted that the local management of Premier Foods, which owns the Hovis brand, must put the new agreement to them in writing before they formally call off further strike action. BFAWU regional organising secretary, Pauline Nazir, told UnionNews: “The sense of solidarity among the workers has been absolutely brilliant. “It makes you see why you’re a member of a trade union and why our parents told us to join a union.” The second of the two week-long stoppages had seen scores of strikers and supporters blockading one of the gates at the Wigan site. They prevented up to 80% of scheduled delivery lorries from leaving the bakery. Strike organisers said those lorries which did leave were so heavily delayed that they would have failed to meet their delivery deadlines for stores in the Midlands and North Wales. Drivers based at the Wigan bakery had refused to run the gauntlet of noisy, but largely good-natured pickets with the Hovis-liveried lorries on health and safety grounds. Some workers at the Wigan bakery had been on zero hours contracts for up to 3 years before they were given full-time posts, only to find they were doing the same job as they had been doing previously on a temporary contract. The local Labour MP, Lisa Nandy, had told the company the dispute gave Premier Foods an opportunity to reach a settlement which could “demonstrate to the whole country that people do not have to put up with terms and conditions that blight lives and blight whole communities”. Geoff Atkinson, BFAWU’s lead official in the dispute said the commitment from the company over agency staff “also has the potential to create jobs in the local area”. News of the settlement came less than 48 hours before workers at the Wigan bakery were due to begin a third week of strikes. With thanks and credits to Union news Uk at

Solidarity with fire fighters on strike tomorrow

Tomorrow the 25th of September Fire fighters up and down the land will be on strike from 12 pm. The strike is for 4 hours from 12 pm in a dispute over pensions. In a FBU press release On Wednesday 25 September 2013, FBU members (except control members) in England and Wales will take part in strike action between 12:00 and 16:00 hours. The English (CLG) Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, is publicly saying that this strike action is completely unnecessary. It some ways this is true. It is unnecessary because we have given central government every opportunity to avoid it. All we are asking for is for them to come to the negotiating table and to sort out this mess that they have caused by pressing on with the proposals for an unworkable, unaffordable and unsustainable pension scheme. It is a sad day for all fire-fighters when the only option left to us is to take strike action, but unfortunately, after almost two years, where we have exhausted every possible avenue, it seems that this is the only alternative. Taking strike action is always the last resort, and is not a pleasant experience. It is vital that all FBU members support each other through this time. Almost 80% voted in favour of industrial action in A ballot that ended earlier this month, although union officials have left the Strike to the last possible moment to allow for the possibility of a negotiated Settlement. Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: This initial strike Is a warning shot to government. Fire-fighters could not be more serious about Protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions. Governments in Westminster And Cardiff has simply refused to see sense on these issues. It’s ludicrous to expect fire-fighters to fight fires and rescue families in Their late-50s: the lives of the general public and fire-fighters themselves will Be endangered. None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and fire-fighter Safety. Fire-fighters in Scotland will not strike this week while union officials are Discussing the Scottish Governments most recent proposals. However, a settlement in Scotland has not yet been found, and the unions Strike ballot could still result in industrial action in Scotland too. The strike will take place for four hours, between noon and 4pm. The governments own figures have shown that thousands of fire-fighters could Face the sack without access to a proper pension simply because they are getting Old.> A recent government review found that over half of current fire-fighters Between the ages of 50 and 54 are no longer able to meet fire and rescue service Fitness standards for fighting fires. Beyond the age of 55, two thirds fail to Meet the standards. And although the government has previously claimed that older fire-fighters Could be moved to less physically demanding roles, FBU research found only a Handful of opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning Mass sackings would be inevitable. Fire-fighters already pay some of the highest pension contributions in the UK Public or private sector and have seen increases for two consecutive years. The Majority of fire-fighters already pay almost 13% of their salary in contributions With further increases due next year. This will mean some fire-fighters now face An increase six years in a row.Firefighters also argue that the governments financial projections are Flawed. They are based on a prediction of a 1% decline in pension sign-up, but Their own information suggests that over 25% of whole-time fire-fighters Recruited last year chose not to join. The FBU has warned these figures clearly Demonstrate that changes to the scheme are already having an impact and, if the trend continues, that the financial viability of the scheme will be seriously undermined.

Let’s act and think for ourselves

Over the last week I’ve been coming to the conclusion that only by acting and thinking for ourselves can we get anywhere. Watching political conference after political conference drowns on and on in a misty haze of awfulness I’m struck by the thought of anger at these so called leaders looking to act on our behalf. It wound me up the other week with the TUC conference so called union leaders who earn far more a year than most of us do in a decade pontifying over what needs to happen just makes my skin crawl. I am no longer a member of any political party and can’t see myself getting involved in one again for some time at least if at all. The bitchy comments and backstabbing is unreal. No wonder so many young people are turned off from politics if all they see is MP's and so called representatives of all sides tearing chunks out of each other and arguing about things which matter little to them. Politics is quite widely seen now in Britain that it is something ordinary people just don’t do. We get a vote but many don’t use it and why would they? Voting for a lesser evil every so often is still evil. We seem as far away from a new workers party than ever too. Even if we were to see a new workers party come about what is to say they will be any better? Being sucked into the system, playing by the capitalist rules to conform. Clearly no political party as I see it today as we speak is fit for purpose to change things for the better. I have no faith in any party, MP or political grouping out there right now. The left is split in so many factions and groupings it’s hard to think they can have an impact in the coming period. Any chance of a unity project or getting together regularly ends in splits and fallings out. The left simply are too fractioned to move forward right now. The two main projects on the left electorally anyway are currently TUSC and Left Unity and while both will claim to be in their infancy past experiences do not fill you with confidence that they will get off the ground in any meaningful sense. I do think we can be political without being in a party. We don’t need a political party to be political I’ve always thought. I've been in a few parties and got on well with those not in one. Now I’m free of a party I feel a lot freer to think and be critical of where I feel things are slipping and what could be better. Having the freedom to criticize is important. Not to criticize for criticisms sake but to point out flawed strategies and point an alternative out. I do think we all have the potential to think and act for ourselves. We don’t need to be told what to think. The working class is not stupid and I don’t think it needs leading by the nose. Allowing people to think and explore their own political ideas is key to developing any political idea. Testing it against others having the freedom to be wrong and make mistakes as we all do from time to time. Being attacked or abused for speaking out against something you don’t agree with with people does not encourage free thinking. So now I’m free, independent for now I will think and act as I like. I was told my blog posts of late have been far more interesting since I’ve left the socialist party. Whilst I’m still a socialist and believe in socialism I found a fair few of the SP's organisational methods stifling at times where a pre determined party line decided by a leadership who I apparently endorsed without knowing much about their records in action or what their personal day to day work was like. This being due to the fact leadership meetings like NC and EC meetings minutes were not made available. How are you supposed to know who plays what role and who is better or not when coming to vote for a pre determined slate which you can challenge of course but again who do you replace them with if you don’t know what is said nor goes on in NC meetings and above? All this and other aspects of a lack of democracy worried me. While more democracy doesn’t lead to socialism necessarily I do think it’s something as socialists and those who oppose the current system should always try and promote and call out when you don’t feel there is enough. As I’ve always said its workers who have the power to change society and I still believe this. Allowing people to think for themselves is a key part of this though. Freedom of thought and speech does have its boundaries of course where we would oppose such things as racism, sexism and discrimination and so on but the ability to think politically without fear of retribution is a must in today’s society. We are not in 1920's Russia people should have the freedom to express disagreements, criticisms and not be isolated or punished for this.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Angela Merkel wins 3rd term in Germany where does Europe go now?

After a 3rd successive win for Angela Merkel In the German elections over the weekend much of Europe will be waking up with different feelings. Certainly the Northern European states will be much relieved although this result was never really in any doubt in all honesty. Yet for Southern Europe this election win may be greeted with fear and worry as to what Germany and Europe as a block does next. It was clear that many of the big economic decisions have been put off until after this big election so we will see in the coming months and years where Germany sea’s things going and how it reacts to really dire situations in the likes of Portugal, Spain, Italy and most pressing no doubt will be Greece. Angela Merkel who won her 3rd general election on Sunday received popular backing due to Germany's prosperity of late and ever since the great recession anyway have stormed ahead in the global race in terms of capitalist development. Her conservatives took about 42% of the vote, the polls said. TV projections said that might almost be enough for a historic absolute majority. Otherwise Mrs Merkel might have to seek a grand coalition with the Social Democrats - estimated to have won 26%. Her preferred liberal partners appear not to have made it into parliament. This is an amazing result for Angela Merkel, currently Germany's - and Europe's - pre-eminent politician. It was clear that she would win this election, but no-one really predicted that she could get so close to an absolute majority. The final results are not yet in, but it may still be that she needs a coalition partner. The obvious solution is a grand coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats. The party improved its share of the vote in second place, but still did not do as well as it wanted. But there are divisions within the SPD about going into coalition again as a junior partner. In 2009 they were punished by the electorate for doing that in 2005. Now the same thing has happened to the liberal Free Democrats, who have been in coalition with Mrs Merkel for the last four years, but appear to have been kicked out of parliament altogether. Exit polls for ARD public television put the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) on 4.7%, which if confirmed would be a disaster for the junior coalition partner, leaving it with no national representation in parliament. Party chairman Philip Roesler called it "the bitterest, saddest hour of the Free Democratic Party". The FDP was beaten by the Green Party (8%) and the former communist Left Party (8.5%), and even, according to exit polls, the new Alternative fuer Deutschland, which advocates withdrawal from the euro currency and took 4.9%, just short of the parliamentary threshold. There was some speculation on German television that Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister CSU might even win enough seats for an absolute majority - the first in half a century - if both the FDP and AfD fail to make it into parliament. The ARD channel's projection had her group winning 297 seats against 301 for the other three parties, while ZDF had her dead even with the other three. The turnout in this election is interesting Turnout, projected at about 72%, was higher than at the last federal election - which had the worst on record. So clearly the Christian democrat’s wre catching on to a wave of support out there for now. How long this will last all depends on the economy in my view. Quoting Marxist economist Michael Roberts from his blog at "Germany is the largest and most important capitalist economy in Europe, if not yet the most important European imperialist power (there it vies with the UK and France). It is the main creditor and funder of the Eurozone member states. So what does this election campaign and result tell us about the future of German capitalism and the strategy being adopted by its political leaders? On the surface, all looks good for the economic health of Germany as there appears to be very little difference on policy between the CDU and the SPD. You would find it hard to push a sheet of paper between them on major policy issues for Germany. So it seems likely that a Grand Coalition between the CDU-CSU and SPD will be formed with two-thirds of the seats in parliament and German capitalism looks set fair for the status quo for another four years. However that is too simple a calculation. There are new economic and political pressures for German capitalism that will make it more unstable than before. The first thing is that there has been a long-term trend in German (and other Euro) politics: namely, the fragmentation of electoral votes from two or three parties into several. That’s a recipe for instability and paralysis, as we have seen in Greece, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands etc. This election has slightly reversed that trend with the two main parties polling about 56% compared to 50% last time, but that is no better than in 2005. Some 16% of votes will not be represented in parliament due to the 5% hurdle -- more than ever before. The turnout may be slightly better than in the recession year 2009 at 73%, but it's well down from the 1990s. And then there is the joker in the pack: the eurosceptic Alternative fur Deutschland party (AfD), a party made up of academics and other petty-bourgeois elements, strongly opposed to ‘handouts’ to the 'free-spending' peripheral Euro states and demanding a return to the D-mark. The AfD polled 4.9%, just not quite enough to gain representation. But by polling close to the 5% threshold, that will stir up new currents beneath the surface of serenity in German politics, especially leading up to the Euro elections next May. Despite the Euro debt crisis and the 'contingent' costs to the pockets of the German taxpayers from the bailout payments to the distressed Eurozone states, the German ruling class is still convinced that the euro is worth having over the D-mark. That is because German capitalism has gained most from the trade and capital integration of the single currency. The best indicator of that is to look at what has happened to German capital's rate of profit. The European Commission AMECO database provides a measure of the net return on capital invested for many countries including Germany. There are several technical issues with this measure, but I think it gives a relatively good guide to trends (partly because it is supported by alternative data from the Extended Penn World Tables that I have used before to measure country rates of profit). The AMECO measure shows that Germany's rate of profit fell consistently from the early 1960s to the early 1980s slump (down 30%) - much like the rest of the major capitalist economies in that period. Then there was a recovery (some 33% up - using Penn measures) with a short fall during the recession of the early 1990s and then stagnation during the 1990s as West Germany digested the integration of East Germany into its capitalist economy. The real take-off in German profitability began with the formation of the Eurozone in 1999, generating two-thirds of the entire rise from the early 1980s to 2007. German capitalism benefited hugely from expanding into the Eurozone with goods exports and capital investment until the Great Recession hit in 2008, while other Euro partners lost ground. Once the east was integrated, Germany's manufacturing export base grew just as much as the new force in world manufacturing, China, did. But the fall in profitability during the Great Recession was considerable and AMECO forecasts do not suggest a significant recovery in profitability since. Indeed profitability will be below the level of 2005 from now on. So things may be more difficult from hereon. It is interesting to consider the reason for the rise in the German rate of profit using Marxist categories. The rise in the rate of profit from the early 1980s to 2007 can be broken down into a rise in the rate of surplus value of 38%, but only a small rise of 5% in the organic composition of capital. This is consistent with Marx's law of profitability in that the rate of profit rises when the increase in the rate of surplus value outstrips the increase in the organic composition of capital. It seems that the ability to extract more surplus value out of the German working class while keeping the cost of constant capital from rising much was the story of German capitalism. In other words, constant capital did not rise due to innovations and investment in new technology while surplus value did, due to the expansion of the workforce using imported labour from Turkey and elsewhere at first - and then expansion directly into Europe later. The real jump in the rate of profit began with the start of the Eurozone. In this period, the organic composition of capital was flat while the rate of surplus value rose 17%. German capital was able to exploit cheap labour within EMU but also in Eastern Europe to keep costs down. The export of plant and capital to Spain, Poland, Italy, and Greece, Hungary etc (without obstacle and in one currency) allowed German industry to dominate Europe and even parts of the rest of the world. Most important, the fear of the export of jobs to other parts of Europe enabled German capitalists to impose significant curbs on the ability of German labour to raise their wages and conditions. The large rise in the German rate of profit was accompanied by a sharp increase in the rate of surplus value or exploitation, particularly from 2003 onwards. What happened from 2003 to enable German capitalism to exploit its workers so much more? In 2003-2005 the SPD-led government implemented a number of wide-ranging labour market 'reforms', the so-called Hartz reforms. The first three parts of the reform package, Hartz I-III, were mainly concerned with creating new types of employment opportunities (Hartz I), introducing additional wage subsidies (Hartz II), and restructuring the Federal Employment Agency (Hartz III). The final part, Hartz IV, was implemented in 2005 and resulted in a significant cut in the unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Between 2005 and 2008 the unemployment rate fell from almost 11% to 7.5%, barely increased during the Great Recession and then continued its downward trend reaching 5.5% at the end of 2012, although it is still higher than in the golden age of expansion in the 1960s. German unemployment rate (%) A wonderful success then? Not for labour. About one quarter of the German workforce now receive a “low income” wage, using a common definition of one that is less than two-thirds of the median, which is a higher proportion than all 17 European countries, except Lithuania. A recent Institute for Employment Research (IAB) study found wage inequality in Germany has increased since the 1990s, particularly at the bottom end of the income spectrum. The number of temporary workers in Germany has almost trebled over the past 10 years to about 822,000, according to the Federal Employment Agency. This is something we have seen across Europe - the dual labour system in Spain being the prime example. So the reduced share of unemployed in the German workforce was achieved at the expense of the real incomes of those in work. Fear of low benefits if you became unemployed, along with the threat of moving businesses abroad into the rest of the Eurozone or Eastern Europe, combined to force German workers to accept very low wage increases while German capitalists reaped big profit expansion. German real wages fell during the Eurozone era and are now below the level of 1999, while German real GDP per capita has risen nearly 30%. No wonder German capitalism has been so 'competitive' in European and world markets. The Hartz reforms may be regarded as a success by German capital and mainstream economists. But they have always been very unpopular among the German public. In this election, no major party has dared to run on a platform that openly endorses the Hartz reforms. Indeed, several parties tried to win votes by promising to roll back the Hartz reforms, including the SPD which initiated the reforms in 2003-2005 under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Of course, this is not to deny that the German working class is better off than its peers in the rest of the Eurozone and this explains why German voters, who have voted, did so, by and large, for parties that wishes to preserve the status quo. The German ruling class and the leadership of the two main parties are generally agreed that the Eurozone must be kept intact as it is, despite the cost of the debt crises in the peripheral EMU states. After all, German capitalism has gained hugely from the Eurozone, as I have shown. Greece should not probably have been allowed in, as Merkel and others have said on several occasions, but now it is in, it is too risky to kick Greece out as it sets a dangerous precedent. And the cost of yet another Greek bailout in the next year is small. But there are are some differences between the CDU and the SPD over the Eurozone. The CDU does not want any integration of debt and debt payments within the Eurozone through things like a euro redemption fund or Eurozone bonds, while the SPD does. The CDU does not want German capital taking on any contingent liability of the future or existing debt of the likes of Italy or Spain; even if it never happens that they cannot service it. Even so, a Grand Coalition will agree eventually to ease the terms of repayment of the bailout recipients - indeed it will probably put repayment back for likes of Greece to the indefinite future. Remember that the US allowed the UK to repay what they owed the US after the Second World War for ages - it was only fully paid off in 2005! However, the Grand Coalition will be set with difficulties from its beginning. It will be under the pressure from the right, the eurosceptics and the small business FDP to refuse any further bailouts and apply severe austerity to the peripheral EMU states and France. The SPD will be under pressure from the left to break with the coalition to reverse the Hartz reforms, spend more and avoid nuclear energy or leave the coalition. German capitalism may have been a 'success story' over the last 25 years since the integration of East Germany. But its long-term prospects do not look so good from here. It has a declining and ageing workforce (this will be the last election in which the majority of voters were under the age of 55) and less areas for exploitation of new labour outside Germany, while competition from the likes of China and Asia will mount. And the costs of maintaining the Eurozone will grow. All these are issues for the strategists of German capital now that there will be a new coalition in power. The German electorate may have voted for the status quo again in this election, but the relatively low turnout and the low share of the vote for the main parties show that there is growing disillusionment with the 'success' of German capitalism that has given just a few crumbs for the working class off the table of bounty for German capital income. And the burden on the working class in paying for the further ambitions of German capitalism is set to rise. "

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The rise of Golden Dawn and the threat they pose

The rise of fascist or semi fascist and racist ideas is on the rise right across Europe and something all on the left should take note of and wake up to in my view. With the likes of UKIP on the rise in Britain who are not out and out fascists but are certainly unpredictable and leaning more and more right by the week dragging political discourse in this country with it it would seem we should all start to wake up to a real threat of collapsing traditional political parties and emergences of new reactionary often racist but verging on the very real threat of openly fascist organisations and politically motivated groups too right across Europe today. Below I republish a excellent article about a recent murder in Greece by the Golden Dawn who are out and out neo Nazi’s in most peoples books now and are actively on the streets attacking political opponents and much much worse and must be confronted head on with the utmost urgency too. With thanks to Yiannis Baboulias "The other night, 34-year-old anti-fascist and left-wing rapper Pavlos Fissas was stabbed to death in Athens while he was surrounded by a group of 30 thugs in Golden Dawn shirts and military trousers. The victim, whose stage name is MC Killah P, had been watching a football match with his girlfriend. The Greek media is reporting that the murder came about after fighting between the fascists and anti-fascists, but according to eyewitnesses there were no clashes. The source – a local woman with no stated political allegiance – said that while Fissas was surrounded by the fascist mob, the murderer pulled up in a car, parked in a hurry, jumped out and attacked him straight away – details that point towards a premeditated attack. Fissas was stabbed twice in the heart, and once in his stomach. He died later in hospital. The murderer was arrested later and confessed to both the murder and the political nature of his act. The same sources allege that a group of police officers at the scene did nothing to stop what was happening – according to the left-wing Athens-based website, police told onlookers that they could not intervene because the assailants were “too numerous”. The attacker was eventually arrested by an officer and his car was taken away. Two hundred anti-fascists gathered at the scene later, and calls for protest marches all around Greece were put out. The Golden Dawn claims that the perpetrator isn't a member of their organisation and is threatening anyone who implicates them in the murder with lawsuits. However, police sources have confirmed to Kathimerini newspaper reporter Jean Souliotis that his party membership card was found in the rubbish bin outside his house. According to sources, he is associated with the Piraeus branch of the Golden Dawn. As far as Golden Dawn violence goes, this was an extreme incident but not an isolated one. There seems to have been resurgence in Golden Dawn attacks of late, to the extent that you wonder if this is a calculated strategy to escalate tensions between the far-right party and its political opponents. Late last Thursday night, 30 Greek Communist Party (KKE) members were putting up posters in the streets of Perama, when a group of 50 masked individuals wearing Golden Dawn insignia attacked them with iron bars and wooden sticks with nails through them. Nine KKE members were hospitalised. When I spoke to Sotiris Poulikoyiannis, President of the metalworkers union and one of those attacked, he told me that, “When they came for us, they were shouting, ‘We’re running this place, this harbour is ours.’ They were well prepared and equipped, they had sticks with nails in the end – this wasn’t a random attack. The two people in charge of the group even identified themselves.” It doesn't look like a coincidence that the attack came after a speech by two Golden Dawn MPs in the area. One of them, Yiannis Lagos, told his activist branch, “You choose how you want to move forward, and we’ll back you up." This had echoes of a speech he made last year, after which an attack was unleashed upon some Egyptian fishermen. On both occasions, no charges of incitement to violence were brought against him, and it's unlikely that any will brought against Golden Dawn after Fissas' murder. Curiously, while the Golden Dawn has been ramping up the violence it has also been flirting with relative respectability, by courting New Democracy – the large centre-right party that is in the government at the moment. New Democracy kept schtum about the attack on the communists in the domestic media, only condemning it in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. Last week, high-profile Greek journalist Babis Papadimitriou asked, “If SYRIZA [a left party] can work with KKE, why can’t a more serious Golden Dawn support a conservative alliance, like what happened in Norway?” Several MPs and advisors have hinted at the possibility of a potential alliance between the centre-right party and the neo-Nazi gang – if only the second would “shape-up”. Though Golden Dawn has attempted, in its own, ham-fisted way, to engage with mainstream political processes – bringing leftists to court for slander, standing in the Athens mayoral election – it seems their idea of “shaping up” doesn't extend to not murdering political opponents in bars. The brother of Nikos Mihaloliakos (leader of the GD) is rumoured to be recruiting heavily from circles of lawyers, businessmen and academics – supposedly upstanding professionals who are a little bit too fond of the Greek Junta and the colonels who overthrew the Greek government in 1967. However, with this latest murder, the Golden Dawn’s dual tactic of shaking the hand of the respectable political classes at the same time as they’re using the other hand to plunge knives into their enemies may finally have come unstuck. The Minister of Citizen Protection Nikos Dendias has said the government will look to change the law around criminal organisations, hinting at a ban of the far right-party. Unfortunately, such a change could have implications for radical leftist organisations as well, meaning that the Golden Dawn could drag their foes down with them and mortally wound Greece’s democracy. Which means that, ultimately, they would kind of get things their way after all. " All very worrying indeed I’m sure you would agree. Many of this kind of event is not being covered in the news in Britain but as I’ve said before Britain is a few years behind Greece in terms of the crisis and we should not look on in fascination in what is happening in Greece itch the rapid growth of the far right but with absolute concern and look to learn the lessons. With thanks and extracts from

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Labour to scrap the bedroom tax? I’ll believe it when I see it

So Ed Miliband will announce this weekend that a future labour government will look to scrap the bedroom tax which I have attacked and talked about on this very blog. Labour has said it will reverse controversial changes to housing benefit if it wins the next election. Ed Miliband said the cut affecting social tenants in England, Scotland and Wales deemed to have spare bedrooms was unfair. Labour aims to fund its change by blocking tax cuts for businesses. Critics called the cut a "bedroom tax". The government argues it ends "spare room subsidies" unavailable in the private sector and that the £23bn-a-year housing benefit bill must be cut. The announcement comes with the Labour Party conference about to start in Brighton. 'Not working' Since April, social housing tenants deemed to have spare rooms have either had to pay more in rent or move somewhere smaller. For months Labour has argued the change is wrong, unfair and penalises disabled people in particular, but had not committed itself to reverse the policy if it was in power after the election. But Mr Miliband has now said the change would be paid for by scrapping a tax break for hedge funds and the Treasury's new shares-for-rights scheme. I would urge all supporters and all who oppose the bedroom tax to take this latest news with a pinch of salt. A huge one given Labours current agreement with the cuts agenda who say they feel the cuts are too far and too fast yet the cuts would continue under a future labour government. If the labour party are genuine which I am suspicious about of course given labours previous record in gov and in opposition in sacking many workers in local government. I will believe any scrap when I see it. Labour has pledged to do things in the past including renationalising the railways and still it is in private hands despite all the conference motions and pledges you could muster yet still nothing changes. If labour is genuinely against this policy called the bedroom tax then we should not see any evictions or any threats of an eviction from any labour council up and down the land. We will see if this happens or not. Of course I would welcome a labour party pledge to scrap the bedroom tax but I would urge caution I have seen similar pledges from labour in the past only to be left disappointed. Let’s not give up on the solidarity acting of defending people in their homes who are still under threat of eviction. We should go where no labour party member will in defending people in their homes offering solidarity and physical help as and where it is needed including human shields to prevent evictions. Despite this pledge reality goes on for many facing hardship from the bedroom tax. This will not change anything this next week for many a militant organisation is still needed to fight off the bedroom tax. No complacency can be afforded now a stepping up of all campaigns ageist the bedroom tax must commence forth now with the call now labour are promising to scrap this so lets not waste anytime and fight to keep people in their homes and safe from eviction. The bedroom tax is still not gone and we must not rest on our laurels we must keep up the pressure on all councils including labour councils to oppose the bedroom tax and all forms of it.

Prospects for Left Unity going forward

I have paid a little attention to the progress of Left Unity in the recent period. It is something which could be really good for the left but could also turn out to be another stumbling block in the development of socialism in the United Kingdom. Only time will tell have course. I am optimistic on Left Unity but am cautious as always as we are right to be. There is two clear platforms appearing including the Left platform which is considered the more moderate position and then there is the socialist platform which contains a lot of disagreement but one that looks to replace capitalism with socialism eventually. This may sound bold but in today’s world we need to be. If we hide what we stand for or try to ride on the back of the right wing in the labour movement including left reformist ideas we will only head one way and that is to no where I’m afraid. I am not a member of Left Unity or of TUSC at this point but have always made my ideas clear that these two projects should look to work together whenever and wherever they possibly can. TUSC and Left Unity are not that dissimilar in my view. Both wish to oppose the labour party and offer a left wing alternative. TUSC clearly looks to look and lean towards the trade unions and those still linked to the labour party in particular which is having a tiny tiny affect so far. Only the GMB have made rumblings of cutting funding to the labour party so far and even Unite who claim to be a left union in action have made no noises at all on the labour party question. With their so called left leader which makes me laugh with Len Mckluseky who is an absolute fraud in my view as he likes to appear left but sucks up to Ed Miliband and the labour party as much as any bureaucrat would do? But as for Left Unity I am not involved and am watching with interest but would hope anything that comes to fruition would be pushed by the utmost democracy and openness. Of course the most democracy won’t lead to socialism but it certainly won’t hinder things. In my view the more democracy the better and cant do the fight for socialism any harm at all. Left Unity is a name and a position which air agree with I do think there is more that unites the left than divides it but as always there is much sectarian behaviour always on show from all sides of the left. This will have to be tackled and taken on head on for anything to change. The worry for me is that very few if any socialist groups are involved in Left Unity the likes of the SWP and the Socialist party who are arguably the two biggest socialist groups on the left today in Britain can barely agree on anything let alone a project like Left Unity. Just take TUSC it is clearly a thing that more interests the socialist party more than the SWP at this stage will this change in time? Perhaps but for now the left is more divided than ever. This can only be a bad thing until things change.

Friday, 20 September 2013

CWI socialist party play the man not the ball in economic crisis debate

At last the CWI socialist party have published their reply to those who have made criticisms of its economic position. You can read it here if you wish. Warning there is many straw man arguments in there and is a very long draw out piece. The piece mainly attacks Marxist Andrew Kliman a university lecture from the USA and a comrade of mine Bruce Wallace from Scotland. Now I wont be giving a long winded reply to this document as its not my place to do so but I do look forward to the response from the opposition which is more than Andrew Kliman who isn’t even a member of the CWI and Bruce Wallace who you'd be forgiven for thinking were the only two who hold Marx’s views on crisis with capitalism. The piece focus's heavily on Andrew Kliman and linking his political standings to his economic ones. Many straw men make a straw man army in my view and this document has straw men all over the shop sadly. At least we have seen the Law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall finally get a mention in a socialist party official piece. SO far up to now you would struggle to find any mention of the law that Karl Marx brilliantly describes in 3 chapters of his famous works in capital volume 3. Sadly this is dismissed as nonsense by the CWI and Bruce and Andrew are lambasted for their so called dogmatic stance when it comes to theories of capitalist crisis. So by this we should be calling Karl Marx a dogmatist too right? I am a supporter of Bruce Wallace and Andrew Kliman and defend their right to oppose the economic position of the CWI which I have to be honest I am far from convinced with either. Bruce has made many attempts o raise this debate and has been trying for over a year now only now September 2013 something is published and now it is I do hope and I am sure it will be scrutinised hugely by good Marxists out there like Andrew Kliman and Michael Roberts Mick Brooks etc who certainly know their stuff on economic issues. One of the worst parts of all this is the CWI's tactics of trying to shut down debate up until now when it’s on their terms. Bruce Wallace was uninvited to the CWI School in Belgium this year which is a crying shame and has only lead to further frustrations from Bruce and others who are equally confused by the CWI position. The CWI seem to have tried to link Bruce's support for Andrew Klimans economic position to his political one of supporting a state capitalist position trying to link him to the SWP quite laughable really when you think about it if you've ever read any of Klimans works which I have done. Bruce Wallace and others in the CWI do not share Andrew Klimans views of this and a collapsing capitalism and what the CWI describe as a non dialectical position yet they are all lumped in together and Bruce is made out to be this nutty rag tag who is a supporter of this isolated academic . Guilty by association in other words. Bruce is a fine comrde and has taught me many things from his blog and online.. I do think a lot of the attacks in the piece are false and wrong but I will let others reply to this who are directly involved. I would just like to offer my solidarity to Bruce and others who are in official opposition to theCWI leadership on the causes of the capitalist crisis. It is a long document as I say and you will need a while to read it all through properly but I would urge all who read it to read it with a critical eye and do not just swallow the CWI line unapologetically. There may be parts which may be quite right and others are not but as any Marxist should o we should not just accept what a party who claims to be Marxist as read and a given. An all sided rounded out analysis of the position must be under taken. I am sure this debate will run and run. I lend my support to Bruce Wallace and others and there is more all the time that is questioning the economic analysis of the CWI and are right to do so in my view. I will be sharing and publishing any of the opposition’s pieces if they don’t mind me doing so and offering a platform to understand the debate in its entirety. This is just the start there will be many more exchanges.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The state of Britain’s prisons today and the role of prison officers

In today’s Guardian there is a really exposing piece on one of Britain’s worst prisons and the activity that goes on in one. Having never been in prison I can’t say for certain what one is like on the inside but I can’t imagine they are much fun. As much as the right wing would like you to believe it’s a holiday camp I am sure it is not. This post may be controversial but I have concerns on support for state institutions and confusion on their real role. Young people today have a dis trust of the police and naturally the state too. To not recognize this is turning a blind eye to people’s real feelings today. "A prison officer has been caught punishing an inmate by denying him food during a surprise inspection of a cockroach-infested jail. Some staff at HMP Bristol, a mostly Victorian-era prison holding around 600 inmates, displayed delinquent behavior, such as using derogatory and abusive language, a report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said. Most striking was the "arbitrary punishment" of a prisoner who was locked up all day and prevented from having his full meals by a staff member. The officer was swiftly disciplined by the prison once it heard of the punishment. Fewer prisoners than at similar prisons said staff treated them with respect, and this was even worse for black and minority ethnic and foreign national prisoners, the inspection found. The number of recorded bullying incidents was more than double that at similar prisons. According to the report, much of the prison was dirty and poorly equipped. It said: "Cells designed for one continued to hold two prisoners and many cells had damaged lockers, damaged and scaled toilets and broken and/or missing windows. "Prisoners repeatedly complained of an infestation of cockroaches and we saw many cells in which prisoners had used toothpaste and paper as a makeshift sealant for gaps around sanitary units and airbricks to prevent the ingress of cockroaches." Inmates could not get enough clean clothes or clothes that fitted, adequate bedding or cleaning materials, the inspection found, while significant numbers of prisoners reported it was easy to get drugs in the prison or they had developed a drug problem while there. The report found the turnover of prisoners was very high with more than 70% of inmates staying for less than three months. It said the closure of nearby Gloucester prison had made the situation worse. During the working day it was normal to find about half the prison's population locked in their cells. "There was only enough work, training or activity for about two-thirds of the population, but even this was not used efficiently, with much unoccupied," the inspectors found. Of the 577 prisoners held at the time of the inspection in May, 261 had declared some form of disability on arrival. The report said: "We were not confident that all prisoners with a disability had been identified. In our survey, prisoners who identified themselves as having a disability reported more negatively than other prisoners about victimisation and feeling safe." There were 43 prisoners over the age of 50, the oldest being 87. "There was no formal provision of activities for older prisoners or those with a disability." At the last inspection in 2010, inspectors noted improvements and described a well-led prison with a "clear sense of direction" but found this progress had not been sustained. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said: "A sense of drift had returned to the prison. Some useful work was being done to help manage offending risk and to reintegrate prisoners at the conclusion of their sentences. "But the experience of prisoners was poor. The priorities we identified included improving the environment, improving staff culture and ensuring prisoners have something useful to do that will equip them for the future." The Prison Reform Trust director, Juliet Lyon, said: "This report is a serious wake-up call for Bristol prison, struggling to deal with very poor conditions and the drag anchor of unprofessional behaviour and the unacceptable attitudes of some staff." For some time it has troubled I of the socialist party's support for the POA the Prison officers association loosely called a union. Prisons officers in my view have a tricky role to play but are at the end of the day are in fact an arm of the state. ‘Prison officers’ work, upholding law and order, frequently pushes them to accept the most right wing ideas and actions of the system. One of their main jobs is to control prisoners – and throughout the prison system, many officers have a proven record of racism and violence.’ As the above article in the guardian shows. ‘While Marxists can only but approve of prison officers and other workers in uniform trying to assert themselves as workers by organising in trade unions and striking, we never lose sight of the reality of the state’s institutions of repression of which they are part of. I've always felt uncomfortable with what I hear going on in prisons. I feel we should be on the side of victims of abuse in prison no matter what they have done. Being behind bars is the punishment to recieve abuse and physical attacks is not part of the deal for me. ‘The POA is a curious hybrid union. Part of its membership is based in special hospitals like Broadmoor and operates, effectively like mental health nurses, though with extremely dangerous patients. Another part of its membership in the prisons – the officers – is, like the police, a coercive arm of the state. Their role in inflicting repression on working class prisoners is well documented and they have operated a no-strike deal with the state for many years (like the police) in order to carry out the role effectively. They are not, in other words, the archetypal union militants you would expect to be carrying the torch on behalf of the wider movement in the current struggle against pay-restraint.’ The brutal abuse of prisoners is routine in Her Majesty’s prison system I am lead to believe. A few years ago the Prison Service admitted that officers at Wormwood Scrubs regularly ‘subjected inmates to sustained beatings, mock executions, death threats, choking and torrents of racist abuse’ (Guardian, 11 December 2003). The idea of kindly prison officers functioning as benign social workers, anxious to help rehabilitate prisoners, and concerned for the welfare of their charges is simply a bourgeois myth. The function of the repressive state apparatus is to intimidate and crush anyone who falls afoul of capitalist law and order. The abuse of those caught up in the machinery of the prison system is brutal and systematic – it is not down to a handful of ‘rogue elements’. To accept the prison officers and the wider state enforcers as part of the workers’ movement implies that the coercive elements of the bourgeois state can somehow be brought under workers’, or ‘community’, control. This approach is in absolute contradiction to the Marxist position on the state. Prison officers are an integral part of the coercive apparatus which brutally enforces a social system based on exploitation and oppression. Like cops and members of the officer caste, are in my view class enemies – The SP, who are among the most vocal proponents of the view that cops, screws, etc., are really ‘workers in uniform’, have long upheld the social-democratic Illusion that the working class can use the capitalists’ state to build socialism. This is not the case we cannot use the capitalist state for our own means its delusion on grand scales. Individual prison officers may indeed grow tired of doing the capitalists’ dirty work and come to solidarise with the oppressed against the oppressors. But there is a class line that separates the organs of capitalist repression and the organisations of the working class. In order to become part of the workers’ movement, a prison officer, or a cop, must first resign their post. Those who remain on duty to carry out the instructions of Her Majesty’s government are, despite any private reservations they may have, agents of the bosses and, as such, opponents of the struggle for human liberation. While all cops or prison officers should be welcome to the workers movement it is dangerous to sew illusions in the state and its dangerous role it can play against workers.

Are we witnessing a housing bubble?

House prices outside London and the South East rose by 0.8% in the last year according to the Office for National Statistics in London it was even greater at 9.9% this is an incredible rate of increase and shows a lot of the housing policies this government have brought in are aiding this property bubble. UK house prices have been rising at the highest annual rate since June 2010. The rise coincides with the government's Help to buy scheme, introduced to boost the housing market. But will the scheme create a new housing bubble? UK house prices have risen by 9.9% in the year to August, according to the Halifax's latest house price survey. The government's Help to Buy scheme, which began in April, allows buyers to put down a deposit of just 5%, and take out an equity loan from the government for up to 20% of the property's value, up to a maximum home value of £600,000. It is designed to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder and enable existing homeowners to "trade up" to larger properties by giving banks greater confidence to lend. Help to buy currently only applies to new builds but from January it will be extended to cover existing homes, with mortgages being backed by a government guarantee. The scheme got off to a "flying start", according to the Home Builders Federation (HBF) in June. But Help to buy has also been criticized for having the potential to artificially raise house prices, with Business Secretary Vince Cable warning of "serious inflationary pressures". Experts give their views on whether help to buy risks creating a new housing bubble. Dr Beverley Searle, research fellow at the Centre for Housing Research, University of St Andrews Help to Buy, or any intervention which helps pay for housing, will inevitably create a housing bubble. Providing assistance with the purchase of housing artificially props prices up. We have witnessed this twice before. When it became easier to borrow money during the 1980s house prices rose. Even after the 1990s downturn the market just kept finding ways to lend people more money, allowing prices to rise again. If people cannot afford to buy a home because they cannot afford to save for a deposit, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the housing system. The government is clearly acknowledging this by providing an additional "deposit loan". For prices to stabilise there needs to be a significant increase in the supply of housing for sale and rent and the market given time to adjust. Even though Help to Buy is aimed at new build properties, it will interfere with this adjustment process. It seeks to encourage high levels of demand, with only a very limited increase in supply. The housing market has failed, it needs government intervention, but this should be in supplying housing people can afford, not letting them borrow more money for housing they cannot. Quite clearly this is adding some of the growth we are seeing now in the UK but will this last? With the UK’s rate of profit still not recovered to anywhere near what it was like before the great recession and there seems to be no will to revive the rate of profit. Housing is one way of boosting credit but I can only see this being a short term fix. The next boom is coming which will be followed by another bust. Due to the unfixed contradictions of capitalism which are always there a bigger crisis is not far away.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

What is holding the working class back?

Is an interesting question in many ways? I do not subscribe to the theory that it is simply due to those pesky trade union leaders putting a block on all out class warfare and if only we had better leaders all would be fine. This is frankly delusional and a position a lot of the Trotskyist groups hold tat there is a mass militancy just waiting and bubbling under the surface waiting to get out. This is just not the case. For the most part the working class’s are scared today, scared of what the future holds. While many have seen their fellow workers jobs go and they now fear for their own many are keeping their head down in fear of loosing their join job. I think this can be one of the major reasons for a lack of activity from workers in struggle. A factor of fear that if we do take strike action we will just be crushed and this can also be put down to a lack of confidence in their leaders who will more often than not try and sell them out. The TUC and the union structures in particular have done their job almost too well from a ruling class point of view they have policed workers and put breaks on movements that may develop. I’m not saying that any other leadership would be any better it is the structures that link the unions into the capitalist system and play a certain role for capital. For sure the leaders of the unions have been a block on action but I don’t think we can put the lack of action and the lowest amount of days lost to strike action solely down to that I think that is far too simplistic if we’re honest. I do think we have to start looking at different and new ways of organising. If the union structures re not offering way forward for workers we should look at other ways of going over the heads of the unions and their leaders or looking at new ways of organising such as pop up unions which was tried down at the Sussex University occupation. Workplace and non workplace networks should be taken up in my view building links in the community and beyond. We do have to remind ourselves of the important victories the workers have won in the past to build confidence among other workers to spread the idea we can win and by struggling we can get somewhere and it isn’t a dead end strategy as some like to make out. Take the sparks dispute from a few years back workers were only victorious in the end due to independent workers action from below forcing the union leadership to recognise a struggle was taking place and eventually backed the strikes and actions. This was all orchestrated from below and militant workers action not from the tops of the unions. I do think further struggles in the future will be forced from below with workers finding new ways of organising and trying new things that they may not have tried before just to fight back. There is no grantee on winning any battle but if you don’t fight you have no chance of winning. The working class of today is a very different beast to the past as is the labour movement we have to recognise this before we can move forward in any meaningful manner.

The failure of the left and the working class today

Today I listened today to Novara Fm a weekly student run radio show from London It regularly features great discussion and debate on all sorts of topics. The show is hosted by Aaron Peters and James Butler two communists who I think have a great way of articulating their views and are good broadcasters too by the way. Today’s show was featuring Owen Jones of the Labour left and his thoughts on the labour party and the trade unions. In the last week we’ve seen the TUC conference where lots of hot air was produced as always. Getting on to my main theme of this post which may run and run is the left and the working class of today and where we are heading, if anywhere at all. Now I am no longer a member of any political party and for a very good reason. I was a member of the socialist party and still remains a close supporter of the party but could no longer remain member of late due to various issues which I may elaborate in time but probably not now. The left is a frustrating thing hugely fragmented and split it has so far since the economic crisis of 2007/08 failed to provide a real alternative to the current situation be that inside the labour party which I have been in and now outside which I’ve experienced for myself too. Neitehr side of the left has been able to articulate a real alternative that we can focus around for one reason or another. Political party membership of all colours is at a all time low and yet the mass interest in politics is still very high. Somethingis going wrong you may think. But yet I do think we are in a new era entirely. A era where political parties have had their day to a extent in terms of mass organisation of members anyhow. The economic crisis has not benefited the labour party or the organised left outside the labour party one bit at all. Any forms of new parties including the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition which I had high hopes for and Left unity are still yet to make any sort of impact on people. This may change but I do still think todays left have not come to terms with the new situation let alone began to think of how to address this. By this I ean the new forms of the working class and the new layers entering it. For example there are more women in the workplace than possibly ever before now with a lot of trade union membership taken up by women yet the trade unions and their methods have not changed one bit. They still largely act, as do much of the left that we still live in a industrial based largely white male labour workforce. Nothing could be further from the truth any longer I’m afraid. Failure to recognise this and to reach new layers of BME and women workers is something which I’ve been astonished from with the left who like to pride themselves of reaching new layers. So far I’ve seen very little evidence of this. Also in terms of young people and private sector workers little to no attempts have been mde from the left to engage with these layers so far since the out break of the crisis in 2008. Now this post may sound a bit ranty and not really saying anything but I do think these points need to be made and it is also backed up with my own experiences of the left and the trade unions. They are simply not fit for purpose in my opinion. Hense I am going independent for now. I don’t think at this stage any left group or party has the ideas to move things forward. They are largely stuck talking to themselves and talking of by gone days. Well I’m afraid we live in a new era. A era of uncertainty and new situations that the likes of our leaders have not seen before. I do not have all the answers and I don’t think anyone out there does. I think as a collective we can do but at this stage we are a long way from a break through. The left frustrates me but also gives me hope as there is lots of big opportunities out there if any group or party is prepared to break from the habbits of the past which do no longer work and look forward to a new way of thinking. A new way of organising which brings new layers on board. The young, Women and all who have no voice as it stands today. We can certainly learn from the pasta nd we will do but we live in a new era, one we have not seen before all be it with similar features to the past. Much of the left is held back by its old ways of organising and failing to live in the ehere and now and adapt to that. Those who can adapt and find a way of reaching a mass audience will get a boost. As a Marxist I do still feel workingpeople have the ability and the power to change things. So far the left as a politica force has failed them I’m afraid. To move on we need to learn where we have gone wrong and where we can improve. Will this happen ? We can only hope.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The future of English football

Last week the chairman of the FA Greg Dyke made a really interesting and far reaching speech. It was bold ambitious and some may say daring. He has certainly put the cat among the pigeons if you like with many top clubs dismissing his ideas straight away. But I think there is a serious issue here with the state of English football and the current plight of the national team. Greg Dyke identified what is going wrong very ell the lack of trained coach's in this country and the huge cost of doing your coaching badges is a real block to people. In England we only have around 3000 trained coaches in comparison France, Germany and Spain are up around the 30 thousand mark which is a lot more and will as a result have a big impact in teaching our younger players about the game. I think in many ways our players in England are as good as any other in the world if they are given the freedom to play. I think sometimes they can be over coached at a young age and not able to fully express themselves learning the game by making mistakes and correcting them by themselves. Dykes speech was visionary he set some bold targets of a semi final in Euro 2020 and to actually win the world cup in 2022. These targets sound absolutely farfetched as we stand in England who still is finding it hard to qualify for next year’s world cup let alone one in 6 or 7 years time. There is hope a few good younger players are making it in the first team in England with prospects like Everton’s Ross Barklay and Tottenhams Andros Townsend getting a place in their club side and getting England call up's. Allot of Greg Dykes speech focused on the Premier league which we would e expect stating that too many average foreign players are brought in when an English based player is being denied an opportunity. I fully take on board the argument that if your good enough you will get in a big team but English players values are hugely over flated for example Swansea managed to sign a young Michu for £2m where as a similar player if he was English would have likely to set them back double that you'd have thought. A home grown player quota could be one answer not the false one we have now where the likes of Fabregas and Almunia were considered home grown as Arsenal had brought them over at a young age to their academy. But English based English born players. I think there should be a minimum amount of English players playing in your team every week. This could be tricky with employment laws I do accept but there needs to be some way either by a carrot or stick approach to encourage the big teams to help out the national team and give English players a chance. If they are never given the chance they cannot grow. All in all the English game is in a slow decline but this can change if radical thinking is taken up and acted on. Greg Dyke was signaling a warning shot to all of us football fans and all who have an interest in the game. For us who wish to see a strong England team c competing at the later stages of tournaments something has to be done and Greg Dyke should be praised for daring to suggest a commission to go about changing things. Whether it succeeds or not remains to be seen.