Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Solidarity with striking firefighters this festive season

Last night as the storms hit much of the country our brave firefighters were out in force and today they take to the picket lines once again in their long running battle. They deserve our full support and solidarity. Firefighters in England and Wales will this evening strike for the Seventh time in their long-running dispute with the government over Pensions. They will take action between 6 pm and midnight today, as well as between 6.30pm on December 31st and 12.30am on January 1st. Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: it’s now been Almost two months since the government has been willing to meet for negotiations Despite several invitations from us. Until they do and until they start to actually resolve the dispute, we€™all Keep up the pressure for the sake of public safety and our members Pensions. In a week when the full details of a £7,600 pay rise for MPs” which will Also increase their pensions emerged, firefighters anger at the governments Unworkable, unaffordable and unfair proposals will be even greater. No firefighter wants to strike, but we cannot allow the governments Ludicrous proposals” and outright hypocrisy” to stand. We'll keep on fighting Until the government sees sense and comes back to negotiations. Most firefighters take home approximately £1,650 a month and already pay £320 or more a month into their pensions. From April 2014 this will rise for the third year in a row to over £340 a Month (£4,000 a year). Many firefighters also face a fourth consecutive rise of 2.2% expected in 2015. On top of this, a large section of firefighters face an additional threat to Their pensions as a result of the government refusing to honor long-standing Agreements. As a result, they will not receive the pension they were promised Despite paying into their scheme for many years. The FBU argues that the scheme is one of the most expensive for workers Anywhere in the public or private sector. Contrary to government claims, it is also one of the least generous because Employers pay one of the lowest proportions of pension costs compared to other Public service employers. The union has also said that the expensive pension proposals are designed to Fail because they ignore the physical demands and fitness standards required by The firefighters€™ occupation. Evidence suggests that at least two thirds of the current workforce would be Unable to maintain the fitness standards required by the fire service beyond the Age of 55. Such firefighters would face the prospect of being dismissed or seeing their Pension reduced by almost half. union-news.co.uk/2013/12/prepared-long-struggle-firefighters-dig-pensions-fight/">“We’re Prepared for a long struggle “FBU general secretary Matt Wrack tells Union news Uk

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Socialist Way: not cult like worship

The Socialist Way: not cult like worship: The thing that I celebrate every day and without failure, and gain greatest strength from in this political world that I inhabit and mov...

A thank you at Christmas

To all who have read this blog during the year and even just skimmed read bits I thank you for stopping by. This year has been an emotional one for me where politically I’ve transformed myself going from an out and out Marxist and Trotskyist in the Socialist party to ending it being in no party questioning party politicise and Marxism itself. 2013 has been a big year for myself looking back at may where I stood in a local election in the county council elections where I received beyond my wildest hopes I gained 59 votes in a huge Tory are whilst standing for TUSC. Whilst this blew me away I never thought this would change much locally and nationally I still feel TUSC are plugging away in vain with a lot of the oppositional votes going to labour for now and frankly their strategy and message is not working and I have explained this elsewhere. But for me attending various protests and meetings earlier in the year to now where my activism is on the low side of things it’s been a big year of change for me. Personally I’ve reached point where I am no longer as big into politics as I was but still keep a firm interest in such matters and am still as I’d call myself a socialist but maybe with al to of anti leadership ideas and a few more autonomous views where democracy matters a lot more to me now than before. I am a lot more of an independent critical thinker now than I was and I feel better for it. I am no longer under the control of an unappointed leadership who see themselves as leaders of us all. A new start and a new wave of thinking is breaking out on the left and many of the old left parties are in crisis and will face bigger upheavals in 2014 I feel as they fail to adapt to this new period we are entering. Now I’m free of all dogma’s and party controls I feel free to express myself as best I can and I am happier for it. I encourage others struggling with a oppressive top down party to break from it you will be better off for it trust me they are not the be all and end all as I’ve discovered they are ultimately holding us back I feel. As Karl Marx rightly pointed out only works can change society no one else no self appointed leaders or parties they can only lead us to state bureaucracy and less freedom as shown in the last century we must learn the lessons and not repeat our mistakes. I have a few irons in the fire and my political journey may not yet be over but 2014 looks to be another big year with European elections and the Scottish independence referendum to watch closely the next year looks to be shaping up to be another big one for many who have progressive outlook on things and look to turn things around for the working-class. A lot has happened in the last year and 2014 will be interesting for many reasons many events are yet to happen that we will have no idea they will happen but to ground ourselves in solidarity with our common people other workers and those oppressed right across the world is key. I understand now revolution is not around the corner for us in the UK but things can change very quickly and we must be awake to them but things do not just happen our ground work this year will influence watt happens next year. The fantastic work by students on campus’s up and down the land but notably in London and Brighton has set the path for bigger and better struggles next year for students against cops on campus and outsourcing too. This looks set to be another big battle ground of struggle for 2014 which we should keep our eye on. But going forward we cannot make big predictions as some do at the end of a year going into new one but what we can say is that workers may have suffered b big defeats in the past but there is no grantee they will go on suffering big defeats a time will come where there is a layer in society with not much left to loose who will be the first to really fight back and give this gov a scare and possibly upset the whole apple cart. I once again thank all for reading this blog this year and hope you can continue in to the New Year and offering your suggestions for improvements if possible. # Happy New Year and a safe and prosperous 2014 to all.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Statement by some Irish Socialist party members who’ve resigned this year

I am no longer a socialist party member for better or worse and frankly I’m glad I’m out of it all. I am re-examining my own politics and the left as a result. Below I republish a fantastic statement from several ex members of the CWI Socialist party in Ireland who have come to some similar conclusions to myself and had to leave. I do not agree with all of their statement but I can relate too much of what they state. This is not meant as an attack on theCWI or the Socialist party and my former comrades but it is important to publish to let others know that things are not as hunky dory in the SP as the leadership and leading figures like to make out. The group of 11 who are fighting the leadership over economic issues have my support and the likes of Bruce Wallace and Steve Dobbs are genuine people and I feel deserve our support in trying to change a very rigid and dogmatic leadership who think they are always right on everything. This is the statement from 6 Irish SP members below I thank them all for this and lend my solidarity to them and whatever they go on to try next. “This statement has been drawn up by the following recently resigned members of the Socialist Party: Andrew Phelan, Megan in Ghabhlain, Richard O’Hara, Pamela Rochford, Stephanie O’Shea and Jimmy Dignam. Notes: Tragically, Rob Ryan passed away before this statement was completed but he played an important role in the debates that took place around the process of its writing. He repeatedly expressed agreement with the key issues contained within this statement and we feel it is vital that we acknowledge his contribution. We have included links to articles that elaborate further on some arguments made within this document as many of the topics described have been written on extensively before. After our recent resignations it became clear to us that whilst differing on some issues there were some core reasons behind all our resignations. We hope that this document can be a contribution to the debates currently taking place around what kind of mass Party is needed to rebuild the workers’ movement and play a crucial role in overthrowing Capitalism. While not claiming to have the answer to this question we feel it is important for us to offer our criticisms not just of the Socialist Party or the Committee for a Workers International but Trotskyism1 as an ideology. We are aware that the political movement that has been defined as Trotskyism has a wide and varied history, however for the purposes of this statement we will discuss mainly Trotskyism as practised by the dominant Trotskyist parties in contemporary polity and especially the version of Trotskyism dominant in the Irish and British left; that is the Committee for a Workers’ International, the Internatonal Socialists and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. These parties and international groupings share tendencies discussed below that we believe point to serious issues with the ideology of contemporary British and Irish Trotskyism itself. The reality is that none of us can stand over calling ourselves Trotskyists. Furthermore we feel that Trotskyism by its nature can in many instances act as an obstacle to the development of a truly mass and democratic workers’ party. This is not to malign the contribution of many individual Socialists who are members of Trotskyist parties but to recognise the inherent sectarian nature of these parties and the damage they can do to the wider movement. In this statement we would like to raise tactical differences that emerged between ourselves and the SP but more importantly criticisms of Trotskyism that seem to permeate such organisations to varying degrees. Democratic Deficit and Dogmatic Approach It is an open question whether the anti-democratic nature of the SP and other Trotskyist organisations are a direct result of the dogmatic approach that they implement or if it is the other way around. Regardless, one cannot exist without the other and it is important that we clarify what we mean by both. What do we mean by dogmatic? It is the assertive and uncompromising belief that the methods and programme adopted by the Party are the “one and only true way”; that the party’s tried and tested methods and its doctrine are truly revolutionary and any deviation poses a risk to the Party by watering down its political programme. This will generally be reflected in an authoritarian and emphatic manner by the Party leadership. If any questions are raised around democracy they will be dismissed as being unrelated and irrelevant to the broader class struggle. This is not to diminish the importance of leadership within Socialist organisations, but merely highlight that when a leadership is not open to critique and that this closed leadership is accompanied by a political culture that discourages critical thought it is, in the long run, detrimental to the organisation as a whole. In our experience this culture allows little room for genuine debate in relation to important political questions. Our collective experience as members of the Socialist Party (CWI) points to many instances of this political culture and structure. In the Socialist Party, for example, if a member raises differences they will generally be invited to attend a meeting with a party full-timer where the party line will be vigorously and unyieldingly explained to them. As a result, agreement to the Party’s overall doctrine is an integral part of one’s membership and acceptance within the organization. This makes it very difficult to exist within the organization whilst holding differences of opinion on certain matters. This dogmatic and undialectical approach is used across many other organisational and political practices across the SP. This culture exists partly because the wider membership is not involved in important decision making in any critical matter. This is further contributed to by a certain ‘funnelling downwards of theory’ whereby important ideas are dissected by the leadership and members are given the ‘correct’ analysis. There is little emphasis put on members developing themselves theoretically and in a genuine critical manner2. Another important aspect to this inhibiting atmosphere is the time constraints placed on members by the frenetic activity expected of them. In many circumstances this activity can be ‘manufactured’ and can bear little relevance to the overall goal of Socialism. There is no reflection as to the purpose and usefulness of this constant and frenetic activity. This leads to the Party’s inability to be able to adapt to changes in mood. A division of labour also exists within the SP between the leadership and membership. The leadership makes the critical decisions on policy, theory and direction whilst the membership for the main part is expected to sell the paper door-to-door, pursue new contacts and look after day-to-day organisational tasks. For any organisation looking to be able to be an influencing factor in society but also to be capable of incremently growing in size, it cannot adhere to such dogmatic and intransigent approaches. The SP and other Trotskyist organisations maintain a very high turnover of membership. In many instances Comrades will drift away from the party, without formally resigning, and crucially will not be politically active again or for quite some time. This can perhaps be attributed to ‘burnout’ that many experience due to the aforementioned high levels of activity but also due to an atmosphere which is politcally inhibiting and discourages these Comrades from beginning to critically evaluate politics and the party around them. As a result their new found enthusiasm for Socialist ideas may be extinguished after a short period of time. Democratic structures are not irrelevant The SP styles itself as a Bolshevik Party and thus claims to model its democratic structures on those of that party. However, their structures are inherently undemocratic and bear no resemblance to the structure of the Bolshevik Party that they espouse. It is argued that the organisational method commonly known as ‘democratic centralism’ was used by the Bolshevik Party and therefore these practices must be strictly adhered to and replicated. However this argument is ahistorical as the Bolshevik Party rarely even used the term, nor did it often use anything resembling this method before the October Revolution3. Whilst it may seem somewhat abstract to catalogue what ‘democratic centralism’ within the SP looks like, we feel that this it is important to paint a broader picture of the structures that prop up the dogmatic culture of the Party. There are three main decision-making bodies of the Party; the National Conference, the National Committee (NC) and the National Executive Committee (NEC). The NEC is made up entirely of full-time party workers. The National Conference is the highest decision making body of the party and meets on an annual basis, while the NC assumes the authority of the Conference between conferences and the NEC assumes the authority of the NC between NC meetings. As the SP is divided into two regions across Ireland, these structures are replicated at regional level too. In practice, at the annual conference of the Party the outgoing NEC recommends a slate of members for election to the NC. These members are then voted in by a show of hands of conference delegates. These delegates will have been proposed at a branch meeting and in most instances the Branch Committee (BC) will have put forward a suggested slate of delegates that will have been influenced by the full-timer appointed to that branch. These delegates are not answerable to their branch. This is important as it means that in practice that the leadership often recommends and effectively chooses the delegates who in turn will elect the leadership; such a circular mode of electoral practice has obvious implications for democracy within the party. As there are no minutes or voting records kept of NC or NEC meetings, delegates have nothing to base their voting decision on. The leadership generally will counteract this argument by stating that as they are the only ones that have an overview of the Party, they therefore are best placed in selecting members to leadership positions. Notwithstanding the obvious difficulties in putting forward an alternative slate to that of the party’s leadership, there are clearly much broader systemic problems that an alternative slate simply cannot address. It must be noted too that the slate system was introduced when Lenin was looking to “temporarily minimise dissent” within the Bolshevik Party4 adopted this method and historically it has been a hallmark of Stalinist parties. Moreover essentially annual conference is the only time when the opinion or voice of a member who is not on any decision-making committee will be formally recognised. We say this as there is no capacity for members to have their voice heard throughout the year. For example, it is not possible for a member to put motions forward to the National Committee. In other words a member can only formally propose motions to the party once a year at regional or national conference and at no other time. Top-down decision making process Ultimately then, power in the Socialist Party lies with a handful of National Executive members and unelected full-timers, themselves appointed to their position by the same National Executive, (occasionally other full-timers will be co-opted on to the NEC after the initial election). This circular structure has the obvious danger of being open to abuse. Decisions on matters of importance will always find their origin in NEC meetings. When a decision is to be made on strategy or tactics it will be mooted first at a meeting of the NEC or REC (Regional Executive Committee). The internal full-timers who oversee the running of the branches will then filter the proposed position down the ranks often through individual discussions with NC members and ‘leading’ Branch Committee (BC) members. These members will then filter the prospective position down to branch level through individual discussions and branch meetings. The vast bulk of the National Committee membership, picked due to its adherence to the leadership’s politics, are now more likely to be onside for whatever decision or turn the leadership has decided upon, and will ratify it if necessary at the NC meeting. Meanwhile the rank and file branch members will be notified at their weekly meeting that the party is likely to take a decision on an issue before it happens and after the decision has been taken they will be notified of this. This will usually be the sum total of the involvement of the ordinary member, unless they seriously dissent on the issue, in which case they will be invited to an individual discussion with a full-timer or very occasionally invited to a NC meeting to air their grievance. The party will use these individual discussions or NC invites to give the impression of a vigorously democratic internal regime, where members with concerns about issues are met with and patiently listened to. However this gives a false image of a party where every meeting is stage-managed and where the communication is very much one-way – the dissenting individuals are there purely to be persuaded that they are wrong and not to be listened to. These are not academic points, they have a real impact on how a Party is built, how it can grow numerically and can most importantly develop a critically thinking membership. The structure of the Bolshevik Party in the lead-up to the October Revolution revolved around a dynamic internal atmosphere that prided itself on debate through the publications of the Party and at its meetings, at all times public. Differences on re-building the Workers’ Movement Whilst every Party makes mistakes the Socialist Party possesses limited ability for self-reflection and critique. Furthermore, the belief that the Party’s small organisation is potentially the nucleus of a revolutionary Party and that every strategy or tactic implemented is in the best interests of the workers movement as a whole is flawed, in particular if those decisions are taken without the participation of working class people outside the SP. Our resignations were premised on stark differences with the leadership on recently taken decisions. The following quote is taken from the ‘Battle Against The Bin Tax’ document mainly written by Kevin McLoughlin the de-facto leader of the Socialist Party: The Socialist Party’s view regarding the bin tax and the local elections was that the issue needed to be looked at concretely in the run in to the election period. Any serious electoral challenge could only be based on well built, fighting campaigns with a base in the areas. Weak or phantom campaigns standing candidates would be likely to get small votes. Kevin McLoughlin, Battle Against The Bin Tax Whilst noting that the current context is markedly different to that of 10 years ago, the underlying premise of Kevin’s quote still stands. Rather than engage in a process of evaluation as to why the workers’ movement has not developed since the beginning of the crisis and how the Left can gradually begin a process of building and influencing consciousness, the Party has chosen to dedicate itself to yet another election. Whilst being in favour of standing anti-austerity candidates, we feel that in some areas where CAPTA/AAA is standing, the number of candidates being run and the balance between SP and independent candidates raises serious question marks over the genuine nature of these campaigns. We also share concerns in relation to the level of input and influence non-SP members may have within the alliance. Furthermore we believe that ‘dealing a blow to the establishment’ by getting some anti-austerity candidates elected is problematic without genuine discussion around its purpose and where this initiative is leading ultimately. Lack of Trade Union work Another significant disagreement centres on the SP’s trade union work. Any radical organisation must strive to have a significant base or at least be influential within the trade union movement and work places generally. Given that the SP is supposed to be a party of workers there are a worryingly small percentage of members actively involved in trade unions. This is in no small part due to the fact that the SP has placed minimal emphasis on the importance of trade unions as an important area of struggle. In fact in more recent times union members were told explicitly that the trade union movement would not be a key arena for struggle and the SP leadership repeatedly urged its trade union members to severely curtail their activity within the trade union movement and instead focus their entire energy on the struggles against the property and household taxes. This is all in backdrop to the trade union movement being in the middle of historical battles around the Croke Park agreement and savage attacks on workers. Despite many of its trade union activists being strongly advised that the mood seemed to be favouring rejection of Croke Park 2, it came as a surprise to the SP leadership. Even though certain individuals within the party felt strongly about organising a genuine fightback within their unions we feel the SP leaderships’ emphasis was not on building resistance but more on recruitment. This approach was clearly evident when immediately after the rejection of Croke Park 2 the Party organised a meeting which cut across a teachers grassroots initiative which included individual socialist party trade unionists56 when genuine trade unionists need to concentrate on rebuilding their movement, we feel this can only be achieved by adopting a long-term and committed strategy towards this area of work. ROSA Sectarianism The setting-up of the ‘for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity (ROSA) campaign is another stark example of the Party’s sectarianism. The formation of ROSA occurred with little or no consultation with branch members and those in whose name it was to be set-up. It seems the party leadership felt they needed to capitalise on the growing strength of feeling around abortion rights and wanted a banner to attract people politicised by the death of Savita Halappanavar towards the SP. True to form ROSA was presented to the branches as a fait accompli; the party line decided by the NEC and the party full timers without any discussion as to why the SP was essentially preparing to operate primarily outside the Choice movement. In practice what that meant was that members, especially the small number of active female Comrades, were to curtail their efforts within ARC and its affiliates and focus on ROSA activity. The development of choice campaigns into an integrated, broader and more politicised gender based campaigning group was, of course, far more desirable. If the SP wanted to further politicize ARC and other Choice campaigns it should have concentrated itself solely on this task even if the SP did not have as large a role or influence as is it had wished. Role of Publications Another area of disagreement we have is around the role and nature of party publications. The Socialist is a further example of the Party’s dogmatic attitude to activism and critical thinking. The paper does not currently have an editorial board and members possess virtually no say in the direction and content of the paper. Essentially the paper represents a ‘sum-up’ of the previous months main stories within the media. Furthermore it must be highlighted that the final paragraph of many of the paper’s articles, which states that the solution to the problems of the piece is ‘workers control and management’ falls far short of what is required to popularise Socialist ideas. The myth of Leninist papers “holding the revolutionary ideas” is a crude deviation from reality and of the original historical significance of this idea. Moreover the oft cited (by the SP leadership) Leninist tactic of using the paper as a ‘scaffold’ for the party is certainly not practiced in any way or form, nor is any other SP media7. There is a serious need for debate around the purpose of publications in re-invigorating and creating a platform of Socialist ideas. Publications should partly serve to stimulate discussion and debate on various issues and must move away from just showcasing the Party and being seen as a tool for recruitment. In Conclusion… At this current stage when the workers’ movement is at such a low ebb the Left should be discussing how we rebuild and generally popularise Marxist ideas. The SP’s dogmatic approach towards programmatic agreement and activity means that it will always be hampered in its ability to grow. When the SP says it is in favour of a ‘new mass workers’ Party’, it is imperative that we discuss how such a Party could develop. This document does not represent a political attack on any member of the SP and we reiterate that it should be seen as a contribution to the current and wider debate on structures and programme. We do not have any difficulties working alongside the SP within campaigns, trade unions and most crucially the building of a new mass workers party. Whilst the last 6 years of austerity have provided a so far limited fight-back against these policies, we firmly believe that this situation will and can move in a positive direction. We feel it is imperative that debate, discussion and analysis take place over the current state of the Left as a matter of urgency. 1. This is meant as organisations also commonly referred to as Leninist and that claim to trace their origins back to the Fourth International ▲ 2. Michael Flynn, A Call to Educate ▲ 3. Lars Lih, Democratic Centralism: Fortunes of a Formula ▲ 4. Pat Byrne, The Origin of the Slate System ▲ 5. https://www.facebook.com/events/287103281425873/ ▲ 6. http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/no2crokepark2-trade-union-rally-saturdaymay-25th-liberty-hall-2-00-pm/ ▲ 7. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/v.htm ▲ with thanks to http://spiritofcontradiction.eu/guest-author/2013/12/19/socialist-party-resignation-statement

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Good news for stop Stansted expansion

campaign STOP Stansted Expansion has welcomed the Davies Commission announcement this morning (Tuesday, December 17) that a second runway should not be built at the Essex airport before 2050. Instead the independent review of aviation capacity has concluded there is a need for one additional runway to be in operation in the south east of the UK by 2030 – and it should be at Heathrow or Gatwick. Brian Ross, SSE's economics adviser, said after Stansted failed to make the shortlist: "We are obviously greatly relieved. "The environmental consequences of even one extra runway would have been catastrophic and the fact is that there has never been a viable business case for any extra runways at Stansted. The airport currently operates at less than half of its potential capacity. "We must now show solidarity with the communities around Heathrow and Gatwick and support their efforts in resisting the threat that they now face." Later this morning commission leader Sir Howard Davies will explain his panel's interim report in full at a meeting in London. However he and his team have concluded that the best way forward in the medium term is growth at one of the country's two biggest airports. Gatwick has proposed a new landing strip south of its existing runway while Heathrow has put forward two options. It could build a completely new runway to the north west or expand the existing northern runway to enable it to operate as two independent runways. The next phase of the commission's work will entail a detailed appraisal of the three options identified before a public consultation in autumn next year. The panel said it had not shortlisted any of the Thames Estuary options like 'Boris Island' because there were too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage. However it will undertake further study of the Isle of Grain option in the first half of 2014 and will reach a view later next year on whether that option offers a credible proposal for consideration alongside the other short-listed options. Sir Howard's team said it had not shortlisted proposals for expansion at Stansted – touted as an alternative four runway super-hub for the country – or Birmingham. However it confirmed there is likely to be a case for considering them as potential options for any second new runway by 2050. Launching the report Sir Howard said: "Decisions on airport capacity are important national strategic choices and must be based upon the best evidence available. The commission has undertaken a fresh, comprehensive and transparent study of the issues. This report is the product of extensive consultation, independent analysis and careful consideration by the commissioners. "The UK enjoys excellent connectivity today. The capacity challenge is not yet critical but it will become so if no action is taken soon and our analysis clearly supports the provision of one net additional runway by 2030. In the meantime we encourage the government to act on our recommendations to make the best of our existing capacity." With thanks to teh Harlow Star article at http://www.harlowstar.co.uk/News/Harlow-news/Airports-Commission-rules-out-second-Stansted-runway-before-2050-20131217082330.htm

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Howie's Corner: The TUSC joins UKIP in a carnival of reaction

Howie's Corner: The TUSC joins UKIP in a carnival of reaction: The failing flagship project of the Socialist Party, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is set to try and revive its' fortun...

The potential for the IWW and revolutionary unionism

During this time of massive upheaval I do believe there is a time of reassessment all that has gone before has not worked up till now and new ideas and tactics are to be re looked at and rightly so. For one I think revolutionary unionism as a movement may make a comeback of sorts. The idea that people will continue to look towards the bureaucratic and hierarchical trade unions of today such as the TUC in the United Kingdom will always be the case is somewhat missing the point. Workers will not stick blindly and loyally by a system of organising that is not producing any progress or results. While the IWW is a small movement and is a long way from making a big comeback I do feel however the conditions for horizontalism and non bureaucratic unionism is possible as we stand today. Where many political parties from the mainstream to the non mainstream including left sects on the fringes are becoming more and more discredited why cant revolutionary unions make a comeback and start to influence the workers movement? It is entirely possible and entirely necessary in my opinion. To organise away from the huge bloated bureaucracy of traditional unions of the TUC is sometimes desirable but also quite necessary. The example I give is the IWGB who at the university of London have organised away from Unison the recognised union there at the workplace but have don little to nothing and often become a obstruction on struggle for the workers involved who have been out sourced to a private company who are not recognising the new union there and their demands still till this day. However big strides have been made in their struggles a and I do firmly believe they will win and win well and shine a light to other workers in similar positions across the land. Each step the class struggle takes forward owes itself to the step taken before it. As Rosa Luxemburg related waves of struggle in revolutionary Russia in her essay The Mass Strike, each wave recedes but leaves “sediment” behind for the next wave to rise from. As it is for Wobblies. The last few years of struggle have washed to shore a great deal of sediment packed full of invaluable "nuggets" of organizing wisdom. Revolutionary organizers would do well to mine these nuggets out, analyze their content, and synthesize the best of it. They can compare these nuggets from different waves of struggle and single out some similarities which they can apply to practice. They test them, share them with other organizers, synthesize what they learn, and develop a distinct, transmutable organizing approach - or method - over time. We believe that we are beginning to establish this method now. The IWW has in recent years made a long-overdue return to the stage of history. Since the 1950s, we Wobblies barely plodded along - almost for the sake of just existing - but gradually got back on our own feet as an organization that organized. Small skirmishes with employers - and some victories - occurred here and there over the last decades of the 20th century. Wobblies made short-lived but impressive advances in the courier industry and among restaurant workers; put the IWW on the map for non-members when they organized low-wage baristas into the Starbucks Workers Union; developed an organizer training program to share past organizing lessons and improve organizers’ skillsets, and engaged in much other significant activity. The generation of Wobblies who established these developments broke new ground on a long-dormant tradition of revolutionary union organizing. Alongside an uptick in membership and activity in the late 1990s and early 2000s came the prominence of "Solidarity Unionism,”5 a grassroots organizing approach which put workers themselves in charge of their own struggle for justice in the workplace. A relative flurry of activity and a wave of new members accompanied this significant new development. Naturally, this activity waxed and waned, but the IWW and its practice of solidarity unionism established itself in the contemporary labor movement (even if it’s still on the margins). Much has happened in and around the IWW in the last several years. New high-profile organizing drives have taken off, some won, and some failed (though we challenge rigid discernments between victory and failure). The Starbucks campaign, for example, inspired new organizers to establish similar unions in several low-wage workplaces that most other unions ignored. Where Wobblies worked in unionized workplaces, they organized among the rank-and-file along IWW principles, winning gains through direct action that their “official” union could not or would not pursue. On the national scale in the US, IWWs played visible roles in both the Wisconsin Uprising and the Occupy Wall Street movement that swept the country and brought an unprecedented many thousands of everyday working people onto the streets and into political life. Through all this, the IWW has learned much, and organizers have improved their skills a great deal. The IWW is not what it used to be. The organization has gone through stages of historical evolution, and in order to understand the current situation it’s necessary to be aware of its place in this history. The early IWW of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Vincent St. John, Ben Fletcher and so on, from which Wobblies draw so much pride and tradition, no longer exists. It is a memory - one that is essential to hold on to because of its importance to the history and culture of the working class, but as an organization it is no more. Decades of ruling class repression, containment of working class rebellion through state (legal) channels, capitalist advancements in managerial control and internal IWW conflict--subjects critical to an understanding of how the IWW got here, but which are beyond the scope of this piece--drove the IWW to a point in the 1980s where it could claim few members, little activity, and almost no power in the working-class. Though the union still held on to relics of the original IWW in the form of Joe Hill's ashes and membership records, and on paper the organization was technically the same one that was founded in 1905, its content had drastically changed. What was once a powerful, revolutionary force for organized class struggle, stretching across the continent with influence throughout the world, had long since faded to a withered husk - an organization better characterized as a labor history club than a revolutionary union. Let's stop to note that this observation is not meant as an attack on anyone who was a member during the 80s, or an attempt to say that everything after World War I isn't the “real” IWW. It is just as real of an organization, but a different organization, which changed over time due to a multitude of historical factors, not least of which being the relative strength and consciousness of the American working-class, which had reached a similarly low point in the 1980s. Individuals who were members of the organization had ultimately very little capacity to do much within those limits, and can't be held responsible for what was the product of historical dynamics far out of their control. But it's important to recognize that the IWW had reached a demise. Though not a final demise, since it was brought back from the brink and into a new stage of development in the 1990s. Rising class-consciousness and growing interest in “radical” politics attracted more members to the IWW starting in the 1960s, with membership spiking in the mid to late 90s. The spike in the late 90s was largely activists - some of them politicized workers - immersed in the anti-globalization and anti-war protest movements. But while the organization’s membership scale increased, its content was still fundamentally different from the content of the union that led the Bread and Roses strike8. Those traditions of struggle had been broken and the union was forced to re-establish itself in a barren terrain. The 90s IWW largely functioned as a history club of greater size, but took on another dimension that sharply diverged from the union's organizing roots; increasingly (but not exclusively) the IWW became an activist organization. Here we use the term “activism” critically, in our examination of a kind of activity that is not rooted in class struggle, but instead devoted to expressing moral outrage at the capitalist system's superstructural contradictions. At its most basic, a union is “an organization of workers formed to protect the [...] interests of its members”11 over time. Where an instance of self-activity could dissipate or pass, unionism is the practice of consolidating workers into an organization that acts to protect their interests on an ongoing basis. In recent decades, this has often meant that union representatives do the “protecting” in the form of negotiating with management on the workers’ behalf, thus “unions developed a life independent of their membership and began to operate over their heads”. Solidarity Federation calls this tendency the representative function of unions as we know them now, in contrast to the (once more prevalent) associational function of workers relating directly to each other without the mediation of an entrenched bureaucracy12. This distinction is useful as it demonstrates that unions can have diverging trajectories, leading to them playing very different roles in society. While many ultra-Left positions13 take the representational function of unions for granted, understandably portraying them as backwards institutions who have a stake in maintaining capitalism, clearly there have also been many workers’ organizations throughout the history of capitalism that have retained their associational function and represented a genuine threat to capital. Whether we call it a council, a union, or anything else doesn’t change the fact that it is possible to create and maintain “an organization of workers formed to protect the [...] interests of its members” - and that such a formation can retain its autonomy from the State and its allied institutions, can win improved conditions for workers under capitalism, and, further, can facilitate the development of a revolutionary politics amongst the workers. The fact that such formations must come up against limitations under this system does not render them irrelevant, ineffective, or “infantile”. Clearly, we believe self-organization is the cornerstone of unionism, and it is the premise upon which we base our argument for Wobblyism. We draw on a rich tradition of working class self-organization in the US, from the Knights of Labor14 Its true that the IWW is small and largely unheard of in the UK but I do believe its method of organising and the idea of revolutionary unions is something all revolutionaries should revisit and take a moment to think can this be of any use to our struggle or for us wishing to change society as I believe it can be if taken seriously. I’d encourage all to read up more on this via this excellent new document put out at http://libcom.org/library/wobblyism-revolutionary-unionism-today

Friday, 13 December 2013

The difficulty of activism

For myself activism is a challenge constantly. I am not part of any political party or organisation of any sort but this shouldn’t exclude me and doesn’t but getting into activism is not easy. Ever since I’ve left the socialist party due to bullying and other such nastiness I’ve found myself re-examining my politics and where I go next. I have not changed my political ideas on the whole I still am a socialist and want to see a fairer society based on needs not profits. But I have not been on a protest or a picket line for a good while now for many reasons. Political parties are not for everyone and I have found myself moving more away from a formal top down leadership which many left parties use with a small group of leading figures making and calling the shots while the rest follow orders and the party line. I am someone who likes to think for myself and always have done and this I found became increasingly incompatible with a political party but I would still love a place to discussant develop my ideas. I have not found anything to replace this yet, if I ever will. Confidence for one. Since leaving a political party I have felt a little isolated and links to networks of activists is limited. Also due to being visually impaired there is a natural difficulty of reaching places and groups of people unless I had a really good friend. So as a result I am limited to online things including this very blog and my social media activity. I follow Novara fm every week which is an excellent radio show discussing radical politics and the world we live in today. I do however still challenge racism and other such discriminations wherein an and do still speak up for others who are suffering from the cuts and the austerity package raining down on many today. I see many people struggling around me and even in my town a Tory town in Hertfordshire called Ware has its own food bank which serves 200 odd people every week which is substantial even for there. There is much that I can still do don’t get me wrong but mainstream activism of attending meeting after meeting and going on every protest is just not easy for me and to be honest I do not feel that many of these events are made accessible for those with disabilities and other such difficulties. I think as a labour movement it is still very much a hallmark of the white male and I still do not see equality and a wide range of different people. This needs to change and I believe will change. For many the labourmovemnt is irrelevant and just does not speak for them and I can fully understand this this must change as I say. Likewise our language and our behaviour of becoming an open, welcoming and fair place for all to enter and participate in. My difficulties are one thing but others who are more capable to protest, stand up and fight back gains the cuts are amazing in my view and I have a lot of respect for them. I do what I can and others have criticised me for just sitting on facebook and discussing stuff but this is one way of getting the message out there and if others put themselves in my position they too would find things a challenge to make any real impact with their activism. I do think we need to be more understanding about others who have a passion to help out and get involved but feel unable to for a multitude of reasons. It is not good enough to just say oh well you can do what you can we need to be saying how can we involve more people from more backgrounds to get involved and support them in what they wish to do to help. Activism at the end of the day is not everything there are lotsof ways to be involved and contribute to a better society be that helping at your local food bank or offering support and ideas to a movement and a campaign. I do think we see activism in a very one dimensional way and we do need to broaden out our understanding to involve more of us to boost our own ideas. Lots of people’s talents and skills are being missed out on due to a movement largely white and male who marginalise others who are not like them and this is a toxic mix of disenfranchisement and apathy of totally giving up on any form of political thought or activism of any variety. We can do better, I can do better don’t get me wrong but we also must help each other out to embrace our differences and challenges and involve more of us all. Organising is not easy at all and is a lot of bloody hard work. There can be no shortcuts to changing society to benefit all but including all who wish to change is something we must start to do now not after the revolution .

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Housing crisis deepens in East of England

piece Written bySINEAD HOLLAND http://www.hertsandessexobserver.co.uk/News/Bishops-Stortford/New-report-reveals-housing-benefit-woe-of-working-families-in-East-20131210064812.htm?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed FPRIVATE "TYPE=PICT;ALT=" "A NEW report by the National Housing Federation (NHF) shows that more working people in the East of England are being forced to ask for help with housing costs to keep a roof over their heads. In the region there has been a 96 per cent increase in those with jobs claiming housing benefit since 2009 – the fourth highest rise in claims across the country. Adding to the strain for people in the East of England, private rents and house prices are expected to rise by 49.5% and almost 34% respectively by 2020, which could result in further severe financial consequences for the taxpayer. Nationally, an extra 310 working people a day – one every five minutes – have asked for help with housing costs to keep the roof over their heads since 2009. Every day this has added £1.7m to the annual housing benefit bill. The report, Home Truths, found that: • England needs 240,000 new homes a year to meet demand, but housebuilding numbers are falling. In 2012-13 107,000 new homes were built, 11 per cent less than in 2009. • Currently rents take up an average of half of people’s disposable income, but in a decade’s time that figure will have risen to 57%. • Nationally, house prices will increase by 35% by 2020, leaving a huge swathe of the population locked out of home ownership for life. • The number of employed housing benefit claimants is up 104% since 2009. As a result, Government spending on housing benefit has risen to £24bn, but most of this money is going to private landlords rather than building the new homes which would stem rising housing costs. Claire Astbury, East of England external affairs manager for the NHF, said: "We hear a lot about ‘making work pay’, but a decent job won’t even cover the cost of a home in many parts of the East of England, and with rising rents and house prices the situation looks set to get even worse. “Nationally, billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is wasted, lining the pockets of private landlords, when it could be better spent building more homes people can afford. Relying on the private rented sector so heavily is a costly sticking plaster rather than a solution. “In towns and cities pulling away from the recession, the dysfunctional housing market is burning the fingers of many people. “Hard-working families are spending more and more of their income on a home and many could be forced to move – away from jobs, schools and relatives. “We need to address the problems of the housing market now, before another generation is left locked out and reliant on taxpayers to keep the roof over their head.” The latest survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has confirmed the pressures on the region's housing market, with expectations for house price growth hitting an 11-year high in November as the amount of homes coming onto the East's market once again fell well short of rapidly rising buyer demand. In all, 48% more chartered surveyors in the region predict prices to continue their upward trend rather than fall back over the coming three months. This is the highest reading since June 2002. Last month also saw prices pick up sharply as a net balance of 54% more respondents reported price growth. Meanwhile, although a lack of stock on the market remains a big challenge, buyer interest in the region is continuing to rise. Last month, a net balance of 46% more surveyors reported that new buyer enquiries had risen. RICS East of England spokesman Jan Hÿtch said: "It’s no secret that the housing market is on the way up, with price and sales expectations on the rise across the region. “The Bank of England’s recent decision to withdraw the Funding for Lending scheme – which allows banks to borrow more cheaply and pass the benefits on to mortgage applicants – could well have some impact on the number of people able to purchase a home, although the improvement in wholesale and retail funding markets may mean the impact on mortgages is relatively limited. “One thing we are very concerned about, however, is the lack of both new and existing homes coming onto the market. “As the Chancellor pointed out last week, housebuilding is on the up, but it is rising nowhere near quickly enough to make up the shortfall that has built up in recent years."

Housing crisis deepens in East of England

A NEW report by the National Housing Federation (NHF) shows that more working people in the East of England are being forced to ask for help with housing costs to keep a roof over their heads. In the region there has been a 96 per cent increase in those with jobs claiming housing benefit since 2009 – the fourth highest rise in claims across the country. Adding to the strain for people in the East of England, private rents and house prices are expected to rise by 49.5% and almost 34% respectively by 2020, which could result in further severe financial consequences for the taxpayer. Nationally, an extra 310 working people a day – one every five minutes – have asked for help with housing costs to keep the roof over their heads since 2009. Every day this has added £1.7m to the annual housing benefit bill. The report, Home Truths, found that: • England needs 240,000 new homes a year to meet demand, but housebuilding numbers are falling. In 2012-13 107,000 new homes were built, 11 per cent less than in 2009. • Currently rents take up an average of half of people’s disposable income, but in a decade’s time that figure will have risen to 57%. • Nationally, house prices will increase by 35% by 2020, leaving a huge swathe of the population locked out of home ownership for life. • The number of employed housing benefit claimants is up 104% since 2009. As a result, Government spending on housing benefit has risen to £24bn, but most of this money is going to private landlords rather than building the new homes which would stem rising housing costs. Claire Astbury, East of England external affairs manager for the NHF, said: "We hear a lot about ‘making work pay’, but a decent job won’t even cover the cost of a home in many parts of the East of England, and with rising rents and house prices the situation looks set to get even worse. “Nationally, billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is wasted, lining the pockets of private landlords, when it could be better spent building more homes people can afford. Relying on the private rented sector so heavily is a costly sticking plaster rather than a solution. “In towns and cities pulling away from the recession, the dysfunctional housing market is burning the fingers of many people. “Hard-working families are spending more and more of their income on a home and many could be forced to move – away from jobs, schools and relatives. “We need to address the problems of the housing market now, before another generation is left locked out and reliant on taxpayers to keep the roof over their head.” The latest survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has confirmed the pressures on the region's housing market, with expectations for house price growth hitting an 11-year high in November as the amount of homes coming onto the East's market once again fell well short of rapidly rising buyer demand. In all, 48% more chartered surveyors in the region predict prices to continue their upward trend rather than fall back over the coming three months. This is the highest reading since June 2002. Last month also saw prices pick up sharply as a net balance of 54% more respondents reported price growth. Meanwhile, although a lack of stock on the market remains a big challenge, buyer interest in the region is continuing to rise. Last month, a net balance of 46% more surveyors reported that new buyer enquiries had risen. RICS East of England spokesman Jan Hÿtch said: "It’s no secret that the housing market is on the way up, with price and sales expectations on the rise across the region. “The Bank of England’s recent decision to withdraw the Funding for Lending scheme – which allows banks to borrow more cheaply and pass the benefits on to mortgage applicants – could well have some impact on the number of people able to purchase a home, although the improvement in wholesale and retail funding markets may mean the impact on mortgages is relatively limited. “One thing we are very concerned about, however, is the lack of both new and existing homes coming onto the market. “As the Chancellor pointed out last week, housebuilding is on the up, but it is rising nowhere near quickly enough to make up the shortfall that has built up in recent years. “If there is no meaningful increase in new homes, the likelihood is that prices – and, for that matter, rents – will continue to push upwards, making the cost of shelter ever more unaffordable.”

The disgusting ATOS and the DWP

We have all heard of ATOS now the company who has the contract to decide and carry out work capability assessments. The WCA which are hugely distressing for many who have to go through them every day. "A leaked report shows 97% of people undergoing its assessment are 'expected' to recover within two years. Leaked data suggests the Department for Work and Pensions is holding Atos to extremely tight tolerances. Photograph: Janine Wiedel Photolibrary/Alamy Ask Atos, the company responsible for executing the work capability assessment (WCA), or the Department for Work and Pensions, which defines how the WCA is conducted, and they will tell you that they have no targets for the number of people who pass. Yet a new report from the Centre for Welfare Reform, How Norms Become Targets, uses a leaked set of Atos data to suggest that the DWP is holding Atos to extremely tight tolerances on its results. Atos and the DWP admit to the existence of "statistical norms" and that these are used to manage the performance of individual healthcare professionals carrying out the assessments. Campaigners have long claimed that these norms function as de facto targets, but were surprised by the detail of the data logged and matched against acceptable ranges. Not only are there figures for overall numbers of people awarded the points needed to qualify for the employment and support allowance (ESA), figures also exist for individual prognoses, for the points awarded, even for the word count of the summary findings. And each Atos region is expected to stray no further than 20% from the national average. Combining any data-gathering system with pressure to meet expectations will drive staff to converge on the "official" numbers; norms will become de facto targets, and no manager wants to be forced to justify their region's figures. Unfortunately pressure to meet expectations is exactly the process described to the Guardian by Atos whistleblower Dr Greg Wood, who went public after being repeatedly asked to change assessments, including at least one case that conflicted with his professional medical opinion. Whether the Atos data represents targets, as the CWR report suggests, or norms, as Atos insists, the numbers themselves are deeply problematic. An assessor is expected to see about 40 people per week, 65% of who, the data shows, are expected to fail the assessment. The remainder will be split between the ESA support group (14.5%) and the work-related activities group (20.5%). Those who pass, in either group, are then further divided across five sub-groups, which specify whether an applicant should be expected to recover in six-24 months or "longer term" (in practice three years). Only 2.6% of WCAs are expected to result in a "longer-term" prognosis, which effectively means an assessor can allocate the prognosis to just one person a week; allocating a single extra person across a month hovers on breaching the allowed 20% variation. All other applicants, no matter their disability, are labeled as expected to have recovered within two years or less. This suggests an explanation for some of the stranger Atos rulings, where people with lifelong or degenerative disabilities have been told their conditions are expected to improve in six months. Any assessor struggling to keep down their average for longer-term prognoses has to be tempted to assign a shorter prognosis instead. Someone with a long-term disability should theoretically face an assessment once every three years, but if they are consistently assigned to the six-month prognosis group, they will potentially face not one but six assessments in that period. Similar problems exist for points awarded during the assessment. The "descriptors", if matched, are worth six, nine or 15 points, and many disabled people will match multiple descriptors. It takes 15 points to qualify for the ESA, yet the report suggests national averages of 2.1 points for physical issues and 3.6 points for mental issues. The only way to maintain such low averages is by scoring several people at zero points for each one who passes. Are cases of people who score zero points when they clearly should pass simply evidence that the assessor saw too many seriously ill and disabled people that week? There is already an outcry over the state of the work capability assessment, with roughly one in six of all assessments successfully appealed against, at a cost to the Tribunals Service, and the taxpayer, of more than £75m per year. If that failure rate is not caused by poor quality work at the healthcare professional level but is a consequence of the Atos management system, which in turn is driven by the contractual requirements placed on it by DWP, then shouldn't that outcry be louder still? Extracts via http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/atos-disabled-people-assessment-fit-work-report?CMP=twt_gu&utm_content=bufferc4ef2&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer

Cops off campus

Last week, London’s village-like Bloomsbury area became a battleground between students and police. In two days, 43 arrests were made, and several videos appearing to show police brutality are now circling the internet. It was the latest, most violent episode in a crackdown on student protest in the city which began in the summer. Amid the chaos of last week, the University of London – the capital's biggest, which includes Goldsmiths, SOAS and UCL – got itself a High Court injunction forbidding protest on its site until next June. Those who disobey it, the order warns, might find themselves in contempt of court. “The university started filming demonstrations from the balconies of Senate House, with few missing the irony that the building inspired the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four" It goes back to Wednesday evening when University of London security forcefully evicted 30 demonstrators staging an occupation of its premises at Senate House. Some 50 police were on hand, but only, the university said, “to prevent a breach of the peace”. However, footage appears to show them doing a lot more than that. One officer can be seen punching a man in the face. In another clip, two police slam a woman, screaming, to the pavement and then walk off. There were seven arrests that night but, the police were keen to point out, no formal complaints were made against them. Still, both people at the demonstration and those who had seen it reported online were furious, appalled by what they considered police violence and intimidation. That anger could be felt at a Cops Off Campus protest, promoted anonymously on Tumblr, which took place the next day. Some protesters brought homemade shields (not a bad idea, since the police definitely made use of their batons), while others let off red smoke bombs amid clashes between officers and students. This time, 36 people were arrested, including a man with a crutch. An eyewitness said he “was walking near the police when they pushed him, and as he fell backwards the police kicked away his crutch before jumping on him”. After officers moved away from where his arrest took place, a red blood stain could be seen on the pavement. Oscar Webb, the editor at the London Student newspaper, was one of those arrested. He was there covering the protest and can be seen in a video holding up his press card just before being handcuffed. He spent the night in isolation in a cell in south London, and although he wasn’t charged with any offence, he now has bail conditions that prohibit him from going in Senate House. If police were already clamping down on student protests, they now appear to be getting heavy-handed with those who report them too. As far as the students were concerned, these were two especially brutal days. But the crackdown goes back months, when in July a 24-year-old philosophy student was arrested for writing in chalk on a University of London foundation stone. It’s alleged she caused £600 of criminal damage, even though, as one person was quick to point out: “Chalk can be washed off. That’s the whole point of chalk.” Student occupiers barricade the doors in Senate House in an attempt to keep out police Oscar Webb The list of ten demands issued by the those who occupied Senate House gives a pretty good idea of why the students are feeling the need to do so much protesting. They want to see outsourced staff and lecturers, who they consider the backbone of universities, given fair working terms and pay. They don’t want their halls of residence run by private companies who will charge extortionate rents. And they’re fed up of having the police, who unsurprisingly they don’t trust, allowed onto their campuses. They’re also angry at the planned closure of ULU next year, which the university wants to take over. It’s a flawed body, but also considered an outlet for some of the grievances of London’s students. The National Union of Students, according to most of the activists, is useless. They see its leadership as careerists using their roles as a step on the way to a safe Labour seat, not an institution that can help them effect the change they want. On Friday, a day after the mass arrests, a second Cops Off Campus demonstration took place. Again, there were hundreds of students and police. But it mostly just consisted of running around in the streets, getting in the way of motorists, with a police helicopter hovering above. A small group of anarchists, waving red and black flags, climbed a fire escape and were keen to find a way into University of London’s campus, which had been sealed off. But the demonstrators decided to call it a day and hold a sort of debrief meeting in the students’ union. That wasn’t, I think, because their anger at the police had subsided. All around, you could hear protesters urging each other to “save it for next week” (this Wednesday, a national Cops Off Campus protest is planned). In other words, in Bloomsbury’s battle between students and police, things look likely to intensify further. With thanks to James Burley for the article above Follow James Burley on Twitter here @JWJBurley http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/18110/1/cops-off-campus-university-of-london-protest-ban

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The working poor

“There are more working families living in poverty in the UK than non-working families for the first time since the birth of the welfare state, according to a new study. A recent report by a development charity attributes the figures to a sustained and “unprecedented” fall in living standards that has hit UK households, in which average incomes have fallen by 8% since a peak in 2008. As a result, around 2 million people have an income that would have been considered below the poverty line in 2008. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that according to the current definition, the figure is increasing as 500,000 more working families live below the poverty line than last year. 6.7 million families with adults in employment meet the worrying criteria compared with a combined 6.3 million of retired and unemployed families. There is also a smaller but growing number of people living on incomes below the value of out-of-work benefits in very deep poverty. The JRF said 400,000 families have suffered from a combination of benefit cuts from the bedroom tax, and council tax benefit. Two thirds of these families were already classified as living in poverty. The JRF also found positive changes, including an improvement in the labour market with falling unemployment and underemployment and, improvements in health and education outcomes forecast for the future. There have also been major shifts in which groups are experiencing poverty, with the number of pensioners in poverty at a 30-year low. Julia Unwin, chief executive of the charity, said efforts to reduce poverty must be “strengthen[ed]” and that for the poorest families “improving pay and prospects remain a mirage”. She added:"Recent economic improvements do not outweigh the damage inflicted during the downturn to the incomes of the poorest people across the country. "Our report demonstrates there has been progress in some areas and the tide has turned on employment, but this not been matched by improvements in wages. The largest group in poverty are working age adults without dependent children - 4.7 million people are in this situation, the highest on record. Half of working families in poverty have an adult paid below the living wage. It also found that job insecurity is increasingly common, with one in six members of the workforce claiming Jobseekers' Allowance at some point in the last two years. Median incomes in the UK recorded in the 2011 tax year are now, in real terms, just below what they were in 2001 - £367 a week compared with £368 - the Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion report showed. Plummeting incomes over the last two years has wiped out all the gains of the previous decade, the JRF said. Families living in poverty are defined as those with income below 60% of median income for that year. Peter Kenway, director at NPI and an author of the report, said: "Poorer members of society are under more pressure than at any time since the birth of the welfare state. "The value of the safety net for working age adults is now sinking steadily. The support on offer to people who fall on hard times is increasingly threadbare, with benefit levels on a downward spiral. "A strong safety net to catch those who fall is vital for social mobility - millions are saved by it every year even now - yet no leading politician will defend it."” This all comes in the same week MP’s are due to vote on plans to increase their salaries by 11%. All in this together are we ??? With extracts from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/millions-of-families-living-in-poverty-despite-being-in-employment-says-new-study-8991403.html

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela what an inspiration to millions

Now I was too young too know much about Nelson Mandela at the time and the struggles he and his party faced. But becoming political in the last 3 years or so I’ve come to understand his significance to the black movement and to freedom and liberty too. Too many Mandela was more than a man he was a father figure, an inspiration for many who were also politicised during the struggles against apartheid As a man he was loved and respected by millions around the world, as evidenced by the outpouring of grief today – some of it phoney, some genuine. As expected there is the - ‘Mandela was a terrorist’ accusations from the right wing media, - and the - Mandela was a great statesman, peacemaker, and inspiration to millions, - from pretty much everyone else. I am no authority on Mandela’s politics or legacy so please feel free to add your own thoughts or information to this post in the comments if you like. How anyone with any kind of analysis can label Mandela as a terrorist is beyond me. What should the victims of one of the most despicable regimes in history have done to fight back against their oppressors, start a petition? Yes, I am sure his rap sheet has some unpleasant sounding convictions, but consideration of time, place, and context, is required. The hypocrisy of David Cameron and Boris Johnson both tories and were members of the young conservatives at the time of apartheid in South Africa comin out today in praise of the great man is frankly sickening. It was Margret thatcher who wrote Nelson Mandela and his ANC party off as terrorists back in the 80’s and were also part of the young conservatives who made up posters with the slogan hang Nelson Mandela on. So lets not take any shallow comments from any toris on Mandela’s life and legacy thank you. As for today though many heaping praise on Nelson Mandela should also bear in mind the situation in South Africa today. Mandela should be seen as the poster boy for the failure of political parties and for reformism. The ANC – whatever they consider their achievements, are nothing more than a party of gangsters, careerists, and anti-working class scumbags. Apartheid ended over twenty years ago, so what has changed? The black working class of South Africa has a new set of spivs, bosses, and politicians to oppress them. You only have to look back on the various mine massacres by the security forces last year to see that not a lot has changed – I am given to understand that Mandela’s grandson is a part owner in one of those mines. Thirty years ago it would have been just white police officers shooting unarmed black miners in the back, now it is a mixture of white and black police officers doing the killing. Truly a massacre fit for apartheid. Apart from an end to apartheid/segregation, has the lot of working class black South Africans improved? Not at all, unemployment, homelessness, and poverty are rife. However, there are a group in South African society who have benefited since the collapse of apartheid. The fight for true equality in South Africa continues today a fair but critical analysis of what the ANC is today is needed and how we can go forward is necessary for the future and where we go from here.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A very Tory Christmas

This Christmas many will struggle to enjoy a Christmas at all with the rising cost of living and the austerity which is really biting now for many ordinary people. This is Tory Britain where half a million people are reported to be using a food bank now to get by. This is a national disgrace now that the Red Cross has an appeal for support for the people in the UK we know something is very wrong in the world. Not that it wasn’t before but this hasn’t happened since the war. So while we all struggle to enjoy a Christmas dinner the Tories will be living it up in the nicely warmed tax payer funded homes or one of their many homes I should say as most do have more than one if not more these days. For the Tories any thought of the poor over Christmas will be a distant thought if at all. Those who they are making pay for the crisis of capitalism are just collateral damage to them it would seem. The bosses of the 'big six' energy companies should be in the dock. 31,000 extra people, mostly pensioners, died last winter. With 3.2 million households in fuel poverty and one in four families forced to choose between eating and heating, how many more will die this winter? With almost calculating cruelty, all the big energy suppliers have announced more and bigger price hikes just as we go into winter. Even Ofgem, the toothless regulator, has admitted: "There is a deep mistrust of anything the energy companies do or say... It is not surprising the customers jump to the conclusion that prices are driven by profiteering." It is not surprising because it's true! Fuel bills have gone up 152% in the last ten years. Their profits have gone up 74% since 2009, to £3.74 billion last year. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) pay over 60% of their profits to shareholders in dividends, and npower haven't paid any UK tax for the last three years! British Gas paid just five bosses £16.4 million in bonuses in March this year. Parent company Centrica's chief executive Sam Laidlaw got £4.9 million in salary and bonuses last year, enough to pay the annual fuel bills of 3,500 households. Huge public anger has forced politicians to be seen to be doing something. They all say "switch suppliers" but the big six, with 95% of all domestic customers, operate a price cartel and run a virtual monopoly. The Con-Dems advised people suffering fuel poverty to wear an extra jumper, the Centrica boss said wear two! Ed Miliband says a Labour government would freeze energy prices for 20 months but we all know they'll just stick them up before and after. This Christmas will not be a happy one for those at the bottom end of the scale. Lets fight for a world where Christmas’s are not something to dread how we can afford it how we can enjoy things with our families and friends but one rid of capitalism where we live happily with a society which meets peoples needs before anything else is considered.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

What is intersectionality ?

The term Intersectionality has come up quite allot on the left of late I thought I’d look into what it is and what it means for us all. New movements against oppression have brought with them a new vocabulary. The concept of “intersectionality” is prominent among them. Intersectionality says three core things. First: we should fight all manifestations of oppression. Second: the experiences under capitalism of one person differ from that of another person because of one’s place across material lines of oppression and exploitation. These first two ought to be common sense to socialists. But intersectionality also says a third. This is that one form of oppression can be shaped by and can shape other forms of oppression. Racism, for example, can be sexualised, or women’s oppression can be racialised – and this happens in such a way that it becomes impossible to view different oppressions as separate. We already know that all oppressions are connected by having material roots in capitalism. And by claiming that all oppression and exploitation intertwine, there is at least a vague recognition by intersectionality that all oppression is rooted in the same societal structures. But intersectionality makes the further claim that you cannot, for example, say that a black woman experiences sexism on the one hand and racism on the other, as separate to that sexism. In reality, the sexism that black women face is often shaped by their blackness and the racism they face is shaped by their gender. The result being women’s oppression for black women is intimately connected but also has nuanced differences to women’s oppression for white women. Similarly we understand how women’s oppression for the ruling classes differs to that of the working class. Have i lost you yet? So the experiences of oppression can differ depending on who you are. We know this – so why is intersectionality useful as a descriptive tool? I'd say that as we all experience things very differently and are not all the same. How one person reacts to something may be different to another we cannot blanket catch all in the way we go about things. Some argue intersectionality tends towards fragmentation. If you talk about women, you could talk about black women, and if you talk about black women you could talk about black, gay, disabled women – and so on. What can be said in response to these arguments? Firstly, I don’t see what’s wrong with talking about the oppression of black, gay, disabled working class women under capitalism. Attempting to relate to as many people as possible by talking about the specificity of their oppression is a good thing. The question, however, is whether such concerns over the specificity of experience lead to divisions and separatism. In fact the way intersectionality is used today – for example on campuses – operates in precisely the opposite direction: intersectionality is as a call to unity! The argument is that everyone concerned with oppression should naturally be concerned with the nuances of everyone else’s oppression. That is not fragmentation – it is the basic building block of solidarity in my opinion Others argue that intersectionality sees class as simply another form of oppression and therefore fails to be compatible with Marxism that places the working class at its root. I’d say this depends on the explanatory framework intersectionality is used within. We must not forget that intersectionality is not an explanatory theory in itself: it does not aim to explain why oppression exists. In its most basic form, it rather tries to describe the nuanced experience of oppression that arises from the mingling of different structures of oppression, and the way that all this plays out in our lives. So intersectionality only treats class as another form of oppression if the explanatory framework you use it within also treats class as oppression. For example, if you put intersectionality within the framework of privilege theory, then there are a whole host of criticisms we could draw out against intersectionality. But we should be careful not to confuse criticisms we have of privilege theory with those of intersectionality. If you place intersectionality within the framework of privilege, you should not blame intersectionality for the conclusions that privilege theory leads to. Capitalism today is characterised by a global economic crisis and neoliberal economic policies. Class antagonisms are taking centre stage, and the fact that increasing numbers of young people are even speaking of class because of the influence of intersectionality is a step forward – even if they’re mistakenly labelling class exploitation as a form of oppression. There is allot of oppression out there having a good understanding where it is coming from and the means and ends are always in constant flow. It’s a theory I’m still learning from all the time but it is not something which will go away overnight I fear.

Climate change impact on UK waters

Climate change is real and is happening. Few can doubt its existence anymore bar from the few real pro capitalist climate change denial lot. On the Met Office blog today they carry an excellent piece which I republish below http://metofficenews.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/climate-change-continues-to-impact-uk-waters/ "The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) has published its latest Report Card, detailing a comprehensive assessment on how climate change is affecting UK waters. MCCIP is a partnership between scientists, government and the marine community which enables clear communication and engagement across a range of key marine topics. The Met Office has contributed scientific expertise to a range of these topics, as well as being a partner organisation of MCCIP. For the first time, Arctic sea-ice coverage is considered by the report’s authors. The report states that a long-term decline is clearly apparent, with Arctic sea-ice extent retreating and the ice becoming thinner as temperatures rise. This may provide opportunities for European and Asian commercial ships to cross the globe via northern polar routes. The report card explains how short term variability means some years will be cooler than others. However, long term records clearly demonstrate an overall warming trend in recent decades, which is expected to continue in the future. In addition, the 2013 report’s regional maps highlight differences across the UK’s seas and show the importance of local-scale impacts. For instance, the movement of fish species – important to commercial and recreational fishermen – and how non-native species are expanding their range are both covered. Some key findings in the 2013 MCCIP Report Card include: • Temperature records continue to show an overall upward trend despite short-term variability. For example, in the last decade, the average UK coastal sea surface temperature was actually lower in 2008-2012 than in 2003-2007. • The seven lowest Arctic sea-ice extents in the satellite era were recorded between 2007 and 2013. The continuing downward trend is providing opportunities for the use of polar transit routes between Europe and Asia by commercial ships. • Changes to primary production are expected throughout the UK, with southern regions (e.g. Celtic Sea, English Channel) becoming up to 10% more productive and northern regions (e.g. central and northern North Sea) up to 20% less productive; with clear implications for fisheries. • There continue to be some challenges in identifying impacts of climate change. These are due to difficulties distinguishing between short-term variability and long-term trends, and between climate drivers and other pressures. Dr Matthew Frost of the Marine Biological Association and Chair of the MCCIP Report Card Working Group said: “The marine environment is subject to a wide range of man-made pressures but can also change in response to natural processes. Disentangling these factors to enable identification of current and potential future impacts of climate change continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing marine scientists today. We have sought to clearly explain these challenges whilst continuing to report on the rapid and significant impacts of marine climate change.” Marine Environment Minister George Eustice said: “This report improves our understanding of how UK seas are already influenced by climate change and of potential changes in the future. Understanding these impacts, threats and opportunities is an essential basis for managing our marine environment.” The report card highlights how little is known about climate change impacts on the “marine economy”, despite its importance for food (fish and aquaculture), energy (oil, gas and renewable energy), transport and coastal tourism and marine recreation. Coastal tourism and marine recreation is a key economic sector that could be highly sensitive to climate change (e.g. the threats of flooding, coastal erosion and opportunities for increasing visitor numbers), but little is known about future social and economic impacts. " Capitalism is clearly having an impact on our planet real action is needed before we face further and further damage to our planet and atmosphere.

Solidarity with Higher education staff on strike today for fair pay

Today see's another nationwide strike in Higher education and momentum is growing with greater support and more student occupations this time too could the student movement be making a comeback in support of their lectures ? With Exeter, Sheffield, Goldsmiths, Sussex, Ulster, Edinburgh and Birmingham all occupied in support of fair play in HE we can be Proud of students right now Tens of thousands of university teachers and support staff are expected to walk out for a second day today in an increasingly bitter pay row. Unions say they have “bent over backwards” to prevent the dispute from escalating, but they say employers have refused to increase a “miserly” pay offer. Officials say the proposed 1% increase would see university workers receiving a fifth consecutive pay award below the cost of living. They estimate the value of some staff salaries has been eroded by 14% in that time. Today’s action will involve members from UNISON, UCU, Unite and EIS. UNISON general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The decision to take action so close to Christmas shows the depth of feeling that this issue has caused. “It is a disgrace that universities are sitting on cash surpluses worth £2bn, but they are not prepared to reward their staff who are the backbone of our world class university system. “The employers’ imposed payment of 1% does not address the increasing cost of living for staff who face rising energy costs and increasing food bills, and does little for the 4,000 staff working in universities who earn less than the living wage. “A fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay, and higher education workers deserve a better standard of living in return for their hard work and the contribution they make to the success of UK universities.” Unions say terms and conditions amongst higher education workers are being eroded while job insecurity is increasing, with greater use of zero hour contracts and an increase in the gender pay gap. The median salary of vice chancellors is £242,000, with the highest paid employee in higher education receiving more than £500,000. However, workers at the bottom end of the pay scale earn just £13,486. Unions say they have attended a series of negotiations, including at the conciliation service Acas, to try to resolve the dispute. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Strike action is always the last resort for any trade union – but it is the point at which we have reached in the pay dispute with the University Employers’ Association. “The employers do not seem to understand the effect that four years of sub-inflationary pay rises have on their staff. “Members literally cannot afford to go on like this, and that is why we have joined our three sister unions and colleagues in taking concerted action to pursue our claim for fair pay. “The sector is financially healthy, with an increasing number of senior staff on salaries of over £100K a year with ever-increasing principals’ salaries – we ask the employers to fairly share the fruits of the HE sector staff hard work.” So remember if your near a picket line or have a lecture today do not reschedule the lecture respect the picket line and give support to those out on strike if you can. This strike cannot be effective if a picket line is crossed. Best of luck

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Socialist Way: the reincarnation of the Labour Party

The Socialist Way: the reincarnation of the Labour Party: Saturday just past, witnessed the birth of a new Left Party here in Britain, can it be said, and for the umpteenth time?” Around...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

This week: take action to stop workfare and sanctions

The Week of Action Against Workfare and Sanctions begins tomorrow (Monday December 2nd) with a noise protest outside the annual welfare-to-work conference. There will be online actions everyday, announced on the Boycott Workfare website (and probably here a bit later). Tomorrow will see online action aimed at the ERSA conference where delegates will be tweeting using the hashtag #ERSA2013 – more details are to come on how to challenge the poverty profiteering conference online. Please help spread the word and share, tweet and blog details of all events both on and offline! Here’s the list of what’s taking place so far via Boycott Workfare: Things are very wrong: each month 70,000 people face hunger and hardship due to benefit stoppages – ‘sanctions’. Millions of hours of work which should be paid are being replaced by workfare. But we’re taking action and having an impact. This week, from 2-8 December, join thousands of others across the UK to push back against sanctions and workfare – with action online and on your high street. Here’s the latest list of actions planned across the UK. Let us know if you’re planning something too and check back here Monday-Friday to take online action every day. Edinburgh: flyering all week and a demo on Saturday 7th Cardiff: Wednesday 4 December at 6:30pm, Marks and Spencer – 72/76 Queen Street, Cardiff London: • Noise Demo at workfare industry conference at the University of London, 12.30pm 2nd Decemeber • Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group demo at Hammersmith Job Centre against the introduction of Universal Credit. Meet 11am on Wednesday 4th December at Hammersmith Job Centre, Glenn House, 22 Glenthorne Road, W6 0PP • M&S picket, Islington – Sunday 8th December 1pm outside Holloway Road M&S • M&S picket, Wood Green – Sunday 8th December 2pm outside Wood Green High Road M&S (Nearest tube: Turnpike Lane) Reading: Saturday 7th 4pm at Reading town centre. Planning meeting for the action on Tuesday at 7pm. Please sign/share/tweet the petition calling for all benefit sanctions to be scrapped without exceptions: http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/benefit-sanctions-must-be-stopped-without-exceptions-in-uk?bucket&time=1385073159

Outsourced Britain

As austerity continues to bites one of the big features before and now very much more so after the great recession is the idea of outsourcing and it is really happening on a huge scale lets be frank. Outsourcing is a good way for capitalist to drive down labour costs during times of austerity. Take N Power this week. "Npower is to cut 1,400 UK jobs. PA Npower is to close offices and outsource work to India in a move that will see 1,400 UK staff lose their jobs at the energy supplier. The announcement is expected to intensify public anger around the activities of the Big Six power companies and raise the political heat in Westminster where energy has risen to the top of the political agenda. Trade unions accused npower of serving up a "Christmas nightmare" by planning to offshore 1,400 jobs to India and transfer a further 570 to another British firm, probably Capita. It is understood that frontline call-centre operations will be outsourced to a third party in the UK, with back-office work moved to India. Union leaders warned the moves would backfire and further tarnish the reputation of npower which came bottom for customer service in a recent survey and which told a parliamentary committee earlier this year that it had paid almost no corporation tax for three years. Npower, the energy supplier of Germany's RWE, hit gas and electricity customers with a 10.4% rise in fuel bills earlier this month and its central London offices were the target of fuel poverty demonstrations earlier this week. The company declined to comment on the planned office and staff cuts but well-informed sources told the Guardian that npower staff would be informed of the changes at 9am on Thursday. Npower said in a statement: "As we announced a couple of months ago, npower has been undertaking a major review of sites, operations and people across the UK. "We've been doing this to improve our customer service and keep our costs down, at a time of external pressures on customers' bills. As we've always said, we'll tell our people first and then inform the media," it added. Npower and the other big six firms such as SSE and Centrica insist that they have to raise domestic bills and trim their costs in a bid to counter the impact of rising wholesale prices and green levies for home insulation. Npower's parent RWE said earlier this month that 6,750 jobs would need to be cut across Europe as it tries to reduce a debt mountain of over £28bn, partly caused by the Berlin government's decision to phase out nuclear power stations." The key bit that jumps out at me in that piece in the Guardian was the cutting costs line. This is clearly not to cut costs for the customers and those who use Npower but to keep costs down for the business and to maintain profits and raise profit levels if possible. With Britain being the second biggest nation for outsourcing we will see in time if its allowed to happen a huge wave of outsourcing to other cheaper nations and to areas where the labour costs are cheaper. In an excellent piece on Open democracy Stuart Weir writes "The government has put a huge FOR SALE sign over the country’s public assets and services. According to the sharedserviceslink.com website, the bulletin board for “leaders in finance shared services”, the United Kingdom is the world’s largest out-sourcing market after the United States. The number of contracts in the UK has increased sharply by 47 per cent to 148 contracts a year since 2010. The annual contract value for this country jumped 16 per cent in 2012 to $3.75 billion! All this before the major sale drive about to take place in the NHS. The International Services Group (ISG) states that the UK accounted for 80 per cent of all contracting out across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, making our government alone among the major European economies in using out-sourcing as a key element in its response to austerity. Richard Vize, of Outsourcer Eye, says that the application of cuts is dominated by “short-term thinking”. The effects of all this activity on quality or cost is unclear and there is no reliable information on the impact of cuts or out-sourcing – though these effects are visible, for example, in local government, the NHS and government agencies such as the Inland Revenue. The government’s “short-term” thinking is of course, as Polly Toynbee warned recently, part of a determined and reckless long-term drive to reduce the public sector to a mere rump. Social security is gradually being outsourced to charities and food banks, while services and assets are increasingly handed out to private firms to operate at often extortionate prices (like the trains), described by George Monbiot as the 'toll booth economy'. The effects on ordinary citizens will be far-reaching and devastating, the more so for the vulnerable people whom the state has long acknowledged a responsibility to protect. The state is being fundamentally transformed before our eyes. This is a phase or a form of capitalism which is turning public service’s into money making enterprises and this will stop at nothing. From our energy sector to our schools and hospitals nothing is sacred when it comes to capital's drive for greater and grater profits. With thanks to open democracy link to article at http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/stuart-weir/uk-becomes-worlds-second-largest-outsourcing-market