25th January 2013
Jeremy Corbyn MP contrasts two parliamentary debates from earlier this week: one which capped the incomes of the poorest, the second which seemingly committed to open-ended ‘anti-terror’ activities in north Africa
The House of Commons managed in one afternoon on Monday to juxtapose issues of international war with voting the Welfare Up-rating Bill into law.
That’s the Bill which restricts everyone receiving of benefits to a 1 per cent rise, well below inflation, for each of the next three years.
Afterwards it restricts all increases to the consumer prices index, a cut by any other name as unlike the retail prices index it doesn’t include housing costs.
Taking money out of poor people’s pockets isn’t just cruel, it’s bad for the economy. Back in 2008 then prime minister Gordon Brown’s response to the banking crisis was rather limited, but he did bring the banks into a form of public ownership and raise pensions and benefits as a way of boosting demand - poor people spend money, the rich save or export it.
No such logic occurs to the Tories. In those days Iain Duncan Smith was presenting himself as a man genuinely concerned about the poor and “broken Britain.” At his visit to Easterhouse in Glasgow just before the last election he talked at length of his worries over those who grew up in deep poverty.
He was right to be worried if he had a premonition of his own policies in government.
His mask started slipping a while ago and on Monday it disappeared altogether.
Two-and-a-half years of Tory-Lib Dem austerity have led to the opening of three new food banks a week, used now by a quarter of a million people.
As the years go by the poorest, most marginalised people in Britain get worse and worse off.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that child poverty will rise by 400,000 by 2015 and by 800,000 by 2020 as the cumulative effect of pegged 1 per cent benefit increases grips the most vulnerable families.
When MPs argued that benefits should rise at least in line with inflation Tory MP Charlie Elphicke claimed this would cost £3.5 billion and wanted to know where this was coming from and how it would affect the national debt.
Not a concern raised over our foreign military adventures, but we’ll come to that later.
Liam Byrne in his reply from the Labour front bench was quite correct to condemn the government for refusing to protect working people or offer any safeguards for those with disabilities, but a clear commitment on what Labour would do was sadly lacking.
He was right to point to rising unemployment and the poverty of people in work as linked problems, but to deal with that we need to convert the minimum wage into the living wage and to establish a programme to eliminate poverty from Britain.
Amid the sound and fury of the benefits debate Labour can only credibly oppose the cuts by not merely opposing this Bill, but by promising to return all benefits to the real value they had at the election of the current government and then increase them in line with inflation at the very least.
And if the Tories keep up their “how will you pay for it” howling we can take a look at the military budget.
Britain has been involved in continual conflict since 2001, raising annual defence budgets to over £35bn. We’ve spent over £30bn on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars alone.
After the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York Tony Blair couldn’t get Britain involved in the Afghan war fast enough.
Nearly 12 years later and we’re still there, with 440 of our soldiers dead alongside thousands of Afghans. The government we prop up is deeply corrupt and poverty is more widespread than ever.
The enduring symbols of the Afghan war will forever be the brutality of the secret prisons of the occupiers and their allies in the Afghan government and the drone aircraft bringing mayhem and death to impoverished villages on the borders of Pakistan.
As the Western troops withdraw they are not even able to remove all their military equipment and will thus be leaving piles of junk scattered across the country for decades to come.
Perhaps one day scrap-metal dealers will benefit from this, but one shudders to think of the pollution and the danger of unspent ordnance.
After we invaded Afghanistan we invaded Iraq. On top of all the killing were the terrible health effects of using depleted uranium - used both in the more recent conflict and in the 1991 Gulf war.
Within the last week the conflict in Mali has intensified. As the hostage crisis at the Algerian gas facility of Ain Amenas unfolded it became clear that a new wave of Western involvement in north Africa is on its way.
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday that three-quarters of terrorist plots targeting Britain had links to the region and that al-Qaida franchises have grown in Yemen, Somalia and north Africa.
The role of the government is to “support the governments of the region in their resolve to combat this menace, as many are doing at a high cost.”
Britain, he said, supported “the French intervention that took place at the request of the Malian government, and we are working to ensure that an African-led military force can help to ensure Mali’s long-term stability.”
Strangely he didn’t dwell on the coup that brought the current Malian government to power, the systematic discrimination against Tuareg people and the failure by former colonial powers and post-colonial governments to recognise any of their legitimate demands.
In fact he paid little attention to the causes of the conflict at all.
If we go all the way back to 1979, the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan at the request of its then government in order to help it defeat an insurgency that would nowadays be called Islamist.
The US immediately authorised huge financial and military aid channelled through the CIA to the opposition forces there, which eventually morphed into the Taliban and led to the original formation of al-Qaida.
So the seeds of the global “Islamist threat” so beloved of George Bush and Blair were sown.
No lessons were learned from what was essentially the unwitting financing of Saudi Arabian radicals by the West.
That was clear enough during the Libyan war of 2011, when - again without much thought - the French and British engaged in a massive bombing campaign and started arming forces which only a few months before were dangerous terrorists.
It’s clear enough from the enormous resources being poured into the conflict in Syria, whether by the Russians in the government’s favour or by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in support of the opposition - including, it appears, in the form of salaries for its fighters.
What’s unclear is where all this will end and what sort of government - if any - Syria will have when it does. The most likely outcome seems to be a partitioned state with minority Kurdish and Christian groups at enormous risk as the zealots take over in certain areas.
It’s also seen as a preparation for a putative war against Iran, starting with a bombing campaign by Israel.
The fact that we’re involved in seemingly opposite missions in Syria and Mali - either supporting or opposing revolts increasingly dominated by religious extremists - didn’t faze Cameron, who was more concerned with gearing up for the role of chairing the G8 later this year.
He seems to relish the idea of the G8 leading a global “war on terror.”
He couldn’t assure MPs that we wouldn’t get further involved in the region, though he was quite specific that Britain and France should stick to “their own areas,” namely their former colonies.
It’s strange that this loyalty to former colonies extends to military situations, but is never present when it comes to immigration law or the desperate poverty of the Sahel region.
We urgently need a debate on that poverty and the injustice faced by these peoples. Al-Qaida does not provide any way out of it, but can be seen as a cause opposed to Western domination.
But as on so many occasions of the last 15 years Britain seems to have almost unlimited money available for war despite a bare cupboard when it comes to tackling the disgraceful conditions that many will be forced to live in when the new benefits system comes into force on April 1.
1st January 2013
Ted Knight argues that Labour councillors should be leading a struggle against government cuts
As the new year dawns, councillors around the country will start drawing up budgets for 2013-14. Sharp and continuous reductions in government grants totalling 30% will result in severe cuts to balance the books. By law, they have to do this. Town halls can’t run deficit budgets, unlike the government.
This is the point at which Labour councils should be saying no, in a loud and clear voice, with support from their national leadership. We won’t make your cuts. We will not pass on the burden of the calamitous economic and financial crisis of capitalism that we did not create. We will defend our communities.
As matters stand, however, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton and Labour councils in other towns and cities are preparing to announce thousands of redundancies and the elimination of key services. Virtually every section of the community will be affected.
The leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield warned this weekend: “The unfairness of the government’s cuts is in danger of creating a deeply divided nation. We urge them to stop what they are doing now and listen to our warnings before the forces of social unrest start to smoulder.”
Yet, despite their dire forecast, the leaders of these and other Labour councils intend to make the budget cuts as demanded by the government. In my view, this is absolutely indefensible.
The hollow argument used to justify implementing the cuts is one that’s been around since I was leader of Lambeth council during its momentous struggle with the Thatcher government. Neil Kinnock, then Labour’s leader, told councillors that they should abandon defiance that might be considered illegal and instead maintain a “dented shield”.
Better to have a Labour council administering cuts in a “caring” way than the Tories, went the argument. In any case, resisting central government might encourage the Tories to do the same if Labour were in office. I heard the same tune again recently when Steve Reed said councillors were finding “practical ways to limit the pain”. For his loyalty, Reed was rewarded with the safe seat of Croydon North, and left his post as Lambeth council leader.
Back in the 1980s, David Blunkett (Sheffield), Margaret Hodge (Islington) and Graham Stringer (Manchester) initially took stands against rate-capping and budget cuts. One by one, they were persuaded by Kinnock to drop their opposition. All subsequently became MPs.
Ed Miliband’s pseudo-Tory “One Nation” politics does not allow for meaningful resistance to coalition austerity policies. It’s not difficult to fathom why. As many are aware, New Labour prepared the ground for many of the coalition policies through the expansion of PFI, contracting out, academies, tuition fees and other market-orientated measures.
Ed Balls and Gordon Brown between them set the bankers free to run riot with other people’s money. Now local government workers and service users are being made the scapegoats for a crisis that New Labour had a political hand in making. Pensions have already been reduced and wages frozen – with the backing of Labour’s front bench.
The biggest coalition in recent times is emerging against this government’s policies. Families with children at nurseries and schools, single parents, the disabled, carers, pensioners, students, redundant workers, part-time workers, people struggling to make ends meet, those whose homes have been repossessed, those on ever longer waiting lists and a million young people unemployed – all dependent at some point on local authority services which are now being snatched away.
This coalition is the basis for a co-ordinated campaign of resistance to council cuts and would provide the platform for exploding the myth, repeated as gospel truth by all the major parties since 1979 that there is no alternative. Public sector trade unions should take the initiative and call local assemblies of community groups, anti-cuts campaigns and other activists. These assemblies could draw up, or even commission, work on policy alternatives to an unsustainable, divisive capitalism that promotes inequality.
Let’s draw on the experiences of Occupy internationally, UK Uncut and the assemblies’ movement that has swept Spain. Why not mobilise communities to keep open services earmarked for closure, even if on a temporary volunteer basis like at Friern Barnet library?
In the 1980s, Labour councils like my own did organise a fightback. A price was paid, councillors were surcharged and forced from office. But resistance, far from being futile, mobilised communities. We won additional funds so that budgets could be set without cuts. Labour councillors today have the same choice – they can either lead a struggle against a vicious government or stand aside for those who will.
1st December 2012
As part of a series of features for Disability History Month, we present part two of Ian Malcolm-Walker’s harrowing look at the Nazis’ treatment of disabled people
Forced sterilisation in Germany was the forerunner of the systematic killing of the mentally ill and disabled people. In October 1939, Hitler himself initiated a decree which empowered physicians to grant a “mercy death” to “patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.” The intent of the so-called “euthanasia” program, however, was not to relieve the suffering of the chronically ill. The Nazi regime used the term as a euphemism: its aim was to exterminate the mentally ill and disabled people, thus “cleansing” the “Aryan” race of persons considered genetically defective and a financial burden to society.
The idea of killing the incurably ill was posed well before 1939. In the 1920s, debate on this issue centreed on a book co-authored by Alfred Hoche, a noted psychiatrist, and Karl Binding, a prominent scholar of criminal law. They argued that economic savings justified the killing of “useless lives” (“idiots” and “congenitally crippled”). Economic deprivation during World War I provided the context for this idea. During the war, patients in asylums had ranked low on the list for rationing of food and medical supplies, and as a result, many died from starvation or disease. More generally, the war undermined the value attached to individual life and, combined with Germany’s humiliating defeat, led many nationalists to consider ways to regenerate the nation as a whole at the expense of individual rights.
In 1935 Hitler stated privately that “in the event of war, [he] would take up the question of euthanasia and enforce it” because “such a problem would be more easily solved” during wartime. War would provide both a cover for killing and a pretext—hospital beds and medical personnel would be freed up for the war effort. The upheaval of war and the diminished value of human life during wartime would also, Hitler believed, mute expected opposition. To make the connection to the war explicit, Hitler’s decree was backdated to September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland.
Fearful of public reaction, the Nazi regime never proposed a formal “euthanasia” law. Unlike the forced sterilisations, the killing of patients in mental asylums and other institutions was carried out in secrecy. The code name was “Operation T4,” a reference to Tiergartenstrasse 4, the address of the Berlin Chancellery offices where the program was headquartered.
Physicians, the most highly Nazified professional group in Germany, were key to the success of “T-4,” since they organized and carried out nearly, all aspects of the operation. One of Hitler’s personal physicians, Dr. Karl Brandt, headed the program, along with Hitler’s Chancellery chief, Philip Bouhler. T-4 targeted adult patients in all government or church-run sanatoria and nursing homes. These institutions were instructed by the Interior Ministry to collect questionnaires about the state of health and capacity for work of all their patients, ostensibly as part of a statistical survey.
The completed forms were, in turn, sent to expert assessors physicians, usually psychiatrists, who made up “review commissions.” They marked each name with a “+,” in red pencil, meaning death, or a “” in blue pencil, meaning life, or “?” for cases needing additional assessment. These medical experts rarely examined any of the patients and made their decisions from the questionnaires alone. At every step, the medical authorities involved were usually expected to quickly process large numbers of forms.
The doomed were bussed to killing centres in Germany and Austria walled-in fortresses, mostly former psychiatric hospitals, castles, and a former prison — at Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadamar, and Brandenburg. In the beginning, patients were killed by lethal injection. But by 1940, Hitler, on the advice of Dr. Werner Heyde, suggested that carbon monoxide gas be used as the preferred method of killing. Experimental gassings had first been carried out at Brandenburg Prison in 1939. There, gas chambers were disguised as showers complete with fake nozzles in order to deceive victims — prototypes of the killing centres’ facilities built in occupied Poland later in the war.
Again, following procedures that would later be instituted in the extermination camps, workers removed the corpses from the chambers, extracted gold teeth, then burned large numbers of bodies together in crematoria. Urns filled with ashes were prepared in the event the family of the deceased requested the remains. Physicians using fake names prepared death certificates falsifying the cause of death, and sent letters of condolences to relatives.
Meticulous records discovered after the war documented 70,273 deaths by gassing at the six “euthanasia” centres between January 1940 and August 1941. (This total included up to 5,000 Jews; all Jewish mental patients were killed regardless of their ability to work or the seriousness of their illness.) A detailed report also recorded the estimated savings from the killing of institutionalized patients.
The secrecy surrounding the T-4 program broke down quickly. Some staff members were indiscreet while drinking in local pubs after work. Despite precautions, errors were made: hairpins turned up in urns sent to relatives of male victims; the cause of death was listed as appendicitis when the patient had the appendix removed years before. The town of Hadamar school pupils called the gray transport buses “killing crates” and threatened each other with the taunt, “You’ll end up in the Hadamar ovens!” The thick smoke from the incinerator was said to be visible every day over Hadamar (where, in midsummer 1941, the staff celebrated the cremation of their 10,000th patient with beer and wine served in the crematorium).
A few physicians protested. Karl Bonhöffer, a leading psychiatrist, and his son Dietrich, a Protestant minister who actively opposed the regime, urged church groups to pressure church-run institutions not to release their patients to T-4 authorities.
In response to such pressures, Hitler ordered a halt to Operation T-4 on August 24, 1941. Gas chambers from some of the “euthanasia” killing centres were dismantled and shipped to extermination camps in occupied Poland. In late 1941 and 1942, they were rebuilt and used for the “final solution to the Jewish question.” Similarly redeployed from T-4 were future extermination camp commandants Christian Wirth, Franz Stangl, Franz Reichleitner, the doctor Irmfried Eberl, as well as about 100 others - doctors, male nurses, and clerks, who applied their skills in Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor.
The “euthanasia” killings continued, however, under a different, decentralized form. Hitler’s regime continued to send to physicians and the general public the message that mental patients were “useless eaters” and life unworthy of life.” In 1941, the film Ich klage an (“I accuse”) in which a professor kills his incurably ill wife, was viewed by 18 million people. Doctors were encouraged to decide on their own who should live or die, Killing became part of hospital routine as infants, children, and adults were put to death by starvation, poisoning, and injections. Killings even continued in some of Germany’s mental asylums, such as Kaufbeuren, weeks after Allied troops had occupied surrounding areas.
Between the middle of 1941 and the winter of 1944-45, in a program known under code “14f13,” experienced psychiatrists from the T-4 operation were sent to concentration camps to weed out prisoners too ill to work. After superficial medical screenings, designated inmates Jews, Gypsies, Russians, Poles, Germans, and others were sent to those “euthanasia” centres where gas chambers still had not been dismantled, at Bernburg and Hartheim, where they were gassed. At least 20,000 people are believed to have died under the 14f13 program.
Outside of Germany, thousands of mental patients in the occupied territories of Poland, Russia, and East Prussia were also killed by the Einsatzgruppen squads (SS and special police units) that followed in the wake of the invading German army. Between September 29 and November 1, 1939, these units shot about 3,700 mental patients in asylums in the region of Bromberg, Poland. In December 1939 and January 1940, SS units gassed 1,558 patients from Polish asylums in specially adapted gas vans, in order to make room for military and SS barracks. Although regular army units did not officially participate in such “cleansing” actions as general policy, some instances of their involvement have been documented.
In all, between 200,000 and 250,000 mentally and physically disabled persons were murdered from 1939 to 1945 under the T-4 and other “euthanasia” programs. The magnitude of these crimes and the extent to which they prefigured the “Final Solution” continue to be studied. Further, in an age of genetic engineering and renewed controversy over mercy killings of the incurably ill, ethical and moral issues of concern to physicians, scientists, and lay persons alike remain vital.
27th November 2012
As part of a series of features for Disability History Month, we present part one of Ian Malcolm-Walker’s harrowing look at the Nazis’ treatment of disabled people
Over 200,000 disabled people were the first victims of the Holocaust. The atrocities caused by Hitler and the Nazi regime are well known in the Jewish community. Most people think only of the great losses suffered by the Jews when the word “Holocaust” is mentioned.
But Hitler and the regime despised disabled people because an impairment of any kind was an abhorrent to the future of his dream of a perfect race. In his lunacy, Hitler believed by eradicating every disabled person, he could wipe out disability. Babies born deaf, blind or with even the slightest “imperfection” were immediately disposed of, and abortions were common if the parents’ genetic lineage was in question.
Hitler ordered the making of propaganda films to persuade the public of the necessity of eliminating people with genetic defects. The film “Victims of the Past” was made on Hitler’s explicit orders and he made sure the film was shown in Germany’s 5,300 cinemas. Special lighting effects distorted features so disabled people were portrayed as grotesque and could only survive at the expense of healthy people.
The Nazis also sterilised nearly 400,000 Germans believed to have genetic impurities. During the 1930’s, disabled people in Germany were referred to as “useless eaters”. Nazi Germany targeted disabled people and older people as a drain on public resources. Doctors, not soldiers, were put in charge of killing older people and disabled people, since they had first-hand knowledge of where they lived, and if their medical condition was temporary or not.
Those deemed “curable” were transferred to special hospitals for slave labour and experiments. Dr Josef Mengele was the most famous of these “researchers”, torturing hundreds of children, especially those of a multiple birth, i.e. twins. The lives of institutionalised children were further brutalized. Members of the SA, SS, Hitler Youth and League of German Maidens were taken on tours of institutions. The visitors regarded these tours as “freak shows” and there were many instances of nasty and brutal behaviour towards the children who lived in the institutions. More than 20,000 visitors came to the Eglfing-Haar institution. Dr Pfannmuller, the director, took his visitors to the wards and lectured them (in front of the children) about the necessity of killing disabled for the “good of the nation”. Pfannmuller advocated killing children long before the child euthanasia program was put into effect and used starvation as his preferred method.
The “sterilisation Law” explained the importance of weeding out so-called genetic defects from the total German gene pool:
“Since the National Revolution public opinion has become increasingly preoccupied with questions of demographic policy and the continuing decline in the birthrate. However, it is not only the decline in population which is a cause for serious concern but equally the increasingly evident genetic composition of our people. Whereas the hereditarily healthy families have for the most part adopted a policy of having only one or two children, countless numbers of inferiors and those suffering from hereditary conditions are reproducing unrestrainedly while their sick and asocial offspring burden the community.”
Some scientists and physicians opposed the involuntary aspect of the law while others pointed to possible flaws. But the designation of specific conditions as inherited, and the desire to eliminate such illnesses or handicaps from the population, generally reflected the scientific and medical thinking of the day in Germany and elsewhere.
Nazi Germany was not the first or only country to sterilise people considered “abnormal.” Before Hitler, the United States led the world in forced sterilisations. Between 1907 and 1939, more than 30,000 people in twenty-nine states were sterilised, many of them unknowingly or against their will, while they were incarcerated in prisons or institutions for the mentally ill. Nearly half the operations were carried out in California. Advocates of sterilisation policies in both Germany and the United States were influenced by eugenics. This sociobiological theory took Charles Darwin’s principle of natural selection and applied it to society. Eugenicists believed the human race could be improved by controlled breeding.
Still, no nation carried sterilisation as far as Hitler’s Germany. The forced sterilisations began in January 1934, and altogether an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people were sterilised under the law. A diagnosis of “feeblemindedness” provided the grounds in the majority of cases, followed by schizophrenia and epilepsy. The usual method of sterilisation was vasectomy and ligation of ovarian tubes of women. Irradiation (x-rays or radium) was used in a small number of cases. Several thousand people died as a result of the operations, women disproportionately because of the greater risks of tubal ligation.
Most of the persons targeted by the law were patients in mental hospitals and other institutions. The majority of those sterilised were between the ages of twenty and forty, about equally divided between men and women. Most were “Aryan” Germans. The “Sterilisation Law” did not target so-called racial groups, such as Jews and Gypsies, although Gypsies were sterilised as deviant “asocials,” as were some homosexuals. Also, about 500 teenagers of mixed African and German parentage (the offspring of French colonial troops stationed in the Rhineland in the early 1920s) were sterilised because of their race, by secret order, outside the provisions of the law.
Although the “Sterilisation Law” sometimes functioned arbitrarily, the semblance of legality underpinning it was important to the Nazi regime. More than 200 Hereditary Health Courts were set up across Germany and, later, in annexed territories. Each was made up of two physicians and one district judge. Doctors were required to register with these courts every known case of hereditary illness. Appeals courts were also established, but few decisions were ever reversed. Exemptions were sometimes given artists or other talented persons afflicted with mental illnesses. The “Sterilisation Law” was followed by the Marriage Law of 1935, which required for all marriages proof that any offspring from the union would not be afflicted with a disabling hereditary disease.
Popular films such as Das Erbe (“Inheritance”) helped build public support for government policies by stigmatizing the mentally ill and disabled people and highlighting the costs of care. School mathematics books posed such questions as: “The construction of a lunatic asylum costs 6 million marks. How many houses at 15,000 marks each could have been built for that amount?”
23rd November 2012
As part of a series of features for Disability History Month, Val Graham, LRC National Committee member and Remploy campaigner, looks at the history of the Remploy factories
Remploy, derived from re-employ, was set up under the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act by Ernest Bevin, then Minister of Labour. It formed a plank of the welfare state. A ‘land fit for heroes’ could not contemplate a repeat of the street scene after the First World War, when limbless soldiers played mouth organs to support themselves. Originally the Disabled Persons’ Employment Corporation, the first factory opened in 1946 in Bridgend, Wales and the brand name Remploy was soon adopted.
Remploy was welcomed by disabled people who wanted to work and be active economically and in their communities. The first factory manufactured violins and furniture and many employees were disabled ex miners. Remploy enjoyed both government and community support.
At its height, Remploy had around 100 factories spread across England, Scotland and Wales and employed over 10,000 disabled workers. A wide range of goods and services was produced and Remploy workers were skilled in many sectors from textiles to motor components.
A Tory Government with its privatising agenda, struck the first blow when, in 1994, Minister Michael Portillo ended a scheme whereby Remploy was guaranteed priority for government contracts and compulsory competitive tendering was imposed. Within 18 months, the value of contracts into the textile sector alone had dropped from £18 million to £3 million.
Calls from the Tory benches for Remploy to be privatised began. The trade union consortium representing Remploy Workers lobbied successive governments concerning the management of Remploy. Since 1995 the number of disabled workers employed had fallen to 2,500 in 2011 with only 54 factories still working. Yet the number of senior managers had grown from 250 to over 400 while their pay and bonuses escalated, and perks such as private healthcare, cars and allowances were introduced for all senior managers. The average differential between disabled shop floor workers and senior managers had increased from £18,000 to £35,000 per annum.
The trade union consortium put forward proposals which would have saved millions of pounds over the years. Opportunities were lost such as when a manager in Cornwall objected to the relatively small set up cost of fulfilling a contract worth £1 million to make T-shirts for the Glastonbury Festival.
Activism in defence of Remploy was born: workers and supporters mounted a successful campaign in 1999 against closure and merger of factories. But managers failed to make use of the opportunity for one reserved public contract and the decline continued.
A renewed campaign greeted the 2007 announcement under Labour of factory mergers and closures. Teams of activists travelled the country by coach to every site on the hit list, from Inverness to Cornwall. Yet 30 factories closed and 2,500 workers lost their jobs. Many took voluntary redundancy and after three years 85% had not found other work. Labour’s Peter Hain effectively put Remploy on notice and it is arguable that the Tories see themselves as finishing what New Labour started as with so much else they have done. Their ideological hatred of the welfare state was however, in this case, masked in the rhetoric of progressive ideas and practice. As Owen Jones points out, they are clever in a very manipulative way!
The new coalition government commissioned Liz Sayce from the disability charity Radar to review employment support for disabled people. She concluded that Remploy was not efficient and the subsidy should not be renewed but directed to supporting disabled workers in mainstream employment. Remploy factories were presented as ghettoes, a barrier to inclusion.
In my opinion, some disabled activists have been equivocal about supporting the Remploy Crusade because of their support for inclusion. Disabled workers at Remploy have nothing but contempt for the six disability charities which supported the Government’s decision to close Remploy. They believe that these charities have a vested interest because they want to compete for a bigger slice of Access to Work funding. For the King’s shilling, they have been prepared to see disabled workers thrown on to the dole, facing a lifetime of poverty and bullying by the DWP and Atos. This funding increase is not guaranteed and an Access to Work grant is only of use to a disabled person if they have a job and an employer who will match fund. Remploy workers know they will be at the back of the queue for any job going and that subsidising their employment costs a lot less than benefit and lost tax revenue.
Inclusion should be a right not a stick with which to beat disabled workers, especially at a time when unemployment is high, public expenditure is being slashed, and all workers rights are under attack.
The Tories who bay for an end to supported employment are the first to be outraged when the closure of special schools is mooted. When I was collecting money for Remploy, many of the givers were the parents of children with a disability who feared for their future after school. At Whittington Remploy, some workers had tried mainstream employment. Others were there because they needed a sheltered environment to recover from mental health problems. There was a deaf community using sign language and non deaf employees had learned it too. Remploy workers had exercised a choice for sheltered employment and now most of them are on the dole with only 18 factories left operating.
Given this government’s cruel, vicious, ideological and material attacks on disabled workers, unemployed workers and those whose disability or limiting health condition prevents them from working, it is not surprising that Iain Duncan Smith arouses such hatred. The DWP is getting away with its welfare cut because welfare has been discredited in the popular mind, but it has also largely succeeded in destroying Remploy against the tide of public opinion. The fact that the sale of Chesterfield and Springburn factories has been put on hold while serious questions are answered may be a candle in the wind but it is the flame that two disabled working communities will warm their hands by this Christmas after their first strike in 65 years.
Thanks to Remploy activists – especially Bombastic Spastic – and to the GMB for the information on Remploy’s timeline.
3rd October 2012
John McDonnell MP, LRC chair, sets out a vision of what a Labour government should do in its first 100 days
When the Tories’ chief whip described the coppers at the Downing Street gates as plebs he betrayed exactly what this government thinks of us all.
Usually the Tories can disguise the class nature of their rule. In the past they have achieved this by co-opting members of the petit bourgeoisie, like Thatcher, Heath and Major, to front their governments.
But the coalition is the most obvious display of class rule that we have witnessed since the turn of the 19th century. This government doesn’t just represent the ruling class - it is comprised of the ruling class, with all its associated snobbery and belief in its almost divine right to rule.
Nye Bevan said that the Tories never speak about class warfare because they are too busy waging it.
As the cuts in wages, pensions, benefits and public services grind people down many, many more are waking up to the class nature of this government and are willing to fight back.
Even those in the Labour and trade union movement who thought they could negotiate their way through this government’s reign and passively wait for the return of Labour now realise that it might be too late by then.
If we are to save what is left of our NHS from full privatisation, prevent thousands more of our children falling into poverty and stop this generation of young people being scarred for life by a lost youth of unemployment, then we have to bring this government down and do it as soon as we can.
The strategy that is emerging combines industrial action with direct action to defend us from the attacks on our people, pushing the Tories back while at the same time destabilising them so they can be finished off at the ballot box.
The TUC Congress decision to explore the potential for a general strike may have been cynically supported by some right-wing union general secretaries to head off a confrontation with the coalition, but it has actually generated widespread enthusiasm for mobilisation for the October 20 demonstration and a follow-up programme of co-ordinated industrial action.
The anger of those people who are not members of organisations like trade unions that have established ways of fighting back is being expressed in spontaneous direct action.
For trade unions the natural venue for the fightback is the workplace and the picket line. For many others it is increasingly becoming the streets.
What many have now learnt is that to succeed we have to combine defeating this government in the workplace and on the streets before we ditch them at the ballot box.
However to defeat them at the ballot box requires having an alternative government on offer that gives people hope of something different.
It is futile to ask people to make the sacrifices required to fight back and bring this government down if it is only to return a government of business as usual.
People need to know now what a Labour government could do. Let’s now publish Labour’s programme for its first 100 days.
In the first days after the election Labour needs to take control of our economy to end the rule of the speculators by taking direct control of the banks we own and nationalising those that we don’t.
To release the country’s resources needed to put people back to work, Labour simply needs to introduce of a range of redistributive measures which will raise the funds we need from those most able to pay and who have profited most out of the boom years.
So in the first Labour Budget let’s bring forward a wealth tax on the richest 10 per cent, a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions, a land value tax, the restoration of progressive income tax of 60 per cent on incomes above £100,000 and a clamp down on the tax evasion and avoidance that is costing us £95 billion a year.
Labour can then use the resources released through taxation immediately to launch an investment programme in modernising our economy, its infrastructure and our public services.
This means investing in a mass public house-building and renovation programme, in universal childcare, in the modernisation of our public services, in the NHS, in creating a national caring service, in our schools and colleges, in our transport infrastructure and in the extension of broadband.
Labour could kick-start the investment in alternative energy, combined heat and power and insulation that would create a million climate change jobs and rebuild our manufacturing base.
Within weeks of taking office Labour should lift all our spirits by announcing the end of privatisation and cuts to our health, education and local services and starting the process of renationalising rail and our public utilities.
Labour should declare the end of the days of the fat cats.
For the rich it would mean the end of bonuses and limiting high salaries to no more than 20 times the lowest paid in any company or organisation.
For the 99 per cent it would mean a living wage, a living pension and living welfare benefits, reducing the working week to 35 hours, closing the gender pay gap, controlling rents and energy prices and restoring rights at work.
Labour should secure the future for young people by offering a guaranteed job, apprenticeship, training or college place for every young person with the burden of fees abolished.
Labour should also become the party of peace once more by ending the war in Afghanistan and scrapping Trident.
If Labour could show this determination to act, it could become the source of inspiration needed for the fightback against these Tories and the source of hope needed to mobilise the electorate at the next election.
6th September 2012
Cllr Keir Morrison, Sherwood CLP, argues for a recruitment campaign among young workers and the young unemployed
Having joined the Labour Party as an 18 year old youth in 2006 I have had my fair share of ups and downs. I constantly wonder why on earth as a 24 year old how I ended up so involved in politics. Most of my friends think I’m crazy and have grown old before my time. The thought of mentioning politics or anything associated with it is enough to bore them into quickly finishing their drink and making for the exit to go for a sneaky fag.
These regular occurrences have got me thinking how the Labour Party can reach out to ordinary young people who quite frankly couldn’t give a monkeys about politics, and potentially recruit them as new members.
I believe that I, along with my younger brother Lachlan, am something of a rare breed within the Labour Party. We were encouraged as teenagers to question, debate and get involved with the Labour and trade union movement by our father who was a striking coal miner and very political. However, neither of us ever went on to study at university and I only managed to pass 4 of my GCSEs when I left school. Besides, even if I were blessed academically the chances are I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to university anyway. I work with paint and buckets every day as a painter and decorator, so when I was asked back in 2010 to stand as a Labour district council candidate, I laughed.
I laughed because I didn’t understand the political lingo, lacked in confidence, had previously experienced age discrimination within our local Labour Party and thought that I wasn’t “qualified” enough to be a councillor (I didn’t know exactly what a councillor was). I eventually bit the bullet and stood for the local district council election May 2011. Weeks prior to election day, an incident occurred where I was splashed in the national media in an attempt to defame my character. This helped me even further in boosting my profile and I believe actually won me votes from like-minded people in my ward (there were a lot of them). The perpetrator that leaked/sold the picture to the press well and truly cooked the humble pie and ate it with custard when I was duly elected alongside my brother and father. This, to the best of my knowledge, was the first time 2 brothers and a father had been elected at the same time since the legendary Skinner family and is one of the proudest moments of my life.
So what steps can the party take in order to recruit ordinary young people?
Don’t focus as much on floating around student unions. Here, potential members will fall into their laps, as students are traditionally already politicised by their involvement in student union elections.
Do send reps onto building sites, factories, salons, supermarkets and garages to speak to young apprentices. While I acknowledge it is important to recruit students and academic youngsters, it is also important to recruit ordinary young people too – the “forgotten generation” – whether that be through the trade unions, the community or any other means.
There are over a million unemployed youngsters in this country who feel very little hope, most of them apathetic towards politics with no direction and no idea of how politics can help them in their lives and communities. A lot of them don’t know how to vote even if they want to. It is therefore our responsibility to reach out to these people and explain how their local councils and government decisions affect their lives. We need to inform them as to why being a Labour Party member would be in their best interests, and give them the confidence to be a part of the future of this country.
Politics is an uphill struggle all the way and if Labour wants to return back to government in 2015 it needs to ensure it recruits its fair share of ordinary young people. We can’t afford to let these people grow old in political apathy and despair. Ed Miliband and his team recognise this problem and I hope they take action to address it. I have the utmost confidence in them doing so.
2nd September 2012
Simon Deville and Ally Dee report on the maginificent counter-mobilisation against the EDL in Waltham Forest
Saturday’s English Defence League (EDL) march in Walthamstow was dwarfed by the counter-mobilisation from the local community and has left the racist organisation reeling.
We are Waltham Forest was formed as a coalition of local religious, political and community groups in alliance with Unite Against Fascism, in response to the far right EDL’s announcement that it would march through Walthamstow. Originally the EDL was due to march on 18 August; this date was postponed until 1 September. Many suspect this was due to the likelihood that they wouldn’t be able anything but an embarrassingly small turnout. The postponement didn’t seem to make much difference on the day as the EDL were only able to mobilise around 200 people.
In contrast there was a magnificent turnout for the We are Waltham Forest rally and counter demonstration. The rally was addressed by a range of speakers including Stella Creasey MP, Jeanette Arnold MEP and Green Party London Assembly member Jean Lambert, alongside numerous religious and community activists, trade unionists and campaigners. Unite Against Fascism’s Weyman Bennett criticised council leader Chris Robbins’ call to just ignore the EDL march “When we have ignored them (the EDL) they have attacked us”. He pointed out that when the EDL were ignored previously in Redbridge, the EDL stepped up their hate campaign, walking into the local mosque to attack the Imam.
Fortunately most people didn’t take Robbins’ advice and thousands attended the rally with locals enthusiastically supporting the march as it moved along.
The lively and very mixed crowd organised a sit down protest where the demonstration intersected with the planned route of the EDL march. Despite the police forming a kettle around the sit d town down protest, many other protesters were still able to ensure that the EDL march faced local opposition.
The original route of the EDL march was already in a fairly non-visible location, but in the end they were only able to reach the Town Hall with the help of a large police guard escorting them around the back streets. Immediately following the demo the EDL’s Facebook page was filled with in-fighting, people saying they were leaving the EDL or were never going to go on any of their demos again.
The demonstration was upbeat with an excellent turnout from the local mosques. These alliances need to be strengthened now around campaigns that address the austerity programme of the Tories. It is their policies of cuts and the privatisation of our public services that are causing the real divisions in society.
10th August 2012
Claire Wadey, Sussex LRC co-ordinator, argues that a video segment and discussion prior to the men’s 200m final saw the BBC broadcast far right propaganda
At 20.34 last night BBC1 broadcast a 5 minute film which gave credence to the theories of the far right and was highly offensive to disabled people in particular. During peak viewing, immediately ahead of the Olympic men’s 200m final, the BBC was broadcasting the statement:
“Eugenics was the science of improving the genetic composition of a population. There was a negative side - the elimination of defectives that corrupted the gene pool.”
It should be noted that this statement does not contest that “defectives” corrupt the gene pool.
Many will be aware that “defectives” is the old-fashioned term for disabled people - in common use a century ago when eugenics was a popular theory and still regarded as possibly scientific. Today use of the term “defectives” is highly offensive to the disabled community and eugenics is totally discredited, seen as a political creed of the far right, which is only openly advocated by fascists to under-pin ethnic cleansing. It should not be forgotten that disabled people were the first community targeted by Hitler for extermination - disabled people were actually used as a trial population by the Nazis in Germany without any protest from the wider or international community.
Furthermore, eugenics in the form of forced sterilisation of disabled people and abortions forced upon disabled women or women carrying suspected disabled foetuses, carries on to this day globally, including in Europe and the UK. Sweden, often held-up as a model of social democracy, had an active eugenics programme for the disabled until the mid-1970s. Today we have what amounts to effective social eugenics programmes, with the active questioning of whether disabled parents can adequately care for children, the far greater frequency of removal of children from disabled parents and great social, medical and other pressure put upon disabled people, disabled women in particular, to simply avoid pregnancy and childbirth.
In last night’s broadcast, reference was made to the Nazis but, according to BBC1, they only represent a “distorted manifestation of this science (of eugenics)...Through eugenics those deemed undesirable by the Nazis - the Roma, the promiscuous, communists, homosexuals, the entire Jewish race could be exterminated. Genetic cleansing became genocide.” Disabled people were shocked to be airbrushed out of history by the BBC in this manner.
It is also notable that, in stressing the evil of genocide, the BBC commentary implies that genetic cleansing is acceptable and positive. Genetic cleansing is a technique eugenicists advocate to eliminate all deemed imperfections, such as from the physique of a population.
The clear impression the BBC’s item left was that eugenics has something positive to offer which the Nazis simply “distorted”. This was re-affirmed by the film’s treatment of its second major subject - the highly controversial suggestion that at some future time gene doping may become possible for athletes. This was introduced with the statement “and here we come back to eugenics - the theory of accelerated selection”. Thus viewers were left with the impression that eugenics is a current and developing science, possibly building on the work of Darwin - not a scientifically discredited theory which is only perpetuated by fascist ideologues. This was compounded by John Inverdale’s comments:
“Well, fascinating stuff. I’m sure all the kids are at home on holiday going ‘I didn’t want to do biology and chemistry until September til I go back to school’ ‘cos it was really, really interesting stuff”.
Inverdale also referred to retired hurdler Colin Jackson as “a bit of an authority” on the subject. This was on the basis of Jackson’s past participation in a BBC genetic investigation, not because Jackson has any known scientific qualifications. In a remark that gave further credence to the far right, Inverdale stated “if you’re playing the laws of probabilities there, I’ll use that statistic again about 82 people who’ve broken 10 seconds for 100 metres, 81 of them are black. Surely that is so overwhelming it’s incontrovertible.” Presumably Inverdale had failed to consider the implications of this remark for racial stereotyping in other contexts nor, like the preceding film, had he considered that only tiny DNA differences account for skin tone. However, as an experienced BBC presenter, one would expect him to have had training on not giving offence to the public.
It is fair to say that Colin Jackson, Denise Lewis and, in particular, Michael Johnson did heavily stress various environmental factors, all apparently concluding that nurture rather than nature is the deciding factor in determining whether an individual becomes a top sprinter.
You can watch the introduction by John Inverdale, the film itself and the subsequent panel discussion between Colin Jackson, Michael Johnson and Denise Lewis, until Thursday 16 August here. The entire item lasts 9 minutes. Watching it will allow you to also note the emotive use of music and images selected to reinforce the producer’s ideas.
This piece was portrayed as science by one of the great scientific broadcasters of our time. It is not - no scientists were involved and only sports commentators discussed the issues raised. Seemingly without any expert input, someone commissioned, researched and approved this piece for peak time public broadcast. I urge you to complain to the BBC via 0370 010 0222 or www.bbc.co.uk/complaints and also to Offcom. You can find Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code here: Section 2 deals with harm and offence.
Eugenics is a major part of far right and fascist ideology. Its promotion in any way is extremely serious, so no mention of eugenics should ever go unchallenged. This is especially pertinent today where disabled people are under attack daily - portrayed by the Coalition and Tory media as “benefit scroungers”, victimised and bullied by employers and welfare assessors like ATOS, and under physical attack with increasing disability hate incidents being committed. We are all living in an economic climate where, in the absence of clear leadership from the Left, fascist idealogy could take hold as it did in the 1930s. It needs no encouragement from our publicly-funded state broadcaster. We must unite and act now!
27th July 2012
Anton Johnson of Left Front Art reports on how trade unions and LGBTQ organisations are setting a new agenda for Pride
The TUC LGBT Committee, supported by the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils, hosted a successful public meeting (16 July) on where next after the debacle of this year’s World Pride in a packed room with over 90 representatives of labour movement bodies and LGBTQ community organisations including Unite, SERTUC LGBT Network, Queer Resistance, REGARD, London LGBT Consortium, Left Front Art Collective, LGBT Labour, OUTRAGE! and UK Black Pride to mention a few.
The meeting was introduced and navigated by Peter Purton (TUC Disability and LGBT Policy Officer) on what the points the meeting should be looking at. The two hours was swiftly taken up with contributions, some very passionate from the floor ranging from wanting an inquest into what had happened to developing what we want for the future. David Sharkey from the SERTUC LGBT Network and Left Front Art made an excellent contribution on the role of youth in the event and how to engage with young LGBTQ people and get them involved.
What was striking about the meeting was that it was LGBTQ activists in Trade Unions and the community deciding on what should happen. The meeting, ably chaired by Maria Exall, was fully open all those who wanted to speak did. The decision on the next steps was agreed by those in attendance. No one body was able to dictate to the meeting and the question of money did not arise to inhibit the discussion or ideas that people threw in – this was incredibly refreshing. The connection to the austerity policies was also made and reference to the TUC national demonstration on 20 October.
The meeting agreed that Pride should be community-led and free, and to get there for next year it was agreed to hold a further meeting that has been set for 5 September where each LGBTQ group and trade union will be asked to send one representative to look further into the details of how we achieve what was agreed. The Pride Board agreed to postpone their AGM till after the 5 September meeting.
The swift action by the TUC LGBT Committee on this matter is to be applauded as it gave the community and trade unions the opportunity to set the agenda for the new Pride before the commercial interests, who so often dominate the LGBTQ scene. As a consequence this excludes those, such as the poor and disabled, who do not fit into the model the commercial interests seek to promote in order to exploit us.
Time and time again the commercial interests have dominated the LGBTQ community, giving out the message that in order to take part in the community you need to have money, wear the right clothes, have the perfect body and be young. So it should be noted that on this occasion the labour movement has been able to give an inclusive voice of all LGBTQ communities the opportunity to set the agenda for future Prides.
24th July 2012
Paul Clark, Co-ordinator of the new Croydon LRC, writes about why he organised last week’s launch meeting
The Labour Representation Committee public meeting at Ruskin House, Croydon was I thought the natural step forward to developing an LRC group in Croydon that will take forward the principles that will bring socialism and power to the local people both in Croydon as well as on a national level.
The austerity measures have resulted in a wider wealth divide with the very richest (the minority) getting richer while the working man and woman have had to bear the brunt of the recession.
The LRC can help local people to have a collective voice and influence and inspire others to rise up and make change at a local level.
Naturally direct action is the most effective form of defence when rhetoric and reasoned argument have not achieved change.
During the Thatcher years I was involved in the anti-poll tax campaign which helped bring down one of the most unpopular governments in history.
I believe direct action can help save our local communities from complete destruction. St Heliers Hospital risks losing its A&E and maternity units at a time when the most needy in our society need and rely on access to local healthcare services and our nurses need our support to be heard.
The 1980s moulded my political beliefs that capitalism will never work for the ordinary man and woman. Socialism is the only answer, and to build local LRC groups is the first way forward in empowering local people to make a stand and say ‘No, we will not just roll over and take whatever you say for granted’.
I believe Croydon will benefit from a local LRC group and, working together with other local London LRC groups, the people of Croydon will never again be overlooked by an out-of-touch Tory council.
22nd July 2012
Zita Holbourne, co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) sets out a campaigning strategy for the next year.
In order to build a mass movement of black organisations and individuals we need to examine the reasons why people may not join a trade union or campaign, do not go to meetings, rallies, protests, do not believe they can make a difference.
Some people may not feel empowered, others may feel their input cannot change anything, think it’s time and effort they cannot afford to give or feel there is no choice but to accept their fate. Some may be fearful of repercussions if they challenge the discrimination around them and others may never have been involved in organised action and feel apprehensive about taking part. Others may simply have never been invited to take part and need support to take that first step.
For those that expect that it’s up to the trade union representatives and the community activists to take the action and fight for them there’s a need to recognise that its the members of these unions and communities that make them strong and effective or not. A union is only as strong as its members and a community campaign is only a community campaign if the community is participating in it.
We shouldn’t forget that all of us impacted by racism, injustice and cuts are the majority – those creating them are a tiny minority. That majority working together collectively can be a powerful force for challenge and change.
In addition to the need to come together now in order to respond to the immediate attacks and threats we face we need to think about the next generation. These are the hardest hit and it both breaks my heart and angers me that young people are facing rising unemployment, with over a million young people unemployed but with one in two young black people unemployed, barriers to further and higher education with funding for courses cut, EMA slashed, tripled tuition fees, essential services, support and advice cut and demonisation by the right wing press and Tories.
If we don’t step up now to fight discrimination and injustice we won’t have a legacy to pass on to them. If we fail to nurture the talent in our communities now it will die.
As well as fighting to keep what we have we need to create opportunities for ourselves, our families and our communities so we’re not dependent on what others have to both offer and take away when the going gets tough.
BARAC is planning to start the process of discussing these issues and how we move forward working with a broad coalition of black and anti-racist organisations and individuals at our forthcoming public meeting being held to coincide with the opening day of the Olympics, entitled ‘Jobs and Justice, Olympic Fair Play for Who?’.
We are inviting you to
Leading to Equality in our Life Time: A National March on for Jobs and Justice August 2013: The 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
On August 28th 1963 Dr Martin Luther King led the historic civil rights Jobs and Freedom March on Washington. The march attracted over 300,000 people in a unique and historic effort to end racial segregation, racial prejudice and Jim Crow legislation in the United States.
15th July 2012
Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, responds to the social care white paper
The government has been spectacularly slow in getting to grips with the issue of care funding and today we have been told we will have to wait until the end of next year before we get an answer. We’ve had around 20 reports in the last 14 years which have all showed how the current system is in crisis and needs urgent attention, but the government seems incapable of understanding what urgent means for the 1m older people who are currently struggling with an inadequate care system. Today’s white paper smacks of being is too little, too late.
Suggestions that people should pay up to £75,000 towards their care before the state steps in are absolutely outrageous. Why is social care one of the few areas that we don’t fund through general taxation, like education, the armed services and the NHS? Instead we say to frail elderly people you are on your own; use your savings, sell your house and get on with it. We urgently need a National Care Service paid for by everyone so that we share the cost of care and ensure everyone gets the support they need in later life. For just 75p a day, the average tax payer could help fund a much needed comprehensive, good quality care system that treats older people with dignity.
The white paper is short on ideas to solve the care crisis. There is no attempt to end the unfair postcode lottery which allows different councils to charge different amounts for an hour’s worth of care, no effort to widen access to care services for the 800,000 people who are currently excluded from the system but desperately need care, and no end to the means-test which penalises many people with small savings and a modest home. It’s a wasted opportunity that adds to the uncertainty for millions of older people and their families.
Under these proposals people will still end up having to pay for care by selling their homes – the only difference will be that it will be done after they’ve died. Many local councils already offer such as scheme and often it’s interest free rather than the interest added scheme the government is proposing. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a death tax. It’s also very doubtful that people will take out costly private care insurance because they have no idea whether or not they will actually need it. The vast majority of people will therefore keep their fingers crossed and hope it doesn’t happen to them.
The government is proposing to now remove hundreds of thousands of frail older people from having a right to care, by saying that only those with the most extreme needs will qualify for support. This will place an added strain on the army of unpaid carers who will now have to soldier on without any real support or help.
Many older people simply do not want to become mini-employers with the responsibility for sorting out annual leave, maternity pay or national insurance for their care workers. This puts vulnerable older people in an intolerable position and is open to widespread abuse.
24th June 2012
An LRC member reports on some victories at Young Labour conference 2012, which took place in Newcastle on 23-24 June
There were over 200 people in attendance, predominantly students but with noticeable groups of workers and trade unionists, and also under 18s (who successfully won a debate about the extension of the vote to 16 year olds). The Labour Representation Committee was the largest grouping present, and gave out bulletins on both days, organised fringe meetings, and spoke successfully on many left-wing motions.
The priority campaign decided by the conference was youth homelessness. In workshops and a plenary session, the conference decided that this campaign should not be charity-based, but focused on the root causes of homelessness. Appropriately, conference decided that Labour should commit to building at least one million new council houses, to ease the waiting list of five million in England and Wales alone, and the wealth of the nationalised banks should be used to fund socially useful projects such this.
Additionally, we agreed there should be more sites made available for travellers, and to fight for housing equality for migrant and Roma communities. There was widespread condemnation of the eviction of Dale Farm, and the conference’s guest speaker Ed Balls was questioned about pandering to racist sentiments in statements about immigration, fuelling anti-Roma prejudice in the country. The tripling of youth homelessness in the last year gave urgency to the suggestion that councils should use compulsory purchase orders on abandoned housing and vacated property used for financial speculation, and put them into the social housing stock, as well as to introduce rent caps. Finally, members of the LRC worked hard to win a tight debate about opposition to the right to buy.
Other important policy related to jobs and the economy. Conference decided that investment into green technology would aid the fight against climate change as well as provide new jobs, and that these jobs should benefit working class people (for example, fitting new council homes with solar panels) rather than be about offering tax reductions to big businesses for recycling a little bit more. Conference agreed that we should campaign for a cap on rail fares and for rail fares not to rise above inflation, and that if elected, Labour should pledge to renationalise the railways. (Many delegates stated that the railways were a minimum, and we should discuss the nationalisation of major industries, all public transport, and energy and public utility companies).
Conference also agreed that we must fight for workers’ rights, and that forthrightly means repealing the anti-trade union laws that severely hinder workers’ rights to organise, as well as imposing a moratorium on sackings, encouraging young workers to join trade unions, all new public works jobs created by the government to include union membership as mandatory, and pushing for a 35 hour working week, so that the overworked can have more time off, and the underworked can earn a wage. We also agreed that the national minimum wage should be equalised, and there should be no reduced levels of the minimum wage, whether for age or apprenticeships.
There were additionally many useful skill based sessions, about speech writing, debating, and campaigning, and we reaffirmed the Labour Party’s promise to reinstate Educational Maintenance Allowance and to build more schools. The LRC also organised a fringe meeting on the Saturday night, in which a Unison activist came and spoke about the Newcastle Metro cleaners’ strike, and campaigning trade unionism. We were able to raise around £100 for the cleaners fighting against wage cuts.
The structure of the conference needed much improvement however. Without a formal set of procedures, there was often confusion from the floor about how to speak to motions or make changes to the agenda. More than once a chair’s discretion was used in place of an agreed-upon set of rules. Many noted that a few basic procedures, such as being able to add amendments to motions would have greatly improved the running of the conference. There is also the element of democracy that comes with standing orders, such as being able to elect and remove a chair, taking minutes, everyone having the same time to speak, and having formal written motions submitted. A petition was circulated, which garnered just over 100 signatures, calling for next year’s conference to implement changes such as the ones mentioned above.
See more on the LRC Youth website
21st June 2012
John McDonnell MP, LRC chair, speaking in the House of Commons debate on disability benefits and social care, 20 June 2012
This has been a helpful discussion about policy, but the best policy is informed by our own experience of what is happening in our own constituencies. I want to put on record what my constituents are experiencing at the moment. In addition to surgeries, we now have an open-door policy four days a week, and in some ways I wish that we had not. Sometimes we want to hide, because we have been inundated with people who have problems with lost benefits.
I also help with disability living allowance appeals. This is not just about legal aid cuts; it is about the cuts overall. We have lost advisers in the area, so I represent people at DLA appeals, and we mainly win. That is not because of my articulateness, as you can tell; it is because once those presiding over the appeal see the people concerned, they can see that they have been wrongly assessed. Another problem is that people’s appeals are taking so long to arrange, once they have lost their benefits. They can wait for up to six months for their appeal, having lost their benefit, which is causing immense problems.
On the work capability test, I opposed the privatisation of the process and the bringing in of Atos, but if we are going to have a private company doing this work, we should at least be able to understand the contract involved. We should at least be given open access to what has been agreed with that company in our name, and be told what level of performance it is supposed to undertake. I am not sure what other Members have found, but when people come to see me, having gone through an Atos assessment, they tell me that they feel degraded, shamed and abused. I raised the point about suicides with the Secretary of State some weeks ago, and I was not exaggerating. Other Members will have experienced this as well. People come into my constituency office and tell me: “I can’t take any more of this. I’ve had enough.” I am really worried by the anecdotal reports of individual suicides, and it behoves the Government to monitor the situation and assess what is happening on the ground.
People have had enough of being called scroungers. We have seen the increase in hate crime towards people with disabilities because of the atmosphere that has been created by the media and by some politicians using loose language on this subject. Those people feel shamed, simply because they are claiming the benefits to which they are entitled. That is the experience in my constituency office at the moment, and it just goes on.
This is carers week. Other London MPs will also tell the House about constituents who have gone on to personal budgets, and that those budgets do not cover the wages of the carers whom we want to care for our people. It is virtually impossible to pay enough to get someone to stay overnight. Most of these arrangements have now been privatised, and people are getting a different carer coming in every day. The relationships with the carers have been broken down by this process.
Respite provision is now critical in my constituency, but what is my local Conservative council doing? It is closing the centres where people used to get respite. This is all part of the modernisation programme. It is closing three centres and modernising one. Of course, two of the centres that are being closed completely are in the most needy area of my constituency; a working-class area. It just goes on.
After the Southern Cross debacle, the company was broken up and some of the residential homes were given back to their original owners. I give this warning now: that arrangement is beginning to break down already, because the management in those individual homes are not competent to manage the process of disaggregation and the long-term planning of care. Why? The local authority role in providing those services has been so undermined and the resources have been cut, even for the management of those individual contracts. We are facing a crisis. A number of people are trapped in this whirlpool of deprivation, and it will be almost impossible to pull them out if we continue with these policies.
I went to the GMB conference last week, spoke to the manufacturing section and met many Remploy workers. They are now absolutely desperate, and they feel completely betrayed. They might not have agreed with the Sayce report, but at least there was a process there that they saw they were working through. That has now been torn up and everything in that report has been reneged upon. They feel absolutely vulnerable, with some saying, “We will not work again.”
In the early 1980s, I sat on the first committee established to remove restrictions against people with disabilities. It was called CORAD— the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. I was nominated to sit on it by the TUC. It took us 25 years before we secured anti-discrimination legislation. I congratulate the last Government on achieving that. I was one who wanted to mainstream employment. In fact, I was an ardent advocate of that; over the years, experience taught me that we always need an element of supported employment. That is what Remploy does well. What does it do badly? As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) argued, the management has been abysmal. All the workers are saying is, “Listen to us; we can manage these resources more effectively than the current management, but we also need the support of the Government.” As my hon. Friend said, what happened to the commitments about public procurement that we were promised over the last two years? If it had not been for the individual efforts of people such as my hon. Friend and others, as exemplified today, no procurement would have happened because the Government have done nothing.
Finally, the Government should not think that this issue or these people are going to go away because they are not: these people are mobilising. We now have a disability movement in this country of which we have not seen the equal before. Black Triangle occupied Atos offices in Scotland; members of DPAC—Disabled People Against Cuts—chained themselves in Trafalgar square. These people are not going to go away. They will be in our face—and rightly so. I will support them, including if Remploy workers opt to occupy their factories.
13th June 2012
Marsha-Jane Thompson, Chair of Unison United Left and LRC national committee member, looks ahead to Unison conference, which starts on Sunday 17 June.
Unison’s main national delegate conference in Bournemouth, from Tuesday 19 June, may be somewhat of an anti-climax as it will follow the Local Government conference at which a vigorous debate over proposals for the Local government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is anticipated.
Following the failure to get Health members to vote for the pensions deal, it is clear that Unison’s officials are worried about the outcome of the ballot in the LGPS, and are doing their utmost to ensure that the conference does not instruct the executive to recommend rejection of proposals that fall far short of our objectives when we took strike action last November.
Conference will also consider all the other aspects of the attacks on our movement and public services from this coalition government.
However most motions even ones critical of the leadership are being supported by the platform who are keen to present a unified face to the world at the first Unison conference to be streamed online. They are not however streaming Local Government conference which will be much more contentious.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis will have his best ‘left wing but realistic’ face on in his keynote speech on Tuesday and delegates can expect to hear him fired up about our pay freeze, though he might not remind conference that last year he told us the defence of our pensions would take more than a single day of strike action ...
28th May 2012
Miles Barter explains a bit about the ‘68 is too late’ campaign and why the LRC is backing it.
Everyone’s pension is under attack.
There is already a plan to make us all work to 68.
And according to The Telegraph the coalition’s formula for increasing the retirement age will mean babies born this year receive their state pension at 80.
The LRC national committee has voted to support the ’68 is too late’ campaign that is backed by eleven national unions.
More than 5,000 people have already email protests to David Cameron from the campaign website.
Research published last week by the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) revealed that 58% of people in the UK have a long standing illness or health problem by the age of 65.
While the wealthy can quit work when they like – the poor will be forced to retire into ill health with no quality of life.
Increasing the state pension age will also mean fewer jobs for everyone else.
There are already more than a million young people unemployed.
LRC supporters and local groups are urged to spread the word about ’68 is too late’ through social networking and at local events.
The unions backing the campaign are the Public and Commercial Services union, National Union of Teachers, Unite, National Union of Students, Prison Officers’ Association, Welsh teaching union UCAC, Educational Institute of Scotland, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, the Rail Maritime and Transport union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, and the National Association of Probation Officers.
’68 is too late’ is also supported by the National Pensioners’ Convention.
27th May 2012
Chris Ford, IWW London Regional Secretary, reports on a hard fought campaign for the living wage for cleaners at St Georges, London.
Cleaners at St Georges, University of London, have won the London Living Wage from August. The cleaners campaign was supported by LRC members and chair John McDonnell MP who lodged EDM 129. But the cleaners are not celebrating yet and are still fighting as they face a threat of a wage cut by a reduction in their hour and do not have recognition of their union – IWW. The statement below has just been issued by the St Georges, Industrial Group of the IWW, in response to the management.
You the cleaners have won the London Living Wage at St Georges, University of London from 1st August 2012. You won this by being organised and fighting together in our union the IWW. This is a great achievement and it because cleaners have stood together and remained united. The IWW and ONLY the IWW has campaigned for the London Living Wage for cleaners at St Georges.
- The IWW with its friends in Parliament has raised your case in the House of Commons
- The IWW organised the on-line petition, leaflets and demonstration
- The IWW began a high-profile public campaign for the London Living Wage
It was only after the IWW Cleaners Branch called a demonstration did Ocean and St Georges announced they will pay the London Living Wage from August along with other concessions. However - do not be fooled. It is too early to celebrate. Cleaners organised in the IWW have won the London Living Wage before in other workplaces and we have faced the same danger. The cleaning companies try to make the cleaners pay for the wage rise by cutting hours, redundancies and making ‘efficiency savings’. This is exactly what is happening at St Georges University of London.
For some time Ocean has been trying to impose a cut in your hours and changes to your terms and conditions. That is to cut your wages. IWW managed to stop some of these changes. But Ocean is still trying to cut hours at Horton Hall. Ocean refused to hold a collective consultation meeting with you, they refused to meet with our union the IWW. Ocean has failed to provide our union with full information on their changes. On 22nd May Ocean Managing Director Andy Erskine wrote to IWW stating: ‘The Company will shortly be bringing the consultation process to a close ... This is the second time the process has been extended and it will not be extended further’. Has the plan to cut hours at Horton Hall been dropped? No! In the same announcement of the London Living Wage Ocean state they are to ‘keep the consultation process open throughout the summer’. The clear danger is at the end of the summer - on August 1st just as the London Living Wage is to be paid many cleaners may now have their hours cut.
Our Union will not accept a pay rise being given with one hand and taken away with the other hand by a cut in hours. Until we have a guarantee of no cut in hours - that is a pay cut then our campaign for the London Living Wage without any strings attached will continue.
7th May 2012
Darren Williams, Secretary of Welsh Labour Grassroots, analyses the election results in Wales and what they mean for Labour and the campaign against austerity.
Voters across Wales delivered an unequivocal rebuff to the Con-Dems’ austerity policies on 3rd May, with Labour the clear beneficiary. The party made gains – generally substantial – in nineteen of the twenty-one councils that went to the polls, holding its position in the other two. It now controls ten of Wales’ twenty-two unitary authorities: the three major cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, plus all the South Wales valleys councils. The Tories have lost control of the two councils they previously controlled, Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, with Labour now the largest party in the latter. As for the Lib Dems, they have lost almost half their seats in Wales. In Newport, where they previously ran the council in coalition with the Tories, they have only one councillor left.
The contrast with the last elections in 2008 could hardly be greater. On that occasion, Labour under Gordon Brown was in the depths of its unpopularity, with the long-term damage done by Blair exacerbated by the economic crisis and faux pas like the abolition of the 10p tax rate. The party lost most of its valleys strongholds and was left in overall control of only two councils. This time around, Labour’s strong showing is almost certainly more a vote against the Westminster coalition than a positive vote for Labour – although the widespread support enjoyed by Carwyn Jones’ Cardiff administration will have helped the party capitalise on the Con-Dems’ unpopularity. The new Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, has acknowledged that Labour turned the elections into a referendum on the UK government, thus squeezing support for her party.
The question for the left now is what newly-elected Labour councils will do with the power they have been given. The party’s record where it has remained in office since 2008 has not been encouraging. In both Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT), Labour administrations bullied their workforce with Section 188 notices, threatening mass redundancies if unions failed to accept inferior conditions. (RCT leader, Russell Roberts, has now lost his own seat, to the ‘gratification’ of Unite Wales regional secretary, Andy Richards, who commented at the Cardiff May Day Rally that ‘the wages of political treachery are political oblivion.’)
There are grounds for optimism, however, in the election of a swathe of new left-wing Labour councillors, many of them members of Welsh Labour Grassroots. They will now have to work hard to ensure that Welsh Labour councils offer a real alternative to the cuts-and-privatisation agenda of the outgoing Con-Dem administrations.
4th May 2012
Zita Holbourne, co-founder/chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) and PCS union NEC member writes about the cuts, injustice and racism facing black people. Zita will be speaking at the LRC’s Brighton Festival fringe event ‘United we stand: Tackling racism’ on 22 May.
It’s clear the cuts are having a negative impact on the vast majority of us but there’s a disproportionate impact on black workers, service users and communities.
Some of the reasons for this is that we’re over concentrated in the public and voluntary sectors because of the discrimination barring access to the private sector.
Discrimination in the workplace, education and wider society means that we live in the poorest geographical areas that are being subjected to the deepest cuts and many of the specialist and local services we relied on were provided by the voluntary sector because they were not provided by government.
A Voice newspaper poll tells us that 82% of black people in the UK believe they will be worse off. Cuts are one aspect of the Con-Dem agenda that are impacting on black people but we also have the government’s whole attitude towards equality, multiculturalism and racism to contend with.
The police force is still institutionally racist and a shocking series of severely racist accounts of police abusing black people have recently been revealed. They confirm what most black people could have told you from their first hand accounts: there is a serious issue of racism within the police and that ‘the system’ is set up to protect the racist not the victim of racism, especially when it’s the police doing it. The numbers of black deaths at the hands of the state are on the increase with families forced to fight for years for justice.
David Cameron’s speech in Munich about multiculturalism sent a clear message to us – that we are not welcomed in the UK unless we conform to some fake kind of norm and reject our religions, cultures and traditions. We have a new far right in the form of the EDL who are allowed to parade their hatred on our streets. Black people and migrant workers are blamed by the far right for the lack of jobs and housing, and racist attacks increase.
People holding racist views are becoming increasingly emboldened in expressing these and one of the worst documented incidents of this kind was the woman with her young child on a tram in Croydon who hurled abuse at her fellow passengers telling them that they were not from ‘here’ and had ruined ‘her’ England.
Whilst these are some of the issues facing us today we have to look at what the future holds for young black people when youth unemployment stands at over 1 million, with 1 in 2 young black people are unemployed. The slashing of EMA and tripling of tuition fees means that many poor black families cannot support their children through further education on top of the other attacks on them. Services for young people to get support, youth centres, and libraries are being closed because of funding cuts leaving them with few opportunities. A whole generation of young black people face economic and social injustice and oppression.
4th May 2012
Andrew Fisher, LRC joint secretary and LEAP co-ordinator, puts the case for social security. On 19 May, Andrew will be speaking alongside Kevin Maguire, Teresa Pearce MP and Andy Winter at the LRC’s Brighton Festival fringe event ‘We can afford welfare and housing’.
It was Nietzsche who said that man has killed God and Christianity, “but belief in the sickness which it taught and propagated continues to exist”. He meant the belief in sin remained, but now with no belief in the cure.
Listening to Iain Duncan Smith talk about welfare reveals the same scenario: “A system developed to help the most vulnerable and support people in times of need is trapping people in a cycle of dependency.” Of course it is, because it has to be accompanied by a policy of full employment.
As well as creating the welfare state, the 1945 Attlee government also had a policy of full employment. That policy of full employment was part of the welfare system they created. The contract was that the government would provide a stable economy that eradicated mass unemployment. It worked: between the 1940s and 1978 unemployment in the UK never rose above a million.
In 1979, unemployment had risen to just over one million - a national shame which led to the Tories famous election poster ‘Labour isn’t working’. Within a few years of that election, unemployment reached 3 million, and the commitment to full employment was buried.
Today the Tories are attacking welfare with unprecedented viciousness. Around £30bn in welfare cuts have been announced since the Tory-led government came to power.
When he announced the first tranche of welfare cuts in the 2010 Budget, the Chancellor said:
“Total welfare spending has increased from £132 billion ten years ago to £192 billion today. It’s one reason why there is no money left.”
“There is no money left” – the same phrase that Labour’s shadow minister Liam Byrne used in his infamous note. The problem with it is it’s not true.
The best evidence to prove that is that over the same period as Osborne’s £30bn cuts to welfare, he will have cut business taxes by £30bn. So Osborne is redistributing wealth from the poorest in society to the shareholders of large companies.
But there is a large deficit and welfare spending has increased by 45% in the last decade. More importantly there’s the misery of mass unemployment to tackle too.
So how could a Labour government tackle the welfare bill in a socially just way?
Labour must promote a systematic approach again: full employment, decent wages in work, the guarantee of a secure home, and a generous welfare state that offers security to those unable to work.
23rd April 2012
Owen Jones, author of Chavs and LRC member writes about the socialism we need today. Owen will be speaking alongside Tony Benn and John McDonnell at the LRC’s opening event at the Brighton Festival fringe.
There’s plenty of socialism in Britain – well, if you’re rich enough that is. The banks that caused the crisis were bailed out by the taxpayer, and allowed to carry on much as before. Private companies like A4e scrounge off the state, as do private profiteers throughout our public services: the NHS is about to become an ever-more lucrative opportunity for private health firms like Care UK. Train companies enjoy three times more public subsidies than were handed out in the time of British Rail. Private landlords are able to charge extortionate rents, knowing that the state will spend billions of pounds subsidising them through housing benefit. The wealthy enjoy tax relief on their pensions worth billions. Socialism for the rich is booming in Britain; for everybody else, it is capitalism with ever fewer restraints.
Instead of socialism for the people at the top, we need socialism for everybody else. But it’s worth clarifying what I mean by ‘socialism’. Certain ardent New Labourites were happy to appropriate the word, but strip it of any real political meaning. Odd though it is now to imagine, but when Tony Blair ran for the Labour leadership in 1994, he spoke of ‘socialism’ - but tried to redefine it as ‘social-ism’, or an emphasis on community values. For most of his followers – if they ever use the term – it boils down to platitudes like ‘fairness’ (who says they believe in ‘unfairness’?), or motherhood and apple pie.
But socialism – for me – is about building a society run in the interests of working people, by working people, instead of one organised around the interests of profit. It is about extending democracy to every sphere of life – and that doesn’t just mean the world of politics: it means the economy, too.
A coherent socialist vision has been lacking for a long time. That’s because the left was battered by a series of overwhelming crises: the rise of the New Right from the late 1970s onwards; the defeats suffered by the labour movement, long the backbone of the left; the demoralisation and desperation caused by the trauma of Thatcherism; and the neo-liberal triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, summed up by Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’. Even leftists who vehemently opposed Stalinist totalitarianism were consumed by the tidal wave of ‘There Is No Alternative’ that swept across the globe – which saw European social democracy shift rightwards; the old Communist movements dissolve, splinter or collapse; and even African national liberation movements like the ANC abandon their previous commitments to nationalisation.
We remain in the midst of a very serious crisis of capitalism, but it was never certain that the left would automatically benefit from it – in the 1930s the Labour Party was nearly wiped out in Britain, and fascism swept across Europe; after the 1970s, we ended up with Thatcherism and Reaganism. But if we start offering a coherent alternative, we could have at the least the opportunity to tap into the growing sense of anger and frustration that exists – and, crucially, organise it and give it political direction. Back in October, ICM found that 37% thought the Occupy movement was naive because there was no alternative to capitalism; but 51% felt that ‘the protesters are right to call time on a system that puts profit before people.’
Democracy would be at the heart of such an alternative. Take the bailed-out banks: a classic example of ‘socialism for the rich’. The British people were forced to prop them up with billions of pounds, but they don’t have any control over them. Instead, they should be taken under genuine social ownership, with elected management boards. The banks would then be forced to operate in the interests of society as a whole, rather than their shareholders - for example, helping to promote those parts of the economy, like renewable energy, we should want to build.
We wouldn’t have a return to the old-style form of nationalisation developed by Peter Mandelson’s grandfather, Herbert Morrison, in post-war Britain. That created bureaucratic top-down public corporations that were not properly responsive either to their workers or to their consumers. We should call for real democratic ownership. If we reversed the disastrous privatisation of the railways, for example – a policy backed by the overwhelming majority, according to polls – we could have a management board with elected representatives of workers and passengers. It would be a public service directly accountable to those who use it. That’s a model that could be equally popular elsewhere – starting with the energy companies, perhaps.
A new socialism would build an economy run in the interests of the real wealth-creators – the workers who keep the country ticking. A society built around the interests of profit is as irrational as it is unjust. But it will never end unless we start developing a genuine coherent alternative that resonates with working people. It’s nearly four years since Lehman Brothers came crashing down – what are we waiting for?
31st March 2012
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes assesses the McNulty Review, the effect it will have on the railways and why it should be opposed.
The Government recently published its response to Sir Roy McNulty’s deeply flawed review of our railways. Introducing it as a Command Paper is a fundamentally undemocratic move. It means the changes it proposes will not be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. This shows that the Government is deeply worried about the continuing unpopularity of rail privatisation.
About 20 years ago, a Tory Transport Secretary said that privatisation would lead to cheaper fares and a lower level of public subsidy. Justine Greening, to no-one’s great surprise, admitted that this was not the case. You would have thought that she would have admitted that privatisation had failed and backed the glaringly obvious alternative: public ownership! Unfortunately, humility plays no part in the Tories’ DNA. She is now simply proposing to tinker, yet again, around the edges.
Even though the document is light in detail, it is extremely clear who the winners and losers will be:
Even though McNulty’s conclusions are deeply flawed, his analysis was spot on. He rightly identified that the fragmented nature of our railways lies at the heart of its ills. However, his prescription was rather odd: introducing yet more fragmentation. That is why the rail unions commissioned a study that unsurprisingly backs McNulty’s analysis but provides very different solutions. It shows that savings of over £1 billion pounds per year can be achieved through re-integrating our railways and removing the profit motive. Unlike the Command Paper’s proposals, this can be done without sacking a single rail worker.
Sadly, one in four booking offices in England and Wales are now threatened with the axe. TSSA is working hard with the communities that our members serve to defeat these proposals. You can find out how you can play your part in this campaign at www.togetherfortransport.com. We also need to ensure that the next Labour Government boots out the privateers from our railways!
2nd March 2012
Steve Kelly (Unite London Construction) and Russ Blakely (Unite Portsmouth District 0750) report on the inspirational campaign by construction workers against attempts by construction bosses to impose new terms and conditions across the industry.
Construction workers have won a marvellous victory. The attempt to cut to wages and conditions by a group of profit-hungry construction bosses has been beaten back by the heroic action of ordinary rank and file workers.
It is without doubt a tremendous example to workers everywhere, struggling to defend their living standards. It shows once again that militant action is the way forward.
Balfour Beatty, the worldwide giant construction company, had become the lead player in attempting to drive down workers’ wages by 35%, introduce deskilling and trample over past conditions and agreements as laid out by the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement. Rather than all the companies introducing the changes in one go, Balfour Beatty, the biggest, was singled out by employers to lead the charge in walking out of the JIB.
Bullying Balfour bosses pressured their workers to sign a new deal introducing the cuts and worsening conditions. Failure to sign by the company deadline was met with the threat of dismissal.
When Unite won a ballot of workers for strike action at Balfour, pushed for by the rank and file, the company ran to the courts to declare the results invalid.
Workers at Balfour Beatty were therefore about to engage in a concerted strike, one week on, one week off, plus an overtime ban.
This threat was enough to tip the balance and force Beatty to retreat and abandon the proposed changes, known as the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA).
It was a major victory. After all, Balfour Beatty is the biggest construction company in the industry. It proved, if pressure was brought to bear, that the other companies could be forced to capitulate. Within a matter of days, a statement was issued from NG Bailey, another major player:
“Following the announcement from Balfour Beatty Engineering Services last Friday, the future of the BESNA is now untenable. NG Bailey can therefore confirm it will withdraw the BESNA contracts and will continue to work to the current working rule agreements.”
House of cards
NG Bailey pulling out represented another victory for the workers. The employers’ united front was now falling to pieces. The next thing we learned was that the other firms had also pulled out! They fell like a house of cards.
Finally, after months of militant struggle involving electricians, pipe fitters and other trades, we had managed to defeat these vicious attacks. Under our pressure, the ordinary activists, Unite was fully drawn into this fight in supplying help and resources. After months of hard campaigning, we had won!
How did we achieve this? The answer is militant action! Last summer, some trade union leaders talked about defeating the employers by “civil disobedience”. Rank and file construction workers turned words into action.
Through this, we brought constant pressure to bear on the employers - the so-called BESNA 8, named after the eight companies. From last August, week in week out, construction workers protested outside building sites, occupied offices, and blocked main roads, marched, lobbied members of parliament, and pressured national trade union officials. Last, but not least, we got the Unite union to organise a strike ballot at Balfour Beatty, which put the fear of god up the employers. Action speaks louder than words!
Attempts to put off a militant struggle, especially by the national officer of Unite, was swept aside, as the rank and file began to organise nationally. Committees were established across the country, not in opposition to the union, but to put pressure on the union, to ensure it was working in the right way and, to our credit, to point the way forward. We took charge of organising a whole series of protests and actions from London to Scotland, outside major plants and sites.
Demonstrations were organised by text, email, facebook, which served to out-fox the companies. This was a show of real workers’ democracy in action!
By these actions, we were able to draw a layer of non-union workers into the fight and into the unions. Workers were queuing up. This once again shows that it is militant action that builds the unions and gets workers involved.
This struggle proves that ordinary union members can take on the bosses and win. When we make up our minds, we are powerful. When we get together and stand united as one group, we can take on powerful bosses. The workers, when organised and determined, can defeat the employers’ attacks, even when some union officials try to take an easier, but less effective, route.
It shows that when the members of the unions take charge, the unions really begin to act for us. It is an answer to those who want to turn their backs on the unions.
It is we, the rank and file members, who helped to finance and build the unions. We must ensure they fully represent our interests. We cannot afford to walk away or leave the unions out of frustration. This struggle shows how victory can be achieved and how the unions can be used in a positive way. We have gained a lot in terms of confidence and organisation, which puts us in good stead for the future.
Rank and File
The national Rank and File committee, established during the struggle, is now recognised by Unite. To give him his credit, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the union, has publicly welcomed our rank and file committees. He has been impressed by our work in winning this dispute.
We firmly believe the rank and file must be involved in all future negotiations, and that no agreement must be signed without it being taken back to the members for endorsement.
The employers have now said they want to discuss the “modernisation” of the old JIB agreement that underpins our present terms and conditions. The union has agreed to enter these negotiations. However, what the employers mean by “modernisation” is deskilling and greater “flexibility,” the very things we have being fighting against. What we understand by “modernisation” is improvements to our terms and conditions. In particular, we are concerned about the blacklisting of workers in the industry for their trade union activities.
Not only do we want to be fully represented in the national negotiating team, we want the issue of blacklisting high up on the agenda, with a guarantee that blacklisted members will be hired on the major sites.
All blacklisted workers, activists, ex-shop stewards, etc., should be offered direct employment under the relevant agreements on the main site projects around the country. We believe that all agencies, payroll companies, self-limited companies, bogus self-employment, etc., must be erased from National Agreements, signatory companies, projects and sites, immediately, and with no exceptions. All workers must be directly put on PAYE.
We are not so naive to believe that the construction companies will not try to implement their changes (“attacks”) by the back door. We will need to be vigilant and not be lulled into a sense of false security.
We would be at serious fault if we did not mention the marvellous solidarity we received internationally. This support, coming from Australia, Spain, France, United States, even Benin in West Africa, and elsewhere, was a tremendous inspiration for us.
We were so happy to receive the messages of support, including from the teamsters of New York, who organised a public solidarity demonstration outside Balfour Beatty’s offices. The teamsters’ president, Jimmy Hoffa jnr, wrote to BB chief executive Ian Tyler, expressing his support for his brothers in UK. As we say, “an injury to one is an injury to all!”
Organised by Unite, the pressure internationally was a massive help. It shows how the struggles of workers everywhere are the same.
All in all, it was a tremendous victory won by the rank and file. Balfour Beatty finally caved in when they saw weekly strike action facing them, which would undermine their profits. We needed to hit them where it hurt the most, in the pockets.
We have won this first round, but the likes of Balfour Beatty will be back again. Other workers should learn from our victory. There will be more battles in the future. We cannot afford any divisions between ourselves and NAECI workers in their forthcoming potential dispute.
We are all workers; we need to be united as one; our fight is your fight. What is clear is that united, militant action pays! We want to thank all those who supported us.
“The trade unions are the most basic form of organisation for the workers of all countries at all times. Without organisation the working class will always be only raw material for exploitation, the task of building and strengthening the unions is therefore an urgent priority” (Karl Marx)
26th February 2012
At LRC annual conference in November, motion 14 was passed which committed the LRC “to support Unite’s policy of building community trade unionism”. Below, Unite NEC member and chair of Unite United Left, Martin Mayer, sets out why Unite has launched community membership and what the benefits are to those joining as well as to the whole of the trade union movement.
Britain’s largest Union is reaching out into the community – literally. In an unprecedented move, Unite is opening its doors for the first time to students, the unemployed, unpaid volunteers and pensioners, even if they have had no previous connection to any trade union. Indeed anyone not in work can join – and that includes any non-working family members over 16 years old.
For only 50p per week Unite’s Community membership will entitle members to an impressive array of benefits:
That’s a good enough reason of itself to join, but Unite’s motives for launching Community membership go much deeper.
For too long trade unions have sometimes felt isolated from the communities in which we live. Yet we know that trade union branches are in the front line defending jobs for the local community and fighting to achieve better rates of pay and pensions which will benefit the whole community. When workers are in dispute against bad bosses it’s often to the local community that we look to for support. But if the local community has no coherent organisation, how can that be delivered? Strong Unite Community Branches could provide that practical solidarity support when we need it.
We hope Community Branch members will wish to get involved in broader union campaigns as well. Whether that’s joining protests outside supermarkets who stock products from employers who refuse to recognise a union or leafleting local outlets of global companies which sack trade unionists in other countries. Closer to home, Community Branches could provide an army of volunteers to join our rallies and demonstrations - such as on 30th November in support of the public sector workers fighting to defend their pensions.
We can’t take that support for granted of course – not even for 50p per week and an impressive range of benefits. But what we can deliver is strong democratic organisation to those in our community who currently have no voice. Unite Community Branches in every town across Britain and Ireland will give the powerless and the poorest the nearerst thing to a trade union branch, giving the unemployed, those on benefits, the disabled, students, unpaid volunteers and pensioners the ability to meet and organise themselves.
Community members will have their own Unite Community Branch structure which will mirror that of our local Unite Area Activist Committees. They will elect their own Branch Officers and will have the freedom to elect whatever relevant posts they see fit (e.g. equalities officer, disabilities rep, benefits claimants organiser, etc) just as a working branch elects its own shop stewards. Each Community Branch will be allocated a Unite full-time officer to give assistance and guidance and help link our Community membership with the rest of Unite. Community Branches will be able to submit motions and elect representatives onto the Area Activist Committee and, if Labour Party members, to the Regional Political Committee.
There is no more important time than now to do this. With a ConDem Government hell bent on smashing our welfare state and public services, working people both in and out of work are facing a fight of their lives in 21st century UK plc Unite is absolutely clear about this. We oppose all public spending cuts and reject the neo-liberal obsession with austerity which is destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of our people – whether in work or not. Instead of privatising our NHS, slashing council services and lopping over £18bn off welfare benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, we say the Government should collect the unpaid, avoided and evaded taxes from the super-rich and big business corporations – currently estimated at over £100bn per year.
Trade unions like Unite are leading the fight against the ConDem cuts but we can’t do this on our own. But what a force we will be if organised workers and those out of work can unite together – and for the first time unite our communities against the cuts.
This article also appears in the March 2012 issue of Labour Briefing
17th February 2012
“Within the LRC I don’t need to apologise for who I am”, says LRC member and sex worker, Thierry Schaffauser
Recently I have been elected secretary of the Hackney LRC where I live. Although a majority of people supported me, I was surprised that I was questioned whether my public profile as a sex worker, and the porn films I did, could bring a bad image to the LRC. I was challenged because I state publicly that I am a sex worker on my Facebook page which can be seen from the LRC one.
I answered as calmly as I could that of all my life, I have never let anyone, whether my family, my friends or my boyfriends, tell me anything about my sexuality or my occupation, and that I wouldn’t start with my comrades in my own movement.
The concern was that my refusal to hide my job could be seen as a form of promotion of the sex industry criticised for being detrimental to women. So I feel the need to explain that my pride to be a sex worker means that I refuse to be ashamed and nothing else. When sex workers say that sex work is work, we are not saying that sex work is fun but that it’s work. We don’t glamorise it.
Work can appear as a form of fulfilment and accomplishment for middle class people who benefit from the status work gives them. For most working class people, work is just something we do to pay the rent, transports, and tuition fees, to fill in the fridge, to support our family, etc.
People have different opinions about the sex industry and whether it’s bad or not. But what should be clear is that sex workers are not bad and that we shouldn’t be blamed for violence or sexism in society, even when we refuse to be portrayed as victims. Being a victim has nothing empowering while being a worker means that we are part of the working class and that we share a History of struggles.
The LRC has taken a position in 2009 to support decriminalisation of sex work and sex workers’ unionisation. This is the reason why I joined the group: I could see that I had a place. I felt that I was respected as a real worker and real trade unionist as a member of GMB. Within the LRC I don’t need to apologise for who I am.
Sex workers’ unionisation is relatively new, because like women before us, we have been for a long time excluded from trade unions. This doesn’t mean that sex workers never resisted or never participated in the social struggles of the working class. We did and we will continue to do.
Nowadays, many workers have to work in a decontractualised and a casualised environment. Increasingly many workers are like sex workers; deprived of labour rights. Trade unions need to realise that younger generations no longer work in the usual workplaces and factories but are disseminated, and isolated from each other. More than ever, sex workers’ working conditions actually look like those of other workers.
Of course, the stigma attached to sex work remains very strong and makes such a difference. But precisely by coming out, we try to fight against it. So please don’t reproach us to be proud when we just try to resist to our oppression. We are part of the same class.
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