Thursday, June 30, 2011

The 30th June Strikes and the Need for a New Working Class Movement

Community solidarity on an Oxford picket line
In years to come, the 30th June strikes may be seen as the acorn from which a mighty oak grew, but only if public sector workers can break free of the straitjacket which union fat cats force them to wear. In the meantime, the action by hundreds of thousands of workers is having a significant impact on today's economic output - demonstrating the awesome potential power of our class.

The corporate media has actually played up the strength of today's strike, for its own reactionary purposes. Far from being a "public sector general strike" of 750,000 workers, it is a strike of the National Union of Teachers, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the University and College Union, and the Public and Commercial Services union. The combined membership of these organisations is three quarters of a million, but many less than that figure are striking, in the main because union bosses have systematically demoralised these strikebreakers over the last three decades.

A section of the crowd at the London rally
Of the estimated 5.5 million workers affected by the government's planned pensions raid, only 13% are in a union that is striking against the attacks today. The leaders of Unison, Unite and the GMB have so far refused to ballot their membership. That's because they owe their own lofty positions in society to their role as industrial cops, policing the anger of their own memberships over sell-out after sell-out. They fear that a truly united strike could quickly escape their control, and undermine the basis of their privileged lifestyles. Nevertheless, the mood on picket lines has generally been good, and unions are reporting high walkout rates, with decent levels of support from the wider public, despite the establishment's propaganda offensive. Many thousands participated in rallies across the country.

Around the world, the battles lines dividing oppressors and oppressed are getting ever more blatantly drawn. The economy is controlled by a criminal financial aristocracy, who demand ever greater sacrifices from workers, so they can rake in trillions of dollars in utterly unearned profits. The bankers' wishes are the government of the day's commands, whether they are nominally centre-left or centre-right. The union leaders pretend that they will lead a defence of working class living conditions, even as they consult with the government on how to force through slashing cuts. In turn, the pseudo-left parties cover for the trade union leaderships, as they have many members on the union executive gravy train. At the bottom of the food chain, working class people fight back where they can, but are systematically misled by all those profiting from their misery.

The rot and decay of trade unionism in the UK is illustrated by the fact that it's taken us over a year since the last general election to get a here - a year in which union leaders haven't raised so much as a finger against 143,000 public sector job cuts. Even now, the leader of the misnamed 'Labour' Party opposes the strike action, demonstrating beyond all doubt that he is a pliant and willing tool of the ultra-rich.

A new working class movement must be born, based on rank-and-file committees in every workplace and community. That movement must fight for working class control over all industries and all politics, and the abolition of the capitalist system.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Atari Teenage Riot - Is This Hyperreal?

Yes, it undoubtedly is!
In the 1990s, Atari Teenage Riot pioneered 'digital hardcore', fusing hardcore punk with techno rhythms. Invitations to overthrow capitalism and 'destroy two thousand years of culture' were verbally lobbed into this volatile Molotov mix, and many shut their ears. But the Berliners gained a largeish underground following, which lapped it up. Then founder member Carl Crack died - ironically of a drug overdose, and the band began a lengthy hiatus.

Fast forward to the present day, and the surviving teenage rioters are pushing forty. But arguably their time has come. Everything they so manically thrust at us all those years ago is coming to pass in 2011, with its 'Twitter revolutions', its WikiLeaks and its legions of Anonymous hackers attacking corporate and state power. It's not so much that Atari Teenage Riot have come of age, it's that the age has gone Atari Teenage Riot. Yes, they are hyperreal.

There are problems with this though. Alec Empire and Nic Endo slightly rest on their laurels with this album, and CX KiDTRONiK (not his real name) doesn't seem to add much. Amongst the piledriving intensity, there is little that would have been out of place on 1999's 60 Second Wipeout. In this context, ATR seem almost stale. But they're not really. They were just extremely prophetic in their twenties (as if they could be anything other than extreme).

The new ATR model their best 'Don't fuck with us' faces
It's hard to pick out highlights from the forty-five minute meshing mêlée of pure noise that is Hyperreal. Nothing here is exactly catchy, rather it's like being frantically shaken backwards and forwards by a machine that's pitilessly screaming in your face, but hey, I did press play.

Still, Activate! is a relatively easy listening call to arms, with its dogged insistence that, yes, you activate your life and "turn up and play". The Only Slight Glimmer Of Hope's title paraphrases Mick Jagger's quote about anarchy from back in the day, as foreboding chanting grapples with mindfuck rhythms modern day Prodigy could only dream of. And on Rearrange Your Synapses, Empire insists that ATR are still relevant, "very much so" in fact, because "some people still live in an illusion", before an onslaught of ranting, alarms and various other indescribable noises wash over the listener like a nuclear blast.

Empire has described Hyperreal as "a protest album for the Google generation", and I hope it finds its way into riots, squat parties and the iPhones of hactivists. I doubt it will though, as the kids don't listen to techno anymore; it's more about that dubstep thing. Now if 2011 could just have been 1995, ATR would be the biggest band in the world at the moment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chinese Workers On The Brink Of Huge Revolt

Striking workers rally outside the Guangzhou handbag factory
As the days pass, the evidence is mounting that Chinese workers are on the verge of a massive revolt, which has the potential to rock the globalised capitalist system at its foundation - the super-exploitation of labour in the 'sweatshop of the world'.

Wen Jiabao's Communist Party dictatorship was put on the defensive last summer, when a relatively small series of strikes broke out amongst tech-savvy young Chinese workers. A combination of apparent concessions and state repression stamped out the flames of rebellion, but the conditions for a far larger uprising have matured since then, and workers are again coming out in protest at intolerable working lives and unaffordable prices.

Since the Tiananmen Square massacre proved to western capital that the Chinese government could be utterly ruthless in its opposition to progressive grassroots movements, the nation's economy has grown at a furious pace. Prior to the 2008 financial crash, western companies were extremely confident in the Communist Party's ability to force unrestrained capitalism on a growing industrial proletariat. Following the international credit crunch, Jiaboa's regime feared that demand for Chinese manufacturing would collapse, so they introduced various stimulus measures. That money has largely run out, forcing businesses to attack working conditions with increased ferocity.

Last summer's strikes also panicked amongst bankers and politicians
At the same time, China's inflation rate has surged to around five per cent, meaning that millions of young Chinese industrial workers face a struggle to put food on their own table, never mind send money home to their rural relatives. Social tensions have now reached the point where even comparatively small incidents can trigger a huge response.

Migrant workers in the city of Chaozhou rioted over unpaid wages at the start of June. The following weekend, more riots broke out when local government security staff pushed a pregnant woman to the ground in the "jeans capital" of Xintang district. A kilometre-long column of heavily armed police were eventually paraded through the streets, in an attempt to intimidate would-be the general public.

Industrial stoppages have followed hard on the heels of these uprisings. Two thousand workers at the Japanese-owned Citizen Watch factory in Dongguan went on strike for several days, in protest against long hours and low pay. Just last week, four thousand toilers in a South Korean-owned Guangzhou handbag factory struck for higher pay and an end to management abuses.

These strikes failed to win concessions from bosses, and police were sent in to suppress the resistance with violence and arrests. But the underlying tensions remain, and will surely be released over the next weeks and months. If workers are able to link up their individual struggles, the stage could be set for a confrontation that would dwarf the 'Arab Spring' in terms of historical significance.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Utopia: A Healthy Society

David Cameron intends to complete the ruling class demolition of the NHS
The British National Health Service (NHS) is often described as being one of the best in the world. If it is, that really doesn't say much for the rest. The NHS is in deep crisis - it's starved of funds, and the coalition government is determined to accelerate Labour's privatisation of healthcare.

A personal example can help to show the current state of things. I have two large and prominent varicose veins on my left leg, which I have had since I was a teenager - more than a decade. Over the last year, I've started to get some discomfort in them, so I went to my doctor, who referred me to a specialist. I was given a forty-five minute ultrasound scan on my leg, similar to what pregnant women have on their wombs. After the scan, the specialist told me that an operation was "definitely" needed, because far from being cosmetic, it will be a "serious health risk" in years to come. Ulceration and blood clotting are a strong possibility.

Last week I had a follow-up appointment at the clinic. I was told that the local Primary Care Trust had recently withdrawn funding for varicose vein operations. The specialist had apparently appealed, but his concerns had apparently been dismissed with the not very reassuring words: "it's not life-threatening in the short term".

That sentence reveals so much. Because the government is restricting funds to the NHS in the wake of the international financial crisis, only immediately "life-threatening" conditions are being treated for free. The logical outcome of this process is hospitals being reduced to emergency rooms - much like in the United States.

Of course, the NHS of today is a far cry from the NHS that was founded in 1948, as part of the post-war Beveridge concessions won by the working class. At the launch of the service, Health Minister Aneurin Bevan declared its three core principles to be:
  • That it meet the needs of everyone
  • That it be free at the point of delivery
  • That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
My case - so typical of many others around the country - shows that these principles are dead. It doesn't meet my need to have an important operation, because I have an inability to pay an estimated £2,000.

The NHS didn't die overnight when David Cameron became Prime Minister. The three principles have been under ruling class since the day the concessions were granted. Much of the work was done by Tony Blair's Labour government of the early noughties, but Labour started demolishing the project with which it is most associated in 1952, when a one shilling charge per prescription form was introduced. That's just over a pound in today's money, but the English charge is currently £7.40 per item. Many amongst the working poor go without the medicine they need. And a recent survey found that many British people consider dental treatment a "luxury".

Communists want to see free medical treatment for everyone. That would mean everyone would get the operations they need, no matter whether the condition is immediately life-threatening or just irritating. Everyone would be able to get the prescription drugs they need, without worrying about where the money's going to come from. And everyone would be able to get dental care. Preventative care would be hugely increased, and the negative environmental factors associated with the capitalist system - stress, pollution, food additives - would be eliminated.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Need For A "Second Revolution" In Egypt

Egyptian police arrest farmers for the 'crime' of protesting
On 27th May, Egyptians numbering in the hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Cairo and other cities. They demanded a "second revolution" to complete the democratic aspirations of the first, which removed long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak in February. Since his departure, the army junta has consolidated its rule, bringing in a repressive new constitution, and banning strikes and protests in March. In doing so, the army top brass has revealed itself to be enemies of the common Egyptian, and enemies of - not "guardians of" - the revolution.

Until very recently, the army had hesitated to enforce the fundamentally anti-democratic prohibition of strikes and protests, but it has now reached the limits of its patience, and is beginning a crackdown on dissent. As I explained back in March, the military leadership has a direct interest in suppressing demands for improvements in employment - it owns a vast network of private businesses. So it's easy to see the self-serving nature of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)'s new statement that the law is necessary to "avoid further economic risks and to achieve stability for the country". SCAF say they "will not hesitate to respond to any attempts by any other party or group to disrupt the law or to harm the national economy, especially during this critical stage the country is going through."

To that end, the Amn al-Markazi security forces and plainclothes police arrested ten protesters in front of the parliament on 8th June, attacking students, farmers and other workers who had been demonstrating there. Under the new anti-protest law, those arrested face the possibility of a year's imprisonment and/or a fine of 500,000 EGP (£52,000).

On Wednesday 15th, soldiers and cops attacked two thousand protesting railway workers in Sharqia governorate. Two demonstrators were detained, and taken to an unknown destination.

But if the 'January 25th revolution' showed anything, it was that desperate Egyptians would not be intimidated by state repression, and would do whatever it takes to secure their material interests. The strikes keep coming, and last Friday saw a large Cairo protest against the ban - itself an example of mass direct action, under conditions where such assemblies are banned. July 8th has been declared "Correcting The Track Friday", when even bigger acts of defiance are planned.

ElBaradei - criticising the government is now a "red line"
However, the army will not be pressured into sacrificing its own profits, and neither will other sections of the Egyptian bourgeoisie. Mohamed ElBaradei - the former UN man who the western media has portrayed as a future Egyptian president - has declared that protesting against or even criticising the army is now a "red line" which cannot be crossed. Last week it was announced that a 'National Coalition for Egypt' had been formed - comprised of thirteen parties from both the nominal 'left' and the right. The basis for this unity is a commitment to "national unity" - in other words defence of the capitalist economy.

If a "second revolution" is to win decent living standards for all Egyptians, it must decisively reject the generals, the 'democratic' bourgeois, and the dead hand of US imperialism, which continues to provide resources for the repression of the Egyptian working class, even though Mubarak has gone. It must be based on working class self-organisation and control of the economy.

Arch Enemy - Khaos Legions

Angela Gossow leading the people
In the main, artistic responses to the financial crash of 2008 and its political implications have been disappointing so far. In music, generally only artists who were already 'political' have been able to interpret this new age of struggle with any degree of success. From my MP3 collection I'm thinking of Muse, Max Cavalera's projects, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Kreator, Killing Joke, Fear Factory, and various rappers. This was to be expected, as it must necessarily take the emergence of a new working class movement to pose the questions which need to be answered by artists in the near future, or else everything is inward-looking resignation and self-pity.

However, the initial stirrings of the 'Arab Spring' coincided with melodic death metal band Arch Enemy's retreat into the Sweet Spot Studio in Halmstad, Sweden for the recording of Khaos Legions. In promoting the album, vocalist Angela Gossow told interviewers that the band - and her in particular - had been inspired by what was happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and so many other countries. The artwork was modelled on Eugène Delacroix's French revolution-era Liberty Leading the People, and Gossow clearly sees herself as symbolically being on the front line, roaring the rest of us towards freedom.

How do you get even more extreme, yet have elements of light and shade?
Cologne-born Gossow joined Sweden-based Arch Enemy in 2000, after they had recorded three decent but unspectacular albums with Johan Liiva. The ferocious intensity of her growl far eclipsed Liiva, and her fiery, passionate belief in anarchism started to inform many of the band's songs. At times this verged on a kind of punkish ultra-leftism, especially on 2003's Anthems Of Rebellion, which was very much concerned with individual change against a background of general conformity. As time has gone on and conditions have changed, her politics have matured, to reflect a greater collectivity. In that time, the band have specialised in fist pounding adrenaline rushes, often punctuated by soaring, transcendent, almost singalong lead guitar solos, but struggled to pull off a great album. This continuing process is evident on Khaos Legions. There's plenty of killer, but there's still too much filler.

The opening few tracks are absolutely storming. Riffing, police sirens and crowd noises build to a crescendo, before an impossibly strange male voice warns us that "From the ashes of a corrupt and dying world, they rise like a phoenix, a godless entity: they are the chaos legions." We're then straight into the first single, Yesterday Is Dead And Gone, with its wailing guitars, strident drums, and the pledge that "This is our reckoning day", in case you hadn't realised it already.

As you might expect, Bloodstained Cross is an inditement of religion's effect on human consciousness, and the urgent need to "Get off your praying knees" because "Armageddon is drawing near", and "All the prayers in this world won't help you now". The symbolic standard of anarchism is invoked on Under Black Flags We March. Against a pounding martial rhythm, Gossow shrieks that "Empires of corruption will fall", because "The more we have to suffer, the more we will fight".

Towards the middle, City Of The Dead and Through The Eyes Of A Raven are more brilliant bundles of fury. The former seems to be a portrait of ghetto life, "where the nameless live and breathe" amidst "misery, frustration, anger, depression" and "monuments of death". The latter gives each band member a moment to shine in an epic tale of war and paradise lost.

Precisely at the moment where the wonderful acoustic outro to Through The Eyes Of A Raven ends, the album stumbles badly. From this point on, Khaos Legions is hit and miss. Moralistic animal rights song Cruelty Without Beauty has little to recommend it. Thorns In My Flesh might lyrically be an attack on the self interested behaviour of the rich and powerful, but vocally and musically it feels like the punches are pulled. And Secrets is an extremely poor choice of album closer, because it sounds like a reject cut from 2001's Wages Of Sin. But Cult Of Chaos is good enough fight song, urging revolution as the next stage of evolution, and the Amott brothers pull off some very nice guitar work on instrumentals We Are A Godless Entity and Turn To Dust.

Returning to my introduction, Khaos Legions comes quite close to successfully interpreting this "new age of struggle". At certain times, it approaches perfection, and could be a superb soundtrack for Tahrir Square demonstrations or garment workers combating police on Sri Lankan picket lines. At others, it sounds samey, and recycles some of the band's less than glorious moments. I think Arch Enemy are yet to come up with their defining album, but then Gossow and company should find plenty of inspiration in the months and years ahead. For already extreme artists, there is a substantial challenge posed by the reigniting class war - how do you get even more extreme to mirror changes in society, yet have elements of light and shade?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Would The 'Right To Die' Mean Under Capitalism?

Terry Pratchett takes the hand of Peter Smedley, who would later take his own life
Author Terry Pratchett's 'right to die' documentary has reignited the arguments over voluntary euthanasia. As a communist, I am totally opposed to any state repression of those who wish to end their lives. However, it's not quite as simple as that. We also need to examine the extent to which it really would be a 'free choice', in a capitalist society which is rapidly cutting back on public spending, and privatising health care.

When Pratchett's documentary was screened last week, the BBC received hundreds of complaints, with many complaining that the programme had been biased in favour of allowing assisted suicide. The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Al, labelled it "propaganda on one side". And indeed it was. Political neutrality is an illusion anyway, but Pratchett - who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007 - is a vocal supporter of the 'right to die', and he was using the programme to put forward his view. This must be welcomed, because television should be used as a platform for serious discussion (as opposed to orchestrated and fake political knockabout between the big business parties) far more often.

On Choosing To Die, Pratchett and his crew watched as a seventy-one year old British businessman with motor neuron disease took a lethal dose of barbiturates at a Swiss clinic. In Switzerland, assisting a suicide is legal, so long as the doctor's motivations are not considered to be "selfish". For Pratchett, the only problem with this arrangement is that terminally people from Britain and the rest of the world had to "drag themselves to Switzerland, at considerable cost, in order to get the services that they were hoping for."

Religious arguments against suicide of any kind should immediately be discounted, as they are based on the supposed moral standards of an invisible and unmeasurable god. Communists should seek to argue on an entirely rational basis. But to do that, we need to look at the material forces in play, and the way those material forces are developing. At the moment, as state health care deteriorates and working class people are forced to tighten their budgets, we are faced with the problem of terminally ill people being a financial drain on more working class families.

As we all know, when we don't have as much money as we would like, we can't afford everything that we want, and we have to make choices, often very serious ones. Families often devote many thousands of hours to caring for their sick loved ones, and spend many thousands of pounds. If care for an elderly relative was costing money that then couldn't be spent on the younger generations, an elderly person might feel pressure to take their own life, to stop them being a 'burden' on their families. In no sense could we say this would be a 'free' or 'autonomous' choice. Like any choice, it would be conditioned by often contradictory social forces. We must never forget the Nazi concentration camps, which killed those deemed not healthy enough to profit the German ruling class of the 1940s. This was produced by the crisis of imperialism during the last great depression.

Assisted suicide should indeed be legal and readily available, but so too must every possible palliative treatment for terminal illness. No family should have to make a choice between caring for their elder or their younger relatives, because everyone should be guaranteed a good standard of living. In short, campaigning for a 'right to die' is problematic, when capitalism in its advanced decay provides so few with a genuine 'right to live'.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brian Haw (1949-2011)

'The most honest man in Westminster' has died, aged sixty-two
A decade of protest ended over the weekend, when Brian Haw lost his battle against lung cancer. Often described as 'the most honest man in Westminster', Haw had been the symbolic focus of public opposition to the so-called 'war on terror'. As his continuing presence outside Parliament embarrassed the British ruling class, he also became embroiled in legal battles, as successive governments clamped down on freedom of expression. It is a sad fact that as Haw lay dying, the UK was involved in yet another war for oil - this time in Libya - on top of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Haw's early life doubtless played a part in the formation of his opposition to war. When Brian was just thirteen, his father committed suicide. As a young sniper, he'd been one of the first soldiers to enter Bergen-Belsen after it had been taken from the Nazis. In a grim echo of holocaust atrocities, he chose death by gas.

Brian drew closer to his family's evangelical Christianity after this tragedy, and joined the Merchant Navy to support the rest of his family. This work took him all over the world, and he was able to witness many terrible inequalities, whilst gaining an appreciation and respect for the humanity of people from around the globe. Later, his faith and desire for a peaceful world took him to Troubles-era Northern Ireland, and war-torn Cambodia.

The one man Parliament Square camp actually began before 9/11, in June 2001. At the time, the father of seven was protesting the western sanctions against Iraq, which were often likened to a state of siege, and killed an estimated half a million children. When the 'war on terror' was declared, and the invasion of Afghanistan began, Haw quickly became a symbol of the fledgling anti-war movement.

As public opposition to then Prime Minister Blair's alliance with US President George W. Bush grew in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, ruling class representatives sought to bully, intimidate, and disrupt Haw's activities - marking a watershed in the attack on democratic rights. In October 2002, Westminster City Council tried to prosecute him, on the grounds that he was causing an obstruction, but the case failed as he blatantly was not impeding anyone. MPs started claiming that Haw's use of megaphone was distracting them from their office work, and a House of Commons Procedure Committee inquiry in summer 2003 recommended that permanent protests in Parliament Square be banned, supposedly because terrorists could hide bombs amongst Haw's placards and other paraphernalia.

Spot the bomb - a section of Brian's protest in March 2006
In 2005, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) was passed, largely in order to remove Haw. However, the situation descended into farce when it was found that because he had been camped on Parliament Square long before the Act was passed, Hawwas the only person in the world to whom it did not apply. Eventually, under pressure from the government, the Court of Appeal overturned Haw's judicial review, and declared that the Act did indeed apply to him. On 23rd April 2006, police removed all but one of Haw's placards, citing alleged infringements of SOCPA. This seventy-eight officer pre-dawn raid cost £27,000. Haw's legal battles and brushes with the police lasted almost until his death, as he fought London Mayor Boris Johnson's attempts to evict his camp before the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Brian Haw will be remembered with great fondness by his many activist friends, who often praised both his steely determination and his humility. His death will leave a huge, invisible gap in Parliament Square, an area in which free expression is now effectively banned. That he was able to maintain his protest for a decade, and stay alive on food donated by well-wishers, is a testimony to the enduring strength of public anti-war opinion, of which Haw was often the only visible expression, once the anti-Iraq war 'movement' wound down, and widespread demoralisation set in.

In a period when working class struggle was first anaesthetised by cheap credit, and then held in check by trade union bosses, it is easy to see what appeal Christianity - that sigh of the oppressed, that heart of a heartless world, that spirit of a spiritless situation - would hold for sensitive, principled pacifists such as Haw. Certain forms of it hold out the hope - illusory as it is - of a new kingdom of heaven on earth, where inequality and war would be no more, and humanity could live in brotherly love. But irritating though he was for the political establishment, Haw - or even a million Brian Haws - couldn't have stopped the war machine. Imperialist war is rooted in the struggle of nations for control of prize material resources, not by any 'evil' per se. It can only be ended by the international working class, when we put our hands on the economic levers of society, and run the world in our own interests. For all Brian Haw's courage, he made little contribution to popular understanding of what causes war, and how it can truly be prevented. His was a protest very much of its time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ruling Class On The Attack Ahead Of 30th June Strikes

Many PCS members voted for a strike...but many more didn't
As the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union released the result of its 30th June strike ballot on Wednesday, the vulpine Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude was all over the TV schedules, in what was clearly a pre-planned counter-offensive. Maude - whose personal wealth is estimated at £3 million - told teatime news presenters that he was concerned about "vulnerable" service users, who would be affected by the strike action. He also argued that the low turnout meant the PCS had no mandate for strike action. Though his hypocrisy is easy to see, the figures do appear to show a general dissatisfaction with the PCS leadership. And PCS is not the only union with a thin strike mandate for the 30th. The turnout was well below half in both the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) ballots. What does this mean, and how does the ruling class intend to make political capital out of these circumstances?

Under the government's proposed changes, civil servants face a doubling or even tripling of their pension contributions, but will receive less when they eventually retire, years later than they currently do. This is clearly a dire, intolerable prospect. Yet only 32.4% of PCS members registered a vote - less than one third. Out of those, 61.1% voted for a one day strike on 30th June. Maude gleefully pointed out, that is just under one fifth of the membership

The Socialist Worker response rightly observed that's not how votes work, and anyway, "we should take no lectures from the likes of David Cameron on “democracy” or “democratic mandates”. On his definition of democracy, he wouldn’t be prime minister today." This is certainly true. The coalition parties got a combined vote of 59.1% in the 2010 general election, on an overall turnout of 65%. This means that the government represents the votes of only 38% of the electorate, even though it comprised of two parties.

Of course, it is extremely and deliberately misleading to imply - as Francis Maude did on Wednesday - that 80% of PCS members do not want to strike on 30th May. But it would be just as disingenuous to suggest it's a given that even a majority do want to withdraw their labour. There are lots of reasons why people don't vote in union ballots, and doubtless even some who cast votes opposing strike action will be seen on picket lines come the day. However, it is easy to see why some - who have been led into losing battles by the union tops before - might not want to forgo a day's pay, when they'll just have to catch up on the work anyway, and they suspect general secretary Mark Serwotka and company might stitch them up once again. Many people will not be able to remember the last time working people 'won' a strike in the UK.

Primarily, this is because the unions are fundamentally undemocratic institutions, presided over by bureaucrats who are richly rewarded for managing the anger of their memberships in this era of hyper-globalisation. Though he promised to take something like the average worker's wage when campaigning for leadership of the PCS more than ten years ago, Serwotka takes home a package worth more than £100,000 annually. He will do anything to maintain his privilege, and PCS members have bitter experience of this.

Bob Crow puts the 'champagne' into 'champagne socialist', and takes out the 'socialist'
Bob Crow of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union makes another easy target for the ruling class, as his union prepares for London strike action around 30th June. The Sun caught "champagne leftie" Crow and pals enjoying a three-and-a-half hour, £650 liquid lunch in a swanky restaurant this last Monday. Though rank and file RMT members would no doubt feel sick at such a bill, Crow rakes in almost £150,000 per year, and can easily afford such extravagance.

For 'bad cop' Conservatives like Boris Johnson and 'good cop' Lib Dems such as Vince Cable, the rank and file's despair represents an opportunity to further tighten the anti-union laws, which are already the most restrictive in Europe. Johnson wants a new law, requiring unions to win the votes of more than half of their membership before they can call strike action. For his part, Cable told the GMB conference just two weeks ago that co-ordinated strike action - such as that scheduled for 30th June - would mean "the pressure on us to act would ratchet up."

In the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, the ruling classes of the richest nations are determined to push working class living standards back to pre-war levels. If the union bosses are able to restrain and demoralise their memberships, governments will not feel a need to restrict workers' right to strike any further. But if they are not, that is exactly what will happen. A genuine fightback will need to declare its independence from the union bureaucracy, and its opposition to ruling class law.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Issue 23 of The Commune

Issue 23 of The Commune has been published - dedicated as ever to "workers self-management and communism from below".

The lead article offers a progress report on the 'Egyptian revolution', while there are also analyses of the struggles in Spain and Haiti.

But things are hotting up in the UK too, and the letters page has contributions from readers who will be striking on 30th June.

Meanwhile, Daniel Harvey examines the £18,000 a year New College of the Humanities, Dawn Harvey talks to young people sick of being harrassed by the cops in Glasgow's Possilpark, and Sheila Cohen offers the most exhaustive dissection of last month's local election results that you could ever wish for.

In addition, Tom Denning looks at the social meaning of suicide, Donal O’Falluin writes on the relationship of football to the Irish working class, and Clifford Biddulph reminds us of the Paris Commune.

All this and more is available for PDF download here, as well as from radical bookshops, social centres, and by emailing

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

'Greek Revolution' at the Crossroads

A riot cop looks seriously outnumbered on the front line
As I type this, Greek workers are taking part in the tenth one day general strike since the onset of the global financial crisis, and demonstrators are confronting vicious police in an attempt to block the politicians' way to parliament. Though this turn to organised direct action is a positive step forward, the government believe they just have to ride out today, and tomorrow will be calm again, as those Greeks fortunate enough to have work return to it. However, the rise of the young 'aganaktismeni' - the Greek answer to Spain's 'indignados' - shows that many working class Greeks are looking for an independent, autonomous way forward.

The unions' general strikes have ran parallel to the relentless announcements of new austerity measures. Since the Greek economy has so far been the worst hit by the international finance crisis, its working class has been hardest hit by brutal cuts, and are in effect acting as test subjects for the financial aristocracy's global bank robbery. Every cut 'successfully' brought in by the Greek economy is used as a stick with which to beat the workers of all other nations. Meanwhile, Greek workers are on average 30% worse off than they were in 2008, and many are staring into the economic abyss. For some, this is already nothing less than a fight for survival. Now, even with the Greek economy in freefall, Prime Minister Papandreou has announced yet another round of social destruction, and sacrificed more Greek lives to the pin-striped gods of money.

A young protester tries to reason with cops as Greeks strike yet again
With huge numbers of Greeks unable to spend on anything more than basic necessities, the economy contracted by an annualised rate of 5.5% in the first quarter of 2011. However, in the insane world of hyper-globalised capital, there can only be one solution - more cuts and privatisations. To that end, Papandreou has proposed €28.5 billion in cuts over the next few years last Friday, in a country with a population of only eleven million. On top of that, the Greek state hopes to sell off €50 billion worth of its public resources, including Hellenic Postbank, the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, Hellenic Telecom, the Athens and Thessaloniki water companies, Hellenic Petroleum, electricity utility PPC, and various airports, highways, and mining rights. For workers in such industries, the result will be even more massive unemployment, coupled with pay and conditions cuts for those left behind.

Inspired by the Spanish indignados and pushed forward by their own dire material prospects, sections of Greek youth - employed and unemployed - have initiated their own, horizontally-based movement over the last few weeks. By and large, the relatively high numbers of young anarchists in Greece seem to be mixing with these new aganaktismeni, and steering them towards a more revolutionary perspective.

But what should this revolutionary perspective be, and how can a Greek revolution be organised? Working class independence from the trade union bureaucracy has to be the starting point, and it is encouraging to see that trade union officials were barracked by large sections of the crowd at a 5th June rally, who claimed they had no right to take part. Ultimately though, Greek workers must organise to collectivise industry, and replace the capitalist state with working class-controlled organisations of struggle. In other words, the only solution for Greek workers - just like for oppressed people throughout the world - is communist revolution.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Century Since Liverpool's Momentous General Transport Strike

Strikers at the 'monster demonstration' of 13th August 1911, before the police attack
A century ago today, the great general transport strike began in Liverpool. It was a dispute that would define industrial struggles in the city for the next eight-five years, particularly in the centre of its industrial battleground - the docks. But it was also a conflict with global dimensions, as international seafaring nurtured the beginnings of international working class solidarity.

In part, the strike came as a response to a decade where the average worker's wage had been literally decimated - slashed by 10%. As the British Empire faced competition from American and German up-and-comers, the British ruling class had intensified the class war at home and abroad, and workers' living conditions had suffered. This was a period in which labour unions - and indeed the Labour Party - were gradually becoming more prominent. In 1910, the syndicalist Tom Mann had formed the Transport Workers Federation (TWF), in an attempt to organise all transport workers into one union. Mann and the TWF would play a large role in the Liverpool strike.

On the evening of 13th June, an East London mass meeting of three thousand sailors, firemen, and ship kitchen staff from two TWF affiliates announced that "war is declared", and started their strike. The news spread fast, and on the morning of the 14th, the Liverpool crews of two North American liners refused to sign up for work. That night, Tom Mann officially launched the nationwide strike in the city. By the next day, the strike had spread to all major British ports, and within days, crew in Belgium, Holland and the US had joined with their class brothers.

In the face of such solidarity, and frightened by talk of a general strike, the Shipping Federation gave in to many of the sailors' demands by the end of the month. Encouraged by this, four thousand Liverpool dockers walked off the job, seeking better pay and conditions. They were followed by scalers and coal heavers, and even the sailors themselves, who came out again in support of the dockers. The Shipping Federation made more concessions.

Having had a taste of success, the Liverpool working class was becoming more and more confident. In July, the industrial unrest spread far beyond the docks, including tug boat workers, tobacco workers, brewers, and staff from the rubber plants, oil mills and wool warehouses. August 5th brought out the railywaymen, who had been unsuccessfully petitioning their bosses for reduced hours and increased pay for weeks. By this stage, the government was afraid that the situation was spiralling out of their control, and could even end in revolution. Violent police attacks were ordered, in a desperate attempt to cow workers into submission. On 10th August, four hundred soldiers were dispatched to Seaforth barracks, whilst police from Birmingham and Leeds were also brought in to suppress the revolt. Nevertheless, more Liverpool workers came out, and the railway strike spread nationwide.

Strikers take a break from the class war for a spot of cricket
On 13th August - initially christened 'Red Sunday' and then 'Bloody Sunday' after the event - Mann and other speakers addressed an estimated one hundred thousand at St George's Plateau, Lime Street. Just after 4pm, police charged the enormous crowd, causing panic and many injuries. A full-scale battle ensued in the Lime Street area, and violent class war raged throughout the city for several days. A docker and a carter were murdered by the state troops as they tried to rescue arrested comrades, and many more workers suffered serious woundings.

As warships were deployed in the Mersey, the various bosses struck by their workforces agreed separate concessions with each union. In the end, they were enough to persuade workers back to the grindstone, and revolution was averted. But make no mistake, the landscape of industrial relations had been changed forever, in Liverpool and around the country.

Workers had made very definite advances, including union recognition, improved pay, and improved working conditions. Mann proclaimed that: "...neither shipowners nor reactionary committees nor councils, railway magnates, nor any other section shall be able to demoralise us again or drive us into poverty."

Yet a century on, the ruling class is trying to do precisely that, even as it transfers untold billions into the vaults of people who have never done a day's productive work in their life. As Tom Wailey and Steve Higginson pointed out in their recent article on 1911 and all that:
"There is a huge disparity in wealth; more and more employment is service/servile based within an accompanying low wage economy. Wage growth has stagnated over the decades, and this has led low-income workers to take on more and more private debt to fill the gap that an organised living wage used to fill. The TUC has recently published figures showing that levels of unpaid overtime/work have a monetary value of £38 billion per year. And like 1911, we are asked to believe that out of private greed comes public good."
Labour historian Eric Taplin has described how, in the Liverpool of 1911: "...the enthusiasm of the rank and file for their unions, their determination and militancy was often greater than those that led them." Fast forward a century and the union bosses even more separated from the material conditions of their membership, and are working even more intimately with those who want to force our living standards back.

Now as then, true power lies in the hands and brains of the working class, not their fake 'representatives'. We can possibly imagine how - in far this hyper-linked age, news of some apparently minor working class victory would instantly 'go viral', and inspire toilers all around the world to test their strength. It is more than possible; it must happen. The questions are when and where, not if.

Click here for a calendar of events in the strike.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Defence Of Twitter Activism

The revolution is being Tweeted
This article was originally published as part of a debate in the new edition of Nerve magazine.

There's a lot of criticisms you could make of Facebook and other 'social networking' websites such as Twitter and MySpace. Ritchie Hunter is right to raise these concerns. Of course, like any for profit business, it exists to make money, and its owners can't be trusted one kilobite. But my argument is that it is a powerful tool, which quite apart from 'throwing sheep' and other such timewasting, can help to bring people together, and change the world.

Personally, I owe a lot to social networking websites. I met my long-term girlfriend on MySpace, then we moved things onto Facebook, and now we live together. There's no way we would have met 'in real life' without social networking technology, because we lived at opposite ends of the country. But we started talking over shared interests, and the rest is history!

But of possibly even greater historical significance is the way Facebook and Twitter are being used to organise political change. When Noam Chomsky was asked about this on Newsnight in March, he replied that "a hammer doesn't care if it's being used to hammer in a nail or bash a prisoner's head in", and of course the technology itself is 'neutral' when it comes to politics; it can create or destroy. But the fact remains that it was widely used in the recent Egyptian pro-democracy movement, both to organise actions and just spread the news internationally - under conditions where the corporate media wasn't getting the story out properly. The regime of Hosni Mubarak tacitly acknowledged the power of social networking when it shut down the internet for a short time. Mubarak also held Wael Ghohim - the Facebook organiser of major Cairo protests - in custody for twelve days.

The power of #solidarity
While Facebook and Twitter are having a large impact in the Middle East protests - from Algeria to Yemen - they have also been used in the Wisconsin, USA protests against massive effective pay cuts for public sector workers, and the restriction of trade union rights. In the UK too, it is being used to link up anti-cuts campaigns such as UK Uncut, student university occupiers, and others.

What links all of this is a beautiful and wonderful Twitter 'hashtag': #solidarity. By subscribing to the hashtag feed, Tweeters from around the world can share info, offer suggestions, participate, or just sympathise with people in struggle against austerity and oppression - whether they be in Liverpool or Lisbon, Birkenhead or Bahrain. And when the working people of the world really do unite, the social networking billionaires better hide out with their friends on Wall Street.

We can't turn the clock back, so Facebook and Twitter are here to stay, for better and for worse. While being careful about exactly what we put online, let's put these tools to use in creating a better society.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer Edition Of Nerve Magazine Hits Liverpool Streets

The eighteenth edition of Liverpool's Nerve magazine (which I used to be features editor for) is now available across Merseyside, and online. The social issues and culture publication is produced by a dedicated team of volunteers, and they would be very grateful for your support, and contributions of time, skills, money or any other resources.

This issue has articles on work casualisation, the impact of cuts on Liverpool schools, the rebuilding of the Royal hospital, and lap dancing.

In addition to that, there is lots of inspiring artwork, and reviews of local musicians, books, and exhibitions.

Click here for the full index. Paper copies are available from News From Nowhere, libraries, art galleries and cafés.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Unvarnished Truth About Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg

The "most ignorant and unfit" royal consort in his full glory
When Tom Paine wrote his anti-monarchy pamphlet Common Sense more than two hundred years ago, he noted that the minds of royals "are early poisoned by importance, and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large." By the time they reach the throne, they're "frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions." That could certainly be said of ninety year old Prince Philip, the man that much of the media is today celebrating as being "the very best of his generation".

If Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg was just a pensioner scraping by in a damp flat somewhere, he wouldn't be called 'great'. If a nonagenarian in some slum was known to prefer political systems that aren't "ruled by [their] people" then he would be seen as a bit of a crank to say the least. But that's what Prince Philip said to Alfredo Strössner, then fascist dictator of Paraguay, on a royal visit. And why wouldn't he? His wife hides her dictatorial powers behind the facade of UK democracy.

Similarly, if the same oldie said they had a "commitment to protecting wildlife", but then went and shot a tiger, a crocodile and a rhinoceros - endangered species all - in the space of a few days, he'd probably be locked up. Yet Prince Philip did all this on a hunting trip in the 1960s. But why wouldn't he? The aristocracy has enjoyed this 'sport' for hundreds of years. They are brought up to believe everything else in the world should only exist for their pleasure.

In addition to his contempt for endangered Paraguayans and endangered four legged creatures, he also holds contempt for people struggling to get by in the UK. He famously denied that there were any poor people in the country, then mocked the unemployed as the early 1980s recession took hold. But why would we expect anything different? The only time way he would ever see any poverty is at photo opportunity time.

I'm obliged to Johann Hari for those particular examples of Prince Philip being less than "the very best of his generation". However, I'm forced to disagree with him when he argues for a republic, with an elected president. No one individual could ever rule in the interests of all, and we need only look at people such as George W Bush to see that "the most ignorant and unfit" can become president too, given the right financial and political backing.

In last night's soft-focus BBC 'interview', Prince Philip told a toadying Fiona Bruce that he's going to "slow down" now he's reached his advanced age. Presumably, for such a non-productive human being, that means he's just going to stop, which wouldn't do the rest of us any harm at all. But what would annoy him most is his greatest fear - a society that is genuinely "ruled by its people". And if it was, perhaps he could clean the toilets.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Sri Lankan Garment Workers Defy Unions And Killer Cops Over Pensions

Katunayake is under military lockdown, but workers are still defiant
Garment workers in the Sri Lankan 'Free Trade Zone' of Katunayake have defied the government and their own union bosses over the implementation of a new private pension scheme, forcing the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance back to the drawing board. However, Katunayake is under virtual military occupation following the rebellion, which saw police murder protesting worker Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera.

The Private Sector Pension Bill was progressing through parliament when the revolt broke out. Under the original proposals, workers would effectively lose 2% of their income, which would then supposedly be paid into a pension scheme. However, they would receive less when they eventually retire - or, like many of the young and female workforce - return to their home villages and get married. The bill was being dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as part of a reform package designed to benefit the global financial elite.

Family and friends mourning the slain Ratnasekera
Under pressure from the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the IMF, the unions called off protests scheduled for May 24th. This produced a furious reaction from the garment workers, who launched a wildcat strike in their tens of thousands. Police were called in, to mount vicious attacks on the protesters. However, this led to even more workers coming out, with striker numbers estimated at forty thousand. At a protest outside a factory on 1st June, cops fired shots into the crowds. Ratnasekera was amongst the many wounded, when bullets hit his legs. Despite massive bleeding, police refused Ratnasekera medical treatment at their station. Two hours later, he was dead.

Panicked, the government called in the military to suppress the protests, and proposed further consultations with the trade unions on the pensions issue. However, further conflict is inevitable. The IMF will not back down over their demands, which means the trade union bureaucrats will, on behalf of their membership. When this happens, the rebellion will surely resume.

The Sri Lankan garment rebellion is of a piece with the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and the 'Arab spring' in general. Throughout the world, workers are rapidly reaching breaking point - the 'straw that broke the camel's back'. Oppressed by the international financiers and their own ruling classes, and abandoned by the trade union leaders who owe their comfort to the exploitation of their membership, workers are beginning to organise themselves democratically in defence of what little they have. Battle is joined, and a global class war suddenly has two sides in combat.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Poor Kids

Sam, 11, and Kayleigh, 16, struggling to get by in Leicester
BBC One, 7th June 2011

The number of UK children officially classed as living in poverty is 3.5 million, going by the government's extremely low threshold. Because of current government policies, that number is set to increase by 11% over the next three years. This documentary is therefore very timely, as it sheds some light on the kind of circumstances that an extra 385,000 kids are being condemned to, at the behest of the banking elite.

Jezza Neumann specialises in making documentaries about young people, and he has shown audiences the plight of children in China and Gaza before now. But the experience of many living much closer to home is also disgusting, and stores up trouble for the years ahead, whilst causing incalculable pain right now. Their stories need to be told.

Courtney, 8, often goes without meals
Eight-year-old Courtney is from Bradford. She lives with her mum and three sisters. Her mum is unemployed, as she has to take care of three girls and could never afford childcare on her pittance benefits. As it is, she ensures the family survives by borrowing money from the children's grandmother. As Courtney sits in her bedroom, we can see several layers of paper peeling off the walls. She often skips breakfast, and goes without lunch at the weekends, when there are no free school meals. She suffers from chronic eczema, and has dark red patches on the lower parts of her legs. She's never been on holiday, unlike her best friend, who unsuccessfully tries to cheer her up. Courtney believes there will be "loads of bad things" in her life, and only "a few good things."

Sam is eleven going on twelve, and lives in Leicester with his dad and sixteen year old sister Kayleigh. Sam's mum abandoned the family on his second birthday, and the event still haunts him, even as blows out the candles on his cake. Since his dad lost his £400 a week job, they have had to manage on £400 a month, once housing costs have been taken into account. Of course, "That goes on what we need, not what we want", in Sam's words, and they are often without gas and electricity. When something breaks, Sam's dad is forced to get a loan, but that means he'll also eventually have to pay back huge rates of interest. Sam gets bullied at school, with kids mocking the fact that he wears a uniform handed down by Kayleigh, which has buttons on the 'wrong' side, etc. As the economic situation deteriorates for the overwhelming majority, Sam worries that "soon we're going to starve to death", because "They're raising the prices of food and lowering the money." Kayleigh has suffered from cripplingly low self-esteem, and traces this back to her family's poverty: "It puts you in that mindset of 'Oh, I'm lower than everybody else, I'm not worth as much as everybody else'...your self esteem gets so low that you end up hurting yourself." A couple of years ago, she attempted suicide.

Paige is ten and is from a literally sickening tower block in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. Damp has pulled wallpaper and plaster off the walls, and layers of mould have got everywhere, including on the bedclothes. Paige has asthma, and this has been exacerbated by her appalling living conditions. Across the road there is a poor excuse for a playground, and she found a bag of needles in a bin around the corner. As she understatedly notes, "It's not very nice to find stuff like that at our age."

All these children have grown up very quickly, and display a better understanding of the way the world works than some adults. But by itself, this will not be enough to get them out of the poverty trap.

Jezza Neumann must get a lot of credit for his sensitive and respectful portrayal of life on the breadline. In his BBC blog entry, he describes how: "As a society, we have stigmatised poverty to a point where nobody likes to admit they're poor. By making Poor Kids through the eyes of the children, we could uncover a tough subject through a section of society who rarely gets their say." Furthermore, his documentary subverts the media talk of the so-called 'un-deserving' poor, by showing how their poverty itself creates huge barriers to self-improvement, especially in the current economic climate. But Neumann does not propose any solutions.

Ultimately, the living hell that is the lot of those 3.5 million children in one of the world's richest countries, is the result of successive governments waging a counter-revolution against the limited working class gains of the post-war period. That counter-revolution is now reaching a crescendo, as the coalition government tries to drag us back to the 1930s, and further enrich the filthy financial aristocracy. This can't go on for much longer. Their reaction must be met with our united action.

Some of the poverty facts shown on the programme:
  • The gap between rich and poor in the UK is now wider than at any time since the Second World War
  • Poor kids are five times less likely to have access to a safe outdoor play space than rich kids
  • Credit interest and higher fuel charges cost poor families an extra 1,280 a year
  • 1 in 5 poor families report skipping meals
  • poor children are two and a half more likely to suffer chronic illness
  • Low income families are twice as likely to split up
  • In November 2010 the UK came 18th out of 22 European countries ranked by UNICEF for child poverty. Only Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Italy were lower.
  • Child poverty under current policies is set to rise 11% in the next 3 years
  • One in six poor children has considered suicide
  • Over one million homes in the UK are classified as "unfit to live in"
  • Out of the 12 rich countries studied, kids in the UK have the lowest chance of escaping poverty
Poor Kids will be available to view on iPlayer until 14th June 2011.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tax Workers Walk Out Over Sickness Discipline Measures

A PCS picket in the north east
At 4pm today, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) workers walked out, in protest at the imposition of draconian sick day restrictions, which could result in disciplinary measures being taken against the ill. However, if the workers are to hold back these attacks, this afternoon needs to be just the start of a broad-based, democratically-controlled fightback.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) executive called the action on 31st May, in response to grassroots anger at HMRC's proposed 'attendance management policy'. Under the new system, it appears that three occasions and five days will be used as a disciplinary threshold by bosses, instead of five occasions or ten days. Having exhausted the artificial limit on their sickness, tax workers would feel intensely pressured to come into work, no matter how severe the 'extra' illness over their allotment. In winter, when viruses are most common, this would lead to increased infection of their colleagues. For the rest of the year, staff could be hauling themselves in with all kinds of ailments and injuries, which would be better treated by spending time at home. At a time when HMRC is cutting 13,000 jobs, this will cause significant stress for employees, which could feed back into increased sickness levels. If the new system is implemented, it would be represent a huge attack on the rights of workers across the public sector, as similar moves could be expected in other departments.

Tax staff walking out in East Kilbride, Scotland
The PCS executive is "not, at this point, asking members to take any full day’s strike action". Instead, it called a one hour walk-out from 4pm to 5pm on the 7th, followed by an hour later start and a two hour lunch break on the 8th, plus an effective 'work to rule' over the two days of the action.

Were the HMRC to give way after such a small act of rebellion, it would set a dangerous precedent, from the perspective of the ruling class and government cuts agenda. So PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and his executive will be hoping that these two days of mini strikes will be sufficient to let their membership vent their anger, without seriously disrupting revenue collection. Though union leaders such as Serwotka are publicly talking a good game following Business Secretary Vince Cable's threat of further restrictions on the right to strike, privately they are negotiating to force through the bulk of the coalition government's attacks. This is because they know that their own well-heeled lifestyles are dependent on the unions demonstrating that they are able to manage their members' anger.

The PCS threat to join the one day 'general strike' called by the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Lecturers and Teachers, the University and College Union must also be seen in this light. Just like in Greece - where they have been ten one day general strikes since the onset of the financial crisis, all to no avail - union bosses will put their own class interests ahead of that of their membership. The need for a democratic, horizontally-organised working class movement has never been greater.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Old Activism And The New In Liverpool

The old, unsuccessful way of doing things. Photo: Graeme Lamb
Phil Dickens' account of the "Liverpool People's Assembly Against The Cuts" is a very interesting one, for a couple of reasons. First, it provides a thorough description of yet another union-led cul-de-sac. Secondly, as a member of the Liverpool Solidarity Federation, Phil suggests an alternative way forward, of the kind that is now being utilised by the mostly young 'indignados' in Spain, which has borne fruit throughout the 'Arab Spring', and is actually an embryo of a new society, in the shell of this old, decaying one.

Despite its grand title, the event at the Black-E community centre was quite poorly attended, with the attendance largely "made up of the ranks of the professional left." Absent were representatives from the city's various anti-cuts groups, who are busy fighting their own particular battles to save their own particularly favoured resources from the axe. The meetings were literally talked down to by the panel on the platform. The event had hardly been publicised, with the exception being leafletting at the local TUC's similarly-sized May Day event. This was not a recipe for the formation of an all-Liverpool anti-cuts group. Instead it was a recipe for more inter-left squabbling, and nothing concrete being decided. Read Phil's article for a blow-by-blow run-down.

The shape of things to come in Catalonia. Photo: callafellvalo
Liverpool SolFed's proposal is decidedly more revolutionary stuff. It calls for a "democratic, broad-based anti-cuts campaign" - the direct opposite of the status quo, where anger and energy gets stifled by a union bureaucracy and its fake left hangers-on. There should be "a delegate council - NOT a central committee", where "mandated, recallable delegates" from each group put forward their organisation's position. There would be a separation of administration and decision-making, with admin roles again being subject to "immediate recall". The structure would be federal, with "individual groups to continue to exist autonomously and act upon their own initiatives." The result would be a solidarity network of campaigns based on "on class interest, NOT political affiliation."

Whatever the immediate effect of Liverpool SolFed's call, the pattern they propose is the inevitable outgrowth of the new resistance movements, as the horizontalism of the Spanish protest camps is currently demonstrating. The task of the old, top-down trade union structure is to hold back the tide of anger as long as it possibly can.

Please read the full Liverpool SolFed proposal here, and distribute it throughout your networks.
See Graeme Lamb's write-up and images here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Glasgow Defence Committee Condemns Police Violence At Demo

The Glasgow Defence Campaign - which was "established to oppose political policing and defend democratic rights in the struggle against the cuts" - has condemned police repression of a demo at Strathclyde University yesterday. The march around the campus was organised to protest the cutting of Geography, Sociology, and Community Education courses.

According to the GDC:
"During the demonstration, police moved to arrest a student ISG activist for the apparent crime of speaking on a megaphone on the steps of the McCance building. Another student was assaulted by officers, thrown to the ground and subsequently arrested. A young woman was punched in the face as she moved to help her partner. The GDC welcomes the initiative shown by protesters, who moved to defend those attacked and arrested, blocking the police vans from moving for over two hours, filming and photographing the actions of the police. Around 25 police and a helicopter were eventually deployed."
Click here for the full statement.

The Tasks Facing the Spanish "Angry Ones"

Night falls on the Madrid occupation
Nearly three weeks after thousands of mostly youthful protesters first occupied Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, the M-15 Movement of 'indignados' is starting to show signs that it is running out of steam. Unless it draws in wider layers of the working class, this is precisely what will happen.

The original occupation took place on the eve of Spanish local and regional elections, and this was the pretext that authorities used to ban the action. But by and large police were kept on a leash until after the elections had passed. By then, the movement had spread to Barcelona, Bilbao, Sevilla, Valencia and Logrono. On 27th May, cops fired rubber bullets and beat Barcelona protesters, but the assault was resisted, and the state failed to clear the Plaza de Cataluna.

There is plenty to get excited about here. Unmistakably, the revolutionary 'contagion' has now crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa, and has reached the continent of Europe. Like much smaller demonstrations in neighbouring Portugal in March, the actions have been organised independently of the trade union and 'left party' stranglehold. Some will no doubt believe they are reanimating the spirit of the 1930s Spanish Revolution, but the overwhelming majority of participants seem to be 'non-political', and have planned mass demonstrations on Facebook and Twitter, just as they would have done any social gathering. For them - just as throughout the Arab world this spring - the horizontally-organised movement is the most logical and 'natural' expression of their material needs.

Barcelona occupiers resist police violence
Though Spain has yet to follow Portugal, Greece and Ireland in applying for an IMF/EU bailout, the 'centre-left' government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has already enforced harsh austerity measures, as demanded by the international finance aristocrats. Just three days before the Madrid occupation, the Prime Minister announced a 5% pay cut in civil service pay, a €6bn cut in public sector investment, €1.2bn in cuts by regional and local governments, a pension payments freeze, and abolition of a €2,500 childbirth allowance from next year. Even before this, youth unemployment was at more than 45%, and inflation was at 3.4%, so many millions were struggling to afford basic necessities. The situation will inevitably get worse for the Spanish working class, as the economy gets sucked deeper into the mire.

However, there are important limitations to the "indignado" movement as it currently stands. Most crucially, there seems to be little talk of overthrowing the Zapatero government, and replacing it with true democracy. Instead, there are feeble-sounding pleas for politicians to start "bringing our voice to the institutions". Working class control of the means of production is not generally demanded, but the "right" to "a happy life" is - with no concrete proposals about how this could be brought about. Broadly, these are the entreaties of people who feel powerless, because so many are outside of the industrial process.

The Spanish political class - like its counterparts around the world - is hostile to the interests of its working class. It slavishly follows the dictates of the stock and bond traders, who will allow no let up in the ruling class onslaught, and no interference in their own right to enormous and ever growing piles of riches. There is zero chance that the Spanish government will make concessions just because some public squares are occupied. Though Tahrir Square got the most media attention in the anti-Mubarak Egyptian revolution, it was a growing strike movement which eventually persuaded the army that he must go. If it is to make any progress, the young, angry, furiously beating heart of this new Spanish revolution must be infused with new blood from the broader working class, and it must raise truly revolutionary demands.

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