Sunday 27 July 2008

Brown down Warwick avenue with a duff mandate

Brown is his usual right-wing self, at Labour's National Policy Forum - a meeting between Labour ministers, activists and trade unionists, held at Warwick University (BBC News: Labour rejects union strike calls). He has rejected calls to scrap the Tory anti-union laws or commit to free school meals for all primary school pupils, yet plans were approved for a welfare crackdown, ID cards, and new nuclear power stations.

Fair enough, the NPF did agree on a few progressive measures; namely to reduce the voting age to 16, make the House of Lords an elected body, and extend the full minimum wage to people aged 21 rather than 22. Yet these are more than outweighed by the reactionary measures being pushed by Brown et al, and will do more or less exactly nothing to reverse Labour's recent self-inflicted misfortunes :-(

Brown's cockiness would be bad enough at the best of times, but it is made worse by the fact that recent election results - most recently in Glasgow East - show that Brown has no popular mandate for his policies. Indeed, calls for a leadership contest from within his own Labour Party, imply he has no popular mandate as leader - except perhaps as the leader of a desert island :-P

The Glasgow East result was rather interesting in a number of ways. The swing from Labour to the SNP was approx 22%, greater than that in other by-elections from Labour to the Tories. Since the SNP is to the left of Labour on a number of issues, such as university tuition fees, this should scotch (no pun intended!) the myth that the Labour meltdown is due to British people moving to the right. On a sadder note, it's a terrible shame the SSP / Solidarity split occurred, because the combined votes of the SSP and Solidarity would have been enough to push the Liberal Democrats into 5th place (BBC News: Glasgow East result in full)

Meanwhile, Brown whines that he does not want "a return to the 1970's". Yet the strikes of the 1970's, culminating in the Winter of Discontent, were not caused by the trade union laws of the time being too permissive. They were caused by workers' real wages and living standards being attacked by a right-wing Labour government, while their wages were being eroded by massive inflation. Ring any bells ?!?

Already the general secretary of the GMB, one of Britain's biggest unions, has called for a leadership contest (BBC News: PM 'must face leader challenge'). And unions are becoming more willing to take strike action to defend their members, as seen in the recent local government workers' strike.

Since union contributions to Labour still make up a substantial percentage of Labour's income, it's time they asked for something back in return. The unions must demand Brown repeals the anti-trade union laws, and that's just the start! They must also demand that Brown immediately reverses his decision to scrap the 10p tax rate, stops attacking striking workers, funds public services properly, gives decent wage increases to public sector workers, pulls out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and cancels the Trident nuclear weapons programme. And, most importantly of all, demand that he starts listening to the workers who voted for him, and whose unions fund his party, rather than the fat cats who now seem to be dictating Labour policy.

Or steps down now, and makes way for someone who will !!!

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Revolutionaries still top of the Class

Maybe the Equality and Human Rights Commission are attempting to fill the vacuum left by the right-wing shift of Labour and the collapse of electoral representation of the left. Or maybe they're attempting to protect the Establishment by trying to buy off the increasing support among workers for strikes and industrial action. Either way, it seems kinda surreal that Trevor Philips, the head of the EHRC, wants to extend its remit and focus on the issue of class (BBC News: Fight class divide, says Phillips).

Although this is dubbed 'a radical departure' from the organisation's remit, it will be very interesting to see how Philips and the EHRC view the issue of class, in practice. There is some confusion about what defines a person's class, with some seeing it as typified by cultural differences - the cliched 'cloth caps and whippets' of the working class, and 'airs and graces' of the so-called upper class (leading some people to mistakenly see contemporary bosses such as Richard Branson as 'working class heroes'). Yet class is not defined by culture or interests, or even purely by earnings or type of work. Class is defined by our relationship to the means of production; the ruling capitalist class (so-called 'upper class') own and control the means of production, and profit directly from the goods and services produced. The working class, by contrast, have no such ownership or control of our workplaces, and can only survive by selling our labour - which the capitalist class goes on to profit from.

A report by the EHRC - an amalgamation of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality, and Disability Rights Commission - rightly states that 'there is too much vertical division in Britain between social classes'. Yet let us not forget that class also exists across the 'horizontal' divisions of race, sex, sexuality and disability - there are now a minority of black, Asian, gay and disabled bosses, who are just as ruthlessly exploitative as their white counterparts. And despite the pernicious myth of the White Working Class™, white workers have far more in common with black and Asian workers than we will ever have with white British bosses.

What all capitalist bosses have in common is that they must maximise their exploitation of workers, while workers all share this exploitation. Although both are subject to forms of alienation, ie the divorce of our living standards from our own efforts, the alienation suffered by workers makes us feel insignificant, while the bosses feel an inflated sense of power. Small wonder, then, that the boss of British Gas, Jake Ulrich, responds to customers' fury and despair at the hyper-inflation in gas prices - out of which he stands to make fat profits - by telling us to 'wear two jumpers' (The Independent: How to beat 60% rise in gas prices? Wear two jumpers, says energy boss). Personally, I'd love to see Mr Ulrich wear two concrete shoes :-P

What workers also have in common is our ability, through collective strike action, to attack not only our bosses, but also the capitalist system which they are at the head of. Without workers' labour, their profits soon disappear!

It is also pointed out that Trevor Phillips is advocating an 'implicitly political policy', from an organisation which is supposed to be 'apolitical'. Yet this is the EHRC's greatest weakness, and not just on the issue of class. Racism, sexism, homophobia and disablism are political, they were created by the development of capitalism and are still perpetuated by the capitalist system, not least as a means of 'divide and rule'. Likewise, any opposition to such oppression, if it is to be effective, must take a political form.

Likewise, class cannot simply be reformed away by bosses being told to be a bit kinder to workers. Class, and the exploitation of one class by another, are a central part of class societies such as capitalism. The only way to solve once and for all the issue of class, is for the exploiting capitalist class to be smashed by a workers revolution, and for workers to take control. In the meantime, strike action by workers is much more effective not only for improving workers' pay and conditions, but also for challenging the political and economic structures which perpetuate class inequality, than any number of mealy-mouthed speeches by NGOs and their bureaucrats will ever be. ,

As Marx said in The Communist Manifesto: "Every class struggle is a political struggle"!

Sunday 20 July 2008

New Labour's Freudian slip

So soon after the Tories announced plans to set up boot camps for young unemployed people, New Labour have shown their 'me too' attitude by planning to force long-term unemployed people onto workfare (BBC News: 'Work for dole' proposals leaked). This plan seems to have been inspired by an ill-founded allegation in February by David Freud - the government's welfare officer and also an investment banker (so much for Labour being the party of the working class :-P ) - that fewer than a third of incapacity benefits are legitimate claimants.

Such a move would be hideously reactionary at the best of times. But it beggars belief that the government has the cheek to announce it now, when unemployment is rising and more and more companies are announcing job losses due to the credit crunch and economic slowdown :-(

Workfare, in whatever guise, has not helped people into secure, well paid jobs. Indeed, the low wages associated with workfare schemes, from 'work for dole' to the YTS schemes of the 1980s, encourage companies to take on low-paid workfarers with next to no employment rights - rather than taking on more full paid staff with full employment rights. Funny way to improve the job market!

At the same time, there is a pernicious development which seems to be eroding the job prospects of substantial numbers of people. After sacking a 'too fat' firefighter (BBC News: Strike ballot over 'fat' fireman) rather than re-deploying him in another job within the Grampian fire service, their assistant fire chief officer said the service's policy required crew "to be able to perform all the potential requirements of a modern firefighter". Such an argument is used to oppose the military being covered by anti-discrimination legislation (see Red Disability's article on disability discrimination in the UK armed forces). As support staff in emergency services such as Police, Fire and Ambulance services are cut back due to cost-cutting, can we see more cases of the skills and abilities necessary for all remaining employees becoming more stringently enforced - with negative implications for substantial numbers of employees, eg employees with disabilities ?

If the government genuinely want to get more people into work, they should put a stop to cost-cutting which is forcing lay-offs of staff in the public sector. And take action to stop companies closing production facilities in the UK, in order to transfer the work abroad where wages are cheaper - for example, any factories, call centres etc which are closed should be nationalised, without compensation to their fat cat owners! But this government won't attack the fat cats who give New Labour lots of money, oh no, it's much easier for them to kick those of us who have already been cast aside by their friends in the capitalist Establishment :-(

So both the Tories and New Labour are united in attacking workers, including unemployed workers. That's because both are part of the capitalist Establishment, which is united in defending and enhancing the capitalist system by increasing the exploitation of workers, as far as they can.

Yet workers can also defend ourselves, if we unite. We have seen the power of united workers in the local government workers' strikes on Wednesday and Thursday (Socialist Worker: Strikers have power to win). Yet this is only the beginning. If enough workers across the economy take strike action, the strikes can go beyond economic demands and start raising political demands. Eventually this can lead to a revolutionary situation, as detailed in Rosa Luxemburg "The Mass Strike".

As Marx said in The Communist Manifesto: "Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!"

Thursday 17 July 2008

Spring botch

So those in charge of the Labour Party have decided to axe next year's spring conference, allegedly to save the party money (BBC news: Labour axes its spring conference). Personally, I think they could save money better if they chose a less posh venue (a common practice of smaller parties such as the Greens), stayed in cheap-and-cheerful B&B's (like most of their members do when on holiday), and didn't go so over the top on heavy-handed security.

Even so, I can't help wondering if the real reason for the cancellation of the spring conference, is to avoid Labour Party activists and trade unionists from asking too many awkward questions. Especially at a time when New Labour's appeal to its left-wing members, and even its trade union donors, is - understandably - increasingly threadbare.

Not that the mandarins at the helm of New Labour have ever liked too many awkward questions. Remember back in 2005, when Walter Wolfgang heckled (at the time) foreign secretary Jack Straw over the illegal, murderous and unjustifiable Iraq war - and was physically removed from the conference by security guards, and had his security pass confiscated. After such more recent obscene blunders as the 10p tax fiasco, they couldn't possibly be trying to avoid similar angry exchanges at conference, could they?

Besides, the Iraq war hasn't gone away either. As the death toll of the illegal occupation rises, both of Iraqis and British soldiers, the protests continue with every death and every anniversary of this atrocity.

What's more, the military death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a negative impact of Armed Forces recruitment; I can't help thinking this is the real reason behind measures such as increasing the compensation for military personnel wounded on duty. Admittedly this is welcome, as is the plan to give free university education to all soldiers who have served 6 years or more. Then again, how about bringing back free university education for everybody, by scrapping tuition fees and bringing back decent grants. Education is a right, not a privelege, and such a move would be enormously beneficial to the economy by providing highly skilled workers. And would cost a fraction of the cost of the Iraq war and occupation, let alone that in Afghanistan.

Speaking of cost, if the Labour Party is so hard up they have to resort to penny-pinching measures such as scrapping their conference, they have only themselves to blame. It is because of the Blairites and Brownites dragging the party so far to the right and alienating so many working class supporters, that Labour Party membership has plummeted since 1997, a number of unions have stopped donations (most recently, Unison are questioning their donations to Labour), and an increasing number of trade unionists are opting out of their unions' political levy.

To put Labour on a "long term stable financial footing", it's not the spring conference which needs to be ditched. Instead, they must ditch the entire right-wing New Labour Blair Rich Project, and get back to representing the unions. And the working class, who not only provided most of Labour's past support (both financial and political), but who elected them in the first place!

Sunday 13 July 2008

Electoral dysfunction?

The crisis within Respect reached a new low recently, as our remaining 3 councillors in Tower Hamlets - including, most shockinghly, Oliur Rahman - defected to Labour (Respect's statement on the defection). In addition, one Respect Renewal councillor there has also defected to Labour (Respect Renewal statement on the matter). This is exspecially shocking, coming so soon after Labour's disastrous results recently.Tickets for the Titanic, anyone :-P

Sadly, this does show clearly the problem with bourgeois democracy in general, and with the UK electoral system in particular, which is heavily biased against small and fledgling (no cat jokes, please!) parties.

On a happier note, the Nazi BNP were prevented from winning in a recent council by-election in Eckington - Labour won, the BNP came 4th with 11% of the vote. Although they still got over 200 votes too many, and we must still be vigilant, it at least proved my fears that they may win (I myself suffered abuse from Nazis in Eckington as long ago as 2000) wrong.

Also on an uplifting note, the Green Party came a good second in the recent Haltemprice (David Davis' seat) with over 7% of the vote. According to the Green Party report of the Haltemprice result, their vote in Brighton Pavilion has now surpassed that of Labour, so they may get their first MP at the next general election.

But all this is still eclipsed by the Respect crisis. Especially at a time when the Establishment parties are pissing on us more than ever; Brown gives us hyper-inflation then tells us to 'stop wasting food', while the Tories want to bring in boot camps (reminiscent of the 'skivvy schools' of the early 20th century) for young unemployed people (BBC News: Tories outline plans for jobless). Has the left, left us in the lurch?

One crumb of comfort is the coming by-election in Glasgow East, where both Solidarity and the SSP are standing, not to mention the Scottish Greens. What's more, if Labour lose this by-election, we may well see the back of Brown in September.

But far more hope can be gained by ignoring the electoral mess, and looking instead to the extra-parliamentary fightback. The Shell tanker drivers led the way by winning a 14% pay rise over 2 years, and this has been followed by a number of significant strikes - notably the strike this coming Wednesday and Thursday by 650,000 local government workers (Socialist Worker: 650,000 workers to strike against Brown's pay freeze). I urge all readers of this blog to support this, and any other, strike. It is by striking, that the working class exercise real power and can take on not only their bosses and the government, but the capitalist system in general.

Real power does not lie in parliament (although many politicians do!). Real power lies in the boardrooms of the big capitalist companies who control the capitalist system, including the British state. But it also lies among organised workers, without whose labour, not only the capitalists' profits, but also their power, will dwindle to nothing.

Stuff the politicians ... the workers have the real power!