Saturday, 12 February 2011

LRC Conference: Don't carry out Con-Dem cuts!

By Caroline Colebrook

The New Worker, 21 January 2011

LABOUR councils must absolutely refuse to implement spending cuts ordered by the Con-Dem Coalition – even if it means a Government commission stepping in and imposing them. This was the message of resistance that came loud and strong from the annual general meeting of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) that packed London’s Conway Hall last Saturday. It is impossible to oppose the cuts and at the same time implement them.

The LRC was established in 2004 by left Labour Party members, MPs and trade unionists who want to restore the Labour Party to its original socialist roots.

The New Communist Party affiliated to the LRC in 2005 and a number of party members and supporters took part in this year’s conference including NCP leader Andy Brooks as well as Michael Fletcher, Daphne Liddle, Ken Ruddock and Theo Russell from the Central Committee.
The meeting was entitled “Resist the Cuts; Rebuild the Party” and LRC chair John McDonnell MP opened with a fitting tribute to veteran campaigner Tony Benn and a run-down of measures currently going through Parliament.

These include the Localism Bill that will end council housing as we know it and lead to the social cleansing of low income people from being able to live in fashionable areas.

There is also the NHS Bill that will hand control of the finances to General Practitioners – who will in turn hand it to private companies. “This is the privatisation of the NHS,” said McDonnell.
“The rise in tuition fees will mean that education is no longer a gift from one generation to another but a commodity to be bought and sold.

“The cuts in benefits and pensions will be causing impoverishment of the kind we haven’t seen since the 1930s.”

He went on to stress the importance of pushing the TUC and union leaderships into action, mobilising for the big demonstration on 26th March and hundreds of other actions around the country. The 29th January students’ demonstration is now turning into a really big event.
And he again stressed – we must demand “No cuts at all!” – at any level, not to jobs or services.
Many spoke in defence of the postal services and Conference passed an emergency motion backing the fight of the Communication Workers’ Union against Royal Mail privatisation.

Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack, called for unity in the fight against the cuts and against sectarianism of the kind that was mocked in the film The Life of Brian – “We can’t have the Judean Popular Front refusing to speak to the Popular front of Judea.”

He also attacked those who fought cuts by saying, “Don’t cuts us, cut somewhere else”.
“We want no cuts at all, anywhere,” he declared.

After a lively discussion Conference agreed to “actively but critically” support the campaign of Ken Livingstone for Mayor of London as he was “committed to protect Londoners from the effects of economic uncertainty and government cuts”.

Many other motions were debated and passed including one from the New Communist Party, moved by Daphne Liddle, on wages jobs and working hours – as well as one from Left Front Art including the LGBT Community in the fight against the cuts.

Only one was rejected that sought to change the slogan from “Rebuild the [Labour] Party” to “Rebuild the Labour Movement”. The argument that the fight to rebuild inner party democracy was essential to winning genuine working class policies and defeating the right-wing opportunists, including what is left of “New Labour” won the vote.

Veteran Labour statesman Tony Benn spoke to a standing ovation in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the working class movement. He spoke of the history of state welfare and the vital role of local government and he reminded the conference that at the end of the Second World War the tax rate on the super rich had been 95 per cent.

In the afternoon Jeremy Corbyn MP put the struggle in an international context, explaining the huge international dimension of the economic crisis.

He explained that the extreme monetarist economic policies pioneered by the fascist regime of General Pinochet in Chile had been the model that imperialism had tried to impose throughout the Third World ever since and was “effectively a recolonisation”.

Corbyn explained that it is this economic policy – giving absolute free rein to the banks – that was behind the sub-prime crash in the United States. Now they are trying to impose a similar economic doctrine in Europe, starting with Greece.

“Will we be carved up like Latin America was in the 1980s, or will we stand up to the IMF and the economic imperialists? “There has to be the same internationalism in everything we do,” said Corbyn, “if we don’t we are going to be picked off one by one.”

A guest speaker from Tunisia, Mohammed Ali Harrath, brought news of the “revolution” he said was happening there. The exiled Tunisian Islamist leader said “this is our 1917” in his report of the upheaval that had, at last, driven out the hated dictator.

Student leader Clare Solomon, the president of the University of London Union, was another guest speaker, and she stressed the importance of Maintenance Allowance that allows students from low income families to stay in further education between the ages of 16 and 18. It covers their bus fares and other costs but without it thousands of students, however brainy, will not even get a chance at university entrance.

LRC membership has increased by around 25 per cent in the past year and now stands at over 1,000 individual members. The committee is supported by five Labour MPs, a number of trade unions at national and regional level, and socialist, co-operative and progressive movements, including the NCP, that do not stand against Labour in elections.

The increase in membership could be seen by the contributions from delegates from all round the country. There were dozens of significant contributions from the floor from seasoned trade unionists, peace campaigners like Walter Wolfgang and young students new to the movement.

It was a day of debate and commitment to the struggle to build a fighting, democratic Labour Party that will defeat the Tory-led coalition on a platform based on union rights, social justice and public ownership. It ended, as always, with a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Con-Dems back off from pensions fight

By Caroline Colebrook, The New Worker 4 February 2011

THE CON-DEM Coalition last week announced that it would not be introducing major changes to public sector pensions in the Budget this March, saying it would not have the detailed proposals ready until the summer.

The plans, being drawn up by former Labour Cabinet member Lord Hutton, are expected to raise worker contributions substantially and may end final salary pensions in the public sector, in favour of pensions based on career average salaries — a big reduction when inflation is taken into account.

The interim Hutton report, published in October 2010, claimed that public sector pensions are “inherently unfair” and advocated increasing contributions and reducing payouts for civil servants.

The Treasury is hoping to save £1.8 billion through these measures, in conjunction with drastic cuts to the public sector.

The announcement followed a meeting of union leaders at TUC Congress House to coordinate the national day of action in protest against cuts to public sector jobs, pensions and pay, planned for 26th March.

They focused on pensions as being an issue on which they could legitimately call for industrial action, under current anti-union laws that forbid strikes on issues of policy.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said strengthening the anti-union laws would be a last resort. “I would like to see unions moving from the looking-for-a-fight approach to one that exists on the continent where they see themselves as public partners,” he said.

New restrictions on right to strike

It cannot have been the same continent that includes Greece, Portugal, France, Spain and so on, where unions have many more rights that workers in Britain and are using them in the fight against cuts. Nevertheless, in spite of Maude’s pretence about “last resort”, the Con-Dems are contemplating even more restrictions on the right to strike.

They are looking at raising the threshold in a strike ballot so that a strike would only be lawful if more than 50 per cent of those entitled to vote backed a strike — though most of their parliamentary majorities are well below 50 per cent of those entitled to vote.

Meanwhile some union leaders seem lukewarm for the fight. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “As a result of discussions with the Chancellor and other ministers, the Government has agreed to central talks on the future of public service pensions.

“Ministers have now accepted that they will not force through changes in the March budget. We hope that the talks can make progress, but we cannot rule out industrial action taking place on this issue.”

The TUC general council meeting agreed that pensions were likely to form the focus of any calls for industrial action but some union leaders privately admit they need more time to negotiate with Government and to build solidarity across the unions.

In the short term many public sector unions are simply fighting job losses in local councils.

Barber said: “Unions will work very, very closely together in responding to all of those issues including, as a last resort, in some circumstances, potentially industrial action.

“As a result of discussions, the Government is now not intending to try and push through changes in public service pensions in the budget in March... they have proposed discussions that will take place over the next few months.”

Barber said workers were facing a “volatile cocktail” of job cuts and attacks on pay and pensions which could spark widespread industrial action. “No one is talking about a general strike, but of course these attacks could well give rise to industrial action around specific disputes.”

Clearly union activists need to be putting as much pressure as possible on their leaders to stand firm and ensure that 26th March is just the first battle of a long hard campaign, not an overture to compromise and retreat.

First NHS hospital privatised

The New Worker, 3 December 2010

HINCHINGBROOKE Hospital in Cambridgeshire last week became the first NHS hospital to be handed over in its entirety to be run by a private company.

The East of England Strategic Health Authority voted for Circle, an employee-owned company, to become the preferred partner to run the hospital.

Hinchingbrooke has regularly been described as a “failing” hospital, and has a £40 million deficit.

Private companies have previously been involved in running various services within NHS hospitals, including social care; this is the first time an NHS district hospital. But it is likely to be the first of many.

The Labour government approved the bid process last year – indicating it would prefer another NHS organisation to take over.

But now private takeovers could become the norm. Former Goldman Sachs banker Ali Parsa, Circle’s managing partner, said the company’s co-operative model offered a “Big Society” solution for Hinchingbrooke.

Circle already employs 1,000 seconded NHS staff and treats more than 130,000 patients a year at day-surgery hospitals in Nottingham and Burton, and runs other surgical clinics in Britain and one private hospital in Bath.

Public-sector union Unison head of health Karen Jennings said: “It is completely unnecessary for a private contractor to take over. The hospital has made enormous progress and turned itself around,” she said.

Jennings warned that the decision was “a strong signal of the expanding privatisation of our NHS” as other hospitals in similar financial situation could now be targeted for takeover.

“Profits will now be put before patients at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. Merchant banks will reap the rewards while local people will suffer the consequences.”

And she accused the authorities of pricing out NHS providers by running an expensive and complex bidding process.

“Hinchingbrooke hospital could have continued to turn itself around. Sadly increasing privatisation in the NHS is the only show in town for the Tories,” she said.

The British Medical Association also expressed its opposition. BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said there was “no good evidence” that private companies could deliver health services any more effectively than the NHS.

“Previous initiatives with the private sector, such as independent-sector treatment centres and the private finance initiative have often proved to be quite expensive for the NHS. This is an untested and potentially worrying experiment,” he said.

Geoff Martin of the campaigning group Health Emergency warned that the Hinchingbrooke Hospital takeover was a “massive step towards a fully privatised US-style system” run solely for private profit. He said that the debt would remain with the NHS, even though it was the excuse for handing over operations to Circle.

“It’s a one-way ticket to the bank for the private sector where their profits are ring-fenced.

“By underpinning the cost of the debt, we as taxpayers are subsidising the break-up by stealth of the NHS that people rely on and believe in.”

Former NHS boss Mark Britnell recently told Health Investor magazine that “more than 20 organisations could follow Hinchingbrooke’s lead in the next 12 months.”

The franchise will need to be ratified by the Treasury and the Department of Health and this is due to happen in February.

Colchester against the cuts

by New Worker correspondent

The New Worker, 26 November 2010

TRADE unionists, students and members of disability organisations last week took part in a meeting at Friends House in Colchester to discuss the effects of the proposed Government public spending cuts and how to fight them.

The trade unions involved included the civil service union PCS, general unions Unite and Unison, the Communication Workers’ Union and the National Union of Students.

The meeting moved a vote of solidarity with three local students who were arrested for demonstrating outside the Conservative headquarters in Milbank London.

Three Hundred students from Essex University went to the demo.

The regional secretary of CWU spoke of the fight against privatisation within the postal services.

Call for affiliations

New Communist Party industrial organiser Michael Fletcher called for all organisations to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee.

In the debate he said this was a crisis of capitalist over production and the cuts would reduce the purchasing power of the people.

He said also that the Blairites had gone from the leadership of the Labour Party and changed the situation; the movement should support the Labour Party as the mass basis of the working class, to extend its trade union influence in Parliament.

The platform of the meeting agreed with this statement.

A speaker from Colchester health branch of Unison described the cuts at Colchester General Hospital as increasing stress, with fewer workers taking on more workloads, and the first have been announced among the nursing staff.

The meeting was very successful and inspiring, and the venue was packed out, with people standing outside in the corridor.

Also a delegate from the Police Federation was there supporting the campaign.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Capitalism does not have the answers!

The Labour Movement and the capitalist crisis

New Worker Special Feature 16/1/2009
by Eric Trevett

"Not since the First World War has our banking system been so close to collapse" – Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England.

"We who have looked to the self-interest of the lending institutes to protect shareholders' equity, myself especially, are in a state of shock and disbelief" – Alan Greenspan, former Chair of the United States Federal Reserve.

THE ECONOMIC and political crisis of capitalism once again proves the validity of the Marxist critique of capitalism. Those in the labour movement who contended that capitalism had found a way of becoming crisis-free and that boom-and-bust was a thing of the past have been proved wrong.

The present crisis may well prove to be the most profound in the history of the capitalist system. The capitalist media try to find a scapegoat to blame for this crisis. They point to greedy bankers and even Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been held responsible. But the real reason for the crisis is endemic to the capitalist system itself.

The crisis affects every capitalist country in the world, irrespective of whether they have capitalist or social democratic governments. The proof of this is the fast rising unemployment throughout the system with notable concerns going to the wall, giving rise to a further concentration of power to a shrinking elite.

Some people are amazed when told that the crisis results from too much production, too many goods, which the purchasing power of the market is unable to absorb. There simply is not enough purchasing power in the population.

Further proof of this is to be found in the sharp competition between enterprises resulting in sharp cuts in the price of commodities. At one time the rising price of oil up to about $150 a barrel was an exception to the general malaise. But that was caused by speculators and the price of a barrel has now sunk to under $40 a barrel, with the Middle East oil producers discussing cutting production in an effort to maintain prices and profits.

The letters of regret we had from gas and electricity companies that they were having to raise their prices substantially due to a sharp rise of fuel have not been followed by letters rejoicing that they
are now able to cut the price of their products substantially.

The argument that the freeing of market forces would lead to a balancing out of supply and demand has also been exposed by the present crisis. Indeed the banks and motor corporations have turned to public funds to avoid bankruptcy. That means that taxation from the working classes is to be allocated to big business ventures.

The working class is to be even more philanthropic than those Robert Tressell wrote about in the book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

In the Unites States especially this development of bailing out the motor car industry is viewed with horror because it seems to smack of socialist legislation. Of course it's no such thing and it undermines the argument against social ownership.

Capitalism needs a constantly expanding economy to realise maximum profits and to help establish political stability. Now there is contraction in the economy tens of thousands of workers are losing their jobs and half a million families are more than three months in arrears with their mortgage repayments.

Many of the recently made unemployed are from high salaries jobs and enjoyed big bonuses and lavish expense accounts. They thought they had secure jobs but the harsh realities of capitalism have ended that belief. They are workers and as such should be encouraged to participate in the struggles of the working class generally and its organisations.

The answer, of course, is socialism

The answer to capitalism in crisis is, of course, socialism. To achieve that that capitalist state machine has to be replaced by a working class state machine. In the communist movement we put the issue more sharply: that the dictatorship of the capitalist class must be ended and the dictatorship of the proletariat established in its place.

Communists do not believe the state to be neutral; the capitalist state serves the interests of the capitalist class and the working class state serves the interests of the working class – and other
sections of the population by putting an end to the exploitation of one person by another and landlordism.

Before socialism can be established there is much to be done in the field of organisational and ideological work. The working class has suffered some setbacks in the recent past. The defeat of the miners and the decimation of the engineering industry has weakened the trade union movement and undermined class consciousness.

But now there is growing anxiety among working people with growing discontent with the capitalist policies of the three major political parties.

There is not enough righteous anger over the domestic policies of privatisation and against the foreign policies, including the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan and the obstacles that British and US imperialism have put up against effective solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The labour movement should take advantage of the opportunities arising from the capitalist crisis to rally the working class with a renewed commitment to achieve a socialist society.

Fascists are also active in Britain, aiming to take advantage of the situation to introduce a much more dictatorial system to defend capitalism. In Germany the most reactionary sections of the capitalist class used the fascists to maintain their power, with the persecution of trade union and labour activists and any progressive elements – and of course the Jewish communities.

An important part of the work of the labour movement is to actively oppose the fascists whenever and wherever they make their play. The struggle against racism is necessary in the struggle for working class unity around a revolutionary perspective.

To further strengthen the socialist movement we should fight to restore Clause Four to the Labour Party constitution, with the additional amendment that the transfer of power from the capitalist state to the workers' state is an essential prerequisite to build a socialist society.

Today the governments of capitalist countries are desperately trying to find ways to resolve the crisis. One method being discussed is printing more money. We should remember that this was tried in Germany in the 1920s and it led to massive devaluation of the mark, so that is not the way forward.

From the working class point of view we should not be satisfied to find a way out of the crisis for a system that is obsolete. Our aim should be socialism.

History has proved that socialism cannot be attained by spontaneous struggle alone. It is necessary to build a party dedicated to leading, uniting and helping the working class to ensure its freedom to exploitation and social poverty.

The New Communist Party has obviously got a role to play in achieving this and on that basis we appeal for support in building our party and increasing the circulation of its paper, the New Worker.

Monday, 24 September 2007

The story of the Burston Strike School

In 1902, for the first time, under the Education Bill 'working-class children' were entitled to go to school, but this was little more than preparing them for work in the factories, fields or domestic service.
Many progressives and trade unionists believed that that all children should have a decent education. Tom and Kitty Higdon were Christians and Socialists who saw education as an opportunity for a better life.
They began teaching near Aylsham in Norfolk in 1902, a highly agricultural area where the Agricultural Workers Union was actively organising workers.
The Norfolk Education Committee was dominated by farm owners who provided squalid conditions and took children out of school whenever seasonal cheap labour was needed.
Following disputes with the school managers at Aylsham, in 1911 the Higdons were moved to a school at Burston village, run by a committee of farm owners chaired by the local Rector, the Reverend Charles Tucker Eland.
Eland was a reactionary conservative whose £580-a-year salary contrasted with an annual wage of about £35 for many of his congregation, who were in constant danger of being evicted by the land owners.
The Higdons soon came into conflict with the committee over the cold and damp conditions at the school, but they gained great respect in the local community for their efforts to give their children a better start in life. Attendance at the school rose dramatically.
Tom Higdon stood for the parish council along with other villagers, and they succeeded in pushing out Charles Reverend Eland and several other land owners. The balance of power on the parish council swung in favour of the working people.
The committee, led by Charles Eland, accused Kitty Higdon of discourtesy over an incident in which the schoolroom fire was lit without permission, and persuaded a local foster mother to say she had beaten and mistreated her foster daughters. They demanded the immediate dismissal of Tom and Kitty Higdon.
'We are going on strike tomorrow'
An inquiry cleared the Higdons of mistreating the children, but the committee decided to dismiss them on the grounds of discourtesy. But on the day managers welcomed a new teacher to the school, they discovered writing on the classroom blackboard saying 'We are going on strike tomorrow', and heard a commotion outside.
A group of children, led by one of the pupils, Violet Potter, along with their parents, marched through the village which placards declaring 'We want our teachers back', and a banner carrying the single word 'Justice'.
At Crown Green the Higdons gave an emotional speech, and the parents, led by the village fishmonger George Durbidge, decided they wanted the Higdons to continue teaching their children.
A makeshift schoolroom was set up on the Green under a marquee, where the Higdons began teaching all but 6 of the pupils. The school was later housed an unused workshop on the Green.
The Management Committee resorted to intimidating the parents; many were charged with not sending their children to a state-recognised school, but the fines were paid from collections held outside the courtroom.
Workers who supported the ‘strike school,’ as it became known, were sacked by local landowners, threatened with eviction, and some even had their houses and crops ransacked, but such actions strengthened their determination and the growing support of the labour movement.
The strike became a rallying cause for trade unionists and progressives all over Britain, with supporters and speakers regularly visiting Burston, and after one year over £1,250 was raised in donations from trade unions and Labour Party branches.
In the midst of the horrors of the Great War, Burston was a spark of hope, and remained a beacon for trade unionists long after the strike itself had come to an end.
In May 1917 a brand new purpose-built school was opened by the leader of the strike, Violet Potter, who said at the opening: "with joy and thankfulness I declare this school open to be forever a School of Freedom".
The Burston Strike School only came to an end a few months after Tom Higdon died in August 1939, and Kitty was unable to carry on alone. Its pupils - the children and grandchildren of the original strikers - were taken to the Council School, where the facilities were now greatly improved.
The boycott of the Council School had lasted for over 25 years and earned its place in history as the longest-lasting strike ever.
Kitty Higdon died in April 1946. Both she and Tom are buried in Burston's churchyard.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Burston Rally 2007 - a fantastic turnout

Trade unionists and activists from across Britain gathered at Burston village for the annual Strike School commemoration on Sunday 2 September in the biggest turnout for many years.

This year's event took place on the ninetieth anniversary of the opening of the present school in 1917 by George Lansbury, who became leader of the Labour Party in 1931.

Will Sullivan, the TUC's Equalities Officer opened the rally by drawing attention to the fact that in addition to their educational work the Higdons fought against child labour. The next speaker, Mary Davies of London Metropolitan University drew attention to the fact that the events in Burston did not take place in a vacuum.

The years before the First World War saw a great upsurge in political activity with trade unions growing in size and militancy while the Suffragettes were causing the Liberal government trouble as they escalated their campaign for votes for women. She was however in error by stating that Norfolk was not a militant area. Norfolk was where the agricultural labourer's union was founded in 1906.

After a march round the village retracing the route taken by the children when they left the old school in 1914 and music from local bands and Billy Bragg. other speakers took the stage. Barry Camfield, Assistant General Secretary of the TGWU Section of Unite welcomed the recent action of the Prison Officers Association in defying the anti-union laws introduced by Margaret Thatcher and maintained by Tony Blair. His comments on what should be done to repeal these anti-trade union laws was predictably vague.

Veteran Labour politician Tony Benn pointed out that while many speak of traditional British values, they in fact mean deference to the powers that be. Burston on the other hand represented a better British tradition of defiance and disobedience to the ruling classes which began with the Peasants'' Revolt of 1381 and was continued by the Levellers.

The final speaker was Bob Crow, General Secretary of the Railway Maritime and Transport union who denounced Gordon Brown for appointing Sir Digby Jones of the CBI while not appointing a trade unionist to Cabinet.

The NCP East Anglia District's stall had a steady stream of visitors. Before the day was out the entire stock of sixty New Workers was sold out. The specially produced East Anglia Worker also proved extremely popular. Throughout the day sales of literature,jigsaws, and bric-a-brac all helped boost Party funds.