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Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

DECEMBER 2012 £1




? E K I R L ST Abortion rights Racism in football LRC agm Fighting for the NHS

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Editorial Board


Graham Bash, Mick Brooks, Simon Deville, Pete Firmin, Andrew Fisher, Ian Ilett, Chris Knight, Jon Lansman, Margarita Morales, Norrette Moore, Gordon Nardell, Mike Phipps, Susan Press, Jeff Slee, Jackie Walker, Louise Whittle, John Wiseman.

3 In place of fear 4 Elections round-up 5 The John McDonnell Column 6-7 LRC AGM reports 8 Shift Young Labour left 9 Rotherham selection; Council Tax Benefits cuts 10 Women’s fightback 11 Abortion rights 12 Save Lewisham Hospital; fight against Veolia 13 NHS victory in Gloucestershire 14 Peterborough care homes 15 Action short of strikes 16-17 General strike debate 18 Justice for Tower of London cleaners; Yorkshire NUJ 19 Public sector pensions 20-21 Baker’s asthma 22 Tony Blair delusions 23 Racism in football 24 Elections in US…. and Nicaragua 25 Close Guantanamo Bay 26 End occupation of Afghanistan 27 Greece on the edge 28-31 Reviews 32 Iberian general strike

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Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Editorial: In Place of Fear There were two sides to New Labour – the hardliners and the wets. The former rejected class-based politics, embraced neoliberal capitalism, and was Atlanticist in its foreign policy. The Party was not worth listening to, and so was ignored. Members drifted away, two unions fell by the wayside as millions of voters gave up on the Party.

force them. Likewise on tax avoidance, Miliband threatens to name and shame, yet does not promise to legislate. What stalks the New Labour wets is the fear that you cannot win unless you pander to the right wing dominated media, to big business - in short to capital - hence the capitulation over Afghanistan and Gaza.

New Labour wets went along with this – depressed and demoralised by years of defeat, they genuinely felt that Labour had to move to the right to win. While the hardliners embraced this, the wets felt uncomfortable, but accommodated to it. This did not just happen in Parliament, but to a lesser extent it occurred in unions and local parties too.

We see the same passivity in many of the major unions that believe strikes cannot win, that unions can only exhort, not force. They are churches, but secular with cosseted and unaccountable leaders who believe there can be no salvation on earth. It is a miserable, defeatist position.

Blair appealed to the wets when he said, ‘principle without power is futile’. The message was clear, ‘it’s no good having good principles if you’re not in power ... give some principles up and we can at least achieve a few things’.

Our job is to put something in place of fear, to build a movement that creates change itself from which those same leaders can draw confidence or else be replaced. We must do this with our party leadership, our trade union leaderships, and where it exists, we must do it within our CLPs and union branches too.

Ed Miliband was elected saying, ‘the era of New Labour has passed’. It hasn’t. New Labour wets have simply emerged from under the New Labour hardliners. We see their better instincts emerging but without the confidence the hardliners exploited. As Maria Exall said at LRC conference, Miliband exhorts employers to pay a living wage, but does not commit himself to

John McDonnell MP told LRC conference, “We need three things; courage, determination and, above all, solidarity”. He was right.

Gaza demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy, Saturday 17 November. Max Shanly.

LRC statement on Gaza As Briefing went to press, the LRC Executive issued the following statement on the attacks on Gaza. - echoing Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, when Israel committed war crimes, targeting and killing hundreds of civilians, using indiscriminate weapons and intentionally destroying civilian infrastructure.

The LRC condemns Israel’s latest escalation of violence against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and calls for an immediate cessation to the onslaught. Israel’s actions can serve no purpose other than entrenching hatred and increasing civilian casualties.

A lasting peace requires ending the illegal occupation, dismantling the illegal settlements, de-militarising the conflict and working for a negotiated solution that treats the Palestinians as equals. Without this, it is to be expected that Palestinians will resort to whatever means they have at their disposal to resist this brutal military occupation.

While we do not condone attacks on civilians on either side, we recognise that this is an unequal conflict between the Middle East’s most powerful military force and a largely defenceless Palestinian population. Unlike the Israeli state, Palestinians have neither army, navy or air force, nor nuclear weapons. Over 60 years since the creation of the Israeli state, it is clear that military bombardment and the theft of land can bring nothing but instability and violence to the region.

We condemn the one-sided nature of Britain’s and the US’ support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” against rocket attacks while at the same time they turn a blind eye to Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. We also condemn the totally biased reportage in the mainstream UK media, including by the BBC.

This latest crisis is only the culmination of a brutal Israeli blockade of Gaza, with increasing contempt for Palestinian life. On 8 November, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, eight Israeli tanks and four bulldozers invaded southern Gaza killing a thirteen year old boy, clear proof that Israel is not the victim of unprovoked aggression as it claims. A full scale land invasion is in preparation - Israel has called up 75,000 reservists (an indication of the scale of preparation)

We express our solidarity with the Palestinian people. Israeli forces should leave Gaza, and all occupied territories, immediately. 3

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Manchester stays red Michael West, Manchester Central CLP, reports on Labour’s by-election victory

With a turnout of just 18.43% Manchester Central had Britain’s lowest by-election turnout since the Second World War. In a constituency known for a low turnout this was still 39 percentage points down on 2010.

Manchester back in jobs with new We need localised employment schemes investment. that address particular local areas where unemployment is on the rise. We need Manchester Central’s unemployment an end of cuts to local services where stands at 15%, the second highest demand is high – local services are the level in Britain. Coupled with child keystone of our communities. These are poverty at the alarming figure of 49%, the demands people are making. the Tories have been unravelling the gains Manchester working class Manchester Central is Labour with an people achieved under Labour. Tory almost pious pride. It’s unlikely to fall attacks are affecting thousands with into the hands of the Lib Dems, whose the sick and disabled in particular dalliance with the Tories has cost them treated as pariahs. For those in work, dear. People are proud of the city’s rich the fear is how long will their job last ethnic diversity, with BNP results barely and, if it does, will it be under a new noticeable above those of the Loony contract or will there be a pay freeze? Party. The Labour Party that listens to its This Government isn’t working and voters, that listens to Manchester, is the neither is Manchester Central. party of the people.

Lucy Powell campaigned on the inequality of the Tories’, “£40,000 tax rebate for every millionaire, while Manchester people pay the price”. Alongside that the message was about getting the people of

With at least another two years of Coalition rule, what people are crying out for are MPs and councillors prepared to stand up to the cuts and say ‘enough is enough’.

Manchester Central went to the polls following sitting MP Tony Lloyd’s decision to stand for the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, leaving the seat open to Labour insider Lucy Powell who won with a massive 59% majority and 68% of the vote.

Labour victories in Corby and Cardiff

PCC round-up

Perhaps Labour’s most important victory on 15 November was the win in Corby. While winning a mid-term by-election in a marginal seat is not unusual for an opposition party, the scale of the victory was.

The main story from the 41 elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) was the low turnout at around 15% - and as low as 11.6% in Staffordshire. Voters appeared neither to know nor to care about the role.

The 12.7% swing to Labour was a huge victory – as newly elected Labour MP Andy Sawford said, “the road to Downing Street runs through Corby”. On this performance Labour would win a comfortable majority in 2015. Although seen as a safe Labour seat, the victory for Stephen Doughty in Cardiff South and Penarth was also a boost for Labour. Labour won a larger majority on a turnout less than half what it was in 2010 – with the Tory and Lib Dem votes collapsing.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said the low turnouts, “should sound the death knell for the ludicrously shrill cries from some quarters of the Tory Party and their supporters for greater restrictions on trade union ballots.” Sussex LRC backed candidate Godfrey Daniel was beaten into second place by his Tory opponent 79,462 to 55,729 votes for Sussex PCC. Labour’s Daniel won in Hastings, Brighton and Crawley but couldn’t quite muster a county-wide majority. 4

Labour also fought a by-election in the Ardwick ward (part of the Manchester Central constituency). Labour won a landslide victory polling 79%, beating second-placed Greens on just 5%.

Labour’s most high-profile candidate, John Prescott, was narrowly defeated for Humberside There were however Labour victories in Bedfordshire, Cleveland, Derbyshire, Durham, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Northumbria, Nottinghamshire, South Wales, South Yorkshire, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. Tory candidates lost to independents in key Conservative heartlands including Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Surrey. They will have an uphill task demonstrating to a sceptical electorate the difference a Labour PCC can make. Let us know how your local PCC is doing!

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Skidelsky wrote, “my argument is that the Welfare State is a tax on efficiency, liberty and morality. It has slowed down the growth of wealth. It has created permanent budget deficits. It has diminished liberty. And it has set up a conflict between behaving rationally and behaving well. And in so far as it makes the working poor support the idle, it is highly inequitable.” He went on to set out his proposals for what he described as, ‘a logical modern system of social protection.’ This would have three tiers.

The John McDonnell Column

Backlash brewing. Let’s give it a stir. Osborne is widely believed to be keeping his promise to include in his Autumn PreBudget Statement an announcement of a further round of £10 billion worth of cuts in welfare spending. Don’t think that this is just another panic measure in the face of a prospective triple dip recession by January. No, this is a much more considered long term plan that, we can see from the evidence available, has been discussed at least since the mid -1990s by right wing Tory policy wonks like Osborne. In May 1997 the right wing think tank, the Social Market Foundation, published a booklet by Robert Skidelsky entitled Beyond the Welfare State. It was the month that Labour was elected, replacing the Major Government after 18 years of Conservative Party rule. The booklet gave a taste of the thinking on the political right that would have helped set the agenda for the late 1990s and early 2000s if the Tories had been re-elected. It depicts exactly the approach the Tories are taking now that they are back in government.

First, a basic tax financed safety net for people who cannot contribute to insurance. This would be provided by local voluntary organisations through what he describes as matching philanthropic finance. In other words, local charities doling out very low basic benefits, matched by charitable donations for the poor. The second element was to be low compulsory insurance, which he suggested would be the equivalent of third party car insurance to cover retirement, sickness, disability and unemployment. This insurance was likely to be bought in the private sector. The third tier was any additional voluntary insurance. He then proposed, “education and health could be privatised, while workfare schemes directly attack the problem of state-financed idleness.” This edifice is slowly but surely being put in place. The Housing Benefit cap, the shift from RPI to CPI, the bedroom tax, and the overall cap on benefits are resulting in the basic safety net becoming so low that child poverty is predicted to rise significantly. Survival for many families is already only ensured by the charitable giving of food parcels by local food banks. Workfare is now creating a reserve army of unemployed who are on forced unpaid labour. Refusal to accept unpaid work is met with sanctions, ranging from loss of benefit from two weeks to six months. The 5

numbers sanctioned has risen from 139,000 to 508,000 in two years. The precariousness of many families is starkly illustrated by a recent HSBC survey which exposed that, “a third of UK homes have less than £250 set aside for an emergency and are therefore at risk of destitution should redundancy strike.” This is the result of what the Resolution Foundation revealed has happened to average incomes. Average incomes have stagnated for 12 years and are not likely to improve for another eight. Insurance is not an option for most and so payday loans and debt have filled the gap. The result is the number of liability orders for debt is predicted to double from two million to four million over the next year. If this period is symbolised by anything it is the rise of the bailiff. The Citizens Advice Bureau reports that it is dealing with over 24,000 cases of people having problems with bailiffs. To top it all, the Coalition is bringing back its own form of the Poll Tax. The administration of Council Tax Benefit is being transferred to the control of local councils along with a 10% cut in expenditure. Most councils are making up for this cut by making everyone pay some Council Tax whether they are on benefits and can afford to pay or not. Even Patrick Jenkin, the Tory who invented the disastrous Poll Tax of the 1990s, has described this as ‘Poll Tax, mark 2’ and warned of a backlash. The various direct action campaigns that the LRC supports are feeding that anger and demonstrating to people that they can be a part of the process to expose and confront these planned attacks on the Welfare State. Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle, Boycott Workfare, the Right to Work Campaign, the Fuel Poverty Action Group, the Right to Protest, UK Uncut and the National Pensioners Convention have all shown the way to harness direct action for a specific purpose. The backlash is certainly brewing; the LRC annual conference agreed our role is to give it a stir.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Labour Briefing gets conference endorsement The outgoing LRC National Committee (NC) had taken the decision to adopt Labour Briefing, which its readers had voted to transfer to the LRC in July. The LRC NC wanted this major decision endorsed by LRC conference. Interim editor and LRC joint secretary Andrew Fisher moved the motion on behalf of the National Committee noting the improvements to the magazine in its coverage and the growth in sales. With another motion on the agenda, in the name of Labour CND, to change the name of the magazine, Fisher said that

“only a minority of a minority” had failed to accept the decision taken at the Briefing AGM and he was pleased that many who had initially opposed the transfer had accepted the result and were working with Labour Briefing. He told conference “I love democracy. We come here, we argue, we put different positions forward – and yes it’s messy – but we test them with votes. If we don’t accept democratic decisions then we are finished.” Conference agreed and the NC motion was passed with fewer than

half a dozen votes against. Another motion from Sussex LRC called on LRC officers elected to the Briefing editorial board to step down within three months, as it would distract from building the LRC. In the debate Ian Malcolm-Walker said passing this motion would be “like telling Lenin he was to have nothing to do with Pravda”. The motion was overwhelmingly defeated. In the direct elections for the editorial board: Graham Bash, Andrew Fisher, Norrette Moore, Mike Phipps, Susan Press and Jackie Walker were elected.

Labour Councils and The Cuts One of the key debates at LRC conference on 10 November was over the role of Labour councillors in resisting the cuts. The National Committee statement, moved by John McDonnell MP and passed overwhelmingly, included three recommendations on Labour council strategy: • Call on Labour councillors to resist the cuts locally, refuse to implement them, and help build the forces which can sustain that level of resistance • Develop a socialist local government strategy for Labour councils • Bring together a conference of LRC Labour councillors to discuss strategy, share experiences and build a councillors’ network . The councillors’ excellent panel discussion demonstrated there was an appetite to discuss local government strategy – something which Labour, as well as the Labour left, has lacked for decades. Conference heard from councillors across Britain who had resisted cuts and had delivered achievements as Labour councils. However, motion 1 from Islington LRC recognised that, “refusing to make the cuts is a strategy that Labour councils will sooner or later have to face up to”

due to the level of cuts yet to be imposed. Even councils like Islington that had done many good things, as Councillor Charlynne Pullen listed in a passionate speech – free school meals to all primary school children, the living wage, a bursary to restore the education maintenance allowance, building 2,000 council homes, and bringing services back inhouse – will have to choose between taking on the Government to defend their gains or reversing them in order to set legal budgets.

Group and the Party.”

Councillors in Preston were looking at how they could generate revenue to close the funding gap, including through green energy projects, reported Councillor Matthew Brown. Though Lambeth Councillor Kingsley Abrams could not attend he sent a message of solidarity, stating that “after nearly three years of opposing cuts in Lambeth Council, and getting myself suspended from the Labour Group, I’ve decided to return to Lambeth Labour Group and follow the discipline ... Clearly at this moment it doesn’t appear possible for a Labour councillor to oppose cuts at full council meetings and remain a member of the Labour

• Watch the councillors panel discussion online at


In contrast, Councillors Oates and Marshall from Broxtowe reported they had voted against cuts and remained in the Group – due in part to support from the local party and trades council – while Councillor Gary Wareing from Hull told conference that Eric Pickles, “would have to come past me and other councillors on the council steps” to implement cuts, adding, “it’s precisely why I joined the Labour Party; to fight cuts and to fight the Tories”.

Outgoing vice chair Jenny Lennox addresses LRC conference.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Voices from LRC conference John McDonnell MP. “We have to support those who are in most in trouble – and the most in trouble at the moment are those in debt, exploited by payday loan companies.”

“If we didn’t build a left, there wouldn’t be a left ... we won four million votes, 11% in the presidential election.”

“So one of our tasks this year – I think the LRC could lead on it – is taking those companies on. Why don’t we become a direct action movement to occupy the payday loan shops in our town centres.”

“We were scared. We did not know that we would succeed, we still don’t know if we will succeed in being that governmental alternative. But one thing is sure, austerity will fail.”

Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts. “Even before this Government came in, disabled people were twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in poverty.”

Raquel Garrido, international spokesperson for the Parti de Gauche. “I was in the Parti Socialiste (part of the Second International) in France for 15 years. It’s funny how we never made the connections then!”

Maria Exall, TUC General Council. “If you want to make civil rights, LGBT rights for example, an issue in the workplace it brings you into conflict with the power structures – the class interests in our society.”

“Over the course of this Parliament, disabled people are predicted to lose £9 billion in benefits – and that’s £9 billion from people who had hardly anything to begin with.”

Raquel Garrido, Parti de Gauche.

“We saw that the social democratic parties moving to the centre and the right were endangering the left.”

Same challenges facing Welsh left Darren Williams, Secretary Welsh Labour Grassroots, reports. Forty members attended the Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) annual conference and AGM in Cardiff on 27 October. The theme was ‘Austerity and Public Services’. The day began with a keynote speech on that subject from Mark Drakeford, Assembly Member for Cardiff West and former chief special adviser to the Welsh Government. Mark set out some stimulating ideas about what the left’s alternative model for public services might look like, exploring issues like co-production, pre-distribution, localism, social protection and equality. In the lively debate that followed, some comrades welcomed Mark’s long term vision but challenged his rather downbeat assessment of the prospects for resisting the cuts in the short term.

first-time councillors, several of them from the left. New councillors from Cardiff, Bridgend and Torfaen took part in the session, alongside a more experienced comrade from Newport who is now a Cabinet member. WLG Chair, Nick Davies, who chaired the session, is also a new councillor in Swansea. They talked, variously, about the challenges of defending their communities, protecting jobs and services, avoiding outsourcing and overcoming democratic deficits. The ensuing discussion focused particularly on how socialist councillors in different authorities could work together, learn from each others’ experience and develop a common approach to the cuts.

Next, a panel of councillors shared their experiences and perspectives on the problems of austerity. May elections saw sweeping gains for Labour on most Welsh local authorities and the election of many

The afternoon included a joint session with the Socialist Educational Association, addressed by the Cabinet member for education on Cardiff Council, who covered 7

issues like the balance between enabling parental choice and upholding catchment areas to support neighbourhood schools. Finally, AGM business saw resolutions carried on a number of issues, including efforts to ensure greater engagement with the LRC and the adoption of a statement of WLG ‘principles and priorities’. Another resolution pledged opposition to any moves to outsource local services, with particular reference to Cardiff, where the right wing leadership of the Labour council has commissioned a review looking at ‘new ways of delivering services’. Two new councillors who had spoken in the morning session – Siobhan Corria (Cardiff) and Jessica Powell (Torfaen) – were elected to the steering committee. This welcome infusion of new blood should help put WLG in a stronger position to address the formidable political challenges ahead.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012


LET’S Shift young L abour

Max Shanly, LRC National Committee member (youth section) If you wish to go anywhere in Labour Party politics, the best place to begin is from within the tightly controlled confines of Young Labour (YL). From the moment you introduce yourself you will be invited to sign up to Progress, to ditch your soul, dance to the less than dulcet tones of Tony Blair and ignore any suggestion that Labour is in fact, or has ever been, a party committed to democratic socialism. To be a socialist within YL, someone with a free thinking mind and a heart that beats to the sound of need rather than greed, you have opened yourself up to public denunciation as a lunatic and your policies denounced as utopian. These denunciations are not based on fact, but rather on a lack of education. The issue lies not in socialism being an outdated doctrine, but in political knowledge being practically outlawed by the party machine. The only accepted dogma is one that endorses neoliberal economics, that tells you social injustice is a part of life, that we are One Nation of a few incredibly rich individuals with a very large squeezed middle and one or two poor people who can be ignored as they are no longer a target demographic. This dogma has led to the dominance of the hard right. They control who stands and wins elections onto the National Committee, the direction of YL and ultimately the future of the Labour Party. We must begin to offer young people an alternative Labour education. If we don’t, the battle for the heart and mind of the Labour Party may be all but lost within the next ten years. It is time to change YL into what it is supposed to be; an open, fair, democratic

group that proposes solutions to the ills of young people in this country and around the world. But how do we go about this? From our grounding in the LRC we must focus our efforts on educating, agitating and organising the YL left into a force to be reckoned with, one that can provide serious opposition to the domination of the Progress controlled Labour Students (LS) which holds such sway within YL. We need to set out structures whereby student Labour Clubs can affiliate as a group to the LRC. We should provide discounted memberships to students who wish to join individually. I am currently aware of three Labour Clubs that wish to affiliate to the LRC. If they do so, it will be the first step in beginning a political debate within LS to let them know they are not simply meant to be tools of the leadership, and they should and need to be part of the process of change. LS is currently made up of 94 individual Labour Clubs. Having three of them affiliate to the LRC within the coming months would be an important step in shifting LS, and ultimately YL, to the left and in getting young people in the LRC elected into key positions within the Party’s democratic structures. In the lead up to next year’s LRC youth conference we must expand our membership into groups and societies we currently have relationships with, as well as those we do not. This means expanding into areas we have previously


deemed untouchable. For example, Thomas Butler, an LRC member from Liverpool, has recently been elected to the Executive of Young Fabians which still has a large amount of support in the Party. He is perhaps one of the first true young socialists since the 1980s to have such a role within the Fabian Society. Not to build on this would be a massive mistake. In addition, we need to increase our overall youth membership by at least 10% and make it more diverse by the end of 2013. The BME population of the UK is currently around 8%, yet they, along with women and the LGBT community, remain drastically under-represented within LRC Youth. If the LRC is to represent the Labour left it must be inclusive. LRC Youth has a pivotal role in this. This includes helping to expand and make our online presence more up to date. It is up to us to build. If we don’t, we may be overseeing the end of a real Labour Party. Max Shanly speaking at LRC conference.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Bother in Rother Susan Press, LRC vice chair, reports on the Rotherham selection shambles. Angry members of Rotherham CLP stormed out of their by-election selection meeting after the NEC imposed a shortlist of just two candidates.

defeated RAF officer Sophy Gardner, Champion insisted the contest had been a fair one and that she would be campaigning hard to win. But several party members have already said they will not campaign for her and that the NEC will have to send up its own team. It is believed she joined Labour only two years ago.

Hospice boss Sarah Champion was elected to replace disgraced MP Denis McShane by only 13 votes to 11 – with five party members spoiling their ballot papers. But earlier over 100 had left the meeting in disgust after being denied the chance to vote for a local candidate. The long list of six had included local councillor Mahroof Hussain but he was not on the final list. As the selection continued amid angry scenes, many members staged a protest outside and hit the airwaves to complain.

News of the selection has been greeted by widespread calls for greater democracy and for CLPs to carry out their own selections in the event of a by-election. Currently the NEC is in charge of the proceedings – a policy introduced when New Labour came to power. Whether this will do Labour electoral damage will be shown on 29 November.

The story made the national and local media and was featured on the regional TV news the same night. Following the selection, in which she

Practical resistance Susan Press, LRC vice chair, reports on how Labour councils are protecting the vulnerable from Council Tax Benefit (CTB) cuts. Labour councillors are fighting back to protect the most vulnerable from cuts to CTB. From April 2013, existing CTB will be replaced by Council Tax Support, which will be run locally by individual councils across the country.

continue to receive the same level of support in 2013/14. Calder councillor Dave Young, who sparked the campaign not to implement the cuts, which is now backed by senior officers, said, “As Labour councillors it’s our job to do as much as we can to protect the most vulnerable and it is great to see the council taking this on board.”

At the moment Whitehall covers 100% of each local authority’s costs for the benefit. But from next year they will be given 10% less to run their own scheme.

Meanwhile in Oxford, the city council is also covering the extra cost with contingency money while also making up the shortfall from people with second homes and repossessions – as the mortgage company pays the difference. Senior councillors in Calderdale have said they plan to consult with other local authorities to see what can be done once the new system comes into play in April 2013.

Most local authorities are maintaining they have no option but to make up the shortfall by imposing charges on previously excluded groups, including the unemployed, those on income support and people with disabilities. But in some areas of the country Labour councillors, concerned at the impact of the cuts, are seeking alternative ways of funding.

Oxford Deputy Council Leader Eric Turner said, “For us it was a priority to create a scheme that preserves existing discounts and we have managed our budget (with enormous difficulty) to make it happen.”

In West Yorkshire, Labour-led Calderdale Council has agreed to bridge the financial gap of £600,000 by taking money from council reserves. This means that everyone currently in receipt of benefit will


Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Hope lies in the sisters Jackie Walker, Lewisham Deptford CLP, argues women – hit hardest by austerity – have a pivotal role to play in defeating it. We don’t need to restate the statistics because we know; even though women are a majority they remain, in almost every way you can think of it, generally more oppressed than men. We also know that real change, the kind socialists are working for, won’t happen without women. Yet even though they’re bearing the brunt of cuts, women remain a minority of activists. What can we do about it? Like many on the left, being political didn’t save me from male oppression; how could it when male power is so embedded in all of us? As a young, black, activist feminist in the ‘70s I became alienated after being told by men that until racism, capitalism or whatever else they were focusing on had been defeated, I should put out and shut up – in other words have sex, do the washing up (more quietly) and look after the kids so they could get on with making the revolution etc.

Any recession hits women disproportionately. Hard won services, benefits, policies that protect conditions for women and their children often fall off the edge of the political agenda when times are tough. We can expect, and are seeing, women’s mental health (already disproportionately poor compared to men) deteriorating, and poverty and violence against women will, without doubt, follow. But it is in women’s struggle, in particular their struggle to support their families and communities, that potential for mass action lays untapped. Look at the women’s march to Versailles (French Revolution, 1789), the women’s walkout in Petrograd factories in 1917; both events precipitated revolution. More recently we have the example of women’s crucial role in the Arab uprisings, brought onto the streets because their children were screaming with hunger. Yet in the

Fight to preserve women’s services Jackie Walker writes Teen pregnancies are at the lowest level in the UK for 40 years, in part due to the Labour Government’s commitment to tackle this issue through the Teen Pregnancy Strategy. The Coalition Government has ditched this policy, axed most of the Teen Pregnancy co-ordinators and is cutting contraception and sexual health services. We need pro-choice Labour MPs to robustly and publicly challenge Dorries and other anti-choice MPs every time they make inaccurate claims about time limits and abortion in general.

The recent tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Northern Ireland, left to suffer for days as doctors waited for the heart of her unviable feotus to stop beating, makes the need to defend the right of women to choose even more immediate. When Labour MPs talk about the Coalition’s ‘woman problem’ they need to include its attitude to women’s sexual health services and the right to choose.


male dominated left the ability to identify, and look at, creative strategies that focus on women’s concerns seems woefully lacking. Something I heard at the LRC conference would, I think, make many of the poorest women listen. In his speech, John McDonnell listed where he saw the struggle against austerity was coming from; the poorest and the most dispossessed, and he named them – cleaners, waiters, those on benefits; disproportionately of course women. He called on the LRC to become involved in direct action, in particular to occupy pay-day loan shops which prey on the most vulnerable. This does not need approval from the Labour Party. We do not have to wait on our trade union to take a vote. It does require organisation, solidarity and the ability to see this issue as a focal point of the movement. Why don’t we just do it?

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Playing politics with abortion AgAIN

Darinka Aleksic, co-ordinator Abortion Rights, assesses the challenges the campaign faces with a Tory-led Government. When Jeremy Hunt was appointed Secretary of State for Health in September, few considered his vote on a relatively obscure amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill in 2008 – to lower the abortion time limit to 12 weeks – a key factor in his suitability for the job. Skip forward a month, to just before Conservative Party Conference in fact, and suddenly it was headline news. After several weeks of silence Hunt broke cover to announce, in his first statement since his appointment, that he remains an enthusiastic supporter of radically restricting access to abortion services – of which he is now in ultimate charge. His comments echoed those of Maria Miller who swiftly put her stamp on her new role as Minister for Women and Equalities by announcing that as a ‘very modern feminist’ she too thinks abortion should be restricted, but with a 20 week limit. David Cameron chimed in with support for a ‘modest’ time limit cut. Then came the news that Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries, for whom restricting abortion is a personal crusade, had engineered a parliamentary debate on reducing the time limit and would seek a vote on the issue in 2013. To anyone who has followed the Government’s record on abortion since it came to power, this turn of events comes as no surprise. It is just the latest in a series of small steps, some passing beneath the media radar, that have taken place since 2010. From inviting leading antiabortion group LIFE to join its sexual health policy forum, to a dalliance with abstinence-based, sex education programmes, to far-reaching cuts in contraception, teen pregnancy

and sexual health services, it has become clear the policy debates have moved from the medical, or at least the practical, to the moral and sensational. A newly hostile attitude towards abortion services was visible in Andrew Lansley’s decision in March to launch high profile ‘raids’ on abortion clinics to check up on their administrative procedures. This move not only cost the tax payer more than £1 million, but forced the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to cancel hundreds of scheduled inspections of care homes and hospitals. A similar hostility was on display in plans to introduce new abortion counselling requirements last year. The proposals – again the work of Dorries but supported by former Health Minister Anne Milton – would have seen abortion providers stripped of their role in advising on pregnancy options on the basis that they have a vested financial interest in persuading women to have abortions. However, these forays into abortion politics have not gone smoothly for the Government. The response from campaigners to the counselling proposals was vociferous, forcing Downing Street, days before the issue was debated, to urge Coalition MPs to vote against the measures – an unprecedented step on a ‘conscience’ issue. Andrew Lansley’s inspections of abortion clinics not only drew the wrath of the CQC itself, but saw only a handful of clinics reprimanded for procedures, none of which had compromised patient care. But these setbacks are nothing compared with the degree of 11

outrage the Government will face if it embraces a re-opening of the debate on the time limit which remains a key marker of a commitment to evidence-based health policy and women’s rights. This will be defended not only by campaigners and MPs but by the full weight of the UK’s medical establishment, which strongly supports the current time limit. The Government cannot afford to be seen engaging in its own version of the ‘war on women’ fought by US politicians against women’s reproductive rights, particularly at a time when both public service cuts and parliamentary rhetoric (‘calm down dear’) point to the growing perception that David Cameron has a ‘woman problem’. Recognising this vulnerability, Number 10 has been quick to emphasise that ministers’ recent comments represent personal views, not a policy shift. On the other hand, a majority in the Cabinet would happily vote to restrict abortion access if given the opportunity. Nadine Dorries has clearly not lost her taste for battle – or publicity – on this issue. So it seems we will play politics with abortion for another year or so, until the next election focuses minds elsewhere. Lost from this will be discussion of the abortion issues which actually merit attention but fail to get it: the lack of abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland, the increasing harassment and intimidation of women at clinics by anti-abortion protesters, the cuts to contraception services which may ultimately see the abortion rate increase in coming years. It was ever thus. In abortion politics, the woman’s voice is always last to be heard.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Save Lewisham hospital Jackie Walker, Lewisham Deptford CLP, reports on her local NHS campaign. Let’s face it – it isn’t often you go to a meeting and leave feeling energised. But the meeting of the Save Lewisham Hospital group on 8 November was one. The main meeting was so packed, three overspill rooms had to be opened. What must have been close to 1000 people heard how a hand-picked ‘special administrator’, Matthew Kershaw (chosen to take over the so-called bankrupt South London Healthcare Trust by then Health Minister Andrew Lansley) has drafted a report recommending the closure of Lewisham Hospital A&E, children’s and critical care wards, emergency and complex surgery units and perhaps even the maternity services. Patients would have to travel to Woolwich, requiring at least two changes on the bus or a minimum half an hour journey by car for most residents. Kershaw believes one A&E unit could service the needs of 750,000 people. He then wants to sell off Lewisham Hospital’s

‘empty’ buildings for £17million, only £5million less than the cost of this year’s Lewisham Hospital A&E refurbishment. It’s madness. Lewisham Hospital, which is not part of South London Healthcare, is a profitable hospital (even in their terms) that treated 115,000 patients in A&E alone last year. So why this closure?

that will grow and win. • For more information, to get involved and to add your comments to the Administrator’s report go to

The administrator has decided the heavily indebted Queen Elizabeth Hospital should be bailed out. Of course, behind this story is another shameful PFI scandal where the £210 million cost of building two hospitals has resulted in £2.5 billion of debt. While Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock gave a rather tired response to the audience, the meeting was energised by support from campaigns across London, ideas for co-ordinated action and by the need and willingness to fight cuts. This looks like a campaign

Save Lewisham protest meeting. Jackie Walker.

Councillors urged to vote against Veolia Ally Dworniak, Waltham Forest LRC, reports on the fight against Veolia. In October, the Leyton and Wanstead General Committee voted unanimously (bar one) for a motion calling for Waltham Forest councillors (in particular Clyde Loakes and Afzal Akram who have voting rights on North London Waste Authority) “to do all they legally can to ensure that the NLWA does not sign any new contracts or renew any existing contracts with Veolia or any other company that is in breach of international law.” Veolia is a French multinational corporation deeply complicit in Israel’s violations of international and human rights law. It assists Israel in its illegal occupation of Palestine. Veolia is a leading partner in the City Pass consortium contracted to build and operate the tramway between West Jerusalem and Pisgat Ze’ev. The resolution of the UN Human Rights Council adopted on 14 April 2010 expresses grave concern at “the

Israeli decision to establish and operate a tramway between West Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev, which is in clear violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions”. Andrew Lock (Secretary of Leyton and Wanstead CLP) moved the motion elaborating on the immoral and illegal dealings of Veolia and the important role councillors can play in supporting Palestinians in their struggle. Then Councillor Nicholas Russell spoke citing Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 which states that public authorities should not consider non-commercial matters when awarding contracts. A Grove Green member countered this by stating that “there is a further directive which must also be applied 12

to this situation”. Reg 23/4 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 (SI 2006 No.1 made under EU Directive 2004/18/ EC16) provides that, “a contracting authority may treat an economic operator as ineligible or decide not to select an economic operator in accordance with these Regulations on one or more of the following grounds, namely that the economic operator:….(e) has committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of that economic operator’s business or profession”. She went on to stress that Veolia clearly shows itself in violation of international law, that in fact there is explicit legal scope for the council to exclude Veolia, and then urged the GC to vote for the motion as similar motions have been passed by Dublin, Swansea, Edinburgh and Tower Hamlet councils. You can do this too.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

NHS community services; what happened in Gloucestershire? An LRC member and health service worker reports on an important victory for the NHS in Gloucestershire. Under the last Labour Government, a new form of social enterprise was introduced, the Community Interest Company (CIC). This was aimed at those services within the public sector looking for more ‘independence’.

Our legal case ironically was based around EU procurement law; if services were to be moved out of the public sector, then they should be offered on the market to all-comers, not simply handed over to a new CIC.

A private, not-for-dividend company would, it was claimed, enable innovation and liberate the service providers from the ties of the state. The department I work in has changed and ‘innovated’ beyond recognition in recent years without ever leaving public ownership. These CICs proved a gift for the current Government.

Lawyers used this point to stop the transfer to social enterprise, arguing the best option – which did not require tendering – was simply to integrate with an existing, or new, NHS Trust, an option which had not properly been considered. This strategy was not without risks but it paid off. Simon Burns, the then Health Minister, stated there “would be no case for tendering” should we form a new NHS Trust. Gloucestershire Care Services are now in the process of doing this.

Under Labour the death knell was sounded for Primary Care Trusts (PCT). A PCT both commissions and provides services. It was felt there was too much potential for a conflict of interest in a marketised health service. The Coalition Government suddenly brought forward the date of the abolition of PCTs, giving them little time to prepare. Here in Gloucestershire options were considered, whittled down and decisions were made to put in place a CIC in what appeared by many to be a politically motivated move. In a leaked email early in 2011, Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, stated ‘wholesale outsourcing’ to the private sector would not be ‘palatable’ to the public and suggested ‘mutuals and social enterprises’ as a more ‘palatable’ route towards the ultimate goal of privatisation. CICs of course, sounding nice and friendly, fitted the bill. In Gloucestershire, a campaign got underway to prevent the removal of its community hospitals, over £90 million worth of assets and thousands of staff from the public sector.

So what general lessons can be drawn from this? In our case the legal arguments highlighted concerns that had been already discussed in left wing circles. These third sector companies are being used as Trojan horses to privatise services permanently. Our court case revealed how unrepresentative of staff and users these bodies can be and that their survival – like the private companies in the NHS – is premised on driving down staff terms and conditions. To say these companies represent the staff who provide expert care is nonsense; in a social enterprise of 20 staff maybe, but certainly not of thousands. Promises of community ‘ownership’ turned out to be vague, and the key point (the one our legal challenge rested upon) is that the 13

NHS is either owned by all of us – with the safeguards the public sector brings to staff and patients – or it is not. New third sector bodies are unlikely to survive in re-tendering competitions and are easily swallowed by bigger private sector sharks (as in Surrey where some community services are now run by Virgin). Once a service has left the public sector, its accountability is drastically reduced. Transparency and openness cannot happen in a competitive, dog-eatdog set up. Any private organisation is only accountable to its owners. When asked about figures pertaining to finances and staff of the new social enterprises in the NHS, the Health Minister Paul Burstow said they were ‘commercial in confidence’. This related to 45 CICs that had over £900 million of public money! In court, our QC also pointed out that these are not ‘not-for-profit’ companies - they are ‘not-for-dividend’ and have to make a profit to stay afloat! The cost of tendering is outrageous too. Tendering are not only costs on the current provider but also on all the bidders - public money that should be spent on care. Some within Labour seem to feel that the purchaser/provider split should be left as is. But buying and selling within the internal market of the NHS is the very thing that makes fragmentation in health services so easy to pursue. Its costs were estimated by the previous Health Select Committee to be upwards of 14% of the total NHS budget. The fact that they refuse to publish the actual figures suggests it may be even higher. Sadly, in spite of a previous Labour Government promising to remove the internal market from the NHS, the motion passed at Labour Party Conference this year had that commitment taken out. There are many things that need fixing and adjusting in the NHS but we should be looking at care pathways within the provider groups we already have. Multiplying the number of providers we use, or changing who governs the providers, will simply make health provision more expensive and water down what we have with the result that quality of care becomes poorer.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Peterborough campaigns to defend care homes

A resident being comforted after speaking out against the closure.

Lobbies against council closures.

Donna Bennett, chair of Welland House & Greenwood House Relatives and Users Supporters Group and Unite member, reports on their tenacious campaign. A so-called public consultation into the closure of the last two publicly owned residential care homes in Peterborough began on 17 July and ended on 15 October 2012. Greenwood House, which is a home with 38 bedrooms, has mainly been used for respite and interim care since admission of permanent residents was blocked by management over three years ago. Of the remaining permanent residents, the eldest is 106 years old. Greenwood has also provided a day centre service. Welland House is a 48 bedroomed home for clients with dementia and has twenty nine permanent residents as well as providing a day centre service. On 1 November, the Health Scrutiny Committee met to discuss the recommendation to close the houses. Despite identifying seven major flaws in the plan (including inaccurate figures) Conservative councillors, who hold a majority, voted to accept the recommendation of the council officers. The Tory Cabinet then met on 5 November and voted to close the care homes. Greenwood is set to close by the end of the month and Welland House by March 2013. From the beginning, staff and relatives of those who use the two houses campaigned together to keep these services in the

public sector. Once it became obvious that a serious campaign was developing, management became overtly hostile. Staff were forbidden from holding any kind of meetings in the homes or even from putting up notices about campaign meetings. When one elderly resident gave an impassioned statement to the media about her fears over closure, I was accused of having intimidated her into speaking out. This infuriated her family who were involved in the campaign and said it was insulting to suggest their relative couldn’t speak for herself. Such is the way the system regards our elderly people. Over six thousand people signed a petition calling for a new facility to be built to replace what is currently on offer in the threatened homes and to prepare for future need. Previously £6million was set aside for such development, but now the Council is refusing to carry out its promise. Another petition, calling for a referendum on the future of the care homes, has also been ignored. Tory councillors have shown themselves to be puppets having their strings pulled by the master puppeteer, Councillor Cereste, who has completely ignored the wishes and concerns of the people of Peterborough. 14

Over recent years, we have seen closures and deliberate neglect of services to the elderly. Recent research indicated that by 2020 there will be over 2,142 people suffering with dementia in Peterborough, yet the actions of the Conservatives on the Citytw Council, far from taking steps to address that problem, have undermined the services that already exist. Starving NHS and local government facilities of referrals and investment is a well established method for running them down in order to claim that there is either no need or that the service is not fit for purpose. This is what has happened in Peterborough. There is, as John McDonnell said in his motion to the House of Commons, a “worsening crisis for elderly care as growing numbers of local authority care homes face closure with fear/anxiety and higher mortality rates when vulnerable elderly people are forced to leave their care homes”. In Peterborough, the Conservative-led council has shown a reckless disregard for this crisis and a total lack of concern for the people of the city. Contact Peterborough Trades Union Council for further information: Thanks to Donna Bennett for use of photos.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Winning without striking We asked Briefing readers about successful workplace action short of strike they had taken.

Aisling MacSweeney, NUT rep in London Action short of strike has been excellent at my school. Although members were initially uncertain about how it would work, we called several union meetings and went through the objectives - the teachers’ pay freeze, unfair pension cuts, impossible workload burdens and almost daily attacks by the Government over something or other. At meetings, we discussed each point of action, listened to members’ concerns and then voted. We voted not to co-operate with a mock inspection which would have placed staff under additional pressure to perform in the ‘Ofsted way’, so we forced the Head to cancel it. We had been having problems with learning walks, where senior management check up on teachers randomly and judge their performance, so we also refused to co-operate with these. We now have a good balance in our school where any ‘new initiatives’ of the management need to be agreed with the union first. However, this success is mainly because we already had a healthy union group that met regularly, so members already felt involved. The message is that organised workplace union groups are the most powerful means to collectively control our jobs and conditions, so if there isn’t a group in your workplace, start one! Sion Reynolds, Portsmouth CLP / NASUWT Teachers’ action short of strike has educated the membership upon their rights and how to stand up for them. If any employer has disregarded the action, then the option of strike action has been used as an escalation measure. Gove’s attacks on the action show he is ruffled by it.

Pete Firmin gives his experiences in two different industries There are two examples of action short of a strike I’d like to share. The first is when I worked at Gomshall tannery in Surrey about 40 years ago. The tannery was owned by the Vestey group, a multinational with vast interests in the food and leather industries. I worked in the dyeing department, the filthiest job I’ve ever done, where we mixed large vats of acid, dyes and other chemical with the hides to dye them different colours. The process was quite rigid, immersing the hides in spinning drums for very specific periods with different chemicals. So rather than have our tea and meal breaks at specific times as elsewhere in the tannery, custom and practice meant we fitted in with breaks in the dyeing process. However, come time for a pay increase, the company was as obdurate as ever and the union (National Union of Footwear and Allied Trades, part of Community since 2004) approached us with a suggestion of action that could “move things along”. Quite simply, we decided to take our breaks at the specified times as elsewhere in the factory. This would have meant the leather spoiling since the time it was mixed would be completely wrong. Unsurprisingly, the company quickly gave in and entered serious wage negotiations. The second is when working on deliveries as a postal worker. The practice on the post is to go home when you have finished your delivery, however early, so many posties cut


corners in order to finish early. This can involve starting early - before you are paid, and well before 6 a.m! - using your own car, even though not insured to do so, not taking breaks, taking out overweight bags, and leaving yourself open to disciplinary action if parts of the job aren’t done. For some, this practice is because of childcare responsibilities or a second job, but for many it is simply to get away earlier. Management encourage this because it means that deliveries are completed with no one noticing that if corners weren’t cut there would not be time to finish by the end of the shift. It also puts pressure on workers who do not want to cut corners because they are seen as ‘holding back’ those aiming to finish early. Unfortunately, no amount of persuasion by union reps seems to convince people to stop such practices, even if they recognise they are gifting management with their time. This practice starkly contrasts with what occurs when the national union (CWU) has run ‘do the job properly’ campaigns alongside strike action, making it that much harder for management to clear the backlog of post between strikes. That’s when the real effect of cutting corners is seen. Either deliveries go out late and post is brought back - or overtime paid. Sometimes managers are sent out to complete deliveries, though they often get lost! This action shows the real cost, in jobs and stress, of the usual practice of cutting corners. While the union’s campaigns are often extremely effective, it’s unfortunate they do not emphasise ‘doing the job properly’ as the norm.


Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012


organising in the workplace Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, speaking at LRC Annual Conference There has been considerable debate emerging around the question of industrial action, co-ordinated industrial action, and the idea of a general strike. I welcome that debate. I think it throws up a whole range of challenges about what people mean when they talk about a general strike. Some people seem to be referring to co-ordinating lawful trade disputes, others are talking about a call centrally by the TUC for a political general strike without a ballot. What strikes me in the trade union movement is that workplace coordination has been thrown back considerably over the past twenty years – I think that’s reflected in a whole range of indicators. If we’re talking about seriously building a struggle that can take on the austerity agenda, take on employers in the public and private sectors, and take on the Government, then the trade union movement has to seriously address the issue of how we are organised in the workplaces. A call

from the top is of no value unless we have shop stewards and branches organised on the ground. Another question that arises about broader strike action is what will be the spark that actually launches it? The history of our movement shows that such generalised action arises out of a particular challenge – whether it’s in 1926, 1972 or whenever – rather than those of us on the left simply making a call on the TUC General Council for such a date to be set. I think a key challenge for the movement is building in our workplaces, and yes, discussing tactically and strategically what we mean by developing those industrial struggles. The question of a general strike cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the existing struggles that are taking place in the real world. There 16

are all sorts of struggles in the public and private sector – we need to encourage and support those and ensure the trade union movement does so as well. It’s out of the building of such confidence that wider action can be developed. We need workplace organisation. We need workers, not just on the TUC General Council but in workplaces and in other community organisations, discussing how we unify in the fight against austerity – and yes, that will mean broader and broader industrial action. We need to ensure that anyone who does take industrial action gets the support of the entire movement. We need democratic anti-cuts campaigns – unified across the UK. We need an international aspect to our struggle and we need most fundamentally to raise the demand that we want a different form of society. That’s the ultimate answer to the challenges that working people are facing in Britain and across the globe.


Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Step Up The Action! Pete Firmin, LRC Joint Secretary, evaluates calls for a general strike. reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike”, has been taken by some as an indication that the TUC is about to call such action. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Attacks by the Government more than warrant serious action. The reasons this has not happened already are many, but among them is that 2011 saw the first increase in trade union membership for many years though it remains still only 17% in the private sector. Alongside this is a weakness at workplace level with a serious shortage of local union representatives.

It is well known that two of the biggest unions – Unison and the GMB – only voted for this motion to avoid publicly appearing to be the major obstacles to action, while in fact having every intention of killing it off behind the scenes. The minutes of the TUC General Council from October shows consideration of the motion being demoted to ‘any other business’ with a response which says, “There would be great media interest in any examination [of the practicalities], portraying it as a real bad threat rather than an exercise in looking at the practicalities. Right wing commentators were already describing the October 20 demonstration as a precursor to strike action, a point which the TUC had denied.”

The message from our trade union (and Labour Party) leaders is far from clear – are they against the Government’s austerity policies, or are they only for ‘slower and fairer’ cuts? Without clarity, many workers are not sure how justified they are in taking action. Cynicism about action can increase when workers feel they are being used as a ‘stage army’, marched to the top of the hill before being marched down again. November 30, 2011 (N30) is a case in point. In a historic step forward, two million workers across different sectors took action. However, this action was then negated by the response of most union leaders involved, appearing to decide ‘enough is enough’, who then proceeded to settle for miserable terms that had been largely rejected before the action. Some on the left are turning the call for a general strike called by the TUC into a mantra to be shouted at every opportunity, refusing to allow discussion of how likely or practical such a demand is. This year’s TUC resolution in favour of ‘taking coordinated action where possible with far

As Paul Mackney, a former union General Secretary said at the LRC conference, “The TUC is in favour of general strikes – in Europe”. Beyond the pipedream that the TUC is about to call one, there are risks in concentrating solely on the call for a general strike, welcome as it would be. There is a serious risk that, in focusing on the general strike, sight is lost of the need to fight the attacks on our movement happening here and now. There is a need for unions to co-ordinate action where more than one union covers a sector. Leaders of some of our biggest unions are 17

unwilling to do even this, an indication of their lack of sincerity when calling for a general strike. Little attention is paid to the purpose of a general strike. Is it a one day protest (with the danger it will serve the same purpose for union leaders as N30 did - to let off steam and then business as usual, with a consequent increase in cynicism) or would it lead to further action? Many countries in mainland Europe have had general strikes in the last few years while their governments happily continue steamrollering through austerity policies. What is required is the development of a strategy – political and industrial – which increases workers’ confidence to fight back, linking them with working class communities fighting the loss of services, strengthening workplace organisation and control by members of union organisation and decision-making. We need co-ordinated action within and between unions wherever possible in order to create the pressure which makes it impossible for union and Labour leaders to avoid a real fight with this Government. Pete Firmin

After several years of austerity policies – attacks on pay, jobs, pensions, working conditions and trade union rights - 2011 saw an increase in strike action compared to previous years, even though this action remains at an extremely low level.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Justice for the Tower of London cleaners Chris Ford, Secretary of Industrial Workers of Great Britain and Walthamstow CLP Cleaners at the Tower of London, declaring they are not medieval serfs, are demanding respect and dignity at work from management of the Royal Palace and are waging a courageous campaign to get it. The Tower of London has seen the highest number of visitors in over thirty years. The Historic Royal Palaces saw admission income for 2011/2012 reaching £42.8 million but the benefits of this success have not been seen by the lowest paid workers. The cleaners are employed by giant company MITIE which is an associate corporate member of Historic Royal Palaces. It last recorded a pre-tax profit of £111.7 million. CEO Ruby McGregor-Smith received £1.3 million in pay and bonuses. Ruby waxed lyrical at a contractors’ conference in June saying that her company was ‘passionate about providing every individual with the opportunity to grow and succeed in their careers.’ But the reality is a million miles from this spin and the glossy image presented to tourists. Cleaners earn a mere £6.19 per hour, no sick pay, no pension or holiday pay. They don’t even have proper washing or changing facilities. Cleaners work long hours exceeding their contract. Typically they have a 40 hour week with a contract covering only a couple of hours. This

seems a deliberate policy to enable responsibilities and hours to change constantly without the need for explanation. If workers do complain, their hours are cut. The record of safety at work is appalling. Some cleaners have to go through bins sorting out recycling without adequate training or protection. Pregnant women have been given heavy work and are not provided with risk assessments or adjustments. The cleaners have been demanding proper contracts that reflect the real hours they work. They are organised in the independent union, the Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB). After demonstrations and leafleting of tourists, the company began holding health and safety training. They claimed risk assessments have been conducted but nobody has ever seen a risk assessment or knows what the protective measures are. The cleaners have had enough of the rotten pay and conditions. They are fighting back. With the support of PCS and the RMT they have been holding demonstrations at the Tower of London demanding the London living wage and decent conditions. John McDonnell MP has sponsored Early Day Motion 538 which is gaining support.

In response, MITIE has banned the IWGB from the Tower of London and the Barbican. This is an outrageous attack on trade union rights. In response a militant protest was held at the Tower on 3 November. Steve Hedley, RMT Assistant General Secretary, branded the situation a disgrace, “In the 21st century we’ve got back to Victorian era working conditions.” The Board of Trustees of the Palaces have the final say on changes to cleaners’ pay and conditions. We need to call these Royal flunkeys to account. The banning of unions that organise low paid, mainly migrant workers has hit a new low. Our labour movement must mobilise in response to the cleaners’ cry for solidarity. As PCS officer Lizzie Woods warned the movement when speaking at the gates of the Tower of London, “It’s the cleaners today and you tomorrow”.

Lizzie Woods (left) and Chris Ford (right) supporting the struggle. Sharon Leslie, PCS.

Yorkshire journalists fight back Susan Press reports on low-paid NUJ members in Yorkshire taking industrial action in protest at unfair treatment in the face of big bonuses for bosses. Journalists working for Newsquest in York and Bradford took the decision to hold mandatory chapel meetings in working hours as directors shared ‘performance’ cash payments of £268,000 and an additional £881,000 in ‘share-based’ payments. Paul Davidson, chief executive of the Newsquest newspaper group which owns publications such as the Northern Echo, Glasgow Herald and Oxford Mail, was paid £598,441 last year.

This compares with the £20,000 or less than many of his journalists took home in the same period. In 2011, the number of editorial staff was cut by 6.8%, from 108 jobs to 1,465. After five years’ service on Newsquest Bradford titles, journalists on the weeklies earn £19,672, on the dailies £22,426 a year. Since 2009, staff at York and Bradford have had a single 2% rise, yet the 18

2011 figures show a £44,000 ‘share-based payment’ for senior staff at Newsquest Yorkshire and the North East. Chris Morley, NUJ Northern & Midlands organiser said, “For directors to be given a £268,000 cash payment for ‘performance’ when all they are doing is finding fresh victims to target for redundancy and costcutting, to keep up profit margins rather than growing the business, is an insult to staff.”

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Public Sector Pensions

On 29 October 2012 MPs debated the Public Sector Pensions Bill brought forward by the Government following their success in dividing and ruling public sector trade unions. Despite capitulation by some unions, some Labour MPs have represented labour in the debate. The Labour MPs who voted against the Bill were David Anderson, Katy Clark, Michael Connarty, Jeremy Corbyn, Jim Cunningham, Paul Flynn, Stephen Hepburn, John McDonnell, and Dennis Skinner. Below are extracts from John McDonnell MP’s speech in the debate: John McDonnell: I declare an interest as a member of a local government pension scheme. Let me put it clearly on the record that the Bill does a number of simple things; it means that civil servants, teachers, firefighters, hospital workers and council workers will work longer, pay more and get less. That is the reality. It was said that this has been agreed by the trade unions, but it has been rejected by the Public and Commercial Services union, the National Union of Teachers, the Prison Officers Association, the Fire Brigades Union and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which represents royal auxiliary workers. Not a single union has supported the Bill or expressed satisfaction with it, and that includes all those in negotiations, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association. Why? For me, the Bill embodies the Government’s policy and prime objective that the economic crisis will be paid for by public sector workers rather than those who caused the crisis in the first place. It typifies the Government’s approach. Let me quote the Treasury, which has said that the cost of the unfunded public sector schemes as “a share of GDP was 1% in 2007-08 and was projected to rise to only 1.2% in 2057”. Only 18 months ago, the National Audit Office produced the report, The cost of public service pensions,

and showed that “when projections of liability are based on earnings, the total annual payments from the civil service pension scheme will be largely stable over the next 50 years.”

within it. There is a lack of commitment in the Bill, contrary to all that Hutton said, to ensuring that any future changes or reforms are made on the basis of agreement or at least joint engagement.

I oppose the Bill. Members of my frontbench team will abstain tonight, I believe, because they hope they can amend the Bill. The Bill is unamendable. The Bill is extremely damaging to the well-being and living standards of ordinary working class people.

Under the new pension scheme the retirement age in the fire services has been lifted to 60. The previous Government argued that there would be preventive measures to enable firefighters who could no longer undertake the physical rigour of the job to undertake lighter duties. This year 16 posts in the whole the country have been offered for redeployment alone, so that is unreal. Frankly, I do not believe that a 60 year old firefighter can cope with the rigours of the job, no matter what improvements there have been in technology.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) referred to the shift from RPI to CPI, which was a further 11% cut. What the cuts in pension benefits mean is a reduction in participation that will ultimately threaten the viability of the schemes. Perhaps that is what the Bill is about – the degradation of the schemes so that they will eventually be replaced by the private sector. Under clauses 3 and 21 and other clauses, public sector pensions do not even get the protection afforded in the private sector. In the private sector, if an alternative benefit is proposed, it must be actuarially evaluated as a viable alternative and one that does not undermine an equivalent benefit. Pensions are deferred earnings, something people invest in and, therefore, something they should have some say in, but the Bill will take away all participatory control by the members who contribute. The Treasury will now control the design of the schemes, the revaluations and how they are undertaken, and the cost cap and what is included 19

There are five physical tests that every prison officer has to undertake in order to be able to continue doing the job. If they fail in any one, they cannot do the job. The POA therefore predicts, quite rightly, that the cost of medical retirements will outweigh any savings gained as a result of the increased pension age. The same information came from the Royal College of Nursing with regard to nurses and paramedics and from the National Union of Teachers with regard to teachers teaching at 68. I think we will look back on today as the day when public sector pensions started on a downward slope, with the erosion of benefits and increasing contributions leading eventually to the undermining of the schemes and their closure. I think it will result in many people being impoverished and greater inequality being created in our society. That is why I will oppose the Bill tonight.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Baker’s Asthma

and the risks of ‘instore bakeries’ Professor Sir Anthony Newman Taylor, Chair Industrial Injuries Advisory Council 1996-2008, highlights an under-reported occupational hazard. bakeries and in supermarket ‘scratch’ bakeries. The incidence of asthma in bakers working in plant bakeries has fallen, indicating a reduction in levels of exposure to flour and a-amylase. However, an increasing proportion of bread and cake manufacture goes on in supermarkets, which is where an increasing proportion of cases of baker’s asthma are now reported to occur.

Asthma caused by allergy to flour and improving enzymes used in baking, such as a-amylase, remains a significant problem for bakers, with some 70% of cases attributable to flour. Unlike occupational asthma related to other occupations, such as detergent workers exposed to proteolytic enzymes, medical and dental staff exposed to latex and spray painters exposed to isocyanates, the incidence of occupational asthma in bakers has not fallen during the past decade. Inhalation of flour and a-amylase can induce an allergic reaction that causes recurrent asthma on re-exposure. Studies in both the UK and Netherlands have shown that the risk of developing asthma in bakers caused by exposure to flour and a-amylase is dependent on levels of airborne exposure to these substances in the workplace. If we know the potential dangers in the workplace for bakers why, overall, have levels of exposure to flour and a-amylase remained unchanged in UK bakeries? Exposures to flour and a-amylase happens in ‘plant’ bakeries making bread and confectionary products, in small ‘craft’

Unlike factories, which may employ hundreds, these ‘in store’ bakeries are smaller operations, often employing fewer than ten staff. Baking in store is less mechanised and control of exposure to flour and a-amylase is more difficult. Reducing levels of exposure to a-amylase requires innovative solutions, comparable to those that resulted in the granulation of the enzymes used in ‘biological’ detergents and the consequential reduction of ill health in the detergent manufacturing industries. Without investment in novel technology to reduce the levels of flour and a-amylase released into the air during the baking process, asthma in bakers is likely to remain a significant occupational health problem. Improvement and resolution of occupational asthma is best done by avoiding further exposure to the causes of it, in this case avoiding exposure to flour, a-amyalse, or to both. Some bakeries undertake regular surveillance of their workforce in an effort to identify cases of occupational asthma at an early and potentially more reversible stage of the disease. In practice this can mean a baker needs to change his job. Unsurprisingly, in these circumstances, bakers who develop respiratory symptoms may be reluctant to bring their symptoms to attention. In one study that compared responses to regular occupational 20

health surveillance with an independent, confidential survey, 50% of cases of baker’s asthma were not identified by health surveillance. Although understandable, this is regrettable; the way to ensure the best treatment of occupational asthma is through early identification and avoiding further exposure. In addition, because of this under-reporting, the true prevalence of this disease, and the need for preventive measures in the workplace, is in all likelihood, seriously underestimated. Bakers who develop occupational asthma are eligible for statutory compensation – Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. This provides a weekly benefit based on the level of disablement due to ‘loss of faculty’ as a consequence of accident or disease caused by work. When the Industrial Injuries Scheme was enacted in 1948 two major benefits were provided, Disablement Benefit for ‘loss of faculty’ and Special Hardship Allowance (later called Reduced Earnings Allowance) intended to make up for lost earnings. Reduced Earnings Allowance was abolished in the 1990s leaving only Disablement Benefit payable. Unfortunately, because a baker may need to change their job, this allergy will prevent them earning a living as a baker. Disablement Benefit therefore fails to properly compensate the baker for the important loss caused by occupational asthma. He or she requires compensation both to recompense for lost earnings and to enable them to learn the skills needed to be re-employed in a similarly rewarding occupation. Baker’s asthma remains a significant problem. Reducing its incidence will require concerted action between employers, employees and their trade unions, chemists, engineers and safety specialists. In the meantime, for those who develop the disease and have to change their job, the nature of statutory compensation should reflect loss of earnings and their need to be supported in re-training.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

FBU Leeds against cuts Patrick Hall reports Wrack emphasised that although the bankers had caused the financial crisis, the ordinary people of this country were being forced to pay for it and that was wrong. He said the labour movement should resist any cuts in public services.

On 3 November West Yorkshire FBU organised a march and rally to oppose the threatened closure of various fire stations in the county. Between four and five hundred trade unionists and supporters turned out on what was quite a cold day to show their solidarity with West Yorkshire’s firefighters. It took the usual route, departing from Leeds’ Victoria Gardens, marching round the city centre and returning to Victoria Gardens for the rally.

Finally, Matt Williams closed the rally and asked for everyone’s continuing support. He said that the matter was out for public consultation and that West Yorkshire Fire Authority would make the final decision at its meeting on 21 December.

The FBU secretary for the West Yorkshire brigade, David Williams, introduced the rally. FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack was there and presented the Union’s long-service medal to one of his members who spoke about the importance of resisting the planned closures and his own experiences as a firefighter. Matt

Formal objections to the planned closures should be lodged in writing to Chief Fire Officer by 30 November. Go to, and click on the public consultation icon.

Organising for health and safety Ian Hodson, BFAWU President, reports on the ongoing work of the union to make their industry safer There is nothing new in the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union’s (BFAWU) approach to health and safety issues. We do not stand around waiting for legislation to bring about improved standards. From outlawing cellar baking, the setting of maximum exposure limits of flour, to raising awareness of baker’s asthma as an industrial disease, we fight for improvements in our members’ working conditions. This campaign is a long way from being finished. Evidence suggests workers remain at risk. Exposure limits are set too high. Some experts say the Working Exposure Limit should be set as low as 1, instead of the current 10, for it to have any real impact. The BFAWU campaign is aimed at a reduction of the exposure limit to the recognised safe level of 1 or below. We believe if there is a will, this reduction can be achieved. The strategy we have adopted is to raise awareness of the problems and prevalence of baker’s asthma within Parliament through our parliamentary group and by working with other organisations. The

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates bakers are 80 times more likely to develop occupational asthma than other workers. They calculate that around 27,000 of the 100,000 people working in the British baking industry regularly work with flour as an ingredient. We recognise that part of the solution is having a strong network of safety representatives to provide the level of protection our members demand and deserve. To that end we offer a diverse range of quality training to all our representatives and officials. We have included the issue of baker’s asthma in our stage 1 course in order that our representatives can lead the fight in making bakers’ workplaces safer. The quickest and most effective way of improving health and safety standards in our industry is to work in a proactive rather than a reactive manner. This is why we deplore the undermining of health and safety in workplaces encouraged by the 21

current Government as they embark on a slash and burn approach on safety measures that have till recently seen a reduction of the incidence of baker’s asthma and injury in workplaces. This approach has led to employers returning to practices that take risks with our members’ lives such as reducing filter changes to save money and reducing the quality of Personal Protective Equipment supplied. Some employers have even removed safety managers, stopped meetings and are failing to carry out basic risk assessments. They are refusing to release returns to safety reps while pressurising staff to keep working who are not able to do so simply in order to avoid reporting issues in the way they should. For the first time in a generation our children will be entering workplaces less safe than the ones we worked in. This is just wrong. We should be trying to eradicate risk. This reduction in health and safety reflects short termism; the long term cost will be a burden on future generations as those injured will require life time financial support when they become disabled by illness or injury.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

The Tony delusion Gordon Nardell, Holborn & St Pancras CLP, looks at the myth and reality of Labour’s 1997 landslide victory. ‘Tony Blair made Labour electable. Labour couldn’t have scored its spectacular 1997 result without this popular leader who successfully rebranded Labour as a party of the centre.’ This piece of mythology is engrained in political thinking. But once the evidence is examined, the proposition becomes palpably false. Labour’s 1997 landslide owed nothing to Blair’s leadership. John Smith, had he lived, would in all likelihood have been at least equally popular and successful. Blair’s rightward shift was a serious miscalculation that harmed British politics and Labour in particular. Disaster struck the Tories within months of their 1992 win. Black Wednesday that September, when Sterling was ignominiously forced out of the EU Exchange Rate Mechanism, left the Tories’ economic reputation devastated. By the time a series of gaffes and scandals had taken their toll - the Westminster ‘homes for votes’ episode and the Scott Report on arms to Iraq, to name a few – the Tories had no way back.

June 1994; Preparing for the Blair years.

As several commentators noted, including pollster Bob Worcester in his 1999 book Explaining Labour’s Landslide, Labour would have won in 1997 in any case. Nevertheless, Worcester and other pundits peddle the notion of some alchemical “Blair factor” responsible for

the scale of Labour’s ‘97 win. Yet the actual data – including those offered by Worcester – suggest otherwise. Smith was elected leader in July 1992. By January 1993 Labour had opened a poll lead of around 10% over the Tories. From then on, until Smith’s death, Labour’s lead in opinion polls and actual elections rose consistently. The local elections on 5 May 1994 saw the Tories reduced to 27% of the national vote with Labour on 40%: a 13% lead. Smith died on 12 May. In the European parliamentary election in June the Tories marginally rallied to 28%. But Labour, under the caretaker leadership of Margaret Beckett, soared to 44%, a lead of 16%. Blair became leader in July 1994. Initially the rising trend in Labour support continued. At the May 1995 local elections Labour achieved 48% of the vote while the Tories slumped to 25%, a 23% lead. But Blair was unable to sustain what had begun under Smith. As 1997 approached, the gap between the parties steadily narrowed, to the point where - as Chris Mullin describes in his diaries A Walk-On Part - despondency began to grip sections of the Parliamentary Party. Of course Labour won convincingly in 1997 with a huge 179 seat majority. But the distribution of parliamentary seats masked Blair’s failure to repeat, in that or any subsequent national election, the 1994 lead in the popular vote over the Tories. In the ’97 General Election Labour scored 43.2% of the vote to the Tories’ 30.7%, a lead of 12.5%. The 1997 win was not attributable to Blair personally; and his political repositioning, exemplified by the evisceration of Clause IV, gave Labour no real electoral advantage. The politics represented

of “New” Labour a fundamental 22

misreading of the lessons of Labour’s 1992 defeat. The notion of ‘underpromising but overdelivering’ – lowering voters’ expectations in opposition - was closely linked to the misconception that Labour under Kinnock had lost because of voters’ fears about the tax implications of the Party’s spending pledges. But really voters preferred fair taxation to tax cuts which mostly benefit the better-off. Voters’ expectations are determined not by the fine print of party pledge cards, but by the real experience of life under the incumbent regime. After 18 years of the Tories, voters were unwilling to be fobbed off with anything less than a thoroughgoing change of direction. Inevitably Blair’s rejection of even the most modest appeal to economic fairness or redistribution produced not inspiration but disillusionment, a story eloquently told by voter turnout. At the 1987 and 1992 elections turnout was 77.3% and 75% respectively. In 1997 it fell to 71.3%. In many Labour strongholds turnout dropped sharply – by 8% in Sunderland, for example. One of the most disturbing trends of the Blair premiership was the continuing decline in turnout – to 59.4% in 2001 and 61.4% in 2005, reflected in dwindling Labour majorities. Perhaps the real lesson is that the personality of individual leaders is far less important than voters’ sense of what a party stands for and how it behaves in office. Blair and his circle made the wrong call on all counts. The record from ’93 and ’94 shows Labour sustaining strong support – including in `affluent’ London and the south east – without any supposed need for a rightward lurch. Labour would have won by a landslide in ’97 without Blairism, and an era of public disengagement from politics might have been avoided. This is the truth we need to tell. Gordon Nardel blogs at www.entarteur.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

beyond the cosy consensus l

Tom Davies, Walthamstow CLP, reports on the struggle to tackle racism in English football. English football has become fond of congratulating itself over its anti-racist credentials in recent times. The bad old days of the seventies and eighties – of monkey-chanting at black players, or National Front paper-sellers outside grounds – are gone, it boasts, not without reason. Our authorities protest when black English players are abused abroad, and point to countries such as Serbia, scene of appalling barracking of England’s Under-21 players last month, as examples of places where things are much worse. They boast too of their cosmopolitan Premier League, their multinational, multiracial teams with global appeal. Antiracist banners saying ‘Kick it out’ adorn perimeter hoardings at grounds. And then along comes Jason Roberts, the Reading striker, undermining English football’s campaign against racism by, er, complaining about racism – refusing to wear a t-shirt to mark the Kick It Out campaign’s anti-racism fortnight last month. A number of prominent players, including brothers Rio and Anton Ferdinand, and in some cases whole teams - Swansea and Wigan - followed suit in declining to wear Kick It Out shirts. After a 12-month period in which the then-England captain, John Terry of Chelsea, was prosecuted - and acquitted - after being accused of racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, and Luis Suarez of Liverpool had been banned for eight games for his conduct towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, the dissenters’ complaints struck a chord. Roberts’ gripes were no one-off attentionseeking rant. He is on the management committee of the Professional Footballers’ Association, the players’ union, and had earlier been part of a 30-strong lobby of the PFA to demand more action across a range of areas. This included encouraging more black players into coaching and management (where, unlike on the field of play, they are woefully underrepresented), a beefed-up equality unit for the union and greater legal support

Anton Ferdinand at work with Jackie Walker. Photo,Jackie Walker.

for players taking complaints against racist abuse. He also called for greater independence for the Kick It Out campaign. Funded by the football authorities and the PFA, it operates on a shoestring budget with a staff of only seven and is dependent on resources from the football establishment. Within these limits, it does what it can and its community work is admirable, but it’s not well placed to rock the boat. A backdrop to the players’ complaints were the Terry/Ferdinand and Suarez/Evra sagas and the sense that, particularly in the Terry case, the authorities were reluctant to come down too hard on one of the country’s most well paid and well known players. Revealing too was the immediate response of many within the game to Roberts’ and the Ferdinands’ protest. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, for example, complained he’d been “embarrassed” and the sense that the refuseniks had upset a cosy complacent consensus and got above themselves was palpable. Of course, there have been big changes for the better in the past 25 years. Orchestrated racist abuse is much rarer among crowds. Much of 23

the credit goes to supporters themselves, who led the first anti-racism campaigns at places like Leeds and Chelsea, often in hostile circumstances. An element of selfpolicing has crept in and racists are likely to be shouted down from among their own crowds. But there is still much to be done. The English Defence League may be a disintegrating rabble but they enlist from football grounds. Crowds remain disproportionately white, partly due to high admission prices, and on the pitch black and ethnic minority players clearly have cause for concern, not least the lack of representation in management. The protests have already yielded some progress. The PFA has since announced a six-point plan to tackle racism, including stipulations on interviewing BME candidates for manager roles, and making racism a sackable offence. Suddenly, the game can’t just rely on smug self-satisfaction on this issue. As Roberts told The Independent, “The last generation suffered from monkey chants and we have to move it forward from simply being happy that we no longer get that. I’m not just happy to be here where we are.”

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

US election: No gold at rainbow’s end Michael Roberts looks at the US election result and what lies ahead for Obama. Once again the real winner of the US elections was the No Vote party. At least 40% of those of voting age did not vote, partly because they did not register, but mainly because they did not turn out on the day. This election highlights the change in the ethnic make-up of the American electorate, with more voters of Hispanic and Asian origin, who are more likely to vote. It was a ‘rainbow coalition’ that won the election for Obama. According to exit polls, the electorate was 72% white - a group Obama lost with 39% to Romney’s 59%. But the 13% that is African-American gave the President 93% of their votes. Hispanic voters who comprised 10% of the electorate (rising from 7.4% in 2008) gave Obama 71% and 27% to Romney. Asians too voted heavily for Obama. Romney represented the majority of Anglo-Saxon white males, as women voted

55% to 44% in favour of Obama, while men voted 52% to 45% for Romney. Interestingly, the ‘class vote’ was less clear. Of those earning more than $50,000 a year, hardly a princely sum, Romney took 50% compared to Obama at 45%. Obama’s victory came as the official unemployment rate hovers at 7.9%, slightly higher than when he took office in 2009. Reagan was the only previous President to have been reelected since World War II with a jobless rate above 6%. There are still 4.2million fewer jobs than there were in December 2007. Employment remains 3.1% lower than it was before the recession began 58 months ago. And there is grotesque inequality of income and wealth. The 4.3% highest-earning Americans take 28.4% of all personal income, the lower-earning 66.9% just 31.2%. Between 1976 and 2007, the US real GDP per head grew 66%. But the average income for the top 1% increased by 280%, while the average income of the bottom 90% pretty much stagnated, growing just 8% over this 30-year period. Poverty is rife. Half of all American workers (75 million out of 150 million) reported incomes below $26,363 in 2010. Those with incomes below $25,000 - 48.2% of all workers received collectively only 6.34% of all

income from wages! Some mainstream economists are trying to paint an optimistic view of the next four years. Others are less confident, predicting average real GDP growth well under the previous 2.5% a year trend. Robert Gordon has concluded that US real economic growth could fall to just an average 0.2% a year for the foreseeable future. Already, Obama and the US Congress are turning to dealing with government debt, and the so-called fiscal cliff, as tax breaks expire. Boosting government investment to create jobs and restore living standards that have declined sharply for the average American household over the last 12 years, is not on the agenda. So the rainbow coalition that won Obama a second term is unlikely to get a crock of gold at the end of the next four years. The bellwether for the health of US capitalism is the rate of profit. That shows little sign of returning to levels seen in the late 1990s, let alone back to the golden age of the 1960s. A low and probably falling rate of profit implies a low rate of new investment ahead, with unemployment staying well above ‘normal’ levels. And it implies the likelihood of another slump in production before the next four years are over, along with the continuance of the Long Depression, now in its fifth year. City economist Michael Roberts blogs at

and in another election near by... In local elections in Nicaragua held on 4 November, the Sandinistas won mayoral races in 134 of the country’s 153 municipalities, gaining over two thirds of all votes cast. Popular policies at national level undoubtedly influenced the result. Under the Sandinistas, Plan Roof gave out galvanised roofing, poor women got micro-loans or Zero Hunger Programme cows and chickens, and schools and health centres opened. Organisation of American States observers monitored the voting in 11 of the nation’s 17 departments. Lazaro Cardenas, chief of the mission, said that the observers

had full access to the polling places and that the voting had proceeded in an atmosphere of civility. He praised the recent changes to the electoral law which mandated the alternating of men and women on the party slates saying that Nicaragua was a leader in the participation of women. The US was predictably less happy with the outcome, complaining of irregularities and a lack of transparency. 24

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Photo, Aisha Maniar


victory for human rights. Keep up the pressure to close Guantánamo Bay, argues Aisha Maniar. In the 2008 US presidential campaign the closure of Guantánamo was a key election promise and a central plank of Barack Obama’s ‘yes, we can’ mantra. In 2009, he put that pledge into writing, placed a moratorium on military commissions and promised to close the facility by early 2010. Since then, it’s been a steady downhill decline into depths that even his predecessor did not stoop to. Unsurprisingly, Guantánamo Bay did not feature in the 2012 campaign. It is now almost three years since Barack Obama broke his promise to close Guantánamo Bay. During his first term, only 72 prisoners were released. Death is currently proving one of the most effective ways out. The last death of a prisoner in September, of Yemeni national Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, shed light on this continuing arbitrary and cruel detention. First authorised for release in 2006, Latif was never charged or tried, he was an innocent man stuck in Guantánamo Bay unable to leave due to the ban on people returning to Yemen. After almost 11 years British resident Shaker Aamer remains at Guantánamo Bay along with another man with links to the UK, Ahmed Belbacha. Aamer has never been charged or tried and is on a list of several dozen prisoners who are apparently free to leave. The reasons Aamer and Belbacha are still held remain vague. Both were initially cleared for release in 2007. The renewed confidence placed in President Obama by American voters might prompt him to implement

positive changes. The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign is currently stepping up its lobbying of both the American and British governments. There have been other setbacks. While drone attacks have made it unnecessary to capture the enemies you can bomb remotely, the Obama administration has introduced new laws sanctioning the regime at Guantánamo. In the US mainland, the National Defence Authorization Act 2012 has authorised arbitrary detention without charge for US citizens. The introduction of administrative detention, or internment, in Afghan prisons was a condition for the handover of Bagram to Afghan authority. Hidden away from the eyes of the world, the prison population at Bagram in Obama’s first term increased fivefold to over 3,000. Not only did Obama resume military tribunals, whose low standards involve the admission of torture evidence and non-credible witnesses, his administration saw the first trial for war crimes allegedly by a minor since World War II when Canadian born Omar Khadr was tried in 2010. He was convicted following a secret plea bargain. The trials of five men alleged to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks, and who ‘disappeared’ into secret CIA 25

jails for several years, have started. Pretrial hearings in their case, and those of another prisoner, close to the election failed to make Guantánamo an election issue of any sort. More significantly, a US Federal Appeal Court recently quashed the conviction of a prisoner tried before a military tribunal in 2008. The court held that Salim Hamdan could not be convicted of the offence of ‘material support for terrorism’ as the offence was not a war crime. This is likely to lead to more appeals and throws an unconvincing system into disarray. The past four years do not offer much cause for celebration or optimism. Obama is making no promises, nor even mentioning the issues. But the battle to close Guantánamo is not yet over and human rights organisations in the US are already lobbying the election winner. On this side of the Atlantic, the London Guantánamo Campaign will mark the eleventh anniversary of Guantánamo with a day long action ‘All Roads Lead to Guantánamo’ and an evening vigil outside the US Embassy on 11 January 2013. For more details go to our website: www. londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot. Follow/get involved with the action on Facebook: All Roads Lead to Guantanamo and Twitter @allroadsleadg11

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Afghanistan: a failure on all fronts The case against the war in Afghanistan must be linked to fighting cuts at home, argues Mike Phipps. Earlier this year Britain signed a £100 million deal to shift £4 billion of military equipment out of Afghanistan via Kazakhstan. By taking the Central Asian route, officials argued, there was less chance of it being attacked by Taliban forces - a justification that unwittingly revealed just how little has been achieved in eleven years of occupation. Combat operations in Afghanistan are due to end in 2014 when new elections are held. Very few observers think these elections are likely to be particularly free or fair and no wonder; August 2012 was the second worst month for civilian casualties since 2007, many of these the result of Predator Drone attacks operated remotely from the US. A recent House of Commons Select Committee Report admitted it may not be possible to build a viable state in Afghanistan. The economy is in ruins. A US researcher has estimated it would cost $34 billion to restore Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure. Over the last decade the UK has spent £17 billion on what Jeremy Corbyn MP has described as its ‘least successful military operation of all time’. At the end of October the Supreme Court ruled the handing over of a Pakistani national by British forces in Iraq to US authorities in 2004 to be unlawful. This was because the notorious US Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, where the individual has been indefinitely detained, was in breach of international human rights law. Nobody believes the treatment of prisoners at this facility will improve when it is transferred to Afghan authority. In November the High Court blocked a Ministry of Defence attempt to transfer captives to Afghan jails, given their reputation for torture.

The main justification for perpetuating the failed occupation of one of the poorest countries is, according to the Government, the threat of terrorism. Paul Flynn MP, the mainstay of the all-party Afghanistan Withdrawal Group of MPs has called this ‘a preposterous lie’. He argues that British troops are merely human shields protecting politicians’ reputations. Under Blair another justification was that 90% of heroin in Britain came from Afghanistan. Today the figure is still 90% - the only difference is there is more of it and it’s cheaper.

those who can least afford them?

Given the threadbare arguments used to justify continued military presence and that polls consistently show 80% of people in the UK want troops withdrawn either immediately or very soon, why isn’t there more active public opposition to British troops in Afghanistan?

One of the difficulties facing anti-war activists is the oft-raised argument that without a British presence in Afghanistan, large numbers of girls would be denied the opportunity to go to school. This problem is not confined to Afghanistan. All across the southern hemisphere life chances for girls, in education, health and food security, are being adversely affected by the policies of international finance institutions with the IMF prioritising debt repayment over basic human needs. Feigned British Government concern for the plight of Afghanistan women is deeply hypocritical given its support for cuts and privatisation as a condition for aid elsewhere and the fact that the much-hyped schools programme is already a casualty of military policy. A confidential report recently leaked to the Guardian reveals that schools and health clinics built by the British military across Helmand province in Afghanistan as part its counterinsurgency strategy are to be closed down by 2014.

The Coalition Government is mounting attacks on working people on an unprecedented number of fronts - health, education, benefits, housing, union rights and working conditions, to name only the more obvious ones. The principal way antiwar activists can argue for their case is to focus on the economic case against intervention. With growing numbers of people fighting the cuts, far from being a limitation, this argument allows us to discuss the failed policy by critiquing it as an appalling waste of money. The question needs to be posed; what kind of priorities allow millions of pounds to be wasted on such a futile mission while hospitals and libraries close and benefits are taken from 26

In addition the war in Afghanistan is one of the most privatised in history. The revolving door of former officials from the Ministry of Defence and ex-army chiefs taking up lucrative contracts with private military contractors - or mercenaries as they were once called - now involves thousands of personnel. Profits for these companies are dependent on the conflict going on for as long as possible. We have to ensure that society starts to hold these merchants of death in even greater contempt than that reserved for bankers and other parasites.

The occupation of Afghanistan has been a failure in every respect. Rarely have so many resources been committed with so little to show for it. It must end now.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Greece on the edge Mike Phipps reports

Stathis Kouvelakis of Syriza addresses LRC conference.

On 7 November, as more austerity measures were enacted, 100,000 Greeks marched on Parliament in Syntagma Square. The Greek Parliament was voting on another $17.2 billion in budget cuts. This is the third and harshest, but not necessarily the last, piece of austerity to be imposed by the Troika – the European Commission, Central Bank and IMF – to qualify for $39.6 billion in bailout funds. It’s not a bailout for the Greek people. Debt service and bailing out bankers get top priority. As before, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds. According to one commentator, ‘Athens resembles a war zone’. Small wonder that when they do dare to appear in public, even the most obscure MPs have to be accompanied by at least one bodyguard. Prime Minister Samaras declared himself ‘very pleased’ that the austerity measure passed Parliament. In fact, it was a travesty of democracy, with MPs getting just one day to read and a few hours to debate a 500 page package of assorted, unconnected measures attacking pensions, salaries, the public sector and union rights. Another 150,000 jobs are to

go, along with further wage cuts of up to 30%, pensions cuts up to 15% – on top of 40% cuts already passed – and fewer healthcare benefits. Universities will also close. Nobody expects the measures to alleviate Greece’s economic woes. Even the authors of the package expect a further 4.5% contraction of the economy next year – it’s already shrunk 22% in three years – and it could be much more. Appalling living conditions and starvation have resulted. Official unemployment is over 25% and among young people 58%. Wages have fallen by up to 60% in the last three years. Yet last year, Greece spent €7 billion on arms. Defence spending is nearly double that of other EU nations. Germany is not only one of Athens’ main creditors but also one of its largest arms suppliers. A 48 hour general strike paralysed Greece as the measures were enacted and more action is expected in the coming months. Meanwhile evidence mounts of police collusion in attacks by the fascist Golden Dawn 27

on migrants and radicals. Speaking at the LRC annual conference on 10 November, Syriza activist Stathis Kouvelakis claimed Greece was the laboratory for a new experiment in Europe. Something that has so far only been done to the global south was now being done in Europe - shock therapy. “Nearly all existing labour legislation has been abrogated,” he said. “Absolutely everything has been privatised – including inhabited islands where people, if there are fewer than 150, are being asked to move. The result is an unmitigated disaster, with one third of the population below the poverty line.” PASOK, the equivalent of the Labour Party in Greece, has slumped from 45% of the vote in the 2009 elections to a mere 7% in current opinion polls. The radical left coalition Syriza leapt to 27% of the vote in the 2012 elections, testament to its leading role in the anti-austerity mobilisations and the fast growing desire by many people for a clear political alternative. Watch Stathis Kouvelakis’ speech at LRC conference at

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Powerful political


humour and satire, something too often lacking on the left. Her poem Yellowface is very pertinent, especially as recently the Royal Shakespeare Company’s reworking of The Orphan Of Zhao had a mainly all white cast. Only three of the 17 actors were east Asians but not in any of the main roles. The invisibility of east Asian actors is a reminder of racism, alive and kicking in theatre. As Anna writes in Yellowface, “I’m Yellowface. Make you scrabble like a mole in a hole. For every little part, any little role. Make you thank me for the things I stole”. And with the powerful Anna May Wong Must Die -

Louise Whittle reviews Reaching for my Gnu: Poetry by Anna Chen [Kindle Edition] £4.99

“Anna kissed a white boy and made him cry. And that’s why Anna May Wong must die”

I have seen Anna Chen perform a number of times at slam poetry events and one woman shows such as Anna May Wong Must Die. She uses poetry to give force to observations on everyday life and to her political views on the subjects she feels passionate about – but always mixed with

The poem is based on the AmericanChinese actress Anna May Wong who in the majority of her screen performances died. The parts she was given were always stereotypes; prostitute, slave, mistress, prostitute, prostitute … and so on. Each time the Chinese woman is portrayed as

luring the white man with her ‘exoticism’ and ‘otherness’, proving the necessity of punishing the non-white woman. Other poems look at race, stereotypes and identity. This example is from The Dis Persists “Like the Big Yellow I am I contain multitudes of others’ crap Assumptions, projections, defections, rejections.” Anna is both incisive, sharp in her observations, particularly in her more humorous personal poetry in Ode to a Detox on Returning From St Ives and Burger. I think one of my favourites is What Then? It’s a heart-rending journey into loss and rebirth. Something in this poem resonates deeply with me. Other favourites include Fish, Avian Flew, Copper Comes a Cropper, Big Society, Haiti, Colour Me: Atone Poem. With Xmas coming up, I’m happy to recommend buying this selection of poetry with its powerful politics mixed with razor sharp humour from a woman of colour. Her poems are heartfelt, funny, satirical, accessible and strong, and because of that, rightly challenge our perceptions about the world. Buy it. Read it.

Nov/ Dec issue out now…………… • Frances O’Grady on Trade Unions and cuts • Harry Shutt on Keynesian failures • Peter Kenyon on the City and Labour • Paul Teasdale on tax and inequality • Mike Heiser on the Middle East Subscribe on-line at: Six issues a year


Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Institutionalised inhumanity Mike Phipps reviews Borderline Justice: the fight for refugee and migrant rights by Frances Webber, published by Pluto, price £19.99 paperback ‘Borderline justice is marginal justice’, declares Frances Webber, a legal practitioner with over 30 years experience. In fact, for migrants and asylum seekers, it is regularly transformed into injustice, with exclusion from mainstream legal entitlements. For migrants, all the hallmarks of a free society are called into question; the right not to be detained without trial, freedom from double punishment and freedom of movement. The process starts at arrival. Visa requirements, usually with hefty fees, are routinely imposed on people fleeing repression often from countries armed by Britain. Refugees are prevented from escaping war or terror by carrier sanctions - heavy fines on airlines, shipping companies and lorries for every passenger found without valid documents. Justice is further denied by fast-tracking, an erosion of appeal rights and the abolition of legal aid. The whole culture of the immigration authorities is anti-asylum seeker, with virginity tests, verbal bullying, long delays and plain racism. Women fleeing rape, abuse and domestic violence are treated particularly inhumanely. Children’s applications are routinely dismissed, despite often harrowing circumstances. For those fleeing political persecution, the Home Office’s laughable assumptions include the following: political activists must be ‘fervent’; if a party is not banned, its members are not persecuted; and the Orwellian argument that if you are alive, you can’t have serious enemies. Denying access to the courts has been another tactic – after all, 50% of appellants succeed. Last year, following a consultation in which 90% of 5,000 respondents objected, the Government

introduced a law removing public funding for many civil cases, including all non-asylum immigration cases. Once here, migrants can be denied social housing, NHS treatment, social security and the right to seek work. On coming to power, “Labour came up with a system of institutionalised inhumanity”, argues Webber, “ … bare subsistence and a deterrent system of coercion, control and stigmatisation.” Asylum seekers were dispersed from London. Private companies, like the Angel Group, made a fortune out of government subsidies to house them in squalor. Those whose asylum claims were rejected were summarily evicted. Essential living needs were met with vouchers redeemable only at specified supermarkets. Worse is the fate of asylum seekers who are detained for alleging persecution, often in privately run prisons. The effects on the mental health of detainees, often already traumatised, is routinely ignored although in one case the authorities did make plans to manage press coverage in the event of the detainee’s death. Among the undertrained guards there is a widespread culture of racism and brutality. Meanwhile the Immigration Service has been transformed into a policing operation, raiding houses and workplaces on a daily basis. Employers can be served with penalty notices of up to £10,000 per illegal worker. Even children can be seized, handcuffed and bundled out of the country without warning before any protest can be lodged. Child refugees convicted of offences are routinely deported at the end of their sentences. This book arose from the author’s anger at the contradictions in the way politicians vilify asylum seekers yet lionise people fighting for democracy and human rights around the world. After all this is the same Government that arms Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes, 29

enabling them to suppress minorities and pro-democracy activists. These regimes act as sub-contractors in the outsourcing of torture and are also tasked with keeping asylum seekers from coming here. Libya for example was given EU funding to strengthen its detention facilities. Likewise, new buffer states across Africa are being pressurised to adopt stricter immigration controls, resulting in appalling detention conditions. Immigration controls are based on a ruthless social Darwinism. For the global elite, it’s easy to move around the world. But if you’re not computer-literate or don’t speak English, in most countries you can’t even apply for a UK visa. These controls are a huge industry and, for many private companies, big business. Private companies process visa applications. Refused asylum seekers get Sodexo vouchers or wear Sodexo electronic tags. Detainees are held in centres run by G4S among others. Those needing medical help are seen by private providers. Frances Webber has written a passionate book that castigates Labour and Tory governments alike for routine denial of basic rights in the treatment of migrants. It is shocking but essential reading.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

Debt, the first 5,000 years, by David Graeber, New York: Melville 2011 A review by Chris Knight, Professor of Anthropology

Not only does Graeber make sense of the earliest origins of monetary debt some 5,000 years ago, when militaristic states first appeared, the investigation broadens into an extraordinarily ambitious overview of the entire span of written history. As Graeber proceeds, he confidently overturns the conceptual underpinnings of the entire discipline of economics, together with its many insidious extensions into religion, philosophy and science. Money didn’t emerge as a medium of exchange between free agents. Graeber pours scorn on Adam Smith’s mythic narrative in which men engage in barter until the arrival of that brilliant new invention - money. He turns instead to Marcel Mauss’ classic book, The Gift. Left to themselves, according to Mauss, humans are spontaneous communists. They value their relationships more than they value things. Why lay claim to a possession if not to pass it on as a gift? And the longer the interval between gift and counter-gift is, the more impressive the demonstration of trust. Money of course totally annihilates this. So how did money originate? It began, explains Graeber, with conquest and extortion. Some violent patriarchal thug - Hernan Cortes in what is now Mexico would be a good illustration -

persuades his henchmen to sign up for a campaign of rape, pillage and slaughter. The success of the project rests on a promise; once the loot has been stolen, rape and pillage complete, the accomplices will get their share. So before setting out, the adventurer must issue promissory notes – contracts to pay the bearer. These can be circulated as tokens of value - but only if trust between the robbers prevails. But this trust differs to what Mauss was talking about. It’s not gift-giving or love. It’s trust that sufficient loot will be obtained. In the final analysis Graeber says, `money’ rests on the promise that goods looted will be distributed among the thieves. Should that trust falter, the entire system would inevitably collapse.

many have come to accept as economics.

Like any good anthropologist, and he is an excellent one, Graeber has little time for economics. The very idea that there is such a thing as `the economy’ is in itself, of course, an ideological fiction. Graeber discusses how, from earliest times, politics, warfare, violence and deception - not to mention sex, love, solidarity and truth - have combined in complex ways to constitute our productive and imaginative lives. This book is a wonderful way of re-thinking what

John McDonnell tells me that, having read Graeber’s book, he advocates extending similar debt-resistance movements to Britain, offering legal and other assistance to victims intending to default, while simultaneously mobilising mass action including local occupations of the vicious PayDay loan shops now spawning across the more desolate neighbourhoods of London and other cities. Shouldn’t this be official LRC policy?


Graeber writes like a proletarian - in straightforward, comprehensible English. The book includes exhaustive notes and references, direct quotes, illuminating graphs where needed, a bibliography and a good index. He steers clear of arcane debates and uses almost no specialist terminology. If you want deep Marxology, or a technical treatise on the underpinnings of the current financial crisis, you may feel disappointed. But there are good reasons why Graeber’s book has become a best-seller, spurring activists across the world and, among other things, helping trigger both the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement and the ‘Strike Debt’ (debt-resistance) movement now beginning to make its mark across the United States.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012

BOOK REcommends Barry Ewart recommends Paul Frolich’s biography, Rosa Luxemburg.

Pete Firmin recommends Organized Labor & The Black Worker, 1619-1981, by Philip S. Foner.

Barry writes: Rosa, one of socialism’s finest thinkers, believed that while a socialist party should offer leadership it should never do anything which didn’t have the support of the majority of the working class.

Pete writes: This is a book that has been on my shelves for years that I only just got around to reading. It’s a history of the relationship between black workers and the union movement in the United States. Far from dry, this is a fascinating, inspiring as well as at times a depressing account of the resistance black workers have met, from employers, the state, union bureaucracies, organised racists like the Ku Klux Klan as well as white workers (sometimes organised by the Klan).

AFL and CIO, repeated attempts by black workers, sometimes organised in caucuses, to change practices was met by opposition from ‘progressive’ union leaders like Walter Reuther. Foner details arguments within the black working class about the unions and the dilemma they faced as to whether it was legitimate for black workers to be scabs given the refusal of unions to accept them as members.

There are exceptions – the principled stand taken by The Knights of Labour and International Workers of the World. Some workers united in strike action, but too often this came up against ingrained attitudes. Within the ‘mainstream’ unions ,

While we await a detailed history of these themes, this book shows the problems racist attitudes can cause and how racism can benefit employers. It’s well worth a read.

Rosa also warned of the dangers of what was to become ‘Stalinism’ and bourgeois dictatorships of the proletariat i.e. rule by small elites, secret police etc. To Rosa the best thing that we could all bring to the table was critical thinking. Read this and feel inspired!

correspondence John Smithee - Cambridgeshire I read Rosa Bransky’s article about prostitution with interest. I prefer to use the word ‘escort’ rather than ‘prostitute’ or ‘sex worker’. The media stereotype of a prostitute is of a short skirted, heroin addicted young woman on a street corner with a pimp in the background. The reality is very different. The aim should be to encourage escorts onto web sites away from brothels and kerb crawling. More than 19,000 women have profiles on the UK’s major site for finding an escort. Their profiles show more than half are either married or in some kind of relationship.

Left wing sects are very prudish about prostitution in an attempt to win over the feminists who do not see sex work as work at all. Most women advertising on the most popular adult web site enjoy sex and would rather earn £100 an hour working as an escort than £6.95 working at Tesco. Escorts provide a valuable service. The International Union of Sex Workers explains there is a high incidence of Asperger’s Syndrome where many men find difficulty in forming relationships with women. By seeing an escort, the cycle of sexual failure and depression can be broken.


Escorts can also enable men to get over bereavement or divorce, and help shy or disabled men find sexual fulfilment. Adult work websites gives a glimpse of what sexual relationships will be like under socialism. Some women, who are in relationships, will have sex with other men, as happened during the age of primitive socialism.

Labour Briefing - DECEMBER 2012






Mike Murphy, Scunthorpe CLP, reports from central Spain, 13-14 November With the TUC investigating the ‘practicalities’ of a general strike, the EUwide trade unions’ day of action on 14 November resulted in long overdue 24 hour general strikes in already bailed out Portugal and soon-to-be bailed out Spain. It was the third general strike in Spain since the crisis began and the first time (after 29 March) there have been two strikes in a year since Franco’s time. The two union federations and 150 social ones are demanding a cuts referendum – a demand which bounces off the conservative People’s Party President Rajoy’s deaf ears. In the run-up to action another suicide of a woman forced the Government to finally halt some evictions (around 600,000 had already been processed). Airline company Iberia-BA have planned 4500 sackings and 25-35% pay cuts. Further bank mergers will slash approximately 70,000 jobs.

In transport depots and industrial estates the usual argy-bargy led to a few arrests. Insulting public sector servicios minimos (minimum standards) are set by state bodies during periods of strike action (for example in transport 30%). Students picketed campuses, blocked roads. Public TV was on blackout, all newspaper kiosks closed. What followed was a dispute in the press on the effectiveness and turnout for strike action; unions said 77%, bosses claimed 12%. A good measure is the fact that electricity

usage dropped compared to an average working day by 12%, indicating 67% on strike. Big industry and construction was halted. The effect on commerce and catering was more mixed. Massive demos crossed all cities; one million each in Madrid and Barcelona. Anarchists protested separately. ‘What about after?’ ‘48 hours?’ ‘Twenty general strikes haven`t worked in Greece.’ ‘Should it be indefinite until a constituent assembly?’ The debate continues. Mike Murphy will be writing an article on the indignados for the February issue.

Graffitti on shop front in Madrid. Photo, Dan Hancox.

Two thousand pickets rallied on the evening of the 13th in Sol Square, where the protest group 15-M indignados had camped for so long in 2010, to share rallysnacks in the CCOO union federation HQ nearby. With stickers, flags, leaflets, some 1000 piquetes informativos (awareness raising pickets), one led by young women, set out in each of four directions to remind bars and cafes to close at midnight. Some piquetes informativos grafitti’d, some paint-sprayed, some superglued doorlocks - especially at banks and ATMs. Anti-riot cops followed discreetly.

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Labour Briefing - December  

Labour Briefing is a monthly political magazine produced by members of the British Labour Party.

Labour Briefing - December  

Labour Briefing is a monthly political magazine produced by members of the British Labour Party.