Archive for the ‘Working Conditions’ Category

Manifesto for a Truly Democratic, Socialist America

January 23, 2020

Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (London: Verso 2019).

Introduction

This is a superb book, though conditions have changed since the book was published last year through Labour’s election defeat and the fall of Corbyn, that the new age of socialist activism and success Sunkara looks forward to is now far more doubtful. Sunkara is an American radical journalist, and the founder and editor of the left-wing magazine, Jacobin. Originally from Trinidade, he immigrated to the USA with his family when he was young. Growing up in New York, he read extensively in the Big Apple’s public library, where he came to realise the country’s dependence on services provided by the state. He immersed himself in the history and literature of socialism, finally joining the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a registered Democrat.

The book comes praised by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Naomi Klein and Owen Jones. The book was partly inspired by the success of Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in America in bringing socialism back into the political arena after decades of neoliberalism. This is made clear by the blurb on the dust jacket’s inside flap. This states

Socialism was pronounced dead when the Soviet Union collapsed. But with the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-led Labour party and increasing economic inequality, the politics of class struggle and wealth redistribution is back on the agenda. In The Socialist Manifesto Bhaskar Sunkara offers a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century, outlining where it came from, what it is, and what a socialist political system might look like.

Tracing the history of some of socialism’s highs and lows – from the creation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party through bloody communist revolutions to the predicaments of midcentury social democracy – Sunkara contends that, in our global age, socialism is still the only way forward. Drawing on history and his own experience in left-wing activism, Sunkara explains how socialists can win better wages and housing and create democratic institutions in workplaces and communities.

In showing how and why socialism can work today, The Socialist Manifesto is for anyone seeking a real solution to the vast inequalities of our age.

The Way to Socialism in America

The book begins with a ‘Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen’, which maps out one possible path for the transformation of America into a socialist state. Sunkara asks the reader to imagine himself as a worker at Jon Bongiovi’s pasta sauce business in Texas to show that, even under a benign and paternalistic employer, the capitalist system still leaves the workers poor and powerless. In order to compete, the firm must not only make a profit, but invest in machinery while at the same time either cutting wages or laying people off. However, the workers are empowered by a new wave of strikes and left-wing activism that sees the election of President Springsteen. Springsteen establishes a welfare state, which allows the workers to devote more of their time and energy to pressing for their demands without having to fear for their livelihood. The worker’s movement continues making gains until the economy has become nationalised. Individual firms still exist, and are run by the workers themselves rather than the state. Some of them fail. But there are also government banking schemes to help workers set up their own businesses, though still state-owned and collectively managed, when they have a good idea and are fed up with their present job. Like bottling pasta sauce. America is still a vibrant democracy, and there are a number of other parties, including a capitalist party, though that is waning in popularity. It’s not utopia, but it is a system where workers are genuinely valued.

The Rise and Transformation of Socialism from Marxism to Reformism

The socialism, whose history the book tells and advocates, is that the Marxist and Marxist derived parties, Communism and social democracy, rather than the Utopian socialism of the generation before Marx and the more extreme versions of anarchist communism and syndicalism. The book naturally describes the career of Marx and Engels, and the formation of the German SDP. This moved away from revolutionary Marxism to reformism under the influences of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalism’s survival and the growing prosperity of industrial workers had disproven crucial aspects of Marxist doctrine. Initially pacifist, like the other European socialist parties, the SDP voted for war credits at the outbreak of the First World War. This caused a split, with a minority forming the Independent Socialists (USPD) and the Communist Party. When the 1919 revolution broke out, the majority SDP under President Ebert moved to crush it using right-wing Freikorps brigades. Although the SDP was one prop of the Weimar coalition, it was never able to establish socialism in Germany, and so fell with the other parties in the collapse of the Republic to the Nazis.

Russian Communism

Sunkara’s account of the rise of Russian communism is interesting for his argument that the Bolsheviks originally weren’t any more dictatorial than their rivals, the Mensheviks. Even Kautsky recognised the need for a strong, centralised party. But Lenin originally was no dictator. Pravda rejected 44 of his articles, and the were other voices as strong or stronger within the party. What pushed it towards first authoritarianism and then totalitarianism was the stubborn opposition of the rival socialist parties, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. They were invited to join a government coalition with the Bolsheviks, but walked out and began active opposition. The Revolution was then threatened by the revolt of the Whites, leading to the Civil War, in which Britain and other western countries sent troops in order to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. This, and the chaotic conditions created by the Revolution itself led to the Bolshevik party assuming a monopoly of state power, partly as the only means available of restoring order. This began the party’s journey towards the murderously repressive state it became, though interparty democracy was still alive in the 1920s before the rise of Stalin.

Mao and China

The emergence of communism in China, its seizure of power and the reign of Chairman Mao is also covered as an example of socialism in the Third World. The nations of the Developing World, like China, took over revolutionary socialism – communism – rather than reformism, because conditions in Russia more closely resembled those in their nations. Russian had been a largely agricultural country, in which the majority of its citizens were peasants. Industrial workers’ similarly represented only a minuscule fraction of the Chinese population, and so Mao turned to the peasants instead as a revolutionary force. This chapter concludes that Chinese communism was less about empowering and liberating the workers than as a movement for national modernisation.

Sweden and the Rise and Fall of Social Democracy

The book also examines the rise and progress of Swedish social democracy. The Swedish socialist party took power early through alliances with the Agrarians and the Liberals. This allowed them to introduce generous welfare legislation and transform the country from one of the most socially backward, feudal and patriarchal states in Europe to the progressive nation it is today. But there were also losses as well as gains. The Swedes compromised their commitment to all-out socialism by preserving private industry – only 5 per cent of the Swedish economy was nationalised – and acting to regulate the economy in alliance with the trade unions and industrialists. This corporative system collapsed during the oil crisis of the 1970s. This caused inflation. The government tried to resist wage rises, which the unions resisted. The industrialists resented the growth of working class activism and began measures to counteract them. Olof Palme, the country’s prime minister, then moved in a left-ward direction through establishing funds that would allow the trade unions gradually to buy up companies. The industrialists recognised an existential threat, and succeeded in overthrowing the government.

The Swedish model, meanwhile, had been highly influential through Labour party MP Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, which in turn led to Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ as the Labour government in Britain moved from social democracy to a more left-wing alternative to neoliberalism. Other European socialist parties followed, such as the German SDP. France’s President Mitterand in the 1980s tried to break this pattern in the 1980s, but his government was also overthrown through capital flight, the industrialists taking their money out of the French economy. Mitterand tried to hang on by promising to safeguard industry and govern responsibly, but it was no use.

Socialism and America

The chapter on socialism in America is particularly interesting, as it shows, contrary to the impression given by America’s two-party system, that the country has a very strong history and tradition of working class parties and socialism, from combative unions like the IWW to organised parties like the Knights of Labor, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Socialist Labor, Populist, Progressive and Communist Parties. However, socialism has never gained power there, as it has in Britain and Europe, because of a variety of factors. These include the extreme violence of the state and private industry, the latter hiring gunmen, to put down strikes; factional infighting between socialist groups, partly caused by the extreme range of socialist opinions and the restriction of some socialist groups to particular ethnicities, and the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.

A strategy for Success

Thechapter ‘How We Win’ contains Sunakara’s own observations and recommendations for socialist campaigning and the construction of genuine socialism in America. These are

1. Class-struggle social democracy does not close down avenues for radicals; it opens them.

2. Class-struggle social democracy has the potential to win a major national election today.

3. Winning an election isn’t the same as winning power.

4. They’ll do everything to stop us.

5. Our immediate demands are very much achievable.

6. We must move quickly from social democracy to democratic socialism.

7. We need socialists.

8. The working class had changed over the past hundred and fifty years, but not as much we think.

9. Socialists must embed themselves in working class struggles.

10. It is not enough to work with unions for progressive change. We must wage democratic battles within them.

11. A loose network of leftists and rank-and-file activists isn’t enough. We need a political party.

12. We need to take into account American particularities.

13. We need to democratise our political institutions.

14. Our politics must be universalist.

15. History matters.

Conclusion

This is the clarion call for genuinely radical activism. It will almost certainly start right-wing alarm bells ringing, as Sunkara calls for left-wing activists to join main parties like the Democrats in the US and Labour in Britain. They are not to be infiltrators, but as people genuinely committed to these parties and working peoples’ causes and issues. The claims that the working class has somehow died out or no longer has radical potential is overstated. It has changed, but 60 per cent of the population are still employees drawing wages or a salary, and who have no money of their own. And the book shows very clearly that the transformation to a genuinely socialist economy is needed. Social democracy has won considerable gains for working people, gains that still persist despite constant right-wing attack. But these aren’t enough, and if left unchallenged, capital will always try to destroy them.

The book’s angled towards the US, but its lessons and many of its recommendations still apply of this side of the pond. The resurgence of genuine socialist activism in Britain is now far less certain in Britain. But hopefully this book will help show to more people why it’s still possible and needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.

 

 

Classic Reply to Criticism of Socialists for Having Communist Supporters and Activists

January 20, 2020

The right-wing scumbags were after America’s Bernie Sanders last week. Having succeeded in defeating Labour in the elections over here, and Corbyn’s campaign to bring prosperity, dignity and empowerment to the British working class, they’re trying to do the same to America’s working people. They’ve started attacking Bernie’s cause of Medicare for All, whereby American people’s medical bills would be paid by the American state. 40 million people in the Land of the Free can’t afford medical insurance. 40,000 people every year die because they can’t afford medical treatment. In some states, people are hoarding medicines, including those prescribed by vets for animals, because they can’t afford drugs. But the Republicans and their corporate masters once again have started attacking Medicare For All in the interests of keeping the private healthcare companies’ profits high, and America’s working and lower middle class poor and sick. And they’ve also launched a few more personal attacks on Bernie himself. Last week several videos appeared on YouTube claiming that a member of his campaign team was a violent Communist.

I’m not surprised that a Communist would work for Sanders. The American Communist party seems to have a history of joining mainstream left-wing movements. Sometimes its to try and take them over, as Marxist parties have tried to do elsewhere in the West. And sometimes it’s simply to help them in their attempts to improve conditions for working people. In the 1950s and ’60s, I think, a number of Communists were found working for the Democrats.

They tried similar tactics over here with Jeremy Corbyn. Apart from smearing him as a Trotskyite and Stalinist, they also attempted to discredit him through one of his campaign team, Seaumas Milne. Milne really is a Stalinist, who continues to support the old thug. His views on Stalin are genuinely disgusting, but that doesn’t discredit everything else he does. His books and articles tearing modern capitalism to shreds are still excellent. And just because Milne admires the brutal dictator, it doesn’t follow that Corbyn does, and the chance of Milne setting up a similar dictatorship in Britain, even if he wanted to, is absolute zero.

There have been similar attempts to discredit other socialist parties and leaders through their employment of or work with Communists. I’ve been reading Bhaskar Sankara’s superb The Socialist Manifesto. This is his call for radical change in America, and its transformation into a genuinely socialist state in which workers actually manage the companies in which they work, share the profits, and enjoy a welfare state comparable to those of Europe, only rather more expanded. The first few chapters are a history of socialism in various countries from its Marxist roots. This covers the rise of Social Democracy in Germany, Communism in Russia and China, social democracy in Sweden and socialism in America. America has, surprisingly, a very long tradition of socialism and working class parties. But these failed to make it into mainstream politics through factionalism, inept leadership, missed opportunities and violent opposition from the American state and capital. Private corporations hired armed thugs to put down strikes, along with the police and army. The Communist party also contributed to this through its factionalism, its blind obedience to the Comintern line even when this conflicted with the local party’s and American people’s own interests in favour of that of the Soviet state’s, and attacks on rival socialist parties. They caused the collapse of one working class, socialist organisation by infiltrating it in order to turn it into a Communist satellite. At which point everyone else in the organisation left. The Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party did the same thing in Britain in the 1970s when they infiltrated the Anti-Nazi League.

But there also were instances where Communists and reformist socialists attempted to work together. This happened in the Congress of Industrial Organisations, founded in the 1930s by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers’ union. The CIO had a large rank and file, but needed skilled leaders and organisers, and so drew on those from other socialist organisations. When it was pointed out to him that a large number of them were members of the Communist party, Lewis replied, ‘Who gets the bird? The dog or the hunter?’

Quite.

American Communism’s actually rather interesting, as it saw itself as firmly in the tradition of the American Revolution. And in contrast to the dull, crushing boredom of the Soviet Communist party, it also seems rather fun. The Party had a very strong social side to it, holding youth dances and other social events. It was also very strong on reaching out and defending Black Americans, which explains how Jackie Walker’s parents met. Her mother was a Black civil rights activist, and her father was of Jewish Russian descent. They met at a Communist civil rights event, if I remember properly.

They also revered the American Revolution and were, in their way, as patriotic as other Americans. When the Daughters of the American Revolution forgot their annual commemoration of Paul Revere’s ride, they had a man dress up as an 18th century minuteman and ride down Broadway in New York. They proclaimed ‘The DAR forgets, but the Communist party remembers!’ Another of their slogans was ‘Communism is 20th Century Americanism!’

Bernie Sanders is very far from being a Communist. His views are far more like those of mainstream European social democrats. There isn’t much about nationalisation in his book, Our Revolution, though he does favour worker cooperatives. He also doesn’t want to nationalise American healthcare. He just wants the government to pay people’s medical bills – hardly a radical suggestion from the European perspective. The Germans have had it since Bismarck’s Socialist Laws of 1875. But that, and Bernie’s concern to expand the American welfare state, restore union power and give working people proper employment rights – in effect, to undo forty years of Reaganomic misgovernment – is too much for American capital.

Communism fell in the 1990s. But socialism is alive and reviving. The world as well as America needs Bernie in the White House.

So let’s making Socialism 21st Century Americanism and Britishism!

 

Labour Leadership Candidate Lavery Blames ‘Remain’ for Labour Defeat

January 3, 2020

Yesterday’s I (2nd January 2020) also ran this report on the candidates for the Labour leadership by Jane Merrick, ‘Labour ‘foisted Remain on working class’. This runs

One of the architects of Labour’s historic election defeat has claimed that the party’s attempt to “foist Remain” on working class communities was responsible for last month’s result.

Ian Lavery, the party’s chairman and general election campaign coordinator, denied that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies contributed to the losses.

Mr Lavery is among several Labour MPs considering running to succeed Mr Corbyn. Ahead of nominations opening next week, speculation is mounting that Jess Phillips, one of the most widely recognised MPs among the general public, is about to announce her candidacy.

Yesterday she tweeted: “2020 starts with fire in my belly and I promise that won’t change.”

I’m a Remainer, but Lavery’s right: all the northern and midland communities that voted for Boris were Leave areas. Labour’s manifesto promises for the nationalisation of rail, water and electricity, strengthening the welfare state, restoring workers’ rights and union power, were actually well-received and polled well. But they’re a threat to the upper and upper middle classes, including media barons like Murdoch, the weirdo Barclay twins and Lord Rothermere, so the Tory press is doing its absolute best to try and discredit them.

And the I unfortunately is also following this line. It has always backed the ‘Centrists’ in the Labour, for which read ‘Blairites’ and ‘Thatcherite entryists’, who stand for more privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. But they pretend – mostly – to be more ‘moderate’ than the Tories. The I’s also been promoting female candidates for the party leadership, and loudly denouncing opposition to them as ‘misogyny’. It’s noticeable in all this that the women, who’ve thrown their hats into the ring are all Blairites, and so the election of someone like Phillips would just be a liberal disguise for the right-wing policies underneath. Just like Hillary Clinton over the Pond is right-wing and militaristic, and therefore very establishment. But she was claiming that, as a woman, she was somehow an outsider, and the people, including women, who back Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for the presidency instead were just misogynists.

At the moment the I’s backing Lisa Nandy, who appears to be another wretched Blairite.

Lavery, however, is working class, and so a far better spokesman for those areas and people that have suffered from the neoliberalism the Tories and their pet press have pushed on us.

 

Hunger and Starvation in Tory Britain

January 2, 2020

The Tory governments that came in after David Cameron’s victory in the 2010 election have caused massive poverty up and down Britain. Thanks to austerity, welfare benefits have been cut, wages kept low and workers placed on exploitative contracts, like zero hours contracts, which deny them sick pay, paid holidays and other rights. An ever increasing number of people are unable to pay for food, with the disabled and unemployed forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together after being found fit for work, sanctioned, or simply because they have to wait weeks before their first benefits payment. Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity gives some statistics on rising ‘food poverty’, and they’re horrifying.

In the chapter ‘Hunger and Food Poverty’, Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton state

Emergency food provision has been used as an indicator of the scale of food poverty in the UK. As the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty noted in 2015, the Trussell Trust, the largest emergency food provider, ‘has seen the number of people referred for emergency food rise by 38 per cent in the last year’. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty calculate that 20,247,042 meals were given to ‘people in food poverty’ in 2013/14.’ While these are shocking statistics, they are likely to underestimate the numbers in food poverty in Britain; not all people who are hungry go to food banks and not all food banks collect data in a systematic way. The Poverty and Social Exclusion UK (PSE UK) 2012 study found that the proportion of households unable to afford two adult meals a day in 2012 stood 3 per cent, ‘back to levels found thirty years earlier having to dropped to negligible levels in the intervening period.’ In addition, well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to fee them properly, that is, provide at least one of the following three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables every day; or meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day. If many parents were not cutting back on their own food intake to protect their children, the number would be much higher… (pp.94-5).

Analysis by the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that falling incomes and rising living costs mean that food is now over 20 per cent less affordable for the poorest 10 per cent of people in the UK compared to 2003. In 2012, when the proportion of the household budget spent on food peaked in the UK, those in the lowest income decile spent 22 per cent more on food than in 2007 and purchased 5.7 per cent less, buying significantly fewer portions of fruit and vegetables than previously. Further, the number of UK adults who have reported being unable to afford meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every other day (a measure of adequate protein in the diet) has increased between 2004 and 2012, that is, in the context of economic austerity and rising food prices. The PSE UK study noted above found that the proportion of adults going without meat or equivalent every second day  because they could not afford it rose from 2 per cent in 1999 to 5 per cent in 2012. In addition, 3 per cent of children went without adequate protein and the same proportion did not eat fresh fruit or vegetables every day because their families could not afford it. Reduced affordability of food therefore generally leads to a reduction in nutrient quality of food consumed and, in a growing number of cases, to hunger and reliance on emergency food provision. (pp.95-6).

This is a crisis of enormous proportions, and it is going to get worse. Much worse. Boris will continue and expand the policies forcing people into such desperate poverty. But yesterday the wretched Tory press were telling the world that he would bring in a golden age of prosperity. Which he will, for the profiteers at the top of the corporate ladder and the hedge fund managers that contribute so handsomely to Tory coffers.

But to pay for that, the rest of the country will be forced into grinding poverty. While the newspapers lie to them that there’s not alternative and they’re richer than ever before.

The History Book on the TUC from Its Beginnings to 1968

December 26, 2019

The History of the T.U.C. 1868-1968: A Pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution – Illustrated with Contemporary Prints and Documents (London: General Council of the Trades Union Congress 1968).

This is another book on working class history. It’s a profusely illustrated history of the Trades Union Congress from its origins in 1868 to 1968, and was undoubtedly published to celebrate its centenary.

Among the book’s first pages is this photograph show the TUC’s medal, below, which reads: Workingmen of Every Country Unite to Defend Your Rights.

There’s also these two illustrations on facing pages intended to show the TUC as it was then and now.

After the foreword by the-then head of the TUC, George Woodcock, and the list of General Council in 1967-8, the book is divided into four sections on the following periods

1868-1900, on the first Trades Union Congress and the men who brought it to birth.

1900-1928, in which the TUC was consulted by Ministers and began to take part in public administration.

1928-1940, which are described as the TUC’s formative years and the fight for the right to be heard.

and 1928-1940, in which wartime consultation set the pattern for peacetime planning.

These are followed by lists of trade unions affiliated to the TUC circa 1968 and the members of the parliamentary committee from 1868 and the General Council from 1921.

The text includes articles and illustrations on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into trade unions, including a photograph of Queen Victoria’s letter; from the beehive of 1867 to the TUC of 1967; the early leaders of the TUC and the political causes at home and abroad, for which they rallied trade union support; some of the events that led to the TUC’s foundation and the Royal Commission on Trade Unions; the TUC and the Criminal Law Amendment Act; working men voting during the dinner hour; working hours and conditions which the TUC wanted to reform, particularly of women and children; Punch cartoon of the sweated workers exploited for the products displayed at the Great Exhibition; Alexander McDonald, the man behind the miners’ unions; campaigns for compensation for industrial injury and safeguards for sailors; farm labourers’ unions, the public and the church; the advent of state education and the birth of white collar unions; mass unemployment and demonstrations in the Great Depression of the 1880; the trade union leaders of the unemployed and their political allies; squalor and misery in London; forging the first link with American unions; the TUC on the brink of the 20th century; the ‘new unionism’ and the matchgirls’ strike; the dockers’ strike of 1889; the birth of the Labour Party in 1906; passage into law of the TUC’s own trade union charter; the trade unions and the beginnings of the foundation of the welfare state by the Liberals; Women trade unionists, the Osborne Judgement; the introduction into Britain of French and American syndicalism; the great dock strike of 1911, and the great transport strike of 1912; the Daily Herald; Will Dyson’s cartoons; the TUC on the eve of World War I; the War; the wartime revolution in trade unions; the TUC’s contribution to the war effort; rise of shop stewards; the impact of the Russian Revolution on the British Labour movement; peace time defeat; the appearance of Ernest Bevin; the replacement of the Parliamentary Committee by the General Council in the TUC in 1921; the first proposal for the nationalisation of the coal mines; 1924, when Labour was in office but the trade unions were left out in the cold; the gold standard and the General Strike; the Strike’s defeat and punitive Tory legislation; the TUC’s examination of union structure after the Strike; TUC ballots the miners to defeat company unionism; Transport House in 1928; the Mond-Turner talks and consultations between workers’ and employers’ organisations; Walter Citrine and the IFTU; the 1929 Labour government; opposition to McDonald-Snowden economies; McDonald’s 1931 election victory; propaganda posters for the National Government; the 1930s; the state of industry and TUC plans for its control; union growth in the young industries; young workers fighting for a fair chance; the TUC and the British Commonwealth; the Nazi attack on the German unions; the TUC and the international general strike against the outbreak of war; the waning of pacifism inside the TUC; the Labour Movement and the Spanish Civil War; Neville Chamberlain and ‘Peace in our Time’; summer, 1939, and the outbreak of World War II; Churchill’s enlistment of the TUC and Labour Party in government; the coalition government and the unions; TUC organises aid to Russia after the Nazi invasion; plans for post-War reconstruction; the TUC, godfather to the Welfare State; the Cold War; the bleak beginning of public industries in 1947; David Low’s cartoons of the TUC; the drive for productivity; the Tories and the Korean War; TUC aid to Hungary and condemnation of Suez; the official opening of Congress House; TUC intervention in industrial disputes; trade union structure; from pay pause to planning; trade unionists given a role in industry; government pressure for a prices and incomes policy; TUC overseas contacts; and recent changes to the TUC.

The book’s an important popular document of the rise of the TUC from a time when unions were much more powerful than they were. They were given a role in government and industrial movement. Unfortunately, the continuing industrial discontent of the post-War years have been played on by nearly every government since Thatcher’s victory in 1979. The result is stagnant and falling wages, increasingly poor and exploitative conditions and mass poverty and misery. All justified through Zombie laissez-faire economics. Corbyn offered to reverse this completely, and give working people back prosperity and dignity. But 14 million people were gulled and frightened by the Tories and the mass media into rejecting this.

Strong trade unions are working people’s best method for expressing their economic and political demands along with a strong Labour party, one that works for working people, rather than solely in the interest of the employers and the financial sector. Which is why the Tories want to destroy them and are keen that books like these should be forgotten.

Let’s fight against them, and make sure that books like this continue to inspire and inform working class people in the future.

 

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Nationalised, State Healthcare Gives the Poor More Money and More Power

December 16, 2019

One of the arguments Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have been pushing to attack state healthcare is that, as it’s funded through public taxes, it somehow leaves people worse off. I came across a recent right-wing video on YouTube that seemed to be pushing that line. It proclaimed that American university students were all in favour of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All – until they were told what it would cost them. I didn’t watch it, because I knew it would annoy me. Similarly, over here the Tories and Blairites have been telling people that the inclusion of the private sector will bring costs down, thus allowing government to make savings and cut taxes. In fact, private healthcare is wastefully bureaucratic, far more so than state healthcare. But the Tories just want to cut taxes for the rich without making the lives of the poor any better. Indeed, they are determined to make them worse through savage welfare cuts, wage freezes, and further attacks on workers’ rights and employment conditions. And by encouraging more people to take out private health insurance in order to avoid their manufactured problems in state healthcare, the costs are transferred to the consumer. For the rich this is no problem. For middle income groups, it means having to pay thousands for operations and procedures that should be routine and free. They are worse off.

The book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, eds., (London: Routledge 1999) makes the point that Lord Beveridge, the architect of the modern welfare state, believed the contrary. State welfare provision which actually leave the poor and working people better off. Without doctors’ and hospital bills to pay for their illness, they would have more disposable income. The book states

It is not sufficiently recognised that by removing the financial burden of catastrophic illness from their wage packets, their disposable incomes would rise. No longer would they have to pay doctors from their pockets when their children were born or they fell sick and when they went to hospital; lack of money did not constitute a barrier to good care. These reforms, along with the spread of collective bargaining in advanced industrial economies, enabled people to enjoy the benefits of an expanded notion of social citizenship. Healthcare and full employment thus constituted a forward-looking framework for social health and not simply clinically provided health care. 

(p. 10).

Which means that the prosperity given to working people through free medical care, full employment and strong trade unions can act as proper citizens, able to make political and economic choices that will affect government.

Which is why the Tories and the Republicans in America have attacked trade unions and scrapped the idea of full employment, because they give working people too much power. And what’s the odds that similar thinking also isn’t one of the factors in their attacks on state healthcare. Oh, they do honestly believe that private enterprise is always better than state provision, but the threat of medical bills in a private healthcare system as well as general poverty is a good way of keeping the workforce cowed and fearful.

NHS privatisation will not make healthcare cheaper and more efficient. It will just make working people poorer and allow more bullying and exploitation from their employers.

Get Out and Vote Labour for a Better Britain

December 12, 2019

As I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone, it’s the election today so get out and vote, and vote Labour! This is the opportunity we want to end a decade of Tory austerity and forty years of Thatcherism. During that period vital public services have been privatised, including parts of the NHS. The welfare state is also being destroyed and undermined. 130,000 people at least have died because of austerity. Travel by rail, and electricity and water would all be cheaper if they hadn’t been privatised, and prices needlessly inflated in order to give a dividend to shareholder and exorbitant pay and bonuses to directors. A quarter of a million people, including those in work, now have to rely on food banks to feed themselves thanks to wage freezes and the introduction of zero hours contracts. Employees are being put on ‘self-employed’ contracts so that their bosses don’t have to pay them sick and maternity pay, or give them holidays. And Tory privatisation means that hospital waiting times are getting long and conditions worse in order to prepare for the complete handover of the NHS to private healthcare companies.

We can stop this all today by voting Labour.

Do it!

Good News! Daily Mail Panicking about Drop in Tory Support

December 11, 2019

Hooray! Great news from the front page headline of the Heil. Britain’s most infamous Mosley-supporting paper is desperately worried about the sudden decline of Tory popularity in the polls. The rag’s leading headline today urges its readers not to ‘Sleepwalk into Catastrophe’. The Tory lead apparently has dropped so low, that’s urging them to go and vote to stop ‘the biggest crisis facing this country since the War’.

Well, I’m glad some people are seeing sense and turning away from the Tories. Hopefully Mike is right on his blog, that Boris’ cavalier dismissal of the picture of the little boy forced to lie on blankets in the corridor at Leeds hospital has turned the tide against the Nasty Party, in the same way that Gordon Brown’s contemptuous sneer of a female voter in Scotland as ‘some bigot’ lost him the 2010 election.

As for the election of a Labour government being the greatest crisis since the War, all Jeremy Corbyn’s doing is actually restoring the old social democratic consensus. You know, nationalised industries, a welfare state, the NHS, strong trade unions and employment legislation that protected employees. You know, the policies that the public actually voted for after the end of the War when Labour won a landslide election under Clement Attlee.

But Corbyn and his government are threatening to undo forty years of triumphalist, predatory and disastrous Thatcherism. The Thatcherism that has destroyed our manufacturing industries, impoverished working people, the unemployed and the disabled. Policies that are killing the NHS, and have killed 130,000 people through austerity. But that’s not a catastrophe, because the rich are profiting massively, even though living standards are being pushed down for the rest of us.

But while it’s great to see the Heil and Tories panicking, there is no cause for complacency. We aren’t assured of victory, and the Tories are trying to muster their troops to win the election. We can’t afford to let them.

Please everyone, get out and vote. And vote to get them out!