Posts Tagged ‘Strikes’

After Slavery, the West Indies Had Black Politicians

June 19, 2020

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in Britain has come the debate about the teaching of Black history in schools. There was an item about this on BBC news earlier this week. Some schools already teach it, including the Black British experience but also the Black kingdoms in Africa, which is taught before going on to slavery. There were comments from Black students, who said that it had boosted their self-esteem. However, not all schools teach it and there have been calls from Black politicos to make it compulsory.

But Caribbean history may also provide useful role models and inspiration for Black Britons. What isn’t really appreciated is that shortly after the abolition of slavery in 1837, Black West Indians elected Black and biracial ‘coloured’ politicians to protect them from the planters’ attempts to force them back into servitude. Gad Heuvelmans mentions this development in The Caribbean: A Brief History, 2nd edition (London: Bloomsbury 2014). He writes

Strikes and riots were one form of response of the ex-slaves to emancipation; another was challenging the political domination of the planters. This took the form of electing black and brown representatives to the local Assemblies. Although not forming a single political bloc, black and brown Assemblymen generally supported government policies. Moreover, they could be significant: in Dominica, for example, coloured representatives formed a majority in the Assembly. Their presence prevented the passage of harsh legislation against the ex-slaves which characterized many other West Indian colonies.

In Jamaica, the coloured and black members of the Assembly united to form the Town Party, a faction which opposed the predominately planters’ Country Party. The coloureds favoured funds being spent on education, resisted expensive immigration schemes, and sought to counter planter attempts to restrict the franchise. Moreover, the coloureds also voted against measures to shift the burden of taxation almost entirely onto small settlers. Brown and black representatives did remain a minority in the Jamaican House of Assembly, but as tehir numbers increased, the planters became increasingly alarmed about the possibility of being outnumbered. (p.113).

I’ve known Black educators and historians get frustrated about the lack of awareness of this aspect of West Indian history. One of the experts, who also worked at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a Black historian from the West Indies. He used to give talks regularly to Bristol’s Black community was active in several Black improvement programmes. I remember him telling me how exasperated he got when he was talking to a young man, who blamed the problems of the Black community on slavery. He told the young man that that was no explanation as they had Black politicians immediately after slavery.

I think this is right. You can’t put all of the problems of the western Black communities down to slavery. Some of it is also due general racism, and the oppressive measures the planter elites imposed to try and force Black West Indians back onto the plantation under their control. But just as they had strongly resisted slavery, so the newly emancipated Black population turned to politics and got themselves and their representatives elected to resist attempts to disenfranchise them. No small achievement! I don’t want to be accused of telling Black people what they should or shouldn’t do to improve their condition, but perhaps it would give more Black Britons hope and inspiration if they knew more about this.

Another nation that might also provide useful role models might be Ghana. As the former Gold Coast, in the 1920s this had a remarkably enlightened governor for the time. It was the first British colony to appoint indigenous people as members of its governing council. I think its governor also wrote a book on racism in the 1940s, with the title of ‘Colour Prejudice’ or ‘Colour Issue’ or something like it. This included not only examples of White racism, but also Blacks against Whites. He quotes the 14th century Arab traveler ibn Battuta on the racism towards Whites of the people of the Black African kingdom of Mali.  This was something like ‘They would be great Muslims, if they didn’t treat Whites with such contempt’.

And regardless of skin colour, I wish there was more of the spirit of the Town Party today. We need more spent on education, just as we need more spent on welfare and the NHS. We need to stop the Tories shifting the tax burden onto the poor instead of the rich.

And the Tories are doing what they can to disenfranchise and force into servitude Britain’s working people, all while trying to preserve a facade of freedom.

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Four

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Conclusion

While this a great book I immensely enjoyed, it also very much the product of its time. Shaw is unrealistic and more than a little sectarian himself in his advocacy of the equalization of incomes. He regards it as the real, fundamental goal of socialism and that unless they too believe in it, others advocating nationalisation aren’t real socialists. But the Soviets and various other socialist groups have tried the equalisation of incomes, and it didn’t work. But nevertheless, even if wages shouldn’t be exactly the same, the differences in wealth should very definitely be far less than they are now.

Similarly, I don’t entirely agree with his views on the unions. Now other socialists also struggled with the problems they posed for working class power. Trade unions by themselves aren’t socialist organisations. Their role is to fight for better wages and conditions for the workers, not to replace capitalism, and Lenin himself pondered how workers could go from ‘trade union consciousness’ to socialism. In the 1980s it was found that trade unionists often voted Tory, because of the improved quality of life they enjoyed. But the unions are nevertheless vital working class organisations and are rightly at the heart of the Labour party, and have provided countless working class leaders and politicians.

Shaw was right about the coal mines, and his description of the results of the great differences in viability between them and the comparative poverty or wealth of the mining companies was one of the reasons they were nationalised by Labour under Clement Attlee.  He’s also right about nationalising the banks. They don’t provide proper loans for the small businessman, and their financial shenanigans have resulted, as Shaw noted in his own day, in colossal crashes like that of 2008. He is also right about the rich sending their money abroad rather than contributing to the British economy. In his time it was due to imperialism, and there is still a hangover from this in that the London financial sector is still geared to overseas rather than domestic investment. It’s why Neil Kinnock advocated the establishment of a British investment bank in 1987. Now, in the early 21st century, they’re also saving their money in offshore tax havens, and British manufacturers have been undercut and ruined through free trade carried out in the name of globalisation.

His arguments about not nationalising industries before everything has been properly prepared, and the failures of general strikes and revolutions are good and commonsense. So is his recommendation that capitalism can drive innovation. On the other hand, it frequently doesn’t and expects the state to bail it out or support it before it does. I also agreed with Shaw when he said that companies asking for government subsidies shouldn’t get them unless the gave the government a part share in them. That would solve a lot of problems, especially with the outsourcing companies. They should be either nationalised or abolished.

I can’t recommend the book without qualifications because of his anti-religious views. Shaw also shows himself something of a crank when it comes to vaccination. As well as being a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, which aren’t now anywhere near as remarkable as they once were, he’s against vaccination. There are parts of the book which are just anti-vaxxer rants, where he attacks the medical profession as some kind of pseudo-scientific priesthood with sneers at the religion of Jenner. He clearly believes that vaccination is the cause of disease, instead of its prevention. I don’t know if some of the primitive vaccinations used in his time caused disease and death, but it is clear that their absence now certainly can. Children and adults should be vaccinated because the dangers of disease are far, far worse.

Shaw also has an unsentimental view of the poor. He doesn’t idealise them, as poor, ill-used people can be terrible themselves, which is why poverty itself needs to be eradicated. In his peroration he says he looks forward to the poor being exterminated along with the rich, although he has a little more sympathy for them. He then denies he is a misanthrope, and goes on to explain how he likes people, and really wants to see people growing up in a new, better, classless socialist future.

While I have strong reservations about the book, it is still well-worth reading, not least because of Shaw’s witty turns of phrase and ability to lampoon of capitalism’s flagrant absurdities. While I strongly reject his anti-religious views, his socialist ideas, with a few qualifications, still hold force. I wish there were more classic books on socialism like this in print, and widely available so that everyone can read them.

Because today’s capitalism is very much like the predatory capitalism of Shaw’s age, and becoming more so all the time.

 

 

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Private Eye on the Problems of the Government’s Medical Central Purchasing Company

May 7, 2020

Mike’s article about the government’s privatisation and centralisation of the purchasing of PPE and other essential medical equipment for combating the Coronavirus follows a report in last fortnight’s Private Eye for 21st April – 7th May 2020 about the problems besetting the state-owned company the Tories had set up to do this. Centralising the purchase of PPE was supposed to lead to massive NHS savings. However, according to the Eye it has led instead only to its chiefs awarding themselves massive salaries, and staff shortages and poor pay at the bottom. The article on page 10, ‘SKIMPING OUTFITS’ runs

The government-owned company struggling to supply masks, gloves, aprons and eye protection to hospitals and GPS was set up explicitly to reduce spending on NHS supplies.

Supply Chain Coordination LTD (SCCL) has been in charge of procuring NHS supplies and the warehouses and lorries getting PPE out to the NHS since April 2018. The government argued that one centralised buying system would “generate savings of £2.4bn over a five-year period” through “efficiency”. In fact it has led to big salaries at the top and lower pay and staff shortages at the bottom.

SCCL was set up as a government-owned company in response to the Carter review of NHS productivity. Lord (Patrick) Carter argued that too many NHS trusts buying their own kit was inefficient and the government could “rationalise the procurement landscape, reduce spend and consolidate purchasing power”. Jin Sahota was brought in as SCCL chief executive from French media firm Technicolor on £230,000 a year, after the government allowed higher salaries for “commercial staff”. I’ll be absolutely blunt”, he told Civil Service World last year, “If the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me.”

In May 2019, Rob Houghton, former Post Office chief information officer, was made SCCL’s “IT focused” director. As the last Eye’s special report on the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal noted, in 2016 Houghton launched a review into the malfunctioning system, which was mysteriously abandoned. The courts later found that a matter of “great concern”.

SCCL manages procurement of NHS bulk supplies and contracts distribution of NHS essentials through a five-year, £730m deal signed in 2018 with UK logistics firm Unipart, which runs the NHS warehouses and lorry deliveries. In September 2018, Steve Barclay (then a health minister, now at the Treasury) said the SCCL/ Unipart deal was “streamlining” the NHS.

Meanwhile, £500m is being taken from NHS trusts to fund the new system and “incentivise” trusts to use it. However, any “savings” delivered look more like penny-pinching than efficiency: in December, HGV and 7.5 tonne drivers on the SCCL/ Unipart contract had to threaten strike action to get decent sick pay and push their rate above an industry low of £10.24 an hour.

At the start of April, union Unite said warehouse staff were exhausted and struggling to keep up with demand. In a cuts-driven system, there was no slack to deal with the extra burden of a pandemic. The government’s solution was to send in the army to help in the warehouses. This has provided some relief – but once the immediate crisis passes, will it return to its ill-conceived “savings” plan?

It looks like Boris’ decision to privatise the purchasing process is a result of this company’s embarrassing failure. But Deloitte and co. aren’t going to fare much better, if at all. What’s at fault is the whole notion of centralisation itself. This was used to destroy local DHSS and inland revenue offices in the 1980s and 1990s, all in the name of efficiency. I don’t believe it made the process any more efficient. In fact, given the delays benefit claimants experienced in the processing of their claims, even before IDS’ stupid and murderously destructive Universal Credit was rolled out, it made it much, much worse.

It also won’t solve the problem of a poorly paid, overworked and demoralised staff working flat out for a grossly overpaid senior management. This is now general throughout business and what used to be the civil service. It’s how the outsourcing companies were able to generate their profits in the first place – they laid off staff in order to give their shareholders nice fat dividends and senior management nice fat salaries and bonuses.

What is causing the problems is the Tories’ decimation of the NHS across its services. As Mike and others have reported, other countries like Germany were able to respond more effectively to the pandemic because they had spare capacity in beds. But the Tories had removed that in the NHS in the name of efficiency.

It’s time these false economies were wound up. Purchasing should be handed back to NHS trusts, and the NHS and the rest of the civil service properly funded.

And the Tories and their obsession with centralisation, rationalisation, privatisation and rewarding overpaid, greedy managers and board chairmen thrown out of government.

Murdoch Hacks Now Begging People to Buy Papers

April 7, 2020

Okay, no sooner had I put up my piece earlier today arguing that the reason the Scum’s journo, Trevor Kavanagh, wanted the lockdown lifted was because it was causing Murdoch’s papers to lose money, then confirmation of a sort came. Zelo Street had put up a piece reporting that various hacks from the Scum and the Times had written pieces begging people to #buyapaper. They included the Scum’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, Jack Blackburn of the Thunderer, Mark Lawton, another Times hack, the Scum on Sunday’s political editor, David Wooding, Sathnam Sangera, Matt Chorley, Martyn Ziegler, all of the Times, and the Scum’s Ryan Sabey and Dan Wootton. They said that the press was in trouble, but journalists, production staff, printers and distributors were all working hard during the crisis to bring us all trusted information, not myths. We would all miss the papers if they vanished. That included the local papers, whom they condescended to mention were also experiencing problems.

Zelo Street commented at the end of this litany that in times like these, people realised what was essential and what was not. ‘A daily paper is rapidly falling into the latter category, especially when, unlike the claims of the Murdoch goons, it is bringing not trusted stories, but an incessant diet of bigotry, hatred, political propaganda, and worthless and uninformed punditry.

Our free and fearless press is bottom of the European trust league. The Murdoch titles play their full part in that ranking. Karma can be a beast sometimes.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/murdoch-goons-pass-begging-bowl.html

This is correct. I think Zelo Street, or perhaps one of the other left-wing blogs, has put up the stats for the most trusted, and trustworthy, papers in Europe. And they don’t include Britain’s. Murdoch’s own papers have been leading the decline in quality in the British press since he acquired the Herald in 1969 or thereabouts, and turned it from a quality socialist paper into a Tory propaganda rag. Murdoch’s journalistic standards were so low that his staff in New York and Australia went on strike against the way his direction for their journals had turned them into a laughing stock. But Murdoch ploughed on, and the malign influence he exerted through his press and media empire has contributed to Britain becoming a spiteful, hateful place for ethnic minorities, the disabled, and the unemployed, low paid and other folks on welfare. Murdoch’s not alone by any means. The Heil, Depress, and Torygraph have all played their part. But the Scum has become proverbial for its gutter journalism.

This country does have some very good journalists – Mike is one, obviously. But its newspapers are disgusting. Many of them are effectively kept running by unpaid interns and freelance staff, whom they try to find every means they can not to pay. According to the Eye, the worst newspaper for using interns was the Groaniad. Meanwhile, the name hacks get salaries in the tens of thousands, and the proprietors and board all give themselves very handsome salaries and bonuses. As for content, it’s almost entirely shameless Tory propaganda. That, in my view, reached a new nadir last year in the massive smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, in which Mike and very many others were libelled and smeared as anti-Semites and Nazis. This included decent, self-respected Jews like Jackie Walker. This all comes from Murdoch himself, although I very much doubt he personally ordered any of it. It’s just the direction he’s taken these papers from the start. He is reported to have a very cavalier attitude to libel. Apparently he isn’t deterred from publishing a libelous story by the mere fact that it is libelous, only by whether the fine from a successful prosecution would be more than the sales gained through publishing it. If the number of copies sold wouldn’t be worth more than the fine, the story’s spiked. If the sales and the profits from them are more, then he goes ahead. And heaven help the poor soul at the other end.

According to the Eye, the Times is losing money hand over fist. So much so, that if it were any other paper it would have been axed or sold years ago. But it’s Britain’s paper of record, and so gives Murdoch a place at the political table. Murdoch’s empire as a whole is also in dire financial trouble. Zelo Street a little while ago put up a piece about what News International’s published accounts showed, and instead of a tidy profit they showed a massive, staggering loss. Some of that is due to the fines and out of court settlements Murdoch has had to make for the phone hacking scandal. I’ve forgotten the precise figures, but it’s tens of millions – a truly eye-watering amount.

The Murdoch press’ concern for local papers is also, as you might guess, hypocritical. Going back to Private Eye again, that paper reported in its ‘Street Of Shame’ column that in terms of sales, local papers are actually doing rather well. They’re bucking the decline in newspaper sales. However, they’re under immense financial pressure to the point where many are folding because they’re owned by the same corporations who own the big national papers, and their profits are being used to keep the national papers going.

Now many businesses are suffering because of the crisis and the necessary lockdown, especially small businesses like local shops and the self-employed. Many of these are seriously worried, because they don’t qualify for the government’s promised payment of 80 per cent of their income. Or if they do, it’ll come too late, as the first payment will come in June. But I have little sympathy for the Tory press because of their role in cheering on and propagandising for 40 years of Thatcherism and the poverty, unemployment, and now starvation they’ve caused. All for the profit of the rich few.

If Murdoch’s squalid empire went under tomorrow, it would just be too bad. Except that the people who’d suffer would be the junior writers, the production staff, printers and distributors. The big, star writers, editors and management, including Murdoch himself and his family, would all get generous payouts for their part in degrading British culture and its working paper for all these decades.

 

Tony Benn on the Security Service’s Hostility to the Labour Movement

February 28, 2020

The revelation last year that Tweezer’s government was funding the Democracy Initiative and its parent organisation, the Institute for Statecraft, revealed that the British secret state was still hostile to the Labour movement and determined to attack and disrupt any political figure standing for radical change. The Initiative was supposed to combat pro-Russian propaganda on the Net, but instead focused on smearing and trying to discredit British and foreign political leaders, of whom it disapproved. One of them was, surprise, surprise!, Jeremy Corbyn. Although supposedly a private company, the Democracy Initiative had extensive links to the British secret state and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. As the election rolled on, we also saw various army chiefs and spokespeople for the intelligence agencies tell the Tory papers that they regarded Corbyn as a threat to national security.

In fact the British secret services were always suspicious of the Labour Party. They’re part of the establishment, and so regarded the Labour movement as a whole as subversive. There is considerable evidence that MI5 was behind the rumours in the 1970s smearing the Labour premier Harold Wilson as a KGB spy. Lobster has published a series of articles about British intelligence’s campaign of disinformation against Labour, including how the IRD – a now defunct intelligence department – published fake documents and news during the 1970s to smear Labour politicos like Tony Benn as IRA sympathisers and Communists.

Benn was very much aware of this, and discusses it and the establishment’s general animosity towards the Labour movement in many of his books, including the volume: Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullin. Benn wrote

The security services, or at least an element within them, regard those who work within the Labour movement, especially its socialist activists, as being a security risk for that reason alone. Conservatives would not be so classified.

This interpretation of a security risk has never been publicly discussed by ministers, although, if it is as widespread as I believe it to be, it raises major issues of public policy and civil liberties. For it means that the security services, far from being limited in their work to the discovery of direct external and internal threats to our democracy, are also active indirectly as the upholders of the status quo in our society and are treating socialists who wish to change that status quo by democratic means as potential enemies of that democracy.

In the long run this is the biggest threat to political freedom from the state. In the short run it is used to justify a degree of surveillance of certain organisations and individuals in Britain which goes far beyond what is publicly admitted.

The methods used include the widespread interception of communications, the extensive tapping of telephones, and the maintenance of a bar upon employment for people in both government and sensitive industrial work against whom no conceivable charge of treason or subversion would stand up for one moment in any court of law, nor would it command public support if it had to be justified publicly. Hence the secrecy.

The trade unions are of course a special target for surveillance by the security services. The evidence recently published by the Post Office Engineering Union must be taken seriously in this context. There is no room for doubt that active trade unionists do have their telephone calls regularly intercepted,. and this surveillance is redoubled during industrial disputes, as in the miners’ strikes in 1972 and 1974. I was present on one social occasion when a former Labour prime minister indicated this quite clearly.

Twide, as a minister, I was told categorically that the candidates I had proposed for major public appointments were not acceptable on security grounds. The two men concerned were senior members of the General Council of the TUC, active in the Labour Party, and each was then playing a key role in supporting the policies of the then Labour Government. In each case it took a letter from me to the prime minister personally, and in one case a request for a meeting with him, to discuss the matter, to have these objections overruled. Had I not done so, the men would have remained disqualified from public service on security grounds.

Ministers who have direct responsibility for the work of the security services, if asked about the way they exercise their responsibilities, always insist that their control is direct, personal and complete. I very much doubt whether this is the case. If it is so, the Labour ministers must have authorised the incidents of which I have personal knowledge, and this they certainly should not have done. But in my view it is much more likely that the security services do not inform the ministers of what is going on, or cover up their activities in phrases designed to secure acquiescence. (pp. 75-6).

He adds further details to this description of the activities of the British secret state in note 5 to that chapter, ‘Civil Liberties and the Security Services’ on pp. 241-2. This states

According to Mr Chapman Pincher in his book Inside Story, Sidgwick and Jackson 1978, MI5 have files on more than two million people and our security services apparently believe that 59 Labour MPs in the 1974-9 Parliament had ‘current or recent connections with Communist, Trotskyite and other Marxist organisations’. The Special Branch also appear to take a close interest in politics and trade union affairs. For example, during an occupation to prevent closure of a British Steel subsidiary in Greenwich, workers came across Special Branch reports on two of their colleagues. For details of this and other cases see Crispin Aubrey, Who’s Watching You, Pelican, 1981, pp. 36-7.

Benn produced a list of his own suggestions for combating the threat to British democracy from the security services, the civil service establishment and new technology. These were

  1. An analysis of the dangers to the security of the state, external and internal.
  2. A study of the technology now available and the use to which it is being put by other comparable countries.
  3. To consider the case for publishing every year all information that could be published without endangering security, including: i, The budget and staffing of the security services. ii. The names of those in charge of them, as in the USA. iii The guidelines issued to those services relating to their objectives and methods. iv The numbers of dossiers in existence relating to political activities. v A report on the reasons for collecting these dossiers and an account of what happens to the information acquired for inclusion in them. vi An annual report on the total number of interceptions of communications by telephone or mail. vii The full list of foreign security services with which UK security services have arrangements for reciprocal exchange of information, or with which they work.
  4. To argue the case for a special House of Commons select committee, meeting, when necessary, in secret, composed exclusively of privy councillors empowered to question both the responsible ministers and security chiefs on the whole range of their policy and activities – to report annually to Parliament in a form which can be published.
  5. To press for an appeals procedure for citizens reporting to the select committee on matters concerning their own records only.
  6. To have the same rights to information for citizens about records and files kept on them as are enjoyed by US citizens under contemporary US legislation.
  7. To secure the introduction of a ‘Security Services Annual Act’ under which, as with the Army and the Airforce Acts of earlier years, Parliament gains the ultimate control of the security services. (p. 89).

These are all excellent suggestions, but there is absolutely no chance that they’ll ever get passed in the foreseeable future. Boris has an overwhelming majority, which means that he will have no trouble blocking any attempt to reel in the security services. There would also be strong opposition from the Blairites in the Labour Party. When Blair got into power, he and his cabinet were not at all interested in making the security services more accountable. This was so even when MI5 had kept many of them under surveillance as potential subversives. It is symptomatic of this attitude that although Jack Straw was offered the chance of looking at his MI5 file, he didn’t.

And so unfortunately the security services will continue to work against Labour activists, viewing them as subversives, even when they are no such thing.

‘I’ Newspaper: Rebecca Long-Bailey Promises to Support Unions and End Exploitative Work Practices

February 11, 2020

This is another excellent piece from Saturday’s I, for 8th February 2020. Written by Richard Vaughan, ‘Long-Bailey to promise no out-of-hours phone calls’ shows that the contender for the Labour leadership intends to restore the power of the trade unions and back them in industrial disputes, as well as removing work practices that damages workers’ mental health. It begins with her pledge to end the demand that workers should be on call 24 hours a day.

Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey will pledge to give workers the right to switch off their phones outside of office hours to help end “24/7 work cultures”.

The shadow Business Secretary committed yesterday to give employees a “right to disconnect” based on the French system, which forces companies with more than 50 staff to allow them to ignore their mobiles during leisure time.

In a further attempt to show her support for workers, Ms Long-Bailey said she would back the right of employees to hold strike action “no questions asked” should she succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Addressing a rally in Sheffield last night, she said the next Labour leader must be “as comfortable on the picket line as at the dispatch box.”

“As leader, I’ll put trade unions at the heart of Labour’s path to power, and back workers in every dispute,” she said.

She added that under her stewardship Labour would “back workers in every dispute and strike against unfair, exploitative and unjust employers”.

She said: “Standing on the side of workers and trade unions, no questions asked, is going to be crucial in standing up to this reactionary Conservative Government.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Ms Long-Bailey said she wanted to remove working practices that were damaging to mental health. “We can all do better with aspirational socialism, through pushing for an end to 24/7 work culture, and with trade unions empowered to negotiate this, we can work hard, be paid for the work we do and keep that precious time with our friends and family, uninterrupted by emails or demands”.

This is precisely the type of leadership working people need. The Tories and New Labour have done their level best to gut the power of the unions, and the result has been the massive increase in in-work poverty. Without strong trade unions, workers have been left stuck with stagnant wages, exploitative working conditions like zero-hours contracts which bar them from receiving sick pay, paid holidays or maternity leave and a culture that allows work place bullying and casual sacking. Blair and Brown were as keen on destroying union power as the Tories, and in denying workers protection against redundancy and short-term contracts, all in the name of workforce ‘flexibility’. Despite his candidacy for the party being backed by one of the unions, when Blair gained the leadership he even threatened to cut the party’s ties to them, a tie that is integral to the Labour Party, if they didn’t back his reforms and programme.

Long-bailey promises to reverse this, restore union power and so empower ordinary working people. Which means that the Tories and their lackeys in the press and media will do everything they can to discredit her. You can expect them to start running stories about the how the ‘strike-hit’ seventies made Britain ‘the sick man of Europe’ until Maggie Thatcher appeared to curb the union barons and restore British productivity and confidence. It’s all rubbish, but it’s the myth that has sustained and kept the Tories and their wretched neoliberalism in power for forty years.

But this is being challenged, and Long-Bailey is showing that she is the woman to end it.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voter ID and Other Tricks to Stop the Radical Poor from Voting

January 20, 2020

Mike reported a little while ago that the Tories were going ahead with their plans to demand photographic identification of voters at polling stations before allowing people to cast their votes. This is supposedly to cut down on voting fraud, despite the fact that actual instances are so low they’re negligible. Of course, the people who will find it most difficult to produce such identification will be students and the poor. Which is why the Tories are introducing it.

It’s another trick they’ve learned from the American Republicans, who introduced similar legislation over there. It prevents the poor, students and Blacks – the demographics mostly likely to vote Democrat – from being able to vote. And such tricks to stop working class radicals and Blacks from voting have a long history in America. All the way back to the Populist movement in the 1890s. This was a left-wing movement of America’s rural poor against exploitation by the great landlords. Bhaskar Sankara gives a brief description of it, and its fall, in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

But ferment was growing in rural America. The Populist Movement sprang from the 1870s struggles of indebted farmers in central Texas but soon spread throughout the country. As the price of cotton collapsed and the economy entered a depression in the 1890s, the Populists fervently supported Debs during the Pullman Strike, backed many demands made by labor, and were leading tenant and sharecropper efforts against the crop-lien system. Populist leader Tom Watson challenged white and black farmers to organise across racial lines, telling a crowd, “You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system that beggars both.”

In 1892, the movement formed a national political party around a progressive platform that called for a graduated income tax, nationalised railways, debt relief, and public works to combat unemployment. Planter elites responded with a campaign of electoral fraud and violence, including the lynching of hundreds of organisers, while the Democratic Party came to co-opt much of the movement’s platform in 1896. After the pro-Populist Democrat William Jennings Bryant’s election loss that year, the movement fell apart. Legislative efforts to disenfranchise blacks through poll taxes and biased “literacy tests” were expanded, helping prevent another multi-racial movement from emerging for decades. (pp. 163-4).

That’s the tactics of the Right. Keep whites and blacks attacking each other, so that they don’t unite against the system that’s oppressing both, and bring in laws to disqualify Blacks and the White poor from voting. The Tories also do both. But they haven’t yet started lynching members of the Labour party. So far, that’s been left to the far right. Thomas Mair and his assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox. Then there are the crazed Brexiteers who screamed at Anna Soubry that she was a traitor, and who took a model gibbet to their protests outside parliament, and the Nazi, homophobic thugs who beat up Owen Jones.

Perhaps after the Tories have introduced voter ID and similar legislation, they’ll bring back lynching as well. They’ve encouraged people to beat up the disabled already.

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.