Diane Abbott: I will be candidate ‘by any means possible’ in Hackney

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by TTE
Diane Abbott MP speaking at a Justice for Chris Kaba rally in September 2022 (Picture: Steve Eason)

Diane Abbott MP speaking at a Justice for Chris Kaba rally in September 2022 (Picture: Steve Eason)

Diane Abbott vowed to be the parliamentary candidate “by any means possible” at a rally of her supporters in Hackney, east London, on Wednesday night.

It comes after the Labour leadership reinstated the Labour whip to left winger Abbott, but then briefed the press that she was barred from standing as the Labour candidate. 

Abbott—the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington—said, “I joined the Labour Party almost 50 years ago and I’ve been a loyal member of the party. 

“I’ve been selected by my local CLP, banned nationally with no reason given. It is as if you’re not allowed to be a Labour MP unless you repeat everything the leader says.” 

She added, “If you want to speak up for people, you will find yourself banned. By any means possible I will be the candidate for this constituency. I won’t allow myself to be intimidated. 

“I’m going to be your MP, as long as it is possible I will be the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.” 

The rally was backed by three local councillors, who recently left Labour over Palestine. Penny Wrout, Claudia Turbet-Delof and Fliss Premru have since formed the Hackney Independent Socialist Group. 

The councillors had supported the Palestine encampment set up outside Hackney town hall calling for the council to break ties with Israel. 

Councillor Claudia Turbet-Delof told Socialist Worker, “Diane has inspired people like me—I am the first South American politician in Hackney. 

“Diane demonstrated to me that I have a place in politics. We won’t stop until Diane is confirmed as our candidate. Labour benefits a lot from Diane.” 

Suj, a Hackney constituent, told Socialist Worker, “I’d have so much respect for Abbott if she stood as an independent.”

Another Hackney resident, Sulekha Hassan, told Socialist Worker, “Diane’s been my MP my whole life, she’s always responded to my queries over the years. Her treatment is very representative of the rolling back of race equality. I think she should’ve stood as an independent a few months ago.” 

Ryan Ahmad, a resident of Hackney South constituency, told Socialist Worker that he quit the Labour Party on Wednesday morning.

Protester Lara added, “I won’t be voting for Starmer’s candidates, he’d moved into the conservative space. They’re not challenging the Tories. She’s a fighter and should have stood as an independent and could have set up a new left wing party with Corbyn.” 

The Long Retreat by Boris Kagarlitsky review: How can the left rise to the urgent challenge of global crises?

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by TTE
Boris Kagarlitsky Russia Russian

Boris Kagarlitsky was imprisoned by the Russian state

Although he languishes in a Russian jail for opposing Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Boris Kagarlitsky refuses to be silenced. Amid the flood of analyses he has been able to produce from prison, The Long Retreat stands out as a more strategic intervention. 

It’s one of several recent books by left intellectuals that seek to take the measure of the frightening situation that has developed with Covid and the Ukraine war. As Kagarlitsky rightly says, “Covid and the war were simply manifestations of one and the same global crisis.” Others are my own The New Age of Catastrophe, Ben Ware’s On Extinction and—in a larger arena—Naomi Klein’s Doppelganger.

Kagarlitsky’s assessment is bracing. On the one hand, “Left to its own devices after coping with external challenges and overcoming the danger of socialist revolution, capital in a strikingly brief time-span [i.e. since the 2007-8 financial crash] has pushed all its own contradictions to the limit, creating the conditions for the multitude of crises—social, environmental, economic and so forth—that are now heaped one upon the other.” 

On the other, “At the same time as public dissatisfaction with capitalism around the planet has reached an unprecedented scale, the left movement has finished up at the lowest point in its entire history.”

The Long Retreat is devoted to diagnosing this contradiction. Kagarlitsky brings to this task considerable intellectual resources—formidable historical knowledge and a very wide range of reference. They range from the classics of Marxism to major bourgeois thinkers such as Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter. Not surprisingly some of the best parts of the book concern his native Russia. 

I was particularly impressed by a brilliant sketch of how under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader from 1964 to 82, economic power was devolved to sectoral ministries. These functioned as quasi-corporations while the Soviet Union became increasingly integrated into the world market as an energy supplier. 

“As a result, a transition to an open economy of a capitalist type seemed already to many of the enterprises linked to the raw materials sector not just to be perfectly possible, but also an attractive prospect,” he writes. “In essence, the trajectory of development that Russia would follow right through to the end of the Vladimir Putin epoch was already fully formed in the late Soviet years.”

The chapter on the Ukraine War is also full of insights. Kagarlitsky argues that the Putin regime isn’t a mere authoritarian aberration. It “represented a marked or even extreme manifestation of the general tendency” towards what the Marxist political economist William Robinson calls “militarised accumulation”. 

As for the invasion itself, “The actions of the Russian leadership, though completely irrational and criminal, were provoked by a rapidly deepening internal crisis within Russia”. This crisis was “in turn was linked closely to the crisis of the world-system of neoliberal capitalism into which Russia was tightly integrated”. 

Kagarlitsky is scathing about the pasteboard authoritarianism of the Putin regime. Appeals to the Tsarist era and fascist motifs can’t conceal that “the president himself and the elite circles around him are products of the social and cultural degradation of late Soviet society, together with the degradation of late capitalism”. “In this sense, too, Russia is not a tragic exception but on the contrary, part of the general current of ideological evolution of modern bourgeois society,” he writes. 

Fascinating though this analysis is, it has its limitations. Kagarlitsky makes a detailed comparison between the Ukrainian catastrophe and the First World War. He draws on the writings of the revolutionary wing of the Second International of socialist parties, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin. 

But they were very clear that the war was an inter-imperialist struggle in which rival blocs of Great Powers fought for global domination. In an earlier book, Kagarlitsky portrays Tsarist Russia as a “peripheral empire”. Russia “both served the interests of the nascent global centre”—indeed, he argues, it was economically a stake in the struggle between French and German imperialism—“and competed with it”. But this dimension of inter-imperialist rivalry—today involving the US, Nato, and China—is quite missing from his discussion of the Ukraine war.

There are other weaknesses. Kagarlitsky has no difficulty in documenting the faults of a damaged left and the fragmenting of working class solidarity over the past generation. On the left, there’s the renunciation of serious reforms by social democracy and the descent into abstract dogmatism of many revolutionary groups. 

But he doesn’t really give us a historical account of how this decline developed. This would mean returning to the great class confrontations of the 1970s and 1980s between ruling classes. They embraced neoliberalism as a means of humbling labour and combative workers’ movements. And those movements proved unable to break out of the confines of reformist ideologies that eventually disarmed them. 

As he does also in his earlier writings, Kagarlitsky tends to duck the choice between reform and revolution. He takes a long-term historical perspective, in which both contribute to the goal of replacing capitalism with socialism. “The defeats and victories along this path, the reforms and revolutions, have to an equal degree though in different forms and on different scales been stages of one and the same global historical process,” he writes. 

This is in many ways a helpful approach, but it is contradicted by a persistent tendency to blame the left’s plight on its own subjective weaknesses. He notably puts “minority” causes—by which Kagarlitsky means different movements against oppression—ahead of the plight of the working class majority. 

This shows a surprisingly undialectical failure to see how racial and gender oppression in particular are built into the functioning of capitalism. It is, I think, encouraged by a much longer-standing propensity to try to find positive features in political movements where class bitterness is captured by different forms of reactionary politics. In the past this was expressed, for example, in Kagarlitsky’s very ill-judged support for the pro-Russian separatist risings in southeastern Ukraine in 2013-14 as somehow “revolutionary”. 

In The Long Retreat, he shows a strange sympathy for anti-vax campaigners, notably the far right dominated “Truckers for Freedom” convoy. It blockaded the border between Canada and the US in early 2022 to reverse the Canadian government’s vaccine requirements. He describes the convoy as “a genuine popular protest”. 

Naomi Klein, herself Canadian, has a much more informed and convincing analysis, not just of the convoy. She looks at how people’s authentically critical impulses have been transmuted into outright reaction in recent years. 

The advance of the far right globally is one trend that helps to make the present situation so alarming. There are, of course, cross-cutting developments—above all the extraordinary global explosion of solidarity with Palestine and its success, if not in defeating, certainly in isolating Israel. 

We need hard thinking to grasp the present in all its complexity. For all the weaknesses that I have mentioned, Kagarlitsky offers a wide-ranging and sophisticated analysis on a whole range of issues that I haven’t been able to address. He, for example, discusses the question of socialist planning. 

The Long Retreat gives us access to the richness and the range of thinking of one of the leading contemporary Marxists. Kagarlitsky has an enormous amount to offer. He himself needs above all freedom— and our solidarity to help win it.

The Long Retreat: Strategies to Reverse the Decline of the Left, Boris Kagarlitsky (London: Pluto Press, 2024)

Support the international campaign to free Boris Kagarlitsky and all antiwar Russian political prisoners. Sign the petition here  https://chng.it/8pXDcTcJkN 

Junior doctors show the way with strikes during general election

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by TTE
a crowd shot of a picket during the junior doctors strike

Junior doctors in east London on strike in January (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Junior doctors in England have given a lead to workers everywhere by announcing a five-day strike in the run-up to the election. They decided it is the best way to push their pay claim and highlight the NHS crisis.

Everyone should support them and other unions should pile in behind them. The best way to drive the Tories out is action over Palestine and also against austerity and to win pay rises. And that will also put pressure on an incoming Labour government.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the main doctors’ union, said on Wednesday that junior doctors will walk out from 27 June to 2 July.

Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi are co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee. “When we entered mediation with government this month, we did so under the impression that we had a functioning government that would soon be making an offer,” they said.  

Junior doctors had “made clear to the government that we would strike unless discussions ended in a credible pay offer”, they added. “Clearly no offer is now forthcoming. Junior doctors are fed up and out of patience.” 

In a message to members, the BMA said, “In the face of Government washing their hands of negotiations, we are compelled to take a stand. 

“The election doesn’t absolve Rishi Sunak of his responsibility to settle our dispute. We demand a public commitment to pay restoration.

“Force his hand and put us at the top of the agenda during the general election campaign for both this government and the next. Join us on the picket line.

“The moment has not passed us. It is right in front of us.”

After five weeks of talks late last year, the BMA rejected the government’s offer of a 3 percent pay increase, on top of a roughly 9 percent rise already offered. It said the proposal was not “credible” and did not address 15 years of real terms pay cuts.

Disgracefully, Labour doesn’t support the doctors’ demands.Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, told the BBC on Wednesday he is “willing to sit down and negotiate”. But just days earlier he had underlined opposition to the junior d doctors’ pay claim. 

He had tried to entrench division by saying that instead he would be “a shop steward for patients as health secretary”.

“I need to be upfront with people on this side of the election,” Streeting said. “So I’m not prepared to sit here and say to junior doctors, ‘Your pay demand, don’t worry, you’ll be alright with Labour’, and then let them down on the other side of the election.”

He’s getting in his betrayals early. As an aside, he added that “handouts” are not the solution to tackling poverty and he spurned students protesting over Gaza. “You wouldn’t have seen me in one of those tents when I was at the NUS” student union, he said. 

Doctors are right to strike. They should call picket lines everywhere and make them a focus for everyone who hates the Tories, wants to defend the NHS, and sees the need to put pressure on Labour too.

Junior doctor says, ‘Strike while the iron’s hot’

Paul, a radiology doctor in the east of England, thinks the timing of the strike is important.

“They say you should strike while the iron is hot,” he told Socialist Worker. “Well, it doesn’t get much hotter politically than during a general election campaign. The strike will send a strong message to the Tory government that we haven’t gone away. But it is also a warning to the government that will follow.”

Paul says he is bitterly disappointed with Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting for saying that he would not commit to pay restoration for junior doctors.

“It seems that all governments want to pay us as little as possible,” he says. “I was hoping that at a minimum he would commit to the idea that our pay should return to what it was. His statements are disappointing, but not demoralising. We know that our strike has already made progress.

“At the beginning, the government insisted that we were only going to get a 2 percent rise. But it has already been forced to up that offer several times. Junior doctors can see that, and that’s why we won our recent re-ballot with a good vote for strikes.”

According to Paul, the mood for the coming five-day strike is strong. But, he says, the fact that the dispute has become long and drawn out means it doesn’t grab attention the way it did at the beginning.

“But I think striking during the election will galvanise people,” he says. “There’s a positive sense of change around it.”

Rage outside Downing Street over Israel’s mass murder in Rafah

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by TTE
a woman stands up amid the crowd at the Palestine protest over Israel's Rafah massacre

The protest outside Downing Street against the latest Rafah massacre (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Over 10,000 people protested outside Downing Street on Tuesday evening against Israel’s latest slaughter in Gaza. Palestine flags filled the street and cops couldn’t keep the crowds back from taking over the entire road. 

Protester Salama told Socialist Worker, “What’s happened at the refugee camp is atrocious. I can’t justify staying at home, or just putting posts on social media. I had to do something, even if it’s just standing here and shouting.” 

Salma says the lack of reaction from the West—from Rishi Sunak to Joe Biden—makes her feel like she’s “not in the real world”. She added that it’s clear Israel won’t stop “until the whole of Gaza has gone”. 

“Binyamin Netanyahu has been clear that he has a job to do, and that’s a job Israel and the West have been carrying out for over 100 years,” she said. “And the Arab rulers aren’t helping because they have ties with Israel.

“They’re rich and don’t think Palestinian lives are worth anything. They’re so removed from people in society they don’t know what it is to struggle—they can’t relate with people.”

Salma says the complicity of the Tories and Labour makes her “speechless”. She said with the upcoming election “the Tories have to be kicked out”. “Sunak has to go after everything he’s done, not just over Palestine but the cost of living crisis too,” she said. 

“But we have to keep protesting during the election period—and after. We have to keep going and putting the pressure on. We don’t have a choice but to keep going, especially when protests like this give those in Gaza some hope. Being silent is just as bad as supporting Israel.”

Dominique came to her second Palestine protest since 7 October because she’s “shocked” at the situation in Gaza. “I feel sad and helpless. No one in charge cares. Even if coming here doesn’t change their minds, at least we’re doing something,” she told Socialist Worker.

“And in a country like Britain, where we can protest without being stopped, we absolutely should. It’s fucked up that Israel has so much support. I’m French, and it’s the same there, just silence from those in charge. But that’s because these are the people responsible for what’s happening in the first place.

“The media is just as bad. I can’t believe the way this is still being reported—making it sound like Palestinians are the aggressors while Israel is just defending itself.”

The huge crowd chanted, “Hands off Rafah,” and, “Stop arming Israel.” Protesters continued to pour onto Whitehall even after the protest had officially finished—with many chanting and blaring music at Downing Street.

Fatima and Nasiya came to the protest with their children. “This movement has been fighting for over 76 years, and what’s happened in Rafah has spurred us on,” Fatima said. 

“But Biden says no red lie has been crossed, and instead wants to hold the ICJ and ICC to account. He’s the one that needs to be held to account.”

Nasiya the genocide “is the result of an imperialist regime”. “Israel is burning children like it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re from South Africa. I remember growing up at the end of the apartheid regime.

“I couldn’t go to a white bathroom. Fighting for Palestine has always been something I’ve done. I remember when Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist when he was South Africa’s leader. The rage of the oppressed is never the same as the oppressor.”

Fatima said the scenes from Gaza are “beyond dystopian”. “There’s no food or water getting in, but bombs can get in,” she said. “But people here, especially young people, have so much energy on the protests and the students. 

“They won’t ever be quiet or stop—not until there’s a ceasefire at least. But we need more than just a ceasefire.”

Nasiya added, “We have Palestinians in our family too. One of our relatives was in a hospital as Israel bombed it—not for medical help but because he hadn’t had a shower in two weeks. He only just got out alive. I always bring my children because they’re the next generation—they should never be silenced on this issue. 

“We’ve had a lot of trouble in schools, where they’re not allowed to wear carves or badges. But I’ve said if they can wear poppies and are told to be sad about Ukraine, then they can do the same for Palestine.”

The rage at the Tories, Labour, Biden and Netanyahu for their crimes in Gaza shows that the movement won’t stop demanding justice—or freedom for Palestine.

Over 350 people joined the Glasgow emergency demonstration on the same night and staged a train station occupation. 

Over 600 people joined an emergency protest at less than 24 hours’ notice in Leeds on Monday. The crowd at the Leeds student encampment heard from a newly-elected Bradford councillor, a Palestinian doctor, one of the students and a Unison union member.  

The protest was militant and angry, marched into town and briefly occupied Leeds train station. One of the students from the encampment said, “The message is all eyes on Rafah, stop the bombing, end the genocide and build the resistance for a free Palestine.” 

Alongside students, there were banners from Unison, Health Workers For Palestine West Yorkshire, Leeds trades council and Leeds Trade Unions For Palestine. 

  • Saturday 8 June, Palestine national demo. 12noon, central London  
  • Sunday 9 June, Stop The War trade union conference 10.30am-4.30pm @ ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London, SE1 1DR

Thousands across the world plan protests in solidarity with Sudan

Posted on: May 28th, 2024 by Thomas Foster
Protests against Sudan war outside of Downing Street last year

A protest against Sudan war outside of Downing Street last year (Picture: Steve Eason)

Thousands of people across the world plan to march this Saturday to highlight the slaughter and famine in Sudan, north Africa. It is five years since the military’s counter-revolutionary massacres in the capital Khartoum and other cities, whose horrors failed to break the surge for democracy by millions of Sudanese people.

Since April 2023, a murderous civil war between the state military and the competing RSF militia has seen ten million people forced from their homes. Around three million children are acutely malnourished.

A country of nearly 50 million is a war zone. In the Darfur region the militias carry out mass murder, rape, torture and looting. All the while the imperialists and the regional powers push their own interests.

The Sudanese people mean nothing to the overlords of profit and power. They are abandoned to war, starvation and catastrophic climate change. Capitalism offers no future to the vast majority of the world’s population. For five years Sudanese workers and the poor have fought for a different future.

They created grassroots structures to challenge rule from above. But Sudan also shows the terrible price of a revolution that is not carried through to the end. We stand with all those fighting against the warring generals in Sudan. And we also learn of the need for a socialist revolution, not a reshuffle at the top that ends with bitter ruling class revenge.

  • For protests, including in London, Cardiff, Oxford, Manchester and Edinburgh, go to tinyurl.com/SudanMENA

Starmer’s cosying up to bosses is a warning

Posted on: May 28th, 2024 by Thomas Foster
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, during a visit to Dover, Kent, where he set out Labour’s border security strategy,

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, during a visit to Dover, Kent, where he set out Labour’s border security strategy (Picture: Keir Starmer on Flickr)

Keir Starmer thinks he is having a great week. Not only does he have a 20-point lead over the Tories, he’s also received a gleaming letter of support from 120 business leaders in the Times newspaper. Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves have been working overtime to cosy up to corporate chiefs.

The bosses want “stability”—holding down workers’ resistance—to make profits. They want to give Labour the chance “to change the country and lead Britain into the future”. They correctly identify that “Labour has shown it has changed and wants to work with business”.

But this is not something workers should be cheering on. The wooing of bosses by Starmer and Reeves is part of their attempt to eliminate the Jeremy Corbyn era—and the left within Labour. Starmer is proving that he, unlike Rishi Sunak’s crumbling party, is the safer pair of hands for Britain’s rich at the cost of ordinary people’s interests.

The signatories include former executives from JP Morgan, Tesco Bank, the Financial Conduct Authority, Heathrow airport, Aston Martin, JD Sports and advertising giant WPP. Sir Malcolm Walker, the Iceland supermarket founder, signed a Tory business letter during the 2015 election campaign. And John Holland-Kaye, the former chief executive of Heathrow airport, was the target of the Unite union’s campaign to save jobs in 2023.

Starmer and Reeves will be celebrating their hard work coming to fruition. The pair have prioritised the voices of business people over ordinary workers. Why are business voices worth more than the working people they’ve made their fortune off? Why are their interests dominating the election, rather than parties listening to the voices of people who have suffered for 14 years under the Tories?

It’s telling that the Tories haven’t been able to put together such a letter. Now Starmer’s new friends will hope to shape a future Labour government. On Tuesday Reeves said Labour is bringing “hope back to Britain” with its business backing. She added that Labour has changed for good and will be a “pro-business, pro-worker” party.

That’s not possible—being friends with bosses is not the sign of a pro-worker government. Starmer and Reeves value corporate support over support from people at the bottom of society who live in misery.

Labour says it won’t promise more NHS funding, more council homes, higher benefits, pro-climate policies or more public spending. Instead it promises better deals, more profits and favourable taxation for the rich. No one should have any illusions about Starmer’s pro-business manoeuvring.

The election is a chance to push socialist ideas

Posted on: May 28th, 2024 by Arthur T
Rishi Sunak vying for election votes in Amersham (Photo: flickr/ The Conservative Party)

Rishi Sunak vying for election votes in Amersham (Photo: flickr/ The Conservative Party)

We need to tear up the establishment’s view of what the election means.

If it’s left to Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer we face five weeks of boredom and competing right wing programmes.

It will be slightly different versions of pro-corporate, pro-Israel politics interspersed with vicious racism from the Tories—and nothing different from Labour.

Sunak called the election for 4 July because he thinks waiting longer might produce an even worse result than the one predicted presently.

He launched the campaign drowning in pouring rain in Downing Street. It’s got worse since.

His brilliant advisers sent him off to the shipyard where the Titanic was built, triggering inevitable jibes about sinking ships.

We want the Tories, the open party of the bosses, booted out.

A Sunak victory would be a disaster for every working class person, for the NHS, for our schools, for people menaced by the cruel regime of Universal Credit, for all who want action over climate chaos, for people stuck on zero hours contracts and without union rights.

More people will be deported or jailed. Cops, generals, racists and fascists will feel stronger. Women and LGBT+ people will face renewed assaults.

The main threat to a Labour victory is that Starmer is so wooden, uninspiring and cautious that birds nest in his limbs and the voters stay at home.

Labour wants a boring campaign because it offers no real alternative.

It backs genocide in Israel and the bosses at home. It has its own plans to use terror laws and extra border guards against refugees.

At the election, Socialist Worker will support left candidates who help the movement over Palestine and break with Labour.

Those candidates need to be anti-racist and not dump support for women’s liberation, LGBT+ people and refugees in the grubby chase for votes.

Let’s be on the streets harassing the Tories and intensifying anti-racist, pro-Palestine, pro-environment and pro-worker campaigns.

And let’s push the union leaders to step up strikes and protests, not hold them back in the false belief that such resistance helps the Tories.

Fighting now is the best way to organise resistance to whoever wins the election.

Don’t be a spectator. Be part of the struggle now and shape the battles that will come afterwards.

If there’s a visit by Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer make sure they receive the welcome they deserve—an onslaught of socialist rage.

When Reform UK candidates campaign, treat them like the rotten racists and Islamophobes they are.

Let’s drive Sunak out and to start the fight for real change. Build the fightback and build revolutionary socialist politics at the heart of it.

Harass the guilty

It was good to see pro-Palestinian protesters heckle Rishi Sunak as he arrived at South Staffordshire College in Cannock last Friday.

No politician should be allowed to escape from making clear statements about Gaza—or suffering the consequences if they back Israeli genocide.

On the same day campaigners sprung into action after hearing that Keir Starmer was launching the Scottish Labour election campaign in Glasgow.

Protesters chanted, “Keir Starmer, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide,” and, “What do we want, ceasefire, when do we want it, now.”

Labour intentionally held the launch on the outskirts of the city.

But that didn’t stop protesters from gathering at short notice to hit back at Starmer’s support for Israel’s genocide.

Angela from Glasgow Stop The War told Socialist Worker, “We had less than an hour to organise a picket outside the event.

“But we had to oppose Keir Starmer—or Kid Starver as we should call him.

“It’s important that for the whole of this election campaign the issue of Palestine is at the forefront.

“I hope that wherever they go, Starmer and Sunak will be hounded by protesters. They deserve it.”

‘Unions need to back left alternatives’

As Rishi Sunak announced the general election, PCS union members were gathered in Brighton at their annual conference.

Keith, who works in the revenue and customs department, told Socialist Worker, “I’m glad. It’s really the sooner the better—we can kick out the Tories.”

Ollie, who works in the lands registry department, said he will vote Labour with no illusions.

“I’m not keen on Keir Starmer, but I’ll vote Labour to keep the Tories out. The Tories only look after themselves and their mates,” he said.

Greg—from the Office of National Statistics—slammed the failures of both the Tories and Labour, saying, “I definitely won’t be voting for the Tories. I also don’t like the direction that Labour is going in under Starmer. I may well vote Green.

“People are done with the Tories and I think Labour will get in mainly because people are fed up.”

And a PCS member of the Leeds branch committee blasted Starmer’s leadership of Labour.

“The Palestine movement will have a key impact on this election. Keir Starmer’s position on Palestine has been shameful,” they said.

“Trade unions need to support the alternatives to Labour. We want politicians that actually represent us.

“Standing against the Israeli state and the atrocities it’s committing will be the bare minimum for me and probably for millions of others.”

They added, “Just like Palestine activists, anti-racists need to stay on the streets. We’ll always get push back from the government but keeping protests and campaigns going will be so important.”

Jack, who works in the culture sector, also spoke about the effect of the Palestine movement, saying, “The mobilisation of the Palestine movement has huge potential to create a new layer of politically aware and active people. The trade unions will be central to that.”

Industrial round-up: Low marks for UCU tops as bosses slash jobs

Posted on: May 28th, 2024 by Thomas Foster
Goldsmiths university protest and the UCU union congress is upcoming

Goldsmiths university are fighting back against cuts

Members of the UCU union must stand up to the trade union bureaucracy at this week’s yearly congress. They must demand hard-hitting action to combat wide-scale job cuts, falling pay and racism at the top of their union. Only three months after Jo Grady was reelected as general secretary, the union’s office is seemingly in chaos.

Around 200 workers for the UCU union, who are members of the Unite union, are planning to strike on Thursday—during the union’s congress. The union workers are furious that industrial relations have, according to Unite, completely broken down. Workers say the UCU has undermined existing industrial recognition agreements, failed to agree on key working principles and had a heavy-handed use of disciplinary procedures.

UCU staff has also previously spoken out about what they describe as a “culture of fear” in the union’s office. The union leadership has also been hit with multiple accusations of racism. The UCU’s Black Member Standing Committee (BMSC) has been refusing to take part in union decision-making processes.

A statement released by the BMSC said that “pervasive structural racism plagues our sector and our union”. “We feel obliged to share our disappointment in the entrenched racism and systemic disrespect within our union,” it added.

“For too long we have witnessed an active undermining of our voices and dismissal of our concerns within UCU and lack of meaningful representation. Our attempts to address these injustices have been met alternately with resistance, indifference, procedural setbacks and deliberate stalling.”

All of this comes as university bosses are taking a sledgehammer to jobs in higher education. Thousands of workers are facing the threat of redundancy, and so far, those at the top of the union haven’t offered a real plan about how to fight back. Several branches have voted to strike or take action over redundancies, such as Goldsmiths university in London.

Instead of pushing for a national fightback, Grady and the leadership have pushed for branches to fight redundancies university by university. According to a UCU Left report on a National Executive Committee in March, the general secretary “has given up on any pretence of defending national bargaining”. But the report argued, “Britain-wide bargaining is vital for the protection of pay levels and employment conditions.”

And a motion put forward by Brighton university was carried at a Special Higher Education Sector Conference earlier in May. It called for the union to “develop a strategy which includes returning to UK-wide action in academic year 2024-25” and “to organise strike committees to synchronise action and deliver maximum solidarity for branches in dispute”.

This kind of action is needed to counter the bosses’ threats of redundancies. At the conference, UCU members must push their leadership to back a plan for strikes all across Britain.

PCS conference debates pay campaign strategy

Civil service workers met for their PCS union conference last week in the aftermath of a national strike ballot over pay that ended on 13 May. In the ballot, 83.7 percent were in favour of strikes. But in most government departments, less than 50 percent of members voted, meaning they didn’t beat the anti‑union law threshold.

In any case, it shows there is a strong mood to fight. The PCS conference discussed strategies for the national pay campaign. The trade union leadership backed a motion that set out strikes at some point for the departments that did reach the turnout threshold, but it had no detail on when that would be. It also lacked a call for re-balloting the departments that did not reach the threshold.

Another motion argued for strikes and re-ballots to be called. It rightly laid out that it would be a mistake to waste the mood for strikes. Delegates voted for a motion calling for strikes and re-ballots.

But the motion that passed only “instructs the GEC to consider” its recommendations—so it is not binding. PCS members must immediately pressure their union leadership to organise and announce strike dates as soon possible. A serious strike programme can also help with the re-ballots, as it encourages more to vote to join strikes.

Delegates back Palestine and hit out at Rwanda plan

Firefighters met in Blackpool for their FBU union conference from Wednesday to Friday last week. The conference happened after members accepted a deal to settle their national dispute at the start of May. The deal included a four percent pay uplift and a rise in maternity pay.

At the conference, a motion calling for an immediate and unequivocal ceasefire in Palestine was unanimously passed by delegates. And an important emergency motion was brought to the conference arguing for the union to lobby for the legal overturning of the Rwanda plan—backing the PCS unions’ legal battle. It made a demand for all those who get deported to be brought back to Britain, and for all those currently detained to be immediately released.

Unfortunately it was remitted before a vote. The motion was remitted on the basis that if a Keir Starmer government continues the Tories’ attempts to deport refugees and migrants, a motion to disaffiliate from the Labour Party would be brought to conference next year. The union has also called for the scrapping of the anti-union law that requires a minimum service during strikes.

Thanks to Lee Hunter, chair of Merseyside FBU branch, for providing Socialist Worker with details from the conference.

Barnet workers keep up battle for retention pay

Mental health social workers in Barnet are still battling their north London authority over a proper retention and recruitment payment. They walked out for three weeks on 13 May until Friday this week. This followed two weeks of action from 15 April. The strikers also plan to strike from Monday next week for two weeks and from 17 June for four weeks.

Last Thursday their national Unison union issued a legal letter to the council’s chief executive John Hooton about the council’s use of agency workers during the strike. The council previously tried to break the strike with agency workers, until pressure from the union branch forced the agency company to pull out.

But the council didn’t give up with its strike-breaking and attempted to outsource some of the strikers’ roles permanently. In negotiations bosses have already stated that it would be “easier and cheaper” to agree to the demands for recruitment and retention payment for workers. Yet it refuses to end the dispute.

“Our members want to work in a safe working environment with no waiting lists and fair pay. A recruitment and retention payment will help encourage existing staff to remain and help Barnet Council recruit experienced mental health social workers that they badly need before it is too late,” Barnet Unison said. Unison nationally must keep up the pressure on Barnet. Legal threats are important, but escalated action by other council workers is the way to win.

Asda strikes bosses’ pocket

More than 100 GMB union members held a two-day strike at Asda’s Hollingbury store near Brighton last week. There was a big and lively picket line last Saturday morning, where the strikers greeted shoppers. Many of them were turned away as local trade unionists and other supporters joined a rally dozens-strong at the gates.

Across Britain, Asda workers are fighting on a range of issues, including a lack of collective bargaining, poor health and safety standards, poor quality training, equal pay not being resolved in a timely manner and cuts in hours. And workers at Asda have more reasons to be angry at bosses. Thousands of retail and logistic workers across Britain have been paid incorrectly for most of this year.

Some have been overpaid and Asda has warned them they have until Tuesday this week to repay the money or it will come out of their wages in June. The issue is down to a new payment system Asda bosses have started to use because the previous system was too expensive. The Asda management has so far refused to meet with GMB representatives.

By Phil Mellows

Morrisons warehouse revolt

Some 1,000 Morrisons workers are striking over changes to pension contributions. Workers at warehouses in Gadbrook in Cheshire and Wakefield in West Yorkshire supply 500 stores. The Unite union members walked out on Thursday last week until Sunday morning, and are set to strike again on 13 June for 72 hours.

Bosses are forcing workers to increase their own pension contributions while the company reduces its own contributions by the same amount. And a new “pick rate” monitors the speed at which items are packed.