Tories in trouble ramp up racism to split opposition

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
A picture of Priti Patel

Patel and the Tories are ramping up attacks on refugees (Number 10)

Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel are escalating their attacks on refugees as the Nationality and Borders bill nears its passage through parliament.
 
Johnson will use racism to try to divert attention from his rule-breaking. 
 
Part of Johnson’s “Operation Red Meat” to try to regain popularity is expected to give the Royal Navy ­“primacy” over government vessels in the Channel. 
 
The army and navy would be able to deploy ships, boats and surveillance equipment to support Border Force officers.
 
“Pushback” tactics” could also be deployed, including the use of boats or jet skis to stop and redirect boats to France.
 
Channel Rescue, a human rights group, warned last week that the  Border Force may have already begun implementing the Home Office’s lethal plans to push asylum seekers back across the Channel.
 
It said the government was ­rushing to implement the plans before the judicial reviews into the policy can stop it. The number of people crossing the Channel has risen. But this is because other options to reach Britain, such as boarding lorries, are not available.
 
A record 28,300 refugees crossed last year. So far 581 have made the life-threatening crossing this January—more than double last year.
This all points to a growing crisis of people forced to flee their homes and needing to claim asylum. 
 
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi waded into the debate to say Patel’s borders bill will provide “a much better way of dealing with illegal migration”. 
 
He claims, “There are legal routes for migration”.
 
And the Tories are relentlessly pointing to people smugglers as the people who put lives at risk.
 
But it’s deadly border tactics that have already led to many Channel deaths, including a Sudanese man who died last Friday.
 
The French authorities said they found the man unconscious in the Channel after he fell overboard from a boat trying to reach Britain.
And as the failed refugee evacuation from Afghanistan has shown, there are no operating ­“official” routes into Britain.
 
It’s not just crossings that the Tories are making difficult. Child refugees are being forced to share rooms and beds with adults they do not know as hundreds are wrongly placed in over-18s accommodation.
 
Unaccompanied refugees who say they are children are ignored and forced to share rooms for weeks and months. 
 
This leads them to contemplate suicide or running away. One Ethiopian girl, aged 16, was repeatedly raped on her way to Britain and packed in a mixed‑­gender hotel with adult men on her arrival. Home Office staff judged her to be 23.
 
Since September 2020, 421 cases of “doubted minors” in hotels have been reported by charity Care4Calais.

Patel claims adults “blatantly abuse” the asylum system by lying about their ages. The Tories are the blatant abusers of human rights.


Citizenship stripped under new rules

The Home Office wants to send more people back to dangerous countries they have fled from.
 
Refugees from countries hit hard by war and conflict, such as Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria, are being told to return and having their asylum claims rejected.
 
A 36 year old from Yemen and a 21 year-old from Afghanistan have had their asylum claims thrown out on the basis they are not at risk in their home countries.
 
This follows a 25 year old Syrian being forced to return after seeking asylum in May 2020. 
 
He had fled forced conscription into Bashar al‑Assad’s army in 2017.
 
He says if he returns, he will be targeted as a draft evader, arrested, detained, and killed.
 
The Home Office then sent a letter to the man’s lawyers retracting its decision and granting asylum.
 
The refugee from Yemen was refused a claim in June 2021 because officials “do not accept there are problems in Yemen”.
 
The accountant, who is married with two children, has physical and mental health problems. The letter claims there is “a substantial public health programme in Yemen”.
 
In reality, parts of Yemen do not have any functioning health infrastructure. And the Afghan man who arrived aged 16 after fleeing conscription by the Taliban has had his refugee status removed because of a cannabis related conviction.
 
The Home Office has also been forced to reinstate the citizenship of a British man who was left stateless for nearly five years.
 
Since his removal the man has had a daughter, who the Home Office is refusing to accept as a British citizen.
 
Under the Tories’ new borders bill, citizenship can be stripped without notice or reasoning.

Join the anti-racist fight 

Anti-racists across Britain are preparing for events called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR). On Saturday 5 February, the TUC union federation and SUTR are holding a trade union conference. 
 
Workers will discuss how to organise workplace resistance to the attacks on refugees, institutional racism and the top down divide and rule of workers.
 
The conference will be in the lead up to SUTR’s protests to mark UN-anti-racism day.
 
Demonstrations on 19 March in London and Glasgow, and 20 March in Cardiff, will see thousands of people take to the streets for the first time since the pandemic began.
 
Anti-racists will march in a show of defiance under the slogan, World Against Racism and Fascism. The international day of action will also see protests take place across Europe, and many other parts of the world.
 
Building for these events is crucial to show the anti-racist movement is back on the streets. A mass movement is needed to challenge the racism spewed from Boris Johnson’s government.
 

You Have Not Yet Been Defeated by Alaa Abd el-Fattah book review — writing that’s dangerous to those in power

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Alaa Abd el-Fattah, author of You Have Not Yet Been Defeated

Alaa Abd el-Fattah, author of You Have Not Yet Been Defeated

You Have Not Been Defeated is a hard read. Author Alaa Abd El-Fattah is still suffering, imprisoned for years along with a generation of Egyptian activists. There are now about 60,000 held in Egypt’s prisons. They know the Arab Spring of 2011 was defeated and are anxious that revolutions to come could face the same fate.

Alaa, an activist years before 2011, built up a huge following on social media and was a major spokesperson for the left as the Egyptian revolution erupted. 

He reported from the revolutionary days in Tahrir Square in January 2011 to Mohammed Morsi’s victory in free presidential elections in 2012 to the military coup in July 2013. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested by Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s new counter-revolutionary regime in November of that year. 

The book is a running biography, from 2011 to 2021, of a man of immense bravery and integrity. He gives his thoughts on what went wrong with the revolution and what needs to happen for there to be a future. It is also an insight into what happens to such a man in prison as the years go by.  

The first piece from July 2011 is about the constitutional crisis. Alaa and others launched a movement to involve people across the country in writing a new, democratic constitution. This is because he worries the elites have “already agreed that the people’s role ends at the ballot box”. 

Western-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak had been forced to step down on 11 February. Millions of ordinary people had taken to the streets, occupied the main square in the capital Cairo while workers in key industries struck. The military, and other forces, hoped to divert the revolutionary energy into “safe” parliamentary channels. 

Another 2011 piece, a report on the massacre at Maspero, beautifully illustrates how solidarity can overcome sectarianism. Maspero was a mainly Coptic Christian sit-in, a protest against the sectarian burning of two churches. It was attacked, soldiers shot live ammunition and ran over protestors, leaving 26 dead and 350 people injured. 

Alaa, with other secular and Muslim activists, secured proper autopsies for the dead by protecting the forensics team. He captures the power of such action. “First we were responsible for securing our demonstrations, then we were responsible for securing public facilities,” he writes. “The forensics team began its work on our protection watched by our doctors and our lawyers and our unknown soldiers. 

“Vultures can’t pick at a united front…We had no weapons to face down their rage but our embraces and the tears of mourning managed to drive out the fallacy of a militaristic sectarian reality with the truth of the dream of a free Egypt. The forensic doctor caught the bug and was transformed from a bureaucrat into a guardian of justice.” 

Alaa returns from addressing a Silicon Valley audience to go in front of the military prosecutor for his actions at Maspero. He and his sister are heading a growing campaign against the military penal system being used to oppress demonstrations and workers’ actions that are going on across Egypt. The next entry is written from prison.

On his release in December 2011, his first words to the masses gathered outside are, “We have to bring down military rule. This revolution will have succeeded when General Hamdy Badeen is in cuffs in the courtroom and a cylinder of cooking gas costs five pounds.” 

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was elected in the country’s first free presidential election some 16 months after the revolution began. He had mass support among Egypt’s poor, but only wants to bring in limited changes. 

Alaa’s Facebook posts and al-Sharouk’ newspaper articles mock the Brotherhood. But there is no sense, in this selection from 2012-2013, that Alaa is part of a movement. 

By June 2013, anger was growing against Morsi, who had turned to austerity and authoritarian measures, including against workers’ organisation. On 26 June, days before mass protests erupted, Alaa wrote, “The only solution is a revolutionary escalation that takes the issue to a different stage and different methods. But there is no time to prepare. Occupying institutions, for example, would have been useful.” 

The 30 June protests are enormous. The army had hoped in vain the Brotherhood could contain the revolution, so now it cynically sided with the protests against Morsi in a bid to regain control. On 3 July el-Sisi took charge in a coup. 

In a series of short posts, Alaa sounds confused and his attack on the Muslim Brotherhood is published on Facebook on 30 August. “The Brotherhood used state violence to target workers strikes, suppress social protests with unprecedented brutality and caused unprecedented levels of death by torture in police stations. Around 5000 were detained between January and April most of them were tortured.”

On 14 August, there was a massacre. The army brutally assaulted the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa and El-Nahda squares, killing over 900 people. Whatever criticism Alaa has of the Muslim Brotherhood is buried in a passionate call for solidarity. He writes, “Sisi is a murderer and Rabaa is one of the most terrible massacres in our history.” 

As other state murders follow, he attacked those in power. Then, along with many activists, Alaa is arrested again.

He recognised the revolution was defeated. But it takes time to realise the arrests are not just about left wingers like himself, nor about the Islamists. The repression is not a temporary response to put down the revolution. It is a tool to be used more generally and permanently to suppress opposition, to stop change.

Each time Alaa had a chance, like when he was released for his father’s funeral, he spoke against the regime. From inside Torah Prison he continually analyses and questions what happened and why, theorising different scenarios. He has to cope with hope and despair, and communicates these complexities with poetry, metaphor and honesty. 

A number of extracts reflect Alaa’s continual legal battle for his case and his rights while imprisoned. He writes how those of his class and status get better treatment than others. Islamists get the worst. Some will never be allowed visits. He explains how bureaucracy and paranoia work to dehumanise prisoners, leading to lack of medical treatment and numbers of deaths. 

In March 2019 he was released, to another five year sentence of “probation”. He describes this as torture, having to be complicit in his own repression, “choosing” to return to the police station every night. He emerges into a world where surveillance and control are deepening everywhere.

In an essay with the same title as the book, he addresses those of us living in liberal democracies where we still have the freedom to act. 

A small anti-corruption protest, the first in years, took place in 2019. Thousands of other activists were swept up, accused of terrorism. Alaa was re-arrested on 29 September from inside Doqqi police station, after six months of “probation”. 

Quite a few essays show more “pessimism of the intellect” and less “optimism of the will”.  But suddenly hope bursts through in July 2020, in an essay on the pandemic. The prisoners are certain “that the judge’s son and prison warder’s mother aren’t safe unless the prisoners are safe”.  They launched the Egyptian Captives Forum initiative. 

In 2021 Alaa heard that in Sheikh Jarrar in the West Bank Palestinians called on Gaza for help. Again, he allows himself some optimism. He visited Gaza in 2011, hoping that the revolts in Egypt and the Middle East would help bring Palestinian liberation. 

Fittingly the book ends with an impassioned essay on Palestine. His activism had its roots in the Palestinians’ Second Intifada, the rebellion against Israel in the early 2000s. And he now asks, “As a captive do I have the right to dream of a road to Cairo that passes through Gaza?”

Alaa says he is in prison for his actions not his words, but it is both. He writes, “That movements need a captivating vision of the world they are fighting for, and not only rage at the system they are desperate to overthrow… 

“Our rosy dreams will probably not come to pass. But if we leave ourselves to our nightmares we’ll be killed by fear before the Floods arrive.” 

This kind of writing is dangerous to those who don’t want the world to change. Alaa Adb el-Fattah has stayed true to the revolution.


You Have Not Yet Been Defeated by Alaa Abd el-Fattah. £12.99 Available from Bookmarks—the socialist bookshop

Miriam Scharf is a socialist and active in the MENA Solidarity Network 

Black Ivy — how black men subverted the style of the white rich

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Nick No Comments
Two young black men in mix Ivy League style clothing with workwear

Two young men in Los Angeles, in 1967, a year after the Watts Rebellion riots, mix Ivy League clothing with workwear (Picture: Bill Ray/The Life picture collection/Shutterstock

In the mid 20th century the world’s preeminent superpower became the engine for culture, and an art form US blacks had championed for two decades—jazz.

At the same time the US was convulsed by agitation for Civil Rights and anti-war protest. This art book matches that upswell of protest with the changing way that US blacks clothed and carried themselves.

Garments sold by East coast outfitters, Brook Brothers, were the epitome of sartorial distinction and handsome understatement. Its clientele were men of wealth and political office, moneyed college undergrads, boardroom execs and golf club associates.

US blacks weren’t simply copying the trappings of acceptability. This wasn’t an inferiority complex let loose. It was a paradox. These clothes and styles of dress were adopted and adapted with added intent.

It was a wardrobe that demanded respect. No longer could you sneer “boy” at its adult wearer but instead address its snappily clad owner as “man”.

A particular favourite among many great images here is the unforced simplicity of Billy Taylor. Relaxed and cross legged by his piano, it is hipness distilled.

Taylor is pictured in a narrow leg light blue suit and striped tie. He was “all geek god like and cool, looking every bit the jazz intellectual that he was”. His most famous composition “I Wish I Knew” (How It Would Feel to Be Free) could be regarded as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

It was said that jazz maverick Thelonious Monk had a hat for every tune. Undoubtedly, a Monk performance was as unorthodox as his head dress. But few would match this Monk aesthetic called “cool”.

His performance in Bert Stern’s 1959 film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day cemented that legacy.

Jazz musicians Benny Golson, Sonny Rollson and Thelonious Monk in classic Ivy League suits

Jazz musicians Benny Golson, Sonny Rollson and Thelonious Monk in classic Ivy League suits

Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture is pictured on an outdoor makeshift stage. He dons a trench coat and sports jacket with one hand sunk into his pocket. From his body language you just know this dude has serious issues to impart and demands, you listen up!

There was an underlying shabby chic-ness to the apparently uncoordinated dress sense of playwright Leroi Jones.

The awkward combinations of knitwear, tab-collared shirt and bashed-up corduroy pants was more like the unspoken uniform of librarian or geography teacher. His play, Dutchman, was written when mixed marriages were illegal and setting eyes on a white woman could get you lynched in the South.

It opens with a white woman eye-balling a black man on an empty New York subway. In the back and forth sexual tension, she challenges his tilt at assimilation, “Three button suit! What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit? Your grandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard.”

In the movies Sidney Poitier was Black Ivy personified. In lead roles, To Sir with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night Poitier got to represent the new, ­professional black male.

He also showcased the wardrobe that accompanied it—blazers, slacks, shiny sharp pointed shoes. The book is an ambitious attempt to make sense of the shifting way the black American male was seen, and in turn saw themselves. It’s done with ­diligence and craft.

But it would be remiss not to note that Brooks Brothers has questions to answer about its past.

Documents have surfaced that purport to show that the business grew wealthy on the back of black plantation slavery. Critics have noted the company’s attempts to recover payments owed from its Southern “work employers”—a by-word for slave owners.

In 1853, Brooks Brothers was among a group of businesses that published “The Tailor’s Appeal”—a petition over outstanding bills from Southern merchants.


Black Ivy—A Revolt in Style. By Jason Jules and Graham Marsh. Reel Art Press.

KPMG—auditor’s Carillion cover-up is part of ‘endemic’ problem

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Isabel No Comments
A Carillion contractors sign to illustrate story about KPMG

Auditors should reveal the truth behind a company’s finances—KPMG did the opposite (Pic: Elliot Brown/Flickr)

When Carillion, the giant ­construction and facilities management company, crashed into bankruptcy four years ago it sent a shockwave through the British economy.

The firm that was building hospitals and schools for the government under Public-Private Partnership schemes had employed 40,000 people. And it was one of the ­highest valued companies on the London stock exchange.

But following its collapse many jobs were lost and half-finished ­buildings littered the landscape.

Now, shocking details of the way accounting firm KPMG staff deliberately falsified documents to give the ailing Carillion a financial clean bill of health have emerged.

KPMG, one of the biggest financial auditors, was supposed to ensure Carillion’s accounts were accurate and that it kept within financial laws.

Instead its staff forged ­spreadsheets, minutes of meetings and other vital documents to hide their own flawed practices.

Professor of accounting Stewart Smyth says Carillion was a disaster waiting to happen.

“Finance capital was given a free hand by the changing of accounting rules over a 30-year period,” he told Socialist Worker.

“This allowed Carillion to value its assets on the basis of expected future earnings, rather than what they were actually worth at the time.”

Having artificially inflated the value of their assets, Carillion bosses were able to take out ever bigger loans, said Smyth.

“There was an explosion of debt, and that enabled huge ­shareholder dividends,” he explained. “But there was going to be trouble if the expected returns on those assets didn’t materialise.”

That is exactly what happened. Carillion is shown to have made total profits of £669 million between 2012 and 2016—and it then paid out £371 million to shareholders.

But in reality, the firm only generated £166.4 million in cash from its normal operating activities. Smyth points out shareholders got more than twice the amount of cash the firm made.

And he says the “big four” ­accountancy firms, including KPMG, helped them do it. “The audits they conduct are supposed to show when a firm is taking too many risks,” Smyth said. “But in reality, they only tell you that the accountants expect the firm to survive for at least the next 12 months.

“The idea that KPMG’s failings at Carillion are the result of ‘rogue accountants’ is not sustainable. We are not talking about 1 or 2 percent of audits that fail, but more likely ­somewhere between 15 and 30 ­percent are flawed.”

Accountancy professor Prem Sikka recently noted that 39 percent of the audits delivered by KPMG were reported as deficient, and that its competitors recorded similar figures.

“The problem is endemic,” says Smyth. And it is built into the accountancy sector.

“Audits are used as a ‘loss leader’ for the big accountancy firms,” he explains. “They use them to get a foot in the door and then try to sell tax avoidance plans, management ­consultancies, outsourcing and so on.”

That creates a conflict of interest that means audits often miss chances to warn us when corporations are near to collapse. And, says Smyth, in all likelihood there will be more major unheralded bankruptcies in the future.


Reforms aren’t enough to fix the dangerous practices of auditors

As Financial Reporting Council (FRC) hearings into KPMG continue, the accountancy bosses have done their best to distance themselves from former colleagues.

They insist there is “no systemic problem”—despite the firm having been fined £27 million in Britain in the past three years alone.

Instead, they talk of individuals that tried to cover their own mistakes without the firm’s knowledge.

KPMG’s chief executive Jon Holt said it was clear that “misconduct has occurred and that our regulator was misled.”

“It is unacceptable, we do not tolerate or condone it in any way, and I am very sorry that it occurred in our firm,” he added. 

But the FRC has already announced separate investigations into KMPG’s auditing. It would do well to ask how Carillion managed so many “clean” audits—including in the year it went bust. 

The firm collapsed with a staggering £7 billion in liabilities—debts—and just £29 million in cash.

No wonder Carillion’s liquidators are preparing a £250 million negligence claim against KPMG.

“There’s no doubt that some heads will roll,” said Smyth. “But KPMG bosses and the regulator will try to tell us that this solves the problem—saying, ‘nothing more to see here’.

“But the establishment—including some politicians and sections of big business—recognise there is a danger in these practices. There are bills and acts of parliament that attempt to re-impose some regulation of the sector. There is even talk of ‘restructuring’ the big four accountancy firms—PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG.

“But this is all too little, and far too late. There needs to be a national audit service that is completely independent of the profit motive, and which has no connection to the firms it looks into.”

Unsurprisingly, no one in the accountancy industry is prepared to sign up to that.


The real price of the failure of Carillion

Carillion was Britain’s second largest construction firm and the largest supplier of services to the public sector.

The company oversaw hospitals, schools and prisons, and had part of the contract to build HS2.

Under governments from Tony Blair to Theresa May it profited by reaching long term deals set to suck in public money for generations to come.

The name of this money syphoning scheme became infamous—the Private Finance Initiative, better known as PFI. Construction firms were encouraged to bid to build big infrastructure, and then lease it back to the state for between 20 and 30 years.

PFI kept the debt off the government’s balance sheet. But this meant public funds would constantly stream into private hands in the form of mortgage-like payments.

These exaggerated costs were meant to be compensation for the “risk” the big firms were taking with their capital. After Carillion went under, our money was used to help pay its debts. The risk, it seemed, had been transferred back to us.

The bills for finishing the construction of half-built hospitals, including the £335 million Royal Liverpool University and the £350 million Midland Metropolitan, also landed on us.

The final tally on both ran to around £1 billion each.

 

 

Big march shows battle continues against Edmonton incinerator

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Protesters against the Edmonton incinerator with a long yellow banner in Turkish

The protest drew in a wide range of groups (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Over 500 activists rallied and marched through the streets of north London on Sunday to stop the development of a polluting incinerator. 

The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) plans to expand and enlarge the Edmonton incinerator. Currently, seven different north London boroughs send their waste to Edmonton. 

But residents say that the pollution and emissions the incinerator pumps out will harm people and the planetIt is estimated that the project could produce around 700,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Contracts that finalise the plans for the incinerator are due to be signed on Tuesday, but activists say that they’ll keep fighting until the project is stopped.  

Vicky has been involved with the campaign for two years. She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve written to councillors. We went to meetings where the incinerator was discussed. We’ve asked councils questions. But we get nowhere.”

“The bottom ash, which is the byproduct of burning waste, is toxic. We want to know what the NLWA is going to do with it. We don’t want it dumped in rivers. 

“The consultation with residents about the project was completely inadequate,” she added. 

John, who has lived in the Edmonton area for over 30 years said the future of his children and grandchildren motivated him to attend the protest.  “This project is all about money and not about health. Those in charge don’t care about how the air is poisoning us. They don’t even see us working people as humans. 

“All those in the council who agreed and supported this project are criminals,” he said. 

Activists met outside Edmonton Green station and then blocked and marched down the street. Hundreds of people showed their support for the marchers by taking leaflets and cheering. 

Linda from Stop the Edmonton Incinerator Now campaign told Socialist Worker that organising high profile marches and actions have raised the profile of the campaign. 

“When we started we were blocking entrances to the incinerator with just five people, now we can get hundreds out in support. We go out leafleting, and there’s a lot of interest in the campaign. Every shop in the area wanted to put our posters in their window,” she said. 

Linda added that bringing together several different campaigns helped the campaign grow. “Joining with the Enfield Black Lives Matter group and Extinction Rebellion (XR) has really strengthened the campaign,” she added. 

The protest heard speakers from the local Kurdish community, the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel campaign and more. 

The NLWA has tried to present the project as much more green than it is, even calling the site the Edmonton EcoPark. But as activist Malcolm told the crowd that NLWA’s green promises are unachievable. 

“The NLWA say they’ll use carbon capture technology to offset emissions,” he said.

“But really the targets they say they’ll stick to are overly ambitious and near impossible to achieve.” Banners read, “Stop the burn, let us breathe” and “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” 

Several trade unionists brought their banners to the demonstration, including members of  Unite, CWU and the NEU unions. But disgracefully the GMB union is cheering on the incinerator expansion. And most Labour councils back it.

One of the largest banners on the march read “Stop environmental racism”, and activists drew links between environmental struggle, poverty and racism. 

Student Ilsu, who lives in the area, told Socialist Worker that she was only recently made aware of the Edmonton incinerator development.  After attending protests, she says she wants to get more involved in the climate movement. 

“The incinerator is being developed in an area that is 65 percent black, Asian and other ethnic minorities,” she said. 

“The council doesn’t want to listen to us. Those in power think working class people are stupid,” she added. “But protests like this show them we know exactly what they are doing.”  

As many speakers pointed out, an incinerator probably wouldn’t be built in a more affluent area. 

The campaign to stop the Edmonton incinerator is an impressive campaign. Activists are determined not to give up.

Russia and China jump to exploit Kazakhstan’s crisis

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Protesters assemble in Central Square, Aktobe in west Kazakhstan.

Protesters assemble in Central Square, Aktobe in west Kazakhstan (Esetok)

Some Russian troops began pulling out of Kazakhstan last week and others may have left the central Asian country by the end of the month.

Russia sent in its army after Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev needed help to prop up the state amid massive protests against the country’s authoritarian leaders. 

Some 10,000 people have been detained in connection with the unrest. At least 164 people were killed in repression of protests, sparked by a sharp rise in gas prices. 

Tokayev, who issued a shoot to kill order, has repeated his claim that his country had been attacked by terrorists trained overseas who had hijacked peaceful protests.

There is no evidence for this. Tokayev, whose entire government resigned during the protest, mentioned and criticised Nurgultan Nazarbayev, the former president who retains the title “leader of the nation”, for the first time since the start of the protests.

Tokayev admitted that one of the triggers of the protests was the government’s failure to tackle poverty. He said the country’s biggest companies would be forced to make payments into a fund that would help develop health and education. 

He also nominated Alikhan Smailov as prime minister. Smailov was the first deputy prime minister in the previous government. 

So not exactly fundamental change. And the statement is unlikely to be followed with any meaningful action. 

Nazarbayev, has not been seen or heard from this year and rumours are swirling that he could have fled the country or be dead. Kazakhstan is a part of the Russian-Chinese struggle for influence in Central Asia. Both countries are deeply involved in the country and its government. 

Nazarbayev, sought to carve out a level of independence from Russia and tilted a bit to economic cooperation with China. 

Even after stepping aside his family kept control of a large chunk of the country’s fortunes, and he retained power over the security services.

Kazakhstan mines 40 percent of the world’s uranium and supplies one fifth of China’s gas imports. When China shut down Bitcoin mining much of it moved to Kazakhstan. The Nazarbayev family duly profited on all this.

But now Nazarbayev has been relieved of his security responsibilities.

Then there is Karim Masimov, who is the personification of the state of Kazakhstan’s official politics. He was a former KGB officer who learnt Mandarin spying in China. 

He was the head of the Secret Service. He was also a former prime minister. He has been arrested on treason charges.

So Russia has moved to reassert its influence. But it is important to emphasise that this came as a response to the revolt, rather than what caused it.

The demonstrations were an expression of discontent with the politics of Kazakhstan.

The scale of the protests shows an outpouring of real anger inside an authoritarian regime. It’s significant that oil workers struck in large numbers for the first time since a strike was crushed by killing 14 of them in 2011. 

This was no compliant group manipulated from above for a coup.

But it is clear Russia, China and wings of the oligarchy in Kazakhstan have all jumped to exploit the crisis.

China saw Kazakh rulers as too sympathetic to the oppressed Uyghurs across the border in Xinjiang. This may be why they are being patient with Russia throwing its weight about.

The elites look to their powerful neighbours and feather their own nests. The demonstrators on the streets showed the potential for people to look to themselves to change things.

It would be a tragedy if the revolt was left in the hands of competing big powers and repressive and corrupt rulers.

Power on the picket lines—strikes at Chep and Wincanton B&Q

Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
Workers stand on the picket line, some have Unite union flags, story on Chep and Wincanton strikes

On the picket line outside Wincanton B&Q ­(Picture: Socialist Worker)

Two all-out strikes are showing how collective action changes working class peoples’ ideas. These Unite union strikes in Manchester and Worksop have allowed workers to come together as a workforce rather than be divided.

And with attacks coming on working people’s living standards, pay is a central issue. Escalating a strike to all-out action is an important tactic to give workers the best chance of beating the boss. Other strikes should follow this lead.

Workers from Wincanton B&Q ­warehouse in Worksop are on an all-out strike to win a six percent pay rise, and to battle victimisation of their rep Pat McGrath. It’s their first strike in 16 years.

At the end of November, 475 ­workers struck on a bi-weekly cycle of strikes ­followed by an overtime ban.

But the strikers quickly realised that going back in for a week gave the company a chance to build stock and prepare for the upcoming week. 

Workers

“It was not having a massive impact,” rep Pat explained to Socialist Worker. “We made preparations for another ballot, and since 27 December we’ve been on continuous strike.”

Pat said unity between workers has been high. Before the strike, this was not always the case.

“For some of the strikers, English is not always the first spoken language—we have a lot of eastern European workers.

“It’s a diverse workforce, but a lot of solidarity has been shown. There’s a relationship building up with people—they may only have crossed paths on shift changes.

“And the workforce isn’t male dominant. It’s about 40 percent female.”

The effect of being out on strike has brought workers together, who had been divided particularly over issues of race.

“I’ve heard a bit of resentment, that ‘taking all our jobs’ nonsense. There has been some bigotry and ignorance. This kind of thing comes from the right wing press. I’d say in response people only migrate when it’s a ­necessity.

“They’re not paid with gold, instead they’re exploited by landlords and cheap labour over the years.

“But now people are stood together shoulder to shoulder—a relationship has been built. I’m proud of them all—there’s no racial element now.

Dividends

“They see each other as comrades and not the enemy—now the enemy is Wincanton.

“Solidarity between the eastern and western European workers is really, really good.” B&Q is owned by parent company Kingfisher, which also owns other companies such as ­Screwfix. Dividends for shareholders are up 40 ­percent, and profits are up by 60 ­percent.

“When you’re paying dividends to shareholders you can afford to pay workers a decent wage,” Pat argued.

With living costs rising, Pat said the strikers are “hellbent on winning” a wage rise.

“People have had enough, especially of in-work poverty. It shouldn’t be there,” he added. “We have members facing evictions, using foodbanks and having problems with Universal Credit.

“We’ll keep fighting for inflation plus. The company has accused us of moving the goal post. We’re not moving the goal post, inflation is.”

The all-out escalation also means workload has spiralled, putting bosses on the back foot. Agency workers cannot cover the additional work.

“Some 95 percent of the workforce is in the union, so the company is really struggling,” Pat explained.

“They’re getting about 50 loads out a week—that’s not even 20 percent of the normal rate. They thought they might get away with it.”

Cambuslang, Scotland, is the location of the second national B&Q distribution centre.

GXO lorry drivers have voted to strike also over a below inflation pay offer. HGV drivers employed on behalf of B&Q by GXO are also ­considering pay strikes at another nationwide ­distribution centre in Doncaster.

The strike has had a lot of local support, with people bringing hot food and drinks to the picketers and not ­wanting to cross the picket line.

Others have set up stalls at the front of the site to leaflet.

Threatening

Anti-trade union laws place limits on how pickets can run, including how many people can be outside the ­workplace. The legal maximum is six.

“But we’ve had hundreds down there,” Pat said. “And the company has sent all the strikers threatening letters about the size of the picket and saying it’s in breach of their contracts.”

These threats won’t stop the determined strikers. Plans are even being made for a demonstration at the B&Q head office.

Pat added, “We’re out at half four every morning. It’s cold and wet. Pickets are on for 18 hours.

“Between 11 am-12 pm there’s hundreds down there waving flags and they’re proud to be there.

“They’re not hiding and thinking ‘don’t let the ­managers see me’. They know we’ll ­protect them.”


‘We can remember this as a life changing experience’

Workers on the Chep picket lines in Manchester (Socialist Worker)

In Manchester workers at Chep UK, who repair and supply pallets, are striking. 
 
They originally called four days of strikes at the beginning of December and have been all-out since 17 December.
 
Gary Walker is a union rep and striker, as well as a lead picket supervisor. He told Socialist Worker the 24 hours pickets have been “unbelievable”.  “I like to cross over with the other shifts, seeing others I don’t usually see. It’s brilliant.
 
“On the pickets morale is high, we stand on the gate stopping waggons going in. I didn’t expect people tuning up like they have.”
 
Local trade unionists from unions such as Unison, PCS and RMT have been on the pickets with banners to show their support.
 
“On nights we try to keep morale high, it’s cold, dark and quiet,” Gary said. “In the day, standing on the main road, you get traffic going past beeping and visits from different unions.
 
“We have a camaraderie, plus management is in so we give them a good booing.”
 
Before going out on strike, a manager commented that the strikers wouldn’t last a month.
 
“They walked across the car park and we rubbed it in their face, showing we’re not weak and divided like they thought we were. We’re going to stick it out.”
 
Meanwhile, the effect of the all-out strike means the yards are full of pallets that need repairing, and the storage room on the site is running out.
 
On one shift normally covered by 20 workers, only three are left. And forklift truck drivers are also striking. Across all three shifts Gary reckons no more than 15 workers are working in total.
 
The Chep strikers worked throughout the pandemic. Pay talks focused on uncertainty and waiting until the worse had passed.
“But the rewards don’t match the way they sung our praises,” Gary said. “It’s frustrating.
 
“There’s a lack of respect. A letter was sent out last week scaremongering to strike fear and hoping to target weaker individuals—there isn’t any now.
 
Retracted
 
Gary said the strikers “won’t go below five percent” after the initial offers of 1.5 and two percent last year. “Most are talking about seven and eight percent.”
 
Pay talks originally included pay backdated to July when annual pay talks begin—an offer the company has now retracted. 
 
With the momentum behind the strike, Gary is confident of a win. He has also been in contact with a rep from the Chep plant in Pontefract, organised by the GMB union, to bring workers together.
 
“We can remember this as a life changing experience,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision to go on strike—and it’s been difficult getting to this point. The depot was divided as part of the company’s divide and rule.”
 
Gary explained how the company limits the time union reps get with workers. “Chep has been very clever over the years,” he said. “It’s been difficult but it’s worth it.”
 
The shift patterns—two days and one night—also made it hard for workers and reps to organise together.
 
Before Gary became a rep, he explained clashes occurred because reps were stuck in their ways.
 
Clashes
 
Gary wanted to bring a “fresh approach”. “It got to the point we had to make a change—the union was not working well within the depot.
“It was very difficult to get the lads on board. If you told me three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we could do this.”
 
After bringing in new reps and other changes, “The lads saw the reps weren’t going to bend to management. They knew they had people fighting for them.”
 
Having never been out on strike before Gary said he didn’t know what to expect. “I now realise us doing this is important to other unions and workers—it’s important we’re successful so it can spur others to do the same.”
 
Gary hopes this includes other Chep workers who see how well the Trafford Park strike is doing, and “they’ll start believing ‘we can do this as well’.”
 
“In future if other workers around here are on strike we’ll be going down there to see if they need anything, from any advice to funds,” he added.
 
“People are annoyed with the world, the government and Covid. All of a sudden they’re driving down the road and see us cheering. It can have an impact.”
 
As for Chep, Gary says it could give the strikers what they want. But going forward it will be dealing with workers who have gained a lot of experience.
 
“Now they’re realising we will not bend to their will. It is inspiring to see working class people standing up.

“We’re not going anywhere—no chance.”


Breaking down the barriers

Strikes and collective action raise workers’ consciousness. That means divisions such as racism and sexism can be overcome when workers take action. 
 
Striking can be transformative—not just to a workers’ economic situation, but also their ideas.
 
The experience of class unity creates an understanding of who the enemy under capitalism is and where workers’ strength lies.
We need more of the example set by workers in Manchester and Worksop to overcome divisions pushed from the top.
 
Workers fighting over pay, better conditions or fire and rehire should take inspiration from these strikes.
 
They must especially look to replicate how workers have decided to launch all‑out strikes. In many cases, strikes can only win when they escalate. 
 

Strikes that change people’s ideas are great, but strikes that change ideas and win are even better.


How you can back the strikes

To support the strikes, donate to the strike funds and send messages of solidarity to the strikers.
 
Send donations to the Wincanton strike fund to Unite East Midlands. Sort code 60-83-01, Account 20173975. Give the online reference “Wincanton”. Tweet messages of solidarity to @uniteEastMids.
 
Tweet messages of support to the Chep strike to @unite_northwest Donations to Unity Bank NW/1 Strike Fund. Sort code 60-83-01 Account 20217873

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Posted on: January 16th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments