School strikes take on United Learning

Posted on: May 19th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Around 8 people on the picket line at Walthamstow primary

Standing firm on the picket line during the school strike atWalthamstow Primary

Teachers and support staff at an east London primary school are determined to continue action after 14 days of strikes for pay and improved working conditions. The staff at Walthamstow Primary Academy have won a reduced workload and made gains in addressing allegations of a bullying culture from management. But the battle continues over other issues.

Strikers said that management attempted to intimidate staff on a daily basis. At the beginning of the dispute, the workers presented management with 49 issues. 

The NEU union says a permanent teacher had been denied maternity pay. And a temporary staff member—who worked for two years—was laid off without proper notice. Teacher Sarah told Socialist Worker, “The strike is going well and we have made progress but the bullying and workload issues shouldn’t have been happening in the first place.

“We are still on strike for pay and will continue to strike, despite management saying we must be ‘reasonable’ and ‘flexible’. We have given them solutions that could end the action. Pay has become the most important thing. Our pay doesn’t meet the cost of living.

The academy is run by United Learning who agreed to meet regularly with the union, but despite this, they haven’t budged on pay issues. The staff are mostly black and Asian women, and they have reached out to parents to win support. 

Around 650 people signed a petition supporting the workers in their fight. It called for the staff to be paid the correct pay band and teaching and learning responsibility payments for additional responsibilities.

On the picket lines on Wednesday parents and local residents offered umbrellas, many cars beeped their horns in support and students waved to the pickets. Sarah said, “We’re having more conversations with parents. We’ve had loads of support.”

A key strikers’ message to parents has been “our working conditions are your child’s learning conditions”. 

Joint NEU district secretary Paul Phillips told Socialist Worker, “The school has shifted on everything but pay. They have accepted that they had to change over workload and bullying but that change must include pay.” 

Sarah said, “The next step is to continue the action. I don’t know if that means we will be continuously out on picket lines but, we will continue to take action if they won’t budge on pay.” Strikes are planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

United Learning is also facing resistance from teachers and parents at Holland Park School who are striking and protesting over the new governors’ decision to join the academy chain. Around 65 of the 86 teachers at the school in Kensington, west London, walked out on Wednesday. The action forced the school to close to all except GCSE and A-Level students.

Management was handed a financial notice to improve last year and was ordered to restrict salaries. One worker said, “Stress and disruption has been caused to pupils, yes. But it’s because of the unreasonable actions of an out of touch governing body trying to steamroll over students, parents and NEU members.”

 

How capitalism destroys diversity—Eating To Extinction by Dan Saladino review

Posted on: May 19th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
The cover of Eating to Extinction

Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino

I loved this book. Each chapter could be read as a stand-alone article. But taken together, they offer a fascinating insight into how and why we eat as we do—as well as a devastating critique of what has been done to our food. 

“The human diet has undergone more change in the last 150 years than in the previous one million years,” author Dan Saladino asserts at the start of Eating to Extinction. At the heart of this change is a loss of diversity. 

For most of our evolution humans had a very varied diet. But today our food is characterised by a high level of uniformity and a lack of diversity. This ranges from the genetics of the world’s most widely consumed crops—wheat, rice and maize—to the meals they become. 

Of the 6,000 plant species that humans have eaten over time, the world now mostly eats just nine. Three of them—rice, wheat and maize—provide 50 percent of all calories. If we add potato, barley, palm oil, soy and sugar—beet and cane—then that makes 75 percent of all the calories that fuel our species today.

We have lost all kinds of biodiversity in our jungles and rainforests, and in our fields and farms, as well as on our plate. One million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction. 

But diversity matters. Over thousands of years humans nurtured diversity because we needed it. Having a small number of uniform crops means they are much more vulnerable to catastrophes and at greater risk from disease, pests and climate extremes. As Saladino explores, this is not a future problem but is already causing crop failure and threatening some of our key foods today.  And there is a growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity to our own gut health. The richer our gut “microbiomes”—the collection of microbes in our bodes—the better for us. A more diverse diet means a richer microbiome in our gut. 

Through tracing the stories of particular foods Saladino looks at why we have suffered such a loss of diversity. He takes us on a journey exploring how wild foods first became domesticated over thousands of years, and the transition from hunter gatherer societies to a more settled agriculture. He entwines the impact of slavery and colonialism, conquest and war on our food systems, and acknowledges how “in the last half a century trade, technology and corporate power have extended dietary changes right across the world”.  Although he doesn’t name the system as such, he essentially traces the impact of modern capitalism and industrialised agriculture on our diet as they spread across the globe.  

Along the way we learn some fascinating information. For example, the story of Murnong in Australia—a staple food of the indigenous Aboriginal people. Described as being “a radish like root with a crisp bite and taste of sweet coconut”, for thousands of years it grew abundantly. Yet by the 1860s—less than 100 years after the first colonists arrived in 1788—it was nearly extinct and knowledge of the plant lost to generations of Aboriginal people.  The colonists had destroyed this crucial food source by introducing sheep, cattle, horses and rabbits as well as invasive species.

We discover where foods originated. For example, the birthplace of the apple is Kazakhstan. In fact, all domesticated apples originate from one area there called Tian Shan which could be said to be the world’s biggest orchard. As Saladino describes, it is the gene bank for all the world’s apples. And so “the biodiversity there holds the past, present and future of one of our most popular fruits”. Yet the human impact on the forests has been so severe that only part of the forest remains intact. Much of the wild diversity has already been lost, with more at risk. 

Just about every type of food is covered—from vegetables and fruits, to meat and fish, from cheese and sweet dishes to alcohol and stimulants. These tell us not only about how humans domesticated and developed them, but also our ancestors’ endurance and imagination as they interacted with seeds, plants and animals. As a consequence different cuisines and food cultures developed across the world.

For me, perhaps the most important chapters are those that look at the domestication and history of maize, wheat and rice. They are the key food staples today that are at the heart of capitalist industrial agriculture that took off in the post war period.

Saladino is clear that the biggest loss of crop diversity has taken place in the decades since the Second World War. This was when the so-called “Green Revolution” took place. As other writers such as Eric Holt Gimenez have pointed out, it was not called the green revolution because it was environmentally friendly. It wasn’t. It was a counter to the “red revolutions” sweeping poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America at this time. As Gimenez says, “Modern agriculture was capitalism’s bulwark against rebellion”. 

The “revolution” began the process of spreading the highly industrialised model of agriculture from the US across the globe. This meant exporting the use of high yielding hybrid seeds together with chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and big machinery to farmers in the Global South.

As a result thousands of traditional and local varieties of crops—especially wheat, maize and rice—were replaced by a small number of what were seen as super-productive hybrids. This led to a 90 percent reduction of agrobiodiversity, and a dependence on heavy applications of fertiliser and pesticides. All of which have impacted detrimentally on the environment.

But the loss of diversity has had other effects too. A “landrace” is a genetically diverse crop grown in a specific area. Its seeds are kept and sown year after year and passed down through many generations.  

Using the example of wheat, Saladino shows how landrace wheats evolved as genetically diverse. This was for good evolutionary reasons since variation in the crop creates resilience. One ancient type of wheat is called Kavilca. It is what’s called an emmer wheat—one of the first wild grasses domesticated by Neolithic farmers. In a single hectare of Kavilca there could be as many as three million individual plants. Such genetic diversity allowed the landrace to adapt to longer term changes in climate and growing conditions.

Over thousands of years, landraces of wheat, rice, maize and other cultivated grains continually evolved and adapted to their local environment.  As farmers and people travelled, plants and animals went with them. They had to adapt to their new locations, creating enormous variety. It meant as Saladino says, “Storms, soil, climate, altitude were “folded into their genes.”  This is how the world ended up with so many varieties of corn, rice, wheat and other food crops.

The seed vault in Svalbard, Norway, gives a sense of the scale of variety and diversity. It holds 213,000 unique samples of wheat, 170,000 samples of rice, and 39,000 samples of maize. And this is not even all the types that have existed. 

Maize, wheat and rice came in huge amounts of different sizes and colours. But hidden from view is their genetic diversity. This includes the plants’ structure and features. They include the ability to resist disease, survive in cold temperatures, grow in deserts, grow at high altitude, flower under low levels of sunlight or tolerate saline soils.

However, the new science of crop breeding central to the Green Revolution made it possible to select against diversity. This led to monocultures of genetically identical plants. Such uniformity is central to a mass production, industrialised model of farming. But it means the plants do not have the genetic diversity to resist disease, pests or climatic changes. 

For example, in recent years wheat crops have been hit by a type of blight as well as a new disease called wheat blast. This reduced harvests in parts of Brazil and Bolivia by two thirds. It then spread to Bangladesh through a shipment of grain. As a result in 2016 thousands of farmers were ordered to set fire to their fields of unharvested wheat. 

Similarly, there are some 1,500 varieties of banana. But the global trade is dominated by just one— the Cavendish. This is cloned fruit grown in vast monocultures, meaning it is not resistant to disease.  In fact, the precursor to the Cavendish was the Gros Michel, which dominated banana production until the 1950s when it was hit by a deadly fungal disease.  Now history is repeating itself and the Cavendish is under threat by a new fungal disease, TR4.

The solutions to food security pitched by people such Bill Gates are more technology. And genetically modified seeds stacked with traits to deal with floods, warming, drought and other climatic changes. 

In contrast, Saladino argues that the key to solving many of the problems we face is to embrace diversity.  Most diversity can be found at what is called the centre of origin. This is where a particular food was first domesticated. But we face a race against time before seeds are lost forever and a particular type of food goes extinct. Forests are being destroyed and the roll-out of industrialised agriculture continues to subsume areas. And traditional varieties of seed are still being replaced with hybrids and Genetically Modified (GM) seeds. 

Saladino draws on the work of pioneering people over the last one hundred years or so. And he rightly highlights the role of key individuals whose work saving seeds and plants can help provide us with information that would have been lost. 

But ultimately the scale of the problem is too vast for individuals to solve. We need a radical transformation of our agricultural and food systems so that they are no longer subject to the dynamic central to capitalism—accumulation and competition for profit. 

After cops’ partygate whitewash, don’t let Boris Johnson off the hook

Posted on: May 19th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A picture of Boris Johnson in the driver's seat of a train on the Elizabeth line

There could be a light at the end of the tunnel for Boris Johnson thanks to the police (Picture: Number 10 on Flickr)

Pass the bucket of whitewash. The cops have loyally informed Boris Johnson that he will not receive any more fines over parties that broke lockdown regulations.

The statement on Thursday added that the police had issued 126 fines. Some people received two to five fines, but they were not cumulative. So if they paid on time, each fine was £50 maximum. The police handed huge cumulative fines of thousands of pounds to ordinary people who they deemed serial offenders.

There were five parties where Johnson was present and where other people have been fined over their involvement, but the prime minister has escaped without penalty.

They are the 20 May 2020 party famous for the invitation telling people to “Bring your own Bottle”and Johnson’s birthday party on 19 June 2020. There’s Lee Cain’s leaving do on 13 November 2020 and the Number 10 flat party celebrating the end of Dominic Cummings the same day. And then the 17 December 2020 leaving do for Captain Steve Higham and the 14 January 2021 leaving event for private secretaries.

He was at six illegal gatherings but attended five of them legally. His juniors were fined, but not him. This is how the establishment works, excusing and helping out each other in the class interest and blaming the little people for their own crimes.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said, “Eight events investigated by the police have resulted in a fine. Eight occasions in less than a year where those at the very heart of government broke the laws in place to protect us all.

“Conservative MPs promised they would make their mind up about the prime minister when the Sue Gray report is released. Every day they do not act, they allow a man who gaslit us and lied to the faces of the bereaved when he claimed he did “everything possible” to save our loved ones to remain in the highest office in the land.”

Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, has also been told that she is not going to receive any further fines over partygate. She was investigated over allegations that she held a party in the Downing Street flat on the night Cummings’ resigned. If the Met Police has decided not to fine her, it suggests it’s accepted the argument that government advisers who attended were there for a work meeting. The advisors were reportedly her friends. 

If the cops could swallow that, it’s not surprising they accepted the rest of the excuses.Johnson, Carrie Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak were each fined last month for attending a surprise birthday party for the prime minister in June 2020. That’s it.

The full Sue Gray report into the parties is set to be published “as soon as possible”. But Gray still has to finalise the report so that might mean next week. And it’s hard to see that it could sink Johnson after the police covered-up his crimes.

Twelve “detectives” worked on the investigation. They looked at 345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries and witness statements, 510 photographs and CCTV images and 204 questionnaires. It cost nearly £500,000 to discover that, when Johnson was handing round the drinks and enjoying himself, he was actually at work meetings.

Partygate won’t bring down Johnson—although it should have done. It was a symbol of his arrogance and contempt for everyone except his charmed circle. It was a sign of the fatal recklessness of the Covid policies. Johnson must not now be allowed to escape the fury over the lack of action over the cost of living crisis. 

Tens of thousands of nurses leave over Covid and unbearable pressures in the NHS

Posted on: May 18th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Nurses and other NHS workers on the march in 2021 with placards such as "Migrants make our NHS"

Nurses and all NHS workers fought for pay in 2021. This time union leaders must be pressured into a real battle (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Workload and job pressures combined with the way the Tories have treated workers during the pandemic pushed over 27,000 nurses and midwives to leave the nursing register last year.

The figure is up 13 percent from the year before. A survey, conducted by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) found 23 percent of leavers blamed Covid pressures.

The report states that stress and poor mental health are factors in “many people’s decision to stop practising”. Midwives were the most likely to cite this reason, closely followed by mental health nurses.

One nurse who left due to workplace pressures told the NMC, “Pressure at work and the change of working practices didn’t allow me to provide the care I wanted to give. Covid restrictions compounded this. I was becoming stressed, tired and not sleeping well.”

Additionally, 37 percent of leavers reported their experience of working during the pandemic had influenced their decision to quit the register.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen called for “radical action” to “boost the nursing workforce”.

“With an imminent government decision on NHS pay and the pay review body reports due this month, these figures are a reminder of the scale of the challenge,” she said. “In the interests of safe patient care, ministers must act decisively to retain today’s experienced nurses and inspire tomorrow’s.”

In England the NHS has nearly 40,000 vacant nursing positions.

The report shows how the NHS is completely reliant on nurses and midwives trained overseas with international recruitment growing 760 percent since 2017-18.

The Unison union’s head of health Sara Gorton said, “With more than 500 nurses and midwives leaving every week, there’s no room for government complacency. The pandemic has left deep scars on staff, many of whom are no longer willing to put up with the constant pressure or the lack of value put on their incredible work.

“The huge numbers of overseas staff ​joining must also be welcomed and supported properly. Without an urgent retention package, including an above-inflation pay rise, the NHS will be unable to stem the tide of leavers and waiting lists will continue to grow.”

A key issue will be the next NHS pay increase. Last time workers received only a 3 percent rise in England—4 percent in Scotland, 3 percent plus a one-off 1 percent payment in Wales.

All of these were grossly inadequate, and an insult after the supposed government gratitude for NHS workers’ contribution during the pandemic.

This time there has to be a real battle to win an above-inflation rise, plus more staff and better conditions.

Unofficial pay strikes from the Hebrides to Hull

Posted on: May 18th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
An orange coloured oil platform in the North Sea

Bosses are pumping out profits from the North Sea (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Workers in the oil and gas industry are striking unofficially against profit-hungry bosses while their wages stagnate. They downed tools across several North Sea rigs on Tuesday night to get more pay.

Fabric maintenance workers on the TotalEnergies-operated Elgin installation and Safe Caledonia flotel downed tools on Tuesday night. TotalEnergies took profits of £7.25 billion in the first three months of this year.

They were followed on Wednesday by workers on the BP-operated ETAP and Glen Lyon installations, the Harbour Energy-operated Judy platform and others. BP too saw profits of £5billion in the first three months of this year.

Most workers are from Bilfinger UK, though workers for engineering company Wood are also taking action on the ETAP. Action is also said to be taking place on the Taqa operated Tern Alpha. Taqa took profits of £432 million in the first three months of this year.

Workers are demanding an increase to base rates of £7 an hour, following the surge in oil and gas prices and increases in inflation. One worker pointed out that oil profits are “at an all-time high”. He added, “The cost of living has gone up dramatically and the wages, on the other hand, have gone down or stalled dramatically.”

GMB Scotland organiser Dom Pritchard said, “The industrial unrest is not surprising. It’s the inevitable response to employers who have been racing to the bottom for years on pay and conditions.

Meanwhile, at the Ineos refinery in Hull night shift workers walked out on an unofficial strike on Tuesday over wage problems. The workers, who are employed by Altrad, struck for two days last week. 

One of those affected told Socialist Worker, “When will they ever learn? They are pissing us about and when they do that they’re not going to get their job finished on time. The least you expect when you go to work is to be paid the right amount.”

Nato leaders crow as Finland and Sweden ask to join warmongers’ alliance

Posted on: May 18th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A picture of Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaking in front a blue screen to illustrate an article on Finland and Sweden Nato membership

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg (Picture: Nato on Flickr)

In another major expansion of imperialist militarism in Europe, Sweden and Finland formally submitted their applications to join the Nato alliance on Wednesday. Finland shares a 1,300 kilometre border with Russia.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the move was a “historic step”. He is rejoicing at the opportunity to extend Nato’s imperialist power under the guise of defending Ukrainians. 

Until very recently, most people in Sweden opposed Nato membership. And support for it was only 53 percent in Finland in February. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted that, and played into Nato leaders’ hands. 

The greatest obstacle to membership could be Turkey’s opposition. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described Sweden and Finland as “incubators” for terrorist groups—by which he means the Kurdish groups fighting against Turkish oppression.

Erdogan will want some grubby payoff over arms and diplomatic support from the US and Nato before he agrees.

Meanwhile US president Joe Biden is reigniting one of the “forever wars” he pledged to end. It is another sign of the resurgence of imperialist militarism linked to the war in Ukraine. On Monday he signed an order authorising the generals to again send hundreds of special operations forces to Somalia. 

This reversed former president Donald Trump’s move to withdraw nearly all ground troops from the east African country. And Biden is backing it up with assassinations and death squads. He  has approved a Pentagon request for authority to target about a dozen suspected leaders of the Al Shabaab group.

The New York Times comments, “Together, the decisions will revive an open-ended American counterterrorism operation that has amounted to a slow-burn war through three administrations. The move stands in contrast to his decision last year to pull American forces from Afghanistan, saying, ‘It is time to end the forever war’.”

The announcement came a day after the selection of a new president in Somalia following a protracted election process. It was 16 months overdue and restricted to voting by 328 members of parliament. The situation was considered too unstable to carry out a more democratic vote.

Somalia has been a target of the great powers ever since its independence in 1960. It has a strategic position with close access to the oil lanes of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This made it a prize during the Cold War between Russia and the US.

In 1992 the US invaded Somalia, using famine as a pretext. Initially welcomed, the US soon became hated. Massacres and torture by the US-led forces made them deeply resented and eventually resistance forced a humiliating US withdrawal.

Amid the chaos and poverty caused by the US intervention, various Islamist groups emerged offering stability. Although harsh, they won widespread popularity compared to what had gone before. They were pushed out by a Western-backed invasion led by Ethiopian forces.

The present government in Somalia survives only because it is backed by 20,000 African Union (AU) troops and the political support of the US.

The AU troops became widely unpopular because of their heavy-handed and brutal treatment of local people. This is the climate in which Al Shabaab has grown. Its soldiers have repeatedly seized territory from the government. Imperialism is no solution in any part of the world.

Cost of living soars by over 11 percent—fight back against the Tories

Posted on: May 18th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A graphic shows a drawing of a person's head caught in a vice, while and arrow points diagonally upwards, left to right, like the line of a graph indicating inflation

The cost of living crisis is deepening as prices soar

Prices are now rising at an average of 11.1 percent a year according to the most accurate measure of inflation, the RPI index, released on Wednesday. So if your pay, benefits or pension are going up less than that—as they are for nearly everyone—then you are taking a big hit. Even the government’s favourite CPI inflation measure, which excludes some basic costs, hit 9 percent. It’s a 40-year high. 

The latest statistics are not just some ordinary and forgettable set of dry numbers. They are a reflection of class war. Soaring prices, and government inaction mean terrible suffering.

There are cases everywhere such as Godfrey and Jeanette Ward in Wigan. “We’ve had two bad winters, and luckily we’ve got through it, but I don’t think we’ll survive another one,” Godfrey told Sky TV. Their combined weekly pensions cannot stretch to cover the rising cost of bills and the urgent repairs they need in their home.

Their old boiler is broken and beyond repair so they’ve had no hot water or heating for months. Such horrors—and worse—will become commonplace, ignored by the political class and the rich. And for tens of millions of workers the price surge means worries about the rent or the mortgage, increased debts, cutting back everywhere and facing a tough future. 

Already poverty is spreading fast. The number of people opening Universal Credit claims each week has surged by 13 percent in the last three months.

Those at the top just throw up their hands and deny responsibility. On Wednesday chancellor Rishi Sunak tried to blame petrol retailers not passing on his fuel duty cut for the rise.

That’s a pinprick. Grant Fitzner, chief economist at the Office for National Statistics, said, “Around three quarters of the increase in the annual rate this month came from utility bills.” But the government does nothing effective over this.

So what can be done? Chancellor Rishi Sunak  told MPs on Tuesday, “There is no measure any government can take, any law we can pass, that can make those global forces disappear overnight.”

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, who dares to lecture workers about pay restraint while taking £575,000 a year, says he’s unable to stop inflation hitting 10 percent. He added that Britain faced “apocalyptic” global food price rises.

In part, they are admitting that real power under capitalism does not lie in parliaments but in the boardrooms of the giant corporations. But of course there are measures Sunak and Bailey could take. They could cap prices and rents, boost benefits, raise wages immediately in the public sector, increase the minimum wage to at least £15 an hour and tax profits hard. They could renationalise the privatised power companies and hold down the bills. They could withdraw the national insurance rise.

What they really meant was there is nothing that can be done without confronting capitalist priorities. Instead, they assault benefits, pensions and pay. Tuesday’s labour market data showed regular pay—excluding bonuses—rose by 4.2 percent in the year to March 2022. That was far lower than inflation over that period. Real pay—what you can buy with your wages—fell by 1.2 percent. As inflation accelerates into double digits, real pay will fall much faster.

And there are also signs that a recession is coming. Britain is in its worst period of “stagflation”—weak growth alongside high inflation—since the 1970s. As central bankers raise interest rates to curb inflation, they could crash the economy.

Those at the top are protected. Bonuses rose at a red-hot 30 percent on the year. The poorest 10 percent of earners saw their pay rise by 0.9 percent while the richest 1 percent saw a rise of over 11 percent. These facts, and the social emergency behind them, have to be a spur to struggle. 

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The alarm bells are ringing very loudly now. Earnings are being pummelled, the government is, shamefully, turning its back on those in need and employers are squeezing wages. 

“Unite’s answer to the current crisis is that employers who can pay decent wages but won’t will face industrial action. I can tell you that we don’t intend to shift from that. 

“Being in a strong union like Unite is the only way for workers to defend their jobs, pay and conditions and get a decent ‘share of the pie’.”

Good words. But we need to hear that Unite will not support any pay rise less than 11.1 percent a year. Far too often it claims much lower deals as wins. And workers everywhere need pay rises, not just those whose firms say they “can pay”.

Union leaders have to campaign for a real acceleration of action, with national strikes and full support for workers who walk out officially or unofficially. The TUC union federation’s demonstration in London on 18 June has to be built as big as possible. But it must then be a launchpad for a massive acceleration of strikes and other forms of resistance.

Letters — We grannies wrecked a council meeting, and we don’t regret it

Posted on: May 17th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Grannies for the Future

The Dorset “Granarchists” are blocked by security guards from accessing Dorset County Hall. (Extinction Rebellion Wimborne)

Annie and I are grannies. I only became one last year and the joy and love this brings to me is immeasurable. But it’s often tainted as I think about what lies ahead for this precious little girl.

Once you acknowledge the scale of the climate and ecological emergency we are in, and then you get to see how this world is run, there is nothing else to do but take action. 

We are ruled through manipulation and with a lack of care for the majority. So, last month, when Annie and I read that our council in Dorset would be debating climate change and fossil fuels, we knew we had to go along. We were pretty sure the Tory majority would be whipped into voting badly—and they didn’t surprise us.

As expected they were ready to vote for the expansion of fossil fuels on the back of the misleading claim that the Ukraine crisis means we need to. So, we disrupted their terrible motion.

We walked into the back of the council chamber, calmly placed our glued hands onto a large table, and read out our statements. With a roar from the right, heckling and some jostling, the meeting was reconvened into another room.

We left after about an hour, after un-glueing ourselves, and sent off our photos and a press statement to the media. Then we went to the pub to debrief.

Annie and I have been surprised at the press coverage, so we hope we’ve helped highlight the debate around the extreme folly of expanding fossil fuels.

As a Labour councillor, I’ve taken a bit of flack locally for our action.  We wait to see what the police will do and how much we’ll be charged for the table repair—it was leather inlaid, oops!

But we stand by our action to call out all those local councillors complicit with a misleading, greedy and heartless government.

Giovanna Lewis

Grannies for the Future, Dorset


Our union is ready to fight Tories   

As the cost of living crisis worsens, the PCS union national executive has unanimously agreed to move to a statutory ballot over pay and pensions.

This follows a consultative ballot where we achieved a 45 percent turnout with 80 percent voting for industrial action. Through an emergency motion at our annual conference later this month, we are asking members to take on the government over soaring prices and the falling value of pay and pensions.

Given the anti-union legislation, there is still much that we need to do to ensure that when we ballot, we can beat the 50 percent turnout threshold required. But we are confident that campaigning and member-involvement will mean that we can win the vote—and then move to action.

It’s likely that our ballot will be in September, so we have to keep the momentum going. PCS is also pushing to get as many of our members on the TUC demo on the 18 June. It is essential we send the biggest message possible to the Tories and employers that we will not pay for their crisis.

We are united around this even though there are different views in the union around the Ukraine war. We raised the position of “No to Russia’s invasion, no to Nato expansion” at the national executive in March and April but were defeated on this issue. Further debate on the Ukraine war will also be held at our annual conference.

Paul Williams PCS NEC (pc)

Marianne Owens PCS NEC (pc)

Sarah Ensor PCS NEC (pc)


It’s back to school for me    

I went back to my south London school last week for the first time since 1977. I did not go for nostalgic reasons—I hated school—but to show my support for the striking teachers of John Fisher School in their fight against homophobia.

The school in the 1970s was a bastion of reaction. Teachers, many of whom were Catholic priests, pushed anti-abortion propaganda. Sex education consisted of “don’t do it, it’s a mortal sin”.

Today, the teachers told me, things are better, but not nearly good enough. The Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, which runs the school, banned an LGBT+ author from the school and they sacked governors who didn’t agree.

A homophobic group of parents is organising against the workers. But the teachers and support staff have responded in just the right way—by starting six days of strike action. It was fantastic to join the picket line and bring solidarity from my Unison union branch.

Tony Phillips

East London


Abortion rights threatened here too

The attacks on a woman’s right to control over her own body aren’t confined to the US. In Oxford last week an ancient law was used to drag a woman to court and accuse her of “procuring her own abortion” by using abortion pills.

The maximum sentence under the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act can be life imprisonment. This example shows that the law still criminalises women who have abortion without the required consent.

Women on low incomes, migrants, women of colour and women in relationships with domestic violence that can’t reach clinics are worst affected. These laws are putting lives at risk. 

The right says that they are “protecting women and unborn children.” But those same people vote to cut benefits and refuse to raise the minimum wage so that a family can actually afford to live. 

The Crown Court case in Oxford should serve as a wake-up call for us. Our right to control our bodies is under attack.

The plea hearing is on 15 July. Everyone that agrees with a woman’s right to choose should join the protest at the court.

Kate

Oxford


Will fascism revert?

In its article on contemporary fascism Socialist Worker argues that although the exterior of the far right has changed, its fundamentals remain intact (Socialist Worker, 11 May). That means the need for a street militia and so on. I’m not sure that’s true.

Haven’t the leaders of the “Euro-fascist” parties decided that most of what they want can be achieved within a “democratic” system by using right wing populism? Why would Marine Le Pen need street thugs when she has riot police?

James

By email


What did you do in the war?

It’s so easy to be dismissive of the Labour governments of the 1990s and 2000s isn’t it? (Socialist Worker, 11 May).

While we in Labour were lifting millions of children out of poverty, what were you posers on the “revolutionary left” doing? Criticising from the sidelines, of course.

Anthony Jones 

Manchester 


Election windfall

So the tax-evading chancellor Rishi Sunak has decided we could have a windfall tax on energy companies after all. 

Just a week ago the Tories were telling us that such a move would prevent vital investment in new technologies, and opening more oil fields.

I wonder what could have changed his mind? Anything to do with losing 500 seats in the local elections?

Jane

On Facebook 


Right want to ditch Starmer 

Aren’t the Labour right secretly happy that the party did badly in the elections?

Sir Keir has clearly outlived his usefulness and now it’s time to insert someone that represents Blairism in its purest form—Wes Streeting.

Dave

Essex