Judith Butler’s new book explains how the right spreads lies about gender

Posted on: April 22nd, 2024 by Thomas Foster
Judith Butler new book titled Who's Afraid of Gender?

Judith Butler’s new book

The right is trying to paint “gender” and “gender ideology” as a threat to humanity. In their new book Who’s Afraid of Gender? Judith Butler exposes the bigotry and the contradictions within such claims. The right uses gender to attack transgender and non-binary people, as well as abortion rights, women’s rights more broadly, and LGBT+ rights.

Butler explores the relationship between biological sex and gender and dispels the myths that claim these are either the same thing or have no relationship at all. They conclude that gender is not the social face of biological sex, but “a site where biological and social realities interact with one another”. They argue that both biology and gender have changed throughout history and are not fixed.

“Gender is minimally the rubric under which we consider changes in the way that men, women and other such categories have been understood,” they say. “Despite sex assignment at birth, we continue to be gendered by society.” Sex assignment “relays a set of desires, if not fantasies, about how one is to live one’s body in the world.

“No one arrives in the world separate from the set of norms lying in wait for them,” they add.

Butler says that oppressive systems don’t exist through biology, instead “oppressive systems contort biological matters to achieve their own unjust ends”.

They refer to gender as becoming a ghostly presence—“a phantasm with destructive powers, one way of collecting and escalating multitudes of modern panics”. This “phantasm” can be seen when Russia calls gender ideology a “threat to national security”. And when the Vatican, which Butler accuses of sparking this discourse on gender, poses it as a threat to “both civilization and to ‘man’ itself”.

Pope Francis compared gender theory to a nuclear arms race and said that gender advocates seek to steal the powers of God. Butler roots the attacks here. For Evangelicals and Catholics, gender seeks to “destroy the traditional family”. It is also a “code for paedophilia or a form of indoctrination” teaching children to become gay.

The fears of ordinary people—climate change, war, cost of living crisis, violence and racism—clash with the right’s fears about the state, family Christianity, racism and nationalism. Butler says the right takes the fears of ordinary people and attributes them to “gender” and even “critical race theory”. The right uses gender to collect and incite our fears. This stops “us from thinking more clearly about what there is to fear and how the currently imperilled sense of the world came about in the first place”.

Butler says this is a way for states, churches and political movements “to externalise their fear and hatred onto vulnerable communities”. That’s why in the United States attacks on gender are dealt out by scrapping homosexual and abortion rights. The same forces also displace Indigenous people and strip black people of their rights.

And gender, the family and the “national population” are linked by the likes of Viktor Orban in Hungary to the threat of migrants. Butler explains that gender was once a “relatively ordinary” term that among academics could mean different things, from women’s inequality, homosexuality and biological sex. 

Now, Butler writes, “The ‘anti–gender ideology movement’ treats gender as a monolith, frightening in its power and reach”, considering so-called gender ideology as “a matter of extraordinary alarm”. Gender has been painted as an attack on science, religion, a danger to civilisation, denies nature, attacks masculinity and erases the differences between sexes. While Butler writes that there is “no one historical or global direction of influence” they name US Evangelicals, the Vatican, Russian Orthodox, Christianity, right wing Islamic policies and Hindu  nationalism as key players.

Butler analyses the contradictions of the right. “The contradictory nature of anti-gender ideology stokes fear but with no logical cohesion,” they said. The right claims that educating children about gender amounts to child abuse. Butler says the church “conveniently forgets the long-standing and hideous history of the sexual abuse of young people by priests who are subsequently exonerated and protected”. Anti-choice academics like Jorge Scala says gender is both a form of personal liberty and indoctrination. Gender therefore teaches children that they are free, but also takes their freedom away. 

Butler adds that the right has “a precise gender order in mind that they want to impose upon the world”. This is a rigid view of men and women supposedly fixed in their roles and genders that are unchanging. Butler also accuses the “fearsome phantasm of ‘gender’” of being “authoritarian at its core” —“fuelling fascist tendencies”. 

They attribute rights-stripping to fascism—a loose definition they don’t expand on, but is implied to include the right, far right and fascists themselves. Butler examines the rise of the “phantasm” in countries like Spain, Italy, Russia, Colombia and the United States. Global organisations such as CitzenGo that mobilise against LGBT+ rights are “rooted in religious ideology”, and since 2015 use “gender” to represent everything they oppose.

In the US in 2020 79 state bills targeted trans people. In the first six months of 2023 this passed 400—and the word gender was found in almost all. Florida banned gender-affirming heathcare for minors in February 2023. This led to more bills restricting pronouns, asserting “sex is an immutable biological trait” and banning “homosexuality” in schools.

The book makes clear that the overturning of Roe v Wade—the US supreme court ruling that decided the right to an abortion is protected—galvanised the right, which came hand in hand with the “Don’t Say Gay” bills. For instance, in Alabama laws are set to criminalise gender-affirming care for trans children—because biology comes from conception.

Butler also slams the gender-critical movement in Britain. They dispel the transphobic myths perpetuated by the likes of JK Rowling and Kathleen Stock that trans women are not women, and are a threat to cisgender women.

“Rowling identifying trans women with rapists, and refusing to check the speed and layering of her fantasy, namely, that trans women are really men (beware!) and that men are rapists or potential rapists (all of them, really?), by virtue of their organs (understood how?),” Butler writes.

They add that Stock and Rowling “believe they possess the only language that yields reality and anyone who disagrees is deluded”—meaning they “concur with right wing discourse on trans life”. Rowling, Butler says, also forgets that sex is not an unchanging reality and can be changed through various technological means.

“In her view, whatever subjective feeling leads trans women to believe they are women is not to be taken seriously. At the same time, Rowling surely asks that her subjectivity be taken very seriously,” Butler writes. 

“Rowling finds herself riddled with contradictions.” And Butler makes clear that any feminists who undermine gender “attack the alliances of which feminism is an integral part”.

 This weakens broader campaigns against gender oppression, the exploitation of women’s work, and sexual justice. These gender-critical feminists, Butler says, “claim proprietary rights to gender categories, especially the category of women”. Yet “gender categories change through time,” they write.

“Feminism has always relied on the historically changing character of gender categories in order to demand changes in the way that women and men defined and treated,” Butler adds. Women have revolted against the idea they are less than men or can’t do certain jobs. They have fought against the way some on the right want simultaneously to contain them to the home—and herd them into low-paid work.

This premise “has allowed women to pursue possibilities that were traditionally denied to their sex,” says Butler. Butler dispels the myths and contractions around gender that the right creates. But as their analysis is removed from materialism, the origins of where these attacks on gender are rooted are not investigated.

Without exploring why this attack has suddenly emerged, or linking it to an understanding of the emergence of class society and the rise of capitalism, there is no analysis of how these oppressive systems develop. There is only a nod to the reproductive capacities of women these systems are reliant on.

Instead, the blame is given to the Church and vague social structures. As Butler’s analysis is focused on ideology, their conclusion is too. They rightly say that unity is needed to challenge the right and to bring together women, trans people, black people and all those who are attacked by the right. But there isn’t much of a conclusion on how to do this, other than to change the ideas and narratives that exist in society.

Racist Reform UK to snatch Tory votes in local elections

Posted on: April 22nd, 2024 by Isabel
Reform UK bigots campaigning in London for mayoral election

Reform UK bigots campaigning in London for mayoral election (Picture: Twitter/ Howard Cox)

Amid a deepening crisis in the Tory Party, the far right Reform UK is looking to grab votes in the English local council elections next Thursday. Its electoral success would provide a dangerous boost for racists across Britain.

Even if it doesn’t win many councillors, votes for Reform UK will encourage the Tories to be even more brutal to refugees. And Labour will respond with more championing of the Union Jack. Reform UK is currently polling at 13 percent in some national polls. Aside from two by-elections in February and two at the end of 2021, it has underperformed its polling average in the other 14 by-elections since November 2020.

And the party has never had more than a handful of councillors—two in 2021, five in 2022 and increasing throughout last year to its current ten councillors. None of its ten councillors were originally elected on a Reform UK ticket—all defected from the Tory Party.

For the upcoming local elections Reform UK isn’t running a national campaign—only fielding 323 candidates out of a total 2,655 seats that are up for grabs. That means running in only 12.2 percent of seats. The Greens are fielding 1,646 candidates and Lib Dems are fielding 1,802.

The places where Reform UK is contesting all or most seats include the councils of Bolton, Greater Manchester, Hartlepool, County Durham, Plymouth, Devon, Sunderland, Barnsley, Lincoln, Southampton, Sandwell and West Midlands. In a lot of these councils Ukip previously held seats. In 2015 Ukip elected a high of 202 councillors.

Polling analysis shows most Reform UK support is coming from disillusioned Tory voters. In a poll of people who voted Tory in the 2019 general election, 24 percent now intend to vote for Reform UK. And when Reform UK voters were asked who they’d side with if it wasn’t on the ballot, 31 percent said Tories, 27 percent said they wouldn’t vote and only 3 percent said Labour.

Reform UK takes many of the Tories’ racist policies and ramps them up even further. It is a party that has vile bigots in its ranks, some that even the Tory party suspended for being too racist. Richard Tice, party leader, said that Britain is facing “cultural pillage” as migration is “making us poorer culturally”. 

Tice has also spoken on the need for “one single British culture” and defended what he describes as the “British way of life”.  Anti-racists should be wary of Reform UK’s rise.

Rotten racists defected to far right

Reform UK currently has ten councillors and one MP. But none of them was originally elected under its banner. All defected from the Tory party, with some joining Reform UK after being hit by scandal.

When the Tory party kicked Lee Anderson out for his racist Islamophobic remarks, Reform UK welcomed him with open arms. Philip Rose, a Derbyshire councillor, left the Tories after they suspended him for sharing antisemitic posts. The posts spread racist conspiracy theories about “Zionist controllers” and “Jewish supremacism”.

Alexander Stevenson, another Derbyshire councillor, went to Reform UK after the Tories suspended him. He defended Andrew Bridgen—ex-Tory MP—who described Covid vaccination as the “biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”.

Robert Bromley, a Runnymede councillor, defected from the Tories because he thought they weren’t tough enough on migrants. Reform UK claims to stand for ordinary people but is a focus to attract racists and bigots.

US students spread campus occupations for Palestine

Posted on: April 22nd, 2024 by Isabel
At a protest at Columbia University in February

At a protest at Columbia University in February. Students wrote, ‘Rafah’ in red to symbolise blood on the university’s hands (Picture: Twitter/ ColumbiaSJP)

Students and workers at Columbia University and Barnard College in the United States defied harsh repression and continued their pro-Palestine protests last weekend. These are some of the most high-profile campus actions for decades.

Protesters kept up their 50-tent occupation camp of lawns at the prestigious New York institution despite university bosses calling in cops who arrested 108 people.  Police held students in zip ties for up to seven hours. College authorities evicted some of those arrested from student accommodation, cancelled their IDs and barred them from classes.

Student protester Maryam Iqbal said, “I have been suspended and evicted from housing by Barnard. This has only strengthened my commitment to the movement for Palestinian liberation and I promise to continue fighting for divestment.

“To be suspended for Palestine is an honour. To be arrested for Palestine is an honour. When I see that Palestinians in Gaza are telling us to keep protesting, nothing else matters.” The Columbia Spectator, a student newspaper, reported that the cops’ action marked the first mass arrests on campus since Vietnam War protests in the 1960s.

Their resistance has become a major focus and has inspired other students to mount their own actions. A “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” began at the New School, just a few miles from Columbia. On Friday last week hundreds of students at Yale University in Connecticut began a protest and students in Ohio and North Carolina started their own occupation camps.

Further actions were planned this week at New York University. The Columbia protest now has three demands. The first is for the university to end all investments in companies that profit from Israeli apartheid.

The second is openness about Columbia’s financial investments. And the third is amnesty for all students and workers “disciplined or fired in the movement for Palestinian liberation”. Occupiers chant, “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop we will not rest!” Early on Monday morning the protesters issued a statement about their call for “divestment from genocide”.

They said, “We have knowingly put ourselves in danger because we can no longer be complicit in Columbia funnelling our tuition dollars and grant funding into companies that profit from death. We’ve been horrified each day, watching children crying over the bodies of their slain parents, families without food to eat, and doctors operating without anaesthesia. 

“Our university is complicit in this violence and this is why we protest. We will remain until moved by force or Columbia concedes to our demands.” President Joe Biden’s officials condemned what they baselessly called “blatantly antisemitic” statements during the protests.

Several of the protesters are Jewish, including Iris Hsiang who said it was the college that had made her feel unsafe. Pro-Palestinian protesters recently blocked major roads across the US, restricting access to airports including Chicago’s O’Hare International and Seattle-Tacoma International. They also blocked the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

Build the workplace action

The organisers of the marches for Palestine in Britain have called for workplace and student action on international workers’ day—Wednesday 1 May. The Stop the War Coalition said, “Every collective act, big or small, sends a message to those suffering in Gaza that we are with them and puts pressure on our government to stop arming Israel.”

Slogans for the day include “defend the right to protest” and “defend the right to strike”. In the lead-up to 1 May, workers can organise a meeting to discuss what action is possible, take a collection for groups such as Medical Aid for Palestine and give out leaflets.

Organising a workplace delegation to this Saturday’s national demonstration is also a good basis for action. On 1 May action can range from gathering outside a workplace for a stoppage to standing during a break with pro-Palestine banners.

Israel’s attack fails to deliver  

The Israeli government launched only limited attacks on Iran last week, but that may be because the US has offered support for even more murderous action in Gaza.

The most recent exchanges between Israel and Iran began on 1 April with Israeli blasts at the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria. Iran responded on 13 April with drones and missiles against Israel. Fearful of triggering even greater resistance across the Middle East and starting a war it couldn’t win, the US urged caution on the Israelis.

Last week’s Israeli strikes targeted Iran’s Isfahan region in Iran, near a nuclear research base, without causing “any damage” according to the Iranian government.

Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu will be pleased if the provocations bind the West even closer to Israel and deflect from the genocide in Gaza. But the limited extent of last week’s action caused splits in his own side. The far right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted that the response was “dardaleh”—slang for weak, disappointing or poor.

West blocks Palestine at UN 

The US last week vetoed a United Nations security council resolution to grant full member status to a state of Palestine. The Palestinian Authority has had observer status at the UN since 2012 but cannot vote in proceedings. The US was the only country voting against. Britain and Switzerland abstained.

The Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour said, “The people of Palestine will not disappear, they are a history that cannot be erased no matter the great power, no matter the tyranny.” Israel’s envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan thanked the US and accused countries who had backed the resolution of deciding to “reward Palestinian terror with a Palestinian state”.

The US vote underlines that its two-state plans are a camouflage to deny Palestinian freedom.

Portugal ’74—When workers and soldiers fought for real power

Posted on: April 21st, 2024 by Sophie
Portugal revolution

Workers joinrebel soldiers for the 100,000 strong May Day demonstration

It’s 50 years since a revolution swept Portugal, catapulting around three million people—a third of the entire population—into political activity, most for the first time. 

Workers took over their factories. People transformed mansions into ­creches and cultural centres.
It showed revolution was possible in Europe and overthrew the fascist regime begun by António de Oliveira Salaza in 1932 and carried on under Marcelo Caetano after 1968.

This regime, known as Estado Novo (New Stare), opened up Portugal to ­foreign investors eager to take ­advantage of cheap, well-policed labour.

But Portugal’s economy remained backward and its economic output per head was low compared with other European countries.

Discontent amongst the Portuguese people had steadily grown in opposition to those in charge, seeping even into the ranks of the army.

The Portuguese army was largely a conscript army, where the rulers sent young men to kill and to die in the colonies that were still part of a decaying empire.

The risings in Angola, central Africa, in 1961 temporarily destroyed Portuguese control in much of this colonial outpost. But instead of pulling out, Portugal’s rulers plunged into a doomed effort to regain full domination.

Anti-colonial forces also fought back in Mozambique, south Africa, in 1964 and in Guinea Bissau in west Africa. Realising they were being sent to be slaughtered, disgruntled officers began to plan for resistance to the fascist regime.

A group of 400 officers, the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), overthrew the prime minister Caetano on 25 April 1974.

They removed 100 generals and general Antonio de Spinola became president despite playing no part in the coup.

The divisions and the tumult at the top opened the way for much more profound resistance that could offer real social change. Workers supported the armed forces’ actions but then went further.

Workers occupied factories and joined enormous demonstrations. Some 260 families from a shantytown in the capital, Lisbon, moved into an empty apartment block near the city. The military ordered them out but was forced to back down when the families refused.

The “Carnation revolution” ­underlined that the global ­revolutionary wave of 1968 was not finished and the methods of class struggle based on workers’ power were not outdated.

The Portuguese events rekindles the hope that workers could transform the economy but also change themselves and challenge oppression in the course of the revolt.

During the month of May 1974, in a country of nine million, over 200,000 workers were on strike across key industries including shipbuilding, textiles, electronics, hotels, catering and banking.

The ruling class went from celebrating “freedom” from fascism to warning of the need to protect “democracy”. By this they meant saving capitalism.

In September 1974, Spinola called on the “silent majority” to join a rally opposing the left.

It was set for 28 September—but workers organised a counter rally and it never took place.

Instead, at least 40,000 people ­protested in the centre of Lisbon, and soldiers defied orders to remove the barricades, joining them instead.

The revolution set up workers’ and neighbourhood councils nearly everywhere. The ruling class found it impossible to contain the revolt for many months.

But crucially the main left forces—the social democrats and the Communists who were emerging from their underground organisation—held back the attempts to deepen the revolution further.

Revolutionary socialist Chris Harman said the left had been disarmed “because the workers looked to the armed forces to act for them, and inside the armed forces the rank and file looked to the progressive officers for a lead”.

There was no going back to Caetano’s regime. The colonies gained their independence and the ruling class put its hopes in a parliamentary democracy that could develop the economy and integrate more into Europe.

But long after Portugal’s bosses were able to retake control, the memory of 1974-5 continues to haunt them and inspire workers.

Interview with Raquel Varela— ‘History of the revolution told from below matters’

What does your book tell us about the mass participation in the revolution?

I estimate that three million people were involved in the protests, strikes, and workplace occupations. At the time, around 600 workplaces were self‑organised or were workers’ cooperatives.

In the big factories, the workers’ councils did not want to take ownership, but they did control how they functioned.
There was also land reform with cooperatives and workers management in hospitals, schools and across the public sector.

In schools teachers directly elected their representatives and they debated a new curriculum. Agreement was made that all children up to 16 years old should have the same quality of studies with a unitary education.

How did workers take over the media during the revolution?

Portugal had one of the greatest anarcho-syndicalist movements in the history of Western countries. Those in these movements were some of the most militant fighters, but often, their politics isolated them.

From the turn of the 19th century to the 20th century, there were more than 300 workers’ newspapers. And one of them, called The Battle, had 25,000 copies printed each day.

Workers’ councils during the revolution meant that newspapers were run amazingly democratically. I have studied this for a book I’m collaborating on, The People’s History of Portugal, which has not yet been translated.

There was a moment when committed journalism was born during the revolution.

There were massive strikes among journalists and newspapers between 1974 and 1975. But today, that journalism is totally destroyed. There are no workers’ journals today, creating a massive crisis in that worker voices and debate is simply not heard in society.

How did the revolution relate to the revolts for liberation in the colonies?

The two struggles are absolutely connected. The anti-colonial revolutions started among the forced labour workers. Revolts prompted what the Portuguese state calls the Portuguese Colonial War in 1961.

The Portuguese state calls them colonial wars, but for us, they were anti-colonial revolutions. A cotton worker strike in Angola led the Portuguese army to take revenge.

The Portuguese army used Napalm to kill Angolan people. After this the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola started the armed struggle. The same happened in Guinea Bissau and Mozambique.

Portuguese dock workers were fundamentally supportive of the liberation movements. The liberation movements and the army were at a stalemate when the generals in the army organised the progressive coup.

They sought a political end to the fighting in the colonies that saw thousands of Portuguese men die in defence of a dying empire.

How did a military coup lead to workers’ involvement on such a mass scale? When they organised the coup, middle-ranking army officers got messages out asking people to stay at home and wait.

They repeated ten times that they could arrest people if they were out and about. Despite these warnings, people began to go out to work.

Because there were no unions and no political parties, there was no mediation between the state and the workers. The workers very spontaneously self-organised in thousands of workers councils and neighbourhood councils.

Immediately, these councils did away with the leaderships of the municipalities and the fascist unions, and the companies that were attached to the regime.

They began to self-organise society.

In my book I argue that we shouldn’t view the military coup and workers’ self-organisation as two separate moments but one continual revolution that starts in 1961 and goes until 1975. It’s all one single revolutionary process.

We have to look much further than mainstream understandings to assess the history of such a revolution. This is why a people’s history is so important because its history is told from below. 

A Marxist approach to history must consider the work of the working class. It’s about studying the process, not just the results.

After 1975, how did those in charge succeeded in their counter revolution?

Out of necessity the social democratic rulers that ushered in the counter revolution had to give many concessions to the workers.

The first thing the counter revolutionary forces destroyed were the soviets in the barracks, dismantling dual power in the army on 25 November 1975. Then, in 1978 and 1979, they removed the workers’ councils. Later, in 1982, the land reforms was destroyed.

Lastly, in 1989, they began to privatise banks on a large scale that had previously been under workers’ control.

All of this was only possible because the ruling class had worked hard to destroy the shipyard workers’ organisation in a similar way to how Margaret Thatcher destroyed the miners in Britain.

They had been the vanguard of the revolution. It was a slow process to bring the working class to accept a neoliberal capitalist system made up of companies, the state and the union.

They had to destroy the more combative trade left wing trade unions, which were ran by the rank and file and largely those who were influenced by the ideas of Maoism.

  • ‘Everything was possible’, 50 years since the Portuguese Revolution, Saturday 27 April, 6pm, London Welsh Centre, 157 Grays Inn Road, London, WC1X 8UE Speakers—Raquel Varela, Bob Light and Hector Sierra
  • People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution, By Raquel Varela, £19.99,
  • Portugal at a Crossroads by Tony Cliff (Written in 1975) tinyurl.com/Portugal75cliff
  • Portugal 1974-5 by Bob Light tinyurl.com/Portugalboblight75

Scottish independence supporters take to the streets amid SNP troubles

Posted on: April 21st, 2024 by TTE
a crowd shot of the Scottish independence march

On the Scottish independence march in Glasgow

Thousands of people marched through Glasgow on Saturday in the first street mobilisation for Scottish independence this year. It was called by the Believe in Scotland group in partnership with Pensioners for independence.

The demonstration was one of the best and liveliest marches for independence for many years. It had a sizeable Palestine solidarity bloc, and was much younger and more diverse than most indy events. 

But there are problems. Believe in Scotland claims to be a grassroots campaign for independence, but it is managed by Business for Scotland Ltd. 

It puts forward a pro-business case for independence and seeks to link independence with rejoining the European Union. This was the main theme of the first demonstration organised by Believe in Scotland, in Edinburgh last year. 

For the demonstration in Glasgow, the organisers have tacked left. The main theme was ending pensioners’ poverty and several campaigners from the socialist left were invited to speak. 

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership has chosen to promote Believe in Scotland over the All Under One Banner marches. These had mobilised hundreds of thousands of indy supporters independently of the SNP. 

This is because the SNP agrees with Believe in Scotland’s business-friendly message and it wants a safe outfit to show it is still serious about campaigning for independence.

Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf was among those who spoke and led the demonstration in Glasgow. He said, “Independence won’t be won by politicians, it will be won by the people.” But that was a pretext to justify his party’s lack of action to defy the Tories and the British state. 

The demonstration took place within days of Peter Murrell being arrested for a second time in connection with charges of embezzlement of party funds. The scandal over Murrell, the former SNP treasurer and former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, plunged the party in crisis last year.

It also took place days after the Scottish government sparked anger after ditching their commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030. Some in the Scottish Greens, the junior partners in government, have rightly exploded with anger, prompting a special conference to discuss the future of the coalition. 

But the Greens’ leaders, who went along with the retreat, will argue the party must remain part of the government. Speaking at the rally on Saturday, Green MSP Ross Greer echoed this by seeking to blame the Tories for the move. He defended a new target of net zero by 2045 and a set of inadequate measures as an example of “the change this coalition can bring for you”. 

The loudest cheers went to those speakers that mentioned Palestine, called for a ceasefire and for a ban on arms sales to Israel. 

The RMT union’s Gordon Martin said that to enthuse a new movement for independence, the Scottish government must “stop tinkering with policies that suit the middle classes alone”. 

Thousands of working class people came out to support independence and express their solidarity with Palestine. 

The demonstration underlines the potential for bigger mobilisations around the question of independence. But it also underlines the need for a movement that is not subordinated to the SNP and the capitalist interests that it seeks to represent. 

And the mass revolt for Palestine has shown that we don’t need to wait for independence to fight for social change—we can do it now.

Why you shouldn’t buy the Tory lies about benefit claimants

Posted on: April 21st, 2024 by TTE
Sunak behind a podium illustrating an article about benefits

Rishi Sunak has launched another assault on benefit claimants (Picture: Downing Street/Flickr)

Facing extinction at the general election, Rishi Sunak has launched a bitter attack against people on benefits, disabled people and those too ill to work.

He claimed benefits have become a “lifestyle choice”—as if millions voluntarily accept a bare existence in poverty conditions.

Sunak may never be in a position to implement his “welfare reform” plans because he won’t be in office much longer. But his speeches drive up suspicion and hatred of those who are deemed the “undeserving poor”.

And Labour often either echoes or directly follows some of the worst Tory assaults.

Sunak knew exactly what would follow his announcement. The Daily Express newspaper, for example, headlined its report, “Rishi Sunak unveils new five-point plan to crack down on UK’s benefits scroungers.”

The Sun’s follow-up story was, “BENEFITS BUSTS New benefits fraud squads will arrest and fine even more welfare cheats, Rishi reveals in crackdown plan.”

Sunak denounced “a generation of young people who sit alone in the dark before a flickering screen watching as their dreams slip further from reach every single day”.

This is a government that hands out billions to its mates in contracts and cuts tax for the rich and big business.

And then it tries to blame the poorest for the lack of funds for the NHS and schools. 

The Tories, wallowing in sleaze and corruption, want more sanctions and more misery for working class people.

The one hope is that Sunak said “to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud”.

If the way the wealthy are treated is any guide, that means it won’t be investigated at all.

What are the facts about benefits?

The total amount of unclaimed benefits in Britain is now £23 billion a year,

Overall, 8.4 million people could be missing out on an average of £2,700 per year in rights-based benefits, the research by Policy in Practice found.

The social policy and analytics firm said money was going unclaimed because of a lack of awareness about available support, the complexity claimants face in navigating the system, and the stigma surrounding benefits.

Universal Credit remains the biggest unclaimed benefit (£8.3billion) followed by Carer’s Allowance (£2.3billion), Pension Credit (£2.2billion) and Child Benefit (£1.7billion). 

In terms of locally administered benefits that are going unclaimed, council tax support (£3.4billion) remains top of the list followed by Housing Benefit for pensioners (£1.3billion), free school meals (£231million) and the Healthy Start scheme (£132million).

Benefit fraud, including errors, is officially estimated at £8 billion a year.

Tories’ brutal plans

The five specifics Sunak outlined were:

1. Toughening up the work capability assessment (WCA), a government test that lays down what conditions people must meet to receive benefits. The government has already said it will make it harder to pass the WCA, but Sunak pledged he wanted “hundreds of thousands of benefit recipients with less severe conditions will now be expected to engage in the world of work.”

Increasing numbers of sick people are due largely to soaring NHS waiting lists, with 7.54 million people waiting for routine treatments.

2. A crackdown on fit notes. The Conservatives have tried to replace the sick note—which says you are too ill to work—with the fit note, which says what work you can still do with support. This has not met their bullying aim.

Around 94 percent of fit notes still sign people off work completely. So the Tories hope to stop GPs issuing fit notes altogether and give the job to people who may not even be medically qualified.

It’s easy to see that their remit will be to tell people they can work, and to remove their benefits if they can’t.

A “consultation” on the fit note process will run until 8 July—just in time to produce a nasty policy for the general election. Sunak is tackling a non-problem.

Sickness absence rates, while currently up on pre-pandemic levels at 2.6 percent, remain well below the rates seen in the 1990s (such as 3.1 percent in 1995).

And although a lot of his diatribe focused on mental ill-health, which is a growing issue for long-term sickness and those out of work entirely, the Resolution Foundation says “it is a declining reason for short-term sickness absence from work (down from 11 to 8 percent between 2019 and 2022)”.

3. Claimants forced from their present benefits and pushed quicker on to Universal Credit (UC)—and work requirements increased

All “migration notices” from benefits such as tax credits will now be sent by the end of December 2025. This often sees people miss out.

Analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) of tax credit migration cases between November 2022 and March 2023 indicates that 28 percent did not claim UC at all and had their legacy benefit payments terminated. 

The rules around UC and work should also be tightened according to Sunak. Instead of nine hours, “Anyone working less than half a full-time week will now have to try and find extra work in return for claiming benefits.” 

In addition, “Anyone who doesn’t comply with the conditions set by their Work Coach such as accepting an available job will, after 12 months, have their claim closed and their benefits removed entirely.”

That’s a way to herd people into low paid jobs, and to lower wages more generally.

4. Personal Independence Payment (Pip) will no longer always be a cash benefit and fewer people will be eligible.

Pip is a benefit for people who are under pension age and need help with daily activities or getting around because of a long-term illness or disability.

The Tories want to target claimants with mental health conditions in particular.

Sunak says that instead of receiving money people can “lead happier, healthier and more independent lives through access to treatment like talking therapies or respite care”.

The government wants to see more medical evidence required to substantiate a claim with a limit on “the type and severity of mental health conditions that should be eligible for Pip”.

5. The Department for Work and Pensions will be even more like the police. Sunak promised “new powers to make seizures and arrests. And we’ll also enable penalties to be applied to a wider set of fraudsters through a new civil penalty.”

The DWP will be able to search claimants’ homes, seize possessions such as computers and mobile phones, arrest claimants and impose fines.

The DWP has recently posted job listings for up to 25 “covert surveillance officers”.

Labour launched its own nasty plan on Saturday, saying it would “scrap the Tories’ shoplifter’s charter that encourages the police not to investigate thefts under £200.

“And we will bring in a Community Policing Guarantee, with 13,000 more neighbourhood police and PCSOs to crackdown on shoplifting and keep the public safe.”

This repressive move will see desperate people taking food and other items for themselves and their children hauled off to the courts.

Recently Tesco said its profits had hit £2.3 billion up from £882 million the year before.

£5,000 for sick Tory
“A matter of life and death”. This is what Mark Menzies MP told his former Tory campaign manager at 3.15am last December, demanding £5,000 be sent to him after “some bad people” locked him in a flat.
Menzies met a man who he met through a dating website and went back to that man’s flat, and then went to a second address with another man where he continued drinking. 
People at that address said Menzies had been sick and demanded £5,000 for cleaning expenses.
Hours later, Menzies’ former campaign manager transferred him £6,500, which was then reimbursed to the aide with Tory campaign donations, the Times newspaper revealed last week.
After the story became public, the Tories suspended Menzies for misusing campaign funds.
And £14,000 given by Tory donors for campaign activities has been transferred to Menzies’ personal bank accounts for private medical expenses over the years.
It’s a sign of the state of crisis and decay the Tories are in—rocked by scandal after scandal. 
It was only weeks ago when William Wragg—another MP who the Tories have suspended—sent nude photos of himself to someone who then blackmailed Wragg into giving out colleagues’ personal numbers.

Barnet strikers remain determined as council denies using scab labour

Posted on: April 21st, 2024 by TTE
A crowd shot of Barnet strikers on the picket line

Barnet strikers on the picket line (Picture: Barnet Unison)

Barnet council’s mental health social workers are standing firm against the stubborn north London authority that is trying to undermine the strike.

After striking for 27 days between September and February, the Unison union members are now on strike for two weeks until next Friday. They plan three weeks of action in May and four across June and July. 

“Our members feel they have been subjected to gaslighting by Barnet council and not treated with the respect they deserve,” Barnet Unison union branch said in a statement.

Senior management announced on 10 April it would temporarily commission an agency to “provide the mental health duty and triage function for a period of 3-4 months”. This was to “mitigate” against the strike. 

This role is ordinarily carried out by some of the strikers. Four days later the agency pulled out after pressure from Unison. 

“Since then, mental health social care was informed by senior management, while staff were taking industrial action, that Barnet council is continuing to seek other providers to outsource this work,” Barnet Unison wrote.

The council has denied using scab workers. It said, “We are concerned about the impact prolonged strike action will have on vulnerable residents and so have been looking at options to provide ‘life and limb’ capacity in ways that are fully in compliance with relevant legislation and guidance.”

Barnet Unison replied that there is “no legal justification for commissioning an agency” to cover “life and limb” as this service is already being covered by agency workers not striking.

Striker Amber undertakes duty and triage work. She told Socialist Worker the decision to outsource her role has left her “absolutely fuming”.

“Every duty worker is on strike so it’s convenient that the council has decided to outsource it,” she said. “I think the council is doubling down on its stance and rather than come to a solution. It’d rather pay more money to an agency. 

“Sorting the dispute would cost a fraction of this. Agency workers get paid around double, and they’re paid per assessment. Does the council think that little of us? It’s infuriating and feels like a kick in the teeth.”

Duty workers screen referrals to decide if they can be sorted through short-term work. They also allocate cases to case workers, who make up the majority of the strikers.

Amber worries that as some jobs are already permanently run by agency staff, more could be privatised. “The strike has had a massive impact,” she said. “This is a way of getting around that action and some of it is stubbornness and not addressing issues. I’d put nothing past the council at this point.”

Mary is an Approved Mental Health Practitioner (AMHP) and has worked for the council for 21 years. She says services have been dangerously depleted, with jobs, wards, safe houses, rehabs and respite care slashed. 

“Someone in crisis used to have three people helping them, including social workers and care nurse practitioners,” she said. “Now you have just one social worker. We’re service led, not care led. It’s all about saving money.

“The Tory government has underfunded social care and merged services together. We’re not a preventative service—we just respond to the most serious crises.”

Mary says the government attitude is “you should look after yourself, or rely on your family, rather than the state looking after you properly”.

“When Labour came to run the council, we were excited, we thought things would change. But it’s not interested, things got worse. And now we’re so far gone, how do we find a way back?”

Mary says her job is to find the most appropriate care for someone. But services are now so bare, the options for care are severely limited. “By the time we get to see someone the care they need is more severe,” she said. “We’re just fighting the biggest fire. You don’t feel like you’re helping anyone.

“Sometimes there’s not beds available, and we send people as far away as Norwich. We do this job to make a difference and you come away unhappy.”

The three mental health teams on strike—Mental Health Social Care North, Mental Health Social Care South, and the AMHP team—suffer extremely high turnovers. This means waiting lists are up to 18 months as workloads are higher.

Out of 23 social workers and lead practitioner posts, in the past 18 months 19 have left with more handing their notices in. Management has ignored concerns since its restructure to mental health social care two years ago.

In a statement the council says, “We simply don’t accept that the recruitment and retention challenges in these teams are worse than the overall situation for qualified social workers and occupational therapists or see that there is a market condition that would necessitate such a payment.”

Barnet Unison replied, “Barnet council cannot retain social workers in the mental health social care teams and that the staff who they do recruit do not have sufficient, if any, mental health experience to work in a specialised mental health team. 

“While the AMHP team currently has no vacancies, we know that 50 percent of their team are due to leave to take up roles in the NHS in the coming months. 

“Our colleagues who have left have largely left for positions which offer significantly better pay, reduced caseloads, and a safer service.”

Meanwhile, social workers in Children and Families services receive a recruitment and retention payment at levels varying up to 25 percent. 

The council has only met Unison twice. During the first Barnet Unison accused the council of coming “without any preparation and the request was therefore for them to return with the relevant data”. 

At the second meeting, the council deliberately grouped retention data together “to hide the issues”, Barnet Unison says.

Unison nationally needs to mobilise solidarity for the strike to put pressure on the council. Unison has to ensure that the council doesn’t get away with privatising jobs, underpaying its workers and failing to provide care for Barnet residents.

  • Donate to the strike fund. Account name Barnet UNISON Industrial Action Fund. Account Number: 20039336 Sort Code: 608301
  • Messages of support to [email protected]
  • Visit picket lines between 8-10am at 2 Bristol Avenue, Colindale, London NW9 4EW

Are elections a vehicle for change?

Posted on: April 20th, 2024 by Isabel
Houses of Common in parliament

Elections of MPs don’t bring about revolutionary change (Picture: Flickr/ Number 10)

Revolutionary socialists don’t believe it is possible to transform capitalism through parliamentary reforms or elections. Nor do we accept the idea that a combination of pressure from left wing MPs and a movement in the streets and workplaces can bring fundamental change. We understand that real power doesn’t lie in parliament.

It doesn’t even lie in Downing Street, as former Tory prime minister Liz Truss quickly found out. That’s one reason why the Socialist Workers Party always prioritises the fight away from parliament. We believe that workers acting for themselves, rather than relying on the parliamentary system, is a step towards revolutionary change.

Vladimir Lenin, one of the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, put it this way. “The action of the masses—a big strike for example—is more important than parliamentary activity at all times, and not only during a revolution or revolutionary situation.” But he went on to point out that this understanding doesn’t mean that revolutionary socialists can afford to ignore parliament all together. Just because the institution cannot be central to any strategy for change doesn’t mean it has no relevance at all.

For a start, parliament puts forward laws that materially affect working class people. Those laws might have the effect of improving people’s wages and conditions, or they might do the opposite.  Parliamentary votes can also become the focus of anger over wider issues, such as declarations of war, for example. Workers often fight over such “parliamentary” questions. And which party wins a general election can also have a big effect on the conditions in which struggle takes place. That’s true even when, in policy terms, there is little to divide the main parties.

Tory victories, for example, often confirm workers’ fears that fighting back is difficult or impossible because “most people are too right wing”. Labour victories, by contrast, are proof that at an elemental level, most people see class as the most important distinction in society.

So, in ways however distorted, elections represent a battle for working class consciousness. Millions of people—and for most of the time, most of the working class—have illusions in parliament. Revolutionaries cannot shatter that false impression by simply ignoring it.

General elections heighten people’s political awareness. They act as a licence to talk politics in neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. Revolutionaries should intervene in these debates to make propaganda about the system, the limitations of elections—and the socialist alternative to capitalism. Intervening in elections is an opportunity to tap into masses that could be drawn towards struggle.

For those same reasons, it can sometimes be useful for revolutionaries to make use of an election and themselves stand candidates. Socialists elected as councillors or MPs can, as Lenin described, act as “tribunes of the people”. That is, they can raise issues that pose the questions of class in the sharpest possible way and expose other parties as fake.

But there is a vital distinction between a left wing, reformist MP and a revolutionary socialist one. The main priority of the left wing MP is to use parliament to win changes. But in doing so they help reinforce the idea that elections, not struggle, are the way forwards.

That’s because they see change as fundamentally coming from the halls of power. In contrast, every day that a revolutionary sits in parliament, they expose its weakness and work towards its downfall. Revolutionaries in parliament should see their position as an opportunity to raise the level of struggle at every point. And any movement such as the mass mobilisation for Palestine on the streets in Britain, risks being tamed if its aims are pushed towards electoral glory.

The way to win isn’t to stand as many councillors as possible—it’s to build the struggle on the streets and in the workplaces. And, to unlock its potential, any left wing movement must be taken to its most radical conclusions.

  • This is the ninth part of a series of columns that discuss What We Stand For, the Socialist Workers Party statement of principles, printed every week in Socialist Worker