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.

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 

Palestine movement keeps up fightback on the streets

Posted on: April 20th, 2024 by TTE
A crowd shot of a march for Palestine in south London

On the march for Palestine in south London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

With around 40 local protests scheduled for this weekend the Palestine movement is not retreating from the streets.

Next Saturday’s national demonstration in London, and the workplace day of action on 1 May, are big tests for the movement.

Around 1,000 people were on a march in Bradford on Saturday and then joined others in the city Square.

Rob reports, “Most of the Palestine groups in West Yorkshire were represented. People were worried about any further escalation of the killings. They are suspicious that Joe Biden has done a deal with Israel that if it doesn’t attack Iran again then it will have a free hand to obliterate Rafah.” 

And Maggie in south London reports, “Over 1,000 people marched in Lewisham.”

In Sheffield, reports Phil, “About 400 marched. There was a very angry mood. Speeches about war and imperialism, involvement of unions and building more resistance went down well.” Protesters chanted, “One, We are the people, Two, We won’t be silenced, Three Stop arming Israel now, now, now, now.”

In south London, Palestine campaigners chanting, “USA, blood on your hands” joined the 24/7 picket outside the US Embassy in Vauxhall.

Over 300 people protested in Manchester around the theme of Palestinian prisoners. Around 320 people were on a march in Colchester, Essex.

Around 250 people joined the first locally organised march for several months through Foleshill into Coventry city centre.

In Portsmouth, reports a protester, “About 70 of us marched on Barclays. Police issued a Section 50 notice and had a big presence to defend the bank. They arrested three people for a sit-down protest in the bank. Three far right Turning Point supporters tried and failed to disrupt our rally.

“After the protest, some of us went to the police station till the arrestees were released. We will continue to target Barclays.”

Up to 100 people marched through Hackney in east London. Phoebe, a protester on the march who works for a publishing company, told Socialist Worker, “We can’t lose momentum.”

Israel’s genocide is “not going to stop without taking action”. Phoebe argued, “Labour is despicable. It’s Tory-lite.”

Nick, a skate park builder, said the genocide is “a horror unfolding before our eyes”. He said, “As a British person it’s vital to protest, as Britain handed Israel the keys to Palestine” because of its role in supporting the establishment of Israel.

Dorset Palestine Solidarity Campaign tweeted, “We closed down Dorchester Barclays Bank for funding genocide in Gaza!”

In Edinburgh, reports Alan, “Around 20 Stop the War activists went to Tesco and Lidl to alert shoppers that both supermarkets are profiting from Israeli products while Israel is in the process of committing genocide in Gaza.

“Two activists made speeches during the action, drawing the link between the Israeli apartheid state and that of South Africa. They stated that the actions were directed at the companies selling the products and not the workers in either store. We need more of these sorts of actions that take the fight to other shops, workplaces and arms companies complicit in Israel’s crimes.”

Protesters gathered in Cardiff for the 27th week in a row. As many people as possible need to be in London next Saturday. And every group of campaigners needs to discuss ways to escalate the fight for Palestine and to hit Israel and its Western backers.

Activists’ diary 

Sat 27 April: National demonstration, Stop Arming Israel, Ceasefire Now, assemble 12 noon, Parliament Square, London, for a march to Hyde Park. 

Wed 1 May: May Day workplace action for Palestine

Why does the West fear and loath Iran?

Posted on: April 19th, 2024 by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
A picture of the Israeli attack on the consulate of Iran in Syria

Israel attacked the consulate of Iran in Damascus, Syria, on 1 April

What is the nature of the regime?

The current Iranian state emerged after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the hated Shah and his Western-backed regime.

It is a capitalist state with a ruling class dominated by a conservative Islamic clergy that follows the Shia version of Islam. Iran is a junior imperialist power but strives to become the major force in the region.

The clergy has its own version of religious law, which the state enforces strictly. The Iranian state embodies reactionary ideas and policies towards women’s rights and LGBT+ people.

The state controls a large part of the economy and dominates large-scale industries, media, communications, transport and many other sectors. And it owns the oil industry, which makes up around 40 percent of its total revenue.

Its ruling class has the same interests as all capitalist classes—growing its own economic and political power, while preserving its existing privileges.

This means it is locked into imperialist competition with other states in the region—including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

And this competition affects how Iran acts. It backs resistance groups that align with its Shia ideology, including the Houthis in Yemen—in part due to Iran’s antagonism with Sunni Saudi Arabia. It backs Hezbollah in Lebanon, in part due to its antagonism with Israel.

And it backs the Assad regime in Syria that is fighting the Saudi-backed Isis group and the remaining forces of the revolution of 2011.

Iran has tried to counter US power in the region by befriending both Russia and China. China is Iran’s largest trading partner and buys some 90 percent of Iran’s oil.

Is Iran a dictatorship?

Iran is an authoritarian regime where a religious clergy rules with few democratic constraints.

But it is far from the monolith that the Western media generally says it is. It has competing political factions that exist within the state.

Sometimes those factions reflect ruptures in the ruling class and create political crises, and openings for others that want a different type of society.

Movements demanding more freedom and democratic rights emerge often and have sometimes fused with workers’ unions, the women’s movement and groups demanding national and religious rights.

But the state has so far been able to repress all such upsurges.

The power of the clerics is enshrined in Iran’s supreme leader and the Guardian Council, a 12‑person group made up of religious experts and lawyers.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has religious authority that flows into political power. He sets and implements policies, ­commands the Iranian army and can declare war.

As supreme leader, he hires and fires all military and police chiefs, the leader of the courts and the head of the state-owned media.

The supreme leader also has control over the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the part of the military charged with defending Iran.

The Guardian Council approves and can disqualify candidates in local, parliamentary, presidential elections and has veto power over any law passed by parliament.

Half of its members are appointed by the supreme leader and he can dismiss any member of the council.

Throughout its existence, the Guardian Council has helped conservatives by disqualifying reformist candidates and vetoing reformist laws.

Beneath these bodies sits the president, who is elected and serves as head of government and selects ministers, and parliament, which has 290 elected members.

Parliament does debate and vote on laws. And there are competing factions—reformists, moderates and conservatives, and within each there are several groups.

Reformists demand that social restrictions are eased and want political reforms. They propose a more moderate version of Islam and closer relations with Western imperialism.

Conservatives want an even more strict version of Islam and want the state to remain hostile to the West.

But the trend since 1979 shows conservative factions growing in power. The reformists’ warmth towards the West, combined with the possibility of war, has seriously weakened them.

 What are the recent protest movements in Iran?

Iran’s government has faced multiple waves of popular rebellion in recent years, most recently in the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in 2022-23, and protest waves in 2019 and 2017-2018.

The recent women’s movement began as a protest at the morality police after it murdered Masha Amini, a young woman it said had worn her hijab incorrectly.

Two million people participated in huge protests from September 2022 to spring 2023. Young people took to the streets and campuses, defying the state crackdown.

The protests developed into a movement demanding fundamental change—and the overthrow of the current Iranian state.

There was another protest wave in 2019 after the government tried to end fuel subsidies. Prices jumped up and this led to a revolt in dozens of cities, with demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes.

National protests against rising inflation erupted between December 2017 and January 2018.

These upsurges had workers’ economic demands as the driving force. Yet they flowed into political opposition to the supreme leader.

But all ended unsuccessfully with the state able to crush them. Part of the problem was that the protests, including those that involved some groups of workers, failed to become the majority.

On top of this, the protests had to contend with the “support” of Western states that tried to manipulate them for their own ends.

Why does Israel hate Iran?

Israel is desperate to smash Iran because both sides are competing for military, political and economic power across the region.

Israel wants to stop the West from “normalising” relations and doing deals that try to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, it wants the West to join it in a war that would reduce its rival to rubble.

By contrast, Iran presents itself as a force that can stand up to the bullies—including Israel.

It wears its support for Palestinian liberation as a badge of honour, framing it as a fight for Islam against Zionism.

After the 1979 revolution, Iran cut off all relations with Israel. It said Israel was an illegitimate state in occupied Palestine. Iran stopped allowing Israeli citizens into Iran and banned all Iranians from travelling to Israel.

The Israeli embassy in Iranian capital, Tehran, was transformed into an embassy for Palestinians.

The focus of Israel’s fear is that Iran develops a nuclear weapons programme that can rival its own.

Currently Israel is the only regional power with nuclear weapons, providing it with a huge military advantage.

That competition means they are embroiled in a long “shadow war” of attacks on each other’s interests.

Israel has carried out sabotage and cyber-attacks against Iran’s nuclear power and military facilities, while Iran has carried out drone strikes on Israeli oil tankers and launched its own cyber-attacks.

Should Iran attack Israel?

Iran has every right to retaliate against Israeli attacks—including the bombing of its embassy in Syria, and later bombings of its territory.

Even David Cameron, the British foreign secretary, admitted that if a British embassy was struck by missiles, the British state “would take very strong action”.

But the current strike and counter-strike exchanges between Israel and Iran risk becoming a major regional war.

And that would be a catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people. Such a war is no route to Palestinian liberation.

To truly win Palestinian freedom we need to break from the logic of imperialism. The route for this is revolt against Zionism and dictatorship by ordinary people from below, across the whole of the Middle East.

It is workers and the poor who have the collective power to transform society. Mass workers’ revolt would make unworkable Israel’s role as a watchdog for US imperialism. And it would be a challenge to ruling classes across the entire region.

How did the current regime emerge?

In 1979, the Iranian people overthrew a brutal US-backed monarchy, inflicting a huge blow to US imperialism in the region.

The revolution comprised many forces, including workers’ unions, nationalists and the left, but was eventually diverted by Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Islamic clergy.

He opposed workers’ power and more moderate elements of the Islamic movement, jailing and torturing opponents.

Prior to the revolution, Iran was ruled by the Shah, a monarch put in power in 1954 by a US and British-backed coup in 1953—which overthrew Iran’s popular government that was nationalising the oil industry.

The Shah pushed through a programme of capitalist development that alienated sections of the traditional religious establishment and millions of the poor. There was huge inequality and oppression of national minorities.

From the summer of 1977 onwards, there were significant protests and strikes against the Shah that grew in size and frequency.

In October 1978, workers went on a national general strike. Strike committees, called shoras, were set up to organise and coordinate activity—a sign that the movement had become revolutionary.

In December, huge protests of over six million people—in a country of then 37 million—demanded the end of the Shah. Workers took over cities and towns with shoras being set up across the country.

On 16 January 1979, the Shah fled into exile. Throughout this period, Ruhollah Khomeini, who was the most prominent religious leader and outspoken critic of the Shah, had cultivated a huge base of support. On 1 February, he declared himself head of state.

But the religious clergy wasn’t in complete control of the revolution as there was an intense struggle to decide the type of society to replace the Shah’s dictatorship.

Many among the capitalist class joined forces with the clerical establishment to work together against the left. Khomeni saw the shoras as a threat to the clergy’s power and moved to re-establish state control.

The religious clergy used repression to consolidate its power, organising gangs to attack the left and enforce “morality” against women who refused to wear the veil. Khomeini was established supreme leader of Iran and the result was the capitalist theocracy we see today.

Unions should use supreme court win to boost fightback

Posted on: April 18th, 2024 by TTE
Fiona Mercer and legal team illustrating a story about unions and supreme court

Fiona Mercer and her legal team outside the Supreme Court

Workers should use a supreme court judgment this week to batter bosses who have penalised or discriminated against strikers.

Judges on Wednesday said British trade union law breaches workers’ rights as it fails to protect them against sanctions short of dismissal when they strike. The supreme court said that the law as it stands “encourages and legitimises unfair and unreasonable conduct” by employers and was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The law is supposed to stop employers sacking strikers. But it doesn’t even pretend to offer protection to anyone who faces attacks that are less than dismissal.

Lady Ingrid Simler said in the judgment that employers’ ability to impose measures short of sacking “nullifies the right to take lawful strike action”. She said, “If employees can only take strike action by exposing themselves to detrimental treatment, the right dissolves.”

The Unison union pushed the issue on behalf of care worker Fiona Mercer. Fiona had originally taken a case against her then employer, Alternative Futures Group (AFG), a charity based in the north west of England, to an employment tribunal in 2020.

She had been involved in a 2019 battle by 600 workers over AFG’s plans to cut payments to care staff who did sleep-in shifts.

Fiona’s employer suspended her and barred her from going into work or contacting colleagues during the action. During her suspension she received normal pay, but received nothing for the overtime she would normally have worked.

An employment appeal tribunal (EAT) found in her favour and the employer gave in. But higher ruling class figures wanted to make no concessions to strikers and to keep the intimidatory power to punish strikers.

Then business secretary, Tory Kwasi Kwarteng, intervened and took the case to the Court of Appeal, which subsequently decided to reverse the EAT decision in March 2022.

Unison then advanced it to the supreme court. Speaking after the verdict, Fiona said, “I’m delighted at today’s outcome. Although it won’t change the way I was treated, it means irresponsible employers will now think twice before behaving badly towards their unhappy staff. If they single strikers out for ill-treatment, they’ll now be breaking the law.”

Christina McAnea, Unison’s general secretary, said this week that the court had delivered the “most important industrial action case for decades”. Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC union federation, described the ruling as a “monumental victory” for the union movement and a “crushing defeat” for strike laws.

That’s very optimistic. Strike laws continue to delay workers’ response to attacks, frustrate resistance and bear down on union rights. And they are used as an excuse by union leaders not to head-up a fightback.

And whatever the law says, every union activist knows there are numerous ways for a boss to penalise you unless there is strong organisation at rank and file level. Bosses overlook activists for promotion, give them the worst shifts, look out for the slightest infringement of rules and leap on any lack of punctuality. This is all legal, and in the end only the threat of a fight protects militants.

However, the judgment is very positive and should be a spur to wider campaigns. Alan Bogg, a professor in law at Bristol university, told the Financial Times newspaper that many university lecturers involved in recent walkouts had suffered “very, very significant deductions from pay”, going beyond the work they had withheld. “

Saira Weiner, a UCU union member, tweeted, “The implications of this for UCU in higher education who were punitively deducted for marking and assessment boycott are significant. We want our money back.”

Action, not relying on the law, can turn that into reality.

Former workers at music venue 13th Note in Glasgow, members of the Unite union, have won an employment tribunal, and will receive 90 days’ worth of wages.

This win comes after the employer broke trade union laws by dismissing over 20 employees and closing the venue without notice. Now workers want to save the venue and take it back under their control.