Workers feeling the squeeze—looming struggles over the cost of living

Posted on: January 22nd, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A graphic shows a drawing of a person's head caught in a vice, while and arrow points diagonally upwards, left to right, like the line of a graph indicating inflation

Rocketing prices will put us all under pressure

From the lowest paid workers to those that once felt they could get by on their pay, we’ll all be made to bear the brunt of ­rocketing prices. With inflation hitting 7.5 percent last week, it’ll take a fight to stop people going under.

Bella from Hastings is a train cleaner for outsourcing company Churchill. She and her colleagues are currently balloting for strikes to win an inflation busting £15 per hour.

“I’m definitely struggling,” she told Socialist Worker. “When I first started with Churchill in 2017, I managed to save £1000 in six months. Now I’m lucky to have £10 left by payday.

“We’re all going to be in massive debt. We’re going to have to start getting payday loans and things like that just keep our head above the water.

“There’s a lot of colleagues who’ve had to open bank overdrafts in the last few years. Come payday you’re skint, but you’ve still got bills to pay, you have to pay rent and buy something to eat.”

Bella said the rising cost of living, coupled with wages as low as £8.91 has meant Churchill’s cleaners have been struggling for years.

Sometimes this can result in dangerous conclusions. A recent survey of Churchill’s workers by Bella’s union, the RMT said, “69 percent reported that they have gone into work while sick because they couldn’t afford not to.”

With inflation rising “it will get worse”, said Bella.

Bella and her colleagues have been working longer shifts and taking more overtime. But she said her “money is not going as far as it used to”.

Bosses at Churchill know the hardships workers face. Bella feels “totally exploited” every time she goes to work.

She said, “I think most cleaners already are signed on or have second jobs as a backup plan because if you get sick or end up in the hospital you’re fucked.

“We’re worried if travelcards go up any again because people won’t be able to afford to get to work. If rent goes up people will end up homeless and in the worst cases, some people may end up dying because poverty is just so bad. That’s how bad it’s going to be.”

The rising cost of living will hit the poorest hardest. Many will now have to choose between eating or heating their homes.

This is because despite rising costs, wages haven’t risen in response.

It follows over a decade of austerity, plus some very recent attacks such as the £20 cut to the Universal Credit benefit and a coming increase in National Insurance payments.

But even workers who previously considered their income relatively stable will begin to feel the strain.

To take just one example, the Tories are set to lift the energy price cap—which limits how much energy companies can charge—in April. It means household energy bills could rise some 50 percent.

Suddenly, expenses workers may have been able to afford—your car breaks down, your boiler needs a repair, your landlord kicks up the rent or your mortgage goes up—become a much bigger hit.

Jas teaches business studies at Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic) in east London. He and his colleagues have been striking over workload, a culture of bullying and academisation threats.

He told Socialist Worker that the rising cost of living is a worry for himself, his colleagues and students.

“I’m worried about heating prices going up,” said Jas. “Petrol prices are high and increasing. I’m walking more but it cost me £80 to fill up my car the other day.”

Jas believes the rising cost of living will have a further impact on students’ ability to learn. Already 50 percent of children in Newham live in households in poverty.

Jas pointed out how students when put into online lessons over the pandemic “were cooped up in one room” with their siblings.

“They were using phones because they can’t afford laptops. I’m worried for them now because parents can’t heat their homes and they’re on the bread line—now is like the tipping point.”

Jas believes that a small fix would be to subsidise train as well as bus travel. Some of his students travel an hour and a half from Dagenham to access NewVic’s facilities.

Many of these students are forced to commute via the underground. If ticket prices increase, “many students could move to different schools”, he said.

“I’m expecting student poverty and the use of food banks to increase. And parents wages just don’t go up with inflation so they’ll see a fall in living standards, this has been happening for decades.”

A large picket line of cheering firefighters

Picketing firefighters in 1977 cheer the arrival of construction workers, who marched in soilidarity despite a decision by TUC leaders not to support the strike (Picture: John Sturrock)

How bosses and Labour tried to make us pay in the 1970s

Whenever the bosses’ system causes rocketing inflation, they’ll always try to make working class people pay.

Prices are rising because firms are trying to protect their profits. Disruption and shut downs during the coronavirus pandemic meant production of certain goods and services, such as building materials and semiconductor chips, fell.

Manufacturing bosses raised their prices to protect their profits, or even to boost them by taking advantage of the reduced supply.

The bosses who buy these materials find that the increased costs eat into their own profits.

So they raise their prices to make up for it. It causes a knock-on effect, where price rises get passed on right down to the goods that ordinary people buy in the shops.

So the cause of inflation is the relentless pressure across the whole of the system to keep striving for profits. And rather than take the hit themselves, bosses decide the solution is to cut and hold down workers’ pay.

But it’s a risky strategy that can lead to explosions of strikes and workplace struggle. In 1975 amid a global economic recession inflation hit 24 percent. Bosses, bankers and the right wing press blamed it on workers’ wages being supposedly too high—and demanded pay “restraint.”

The then Labour government responded with the “social contract”—a deal with union leaders to keep wage increases low. When inflation was still at 16.5 percent in 1976, trade union leaders agreed to a limit of 4.5 percent.

Out of loyalty to Labour, union leaders did their best to hold back struggle. But they couldn’t stop it completely.

In 1976 the seafarers’ union threatened strike action over a long overdue pay award. The general secretary of the TUC union federation, Len Murray, told them, “By god, we’ll make sure no union supports you. We’ll cripple you.”

The first ever national firefighters’ strike took place the following year. The TUC voted narrowly not to back them.

Three major strikes by groups of skilled workers in 1977 collapsed after trade union leaders instructed other workers to cross their picket lines.

The result was what became known as the Winter of Discontent—an outburst of feeling over five years of betrayal and disappointment.

Tanker drivers, council workers, water workers and others struck against Labour’s pay limits. Health workers and local government workers joined them. Many of the strikers were at least partially successful.

But the bitterness and disillusion with Labour led to the election of the Tory Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979.

Today it’s a Tory government overseeing rocketing inflation and bosses’ wage restraint. But we’ve still seen far too little fightback led by trade union leaders.

Many still hope that a Labour government will come in and ease the pressure—even though Keir Starmer, desperate to please the bosses, offers little hope of that.

But just as union leaders couldn’t hold back the pressure on workers in 1976, they’ll also need an answer to the cost of living crisis now. It’s up to every trade union activist to pressure them into fighting.

Inflation figures don’t tell whole story

The mainstream media and Tory government will have you believe inflation has risen to “only” 5.4 percent, up from 4.2 percent the month before.

This is because they use an incredibly flawed measure of inflation—CPI—that exclude many household bills.

A more accurate measure is RPI, which includes all factors.

RPI has soared to 7.5 percent, but even this measure of inflation doesn’t give a clear picture.

As food writer and activist Jack Monroe pointed out, it is usually the cheaper products facing the sharpest rise.

They tweeted, “This time last year, the cheapest rice… was 45p for a kilogram bag. Today it’s £1 for 500g. That’s a 344 percent price increase.”

“An upmarket ready meal range was £7.50 ten years ago, and is still £7.50 today,” they added. “If the price of that had risen at the same rate as the cheapest rice in the supermarket, that £7.50 lasagne would now cost £25.80.”

Supermarket bosses will choose to keep premium products stable to secure the return of affluent customers. This system suits the Tories as their voters are among the wealthiest.

The ruling class will tell us that inflation is at 5.4 percent to deny workers a real pay rise and at best offer them a real terms pay cut.

Mandatory vaccination will sack thousands of NHS staff

Posted on: January 22nd, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Sticker reads, "I've had my Covid Vaccination"

Vaccination levels are rising and many people show their vaccination status by wearing a sticker. (Picture: mia!)

A staggering 73,000 health workers could lose their jobs within weeks, plunging the NHS into its biggest crisis yet.
New government rules ­demanding all health workers in England that have “direct contact with patients” are double jabbed come into effect in April.
That means the staff that have not had their first jab by 3 February will be unable to meet the deadline. NHS trusts have been instructed to then start the process of ending their employment. Only a few ­workers can expect to be transferred to non-patient facing roles.
Those job losses will come at a time when record numbers of health workers are off sick or self-isolating, and on top of the already 100,000 job vacancies that existed even before the pandemic.
The mandatory jab move is a Tory attempt to deflect the blame for the pandemic away from themselves by scapegoating unvaccinated people. This strategy will have devastating consequences.
“Throughout the pandemic it’s the government that have put health workers and our patients at risk,” a paramedic that did not wish to be named told Socialist Worker.
“They are the ones who’ve got rid of all the public safety measures and cut Covid self-isolation time, and they are the people that are still failing to ensure we have the right protective PPE.
“Those failings are the biggest threat to vulnerable people. But instead, the Tories want us to blame colleagues that aren’t ­persuaded of the vaccination’s safety for the fact that Britain’s death rate is so appallingly high.”
“I’m fully vaccinated and I want my colleagues to be too, but I think we need persuasion, not ­punishment. The government’s move is counter-productive.”
Health unions that earlier spoke out against mandatory vaccinations have become much quieter since ­legislation was passed last year.
The unions issue ample advice on how to best protect individuals facing the sack. But there is little to suggest they will run a political campaign against such a dangerous government policy—despite the Tories’ weaknesses.
Senior Unison union activist and nurse Karen Reissmann says there are key reasons for this. “My union is avoiding organising a campaign to challenge this disastrous policy,” she said.
“Maybe they believe that most health workers have bought into the government’s scapegoating. They also seem to have underestimated how many people could be dismissed.”
Figures detailing the vaccination status of people working in the NHS in England are in chaos, with at least three different databases being used. “I’ve heard of trusts saying initially that 900 workers were affected. But after writing to staff they’ve now reduced that estimate by 200 people,” said Karen.
“That’s good but that could still amount to around 10 percent of the workforce. If any individual NHS trust were to lose anything like that number the results would be devastating.”
Unison has also quietened down its opposition to mandatory vaccination since Labour voted in favour of the new laws. More than 70,000 NHS staff could be unvaccinated as the regulations are enforced. Workers must force the hand of their union to take action to defend jobs.

Former health worker says the ‘vaccine mandate was the last straw’ 
Abigail Aning had wanted to work in health care since she was a small child. But now after three “gruelling” years of training, and six years as a midwife in London, she has decided to quit.
“The vaccine mandate was the last straw for me,” she told Socialist Worker. “For years I’ve worked in maternity in conditions that are unsafe.  The level of staffing is so low that mothers and their babies are often in danger.
“It was bad before the pandemic hit, but I think it got a lot worse during it.”
Former midwife Abigail

Former midwife Abigail

And, says Abigail, the constant stress involved in working in an over-stretched unit had already convinced her to consider a career change. “I’ve been sick with stress because of how difficult conditions in maternity are,” she said.
“That means going home constantly worrying about the people in your care and whether you’ve missed something.
“Because midwives are autonomous practitioners, there’s no doctor standing behind you when you make decisions—and no one else to share the blame if something goes wrong.”
Abigail said that when the government insisted that all staff be double vaccinated to “keep patients safe” it felt to her like a “kick in the teeth”. “I’m not against Covid vaccinations,” she said. “But I think it has to be an individual choice. And in my opinion, the vaccine is not proven to be effective, or safe.
“So I might be prepared to have it in a couple of years, but not now.” Trust managers had a meeting with Abigail to discuss her options after she told them she was not going to get vaccinated.
They admitted they didn’t agree with the mandatory policy and said it had been forced on them by the government. But they also insisted there was no possibility of redeploying Abigail to a non-public facing role. 
So, after a very quick 15-minute chat, Abigail’s career as a midwife was over. The NHS is currently short of 3,000 midwives and according to the RCM union, some 57 percent say they are considering leaving the NHS this year.
With the government refusing to offer a significant pay rise to health workers, without large scale actions and strikes we can expect the situation to get worse.

Floods of NHS workers are leaving the profession
Across England some 17,000 fewer people were working in older adult care than before the rules about mandatory vaccines were brought into social care last year.
Yet shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he was convinced to vote for the government’s motion because “we did not see the collapse in the social care workforce that was warned of” when similar legislation was passed.
Already some NHS workers that refuse to have the vaccine have also decided to stop working in healthcare.
“A number of our unvaccinated ambulance crew members on the lowest grades have decided to work elsewhere,” said the anonymous paramedic. “People come into the job because they want to make a difference, but then felt they were really badly treated.
“Now, with so many delivery firms and supermarkets offering jobs with similar pay rates, is it any wonder they are leaving?”

There is a terrible danger that thousands more may follow them.

Open letter against mandatory vaccines

Health workers in the Socialist Workers Party and others have initiated an open letter against mandatory vaccines.

They hope to get hundreds of health service staff, union activists and NHS campaigners to sign it. They hope it will create a group of people that can speak out in favour of vaccines, but against compulsory jabs that threaten jobs.

The letter starts by saying, “This is a difficult issue because, as health workers, we are very much in favour of the vaccine and will continue to speak to and encourage our colleagues and patients to get the vaccine for their own safety and the safety of others.”

And it notes the way the Tories have engineered a crisis in the health service, with staff “exhausted and burnt out after two years of working in emergency conditions”.

There were already over 100,000 NHS vacancies that existed before any mass exodus of staff triggered by the mandate.

The letter also points out that Those who are sceptical of the vaccine “are more likely to be black and other minority ethnicities and in the lower grades of NHS staff.”

It adds, “This scepticism is not irrational—black people in the US, the UK and in the Global South have historically been subjected to utterly unethical experiments for medical science.

“The NHS should take this scepticism head on with meetings and campaigns. 

“We do not want to see our BAME and working class colleagues driven out of the health service,” it says.

The open letter concludes by pointing out that the Tories have “pinned their entire pandemic response on the vaccine and have removed almost all other measures”.

“We call on the Tories to remove the mandate and deadline for the sake of all NHS staff, vaccinated and unvaccinated, as well as its patients,” it says.

“We call on our unions to urgently campaign to put a stop to this mandate and to the potential summary dismissal of thousands of their members,” it continues.

Health workers and campaigners should download the open letter, share it with colleagues and seek to add signatures to it.

There is also a trade union model motion that branches can seek to pass.

Together they can promote discussion and push the health service unions to defend their members and the health service under attack.

Download the open letter from

Download the trade union model motion here

Stories of climate catastrophe, colonial resistance and dystopian futures

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by TTE No Comments

Picture of a bookshelf, story on fiction writingThe Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (translated by Philip Boehm)

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz was born into a German-Jewish family in Berlin in 1915. Following the rise of the Nazis, he and his mother were forced to flee Germany. They went first to Sweden and then to Norway and France. Expelled by the police from Luxembourg, they travelled to Belgium and eventually settled in Britain.

They were arrested in 1940 in Britain and held in an internment camp as “enemy aliens”. Boschwitz was deported to Australia and imprisoned there for two years. He died when the ship he was returning to Europe on in 1942 was torpedoed. He was only 27 years old.

Although Boschwitz’s first novel was published in Swedish in 1937, The Passenger (Der Reisende) wasn’t published in the German language until 2019. And now it has a new translation for English readers.  

The novel was written in just four weeks following the deadly attacks of Kristallnacht (Crystal Night). So named from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Nazi thugs smashed the windows of Jewish-owned shops, buildings and synagogues.

The novel is set in Berlin in November 1938. Synagogues are being burnt, Jews rounded up and their businesses destroyed. Otto Silberman, a confident businessman is Jewish. He has managed to evade the escalating violence of the Nazi regime—until now.

With Nazi stormtroopers battering on his door, he sneaks out the back and begins a desperate race to escape this homeland that is no longer home. Colleagues turn against him and the Brownshirts outright violence isn’t the only attack he has to face. “No one resists,” the novel reads. “They all cringe and say—we have no choice, but the truth is they’re happy to go along because there’s something in it for them.”

Otto is forever travelling but going nowhere, a Kafkaesque nightmare with his destination always eluding him. Leaving Germany becomes impossible as no country is willing to take fleeing Jews. It is with terrifying insight that Boschwitz wrote in 1938, “Perhaps they’ll carefully undress us first and then kill us. So our clothes won’t get bloody and our banknotes won’t get damaged”. .

Boschwitz writes with an urgency, which reads like a thriller and plunges the reader into the despair of Nazi Germany just as the darkness was descending. The novel sits wonderfully amongst rediscovered classics such as Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française or Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for The Overstory, a brilliant cry for action over climate change.

He returns to the fight for a sustainable world in his latest novel Bewilderment. At its heart is a young boy seeking answers to why humanity would allow the extinction of innumerable species of animals—and in the end its own destruction. 

Robin is a funny, loving nine year-old who thinks and feels deeply. He is transfixed by the work of his late mother, environmental campaigner Alyssa, and adores animals. Robin cannot see why something isn’t being done to stop the decline in biodiversity and logically wants to do something about it.

Robin is neurodivergent. He is on the verge of being expelled from school for his violent outbursts while psychoactive drugs are the only solution put forward.

Robin’s father Theo Byrne is an astrophysicist modelling possible life on other planets. But the US is moving towards an anti-intellectual authoritarianism and government funding for such research is drying up. Theo decides to home-school Robin and support his activism. And in this, Powers finds some of his most beautiful writing. As Theo and Robin work through the possibilities of different worlds out in space, so the potential for this world to be different is made real.

In the Trumpian—second term!—world of Bewilderment dissent can be an imprisonable offence and freak weather events are the norm. How does a father explain to his child a system that is so in love with its own destruction?

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

In 2017 Heather Heyer was murdered by a Nazi driving his car headlong into an anti-fascist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the immediate aftermath of the horror, president Donald Trump declared that there were “very fine people on both sides”.

Fast forward some years, and ecological disasters are battering the US, oceans are rising and power failing. Armed white men in jeeps booming, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and shouting, “OURS!” set fire to the mostly black neighbourhood of our protagonist, student Da’Naisha Love.

A band of friends, families and strangers led by Da’Naisha batter their way through and flee together in an abandoned bus and head for the hills above town. They arrive at Monticello, the now deserted historic plantation-home of Thomas Jefferson.

But Da’Naisha has a complex relationship with the house. We discover she is a young black descendant of Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore a number of Jefferson’s children. Johnson brilliantly draws out Jefferson’s position on slavery.

Jefferson is perhaps best known for the Declaration of Independence and its emancipatory statement that “all men are created equal”. In truth, he owned 600 enslaved people during his lifetime and believed that black and white couldn’t live together.

My Monticello is fraught with tension and fear—will they be discovered? “What if nobody comes,” asks Da’Naisha’s white boyfriend. “What if somebody comes,” replies Da’Naisha, encapsulating their different racialised experiences of life.

Johnson’s debut novel is a painful story of US racism past, present and future—and a powerful vision of resistance and hope.

Palmares by Gayl Jones

In 1975 a Random House editor named Toni Morrison read the manuscript of Gayl Jones’ first novel Corregidora. She wrote “that no novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this”—and Jones also received high praise from James Baldwin and Maya Angelou.

In the late 1980 she disappeared in controversial circumstances until her first new novel in over two decades appeared this year. It’s an epic tale of love and liberation set in 17th century colonial Brazil.

Palmares is written in a series of short chapters detailing the life, thoughts, humiliations, dreams and loves of Almeyda, a young, enslaved girl who travels from one plantation to another, sold and re-sold. Jones writes in such an extraordinary way that we are immediately at one with Almeyda as she navigates the brutal and magical world around her.

 Our main character’s grandmother has brought with her “old ways”, magic, and usefully, medical knowledge. From plantation to plantation, the name Palmares is whispered, a hidden settlement where fugitive slaves live free.

During the Atlantic slave trade, Portuguese rule in Brazil led to the transportation of more enslaved Africans than any other country. An estimated 4.9 million people. The average enslaved African only lived to be 23 years old because of the terrible work conditions, brutal treatment and disease.

Enslavement also brought resistance. Escaped slaves formed communities called Quilombos, usually located near colonial towns. They relied on raids to feed and clothe themselves and presented a real threat to the colonial social order.

Historically Quilombo dos Palmares was the most famous community, attracting between 6,000 and 20,000 people aiming to build an alternative free society. Though Palmares was eventually defeated, its existence and success saw the continuation of African traditions in Brazilian culture today.

Jones eventually gets her Almeyda to Palmares and conveys the struggle in all of its multifaceted and disorienting complexity. In a society so riven with division, can Palmares live up to the dream of freedom? On route and when fleeing Almeyda meets black Muslims, witches, women with wives, Christians, Jews, Tupis and Guaranis. And miners, female English journalists, voyeuristic Dutch painters, mercenaries and free black men and women—from Europe and Brazilian born.

Some have said Palmares is best read in parts over a period of time, as in the west African and Afro-Brazilian oral tradition. And this feels the right way to tackle such an odyssey. It’s a beautifully complex and enlightening tale of the horrors of colonialism and the fight for freedom.

The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century by Olga Ravn (Trans: Martin Aitken)

Maybe not for everyone, this beautiful little piece of science fiction is set in a workplace. It’s a spaceship sometime in the future, staffed by humans and “humanoids” looking after some objects found on the planet New Discovery. This is a novel longer in the thinking than the reading—at a sparse 136 pages.

Revealing its secrets through brief, poetic reports made by the employees to unknown assessors—a Workplace Commission—we are drawn into the world of the Six-Thousand Ship. On board something is happening between those that were born and those who were made, those who will die and those who will not—all “employees”.

Their brief statements to the Commission build a sense of fear and comfort, weariness and compassion, threat, desire and grief. Through the patchwork of the statements, we start to sense a coming together as well as division between the employees.

The ship’s mission is clearly doomed and gradually human and humanoid start to realise the role of the Workplace Commissioners. They’re assessing the reasons for a declining productivity and ultimately the fate of all things aboard the ship. 

A companion piece to a 2018 art installation by Lea Guldditte Hestelund, Olga Ravn asks big questions about sentience and the nature of humanity. She imagines not only a possible future, but also examines the contemporary workplace and the dehumanisation in the corporate language of today. Rebellion, division, and unity are all parts of the workforce response.

One passage reads, “You want to know what I think about this arrangement? I think you look down on me. The way I see it, you’re a family that’s built a house. And from the warm rooms of that house you now look out at the pouring rain.

“Safe from menace, you delight at the rain. You’re dry and snug. You’re reaping the rewards of a long process of refinement. When the storm gets up, it only heightens your enjoyment. I’m standing in the rain you think can never fall on you… I’m the storm you shelter from.

“I may have been made, but now I’m making myself.”

Ravn is a Danish novelist and poet who runs the feminist performance group and writing school Hekseskolen. The Employees was shortlisted for the International Booker prize 2021.

Buy from Bookmarks—the socialist bookshop and support its financial appeal 

London protest stands with Palestine after Sheikh Jarrah eviction

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Protesters hold placards that read free palestine

Protesters outside the Israeli embassy (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Over 500 loud and angry protesters gathered at short notice outside the Israeli embassy in London on Friday evening. 

They demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians evicted from Sheikh Jarrah, east Jerusalem, and demanded freedom for Palestine and sanctions on Israel. 

Elif and Tamanna, presidents of the Palestine society at Westminster University, attended the protest. 

For Elif, freedom for Palestine means “stopping the killing and stopping evictions”. She said the energy has died down after the huge protests last May and June. “We need to keep Palestine in the media,” she told Socialist Worker. 

Tamanna said, “We have to change the mainstream narrative that Israel didn’t colonise Palestine, and challenge people’s thinking on this.”

Angry and determined demonstrators chanted, “One, two, three, four occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight Israel is a terrorist state.” And, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Mia attended the protests last year, including when over 100,000 people marched in London one of the biggest Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain. “Any time something for Palestine is happening I come,” she said. “Protesting helps to raise awareness—even if someone walks past and looks up Palestine. “Protesting is powerful.”

Mia added, “Palestinian people, but also so many across the world, are oppressed and live in regimes of terror. Showing solidarity thousands of miles away can have an impact on those people and regimes.”

Placards on the protest read, “Freedom for Palestine,” “Save Sheikh Jarrah,” and, “Sanctions for Israel.”

Speakers discussed putting sanctions on Israel and Western imperialist support for the Israeli military machine. They also pointed to the solidarity from trade unions and workers in the fight for Palestine.  

Among the speakers were trade union leaders and officials from the  Unite, NEU, Unison and UCU unions. 

Kamel Hawwash from Palestine Solidarity Campaign told the rally his cousin was one of those in east Jerusalem facing eviction. His son has been detained without charge by Israeli forces since August. He slammed the evictions as “appalling” and shouted “shame on you” at the British government for standing by while they took place. 

Ellie told Socialist Worker that Palestinians should not be living under occupation. “The occupation is a result of conflict, politics and power,” she said. “We have to fight over these issues too.”

Cops tried to stop protesters from breaking out into the street, but following the rally a march took to the road and disrupted traffic. 

Malaika travelled from Wales to join the protest. “It’s important everyone keeps showing up,” she said. 

“People shouldn’t sit back—we need the momentum. We have to keep fighting for equal rights for Palestinians and to end apartheid.”

A real life fairy tale, where the trees move for the rich

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A single tree is propped upright on a floating barge

An ancient tree on its way to the garden of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili

The image of a giant tree floating in the sea seems like an act of magic—something from the pages of a fantasy novel.

And as one resident of a coastal village in Georgia remarks, “It’s like a fairytale.” Yet this film is a documentary—Taming the Garden by Salome Jashi.

It’s the story of an elusive buyer of century old trees.

Accompanied by a dog with a little red ribbon, he scouts out the oldest and most magnificent trees across the coast of Georgia for the private garden of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Once a special tree has been selected and the owner paid off under the promise of improved local infrastructure, the heavy machinery moves in. It feels as though we are witnessing a collective trauma.

A chasm leaves the earth bare where villagers once grew up underneath the branches of “the beauty of our district.”

Yet the filmmakers are careful to maintain a detached relationship, plugging the gaps with superfluous still shots of the sea and close-ups of machinery.

The most interesting scenes come from the conversations between the workers and those of the families affected.

An elderly woman broods over the line of trees which shelter her home from strong winds.

The workers need to cut them down in order to make way for the main prize.

They’re not quite attuned to her hesitancy as she recounts how she planted them when she was 25 years old. A gathering of curious residents, some teary and others cheery, say goodbye to their oldest and most ­special of trees.

Our farewell is quickly cut short as we’re suddenly jolted into a park with flamingoes and other wild birds in the background.

Is this it, the villain’s lair? Concrete paths wind between manicured grassy mounds, and workers on lawn mowers are dotted around.

An impressive collection of century old trees stand on top of the mounds as an automatic sprinkler system feeds their roots.

But knowing what we already know, there is a distinct feeling of unpleasantness.

Every tree appears to be supported by a black cable, as if they cannot support themselves anymore. Taming the Garden is a quietly evocative film.

Its resonating sadness taps into the familiar loss of our natural world and the sense that we’re never fully in control of our own surroundings.

Meanwhile, the superrich uproot and claim ownership to whatever it is they so happen to desire.

Taming the Garden is in cinemas from Friday 28 January

How capitalist competition threatens new Ukraine war

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A line of soldiers in Ukraine stand with rifles in the snow. The soldier in the foreground wears a Ukrainian flag on his shoulder

Ukrainian soldiers during a training exercise with US soldiers in 2019 to improve cooperation with Nato

Rivalry between the US and Russia threatens a devastating war in Ukraine for the second time in less than a decade.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has amassed 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. While the US remains the world’s strongest imperialist power, it is weakened and Putin hopes a military build-up will force it to the negotiating table.

He wants president Joe Biden to make assurances that the US’s military alliance Nato won’t expand any further eastwards. Biden has ruled out military action in Ukraine, but is determined to maintain US dominance against Russia.

While neither side wants a prolonged war, it could easily happen. That’s because the Ukraine crisis is a product of imperialism—a global system driven forward by competition between the big capitalist states. When tensions run high, a small spark can set off a wider war.

Ukraine is at the centre of a much bigger site of imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia and many other regional powers. This fault line starts in northern Europe on the border between Russia and the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

From here, it cuts down into Ukraine, goes through the oil-rich Caucasus region on Russia’s southern tip, and then extends into central Asia.

Tensions are rising right along it. The US is determined to defend its position in the world while other states see its relative decline as an opportunity to jockey for position. US imperialism’s defeat in Iraq signalled it was possible for weaker powers to assert their interests against US wishes. Russia is one such power.

In 1991 the Soviet Union split apart into Russia and 14 other republics along its borders, including Ukraine.

For much of the 1990s, it was a shadow of its former power. But a combination of high oil prices and Vladimir Putin’s iron hand strengthened the Russian state. It began asserting its imperialist interests in what it calls its “near abroad”, the republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine—industrially developed, and a buffer between the West—was one of the most important.

After the Cold War, the US broke its pledge not to expand Nato into eastern Europe. In 2008 Nato agreed that Ukraine and Georgia should join. Russia invaded Georgia to prevent this happening.

There’s also an economic side to the rivalry. The European Union (EU)—a wannabe imperial power aligned with the US—tried to get Ukraine to join it in 2014. Russia had set up the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) to compete with the EU and strengthen its hand against China in central Asia.

In 2014, Ukraine looked to align more closely with the West. In response, Russia took over the Crimea region from Ukraine and supported separatist militia in the south east. This conflict rumbled on since and has now flared up again.

How should socialists respond? Firstly, we should have no truck with US or British hypocritical claims to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression.

The revolutionary Vladimir Lenin argued that “in every country preference should be given to the struggle against the chauvinism of the particular country, to awakening hatred of one’s own government”.

So, in the West, socialists’ main job is to unite around opposition to our ruling class’s drive to war.

Second, this doesn’t mean that “my enemies’ enemy is my friend”—that the West’s rivals are in any way anti-imperialist. As Lenin went on to say, socialists also had to “appeal to the solidarity of the workers of the warring countries, to their joint civil war” against the warmongers’ system.

We build opposition to our own rulers—but as part of a struggle against the system of imperialist rivalries that causes war.

Israeli land grabs fuel Palestinian resistance

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Protesters carry a huge Palestinian flag on a pro Palestine demo in London

Tens of thousands protested in solidarity with Palestine in London last May

From the streets of Jerusalem to the desert of the Naqab, Israel’s drive to snatch Palestinian land is sparking new battles between protesters and the state.

In the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah—where last year’s Palestinian uprising began—Israel forced a family out onto the streets then demolished their home.

And in the Naqab desert—known by Israel as the Negev—thousands of Palestinian Bedouins fight heroically to stop Israel forcing them from their land.

At 3am on a cold, wet January morning, Israeli counter terrorism and riot cops stormed the house of the Salhiya family in Jerusalem last week. After arresting five of the family, the cops evicted the rest of the large household.

Then they bulldozed the building, leaving the Salhiyas with nothing. It was an abrupt, violent end to a decades long struggle by the Salhiyas to stay in the home they’d lived in since 1948.

“My father was asleep when they took him. They didn’t let him put a jacket or shoes on,” Yasmin Salhiya told the Middle East Eye website. “They separated everyone that was there and started beating the young men before detaining them in the jeeps and taking them away.

Meanwhile in the Naqab, just a few miles south, more Israeli cops have used rubber bullets and teargas-dropping drones on protesters. They have arrested at least 140 people there in the past month—almost half of them children.

Israel wants to get rid of entire Bedouin villages there so that it might build new military and industrial infrastructure there, and grow the Israeli population. And it has enlisted the help of the Jewish National Fund (JNF)—a charity with close ties to the state.

It funds the building of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. And through innocuous sounding tree planting projects, it takes hold of and transforms Palestinians’ land, erasing their presence.

When the JNF began planting trees on land Bedouins use for farming, thousands of Palestinians marched to stop it.

In both cases, Israel is using the discriminatory laws that form the fabric of its system of apartheid and force Palestinians from their land.

In Jerusalem, the Salhiyas are victims of the “absentee law,” which allows the state to confiscate the land of Palestinians who fled when Israel was created in 1948.

In the Naqab, Israel says the Bedouin villages are simply “unrecognised” settlements on state land. By denying Palestinians the right to live where they want, the state hopes to push them into ever smaller enclaves.

So, in both cases, there’s also a direct link to the Nakba—the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 that Israel was built on.

The Salihyas actually arrived in Sheikh Jarrah in 1948, after fleeing their home in the west of Jerusalem.

But Israel says the house is on land that once belonged to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—and that it took the right to confiscate it after invading east Jerusalem in 1967.

So, as Human Rights Watch put it, the Salhiyas’ eviction “turned them into refugees twice.”

In the Naqab Israel demolished Palestinian villages in 1948—erasing any trace of them—as part of its efforts to ensure Palestinians would be a minority in the new state.

Now the JNF says explicitly that its goal is to establish a stronger Israeli presence in the desert.

On the JNF’s website introducing its Negev blueprint, it outlines a plan to settle 500,000 people from elsewhere in the region.

“The Negev Desert represents 60 percent of Israel’s landmass but is home to just 8 percent of the country’s population,” it wrote. “And in those lopsided numbers, we see an unprecedented opportunity for growth.”

That’s why the Palestinians in both Jerusalem and the Naqab see their battles as part of a long struggle against ethnic cleansing.

“We will go back to our home. No matter what they do to us, we will go back,” said Yasmin. “Our message to everyone is stay in your homes. Don’t leave it. Don’t sell it. We’re losing Palestine bit by bit.”

Boris Johnson relies on more lies and blackmail to cling on

Posted on: January 20th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Boris Johnson wearing a mask

Boris Johnson raises another glass (Picture: Flickr/Number 10)

Things are going from bad to worse for Boris Johnson—who has now been accused of blackmail. Senior Tory MP William Wragg claimed on Thursday that party whips were “threatening to withhold investments from MPs’ constituencies that are funded from the public purse”.

Wragg is chair of the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs select committee. He has advised other Tory MPs to take complaints of blackmail by ministers, whips and advisers to the police, who so far have refused to investigate Downing Street lockdown parties.

Wragg also claimed that “members of staff at Number 10, special advisers, government ministers and others” were involved in a smear operation against Johnson’s opponents.

He said they were “encouraging the publication of stories in the press, seeking to embarrass those they suspect of lacking confidence in the prime minister”. Wragg added this seemed to him “to constitute blackmail”.

The revelations are another sign of the crisis engulfing the Tories as Johnson’s supporters try to protect him from a vote of no confidence by his own MPs.

Many Tory MPs are now waiting for the outcome of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the parties before making a move. She was given the task by Johnson himself.

Gray’s report on the parties will delve into “drinking culture” in Number 10 and Johnson’s knowledge about parties including the “bring your own booze” party held in his own garden in May 2020.

Johnson denied any real wrongdoing in the House of Commons, believing “implicitly” it was a work event. He “categorically” said that nobody told him that any of the gatherings he attended broke his own rules.

To force a vote of no confidence 54 Tory MPs—15 percent—would have to submit letters to the backbenchers’ 1922 Committee.

In an attempt to save his own skin, Johnson is ready to sack all the officials and advisers involved in the parties held during the first lockdown in 2020. And health secretary Sajid Javid said he was “looking forward to disciplinary action” being taken against those involved.

Johnson—and all the Tories—should go. The defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford to Labour shows the Tories sense anger against the government and are desperate to keep their seats. Wakeford said party whips told him he would lose funding for a new secondary school in his constituency if he did not vote in line with Johnson.

It also shows the lengths Labour will go to in order to appeal to the right and establishment—by welcoming Tories but expelling socialists. Indeed, Wakeford said he was a “centrist… just wearing a different rosette”.

Meanwhile, the cost of living crisis is mounting for ordinary people. Working class people cannot just wait for Johnson to fall at the hands of Tory MPs—or for a Labour Party that offers no alternative.

Yet the union leaders sit on their hands. The TUC union federation emptily demanded the Tories “come forward with a plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis” when the new inflation figures came out on Wednesday.

Every trade unionist and campaigner should build solidarity for workers’ struggles that are taking place, such as the all-out strike at Chep UK. And they should fight to raise the level of struggle by fermenting strikes in their own workplaces. 

The UCU university union leaders should call hard-hitting action that can become a focus for wider resistance. 

Taking to the streets, and pressuring union leaders to act, to demand Johnson leaves now will set the tone for whoever takes his place.

The whole establishment is in crisis—we need resistance and to put forward socialist solutions.