Solidarity 017, 22 November 2002

Art and the market

This year's obligatory row over the Turner prize for art has been kicked off by culture minister Kim Howells, who thinks the whole lot, exhibited at the Tate, "cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit." My own knowledge and understanding of visual art is too limited for me to make a judgement on the Turner nominees. But bigger questions are raised.

In all the arts there are fashions which work rather mysteriously, commercial pressures, and "arbiters of taste" - people employed to make decisions about, for example, who gets commissions, who makes a living, what reaches the public. According to friends who are fine artists, the long-standing vogue for "conceptual" art, installations, etc, makes it difficult for old-fashioned painters to get gallery space. And most artists need to sell their work to pay the rent, so they need to make things people (normally, rich people and corporations) will buy. Nothing's really just "art for art's sake."

The power of solidarity 1913-14: how Dublin's workers built their union

During the 1980s and 90s Margaret Thatcher's government introduced legislation to shackle the trade unions. New Labour has kept most of these anti-union laws. One of the central aims of these attacks was to end "secondary", or sympathetic strikes. The sympathetic strike has always been a tremendously powerful weapon in the arsenal of the working class. The Tories were trying to reverse working class gains of the 1960s and 70s, when solidarity strikes were used time and again.

When they come out in this kind of solidarity with other workers it is class action far more advanced than mere sectional trade union action. Implicitly, and sometimes openly, it challenges capitalist rule in society.

Although "secondary" action does not happen today because it is illegal that does not mean that there is no solidarity in the labour movement. More and more we are seing co-ordinated strike action: different unions striking on the same day, on the basis of legal ballots.

We will see real "secondary" action again - when groups of workers come out directly in aid of other workers' struggles. All over the world, wherever workers feel they have little to lose, but a lot of self-respect to gain, they will fight the bosses in this kind of way. Socialists have to keep alive the idea of sympathetic strikes.

Knowledge of working class history is one means of doing this.

The following articles by James Connolly explains the background to and general effects of the Dublin Labour War of 1913-14, in which Connolly was a central leader.

  • plus Frontline poetry: Workers of Ireland

China: New faces, same path

By Paul Hampton

China's Stalinist rulers have appointed a new leadership to continue the turn to capitalism begun in 1978.

President Jiang Zemin handed the leadership of the Communist Party to his deputy, Hu Jintao, but retains a tight grip behind the throne. Hu was designated Jiang's successor as far back as 1992 by Deng Xiaoping - the butcher of Tiananmen Square who led China from a USSR-style Stalinist economic system towards capitalism after 1978.

Tube workers make a stand for safety and solidarity

The Tube workers' union RMT has called a strike ballot after London Underground management said that Tube workers who refused to work in conditions which they judged unsafe without a proper fire service would have their pay docked. The Underground bosses refused to give the union a guarantee that it would not take disciplinary action against those workers who took a stand for safety.

Solidarity with Iranian students

By Workers Left Unity Iran

Since 9 November Iranian students have been demonstrating for the release of all political prisoners and against a death sentence passed on a reformist Islamist academic, Aghajar. The demonstrations started when a group of about 500 students set a fire outside the Tehran University". On Monday 11th some 3,000 students gathered at Tehran University, 2,000 joined protests in Oroumiyeh and the Universities of Hamadan, Kerman, Isfahan and Tabriz held similar gatherings. By Tuesday a boycott of lectures at Tehran Unievrsity turned into a demonstration. The struggle continues.

The students have been threatened with a crackdown but this did not deter thousands of Iranian university students on Monday 18th defying these warnings and stepping up their protests.
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Top up fees furore

Tax the rich to fund education
By Faz Velmi

After a long period of quiet, the battle over higher education funding is once again raging in the open. As an unholy alliance of Downing Street, big business and the elite universities pushes openly for higher, or even deregulated, tuition fees, splits at the highest levels of the Labour Party suggest that all is not lost if the student and labour movements respond with clear politics and the maximum possible counter-pressure.

Myra Hindley and justice

By Gerry Bates

Someone once said that free speech is for the person whose views you despise. The question of whether you are for or against free speech only arises acutely when you loathe the "speech" whose freedom you are called upon to defend. So also with justice. Justice is for the person you hate and feel like nailing to the wall. If you are not prepared to give justice to someone you would like to see in hell, then you do not believe in justice.