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Ideas for Freedom 2021

Around the weekend 10-11 July 2021.

A festival of socialist ideas and leftwing discussion, hosted by Workers' Liberty, Ideas for Freedom is an opportunity to explore, through talks, film showings, workshops and debates, ideas about how our world works, and how we can fight for a better one.

You can buy tickets in advance now: either for in-person attendance (first panel below) or online participation (second panel).

Highlights at the weekend (11 to 6, Saturday; 10 to 4:30pm, Sunday):

Debates

Beating the Tories after 6 May

The Tories’ narrative about where they are taking UK politics and society is dishonest and incoherent. But it is a narrative, one strongly honed and consistently argued for. In contrast the leadership of Keir Starmer’s Labour Party seems to have pretty much nothing to say about the kind of society or even the policies it wants. That is surely an important part of why Labour suffered such serious defeats on 6 May.

No to Netanyahu, no to Hamas!

Hamas, the political-Islamist group ruling the Gaza Strip, and allies, fired some 480 rockets at civilian targets in Israel on 9-11 May. The Israeli government responded by bombing hundreds of targets in Gaza. Escalation looks likely to continue.

Solidarity argues for “two nations, two states”. Israel should withdraw from the West Bank, end its blockade of Gaza, and concede the right of the Palestinians to an independent state of their own alongside Israel.

Covid: it's not "almost over"

With further lockdown-easing announced from 17 May, many people are coming to think that the Covid pandemic is “almost over”.

It’s not. The battle for social measures to underpin pandemic control remains urgent.

• Requisition the assets of Big Pharma, especially the vaccine patents and the know-how to expand new vaccine-production facilities. The US administration’s move to support a patent waiver is a victory for campaigning here, and Labour should demand that the UK government does similar.

GMB votes to reject 4% in NHS

Scottish NHS workers in the GMB union have rejected the 4% Scottish government pay offer. The RCN, who also recommended rejection, are expected to announce their result as Solidarity goes to press on 11 May. Unison recommended acceptance of the offer, and Unite did not make a recommendation, so it seems likely their members will vote to accept. The issue in Scotland will now be whether GMB and possibly the RCN will ballot for action, or simply use the recommendation to reject as a crude recruitment ploy, as happened in the last pay round.

Socialism vs capitalism

The world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, has increased his wealth from $130 billion to $186 billion during the pandemic. US billionaires in general have gained by about the same. Meanwhile poverty in the US has exploded.

Thirty years ago US billionaires owned less wealth than the poorest half of US society. Today they own four times as much.

Tories prepare voter suppression

Embolded by their success on 6 May, the Tories are proposing new measures to (further) restrict election democracy in the UK.

One — a proposal to change executive mayoral elections from a “supplementary vote” system to “first past the post” — is designed to make it harder for opposition parties to win mayoral elections, at a time when the left-and-centre vote is more split than a right-wing vote consolidated around the Tories.

Occupying to win our demands: an interview with a Sheffield Hallam rent striker

Workers' Liberty spoke to James C. from the Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) occupation.

This is an escalation of the rent strikes that have been going on all term. The uni have refused to meet with the rent strike. They’ve ignored us. So this is an attempt to get their attention and force them to meet with us.

Workers’ inquiries: knowledge for power

A swirl of billions, and a trickle of pennies. A great effort of science to control Covid, with wildly uneven vaccine supplies and patents and production gripped by profiteering billionaires. Huge subsidies for some in the pandemic, while others lose jobs or have to try to self-isolate with no or little pay and in crowded housing.

Where are the billions going? Who’s left with pennies? We need to know. We need to inquire.

Reject the 4% sop!

Nurses United, an activist group within the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), is campaigning for rejection of the 4% pay offer made to NHS workers in Scotland. Like the NHS Workers Say No group, it is campaigning for a 15% rise.

The GMB union is balloting in Scotland between 12 April and 5 May, Unison between 15 April and 7 May, and the RCN between 16 April and 6 May. Unison has called on members to accept the 4%, GMB and RCN to reject. The Royal College of Midwives and Unite are putting the deal to their members with no recommendation.

Activist agenda: Demand sick pay for all

The Safe and Equal campaign is running another “selfie campaign” in the first week of May, asking for people to take a photo of themselves and their workmates calling for full sick pay for all. Since spring 2020, Safe and Equal has been active in efforts to win or keep isolation pay in hospitals, in care homes, among Tube cleaners, and in virus Test Centres, with some wins but much ground still to be covered. With lockdown-easing, the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign is back to its regular 5th-of-the-month protests at the Chinese Embassy on Portland Place, London. Next: 5 May.

6 May: Vote Labour, push for a fighting policy

The English and Welsh local elections on 6 May have featured a lack of discussion about policies and politics.

The virtual destruction of local government is continuing at speed; but there is little mention of it in the election campaign, let alone real debate. The vote is mainly being treated as a national referendum on the parties’ popularity, but with little discussion of their national policies on local government or anything else.

Stakes and outcomes on 6 May

On 6 May across the UK Labour faces not only its first electoral test since the defeat in the 2019 election, but a major test on a number of fronts.

There are Scottish Parliamentary elections, Welsh Assembly elections, A number of Mayoral Elections, a London Assembly election, and elections across 143 councils that cover the majority of England, with maybe 5,000 seats up for grabs. On the same day there is also a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool.

Left schadenfreude

Xinjiang: the UN report that wasn’t

Even by the standards of the Morning Star — a publication whose coverage of anything to do with China is now little more than Beijing propaganda — Kate Woolford’s article on 13 April was an extraordinary exercise in dissembling whataboutery.

Woolford is, apparently, a member of the Southampton Young Communist League and social media editor of Challenge, the Young Communist League magazine. Her article is entitled “Xinjiang: staying afloat in a wave of disinformation” and claims to be an examination of “what is really going on in north-east China.”

Target Beijing's big-business allies!

Trade union leader Lee Cheuk Yan, socialist Leung Kwok Hung (“Long Hair”), and media mogul Jimmy Lai were given prison sentences of 14 months, 18 months and 14 months respectively, on 16 April, from their trial as leaders of the broad-based Civil and Human Rights Front.

Some other defendants, including 82-year-old former barrister and moderate democrat Martin Lee, were given suspended sentences.

British Gas workers confront deadline

British Gas engineers who have not agreed to new, inferior, contracts face dismissal on 14 April, as their battle with their bosses' “fire and rehire” offensive reaches its culmination.

The engineers, who are members of the GMB union, will strike again on 14 April, the day the new contracts are set to be imposed. The union plans mass pickets at various locations throughout the country. A survey of members returned an 86% majority for a renewed dispute around specific issues in the new contracts. When the contracts were announced, GMB said they would lead to:

Starting conversations and rethinking justice for Singapore’s Death Penalty Laws

Long-drop hanging on Friday at dawn. In the modern metropolis of Singapore, with its gleaming skyline, wealth, and a regional and international reputation for travel, accessibility, and thriving business opportunities, this is how inmates are killed under the sovereign state’s harsh laws: the death penalty.

BT workers prepare for ballot

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) says it is going “full steam ahead” towards an industrial action ballot in BT Group, which includes BT, Openreach, and EE.

BT bosses plan a restructure that could lead to compulsory redundancies, as well as worse terms and conditions for remaining workers. CWU says the restructure will mean:

Mass closure of many sites

A potential threat to voluntarism in leaving the business

A piecemeal approach to closure which lessens the chance of re-deployment

Victory for Test Centre workers

Cross-posted from Safe and Equal, http://safeandequal.org


For the past few months Safe and Equal has been working with Labour MPs to demand full sick and isolation pay for all frontline Test Centre workers. Yesterday [29 March 2021], we received a letter from Sodexo confirming that Test Centre workers will now be entitled to full isolation pay and that this provision will be written into new Test Centre contracts when the government puts them out to tender in July 2021.

Israel: Islamists or ultra-Orthodox as "kingmakers"?

Israel’s fourth general election in two years has resulted in a deadlock. A fifth election seemingly the most likely outcome. Freakishly, though, an Islamist party could be "kingmaker".

The right-wing bloc of parties supportive of incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won 52 seats, nine short of the 61 required to form a government. Parties opposing Netanyahu won 57 seats.

NHS pay protests across the country

NHS workers across the country held hospital-gate protests on Thursday 1 April, calling for a 15% pay rise (with a ÂŁ3,000 floor) instead of the government's recommended 1%.

St Thomas's hospital in London (pic above) held two protests, at two shift-change times, and University College London Hospital and Lewisham Hospital had lively protests (UCLH pic below). The London Transport Regional Council of the rail union RMT sent solidarity delegations to St Thomas's and UCLH.

Scottish NHS pay: where's the other 11%?

On 24 March the Scottish Government announced a pay offer of 4% for NHS workers.

Staff on the lowest Agenda for Change pay point would get a 5.4% increase. The pay rise would be backdated to last December. And it would come on top of the ÂŁ500 "thank you" payment already made by the Scottish Government.

As the Scottish Government press release inevitably pointed out, the pay offer was much better than the pay rise of 1% proposed by the Tories to the Pay Review Body for NHS workers in England.

Abuse in football: more reckoning to come

On 17 March, Clive Sheldon QC reported on the investigation he chaired into the sexual abuse of boys in football between 1970 and 2005. Five days later, the BBC began broadcasting its three-part documentary on the subject. Both the report and the documentary revealed the horrifying extent of abuse, the authorities’ failure to protect the boys, and the long struggle for justice.

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