Momentum Renewal and class politics

Just by scanning its founding supporters list, you can see that Momentum Renewal is a version of “continuity Momentum”, supported by the bulk of those responsible for the organisation’s trajectory over the last three and half years.

In some respects MR is almost certainly worse than "continuity". It seems to represent not just the existing Momentum office faction, but a particular wing of it - by and large, the worst wing of it.

Not just Cummings

Not just the unelected Dominic Cummings. Boris Johnson should go.

In fact, the whole Tory cabinet should go. But Johnson going would be a good start.

Cummings’ trip to Durham, and Johnson’s endorsement, have disgusted millions who think: we made sacrifices, followed the rules so we didn’t see loved ones who were ill, lonely, dying — and you people don’t bother.

Tories dig in for hard Brexit

New polling commissioned by liberal anti-Brexit campaign Best for Britain and anti-far right campaign Hope Not Hate says 59% expect the Brexit transition period will be extended.

Unfortunately that may be naive. The government is digging in further and further, saying it will not under any circumstances apply for an extension. The deadline for applying is 30 June — less than five weeks. Labour and the unions remain silent at best, with Keir Starmer saying he is “not calling for an extension”.

Organise against university cuts

Coronavirus is intensifying the fault lines in UK higher education, and huge cuts are coming to our universities.

Universities are announcing job cuts and hiring freezes to mitigate the huge predicted loss of income from international students’ fees. Staff on casual, fixed-term or hourly paid contracts will be the hardest hit, and their workloads will be pushed onto permanent staff. Lots is still unclear.

Push Johnson backwards

The Conservatives’ Immigration Bill passed its second reading in parliament on 18 May. It will proceed to committee scrutiny, expected to run until 25 June.

The Bill would end free movement with the EU and write a blank cheque for the Home Secretary, who will be able to create a new immigration regime with limited oversight. Plans published so far indicate an extension to EU migrants of the existing regime’s barriers and hostile treatment of “unskilled” (i.e. low-paid) workers. “Guest worker” schemes will facilitate hyper-exploitation and abuse by employers.

Make the schools safe!

The government’s aspiration to partially open schools on 1 June is likely to be largely unrealised. While we all want children back in schools, as soon as safe enough, that is good. Success in resisting unsafe reopening is dependent on union strength on the ground. We must fight for rank-and-file school worker control over the strategy, locally and nationally.

Fight the coming job cuts

JCB, a big company making mechanical diggers, has sent out letters beginning the consultation legally required when declaring more than 100 redundancies.

The required 45 days consultation will end on 2 July, just after the end of the current phase of the “furlough” scheme under which the government covers 80% of the wages of workers sent home for the lockdown.

JCB plans to cut 950 from its permanent workforce, and 500 agency-worker jobs.

Quarantine, not border closure

It’s Friday 13 March 2020. The UK has 789 confirmed cases of Covid-19. It is still 10 days away from a national lockdown that will stay in place for seven weeks, effectively shuttering large swathes of society.

And the government has just removed the Foreign Office advice that travellers from Wuhan, Northern Italy, and other “hotspots” for Covid-19 should self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in the UK. The country now has no advice or restrictions on international arrivals to contain the pandemic.

Brazil in the pandemic

Brazil is now one of the epicentres of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The number of confirmed cases is over 200,000, and deaths over 15,000, making it the fourth largest outbreak in the world.

The still almost-exponentially-increasing number of cases has, however, not been enough to convince Jair Bolsonaro to establish any sort of federal social distancing policy. The president was instead interviewed at a floating barbecue party (!) as the number of deaths reached 10,000.

Schools and the Tories' 1 June

On Sunday 10 May, in a pre-recorded message, Boris Johnson, stated the government’s desire to open primary schools to all Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils on 1 June. He also said he hoped that Year 10 and Year 12 would be able to get some face to face contact in the near future.

Further guidance from the government then added nursery age children in primary schools to that list.

Undemocratic backroom politics in Momentum

There is a fight about the future of Labour left organisation Momentum.

A new grouping, Forward Momentum, is in conflict with those who run the Momentum office (which means, in Momentum as currently constituted, run the organisation). The office people seem to be supporting a counter-initiative, Momentum Renewal. Both will run candidates in the imminent National Coordinating Group elections.

Neither grouping presents a clear, concrete, politically adequate or honest line about how Momentum should function, what it should argue for and what it should do.

No rushed lockdown-easing!

≫ Workers’ control!
≫ Isolation pay for all
≫ Requisition industry for PPE and tests
≫ Union control over workplace assessments

Workers, and our unions, need to get out in front of any discussion or planning by the bosses to begin to reopen workplaces and bring workers back to work.

We need to put in place clear assessments and our own criteria, overseen by union reps with the maximum degree of control for workers, for when it’s safe for work to resume or for workers to return to the workplace.

University jobs at risk

The pandemic, and the fall-off in international student fees which will come as a consequence, has tipped an already unsustainable model of university expansion into crisis.

It will speed up marketisation, and bring on cuts harder and faster than they would have come before.

The government has brought forward some payments due to universities to avoid a cash-flow crisis, but as yet has refused to provide extra funding to fill what could be a £1.7bn gap.

Behind the talk of "heroes"

The “heroes” narrative about NHS and other essential workers is dangerous. As a nurse on the Panorama programme on PPE said, it has an implication that unnecessary deaths are workers willingly sacrificing themselves. It absolves the government of responsibility.

It also carries an implication that those workers rebelling against these conditions lack the courage of their colleagues who accept risks due to lack of PPE.

Tim Roache and the cabal system

On Tuesday 28 April, Tim Roache, general secretary of the big GMB union, which organises in many different sectors, stepped down, just months after his re-election.

He cited ill-health. On Wednesday, following the circulation of an anonymous letter to press outlets, GMB issued a statement: “GMB received an anonymous letter, last Wednesday, in which a number of allegations have been made about Tim’s conduct whilst he held the office of general secretary.”

"An ethos of equality is our only firewall"

Hannah Pollin-Galay (above right, in the white t-shirt, on a protest she helped organise blocking the entrance to the headquarters of Netanyahu's Likud party) is a supporter of Omdim B'Yachad (Standing Together), a left-wing Arab-Jewish social movement in Israel. She spoke to Daniel Randall from Solidarity.

DR: The formation of a new coalition government is obviously a hugely worrying development in terms of the threat of annexation. What's your assessment of it?

The inequalities are glaring

Katrina Faccenda is a Labour Party activist in Edinburgh and Labour candidate for the Scottish parliamentary seat of Edinburgh Northern and Leith. She talked with Sacha Ismail.

This crisis has starkly highlighted all sorts of inequalities and made them glaring. Vulnerable people are now much more vulnerable – people in poverty, women, BAME communities. It’s an indicator not so much of how awful the pandemic is, as how dysfunctional our society was even before.

Slump after the slump?

57% of US university chiefs say they will be cutting jobs in the coming months. Many US universities are expected to shut down altogether.

In Britain, councils say they will face an unpayable £5 billion debt as they move out of the lockdown. Some are already planning cuts, and some are threatening to declare themselves bankrupt.

Workers in some elderly care homes have been told that their jobs may disappear as the lockdown eases, since the homes will have fewer old people to look after.

The USA in the pandemic

As the US currently leads the world with nearly one million cases, the death rate is particularly high in New York and New Jersey, and cities like Seattle, where the population is more concentrated and the culture is more cosmopolitan.

The virus has come to rural states, like mine in Vermont, later. The majority of deaths in Vermont have come in nursing homes. The staff in those homes, in this state anyway, are entirely non-union and very low-paid.

The labour movement and easing the lockdown

Starting with Austria reopening small shops on 14 April, almost all European countries have now begun easing their pandemic lockdowns, or announced plans to do so (Italy from 4 May, France from 11 May).

Iran has reopened the bazaar in Tehran. Schools have restarted in Beijing and Shanghai.

The World Health Organisation, however, has declared that “the worst is yet to come”. Its worry is not so much about a second wave in Europe, as first waves elsewhere.

A platform for Momentum

As the Momentum National Coordinating Group (NCG) elections approach, debate is building on the left over the future direction for Momentum.

Supporters of the campaign group Labour for a Socialist Europe have put out a platform to set out an idea of how Momentum could change direction. They will be looking to stand and support candidates for the NCG who endorse all or most of this platform.

Sweden in the pandemic

Swedish policy in the pandemic has been an outlier in two ways. Alone in Europe, it has not had a lockdown, only social distancing guidelines. And the policy has been explicitly set by the public health scientists.

The outcome is unclear: Sweden's cases and deaths show the same sort of graphs as other countries, worse than some, not as bad as others, and with similar doubts about the accuracy of the figures. Some scientists in Sweden are calling for policies there more like the UK's.

Can we get R<1?

Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, and France have all announced measures to ease their pandemic lockdowns.

Several other countries in Europe look as if they are at or past a pandemic peak. The UK may be around a peak.

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