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Ideas for Freedom 2020

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.

This year's theme is: "Remaking the labour movement".

Agenda info will be published as sessions are finalised. You can buy tickets in advance now. Scroll down in the panel below to see the options.

Wuhan: a new coronavirus

WHAT HAPPENED IN WUHAN?

People visiting a seafood and wild animal market a few weeks ago almost certainly picked up a species of virus from live wild animals on sale. This virus, a member of the Coronavirus family, causes fever, a cough and sometimes pneumonia.

It seems to be relatively easy to transmit between people and identified cases have risen sharply to well over 10,000 in a few weeks, most in the city of Wuhan with a few (so far) in other towns and countries.

Labour leadership: challenge the candidates

Rebecca Long-Bailey has challenged the other candidates to support the commitments to public ownership in the 2019 manifesto. Richard Burgon has argued for a new pro-public ownership Clause IV in the party constitution.

Keir Starmer has backed the 2019 manifesto’s plans for higher taxes on the rich and come out for re-establishing UK-EU free movement. Dawn Butler has written in the Guardian about scrapping anti-trade union laws, though on inspection what she means is pretty fuzzy.

Health workers strike in Hong Kong

Today, 3 February, over 2,000 health workers went on strike, after an overwhelming ballot held over the weekend in favour of action to press their two demands, and after the Government refused to meet with them:

1) The HKSAR Government must close its border with China to prevent more and more people infected with the Wuhan novel-coronavirus from coming in.
2) The HKSAR Government must secure sufficient masks, clothing and other equipment to enable hospital staff to carry out their work with sufficient protection against the virus.

We're still for a united Europe

The socialist left should vocally oppose the Tories’ Brexit plans. It should argue for a united Europe, and for the UK to rejoin the EU. It should fight for the broad labour movement, including the Labour Party, to argue and campaign for this too.

Almost all the Labour-leader candidates say that we have no choice but to “move on” while the Tories “get Brexit done”. Even Emily Thornberry, the most vocally anti-Brexit candidate, says only that Labour should have been more anti-Brexit.

Stop West Bank annexation!

On Saturday 1 February, some 2,000 Israelis, Jews and Arabs, demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the “Trump plan” for Israel-Palestine, and the threats by leading Israeli politicians Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to use the “plan” as licence to move quickly to annex large areas of the West Bank.

According to the Israeli press, the other opposition to annexation (this one behind closed doors) comes from the top brass of Israel’s armed forces, who calculate that it would create reverberating problems for them.

Sanders and the unions

Bernie Sanders has introduced a new phrase into American politics: “working class.”

For decades, hardly anyone has used those two words together. It was far more common to speak of the “middle class” or, more recently, “working families”. By employing the language of class, Sanders has staked out his claim to be the candidate of the trade unions.

Against Trump's plan! For "Two States"!

Donald Trump, side-by-side with Israel’s right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is announcing his long-touted “plan” for Israel-Palestine as Solidarity goes to press on Tuesday 28th.

Trump talked of it as a “two states” plan, but his pointed dissociation, in the run-up to the announcement, from the USA’s long-standing formal commitment to “two states”, was more apt.

Israel’s left-wing Jewish-Arab social movement Standing Together tweeted: “The ‘deal of the century’ is not a peace deal, and there is no good news or hope in it. What’s in it then? Lies”.

The uprising in Iraq

Iraq is in a constitutional limbo. Adil Abdul-Mahdi has resigned as prime minister, but he is still in office, as a caretaker. On 26 December Barham Salih, the president, refused to accept the nominee of the ruling bloc of Islamist parties. Salih threatened to resign himself.

There is deadlock, and both Abdul-Mahdi and Salih are still in office.

The Washington No Show Trial

For all Trump’s talk of witch hunts and show trials, impeachment proceedings against him in the US Congress have turned into one big noshow trial.

No new evidence allowed. No witnesses permitted. No documents released.

The suggestion that if they were to hear witnesses it would have to be behind closed doors, for fear of what the American public might otherwise learn, reeks of the kind of behaviour expected in Putin’s Russia or Saudi Arabia rather than the USA’s supposed beacon of democracy.

Labour leader: the contest so far

At the moment at least, I am not supporting any of the candidates for Labour leader. In hustings, I think, activists should ask pointed questions, and ask members to judge the candidates by their responses.

For example, no candidate has yet committed to work for wide democratic reforms in Labour’s still-largely-Blair-made structure. None has backed the Free Our Unions call for them to respect the 2019 Labour conference decision for repeal of all anti-union laws. None has said that they will seek to lead on-the-streets and industrial campaigning against Johnson.

Three decades of Socialist Worker on antisemitism

When Sunderland Polytechnic Students Union (SPSU) banned a campus Jewish Society in 1985, Socialist Worker (weekly newspaper of the Socialist Workers Party) rallied to its defence.

The SPSU was “quite clearly not racist. … One thing is clear – they are not racists, unlike the Zionists who oppose them.” (SW/928)

Socialist Worker conceded in passing that “it can be argued whether the SPSU was tactically wise to ban the Zionists.” But the ban itself was not criticised. In fact, the paper uncritically quoted the SPSU Treasurer’s rationale for the ban:

The “Bernie Blackout” is now over

A few weeks ago, the mainstream media narrative about Bernie Sanders ran like this: Sanders appeals to a very limited audience in the Democratic Party and therefore cannot win the nomination. In the early caucus and primary states he leads the pack nowhere. Mayor Pete Buttigieg could win Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren may take New Hampshire, but Joe Biden will win all the rest. So little attention was being paid to the Vermont Senator that Sanders’ supporters began to talk about a “Bernie Blackout”.

Fast forward to the first weeks of January 2020 and everything has changed.

New decade, old approach?

Three years after Stormont collapsed, following the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), power-sharing returned to Northern Ireland on 11 January and a new Executive was formed.

The general election on 12 December punished both the main parties, the DUP and SF. There was growing anger at the continuing deadlock, which saw a crisis in public services — NI has the longest NHS waiting lists in the UK and schools are under huge financial pressure — while legislators still received their salaries.

Gantz backs annexation

Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel’s Blue and White coalition and the main rival to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has announced his support for the annexation of the Jordan Valley, ahead of the Israeli elections on 2 March.

The valley is situated on the eastern edge of the West Bank, part of the Palestinian territories which, while under Israeli military occupation, are not formally part of the State of Israel. Gantz has described the area as an “eastern defensive wall in any future scenario,” and said it was “an inseparable part of the State of Israel.”

250 million strike in India

The Hindu-chauvinist BJP Indian government is meeting serious resistance.

Trade unions have been taking action. The Modi government was forced to back off a series of economic reforms including privatisation and attacks on workers’ rights after strikes in 2015, 2016 and 2019. Those issues have not gone away. Ten India trade union federations called a one-day general strike on 8 January against the government’s economic policies (the eleventh federation is affiliated with the Hindu chauvinist movement and did not strike).

Gas deals and Libya's civil war

Turkish troops, along with Turkey-aligned Syrian rebels, have now been sent to Libya.

They have been sent to defend Fayez al-Serraj’s government in Tripoli in western Libya. Russian forces are also in Libya — supporting General Khalifa Haftar’s rival administration based in Benghazi in the east.

There has been continuous civil strife throughout Libya since the overthrow of Colonel Gadaffi in 2011. The most recent episode began in April 2019, when General Haftar launched an attack on Tripoli.

The most incoherent suicide note in history

The "Scottish Labour Open Letter"

The Scottish Labour left has been presented with a new hero of the class struggle: Alison Evison.

Evison is the sole Labour member of Aberdeenshire Council. She is also Deputy Leader of the Council Opposition Alliance (consisting almost entirely of SNP councillors), President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and Secretary of the COSLA Labour Group.

Bushfires burn holes in climate change denial

The current fire season, and drought, in Australia are expected to continue for months.

When the fires do end, rainforests and animal habitats may never regenerate fully, and animal populations may never recover.

The seeds of a socialist political response to climate change might grow out of the opposition to the government, if climate activists can develop a clear set of demands, and broaden support for a just transition.

Free Our Unions plans renewed campaigning

The Free Our Unions campaign has made plans to renew its activity in 2020, following an organising meeting in London on 8 January.

It is circulating a new statement, calling for united resistance across the labour movement to the threat of new anti-strike laws. Signatories include Michelle Rodgers, president of rail union RMT, Ian Hodson, president of the Bakers’ union, UCU general secretary Jo Grady, and Labour MP Nadia Whittome.

Left antisemitism is a form of racism

Left antisemitism has long used tropes popularised by Stalinist “anti-Zionist” campaigns against the Jews, where “Zionist” was a proxy for “Jewish”.

This commonly includes tropes about Jews being manipulative, powerful, and wealthy, saying Jewish people tend to be imperialist capitalists, and to associate and collaborate with Nazis and the far right. This language, these tropes, group Jewish people together as a group to be hated in the same way that other forms of racism do.

Postal workers to strike in Bootle

Royal Mail workers in Bootle, Merseyside, will strike from 18-20 January, to protest the victimisation of a local union rep.

There had previously been wildcat action at the same depot in October, when workers struck to defend a Muslim workmate against racist abuse from a manager. The strike subsequently spread to an office in Warrington after a driver from that office was suspended for refusing to cross the Bootle workers’ picket line. The strike lasted for a week, until workers were forced back to work by a court order.

Sponsor our Sheffield-Manchester ride!

Hannah Thompson and Dan Rawnsley from Sheffield will be doing a sponsored bike ride to raise funds for Workers’ Liberty on 15 February 2020.

The ride will be from Sheffield to Manchester, a slightly shorter distance but, because of the hills, a much harder ride than the one from London to Cambridge which raised £1250 in October.

We’ve set £1917 as a provisional target for total sponsorships this time, and it has raised £140 in the first few hours of the website going live. Add your contribution here.

Tories: prepare the fightback!

Boris Johnson has talked of ending austerity, bolstering public services and appealing to the working class, but on all the evidence so far that is a threadbare velvet glove on an iron hand.

NHS spending is set to increase, but by nothing anywhere near what is needed to fill the shortfall from its 2010-20 cuts. The tide of privatisation will continue to roll forward.

The NHS is probably the best protected part of the public sector. The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that by 2024, non-NHS spending will be 14% lower than in 2010.

Make Labour councils centres of resistance!

In the cacophony of post mortems of Labour’s defeat, the role of Labour councils is being overlooked or at least understated.

I think that a significant contributor to the erosion of Labour’s base has been councils which cut services, do the bidding of developers, and are generally bureaucratic, unresponsive and inaccessible to working-class people. They are seen as the establishment and are the first political institution that people see affecting their lives negatively.

Resist the Tories’ new anti-strike law!

In his government’s first Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson has announced that he plans to introduce new laws to restrict strikes.There could be little clearer indication of the class loyalties of his government than this. Despite his wildly hypocritical appeals to “anti-establishment” feeling, here his government shows its true colours, in attempting to further restrict the ability of working-class people to take action to improve our lives.

Poor choices for Labour leader

Labour’s National Executive Committee has set a short timetable for the leadership election. MPs and MEPs have one week to nominate candidates (7-13 January).

Constituency Labour Party [CLPs] and affiliates have one month (15 January-14 February). Voting will run a month and a bit (21 February-4 April).

New members can vote if they join by 20 January. There will be a registered supporters system, in addition to affiliate supporters (eg people registered through their unions).

Tories plan new curbs on local councils

Johnson is likely to be the enemy of a democratic settlement in Israel-Palestine, shifting the UK further towards the Trump government’s anti-Palestinian position.

Although Johnson himself displayed little interest in the conflict as foreign secretary, his ideological lieutenant Priti Patel was forced to resign her international development post in 2017 after breaking diplomatic protocol in efforts to channel aid money towards the Israeli military. She defended herself by insisting that Johnson had been told about her activities.

The racism in “gang” panics

I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer. I first became deeply interested in the topic of crime and policing in response to a wave of gang violence that was plaguing the area of North West London I call home.

I say this to illustrate that there are instances where gangs are the culprit. It isn’t my intention to delegitimise or trivialise those situations. However, in the words of an unnamed senior Met officer talking to Amnesty International: “Gangs are, for the most part, a complete red herring… fixation with the term is unhelpful at every level.”

After the general election, what next?

Ruth Cashman spoke at the 17 December Workers' Liberty London forum: "After the general election, what next?"


We are not even a week from the election which did not go great for us. We are scared and disappointed at a victory for the Tories, especially for a Tory party which has been sharply moved to the right.

My shoes are still wet from election week, but we have to start this discussion now for two reasons. One, there is a real risk that many people attracted to politics by Corbyn and Corbynism might drop out, demoralised by the defeat.

Regroup! Fight the Tories every inch of the way!

Workers' Liberty activists worked hard, with our local Labour Parties and with Labour for a Socialist Europe, to win the 12 December election for Labour.

Like hundreds of thousands of other labour-movement people, we are dismayed by the victory for the Tories, especially for a Tory party which has been sharply ratcheted to the right twice in recent years, once when May took over and then again, more so, after Boris Johnson became leader.

We argue that the labour movement must:

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