Go online until it’s safe, protect jobs and bail out Higher Education!

By Workers' Liberty Higher Education workers

For the first UK universities to open, the start of term has been the predictable shambles when it comes to so-called "Covid-security". St Andrews has asked its students to observe a "voluntary lockdown" for this weekend. Manchester Met has a cluster of cases on campus (now running at 127 and rising) which have been linked by local media to a party in halls. Some students have been confined to their flats. In large areas of northern England bans on household mixing mean they are not allowed to visit friends' or parents' homes.

Ukraine miners' protest goes underground

Hundreds of mine workers have spent weeks underground in a desperate attempt to win concessions from their employers in Ukraine.

The protests began on 3 September at the Oktyabrskaya mine, where 29 miners started the action.

There was no response from management, so the strike began to spread.

Within a few days, 214 miners at the Rodina mine, 90 miners at the Gvardeyskaya mine and 60 miners at the Ternovskaya mine joined the protest underground.

A socialist voice in difficult times

Workers' Liberty backs the Green Party US campaign of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, as the only campaign in the US presidential election to raise explicit socialist demands and have a labour movement orientation.

There are other socialists of some stripes running, but on a purely sect-building basis. Hawkins is a member of the revolutionary socialist group Solidarity, and has been a long term activist in the third camp socialist tradition. In some ways, his is the best socialist Presidential campaign for many years.

Brexit: "a bit of crazy"

The Tories have moved fractionally on their Internal Market bill, which, by their own account, breaches the Withdrawal Agreement treaty they signed with the EU (on economic checks between Northern Ireland and Britain).

As shadow Attorney-General Charlie Falconer puts it, it's "no climbdown... only a doubling-down". The shift says only that each breach of the Withdrawal Agreement will need parliamentary assent. Dissident Tory MPs are placated, but the EU isn't.

Belarus workers fight for democracy

Again on 19-20 September, mass demonstrations across Belarus demanded democracy. The last two Saturdays have seen tens of thousands of women in the capital, Minsk. They have faced police attacks, but the last two Sunday demonstrations have both attracted over 150,000.

The women defended each other heroically — stopping state security arresting their comrades and pulling off the balaclavas behind which the security thugs hide their identity.

Scottish Labour - why did GMB abstain?

On the eve of the 12 September 2020 meeting of the Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee, Gary Smith, Regional Secretary of the GMB union, announced that the GMB would be abstaining on the motion of ‘no confidence’ in leader Richard Leonard.

“Richard Leonard’s Own Union Refuses To Back Him Ahead of Leadership Vote,” read the headlines in the Scottish press.

According to Smith: “At a time like this, our members would not thank us for getting bogged down in an internal Scottish Labour party issue, a party for which many of them no longer vote for.”

Spread this open letter!

A new open letter, with its initial signatories including several Labour MPs and leading trade unionists, commits to “fighting for repeal of all the anti-union laws and their replacement with strong legal rights for workers and unions, including strong rights to strike and picket.

“We welcome the policy to this effect passed at TUC Congress last year and at multiple Labour Party conferences, and will campaign actively to achieve it."

Tim Hales: a tribute

On Sunday 6 September my good friend and comrade Tim Hales passed away several months after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Tim will be known to many readers of Solidarity for the colourful and vibrant cartoons he produced regularly for the paper over recent years. He had been an art teacher since the 1980s, first in Barnsley and then Leeds, and was able to devote more time to his own artwork after retirement. He took the responsibility for producing cartoons very seriously and was always proud to see his work published in the paper.

Trump's rigged election bid

On 13 September, one of Donald Trump’s political dirty tricksters, Roger Stone, signposted a Trumpian future. Though convicted, Stone has avoided prison thanks to a presidential pardon.

To pay back the favour, he has suggested that should Trump lose the 3 November election, he should declare martial law and arrest political opponents such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg.

Activists need better tools than Facebook

When tens of thousands of people in Belarus decided to protest in the streets, they first of all needed a way to communicate with each other. With internet being widely available, they chose to use the Telegram messaging app.

Telegram is not nearly as well known in Britain, where Skype (owned by Microsoft), Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (both owned by Facebook) are more popular. But it should be – especially by those of us on the Left.

Brexit, the Tories, Labour: what sort of “State Aid”?

In the propaganda the government is putting out about their conflict with the EU over a Brexit Trade deal the Tories are making much of “State Aid” being a point of contention.

The EU’s State Aid rules are often a crux of Lexiter arguments for Brexit. They argue that State Aid rules will be used to stifle attempts to nationalise industries or intervene actively in the economy.

Schools: build health and safety committees

At the end of our first week back from school summer holidays a colleague of mine rang the parents of a Year 8 boy in her tutor group. The boy had done very well in school, and was clearly delighted to be back with his friends. So my colleague talked to the boy’s dad and told him how well the boy had been doing in class.

The boy’s dad burst into tears. Presumably a mix of relief, intense long-term worry, and happiness, all coming to the surface at once.

Universities return: fight for control!

The 2020-21 academic year is getting underway. Higher Education (HE) institutions that closed down and sent most of their students away in March, scrambling to move all teaching online, are preparing to welcome over two million people, mostly young, once more.

Universities and colleges like many workplaces are allowed – expected – to reopen so long as they are “Covid-secure”. All insist that they are now that – for students, staff, and the surrounding community. They cannot afford to do otherwise!

Virus: indict the Tories

In Britain as in other countries in Europe, detected SARS-Cov-2 infections have been rising slowly since early July, and now faster since points in August.

In France, the rise has been much faster. In Spain, it has already fed into a rise in Covid-19 deaths, though so far only to a rate about 5% of the April peak.

From mid-April through to early July, infection levels fell fairly steadily across Europe. The fall was not reversed, halted, or even visibly slowed by limited lockdown-easing measures across those months, notably the reopening of schools in many countries.

Video: Remembering the Bosnian War, with Sarah Correia and Martin Thomas

Audio and video Introductory speeches from a meeting of the same name, which outline the complex events that led up to the war, left responses and legacies of the war. Sarah Correia is a researcher at LSE, researching memories of the Bosnian war. Martin Thomas talks about the response of much of the left at the time.

December 2020 marks 15 years since the end of the Bosnian war. In 1992 after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence, a Serb-backed military assault took place, bringing ethnic cleansing, rape and destruction of mosques.

Under the banner of “peace” and opposing Western intervention many on the left sided with, or failed to oppose, the Serb nationalists. Workers' Liberty argued an international arms embargo should be lifted so that the Bosnians could defend themselves.

This meeting will outline the complex events that led up to the war, the left responses and the legacies of that war.

Workers' Liberty students

Student activists in Workers' Liberty argue for working class socialist ideas and campaign on issues like freedom of movement, anti-racism, workers' rights, international solidarity and free movement.

Every Monday, from 21 September, 6-7pm: Workers' Liberty Students will be holding informal online political discussions on the following topics; we'll also catch up on current campaigns.

More news on higher education and student campus action here.

GMB: democracy vs Regional Secretaries

The GMB union is institutionally sexist. There is gender-based job discrimination. Branches are male-dominated, with deliberately engineered limits on female participation. And bullying, misogyny, cronyism, and sexual harassment are endemic in the union.

That is the conclusion of Karon Monaghan QC’s report on her investigation into the GMB, commissioned by its Central Executive Council (CEC) in late April, and published on 2 September.

Tories lurch towards No Deal

Boris Johnson, according to the Financial Times on 7 September, is planning legislation (to be published 9 September) which will contradict the Withdrawal Agreement already signed with the European Union on state aid to industrial bosses and on trade checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.

And Johnson said on 6 September that if he doesn’t get an outline deal on free trade post-Brexit with the EU by 15 October, then he will “move on”. In other words, to a “no-deal” Brexit.

Young Labour: democracy, struggle, Internationalism

Set up to back internationalist, class-struggle candidates in the current Young Labour elections (nominations close 27 September, ballot 19 October to 12 November), Young Labour Internationalists also aim to connect Young Labour activists with social movements and struggles.

In particular, they plan to get young activists involved in the NHS workers’ fight, and in making solidarity with freedom struggles in other countries: Belarus, China, Montenegro, Poland... You can read their full platform here.

Stand firm for right to protest!

On 5 September, a trans rights protest (see here) scheduled for Parliament Square, London, was cancelled by its organisers because the police threatened them with mass arrests.

The organisers wrote: “On 3 September we liaised with the Metropolitan Police and they assured us, after the news of Piers Corbyn’s arrest [on 29 August, at a Trafalgar Square anti-virus-precautions protest] that there would be no risk of arrests or fines because our protest posed no risk of danger.

The left and Bosnia

The wars in Croatia (1991-5), Bosnia (1992-5), and Kosova (1999), all part of the break-up of Yugoslavia, were among the first wars of the new era following the fall of Stalinism in Eastern Europe (1989) and the USSR (1991).

And the different attitudes then of different trends on the left were among the first markers of how the left would differentiate in the new era.

Workers’ Liberty backed the peoples of Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova in their struggle for self-determination against what we saw as Serbian proto-imperialism, quasi-imperialism, or sub-imperialism.

The Bosnian war, 25 years later

Sarah Correia is a researcher into society and history in Bosnia. She talked with Martin Thomas from Solidarity.

Why did war erupt in Bosnia in 1992, between the Bosnian government on one side and Serb militias and the Serbian-dominated federal army on the other? We thought we should side with Bosnia against what we saw as Serbian imperialism, but much of the left refused to take sides in the Bosnian war of 1992-95, or backed the Serb forces.

Stop this deportation!

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Home Office on Friday 4 September to demand that Osime Brown not be deported to Jamaica.

Led by Osime’s family, the protest was supported by Autistic Inclusive Meets (AIM), Neurodivergent Labour (NDL) and RMT’s London Transport Regional Council. Osime’s mother, sister and stepfather told how he had been imprisoned under “joint enterprise” law simply for being present when a mobile phone was stolen, and that an order has been issued to deport him when he is released next month.

Next steps on NHS pay

The cross-union campaign “NHS Workers Say No!” is organising a day of demonstrations on 12 September. (London: 11 a.m. from the BBC, Portland Place. Details for other cities here).  Article and video.

This follows a round of protests in many cities on 8 August, when NHS workers across the country came onto the streets to demand a pay rise, an earlier London street protest on 29 July, and workplace actions across the country.

The demand is that all NHS workers (including those contracted out) get a 15% pay rise. That does not fully make up for the loss in pay NHS workers have had over the last decade due to pay freezes. When taking inflation into account, NHS workers have lost 20% in real terms.

When "free thought" turns against science

Over the months there have been a number of anti-mask demonstrations, most of them fairly small, and certainly well on the fringes of public opinion about the Covid-19 pandemic. 

On 29 August that shifted up a notch. A number of larger demonstrations were held in Europe. In London, several thousand of people, at least, crowded into Trafalgar Square to hear speakers including David Icke and Piers Corbyn.

"This attack on capitalism"

As I write on 7 September, Extinction Rebellion (XR) UK’s latest rebellion has just finished its first week, with a few days still to come. Every day, in many locations across the country, hundreds of protesters have turned out for often bold actions to urge action on the climate crises.

XR has rightly denounced serious and increasing police repression. Hundreds have been arrested, including mass arrests following kettling.

Singapore: birth of a new left

After three weekends of fantastic discussions on issues like climate change and migrant workers’ rights, Activism in Crisis (AIC) — a huge activism festival in Singapore, 3 to 23 August — has wrapped up triumphantly.

The freedom to speak and to organise in Singapore is quite stifled. Yet, in many ways, AIC is a model for organising and hosting events online — a model not just for organising under repressive regimes but a model for organising in the time of Covid.

XR returns to activity

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Bristol held protests and blockades from 29-31 August, and XR nationally begun a fortnight of disruption from 1 September in London, Cardiff and Manchester.

They aim to get the “Climate and Ecological Emergency” (CEE) bill adopted as a “private members’ bill” and then passed as Parliament returns from 1 September. In Bristol, a protest at the airport reportedly saw almost 400 people, multiple bridges were blockaded, and XR organised many other actions, talks, and educational activities.

Unison: break from "plan to lose"!

Local government members in the big public-services union Unison have voted two to one (66%) in favour of the 2020-21 pay award, in a ballot closing 11 August. The union’s national joint council committee accepted the offer from employers of 2.75%, though, it said, “it fell far short of the 10% claim and did not properly reward key workers for their exceptional contributions throughout the pandemic”.

The pay award fell even further short of the 22% our union had explained we have lost over the last ten years.

Stop slide to No Deal!

The Tories are tobogganing towards a “no deal” Brexit. Maybe they hope to scare the EU into last-minute concessions, but, on the scale of such things, four months is very short for that. The Tories may think that with everyone distracted by the pandemic and other issues, they can get away with “no deal”, and use the resulting turmoil to push through “disaster capitalism” shock policies.

The social and economic effects of the resulting higher barriers between Britain and Europe, disrupting 50 years of economic knitting-together, and of the shock policies, will hit workers hardest.

"Battersea versus the British Empire"

This is part two of a series. For the other articles, see here.

In 1921, aged 47, after 16 years in the UK, Shapurji Saklatvala was selected as Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Battersea North. This came shortly after his very public decision to leave the Independent Labour Party and join the Communist Party of Great Britain. He would become both Labour's first "BAME" MP and one of Britain's first avowedly revolutionary socialist MPs.

School reopenings: ballot on safety

The National Education Union (NEU) favours the reopening of English and Welsh schools in September, without qualification. That is positive.

But the union is not advocating action to stop unsafe or careless practice by school managements. It is not even publicising to members Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act, which allows workers to quit work areas where they see a “serious or imminent danger”.

"Pathetic clowns, lousy Trotskyists": The Left responds to a solidarity campaign with Belarus

In late August, at the request of independent trade unions in Belarus and supported by global union federations, LabourStart launched a campaign demanding an end to state repression in that country. The campaign title was “Stop the violence — defend democracy and human rights”. 

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