News

Battle for democracy

Parliament does not decide when it does or doesn’t sit. The Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, does that.

Parliament does not decide what Bills can or cannot be debated. The government largely does that, with some small rights of input from the official Opposition.

Only in situations where the government does not have a majority, and where the governing party is in the process of splitting, like now, does that open up more.

Storm on the streets

To the chants “No one voted for Boris” and “Save our democracy, stop the coup” hundreds of thousands have marched in cities across the UK in the last three days. The central co-ordinating work was done by Another Europe is Possible, working with a broader coalition of left anti-Brexit campaigners. There were around 80 demonstrations on Saturday 31st.

Labour and unions must organise workers' action to stop Johnson's coup!

Boris Johnson is shutting down Parliament.

His plan will limit, and is designed to prevent, Parliament passing legislation to stop Britain exiting the EU on 31 October without a deal. Johnson may also calculate he can dodge or face down the consequences of a vote of no-confidence once Parliament reconvenes next week. Labour′s preferred ″option″ of a general election before 31 October will be a non-starter. In any general election that is called after that date, Labour will be in a weakened position.

More on why ISO collapsed

At Socialist Alternative's (S Alt's) "Socialism Sydney 2019" event I was able to talk with some people from S Alt about the collapse and disappearance, in March-April this year, of the International Socialist Organisation USA.

The ISO was the biggest group outside Australia with which S Alt had links. With maybe 900 members, the ISO was, and had been for a while, the most active revolutionary socialist group in the USA. Its political history could be traced back (with twists and shifts along the way) to the Workers' Party of Max Shachtman (from 1940).

Self determination for Hong Kong!

It is now two months since 12 June, when the Hong Kong police fired 150 canisters of tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.

That caused a city-wide outrage against the excessive use of force, which forced the Chief Executive on 14 June to “indefinitely delay” introducing the proposed extradition law.

The conflict has now escalated further, with a protesters’ occupation shutting down the airport today (12 August), after a horrific series of street battles over the weekend.

Labour: stop Brexit, reverse cuts, scrap anti-strike laws, prepare for a snap election

On the streets and in the workplaces is where we must defeat the plans of Boris Johnson and his “special adviser” Dominic Cummings to force through a “no deal” Brexit by overriding Parliament. And that’s the best way to prepare for a likely snap election.

Cummings's latest plan (3 August) is to respond to Parliament voting no confidence in Johnson – which it may well do on 4 September – by delaying the subsequent general election to after Brexit has become accomplished fact on 31 October.

Disaster capitalism needs drastic answers

Twelve years ago, Naomi Klein wrote a book about “Disaster Capitalism”, describing how plunderers and capitalist social-justice-warriors had picked up on catastrophes, throwing society off-balance, in order to slam through their plans.

The New Orleans flood of 2005 was one example. Another was the slump which started in Britain around the same time Thatcher took office in 1979 and – pushed in the first place by world oil price rises – had taken industrial production down 15% by early 1981.

Scottish Labour right is wrong to attack McDonnell

In 2014, the Scottish Labour right wing virtually destroyed Labour in Scotland by allying with the Tories in “Better Together”. Now, in 2019, they’re back for a repeat performance.

The 2014 class collaboration with the Tories resulted in: the loss of 40 out of 41 Westminster seats in 2015; the loss of 13 Holyrood seats in 2016, leaving Labour a poor third behind the Tories; and the loss of a raft of council seats and control of Glasgow City Council in 2017.

Why the lights went out on 9 August

On 9 August a series of blackouts affected more than one million homes, the rail and tube networks, hospitals, and traffic lights.

The long term issues that affect energy security are being made much worse by the fragmented, privatised and profit-hungry mess of the UK energy sector.

The buffer between supply on the network and demand has been squeezed. This squeeze is mainly down to how the energy market works.

Diary of an engineer

I’m a first year engineering apprentice at a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant in Sheffield.

The plant takes domestic black bin waste and burns it at high temperatures to heat steam, which drives a turbine and an electricity generator.

The excess steam from the turbine is then used to heat water, which is pumped around the city to heat buildings — such as the local swimming pool.

Leonardo and the oligarchs

Cath Fletcher reviews 'The Last Leonardo' by Ben Lewis (William Collins, 2019)

On 13 April 2019, The Times splashed on the headline “Fresh doubt over world’s most expensive painting”.

Accompanied by a picture of the Salvator Mundi, controversially attributed to Leonardo da Vinci in a National Gallery exhibition of 2011, the newspaper reported on claims in Ben Lewis’s book The Last Leonardo that the attribution was now in doubt.

New setback in USA

We reliably hear that the conference of the US revolutionary socialist group Solidarity on the weekend 29-30 June voted to set up a committee to explore converting it from an organisation into an educational centre. [Update, see statement from Solidarity below, received 27.8.19].

This follows the decision by the larger International Socialist Organization (ISO) in March- April to dissolve itself.

Labour and antisemitism: yes, it’s a real problem

The BBC Panorama programme (10 July) about Labour’s antisemitism problem has intensified the Party’s internal row.

Unfortunately, because the programme was not well done, and because Labour’s response has been to “shoot the messenger” as Emily Thornberry rightly put it when criticising that reaction, the renewed row has brought very little light so far.

Thornberry said: “I think that we shouldn’t be going for the messengers, we should be looking at the message. I think that is what is important.

All out strike at BEIS

Cleaners and catering staff at the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) began an all-out, indefinite strike on 15 July.

This is extremely significant. It’s the first all out strike in a Whitehall government department for decades. The demands include the London living wage, sick pay, and direct employment.

The union is paying full strike pay. We won’t let these members be starved back to work. Fundraising for the strike funds is one of the best things activists in the wider labour movement can do to help these workers win.

Why and how the left has shifted on Israel

Susie Linfield, author of The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left, talked with Martin Thomas from Solidarity.

Many of the eight writers you analyse had their thinking on Israel shaped by Stalinism. But you don’t mention Stalinism.

That was most true of Maxime Rodinson. He was a Stalinist, and even after he left the Communist Party, he remained a Stalinist. Then in some ways he substituted what he called the Arab Revolution for the Soviet Union.

Labour shifts on Brexit. Now clinch a victory!

“No matter what deal is on the table, and which party has negotiated it, our position must be to remain in the EU and oppose any form of Brexit”, declared shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry at a “Love Socialism Hate Brexit” meeting in Parliament on Monday 15 July.

Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Jon Ashworth and Keir Starmer also spoke. John McDonnell and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard sent messages of support.

HBO’s Chernobyl: a service to us all

Chernobyl was a disaster — there is no doubt about that — but what lessons should we learn from it?

Though the catastrophic meltdown and explosion of the RBMK Reactor No 4 happened almost half a lifetime ago, when police states claiming to serve the workers ruled eastern Europe, the recent HBO mini-series Chernobyl has brought that time back to life.

Though partly fictionalised and sometimes wrong (according to survivors and experts), the basic facts are correct.

Trump's miniature Gulag-on-the-border

This is Trump's USA, Trump's border. On 1 July Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the US Congress got to visit the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention centre in Clint, Texas.

CBP did some "cleaning up" before the members of Congress arrived. A group of women, pictured above, told Ocasio-Cortez that they were moved into the crowded room from outside tents before our arrival. "They said they’d gone 15 days without a shower, and were allowed to start bathing four days ago (when the visit was announced)".

Ford workers to meet again

Union members at Ford Bridgend will meet again in the week up to 6-7 July to discuss the next steps in resisting attempts by the company to shut the plant, losing thousands of jobs in the process.

Nothing is off the table, including industrial action and “leverage” campaigning. Unite leverage takes a thoroughgoing approach to forcing a company to move – applying pressure to the investors and clients of the investors and clients and potential clients of the company concerned.

Self determination for Hong Kong!

After protesters stormed Hong Kong’s (largely unelected) Legislative Council on 1 July, there is a real risk that China will invade the territory.

To international outcry about plans to ease extradition from Hong Kong to China — in effect, to give legal cover to the Chinese government “disappearing” dissidents, as it did with five bookshop workers in 2015 — Xi Jinping’s government has replied that all the issues in Hong Kong are China’s “internal” business, and no outsiders should comment.

RMT AGM debates politics

The Annual General Meeting of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers (RMT), which took place in Manchester from 23-27 June, debated motions submitted by the union's branches, Industrial Organising Conferences, and equalities conferences. Many were consensual, with a majority passing unanimously. Others caused more controversy, and for reasons of space this report will focus largely on the contentious motions.

Petition: Free political prisoners in Iran

Petition addressed to the Iranian ambassador to the UK.

Many worker, social, and political activists in Iran have been jailed in recent months. These include Esmail Bakhshi, a worker and strike leader at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory, and Sepideh Gholian, a journalist and prominent supporter of the strike, both in jail since January 2019. This petition calls for their immediate release.

Click here for pdf of petition.

Fight for a socialist Europe

Boris Johnson is likely to become the new Tory leader and prime minister, some time in the week after 22 July. If by some fluke he throws the leadership contest, almost surely someone equally hard-Brexit will win. This sharpens the choices on Brexit, and narrows further the space for temporising.

Johnson is less a right-wing ideologue, and more a mainstream opportunist, than Mario Salvini in Italy. But his choice is to project the Tories so as to appear as Brexiter as Farage (and thus recoup votes). His choice is to cut away from the EU and to veer towards Trump.

Hong Kong: a Yankee plot?

Throughout the recent dramas in Hong Kong, Britain’s “socialist daily” the Morning Star, said precisely… nothing. No coverage at all until after the Hong Kong government had backed down. Then that after-the-event coverage was (as we shall see) even more revealing than the previous noncoverage.

Perhaps the people who run the paper (i.e. the Communist Party of Britain – the CPB) thought their readers wouldn’t be interested — but then, the paper recently carried a lengthy and highly diplomatic report of a CPB delegation to China.

Sudan: the uprising regroups

Hamid Khalafallah is a democracy activist in Sudan. He talked with Sacha Ismail from Solidarity.

The occupation of the streets around the army headquarters in Khartoum, which began on 6 April, was the spearhead of the revolutionary movement; on 3 June that was repressed and dispersed. However, protests are still happening in Khartoum and in other parts of the country.

Brexit and the Tory schisms

Andrew Gamble is emeritus professor of politics at Sheffield University, and author of many books on Marxist theory and studies of the Conservative party. He talked with Martin Thomas from Solidarity.


Q. There are at least three relatively longstanding strands of division in the Conservative Party now in play:

• US orientation vs European orientation

• English-nationalist orientation vs UK orientation

• Ideological orientation vs traditional pragmatic small-c conservative orientation.

What roles do you think they are playing?

Bridgend: fight the closure!

On 6 June, Ford said it would close its Bridgend engine plant in 2020. Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the Unite trade union, declared: “Unite representatives across all of Ford’s UK sites have previously stated if any plant in the UK is faced with closure or compulsory redundancies that they would all move to a ballot for industrial action.

The rise of Salvini

The ascent of Matteo Salvini’s Lega in Italy has no equal in Europe in its astonishing progress — from 17% in Italy’s March 2018 election to 34% in the May 2019 Euro-election. In May 2019, the Lega got three million more votes than in March 2018, though seven million fewer votes were cast overall.

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