News

Dissolving Labour's policies

Winning the next general election is Keir Starmer’s declared priority. Of course, it would be good if Labour wins the next election, and even better if the Tories were forced to call an election sooner rather than later. But Starmer’s strategy for winning amounts to presenting himself as Mr. Moderate: abstaining in parliamentary votes on the Overseas Operations Bill and the Spycops Bill, in the name of national security; voting for the Tories’ Brexit deal in the name of national unity; and failing to support workers who refuse to put their health at risk in unsafe workplaces.

Fight "fire and rehire"!

Members of the RMT union in the offshore industry, working for the Vatenfall wind farm company, are facing a “fire and rehire” attack.

They say their employer has threatened to sack workers and re-engage them on worse terms and conditions. The new contracts will involve a number of detrimental changes, including cuts to annual leave. Vatenfall bosses have denied making “fire and rehire” threats.

Why respect the new virus rules?

Readers report arguments with workmates and neighbours over the virus restrictions. How should we respond?

“I’m young and fit, and my friends are all young and fit too. Why should we not socialise a little, when the chances of serious hurt from us getting the virus are so small?”

The virus has mutated, and is up to 70% more contagious than it was. Hundreds of people are dying of Covid every day in the UK.

Stop Tory plan to scrap Working Time Directive!

What Brexit means is demonstrated clearly by fresh Tory plans to assault workers’ rights.

The government fought hard for the right to diverge from EU standards for a reason: and workers’ rights are among its first targets.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is putting together plans to scrap the 48-hour week “working time directive”; cut rest break entitlements; cut holiday pay entitlements by excluding overtime pay from how they’re calculated; and end the requirement for employers to keep proper records on working hours.

USA: unfinished business

White supremacists’ threats of violent disruption on 17 January proved empty, but we still don’t know what they can do to pressure the incoming Biden administration. In many respects this struggle is unfinished business from the American Civil War.

In the aftermath of that conflict insurrectionists escaped punishment, in the name of “national reconciliation”, and went on to re-establish white racist regimes in the southern states lasting a century.

Trumpism will endure

Essentially, Trumpism is a conservative authoritarian response to the Democratic Party’s continual neglect of the legitimate grievances of large sectors of the white voters who ended up supporting Trump.

By doing so, these white voters hoped that he would reverse the socioeconomic and political decay resulting from neoliberal policies that the Democrats themselves established under Clinton and Obama and will most likely continue under Biden.

Another setback for Labour in Scotland

Richard Leonard resigned as Scottish Labour Party leader on 14 January, only four months after surviving a vote of no-confidence, and just four months before the next Holyrood (Scottish Parliament) election.

There are three (overlapping) versions of why he resigned.

Version one (The Times): Labour Party donors, including William Haughey (West of Scotland businessman) and Robert Latham (who donated £100,000 to Starmer’s leadership campaign) threatened to withold funding unless Leonard stepped down.

Boost Universal Credit, don't cut it!

The media reports that the Tories are preparing to cut Universal Credit by rescinding the ÂŁ20 a week (ÂŁ1040 a year) increase to the standard rate conceded last year. They are trying to cover up this assault and minimise outrage by giving all current claimants a one-off payment of ÂŁ500.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak held a meeting with Boris Johnson and Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey to discuss how to avoid making the increase to UC permanent.

Care workers strike 15-17 January

Hundreds of people, including workers and supporters, attended a “virtual picket line” and strike rally organised by the United Voices of the World union, in support of striking care workers at the Sage care home in north London, on 15 January. The workers struck from 15-17 January, demanding a pay increase to £12/hour, parity of conditions with NHS staff, including equal sick pay, and union recognition.

Has picketing been banned?

In November 2020, Unite pursued a legal challenge over the right to picket during lockdown, after a picket of bus workers was broken up by police. That challenge was successful, clearly establishing the right to picket in lockdown.

Exception 22 of the “Coronavirus: The Health Protection (Coronavius, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020” clearly states that picketing is exempt from lockdown restrictions, provided:

Grades in 2021

The government has said GCSE and A level grades for 2021 will be done on teachers’ assessments.

That may be better than the botched algorithm attempted in 2020. But every school will seek to report results a bit better than 2020 or 2019. A student’s grades will depend as much on their school management’s talents as chancers as on anything real.

There’ll also be “grade inflation” (an A or a 9 in 2021 not the same as in 2019), but that, I think, is a lesser problem.

The organised far right on 6 January

On 6 July, at the storming of the US Capitol, a number of far-right groups — as distinguished from the “regular” far-right Trump supporters — were present. Among them were the Proud Boys, donning orange hats to distinguish themselves. While their founder Gavin McInnes denies having been there, a man looking suspiciously like him was recorded giving orders to various members of the group.

Vaccine nationalism in Israel

After a deal with Pfizer, Israel is leading the world in Covid-19 vaccinations, with a goal of vaccinating everyone over 16 by the end of March. It has already vaccinated about 20% of its population.

It is not providing vaccines to the millions of Palestinians living under its rule in the Occupied Territories, let alone to Gaza. Israel may have completed its vaccination programme by the time Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank start getting vaccinated.

McAnea wins in Unison

Christina McAnea has been elected as the new general secretary of Unison — the first woman to head the UK’s largest union. McAnea is viewed as the continuity candidate following Dave Prentis, who is retiring after 20 years as general secretary. She takes up her post on 22 January.

The full results were: Christina McAnea 63,900 (47.7%); Paul Holmes 45,220 (33.76%); Roger McKenzie 14,450 (10.79%); Hugo Pierre 10,382 (7.75%).

Covid-safety on Tube

Latest figures show that 57 transport workers in London have died from Covid-19.

42 were bus workers, highly exposed by their employers’ unforgivable foot-dragging over moving to middle-door boarding and additional distancing measures. Eight of the deaths are of Tube/rail workers, with three from Transport for London (TfL) offices, and three from outsourced employers.

These were 57 workmates, friends, family members. Each leaves people devastated by their loss.

Support British gas workers!

British Gas workers struck from 7-11 January, resisting their employer’s attempts to level down conditions by sacking workers en masse and rehiring them on worse contracts. The strike was extremely solid, with activists reporting that its strength grew as it went on. The workers’ union, GMB, is set to announce further strikes.

Workers’ morale is high, bolstered by significant engagement with and support for the strike via social media. Workers report numerous instances of self-employed gas contractors committing on social media to take no work on British Gas strike days.

Towards telecoms strike in BT?

In December, BT Group workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted by a 97.9% majority for industrial action to defend job security and conditions, in a consultative ballot. A BT Group worker and CWU activist explains the background to the dispute and other struggles in BT.

The national consultative ballot against job cuts and compulsory redundancies across BT is the logical result of the failure of industrial leadership by the CWU Telecoms Executive for over a decade, and also of the disastrous outcome of the 2019 general election for communication workers.

Workers' control and school safety

From 5 January all secondary and primary schools moved to being physically open only to vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Learning for other students is being offered online.

There continue to be struggles over the specifics of this. Firstly, the government has tried to widen the definition of children who can come in to these schools, to the point where head teachers and school leaders’ unions have sounded the alarm.

University rent strikes escalate

Groups of students at around fifty unis are now withholding rent for halls of residence, or about to start doing so.

The advice to most students not to return to campus until mid-February at earliest has given the rent strike wave fresh impetus. What’s the point of paying for accommodation you can’t use for at least six weeks and possibly longer?

The movement is beginning to consolidate organisation, with meetings being held, reps elected and a national network.

Chinese policy is eugenics, not liberation

Twitter has removed a tweet by a Chinese embassy account spreading “violent propaganda” about the alleged sterilisation of Uyghur Muslim women after receiving several complaints.

The embassy shared an article from state-run media China Daily, which claimed the “eradication of extremism” in Xinjiang, an area of China with a large Uyghur population, has given women “more autonomy”.

An Open Letter to my fellow Labour councillors

Dear colleagues,

The past decade in local government has been defined largely by one thing: cuts. And if this government has their way, this will be the story for the next decade too. Rishi Sunak has heaped yet more misery on councils. His budget provided £5bn less than the Tory leadership of the Local Government Association said is necessary just to “stay afloat”. Following the disastrous impact of the pandemic on councils’ finances, we are facing a new wave of cuts.

Back Tories' Brexit deal? Morning Star says it doesn't matter!

With a characteristic smirk the charlatan Johnson portrayed his Christmas Eve deal with the EU as a personal triumph and proof that Britain can, indeed, eat its cake and have it.

The “no- dealers” of the Tory-right ERG cabal were — initially, at least — not so sure, and immediately set up a “star chamber” to check that the deal was sufficiently free from continuing EU influence over the UK’s fishing quotas and other unspecified matters of tremendous importance. They concluded that the deal, while not perfect, was good enough to allow them to support it in Parliament.

Reopening call centre as infections rise?

The vast bulk of PCS members continue to work from home. This throws into sharp relief the struggle of those of our members who have to attend the workplace.

The call centre in Swansea has reopened on 4 January. Swansea is a Covid hotspot, in a country with some of the highest Covid rates in the world; the call centre in particular has been badly affected. Our view is that it’s not safe for that workplace to be open and so we are in discussions with the branch and Groups as to what should be done.

Trump leaves chaos in his wake

On Wednesday 6 January, pro-Trumpers will attempt a mass demonstration in Washington to coincide with the formal vote in Congress to ratify the Electoral College decision from the presidential election.

A crowd of conspiracy theorists, fascists, and plain deluded have been encouraged to “Be there, will be wild”. Maybe some think they can storm Congress in the same way as right-wing terrorists invaded the Michigan State House last May.

Starmer wraps himself in the flag

Keir Starmer’s 5 January address to the nation had a surreal quality. Hunched before a Union Jack, he fretfully listed groups of people who would be inconvenienced by the new lockdown and its “difficulties”, before rallying to tell us that the “strength of the British people” will see everything right, and in particular that Brits will get vaccinated before any foreigners do.

Afghanistan: expect anything except peace

Joe Biden will take over as president from Donald Trump on 20 January with the USA in the midst of its second or maybe third attempt to extricate itself from Afghanistan.

After the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the USA sent troops and support to help Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban, which then controlled most of the country and provided a reserve base for Al Qaeda.

Rent strikes at 40 universities

At the start of 2021 rent strikes are planned at up to 40 universities.

Thousands of students will withhold rent as it falls due throughout January; the campaigns are demanding 30% or 40% rent rebates and many other demands. Unions and the Labour Party and other students not involved in the strikes should back the action. It can spearhead a push to reverse the disastrous course managers and government pursued in higher education last year.

School workers lead fight to curb new virus variant

Pushed by school workers in the National Education Union (NEU) refusing to comply with school reopening on 4 January, the government on the evening of 4 January announced a new lockdown.

It is vital now for the labour movement to take the initiative and campaign on our own program, rather than just relying on government measures. We must campaign for full isolation pay and other social measures, and to uphold the right to protest, picket, and strike during lockdown.

Top 1% dominate wealth

A new report from the Resolution Foundation finds that family wealth in the UK is grossly unequal and becoming more so.

The top one per cent (average net wealth ÂŁ5 million per adult in the family) have 23% of all household wealth, and a much higher proportion of the wealth that brings power (financial wealth and business assets, as against wealth in houses or in pension assets). The top 10% have 55%.

Asteroid mining, scarcity, science and socialism: responding to Aaron Bastani

The world we live in today wasn’t the result of any grand design. It was the result of struggle, revolution, and scientific and technological advances. Human society is locked in struggle: battles between social classes which shape our world, yet this is too often forgotten, and most sadly by left-wing writers advocating communism.

North London care workers will strike after bosses stall negotiations

Cleaners and care workers at the Sage nursing home in North London will strike in January because bosses have stalled negotiations on the workers' demands for ÂŁ12 an hour wages and parity with NHS sick pay and annual leave.

The care home owners called in a ÂŁ354 per hour union busting legal consultant to advise them in their stonewalling tactics.

Leo Panitch, 1945-2020

Leo Panitch, an assiduous and important Marxist writer on political economy and an active socialist, died on 19 December 2020, from Covid-19 contracted after being admitted to hospital with cancer.

His biggest book, The Making of Global Capitalism, written with Sam Gindin, is essential reading, and summarised a vigorous programme of research into post-1945 capitalism.

Raise voices against the Evans-Starmer purge!

Dozens of constituency or branch Labour Party officials, chairs, secretaries, and so on, have been suspended without due process simply for allowing debate on "banned" motions about other disciplinary crackdowns.

“If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that", declared Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner on 29 November, following a new message from Labour Party general secretary David Evans that local Labour Party officials could be suspended for allowing debate on restoring the Labour whip to Jeremy Corbyn.

CWU's 98% yes vote in consultative ballot

Communications Workers' Union (CWU) members in BT, Openreach, and EE have voted 97.9% yes to industrial action with a turnout of over 74%, in a consultative ballot closing 10 December.

The union has said: "CWU members have fired a very clear warning shot across BT’s bows that, unless bosses change direction on their vicious programme of compulsory redundancies, site closures and attacks on pay, terms and conditions, the company is on a direct collision course with its workforce".

Cleaners at Great Ormond St win in-house status

Hundreds of cleaners outsourced to the multinational contractor OCS at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London will be made NHS employees on 1 August 2021 following a campaign by the workers and their trade union United Voices of the World.

UVW had warned hospital bosses that it would move to a ballot for industrial action and a legal case for institutionalised racism (the cleaners are mostly ethnic-minority).

UVW won a previous victory in April 2020, when Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust gave their 1,200 outsourced staff NHS contracts.

GCSE chaos: abolish the grades!

Across the UK different regional governments have taken different approaches to the sitting and grading of school exams in the summer term of 2021.

In Scotland the National 5 (GCSE equivalent) exams have been cancelled and grades will be determined by “teacher judgement supported by assessment”. Scotland Education Secretary John Swinney declared that going ahead with exams was unfair given Covid-related disruption in schools.

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