Solidarity 176, 24 June 2010

The origin of the Plebs League part 1: taking the university to the workers?

Submitted by Matthew on 2 July, 2010 - 7:14 Author: Colin Waugh

In October 1908 students and former students at Ruskin College in Oxford founded the League of the “Plebs”. From 26 March to 6 April 1909 they took strike action in the college.

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Thirty five years after America's war

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 9:48 Author: Ira Berkovic

America’s war in Vietnam, and the international movements that sprung up in opposition to it, are central events in the history of 20th century radical politics. The events of that conflict continue to cast a long shadow over the contemporary left’s understanding of imperialist war. Looking back over a distance of 35 years, Vietnam still has a huge amount to teach us in terms of the nature of capitalist imperialism, the nature of Stalinism, and what kind of anti-war politics and movement socialists should aspire to fight for and build.


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The wrong kind of feminism

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 9:31 Author: Melissa White

I’m surprised to see “Pregnancy is not an illness!” (Solidarity 3-175) in a rational newspaper like Solidarity.


Submitted by Janine on Wed, 30/06/2010 - 15:00

I have some sympathy with some of Melissa's points about Rosie's article, but Melissa's assertion that Solidarity should not have published it is, I think, very wrong - as is her argument that Rosie's point of view is "entirely the wrong sort of feminism for socialists".

Solidarity should publish articles that prompt discussion, including articles about issues and experiences in women's lives, without them having to fit a pre-ordained 'line'. And how would we establish what that 'line' should be without an open debate, which involves publishing different points of view?!

Submitted by Rosie on Wed, 30/06/2010 - 20:51

I would like to start by saying I am not anti-medical. I am a paediatric nurse, currently working as a health visitor. I worked on a heart and lung ward and I know how modern medicine transforms the lives of children who, even 30 years ago, would not have survived. Also, I am well aware that women and children used to die in childbirth, something which is now (in this country) a rare occurrence. This is a good thing, and I am glad that we have an accumulation of knowledge and skills to make pregnancy and birth safer. However, my point is that medical intervention has become routine, even when it is not necessary. When this occurs it can start a chain of interventions that result in a more uncomfortable labour for the woman, assisted delivery, or (in about 15% of births these days) an emergency c-section.
My main point is that women are not treated as equal or senior partners in any discussions/decisions regarding their health but are treated paternalistically and expected to just follow the instructions or advice they are given – I say again, that we are treated paternalistically, which mirrors treatment of women in society in general. I am also attempting to look at why women make the choices that they do. Women go into the process of having children carrying their own accumulated life experiences which will affect how each woman handles being in such a vulnerable position. Choices we make are not made in a vacuum they are influenced by our surroundings, our circumstances, information we are provided with, the support we have and the way we are treated. This is true of many choices we make, including whether we “choose” to have an induction or an epidural etc etc A lot of women prior to labour intend not to have any interventions, end up having them and have very negative feelings about their experience afterwards. It is not enough just to say ‘suck it up at least you and your baby are alive’. I think there are problems in the medicalisation of childbirth that can make birth more difficult and traumatic than it needs to be. Now I value medical opinion, but it is just that – an opinion. I reserve the right to have my own opinion, do my own research and make my own decisions. Medical staff and midwives are not infallible and many common practices carried out on labour wards are highly questionable.
Epidurals are becoming routine and in some cases women really need a break from the pain of along labour, but they are offered too casually. I say this not because I want to make a virtue of the pain of labour! It is because all research suggests that epidural use carries risks, including greater risk of assisted delivery and caesarean and so to the wellbeing of the woman and baby. If a woman decides to have one that is her choice but it should be an informed one and she should have other options such as a birthing pool– but funding dictates there are not enough of these.
Induction of labour is also now routinely offered – women are just booked in for an induction about 10 days post due date without real discussion about their alternatives, i.e. waiting for labour to start naturally. I am not making a virtue of the ‘natural way’ for its own sake – again it is because research and evidence show that labour is more painful, progresses more slowly and is more likely to end in medical intervention if labour is induced – i.e. there are (again) risks to the wellbeing of the woman and baby. Women are often put in beds on their backs (especially if induced and they are being monitored) which makes labour many times more painful and slow to progress. Also, I feel obliged to say that episiotomy does not ‘afford easier repair’ than a natural tear in most cases. This is broadly accepted by most midwives ‘in this day and age’ yet doctors continue to carry it out usually to aid them in managing a delivery. As to my assertion that it is done without knowledge and consent – this happened to my mum in the seventies and my sister 3 years ago, neither under anaesthesia and both against the advice of the attending midwife. The rate in England is 15%, USA 50% and Eastern Europe 99% (NCT 2001). Obviously I could go on and on about poor practice in birth management. But Melissa’s assertion about episiotomy highlights my point – it is presented as fact that episiotomy affords an easier repair when this is not fact at all – it is an opinion.
Modern medical advances are, I repeat, not infallible. Let us look at the use of incubators for low birth weight or pre-term babies. Great advances have been made in caring for premature babies in neonatal units. Yet the way they are set up has resulted in the forced separation of mother and baby after birth. Common sense would seem to indicate that this was just an unfortunate necessity. However, in South Africa due to lack of funds to have sufficient numbers of incubators they discovered that low birth weight and premature babies do better than those in incubators if they are kept skin to skin with their mother (Kangaroo Mother Care). Their breathing, heart rate, temperature and stress levels are all stabilised through this closeness to the mother and breastfeeding success is significantly improved. Babies can be cared for this way even while being ventilated. The evidence for this approach to care is very convincing, yet in this country mothers and babies are separated after birth if the baby needs to go to special or intensive care. My point here is that modern medicine doesn’t always have the right or rather, the whole answer. It is not being anti- medical to question things and pose alternatives and the natural way isn’t just some hippie pre-occupation.
Modern medicine can save lives. I am not some woolly headed herbalist who thinks that petals can cure cancer. If I am seriously ill then damn right I want good quality medical advice and treatments available. But I don’t think this means I have to surrender the right to question and have knowledge and control over my body and health, in pregnancy or at any other time. The question of a woman’s right to have knowledge of and control over her own body is central to feminism.
Finally, although medical and scientific advances are good I think there is a problem with the knowledge that is generated through research and practice. Firstly, conclusions cannot always be trusted; medical research can be funded by various organisations with profit motives. Secondly, medicine is very elitist. I am for the ‘democratisation’ of healthcare; we should seek to level up awareness of health issues, treatments, drugs etc. We should aspire to a situation in which health care is rooted in communities and more people in general should possess medical and health care skills.

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Debating the crisis and socialist answers

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 9:20 Author: Vasilis Grollios

Vasilis Grollios reports on the Toronto conference of the academic journal Historical Materialism, held on 13-16 May.

Some of the most well known socialist researchers participated in this conference, just like the other conferences the journal organises in New York and in London. Here are the lectures that aroused my interest most.

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Engineered identities

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 9:09 Author: Tom Unterrainer

“It hurts to be misrepresented, but there is no representation without misrepresentation… Bangladeshi Britons would be better off not reading — or, when it comes out, seeing the film of — Brick Lane.” Germaine Greer, ‘Reality Bites’, the Guardian, 24 July 2006

The furore that accompanied plans to film Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane in the eponymous east London neighborhood were just the latest in a long-running series of incidents that have come to signify — if not define — the deterioration of the left, its understanding of race and identity.


Submitted by AWL on Sun, 11/07/2010 - 10:24

This is not in my view really a review of Kenan Malik’s book 'From Fatwa to Jihad'. Tom doesn’t really present Malik’s case. Nor is it a good analysis of the state of the “Muslim communities” in Britain.

The title of Malik’s book is a little misleading. He is not simply concerned with the period since 1989 (when Khomeini’s death sentence against Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses was issued). What Malik is aiming to do is to explain how Asian communities which produced radical, left-wing youth movements in the 1970s have come to be defined by Islam and produce a wave of British-born Islamists over the last decade or

Malik sees the fatwa against Rushdie as having been a key moment in this process, and one in which the Iranian state trumped the proselytising from the Saudi Arabian state in a political game for influence over Muslims worldwide.

Malik points out the very different reactions among Muslims to the Satanic Verses and emphasises; that the Muslim communities in Britain are diverse. Moreover, Malik isn’t too bothered about the far left. What does concern him is the response of the liberals and bourgeois establishment to the attack on Rushdie. He quotes Hanif Kureishi as saying: “No-one would have the balls to publish Satanic Verses now.”

Malik sees a retreat from “Enlightenment values” which has allowed the Islamists political space and curtailed secular or left opposition within minority communities. Multiculturalism is just one root of bourgeois weakness, Malik argues.

The weakness of Malik’s account is what he leaves out: the defeats of the labour movement and left in the 1980s; the destruction of Stalinism and the bourgeois offensive that followed in the early 1990s. A militant workers’ movement and left could act as a force that could stress a different, class, identity in the face of communalism and religion.

Finally, a footnote on one aspect of this discussion. In Malik’s book readers will find a section dealing with GLC funding for community politics. At first glance this resembles an argument first developed by Sivanandan in the 80s (the funding of such projects broke up the political community of “black” people in Britain along community lines). In fact Malik omits Sivanandan’s political line and simply leaves the description. That’s good.

But we should be aware of the chronology — this process took place in the early 80s, five years before the Rushdie fatwa. And that the break up of “black as a political colour” was about Bengalis and Indians and Nigerians etc. It was not about religious groups.

Dan Katz, south London

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The crisis and the lies they tell

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 8:57 Author: Ed Maltby

The Tories don’t just intend to hammer workers and the poor with cuts — they want to make us believe in their austerity programme as well. The Tories and the Tory press have been relentlessly “on message” since the election, pumping out pro-cuts, class-war propaganda. Let’s take a look at some choice bits of doublethink from the Liberal-Tory press:

1. As he announced the budget in the Commons on Tuesday, to boos from Labour MPs, George Osborne screeched above the racket, “The years of debt and overspending have made this unavoidable”.

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French cuts will hit women workers hardest

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 8:45

The first part of the austerity measures that the French government plans to introduce will be a major attack on pension rights for both public and private sector workers. French unions have called for strikes and demonstrations on Thursday 24 June. Olivier Delbeke from Le Militant spoke to Solidarity about the issues.

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Government deports children

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 8:30 Author: Jade Baker

In a double blow for some of Britain’s most vulnerable, it’s been revealed that almost two thousand Afghan immigrants, including 150 unaccompanied children and adolescents, face unwarranted deportation in the coming year.

Meanwhile the government is standing aside while the Refugee and Migrant Justice legal charity is set to close this month due to cuts and unsustainable methods of funding.

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Anti-fascism in East London: under whose banner?

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 8:23 Author: Todd Hamer & Darren Bedford

Several weeks ago, the English Defence League announced they were organising a protest against an Islamist conference in the Troxy conference centre in Limehouse, East London, which was backed by the Islamic Forum of Euope (IFE) and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS).

Predictably for this sort of religious fundamentalist event, the speakers at the conference included all sorts of reactionary bigots.

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