Solidarity 194, 23 February 2011

Labour war in Wisconsin

A labour war has broken out in the state of Wisconsin, USA. Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed a Bill to remove the right of public sector unions to engage in collective bargaining on any issue other than pay (and then they are forbidden from negotiating above-inflation pay increases).

Thousands of teachers across Wisconsin shut down schools for five days through a “sick-in”, effectively an illegal strike. Thousands of workers have been staging a sit-in in the capitol building in Madison, holding up a vote and using the mass occupation as a centre for organising.

Libyans fight for freedom and democracy

Following the uprisings in the bordering countries of Tunisia and Egypt the democratic revolution has spread to Libya. And as Solidarity goes to press on 22 February it is unclear whether one of the most brutal and repressive regimes on the planet will survive.

Putting the poor under pressure

On 16 February the government set out their welfare reforms. They promise to “revolutionise” and simplify the system and make sure people coming off benefits are always better off in work. But the details as they emerge are far from benign.

The over-riding concern is to save money (£88 billion was spent on all welfare benefits in 2010). Simplifying the system by introducing a single benefit, Universal Credit, to cover many benefits is a key part of the package. But many allowances will simply be cut.

The real sting will be a new barrage of “claimant responsibilities”.

Industrial news in brief

On Friday 18 February 30 people demonstrated outside St Thomas’ hospital in Westminster in solidarity with 72 migrant workers who were “disappeared” (arrested without anyone's knowledge) by the UK Border Agency last month.

Migrant workers occupy an extremely precarious place in the European labour market; they experience high levels of exploitation and the constant threat of being deported, which very effectively dissuades them for organising for better conditions. Raids and disappearances are quite common UK Border Agency practice.

Amnesty v unions

Human rights charity Amnesty International has effectively de-recognised Unite for workers working outside the UK and is threatening to de-recognise the union for UK-based workers too.

One worker said “now every time I write or work on discrimination issues, I will think about how Amnesty workers outside London are being treated by the senior management in London.”

UCU national ballot begins

Academic workers in Higher Education will take part in three separate ballots as their union, the University and College Union (UCU), moves into action against the effects of enormous government cuts.

Lobbies, marches and "calling the cops"


250 people protested outside Norfolk County Council’s chamber, and dozens more protested inside it.

Tory Council leader Derek Murphy said: “People are rightly passionate about their county, their services and their jobs. But needs must, and those needs are very great indeed.”

Such is the financial logic of the ruling class that means a £60 million cut from council spending. Another £90 million worth of cuts is likely over the next few years.

Youth and children’s services, adoption and family intervention work are especially badly hit.

Searching for a more tolerant England

The average anti-war song is often a pretty basic affair and they often work best like that.

Edwin Starr’s version of “War” is the archetype of this. It is literally a shout of pain. And then there are songs about soldiers returning to a land that would rather forget, as with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” or most memorably in Eric Bogle’s “And the band played Waltzing Matilda”. But in Let England Shake Polly Jean Harvey has attempted something more considered and nuanced, something more lyrical, poetic and thoughtful.

Stones or ideas?

In the dark of the Crucible Theatre’s studio, a light is cast on a tall, middle-aged, middle-class Englishman. He is benign, slim, the curve of his spine slightly hunched, hair longish and auburn, dressed in understated shirt and navy blue trousers, his glasses large and round. His voice chants a Received Pronunciation through the room, artful and perfectly suited to the stage. He is David Hare; and he is performing a reading of “Via Dolorosa”, a monologue on Israel and Palestine, something between play, political essay and poetry.

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