Solidarity 238, 14 March 2012

The Afghan spiral

According to the United Nations, 3,120 civilians were killed by US, British, other NATO, and Karzai government forces in Aghanistan between 2006 and the end of 2011.

A large chunk of those deaths are caused by aerial bombings — 187 in 2011.

Despite constant and increasingly hollow claims by US and NATO commanders that there is progress towards peace, the civilian deaths are not decreasing.

The UN figure for civilian killings by pro-US forces has increased some years and decreased others, but in 2011 was almost twice what it was in 2006.

Turkey's role in Syria

The biggest influence in the outcome in Syria, if the Assad tyranny falls, is likely to be Turkey.

Turkey has a 910-kilometre border with Syria, and an estimated 11,000 Syrian refugees from the recent repression, including armed groups of the “Free Syrian Army”. It is also the biggest economic power in the region, with a GDP (2011) of $798 billion, way ahead of Saudi Arabia ($561 billion), Iran ($451 billion), Israel ($249 billion), Egypt ($231 billion), or Iraq ($108 billion).

Packaging workers locked out

Bosses at the Transfoods food packaging plant in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, have joined employers at the Mayr-Melnhof Packaging plant in Bootle in locking out hundreds of workers after employees’ protests against redundancies.

London Underground terms and conditions not for sale!

Members of the tube union RMT will consider an offer from London Underground Limited on Olympics working, which includes a £350 lump-sum bonus.

However, it also involves some changes to working agreements which could, for example, see some workers deployed to any station on the network at next to no notice.

Workers’ Liberty members working on the tube will be arguing that working conditions and agreements are not for sale at any price. Meanwhile, the union is balloting members at TfL and TubeLines over Olympics working.

Attacks ahead in lecturers' union

Sally Hunt, the right-wing incumbent, has been re-elected general secretary of the University and College Union.

She won 73% of the vote against Mark Campbell, the candidate of the Socialist Workers’ Party-led “UCU Left”.

Hunt’s leadership so far has been characterised by witch-hunts against the left and an eagerness to roll over on industrial issues such as pensions and pay. Her post-election address to members, Hunt announced plans for a “review” into the union’s structures.

Sheffield Unison: almost unleashed

The “Unison Unleashed” rank-and-file caucus in the Sheffield local government branch of the public sector union Unison has narrowly missed out on unseating the existing bureaucratic leadership of the branch in the branch’s first election in two years.

The existing branch chair, John Mordecai, was re-elected, but by only 410 votes to Unleashed’s 378 for that position. Similarly, for the Branch Communications Officer position there were just 100 votes in it, though Unleashed ran a brand new activist.

Jobs massacre at Remploy

Remploy workers face a further wave of attacks as bosses plan to close an initial 36 factories and privatise a further 18, with a view to closure. Nearly 2,000 workers face compulsory redundancy.

The closures include the effective abolition of all Remploy employment in Wales, with just two of nine factories escaping the chop.

As we were saying: the trap of “left-wing” relativism

This article from Solidarity’s forerunner, Socialist Organiser (11 June 1991), criticises “political correctness”, focusing on art and culture, from the point of view of the Marxist left, (as opposed to right-wing prejudice). Jim Denham argues here in favour of free speech and objective standards in aesthetics, in a still-pertinent debate.

A number of colleges and universities in the US have begun adopting PC codes, supposedly intended to curb behaviour and/or language that might give offence to racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians.

Refounding working-class education

Colin Waugh, further education activist and author of Plebs: The Lost Legacy of Independent Working-Class Education, spoke to Solidarity.

Q: What sort of deal do working-class people get from further and higher education?

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