At its 28 February meeting, the National Executive of the NEU (National Education Union), the country’s fourth largest trade union considered a proposal to support two separate international delegations in the coming year. Following a pattern established by the NUT, the countries chosen were Palestine and Cuba.
Before the amalgamation which created the NEU, delegations to these parts of the world became a more or less annual event in the NUT. Many union members and activists would like to see the NEU spread its solidarity a bit wider. There is a case for ensuring that the spotlight is kept on the appalling treatment of the Palestinians and letting those living under siege in the Occupied Territories know they have friends and allies abroad.
That case would be strengthened still more if we made it a priority to relate to workers’ and democratic organisations across the national divide, including the labour and trade union movement. The real problem, however, is with the delegations to Cuba. There is no excuse whatsoever for trade unions, of all organisations, spending huge amounts of members’ money on sending delegations to a country whose government does not recognise independent trade unions or the right to strike. It would be a different matter if we spent our time there meeting and supporting workers who are fighting for the right to organise. In fact delegations spend their time with representatives of the regime, sycophantically admiring the wonders of this one-party state. They then return to produce entirely uncritical reports paying homage to its rulers. The whole experience is an embarrassing Stalinist nostalgia cult.
As a member of the National Executive, I moved an “objection” to stop the delegation to Cuba. Out of a National Executive of just over 70 my objection won around 11 votes. Anyone unfamiliar with the political state of the British trade union movement should know two things. First, there was never any doubt that my objection to this support for the Cuban regime would lose heavily. Second, that the result would be broadly the same in most other trade unions.
For a relatively small group of ideologues (open Stalinists and their hangers-on) Cuba is a political model to be followed. For a much, much wider group of fairly apolitical activists it is enough that Cuba has free health care and high literacy rates and is bullied by the US. The idea that our movement could simultaneously oppose US sanctions and stand up for the rights of our Cuban brothers and sisters seems to be just too hard for many to grasp. A Communist Party member who opposed my objection described the facts I outlined about Cuba as “a pack of lies”. In the room at the time were maybe seven members of the SWP.
This is an organisation which considers Cuba to be a state capitalist society, and which used to have the slogan Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism. The SWPers voted without exception against my objection. They voted to continue the process under which our union gives succour and support to the Cuban regime. They voted to take the side of what they themselves call the Cuban ruling class against the only force capable of creating a socialist workers’ Cuba.
Honda workers march
Around 2,000 people marched through Swindon on Saturday against the threatened closure of the Honda car factory. Around 3,500 workers will lose their jobs if the factory closes, plus a further 10,000 or more in the supply chain across the UK.
Len McCluskey of Unite, speaking before the march set off, said “We’ve got no intention of allowing this company to close our plant.” Honda should stay in Swindon because, he said, “For nearly 35 years this world-class workforce has delivered a fantastic profit and significant profitability for this company.” McCluskey said that his experience with Japanese companies was that “none of them like bad publicity” and that the union was focussing on a “leverage strategy” to make them think again.
Sadly, no clear strategy was put forward by McCluskey, or any of the other speakers, beyond appeals to Secretary of State for Business Greg Clark. Patrick Renard, chair of the European Workers’ Council Honda, acknowledged that the closure of Swindon plant would be the prelude for Honda to exit Europe. “We are pretty sure there will be a domino effect on the rest of Europe. There are production plants in Italy, Spain and France, and we believe this is the first step of Honda leaving Europe as an organisation.” He said the Honda unions in Europe would be holding a joint meeting in London on April 5 to plan their response.
Labour Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told the rally that “the economic shock of Honda closing will not just be felt by thousands here in Swindon, but it is estimated to wipe £1.5 billion from GDP and £48 million lost in tax.” She claimed that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and deputy leader John McDonnell “will fight with you, and even the government to change the decision” She promised that a Labour government would encourage moves to electric vehicles and to provide the infrastructure for them. Labour would require public services to buy vehicles from Honda and other British-based companies and support supply chain companies to develop new technologies such as batteries, she said.
Labour for a Socialist Europe distributed a leaflet and were the only people to raise the question of Brexit. The Socialist Party’s leaflet called for nationalisation but failed to explain how this would come about in the absence of a Labour government; the SWP called for an occupation but failed to explain how that would keep the plant open; the Morning Star gave away free copies that included an article by Unite’s Steve Turner “seeking to persuade Honda not to leave Swindon”.
None of these outfits explained how their pro-Brexit stance would aid the campaign to stop the closure – in fact, none of them even had the guts to mention that they’re pro-Brexit.
Sheffield school strikes
NEU (National Education Union) members in Bradfield School, Sheffield, took their first day of strike action on Wednesday 27 March against redundancies, cuts to the curriculum and closure of this 6th form.
The Academy has suffered financial mismanagement for a number of years turning what was once a highly valued and over-subscribed local school into one which is facing drastic cuts. Fifteen redundancies of teaching staff were proposed initially. As one striker explained, “It was difficult to get a promotion at our school because staff stayed”. Financial mismanagement has changed all that.
Another striker, who has been a teacher for 26 years, most of them at Bradfield, stated: “In the midst of financial difficulty the management team has been expanded by one deputy and two assistant heads”. The threat of the closure of the 6th form affects students in the area very badly. New year 12 students were taken on before the restructure was formally announced. However, it is widely believed that it was known by management what was in the pipeline. Those students in year 13 will be taught by non-specialist teaching staff, affecting their grades and therefore their chances of university. If it does close, the next 6th form in the area is four miles away.
Another, not much further than that would involve students from nearby villages having to catch two buses and a tram to get to school. The strike ballot result was a whopping 93% in favour on an 83% turnout. It has the support of almost all staff, including support staff, many of whom are in the NEU. A strike support meeting was held the night before the strike day and was attended by 200 parents who gave unanimous support to the strike. The next strike days are on 18 and 19 April.