Teachers take stand against war, Tories fail to force inquiry on Iraq

Opportunism from the Tories – who backed the war in Iraq – a call for an immediate inquiry into the events in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. There’s local elections in a few weeks, dontchaknow?

MPs rejected an attempt to force an independent probe, despite support from the Lib Dems and 12 Labour rebels.

The government’s parliamentary majority of 67 was more than halved as it won by 299 to 271 votes.

A government amendment, recognising an time will come when an inquiry is “appropriate” but not during “important operations” in Iraq, was passed.

It was carried by 299 votes to 259 – a government majority of 40.

The good news is that in future parliament will have a greater say on going to war in future – better news would be a public vote on going to war… Given the news that 14 MPs expenses won’t be publicly disclosed as promised, you can see why I’m not jumping for joy at Jack Straw’s pitiful announcement.

As for Iraq, are the British really sitting back while a second surge is launched, this time in Basra in the south of the country, can we believe reports they are confined to their bases? One news broadcast let slip they’ve carried out air attacks against resistance groups – which is in effect helping the Iraqi puppet army.

More good news from the National Union of Teachers conference:

Conference voted overwhelmingly to support a motion opposing military recruitment in schools and to support teachers, students and parents who choose not to take part in events organised by the military.

The motion also called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for protests if there is any attack on Iran.

The NUT executive moved an amendment, which was passed, strengthening the motion by calling for a convention to be called including teachers, educationalists and Stop the War activists.

Alas, news reports on the conference’s call for religious teaching in state schools to be broadened to meet the needs of other faiths has focused only on Islam. Is another of the regular Islamophobic feeding frenzies about to begin?

Who are the lame ducks now? Unite’s Derek Simpson on banking bail-outs

This drive by Derek Simpson, general secretary of super-union Unite – the result of the merger of Amicus and the TGWU – was reported the other day in the Morning Star. A post by blogging comrade Ian reminded me of this, and since I thought it noteworthy, I include the press release from Unite here for your perusal…

This signals that there will be a bit of a struggle from the labour bureaucracy with the New Labour clique over the direction of the party funded by millions of workers (and a handful of capitalists). I’m not sure that anything good will come of it, though if the May local elections result in more Tory gains (God forbid Boris becomes mayor of London) it may be too late for any significant policy reversal, even if it were possible…

Who are the lame ducks now? says union boss

The boss of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, will today brand private market dogma as a “Lame Duck” as central banks plough in billions to prop up failing money markets.

In a drive to politicise hundreds of thousands of union activists and gear them up to change Labour party policy, Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, warns that: “At the moment we are paying through our wallets and purses but if things get worse, a full blown recession could mean paying with our jobs.

“If the government can magic tens of billions out of thin air for its financier friends, so it can also afford proper pensions, rights for agency workers and a fully-funded public sector.”

In a letter e-mailed to hundreds of thousands of union activists, Derek Simpson will remind them of the 1970s, when the then Labour government was constantly hounded by right-wingers and free marketeers for propping up struggling public sector enterprises.

Fast forward 30 years and the much-vaunted fully-flexible free market economy is a reality. But the Bank of England has ploughed £11bn into UK banks to prop up the international money markets. This was on top of a similar figure in January. Last week the BofE bailed out the banks again with another £5bn in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse. All this is on top of the £25bn now on loan to Northern Rock.

Mr Simpson added: “The freezing of the credit markets, the collapse of Northern Rock, fears over the property market and plunging share prices are all failures of the private market system. The private market system has never performed in the way its protagonists suggest. The more it is left to its own devices the more it exacerbates booms and slumps. This is exactly why other social forces – such as governments and, yes, unions – got involved in the first place.”

Unite is mobilising its activists across the regions to get involved in Labour to change Labour party policy. In the last general election Labour lost 4 million core voters. Labour is losing its core support because of its failure to deliver on core issues. Instead the government seems to focus on supporting the lifestyles of the wealthy and privileged rather than hardworking families who want affordable housing, fully funded public services, job security and a decent pension in retirement.

Plus, an insightful article on the struggle of Northern Rock workers from The Socialist:

Northern Rock: Workers ‘gutted’ at the scale of job losses
Northern Rock’s announcement of 2,000 job cuts – around one-third of its workforce – has numbed workers. Although Northern Rock workers we have spoken to were aware that job losses were imminent, they are gutted at the scale of cuts.

Elaine Brunskill, Newcastle Socialist Party

One worker told us: “All sorts of memos about redundancies are flying around. The sales department ceased trading on Friday and they’ve been told they have three months’ notice. An office full of between 250 and 300 people, the biggest department. Just to watch them go is demotivating. Everything is uncertain.”

Northern Rock had grown rapidly to become Britain’s fifth biggest mortgage lender and the biggest private-sector employer in the north east.

Most of the 2,000 job cuts will happen within a year, and will be primarily shared between the Gosforth HQ in Newcastle and the Sunderland call centre in Doxford Park.

Bleak future
One worker is reported in the Daily Mirror as saying staff morale was so low you could be “killed in the stampede” for voluntary redundancies. However, for the majority of Northern Rock’s young workforce there is a bleak future as the impact of the credit crunch takes hold across the financial sector.

Prior to the recent bank run, Northern Rock was regarded as a local success story. One reporter called it: “Globally successful, intrinsically Geordie”. Not only is Northern Rock’s logo on billboards across the north east, but it is also seen on thousands of Newcastle fans’ football tops (the bank is a sponsor of both the football and rugby team).

In July, just weeks before people were queuing to get hold of their savings, a local paper proclaimed: “It’s boom time for Northern Rock”.

The bank’s assets were valued at £113 billion and the deputy chair reported: “We are confident about the long-term future of the Northern Rock.” This was to be a win-win situation – for bosses, shareholders, staff, and the charities the Northern Rock foundation funded. However, behind this facade the future was dire.

According to the Mirror, Northern Rock directors ‘raked in’ £6.5 billion by selling shares just months before the bank crashed. Chief executive Adam Applegarth is reported to have gained nearly £2.7 million in his 18 months of trading. It would take an employee earning £15,000 a year 180 years to earn this much money.

Also according to the Mirror, Applegarth has: “A £2.5 million country pile in Northumberland, a £250,000 flat on Newcastle’s Quayside and a fleet of high performance cars.”

At the same time as Applegarth and other directors were offloading millions of pounds of shares, employees and small investors were being encouraged to buy.

One woman, whose daughter works at Northern Rock spoke to The Socialist, saying: “Applegarth’s off-loaded all those shares. He knew prices were about to plummet. He lives in a mansion – that should be confiscated!”

Whilst the bosses walk away whistling, ordinary workers whose jobs are being axed are facing an uncertain future. The worker we spoke to said: “The redundancy pay offered doesn’t seem much. People with 10-25 years service are being offered a derisory amount.”

Capitalism has had a deliberate policy of encouraging workers to take share options. This was started by Thatcher as an ideological tool and is now embraced by New Labour. While share prices were escalating, a section of workers were wooed into believing they had a stake in the company they worked for. Now this illusion is turning to dust.

The Socialist Party calls for compensation for Northern Rock’s 180,000 small shareholders, which includes Northern Rock’s workers and nothing for the fat cats who own 80% of shares, unless they can prove they need it.

For example, instead of the derisory sum the government will offer workers who gained shares when Northern Rock became a bank, they should be given the value of the shares at the time of demutualisation, plus the interest they would have gained if the money had been put in a Northern Rock saving account.

New Labour’s nationalisation of the bank isn’t about safeguarding jobs, or giving favourable deals to ordinary depositors and mortgage holders. Instead Brown and Darling see it as a temporary measure.

Unfortunately, Unite, the workers’ union, has no strategy to fight these cuts. Unite should be calling for action to defend workers in the stricken bank. If this were to include lunchtime rallies in Newcastle and Sunderland city centres it would gain an echo from workers across the region and give confidence to Northern Rock workers to take the struggle forward.

Pressure must also be put on Unite, which is the single largest donor to New Labour, to disaffiliate and campaign for a mass workers’ party. Imagine the difference if Northern Rock workers were backed by such a party, with elected MPs that used their position to put forward a fighting alternative.

New Labour’s appointment of Ron Sandler as chair, a non-domiciled taxpayer, who is being paid a staggering £90,000 a month, has angered workers in the north east.

Sandler intends the bank to be brutally downsized, then handed on a plate back to profiteers. Capitalism will also use the opportunity to throw mud at the idea of nationalisation.

The Socialist Party’s call for sacking Ron Sandler and our explanation of the need for workers’ control and management of Northern Rock is gaining an echo. This, alongside the nationalisation of all the major banks into democratic public ownership, would pave the way for job security, and mortgages and loans that would be provided at low interest rates.

The Independent Working Class Association critiques the BBC’s White season

Has society turned its back on itself?

24 March 2008

Initially, it was a little hard to figure out what lay behind the BBC decision to commission The White Season. But when taking on board the subsequent general air of BBC defensiveness, it is probably fair to assume it hasn’t worked out exactly as planned.

A common –and commonsense- complaint was that in prefixing ‘white’ to working class, the BBC had needlessly, deceitfully and divisively racialised the social, economic and political issue of working class disaffection.

When confronted along these lines by IWCA representative Gary O’Shea on BBC London’s Dotun Adebayo programme, BBC commissioning editor for the season Robert Klein struggled to articulate a coherent reply to what the presenter described as ‘a damning’ critique.

According to Klein, a survey commissioned by the BBC found that the white working class ‘group’ were not only alienated on immigration but on a myriad of other subjects, including housing, education, crime and so on.

As columnist Seumas Milne commented: “it wasn’t immigration that ripped the guts out of working-class Britain, white and non-white. It was the closure of whole industries, the rundown of manufacturing and council housing, the assault on trade unions, the huge transfer of resources to the wealthy, the deregulation of the labour market, and the unconstrained impact of neoliberal globalisation under both Tories and New Labour. Almost none of that has had a look-in so far in The White Season.” (‘Either Labour represents its core voters – or others will’, 13 March 2008)

So why then not devote a season to addressing and reflecting all of these concerns, seeing as how they affect the working class as a whole? Whether the working class ‘formed a majority or not was neither here nor there,’ Klein insisted, and then went on to assert that ‘white working class’ was how in everyday parlance the majority described themselves and accordingly no fault could be found with the BBC in describing them thus.

In reality the racial denomination is entirely a creation of a multicultural strategy, but even today the notion that people talk of themselves in the terms described is absurd. What remained of his credibility evaporated with his repeated insistence that the high point for the Far Right in terms of popular support was with the NF back in 1979, even though the NF never had a single councillor and the BNP have amassed far greater totals in European elections since then.

Challenged on this and a number of other assertions by both Gary O’Shea and the presenter he opted to bluster his way through. Afterwards, he phoned the producer of the program bitterly complaining of his treatment.

The back story to The White Season is that BBC supremo Roly Keating supposedly woke up one morning quite overcome with “embarrassment” at the corporation’s previous neglect of this “group” (as if we all resided at the edge of some increasingly intricate patchwork quilt and the omission of serious political consideration of the condition of the working class for the best part of two decades had been little more than an oversight).

‘Has Britain turned its back on the white working class?’ Radio Five Live asked its audience in kicking off the debate. But such a title hardly makes sense if columnist Seamus Milne is right in claiming that the working class -manual and clerical- makes up “getting on for two thirds” of contemporary society. The 2007 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 57% of the population identify themselves as working class. (British Social Attitudes Survey,)

And if these claims are anywhere near accurate, the far more challenging question to ask (particularly in light of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous declaration that ‘there is no such thing as society’) might have been ‘Has Britain turned its back on itself?’.But that of course is not anywhere near how the ruling elite likes to look at things. A recent study of the topic that took four years to complete, The East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict concluded that one of the specific ways in which the multicultural strategy is employed, ‘is to make the working class feel they are just a minority themselves’ the better to dampen down the expectations of the host community.

A fine example of this type of thinking can be found in an article By Richard Klein in the Daily Mail on the White season. It was headlined: “White and working class… the one ethnic group the BBC has ignored”. The key word here of course is ‘ethnic’: race, not class, the very essence of multiculturalism. (Daily Mail29 February 2008)

On top of this, The East End report continues, ‘a swathe of political measures and institutions which consolidate the rights of minorities while multiplying the sanctions against indigenous whites who object to this’ have been promoted in order to increase ‘the moral authority of the British administrative elite’, while at the same time creating a black middle class (at the expense, note, of the black working class) to buttress the existing white middle class.

Journalist Nick Cohen sums it up like this: “Andrea Callender, BBC’s head of diversity…is not only concerned with colour prejudice, but she also promises to tackle an apparently definitive list of bigotries about ‘age, gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation and number of dependents’.

Yet she does not mention the most glaring inequality in modern Britain, although she must encounter it every day…[this] pseudo-egalitarian style dominates every public institution. Human-resources managers make good money out of a career in leftism as long as they never talk about the old left’s central concern: class”. (‘The prejudice that still shames the nation’,The Observer,16 March 2008)

Now it is true that the The White Season did talk about class. But this was neither a well-meaning or inadvertent deviation from the norm. From the outset it was done in a thoroughly back-handed way. In both the programme on the working men’s club ‘Last Orders’ set in Beasley and the ‘All white in Barking’ production, the views aired were almost exclusively from pensioners or those heading that way.

One former Barking resident accurately described the potrayal as almost ‘Dickensian’. The inference being that the working class was a relic: spent, decrepit and dying out and, more than anything, defeated. It also meant that the contributions on race and immigration would not have been out of place in the 1960’s. That real racial integration only really happens within the working class was, as usual, conveniently side-stepped.

The hypocrisy here is particularly striking for, as journalist Andrew Anthony observed rather bitterly, the liberal community, including ‘the hideously white BBC’, for all its eloquence on anti-racism, “is far more inclined to retreat to private schools and affluent enclaves, the better to maintain a homogenous culture while pronouncing on the benefits of diversity.” (The Observer2 March 2008)

Middle class sanctimony is never of course the entire preserve of the BBC. On all sorts of levels middle class two-faceedness on the issue is inescapable. Consider this contribtion from the Oxford Mail:“What has got members of Oxford Independent Working Class Association all excited recently? After numerous occasions when opposition councillors at Oxford City Council sighed heavily whenever an IWCA member got up to speak in the council chamber, the BBC has launched its White season of TV programmes. The corporation has devoted huge resources to asking whether Britain’s white working class has become invisible. It’s a question that Stuart Craft, the IWCA leader, has been asking for years.” (Oxford Mail)

As the Oxford Mail knows all too well, the actual question the IWCA has been asking for years, both within and without the council chamber, is why so many of your heart on your sleeves type ‘anti-racists’ vigorously applaud the type of policies that encourage the working class to fight it out on ethnic lines among themselves, when it is painfully obvious that the primary beneficiaries of the in-fighting will be the ‘separate but equal’ BNP?

Now that would be a BBC ‘season’ worth watching. Over to you, Roly!

As well as fulfilling the invitation to appear on the Doton Adeyabo programme on BBC London on Sunday March 16, IWCA rep Gary O’Shea made these points and others in interviews on Radio Five Live, BBC 24 on March 7, and ‘You and Yours’ on Radio Four on March 11.

Here are a couple of samples.

(IWCA on Radio 5 Live-edited)(IWCA on Radio 5 Live-unedited)(IWCA on Radio 4 – You and yours -edited)(IWCA on Radio 4 – You and yours -unedited)

Hungarian rights!

Last September I blogged on the prosecution of the leadership of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party (known as Munkaspart).

It was on grounds of “committing libel in a public place” that seven of the party’s leaders faced two years in jail.

As Neil Clark noted at the time,

the real reason the Munkaspart leaders are on trial (and the reason why the youth wing of the Czech Communist Party has also been banned) is because of their implacable opposition to their governments’ aggressively neo-liberal agenda.

It’s red-bashing, yes, but there were important reasons for it happening – Munkaspart had helped initiate a referendum on the privatisation of Hungary’s healthcare system and the prosecution was an act of revenge by the state.

(The supposed libel of the party leadership, if you’re interested, was their condemnation of a 2005 ruling by the Budapest City Court which interfered in the internal affairs of Munkaspart to the benefit of those wanting to split the party and to side with the unpopular governing party.)

The good news, reported in The Morning Star, is that he immediate threat of imprisonment no longer remains – an appeal court has overturned the guilty verdict of last November, but state prosecutors might take the case to the high court. So it’s not over yet…

Though the 2004 referendum failed to defeat the government’s privatisation agenda, the recent referendum that took place on March 9 saw plans to introduce user fees in the health service and universities rejected overwhelmingly. And though it was triggered by the right-wing Fidesz opposition party, Munkaspart had a hand in campaigning against these neoliberal measures.

If we can turn our attention to England, would it not be beneficial to working people here if referenda on contentious legislation could be triggered by petition? I’m thinking here of the McDonaldisation of the NHS, the recent wave of post office closures, and the deployment of the armed forces to Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s to say nothing of the vote on the EU referendum that we were promised and later denied…