NuLieBore comes out in support of police harassment & the bosses’ blacklist

NuLieBore. New Labour. Geddit?

Ahem. I’ll start again…

How low can you go?

Jacqui Smith gives us this act of desperation:

I now want the Action Squad to co-ordinate a new drive against the hard core of ‘hard nut’ cases.

That car of theirs – is the tax up to date? Is it insured? Let’s find out

And have they a TV licence for their plasma screen? As the advert says, “it’s all on the database.”

As for their council tax, it shouldn’t be difficult to see if that’s been paid

And what about benefit fraud? Can we run a check?

The police, she says, should harass young people who persistently offend. In tabloid-speak this is “get tough on young thugs” – but some of those young people may not have actually been convicted of anything.

Is it a productive use of police time to have officers partaking in… anti-social behaviour? And might such intrusive policing be met with a violent response, endangering police officers and members of the public?

It used to be that politicians would call for more police on the beat, which is fair enough, but Smith’s speech was spun almost as a call for police brutality – which tells you how bad things are for New Labour…

The blurring of boundaries between suspect and convict may continue in the workplace if the bosses (and the New Labour) are able to get away with this:

A government-backed database of ‘workplace offenders’ will be launched later this month to combat the annual loss of half a billion pounds through staff theft and fraud.

The National Staff Dismissal Register will allow employers to share and access details of staff that have been dismissed or have left employment while under investigation for dishonest actions.

Such actions include theft, fraud, forgery, falsification of documents and causing damage to company property. An employee need not have a criminal conviction for their details to be added to the database.

Ah, my emphasis there – and emphasis that’s needed. It continues…

The register is an initiative by Action Against Business Crime, a partnership between the Home Office and the British Retail Consortium, and is allowable under the regulation of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Funny how that Data Protection Act always fails to protect your data…

Big names to have thrown their weight behind the register, include retailers Harrods, HMV, Mothercare and Selfridges and outsourcing agency Reed Managed Services.

Yes, it’s a blacklist ladies and gentlemen. As Ian explains,

A shop worker can be dismissed if the employer reasonably believes that the employee has had his/her hand in the till or had pinched some stock. The give away in the article is that no criminal conviction is needed to be on the register just the fact that the employee has been dismissed.

Just think of it. A Trade Union/ Health and Safety rep can be alone in a warehouse. He/she is later invited to a meeting to account for missing stock. This quickly moves to a disciplinary and on the basis of reasonable belief the worker is sacked. The balance of proof needed is very low. The explanation the worker gives is inadequate. The TU activist is out the door and even though there is no criminal conviction the worker ends up on this register.

By the way, JimJay has an excellent post on this subject which links to the National Staff Dismissal Register. As he rightly says,

Employers can take against employees for a whole number of reasons. Whilst some are legitimate there are a whole raft of others that are not. An employer may dislike someone because they refuse to work unpaid overtime, for being an effective trade unionist or because they are gay. An employer may resent someone who objects to being bullied and knows their legal rights, who holds different political views to them or who is simply better at their job than they are. […]

If I’m caught stealing a tenner from the till I don’t deserve to keep my job, but I don’t deserve to be made permanently unemployed at the tax payers expense either. It isn’t helpful and there are few non-criminal charges where this would be anything like a fair and reasonable response.

All this scheme does is to give further leverage to employers to make unreasonable demands of their workforce. One ex-employer’s unsubstantiated whim should never be enough to blacken someone’s name or ruin their livelihood, yet this is precisely the aim of this site. This system isn’t simply open to abuse – it’s designed for it.

Some good news to finish. Karen’s struggle has reached parliament, where it seems there are Labour MPs supporting working people in their struggles:

More than 200 health workers, trade unionists, service users and MPs packed into a room in the House of Commons yesterday to show their support for Karen Reissmann, the Manchester psychiatric nurse and leading union member who was sacked for speaking out against cuts and privatisation.

The meeting, which was organised by Karen’s Unison union and chaired by her MP, Tony Lloyd, aimed to raise support for Early Day Motion 443, which calls for Karen’s reinstatement.

Addressing the meeting, Tony Lloyd praised Karen’s two decades of service to the NHS and said that trade unionists must be given greater protection. He said, “There is a real issue of principle at stake here. Health workers have a right and a duty to tell the truth about what happens at work.

“I have a long experience with the Manchester Mental Health Trust. If services there are not being provided properly, we need to know so that we can get improvements made.”

During the meeting health workers from Manchester and from across Britain spoke of their fear that Karen’s sacking is an attempt by management to silence trade unionists and opponents of cuts to services. Many of those attending were Karen’s workmates who had taken several weeks of strike action in an effort to see their colleague returned to work.

Parliamentarians – including Gerald Kaufman, Kelvin Hopkins, Katy Clark, John Leech, and Jeremy Corbyn – heard workers and carers describe the way mental health services are at breaking point in many parts of the country.

Unison vice-president Gerry Gallagher spoke of the tremendous wave of solidarity that the Manchester strikers had received and pledged the continuing support of the union, both for the continuing campaign and for Karen’s employment tribunal that is due to commence in the autumn.

“We must maintain the profile and the pressure in support of Karen,” he said.

From the floor John Mcloughlin from Tower Hamlets Unison talked about the way that emloyment law is stacked against trade unionists. To loud applause he pointed out that even when employment tribunals find against the employers, they cannot force them to reinstate staff who have been wrongly sacked.

Closing the speeches Karen Reissmann said, “This is not a dictatorship. This is Britain under a Labour government in 2008.

“Obviously I want my job back. But I also want protection for all trade unionists.”

The meeting urged everyone to contact their local MPs to ask them to sign the Early Day Motion, and continue to raise Karen’s case wherever possible.

Advertisements

Mehdi Kazemi and the long battle for gay liberation in England

The case of Mehdi Kazemi demonstrates the hypocrisy of the British government when it comes to gay rights…

No doubt when the US/UK coalition goes to war against Iran, it will be under the bloodstained “humanitarian” banner and lip-service will be paid to the oppression of gay people and the necessity of liberating them, while plans are made to liberate Iranian natural resources for the big oil comanies.

Seyed Mehdi Kazemi came to study in England in 2005. When he discovered his boyfriend back in Iran had been arrested, he knew it wouldn’t be safe for him to return. The UK government didn’t seem that concerned about the plight of this gay teenager, however. Kazemi was detained and facing deportation to Iran – so he fled to Holland. Having failed to gain asylum there because the British government want him back (if only to deport him to Iran) Kazemi’s life is now in danger.

A protest is planned for Saturday March 22nd to be held at 2pm opposite Downing Street. (For more details, see Middle East Workers’ Solidarity, the Hands of the People of Iran site, and Save Mahdi Kazemi) He must be allowed to stay in England, where thanks to decades of activism and labour movement lobbying, LGBT people have won significant rights.

As Patrick Orr writes in the latest issue of Socialist Appeal, the battle for gay liberation in England has been a long one, and it isn’t over yet:

Last year saw the fortieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales – it took over a decade for Scotland and Northern Ireland to catch-up.

Gay people had won the right to have sex: as long as you were both over 21, the curtains were shut, the doors closed, there was nobody else in the house and you weren’t in the armed forces. Oddly enough heterosexuals have never had to fight for this very limited privilege. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act was the first victory for a nascent gay rights movement, but there were still many battles to be fought. Gay people could still, perfectly legally be refused service in a pub or shop, kicked out of their house by the landlord, refused a hotel room or turned down for a job on the grounds of their sexuality. What’s more, gay people faced abuse and violence if they were ever to be open about their sexuality and lack of interest by the police if they were to ever report problems. These are all issues that have been faced by countless minority groups throughout history. All of them have won change by organising and fighting for their rights, and where they have achieved most success is when working with the labour movement.

This is where we see the history of the struggle for gay rights is markedly different from other civil rights movements. The Black Civil Rights movement in the USA won the most concessions from the ruling class by mass organising for strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience. This was a tactic not really open to the gay rights movement as gay people were not born into their own communities as racial minorities are, and therefore don’t have a majority in any area in which they can exercise economic power. So the movement quickly got entrenched in holding pride marches: a tactic that held some power but that could not really effect genuine change on its own. Without the option of exercising their collective labour power to improve their legal rights, the gay rights movement never had an obvious reason to make meaningful links with trade unions. There are some examples where gay rights have been furthered by links with the labour movement, such as implementation of sex education including of sexual minorities by the Greater London Council in the 1980s (a policy that was quickly scrapped by Thatcher’s section 28). But in general the lack of links, due to both the circumstances that the gay rights movement had to work within and the homophobia present in the left, was of detriment to the struggle for gay rights.

Legal equality

Although the government has made several key steps towards legal equality, in the shape of equalising the age of consent, civil partnerships and equal rights in work and in providing goods and services, it still fails to tackle the key places where homophobia takes place and often ruins people’s lives.

While parliament preaches about equality and respect working class gay people suffer continual discrimination and harassment in their local community, at work, at school, in the pub or even in their own houses. It is a horrible thing to have to worry about strangers’ reactions when you are walking down the road with another man or woman, or to have to grin-and-bear homophobic comments at school, work or just out at the cinema or in the pub. These are huge problems facing gay people today. The gay rights organisation Stonewall has said that homophobic bullying is “endemic” in Britain’s school, and although some well-meaning teachers try to combat it through education, schools tend to turn a blind eye to it. Little is done by schools and very little by the politicians. The bare truth of the matter is that bigotry serves to divide working class communities.

The constant presence of homophobia can easily create a feeling of isolation and fear, even if there is no direct threat or harassment. This can lead gay people into almost segregated lives in which their main social interactions, apart from work, are with other gay and lesbian people in gay pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. Self-imposed social isolation of this type breeds further divisions and resentment among working class people, which only creates further hatred and perpetuates this cycle.

The labour movement is becoming increasingly aware of issues effecting LGBT workers, with several unions including UNISON sponsoring pride marches, the TUC highlighting the issue of discrimination at work, and most importantly, fighting for the rights of gay workers. The most notable case of which was UNISON and AMICUS among others lodging legal action against the government over pension rights for gay couples.

Discrimination because of someone’s sexuality, as because of their race, gender or nationality, can only divide the working class and play into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Gay and lesbian people must organise their own fight for rights, but this can only be successful as part of a labour movement fighting for a socialist transformation of society. And only with socialism can come the complete disappearance of homophobia and realisation of full and equal rights for gay people.

UK government wants to deport gay Iranian youth

Mehdi Kazemi came to England to study in 2004 with the intention of returning to his homeland of Iran. In 2006 he learned that his boyfriend had been arrested and had named him as his partner before being hanged for sodomy.

An appeal to the UK government for asylum was turned down and he was detained at Tinsley House removal centre, near Gatwick Airport, to be deported to Iran. Faced with a possible death sentence, he travelled to Holland, where is now detailed and awaiting an appeal court decision on whether he will be allowed to stay there or be deported to the UK.

The Independent notes:

Last year, the Foreign Office released correspondence sent between embassies throughout the EU dating back to May 2005. They refer specifically to the case of two gay youths, Mahmoud Asqari, under 18 at the time of his execution, and Ayad Marhouni, who were hanged in public.

The Home Office’s own guidance issued to immigration officers concedes that Iran executes homosexual men but, unaccountably, rejects the claim that there is a systematic repression of gay men and lesbians.

If he is brought back to England, he should be allowed to stay. Sign the online petition. (Thanks to Stroppybird for blogging on this, and hence, reminding me to do the same.)

No doubt this story is being reported because of the need to build support for a war against Iran and cases of LGBT refugees being deported to other homophobic states will not get as much attention.

Note how a government minister hypocritically hijacked a solidarity protest for an imprisoned trade union leader in Iran:

Unsavoury elements
(Thursday 06 March 2008)
BRITISH trade unionists demonstrated the international solidarity that underpins the labour movement on Thursday when they turned out in support of jailed Iranian busworkers’ leader Mansour Osanloo.

Rail workers leafleted commuters at major railway stations and other union members joined left colleagues at the Iranian embassy to voice their anger at the reactionary regime’s repression of Iran’s trade unionists – and in particular the horrific imprisonment and torture of Mr Osanloo, who has been savagely beaten in prison to the extent that he may lose the sight in one eye.

Trade unionists mobilised in Britain as part of a worldwide action day for Mr Osanloo, organised by the International Transport Workers Federation.

As RMT general secretary Bob Crow pointed out, “trade union rights are human rights.”

Unfortunately, as happens occasionally with campaigns organised by the left, some unsavoury extremist elements attached themselves to the protest – namely the vile Foreign Office Minister “Dr” Kim Howells.

In a self-important press release from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Howells claimed to “share the international concerns about the growing repression and severity of action taken against labour rights activists who work tirelessly to defend the rights of workers in Iran.”

He urged Iran to “respect fully the right to form or join trade unions, in accordance with its commitments as a member of the International Labour Organisation and the international human rights conventions it has ratified.”

Oh dear. Would this be the same Kim Howells who was pictured on the FCO website in February grinning all over his face alongside Colombia’s High Mountain Brigades – a particularly nasty bunch of state-backed paramilitaries notorious for the rape, murder and torture of Colombian trade unionists?

At the time, Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley pointed out that “Colombia is the world’s leading slaughterhouse for trade unionists and it defies belief that British ministers should be cuddling up – literally, judging by the photographs – with the perpetrators.”

Would this be the same Kim Howells whose government persists in handing over no-strings military aid to Colombia’s far-right Uribe government, which then uses its ordnance to slaughter labour rights activists who “work tirelessly to defend the rights of workers” and ensures that Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist?

And would this be the same Kim Howells who nauseatingly sucked up to Saudi despot King Abdullah during his shameful state visit in October 2007, making the incredible claim that Britain and the medieval Islamist autocracy enjoy “shared values”?

Presumably those values also include the repression of trade unions, since they are banned in Saudi Arabia by “royal decree” and Britain persists in refusing to grant unions rights in accordance with International Labour Organisation standards.

With this, as with so many other things, Howells and his cronies seem to take Margaret Thatcher and her retrograde attitudes as a template for their own foul behaviour.

After all, Thatcher was deeply enthusiastic about free trade unions back in the 1980s – just so long as those unions were in Poland.

A Lib-Lab Con

[Friday]

With the aid of coffee-fuelled insomnia, I pour forth on capitalist peace in Northern Ireland, pre-emptive coalitions that backfire, the flawed perspective of Jon Cruddas and the labour bureaucracy, the shaky leadership of Liberal Democrats, the chances of co-ordinated industrial action in the public sector, and what we can expect of a Brown premiership. I think I’ll have a lie down now…

You’re the one for me, Paddy
As I commented hastily only the other day, Gordon Brown’s promise of a “government of all the talents” has materialised as a recipe for a unity government. Why he should need to invite Lord Ashdown to be Northern Ireland Secretary is beyond me – in fact, why does Northern Ireland or British imperialism even need a Secretary, talented or not, from the British government?

The Provisional IRA has disbanded, British imperialism’s involvements in the Middle East have led to a reduction in the number of service personnel, and Sinn Fein now co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party’s Ian Paisley is First Minister with Sinn Fein’s Martin Maguiness as his deputy.

What problems are there to be solved in the province by Paddy the so-called peace-maker that cannot be dealt with by Stormont? The last rump of the British Empire’s colonies has been cowed; the people of Northern Ireland have a power-sharing government of unionists and republicans. Who needs Lord Ashdown’s “talent” now?

Invited gatecrashers
Labour’s backbenches will be seething, as will members of the cabinet who are hoping to hang around after Blair’s departure. It is known that those lacking in Scottish accents are though to have more secure cabinet careers than fellow Scots in a Brown administration, but there are plenty of Welsh and English people in the PLP, and some of them must be skilled. Why is Brown not seeking to promote talent within his own party? His offer to Liberals betrays a lack of confidence in the abilities and priorities of Labour MPs.

Claims that Brown is seeking a “new politics” are disingenuous. I understand that, like Labour, the Liberal Democrats are ostensibly a centre-left outfit, but why enter an effective coalition if there is no need to? Could it be that Brown fears Labour’s base in the trade unions and traditional class perspective will prevent him carrying out the work of the capitalist class?

The Liberal Democrats might differ from Labour over the planned ID cards scheme, the burgeoning DNA database, the Trident nuclear weapons system, and the necessity of a new nuclear power stations – but on economic matters, the Liberals are just as committed to neo-liberalism, and despite their opposition to the intervention in Iraq and Blair’s complicity in last summers Israeli assault of Lebanon, they are most certainly not anti-imperialist.

As I said, the “government of all the talents” idea, trailed at the launch of Brown’s campaign for the premiership, was thought to refer to bringing private sector figures into government – or rather, contracting-out policymaking to capitalists. Now it appears that Brown is preparing for a unity government.

Back to basics
There will be an expectation on the part of the labour movement and those who have stuck with the party that Brown can be held back and perhaps even won over. Jon Cruddas, the leftwing deputy leadership challenger who has the most support in the labour movement, wishes to become a conduit between the party’s base and leadership rather than take a cabinet post and run a ministry.

A left-winger breathing down his neck is the last thing Brown wants. Cruddas and the trade union leaders wish to reverse Labour’s commitment to the neo-liberal agenda. Not so much Old Labour but Real Labour, claims Cruddas. And there could be some truth in this: Labour has traditionally opposed aspects of the capitalist system, but at the same time lacked a coherent alternative. Cruddas has been derided as indicative of Labour’s “lurch to the left”, but he himself is not immune from red-baiting, characterising the party’s internal conflicts in the early eighties as a struggle against people who wanted to “abolish the police and invite the Russians in”.

Doubtless much of Cruddas’ support will come from class conscious working people, and while this could get him elected to the deputy leadership, there is little hope in him being able to influence policy. And because Labour is so discredited, lacking in democratic structures, and dependent on funding from wealthy businessmen there is no possibility of an independent working class party being constructed, not even if Brown has a Damascene conversion to the cause of the proletariat.

Gordon’s Liberal bias
Brown’s courting of the former Liberal leader has left the current Liberal leadership fuming. The Tory strategy has been to suggest that the Liberals will hop into bed with Labour after the next election – expected to result in a hung parliament and therefore necessitating a coalition government.

Sir Menzies Campbell has been aiming to muscle in on Tory territory; he succeeded in getting his party to scrap their commitment to a 50% tax rate for those earning more than £100,000 a year, perhaps their most distinctive and progressive policy, in favour of regressive green taxes.

His predecessor, the affable Charles Kennedy was derided as a weak figure, a more a chairman than a leader, because he was unable to get his party to back the privatisation of Royal Mail. Campbell is unlikely to follow Kennedy in addressing anti-war demonstrations – he has claimed that the opposition to the Iraq war contained anti-American elements and backs the occupation of Afghanistan.

A weak [sic] is a long time in politics
Campbell has experienced a rumour campaign within his own party, partly because of the inefficacy of his own leadership. Though the party is not floundering, there has been a distinct lack of coverage of Campbell’s Liberals, compared to the high-profile maintained by Kennedy. The Liberals have been left out because of the resurgence of the Tory party under David Cameron and Campbell has been derided as being too old in comparison. This ageism is robustly challenged by Campbell, but it is not his age that is the issue.

The Liberals gained some support from Labour voters for their opposition to the invasion of Iraq and can be said to be the only party that has a presence within England, Scotland and Wales. The Tories have been unable to break into the northern cities of England whereas the Liberals have not experienced these.

As a third party in Westminster, the Liberals are confined to a permanent opposition – unless they decide to collaborate with Labour in the event of a hung parliament. Though they have shared power with Labour in the devolved governments, Liberal big shots are keen to stress the differences between central and devolved government in terms of electoral procedure and legislative function.

This reasoned response is not as strong as the emotive line from the Tories that Labour will be kept in power by the Campbell and that those seeking a change would do better than to vote for the Liberals come election time. One might counter, that since Cameron has come out as the heir to Blair, there would be little change in terms of policy in the event of a Tory victory in 2009.

Polytricks (an interlude)
When the ailing Charles Kennedy was forced to admit he had been seeking treatment for alcoholism, he announced that he was stepping down as “chairman”. This sparked a leadership contest in early 2006 that brought about an Orange Revolution within the Liberal Democrats. It was the man partly responsible for Kennedy’s downfall, Sir Menzies Campbell who assumed leadership of Britain’s “third party”, whereupon he set about repositioning the Liberals to the right on economic issues

It has to be said that Campbell was an unusual choice for the leadership due to his age and lack of prominence, though it was expected that the right-wing Orange Book group would dominate policy-making; Simon Hughes, the party’s loquacious President, was initially a front-runner because of his popularity with party activists and ability to communicate (at length) the party’s message. He was, though, seen as more of a left-winger, and this might have been why he was subject to a character assassination.

A homophobic smear campaign conducted by sections of the tabloid press scuppered his leadership bid and Hughes was forced to admit his bisexuality. This would not have been so bad, but the election contest that first brought Hughes to Westminster in 1983 was marred by a disgusting amount of homophobia towards the Labour candidate, Peter Tatchell, who is now a prominent human rights activist, and Hughes’ campaign team was party to the abuse and insinuation.

In this age of tolerance, there was no possibility of suggesting Hughes’ sexual orientation precluded him being an MP or even leader of a political party – the emphasis was very much on the lack of openness and on the earlier hypocrisy. This was the line adopted, but it failed to convince. For the interest in private matters was in marked contrast to the lack of concern about the nefarious role played by top Liberal figures in toppling Kennedy.

Hughes’ political opinions and actions account for far more importance than his personal life and it says much for the bourgeoisie’s commitment to equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that he was outed in this manner. The infamous by-Bermondsey election occurred almost a quarter of a century ago, and in a much different political climate. Since Hughes had not voted against LGBT rights legislation, the suggestion that his outing was in the public interest did not hold water.

So why the interest in Hughes’ sexuality? Surely not because The Sun was concerned about homophobic incidents that occurred years previously and for which Hughes had apologise? Peter Tatchell, now a member of the Green Party, said he wished Hughes well in the campaign to become party leader “because of all the contenders he is the most progressive on human rights, social justice and environmental issues”. So I suspect it had something to do with his talking up of the inequalities that have grown under New Labour – if he had been leader of the Liberals he would have been able to highlight the gap between expectation and reality on social justice.

As if to counter my theory, there’s the case of Mark Oaten: another of the candidates for Liberal leadership in 2006 and one of the contributors to the Orange Book, Oaten was revealed to have used male prostitutes. A married family man and supporter of “tough liberalism”, Oaten was forced to resign from his post as Home Affairs spokesman.

Kennedy, by the way, is believed to be interested in getting his old job back. But unless Ming the Merciful quits or kicks the bucket, a contest for the position of Third Man is as unthinkable as the possibility of a split within the party.

Crisis, what crisis?
Back to the issue, at hand, Brown’s preparations for a government of national unity lead to a series of questions. For one, why does he desire a coalition before it is necessary – is he trying to embarrass the Liberals or is he a maladroit political operator? Does Brown foresee a crisis in the national or international economy or some other momentous political event that might require a united front for the capitalist class?

If Brown was not intending to compromise the Liberals and does expect the imminent ruination of the economy, why did he make a move on Campbell and then Ashdown? Forgive me if I have constructed a case in reverse, but I am drawn back to the Labour Party and the broader labour movement.

Efforts towards political strike action against below-inflation pay increases and in defence of jobs and services in the public sector have not yet resulted in a concrete plan of action. The labour bureaucracy is split between engaging with Brown and confronting him; modifying the agenda and opposing it. Naturally, he would like neither engagement nor confrontation, but I suspect he would prefer the latter – it would allow him to win brownie points with the bourgeoisie, not that he needs any, by taking on the unions, and perhaps eating into the Tory lead over Labour in the polls as a result of positive media coverage.

There is a danger that because of the lack of organisation in the private sector and the fact that the wages of public sector workers are paid out of taxation, the bourgeois media will be able to conduct a successful disinformation campaign. Already, in the case of the CWU’s dispute with Royal Mail, the government has been party to this. Unfortunately, the postal union is quick to dismiss suggestions that the upcoming strike has a political character or concerns more than pay – the CWU did not put up much of a fight when the government implemented an EU directive to end the Royal Mail’s monopoly two years in advance.

The weak shall inherit… 10 Downing Street
Brown and Blair have only personal differences; politically, they are indistinguishable. But that is not to say that Brown can or will be as strident as Blair. The towering majority gained in the 1997 landslide victory has ebbed away and Labour may be forced to go into coalition with the Liberals in the next session of the Westminster parliament.

The Labour Party had 407,000 members when Blair’s New Labour project was swept to power in 1997, by the start of this year membership has fallen to 177,000. Ten years of New Labour rule and the wars in the Middle East have cut the party to shreds organisationally and in the opinion polls. The trade unions may reconsider bailing Labour out when the leadership can easily secure party finances by selling peerages to rich businessmen…

Brown lacks charisma, a power-hungry parliamentary party, and the air of expectation that surrounded Tony Blair’s elevation to Prime Minister. Whilst his predecessor was elected, Brown has become party leader by default. Blair became PM after the party had won a parliamentary majority in a general election; Brown will enter Number 10 two years from parliamentary elections, trailing the opposition in the polls, with the expectation of a hung parliament in 2009.

He might have concluded that since electoral participation is in a downward spiral and Wales could follow Scotland on the road to political independence, Labour is finished. The Tories are committed to pick up on the direction New Labour set out on and are playing on Brown’s reputation as a control freak to portray him as a Stalinist in favour of more state control.

All that remains then is to piece together a coalition and cling on for a while longer. And to think he’s not even through the door of Number 10…

Clunking fist
So Brown appears weak, how will he remedy this?

As a Scot representing a Scottish constituency at a time when the SNP have recently come to power in Scotland, beating New Labour, Brown will have his work cut out in proving he is the British PM. Curbing the rights of Scottish MPs to vote on matters which only concern England and Wales is a proposal that has been supported by the opposition leader David Cameron. Brown is unlikely to endorse such a measure, for obvious reasons.

Proposals for a written constitution and a Bill of Rights are expected; Cameron has come out in favour of a written constitution, so Brown is sure to shoot his fox. And a review of the Barnett formula – the equation that determines funding for the public expenditure of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – will probably be announced within the first one hundred days of the Brown administration, not least because of Tony Blair’s admission that higher per capita public spending in Scotland than England is a bribe to retain the Union. Plaid Cymru are seeking to secure tax-varying powers for the Welsh Assembly, and the SNP are naturally seeking fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

There will be an expectation of withdrawal from Iraq, but Brown is not in a position to disappoint the US or distance himself from the Bush administration, he is a confirmed Atlanticist. Majority opinion in the UK is that troops should be brought home from Iraq and there is support for withdrawal amongst sections of the British ruling class because the venture is not successful, that is to say profitable, and may weaken the influence of Britain in future.. On the Afghan front, Brown is likely to commit to more funding for the mission; though he will try to dispel the notion that British forces will occupy the country for thirty years, not least because of the demoralisation the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have cause the armed forces.

Walkouts and walking away
After the fire-fighters’ national strike in 2003, the Fire Brigades Union decided to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The Communication Workers Union could do the same in the wake of planned strike action – if the membership were given a choice I suspect they’d rather tip the political fund into a drain than hand it over to Brown.

A break by the CWU could lead to momentum for breaking the union link with Labour completely if other unions decide to review the situation. Certainly, it would harm Brown in that he would lack funds and unless the cash for honours scandal is completely forgotten about, very few rich businessmen will be arranging to make donations. Still, he could always introduce state funding of political parties and get the new Chancellor (if there is one) to write the cheques for the next election.

But where would the unions take their cash? In Wales, it could be conceivable that there would be funding for Plaid Cymru, which is to the left of Labour, or continued support for Welsh Labour. Is it all that unimaginable that the unions might support the SNP in Scotland? The Scottish Trade Union Congress narrowly supported Labour before the last election, and the reforms being implemented by the nationalists might be more appealing than the reformism-without-reforms of New Labour.

For class conscious working people in England, there is little to choose from and electoral politics might seem like a dead end at this point. Organisationally, workers are weak in terms of self-defence and pro-active political intervention is unlikely to get results until there is greater unity in action.

In the past, I have pointed to the Scottish Socialist Party as a model for going forward in England (excising from my memory the Sheridan split and the failure of previous endeavours, namely the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance). As I have long believed that the break-up of Britain will be the key to revolution in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, perhaps attention should be focused on constitutional arrangements and the industrial struggle rather than any further attempts at a unified pluralist workers’ party.

Here’s Jonny
Cruddas winning deputy leadership would make Brown respond to complaints from the labour bureaucracy and at best could provide a focus for the left within the Labour Party – but since the leader of the party is more interested in connecting with members of other political parties, what hope is there of rebuilding Labour’s electoral base?

Reviving participation in elections will only become an issue for the bourgeoisie when the legitimacy of the capitalist system comes under question. State funding of political parties may emerge as a solution to the unseemliness of capitalist funding of the parties, which was brought to public attention in the cash for honours scandal – the police investigation of which has yet to conclude.

It comes down to a different approach to politics. Brown doesn’t mind blundering on, targeting swing voters whilst alienating Labour supporters with neo-liberal policies and imperialist wars; Cruddas sees the need for Labour to make amends with its base, apologies for the war in Iraq, and try to move forward with policies that benefit working class people.

Brown’s passionate desire to be Prime Minister, supposedly assured in a deal made with Blair in a restaurant called Granita, looks set to be realised, though it may not last. What does Cruddas want? Not much, and that’s what he’s bound to get if he wins the powerless post of deputy to the President-unelect.

Breaking news: Brown’s been turned down by a second unelected figure. Sir John Stevens, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has declined an invitation from the Iron Chancellor to join his administration. Yes, that’s right – Brown will build a police state…

Regarding the police

[Saturday]

Some hazy thoughts on two contemporary news stories about the cops.

The bigoted blue line
Almost a decade after a report into the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence branded the Metropolitan Police “institutionally racist” an investigation into the force’s handling of several homophobic murders has returned a verdict of “institutional homophobia”. Though the Met is credited with having “changed” – there has been a concerted effort to eliminate discrimination – the tricky aspect of institutionalised oppression is that it occurs spontaneously rather than being an overt policy; it is an issue of culture rather than structure.

The difficulty in weeding out racists and in sanctioning sexism and homophobia has been due to the notorious “canteen culture”; there is often a closing of ranks when allegations of wrongdoing are made. This response to criticism or investigation is due to the isolation police officers often face within their own personal lives and is made possible because of the lack of accountability.

Another problem in tacking discrimination within police forces is that the police routinely characterise people as “criminal” on grounds of appearance and occupation: discrimination is part of the job. Victims of hate crimes and domestic violence have been regarded by police as guilty and therefore deserving what they got: the murdered black youth who is assumed to be a gang member and petty criminal; the man who is queer-bashed is assumed to have been soliciting; the raped woman who is assumed to have led her attacker on.

The argument will always be made that as there are bigots in society, so there are bigots in the police force. That racism, sexism and homophobia were and are part of the working of British society is usually forgotten, as is the lack of accountability: the police are not under democratic control, and so must be viewed as part of the “secret state”.

A Relevant quote
“The police always realized they had potential power over the state. It could not easily do without their service – controlling the ‘dangerous classes’ – and it could not easily turn to another military force, such as the army, which would be seen as a blatant occupation and threatening a fragile consensus. Consequently, the state’s attempt to reform the police into a reliable force against its domestic enemies could only be bought at a price demanded by the police. They wanted autonomy from gross political interference; they got this in the shape of organizational and operational control with only the hint of public accountability being anything more than a smokescreen to comfort the faint libertarian heart. They wanted to keep their own house in order if and when their men misbehaved; they got this in the form of a complaints procedure that guaranteed their control over the investigation, and through that, the judicial outcome, thus leaving police discipline essentially as an internal matter. They wanted the tools to do the job; they got them not only in the guise of modern technology, but also in the form of enormous discretionary powers of apprehension and arrest.

“This exchange between the state and the police effectively granted the latter a licence to misbehave within tolerable limits. From the state’s point of view, it implied that if you carry out your control function, we in turn will not insist that your men keep strictly within the law, providing of course you keep your deviants relatively invisible and confine the more violent and brutal outbursts to those classes and sections of the community you are controlling for us. We will turn a convenient blind eye to misconduct and defend you publicly as the ‘best professional police force in the world’. There will of course be machinery for processing complaints and for holding you publicly accountable, but do not lose any sleep over these, for we will make certain they can never be effective. We do not want to be seen condoning police brutality and corruption when the public become aware of them, so if they are seen occasionally as getting out of hand we will need a few wayward junior officers as patsies in order to keep up the good appearance of having an honest police force.

“Sir Robert Mark, when he was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, understood the nature of this bargain very well. When he took up the post, shortly after The Times’ revelations of scandals had taken the lid off police corruption in London, he clearly had to do something. His subsequent campaign was portrayed as a clean-up job. And certainly with eight times as many officers being ‘retired’ as there were prior to his appointment, there are grounds for thinking he was entirely serious and successful. But his campaign was not so much to clean up corruption as a strategic handing over of a body of scapegoats in order that the police investigation machinery would remain in police hands.”

[…]

“Through this bargain, the police institutionalized their relative autonomy. They became conditionally reliable. As long as the state did not interfere too much, the police in effect promised to control the ‘dangerous classes’. Whenever the state has threatened to step up its level of interference, the police have effectively defended their relative autonomy.”

– Steven Box, Power, Crime, and Mystification, 1983 (London: Routledge, 1992) pp. 116-7

Pigs might strike
The Home Secretary was booed by rank and file police as he addressed a meeting at the Police Federation’s conference. This display of disrespect was a re-run of last summer’s booing of Patricia Hewitt at the Royal College of Nursing conference.

Police officers know that they are not exempt from the attack on the public sector, but unlike other public sector employees the police cannot strike. The deal is that the police rank and file can organise in the Police Federation and will be guaranteed more generous pay and pensions than other workers in the state sector, but in return they will not take industrial action.

Because it is hard to attack the pay and conditions of the police – politicians seek their political support – a new kind of cop has been created: the community support officer. Tasked with similar duties, but with less pay and power, the “yellow-clad numpties” are cops on the cheap. This tactic of undermining wage demands by introducing a parallel layer of police officers has been tried in other countries, including Ireland.

The response of the Police Federation has been negative: both to the creation of community support officers and to the wage cap imposed by the Treasury. The Police Federation is now requesting the right to strike – if the pay freeze is not thawed. But the Federation is not a trade union and chances are they will not co-ordinate resistance to Brown’s parsimony with other public sector unions.

White collar riot
The threats of strike action coming from the Police Federation pose questions for the labour movement. The role the police played in breaking the miners’ strike in the eighties might make class-conscious workers wary of making overtures to “militant” coppers. What position should we take?

Without a doubt, if the police take industrial action the government would be forced to cough up an above inflation pay rise, weakening the resolve on imposing pay restraint. Militancy within police forces is an encouraging sign, though I doubt that there will be many copies of Socialist Worker being passed around the police canteen in coming months.

Lest anyone think I have gone soft, there is no question that the police play a reactionary role and that many police are reactionaries. At the same time, I am always aware that there can be no revolution in the UK without some backing from within the armed forces and police.

We should support the right of police officers and members of the armed forces to organise and take industrial action. The purpose of the repressive state apparatus is to defend capitalism and imperialism, but we should not assume that this objective fact is internalised subjectively by members of the police and armed forces.

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , , , . Leave a Comment »