Monday, 27 April 2015

Save Bristol's Libraries!

Protecting our libraries has been an important part of Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition campaigning in Bristol. 7 libraries are set to be closed in a cut put forward by the independent mayor and his cross-party cabinet. Scandalously this closure programme has been fronted by the Green Party assistant mayor. Despite their avowed opposition to cuts they are at the sharp end of implementing Tory austerity. Saving our libraries and other services requires principled and consistent opposition to the cuts, in actions, not just words.

Local people will fight to save their libraries and we will stand with them. In many cases these are the only resource that communities have left. They are used by people across the generations and provide far more than just books. Below is an eyewitness account of one library user's experiences and how vital the service was to him.

Tom Baldwin

"In September last year I found myself evicted and unemployed, while I never had to sleep on the streets not having a place of your own still comes with its problems.  Due to my low mood and feeling of helplessness I started to drink, a lot.  I thought there was no way out and even one day called 999 to tell them that "a friend" was considering taking his life.  Of course the friend was me and the ambulance crew came and did their duty, but that is a different story.

"After hitting rock bottom I thought that I had to do something, and do something fast.  While I do have friends in Bristol I am from Belfast so I have no immediate family here.  And my friends were not in position to do much other than the occasional night on the sofa.

"Being homeless and without a internet capable phone I went to the local Bedminster library.  In my first session there I found a homeless charity, St Mungos, who I registered with and was able to get a free meal once a day.  They also helped me with the council as in getting on the homeless register.  So that was one meal a day sorted out and at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. 

"On the job front, I was able to use the library to search all of the main job sites, alter my CV and scan legal documents when required.  Again, the light at the end of the tunnel got a little brighter.

"While all of this seems logical and something that you would expect, there is another less tangible way the library helped me.  It gave me something to do, I was living in a squat with no amenities or facilities, literally sleeping on the floor in an empty room.  So each day when I woke up I knew that I could go to either Bedminster library for one hour internet or the central library for two hours.  Add to this that I was now attending interviews and able to go to St Mungos, this gave me some structure and hope.

"As of writing this today, I am in a job that I like, I viewed a property last night, again, found on the internet using the library, and it looks like I will be moving in next week.

"I have learnt a lot in the past months, about taking responsibility for yourself, about support there is out there for you and how important something that people take for granted, a local library, can be a life saver.

"I think the proposed cuts to the libraries are a disgrace and will put further pressure on people that rely on them, not just for books and education but for other services that people tend to forget about."

Sean R

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The 1% ‘walk tall’ while the 99% are bowed by austerity

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition press release on today's budget:
TUSC Chair and ex-Labour MP Dave Nellist said: “Hoping to gain a few extra votes, the Chancellor has tried to sell this budget as a little relief from the endless austerity he has offered up for the last five years. It is nothing of the sort. The coalition once again banged the austerity drum, promising £30 billion worth of cuts, including £12 billion from welfare. George Osborne says austerity is working but the queues at food banks and pay day lenders tell a different story.

“This government of millionaires might think things are improving, but most ordinary workers are facing a Dickensian future rather than a bright recovery. George Osborne says wages have started to increase but – that is only if you include bankers’ bonuses in the figures! In fact they are still lower than they were before the ‘Great Recession’ – for young people a massive 12.5% lower. A 20p an hour increase in the minimum wage is a drop in the ocean compared to that. TUSC is campaigning for an immediate £10 an hour minimum wage for all with no exemptions.

“No one who has experienced five years of Con-Dem government will be surprised by this budget, but where is the opposition? Labour also promises continued austerity. When Osborne put his plans for £30 billion worth of cuts under the next government to parliament only five Labour MPs voted against it!

“It is time to take a stand. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has attracted a record number of anti-austerity candidates in the elections on 7 May 2015.”

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Greece: Prospect of Syriza victory raises workers’ hopes


Mass intervention of working class to struggle for socialist policies is vital
Interview with Andros Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI in Greece)

Last time we spoke you told us of the campaign of fear by the establishment to try and prevent people voting for Syriza. How has this developed?
On 19 January, six days before the Greek general elections, spoke to Andros Payiatsos from Xekinima(CWI in Greece).
The circus of the ruling class and its political representatives are now demoralised. They started a big fear campaign but it became absolutely clear that it would have no significant effect and that Syriza will be the next government. The question now is, will it be a minority or a majority government? Although the ruling class still try to keep the fear campaign going, it’s very weak and not effective. They have now shifted their focus to further “domesticating” Syriza, to ensure that it governs within the limits they impose.

What now seems the likely outcome of the election?

It’s generally accepted here and internationally that Syriza will win. In the last week there is a small increase for Syriza in the opinion polls – of about 1%. Really this is a stabilisation of Syriza’s lead. Including abstentions, Syriza’s support stands around 25-27%, discounting these it rises to about 30-33% – close to, but not sufficient for, a majority government.

What are the alternatives to a majority Syriza government?

The Syriza leadership see “Independent Greeks” party – a “patriotic”, populist split from New Democracy (the main right wing, capitalist party) as the most viable possibility for a coalition partner. This party took a position against the Memorandum and the Troika from the beginning.
Most of the left are not willing to cooperate with Syriza. The Communist Party rejects even the possibility of voting in parliament for Syriza to form a government - they have a disastrous sectarian position.
If the “Independent Greeks” do not have enough MPs either, then Syriza would be pushed to collaborate with parties which are considered to be “Troikan” parties (those that have accepted and implemented or supported in general the austerity policies inflicted on Greece by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank), such as “The River” or former Pasok Prime Minister, George Papandreou’s new party, “Social Democratic Movement”.

What is the response of the ruling class to the increasing likelihood of a Syriza victory?

They now concentrate on trying to make sure a Syriza government will be as stable and effective as possible for them. There are big sections of capitalist spokespeople in Greece and internationally which say “it’s time to negotiate” and that “we must be flexible” etc. This is an attempt to incorporate Syriza into the establishment and to put a break on the dangers which Syriza may represent for their interests in terms of releasing powerful mass movements and taking measures which go against austerity.
But it’s important to know that this is not uniform. For example, the German ruling class and the countries around it still have a hard-line position against any serious negotiation. They will undoubtedly be willing to make some concessions to a Syriza government in negotiations, but of a very limited character.

How is Syriza responding to this pressure?

The leadership is responding in precisely the way that the ruling class would like. The whole programme has become absolutely blurred. Even some of the reforms that have been considered very basic are now under question.
For example, Syriza leader Tsipras was recently asked in an interview about the major struggle of the people of Halkidiki against the gold mines. He didn’t take a clear position but he said “the law will be enforced” and “the contracts will be scrutinised” – what does that mean?
In relation to the minimum wage, which was one of the major points in the programme of Syriza, it’s now not clear when it’s going to be done - there’s now talk of a gradual implementation. In regard to the privatisations and the sackings of thousands from the public sector that have taken place, they say: “we shall study the lawfulness of what took place”.
Given this, there is little real enthusiasm for Syriza in society. But there is also a feeling that there is no choice, we have to vote for Syriza and give it a majority government if possible. There is a feeling that even if they do one tenth of what they promise, things will still be better than today.

How has Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participated in the elections and why?

We support a vote for Syriza and have launched a very big campaign. We produced 150,000 four-page bulletins and a special edition of our paper which sold out, so we have reproduced it, which is impressive considering the election campaign is, actually, only 11 days long!
As part of the “Initiative of 1000” (coalition of left groups united around a radical anti-capitalist programme), we discussed with Syriza about standing candidates on its lists. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do so. The Syriza leadership wanted an alliance with other forces on the Left, but of a merely token symbolic nature, in which these other forces would stand no real chance of being elected. They ruled us out from standing candidates in the areas in which we would have a very powerful and effective campaign. We said if there is going to be collaboration with other forces of the left then Syriza has to give these forces the potential to get a good result – there’s no point if you take away their strongholds and only allow them to have candidates where they stand little or no chance of being elected. On top of this, there was a very limited time to campaign. On this basis bothXekinima and other comrades in the Initiative of the 1000 decided that we would not stand.
The attitude of the Syriza leadership to this is indicative of a wider trend. For example, 50 individuals who are not members of Syriza were included in the Syriza lists across the country. Of these, only 1 is to the left of SYRIZA! They want a parliamentary group that will be very well controlled by the right wing of the party.
The main reason we support Syriza, despite these limitations, is that its victory will have a liberating effect on the working class, the movements and society in general. There is an expectation from the working class that under a Syriza government the massive attacks will stop and, at least, to a certain extent be reversed, and that some of the demands of the mass movement will be satisfied. So, despite the lack of clarity on the part of the leadership, and its accommodation to the demands of the ruling class, we believe that a Syriza victory will represent a significant shift in the balance of class forces in Greek society – it can have a catalysing effect and unleash a new period of working class struggle.
Maybe Syriza will not change the laws on the labour market, which has been completely deregulated, but workers will come out to demand their right not to be sacked, to an eight hour day, to overtime payments, and to collective bargaining. Maybe Tsipras is not ready to kick the gold mines of “Eldorado Gold” out of Halkidiki but people of Halkidiki have no choice but to come out and demand that the company stops the works on the gold mines. We expect this to take place throughout the working class movement in Greece. Maybe Tsipras won’t be willing to abolish TAIPED, the body that is overseeing all the “fast track” privatisations now taking place, but workers will feel that now they can move into action to resist these sell offs – whether they be of public utility companies or of beaches, mountains and forests.
Whatever compromises the leadership is willing to make, the workers will feel there’s a much better environment to fight to defend their rights and this is the fundamental reason that Syriza should be given conditional, critical support.
We make it very clear that we don’t just call for a vote for Syriza itself, we call for a radical, revolutionary socialist programme as the only viable road for a Syriza government.

What does Xekinima think that a Syriza government should do the day after its elected?

Of course, it should immediately paralyse the payment of the debt and rip up the memorandum with the Troika, which are fundamental to any plan to combat the misery of the Greek people.
It should immediately change the labour laws and laws for the universities (to allow for asylum on campuses, freedom of speech, free assembly etc). Raise the minimum wage to what it was before the onset of the Troika – back to €750. Close down TAIPED the body which is responsible for the privatisations of the public works and the natural beauties and resources of the country. And freeze and repeal all privatisations that have taken place in recent years. Put an end to controversial projects which are under construction now – like in Halkidiki.
This would cause a reaction by the capitalist establishment, nationally and internationally. This could only be challenged successfully by implementing bold anti-capitalist measures, nationalising the banks and the commanding heights of the economy to plan the economy on the basis of need, not profit. This should be done on the basis of democratic workers’ control and management.
And it must be linked to the struggles of the workers across Europe. We are sure that if Syriza went ahead with such a programme it would have a major effect internationally, particularly for the working class of southern Europe. This could lay the basis for an international socialist alternative to the capitalist EU and Troika rule.
In the election campaign Syriza does refer to the international aspects of their policies and to Podemos (the new left party in Spain), and other “progressive” movements internationally. Despite Syriza’s programme being so mild and compromising, it is still having a major effect on a European and international level. This shows what could be achieved if it had a more radical, socialist programme - the potential is there. At the moment, Syriza’s policies are neo-Keynesianism - for an end to austerity within the capitalist system.
In the conditions of capitalist crisis, such a programme is not really viable. Only a programme which breaks with the capitalist system can offer a way forward. This can only be achieved through the mass intervention of the working class, and the popular masses, which could, under certain conditions, push Syriza far further to the left that the leadership envisage or imagine. This is what Xekinima will be struggling for in the period after SYRYZA is elected to government.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

"You march in Paris, yet uphold laws any religious fundamentalist would envy"

NHS in crisis This emergency is no accident!

By An NHS Healthcare Assistant
The NHS is under increasing strain as the crisis in hospitals' Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments deepens.
Four weeks ago the figures for A&E waiting times were the worst since records began. Then three weeks ago they were even worse, until two weeks ago when they were worse still, and finally last week when they became the worst ever recorded... again!
Over that period the number of trolley waits (patients waiting over four hours for a bed after being admitted from A&E) more than trebled when compared to the same time last year.
Sixteen hospitals were forced to declare a "major incident", where a hospital admits to being unable to cope with the workload it faces and needs extra staff. The number of hospitals where overworked, underpaid workers are already at breaking point is much higher than that.
An overstretched A&E department also means other services, such as routine operations, being cancelled at short notice.


How has this A&E crisis developed? Years of cuts to local government services, by councils led by all three major political parties, has resulted in a shortage of social care provisions for elderly and disabled people.
Consequently these vulnerable people are more likely to occupy hospital beds, thereby blocking the throughput of patients.
Likewise, the government's 'reorganisation' of the NHS and cuts has made it even harder for people to get a GP appointment when they need one. In the last year nearly one million people attended A&E after being unable to see a local GP (this represents just one-tenth of those unable to get a GP appointment).
There have also been staffing cuts, putting huge pressure on those who remain and are expected to deal with an increased workload with fewer resources.
The NHS will be a major battleground for the mainstream political parties in the build up to May's general election. But their unanimous support for private interference in public health and the piecemeal cutting of services, show that not one of them can be trusted with the future of our NHS.
A&E is one of the most unrelentingly stressful parts of the NHS to work in, and many staff face exhaustion. The last thing anyone should want is for these workers to feel demotivated. But that is exactly what the government is risking by refusing to give NHS workers even the paltry 1% pay rise recommended by the NHS pay review body.
In response the health unions will be taking a further two days' strike action; for 12 hours on 29 January, followed by 24 hours on 25 February, to fight for our overstretched NHS to be staffed by motivated and decently paid workers.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Counter terrorist threat with workers-led mass unity

Socialist Party website editorial

The shocking, cold blooded slaughter of journalists and others in the Paris office of satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, and more killings in subsequent days, has been met with mass outrage. Early condemnation was voiced on the day of the massacre in a leaflet produced by the French section of the CWI, Gauche Revolutionnaire, which called it "a cowardly and barbaric" attack. TheSocialist Party in England and Wales adds its condemnation, as we did when previous terrorist attacks have occurred, including the US 9/11 and London 7/7 attacks.

As 9/11, 7/7 and the massacre at Charlie Hebdo have shown, al Qaida directed or inspired attacks in the west have been directed at ordinary working people.

People across France reacted to what has been the worst terror attack in their country for over half a century by turning out on the streets in over 30 cities; and globally there have been many solidarity rallies. A large demonstration will also be taking place in Paris on Sunday 11 January.

Mass demonstrations of opposition are crucial, as terrorattacks like this one can serve to ratchet up division and polarisation and play into the hands of those who attack the interests of working class people. But quickly, government ministers in France - whose policies in power have laid the basis for terrorist atrocities to occur - have moved to head the demonstrations, with president Francois Hollande even inviting David Cameron to attend Sunday's event.

The far-right Front National will try to make gains out of the situation - by further whipping up anti-immigrant, racist sentiment.

Others across Europe will also try to jump on the bandwagon, for example right-wing populist Nigel Farage in Britain, said following the massacre: "We in Britain, and I've seen some evidence of this in other countries too, have a really rather gross policy of multiculturalism ... we do have a fifth column within our countries".

Blind alley of terrorism

While the terrorists struck a terrible, tragic blow against the staff of Charlie Hebdo, their desire to silence it has failed. Its cartoons, previously seen by tens of thousands of people are now being seen by millions because of the attack, and the journal has declared it will carry on.

Moreover, far from aiding the situation for Muslims in France, the terrorists have worsened it, as state repression in their communities will be stepped up and physical attacks by far-right groups and individuals are likely to increase - as is already being seen. However, it should be added that organisations like al Qaida and Isis that are encouraging terror attacks in the west are certainly not intending to build a struggle against oppression. They are highly authoritarian and reactionary, seeking to build regimes based oncapitalist and feudal exploitation, censorship and bans.

Now it is urgent in France, as the moving displays of shock and horror subside, to develop the building of workers' unity - across all religions and none - to quickly organise against any attacks on democratic rights in the name of fighting terror, and against scapegoating of minorities.

In Britain, the head of MI5 has already used the Paris killings to call for new powers for the security services, with chancellor George Osborne responding that they will be given 'all the resources they need'.

The police already have powers to investigate, arrest and charge terrorist suspects without new laws being introduced that can in the future be used against trade union activists and anti-austerity campaigners.

Rising threat

Head of UK counter-terrorism policing Mark Rowley, said: "At this stage, there is no UK connection" but ominously added "the threat levels remain unchanged, at severe for the UK". MI5 director-general Andrew Parker assesses that around 600 people have gone from Britain to Syria to fight with Isis or the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front. Around half of them have returned, many disillusioned with Jihad, but not all. However, past attacks like 7/7 in 2005 and Woolwich in 2013 (both in London), and now the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, show that the danger of terrorist acts exists in any case from alienated individuals who have never fought abroad.

The media makes much of the fact that the massacre in Paris was not committed by disorganised 'loners' but the attackers appeared to be well-trained in using guns and had planned the atrocity. They appear to have had the backing of al Qaida, as they shouted out allegiance to it during the attack. But they are said to be two young French men of north African descent, brought up and educated in France who have not fought abroad.
Imperialist interventions

After the start of the US-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, socialists were among those who warned that the threat of terrorist attacks in the west would become higher. Outrage swept the globe - not least in Muslimcommunities - at those imperialist interventions and the death and destruction they caused.

There has also been outrage at the Israeli regime's onslaughts on Gaza and the refusal of the US government to condemn them.

The terrorist threat is being worsened further now by US-led air attacks on Isis in Iraq and Syria - including by French imperialism - which are in some ways boosting the strength of Isis as well as increasing the overall death toll of people on the ground.

In France there is also the legacy of interventions in north Africa, including the Algeria independence war which ended in 1962, in which hundreds of thousands died. In October 1961 up to 250 Algerians peacefully protesting in the centre of Paris were massacred by the French police.

Adding to the anger at the foreign policy of western capitalist governments is the austerity they are imposing at home, which is escalating inequality. The rich are becoming ever more wealthy while the overwhelming majority suffer cuts in living standards, with a layer becoming more and more 'excluded' from access to decent jobs and pay.

This is no less true in both France and Britain with different manifestations of it; in France poverty-stricken immigrant populations are particularly concentrated in sprawling high-unemployment suburbs of the cities, and face vicious discrimination.

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, estimated at 9% of the population, which includes around 4 million immigrants and their descendants from the Maghreb.

The riots that broke out across France in 2005 indicated the level of frustration and anger against poverty, police harassment and racism felt in the suburbs, conditions that remain today. In addition, many Muslim youth across Europe feel the effects of stigmatisation of Muslims and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy by right-wing and far-right media and politicians, in different forms and degrees.

Freedom of expression

Charlie Hebdo, regarded as a left-leaning journal, has based itself on ferocious irreverence to religious leaders, prominent politicians and authority in general. It desires to shock and outrage with its blunt satire - targeting anyone and everyone, and has been deliberately provocative, including by publishing cartoons of Mohammed.

Socialists support the right of individuals to be part of any religion of their choosing, or none, free from discrimination and oppression. At the same time we strongly defend freedom of speech and publication, including the right to criticise and use satire and humour. This isn't just for cultural reasons but also because infringements on what can be said and published can and will be used against trade union activists and socialists by state institutions, hampering our ability to expose class exploitation and interests.

But this doesn't mean we advocate there being no boundaries at all. Few people would support turning a blind eye to material that deliberately and consciously promotes rabid racism or sexism, for example.

However, who decides what is acceptable and what is not? We can't trust 'censorship' bodies appointed by government institutions and politicians when those governments are at present almost entirely composed of pro-capitalist, pro-austerity politicians. The boundaries of what is acceptable should be democratically decided, which in a socialist society would be by regularly elected representatives of ordinary people, subject to recall at any time.

Working class led response essential

Countering terrorism by the followers of Isis or al Qaida is not largely the task of 'moderate' Muslims as some right wing commentators have argued. The very small minority in society who consider turning to terror acts can come from any religious background or none, as attacks by the far fight, for instance, bear witness - Norway in 2011 saw far-right terrorist Anders Breivik kill 77 people in a shooting spree.

Nor is the way forward the 'unity' against terror led by the likes of Francois Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron. As Gauche Revolutionnaire put it in their leaflet: "This attack will serve the ruling classes and the capitalists. Hollande, Sarkozy or Le Pen can try to claim that they are the defenders of our freedom, when they are the ones who suppress struggles, stigmatise migrants, and attack our rights".

Instead, essential is a unity led from below, by working class people. Mass movements of the working class, acting together in an organised way for improvements in living standards, and challenging capitalist governments with the strength of unity, can and will turn the tide against the growing threat of terrorism.

Gauche Revolutionnaire stated at the end of their leaflet:

"Trade unions, and other labour movement organisations and associations should put out a call to rally and pay tribute to the victims of Charlie Hebdo on their own platform: for the unity of workers, youth and the great majority of the population regardless of their origin or beliefs, for freedom of expression, against all reactionary and fundamentalist terrorists, against the racist and imperialist policies of French governments that increase sectarian divisions, intolerance and obscurantism.

"A mass, unified, movement against racism, and against the policies that force millions into insecurity, must be built. It is on that basis that we must show support for the journalists and employees of Charlie Hebdo".

Terrorism is not a danger that will be eliminated by the capitalist ruling classes and governments; they have created the conditions for terrorism in the first place and are now incapable of removing them. No amount of increased state repression will end the threat.

The ongoing crisis of the world economy leads governments to be even more hell-bent on launching attacks on the majority, and is serving to increase imperialist division and armed conflict. In France, Britain and across the globe, new mass workers' parties need to be built, putting forward socialist ideas that can show the only way out of this nightmare scenario.

Public ownership of the key industries, socialist economic planning and democratic decision making at all levels of society would lay the basis for ending war, oppression, exploitation and poverty on a permanent basis; and terrorism.