Sunday, 25 January 2015

Greece: Prospect of Syriza victory raises workers’ hopes

From Socialistworld.net

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, socialistworld.net 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.

Pressures

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.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Fight for Mass Action to End Cuts and Low Pay!

Britain needs a pay rise - how are we going to get it?

When the TUC first organised their 'Britain Needs a Pay Rise' demonstration on 18 October, it is hard to believe that they saw it as an integral part of a campaign of co-ordinated strike action. The first mention of it on their website was 11 February. Surely unbeknown to them, eight months later that date is days after hundreds of thousands of public sector workers have taken industrial action to break the Con-Dem pay freeze.

More than likely, the TUC and the Labour-affiliated unions saw the march as an opportunity to assist Labour in the protracted pre-election period by exposing the anti-working class policies of this Tory-led government, although Labour agrees with the pay freeze!

The fact that starting on 10 July and continuing into October, unions have called out members in local government, education, civil service and now the NHS is a reflection of the pressure that they have been subject to because of the grinding misery that the continuing fall in living standards has represented for millions of workers and their families.

However, the decision of the unions in local government to suspend their strike on 14 October is a major setback to the type of mass co-ordinated action needed to push the government back on pay. But activists in these unions and the NUT teachers union, which had already suspended action will be determined to get them back into the pay dispute.

The symptoms of the growing catastrophe facing working-class families are everywhere. The Trussell Trust, the largest food bank provider in the UK, says it has handed out 913,000 food parcels in the last year, up from 347,000 the year before. It added that there was a "shocking" 51% rise in clients to established food banks. The charity said that more than 30% of visits were put down to a delay in welfare payments but the second biggest reason, given by 20% of food bank users, was low income.

This is despite the social stigma attached to using them. In a recent survey by the University of Manchester, a 55 year old described how she had collected a food parcel on behalf of her grown-up daughter who was too embarrassed to come. She stated: "My daughter doesn't want to be seen as a scrounger." A child said: "We say to my mum make sure you eat but she says she's not hungry...she's just making sure we eat first." A survey by the NASUWT teachers' union revealed that a quarter of teachers have brought food into school to feed hungry pupils and a fifth have bought them lunch.
 
There are similar figures about payday loan companies, who are the suited and booted loan sharks as food banks are modern day soup kitchens. Last year, the charity StepChange handled £110 million-worth of payday loan debt, up from £60 million in 2012.

The so-called respectability of these vultures has now been exposed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) - forcing leading payday loan company Wonga to write off £220m of debts for 330,000 people who couldn't afford to repay it. No wonder, when they charge interest rates over 5,000%!

In his speech to Conservative Party conference, Cameron again tried the Tory 'divide and rule' tactic of targeting benefits. But it was estimated that over half those who would suffer would be low-paid workers or the 'working poor', who earn so little that they qualify for in-work benefits and tax credits.

A report by the Office for National Statistics revealed that pay dropped by 0.2% in August in absolute terms. Yet incomes have been falling in 'real terms' for most of the period since the financial crisis of 2007-08. The Bank of England governor Mark Carney was invited to address this year's TUC and admitted that incomes had fallen by 10% since the crisis. He also thanked the unions for the sacrifice made by their members in "doing their bit" during the crisis! But on closer inspection, the ONS figures reveal a generation gap with those under 25 suffering a loss of 14%! This is hardly surprising when younger workers face the full brunt of zero-hour contracts, temporary work and lower rates of pay for new starters. They will be on worse pensions, if they exist at all. Yet graduates are expected to repay student debts inflated by £9,000 a year tuition fees!

The downward pressure on pay started under the last Labour government. The economic crisis was used by the bosses in the private sector to lower workers' wages and terms and conditions to literally get us to pay for their crisis. Many workers paid the price to retain their jobs by pay freezes or cuts and short-time working. However, the recovery of incomes has been very slow. To most workers, the so-called economic recovery is an utter myth that is only happening for the employers and the politicians, with MPs in line for an 11% pay increase!

Bosses, whether they are private sector employers or the government, have been quick to play off workers against each other. This was attempted in the public sector pensions dispute when they contrasted the so-called 'gold-plated' pensions of these workers with their counterparts in the private sector. In reality, this was a myth, with the average public sector worker receiving £7,000 a year in retirement. Similarly with pay, the fact that the squeeze in the private sector, where union density and organisation is inferior, was greater than the public sector, has been used as justification for the government attack.

The austerity offensive that was unleashed by Osborne in the autumn of 2010 has in effect been a deep recession for public sector workers, as well as working-class communities who rely on their services. The first two years saw public sector pay frozen absolutely, followed by two years of a limit of 1%.

Infamously, even this paltry rise isn't guaranteed in the NHS where up to 55% of workers will get nothing. Yet in the four years from 2010, RPI inflation rose by 4% a year on average. But even this price index, which, by including mortgages, is almost always higher than the CPI index now more commonly used by the government, is an under-estimate of the real cost of living, particularly those facing huge rents.     

Socialists explain that workers in the public and private sectors have to be united to resist the attack on all workers' incomes. Just as those in the private sector made concessions to keep their jobs in the depths of the recession, many public sector workers have been the victims of 90-day redundancy and re-engage notices. These have removed or worsened hard-won elements of their terms and conditions, such as car fuel allowances, that they have relied on as their pay has stagnated.

On top of this, the defeat of the pensions struggle as a result of the capitulation of the right-wing union leaders and the TUC, after the mammoth 2-million strong strike in November 2011 (N30) has meant that public sector workers have had their monthly pension contributions increased. In many cases, this has amounted to an effective cut in wages of anything up to £100 per month.

In addition, the vicious programme of cuts which have also been passed on by Labour councils have seen many public sector workers outsourced and privatised which has been a platform for swingeing wage cuts. The incredible strike by Care UK health sector workers in Doncaster, of over 80 days so far, was triggered by cuts of 25% as a result of being pushed into the private sector.

However, the N30 strike does point the way forward for all workers. That mass strike shook the Con-Dems, forcing Cameron into a volte face over his comments on the morning of the walkout that it was a 'damp squib'. Actually it was a massive show of strength by millions of workers in, arguably, the biggest single day of strike action since the 1926 General Strike.

In almost every town and city, there were mass strike rallies that revealed that any idea of a division between workers could be torn down, as the strikers received tremendous public support. As the reaction to the London tube workers strike earlier this year showed, when the unions act in a decisive way they become a reference point to all workers and others suffering from the brutal cuts and employers' offensives.

On the morning of N30, hundreds of 'The Sparks' - electricians in the construction industry - went from their weekly protest to a number of public sector picket lines. The Sparks were fighting against the imposition of a new BESNA contract that would have cut their wages by up to 35%. But through militant action and an official strike ballot by their union Unite, they were able to defeat the attack.

Undoubtedly, the sight and sounds of workers in the public sector throughout 2011 on strike and on the march, gave confidence to many other workers that it was possible to fight back. In return, victories such as that won by the Sparks and the London bus workers in 2012, who won an Olympic bonus, showed that it is possible to fight and win.

The setback of the pensions battle after the N30 strike has undoubtedly taken its toll on the confidence of workers, especially in the public sector. It opened the door still further and emboldened what is a weak and divided government. The result has been hundreds of thousands of redundancies, many of them would have been workers who strongly identified with the union. Many workers will have asked when contemplating action over pay: "Can we win?", "Will the union go all the way?"

But despite this, the July 10th pay strike of over a million was the biggest strike since N30 and showed that there are big layers of workers who realise that they have to fight to stop the slaughter of their incomes. Despite how anaemic this 'recovery' seems to workers, the fact that the economy has stabilised, at least for now, with perhaps the immediate threat to jobs lessened, can give workers confidence that it's possible to fight on pay. Sometimes in the midst of a deep crisis, workers can feel helpless.

Following the recent impressive action from NHS workers and civil servants on the one hand, and the calling off of the action in local government on the other, it's clear the pay struggle is at a crucial stage. These paltry offers must be rejected. The campaign must be continued and escalated. More strikes must be called before Christmas and into the New Year, with all the public sector involved.
The Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) have been to the fore in building pressure on the TUC and the unions to call a 24 hour general strike. This could unite all workers in every sector to defeat Cameron's austerity and the employers' offensive. It would have huge support from the majority of people who are the victims of the cuts.

A significant breakthrough by a sizable group of workers would have a huge effect in raising the sights of all workers. It would not only shake the ConDems but also lay down a marker to all the mainstream parties, including Labour, who refuse to back the pay strikes because they have accepted Tory austerity.

Scandalously, the leaders of the Labour affiliated unions whose members have been on strike in the councils and the NHS against the pay freeze, accepted Miliband's spending plans at this summer's Labour Policy Forum. They wrongly believe that to go along with this is to protect their members because easing off Labour best ensures their victory at the general election next May.

In reality, they are only maintaining the idea that workers have to accept the cuts. They are loosening the pressure on Labour and disorientating union members and activists who cannot understand why the unions, the paymasters of Labour, are rolling over and being humiliated.

But history won't stop at the election. The incredible energy of the Scottish Independence campaign was a political mobilisation of the working-class and poor for an alternative to the austerity consensus of all the main parties on the bidding of the capitalist establishment. It was the first chance that many would have had to vote in a decisive manner for what they saw as a clear alternative idea.

It is an anticipation of the next months and years in the rest of the UK, as workers struggle politically and industrially to take on and defeat the attack on their incomes and all the other gains won by the working-class, but now are in mortal danger from the cuts and privatisation.

Striving for mass strike action by the unions, whoever is meting out austerity, is a critical element of this. The passing of the £10 an hour minimum wage by the TUC is an opportunity to appeal to the millions of low-paid non-unionised workers to become part of what is still the biggest organised force in society.

But side by side with this is the need for a real political alternative that fights for a more equal, socialist future. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is best placed to fight for such a mass political vehicle and be a powerful attractive force for those workers in unions that are still affiliated to Labour to break them from that grip.

by Rob Williams, Socialist Party national trade union organiser

Stopping IS: Obama's Strategy in Tatters

Obama and his western allies such as Cameron argue that a policy of air strikes alone could defeat the advances made by 'Islamic state' (IS) forces in Iraq and Syria. Now with the possible defeat of
Kurdish forces fighting IS for control of the city of Kobane, this policy lies in tatters.

IS forces have advanced in the city and could be on the verge of another victory. Amidst reports of horrific scenes of brutal slaughter in the city by the crazed forces of reactionary IS, US air strikes on IS forces failed to halt their advance. Those trapped in Kobane are waging a courageous fight to defeat IS or face certain slaughter.

Obama and Cameron's air strikes policy is also at risk in Iraq with major IS gains in the western province of Anbar (nearly 25% of Iraq). All Anbar's major towns except Haditha and one military base have fallen to IS.

Again the Iraqi army offered little effective resistance. In yet another humanitarian catastrophe, an estimated 750,000 people have already fled Anbar province - up to 180,000 fleeing as IS forces overran the military base near Hit.

IS may now launch a further offensive to try to take the Sunni western part of Baghdad. Anbar province was the centre of the 2003 Sunni uprising against the US occupation.
A crucial element in the IS victories lies in the amount of heavy weaponry and arms they captured from disintegrating Iraqi armed forces. The rapid advances they made over vast areas of Iraq and Syria also show that the IS uprising has become a generalised Sunni uprising.

The brutal response of Shia militias near Baghdad, which have not distinguished between IS fighters and ordinary Sunni people, have driven the Sunni population under the IS umbrella as there is no other force to defend them. Shia militias in Baghdad speak openly of driving the Sunnis out from mixed areas of the city. IS has been able to gain support because of the oppression of the Sunni population under the western installed government of Maliki in Iraq following the US-led occupation.

The Turkish regime of Erdogan consciously held back from intervening against IS forces advancing on Kobane. They fear the consequences that a Kurdish victory would have on the 15 million Kurdish population inside Turkey.

Most fighting in Kobane is led by the PYD - the Syrian branch of the Kurdish PKK in Turkey. The Erdogan regime would be more comfortable with an IS victory over the PYD rather than vice-versa as indicated by the agreement reached for the release of Turkish hostages held by IS. Now Turkish warplanes have cynically bombed PKK bases in Turkish Hakkari province near the Iraqi border.

There can be no trust in any of the regional leaders or western imperialism to resolve this crisis in the interests of all the region's peoples. Western imperialist intervention is only worsening the catastrophe.

The origins of the current slaughter can largely be found in the legacy of western imperialist interventions into the entire region.

No trust can be placed in the Sunni or Shia elite and rulers of the region's countries which aim to use the conflict to gain for themselves. Turkey is looking to strengthen its expansion into Syria and seeking to establish a new mini form of the Ottoman empire.

Obama speaks of assembling a coalition of such Sunni powers as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE to oppose IS. However, while these countries' ruling dynasties may not fully support IS's actions, sections of them have been backing IS and all have their own regional interests and their own agendas.

Defeating IS is not their main priority. They can use the fact that IS in the short term can cause more problems for the Shia regimes in order to bolster their own interests.

To combat the horrors of IS and other reactionary sectarian forces in the region, a united movement of Sunni and Shia masses together with the Kurdish, Turkish and all other peoples must be built. To combat the reactionary threat of an IS slaughter in Kobane, such democratic committees need building to form mass militias.

In Turkey, committees of Turkish and Kurdish workers need to be formed and come together in a united way. There must be a struggle to lift Turkey's arms embargo to allow for the arming of such militias. The way forward is to build non-sectarian committees of the Arab Sunni and Shia masses together with the Kurdish people in Iraq in opposition to sectarian forces on both sides.

Such committees could form the basis of a government of workers, peasants and all those exploited by capitalism and imperialism that would guarantee the democratic, national and ethnic rights of all peoples of the entire area based on a democratic socialist federation of states.

by Tony Saunois, Committee for a Workers' International
www.socialistworld.net

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

After Scotland revolt: all capitalist parties in crisis

Build a working-class alternative

"All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born." Yeats poem about the revolutionary uprising in Ireland at Easter 1916 applies, in a different way, to the electoral 'uprising' that took place in Scotland on 18 September, 2014.

Voting Yes became, for many, a mass revolt against austerity. The capitalist class - major corporations, the majority of the capitalist media and the Westminster politicians - all united to predict Armageddon if a majority of Scots voted Yes.

In defiance of all the threats - which the Scottish National Party (SNP) was incapable of answering - 45% still voted for independence.

Across Britain capitalist politicians have spoken in awed tones at the phenomenal turnout; which proved definitively - as we have consistently argued - that working class and young voters are not apathetic but only disillusioned with the diet of pro-big business, pro-austerity parties on offer to them.

In reality, the capitalist politicians' expressions of enthusiasm for the high turnout were a thin veneer painted over their real feeling - fear.

The 1.6 million who voted for independence were overwhelmingly working class. The young were also disproportionately in favour - 71% of 16 and 17 year olds voted Yes.

Hundreds of thousands of working-class people registered to vote for the first time or for the first time since they left the register during the mass campaign against the poll tax.

The private hopes of the capitalist class that the defeat of the Yes campaign would mean a return to 'apathy' are already being dispelled. Instead a radicalised and defiant working class is searching for a way forward. All of the Westminster parties are sinking to new levels of unpopularity.
Labour, which historically has dominated politics in the working class heartlands of Scotland, is hated for the role it played in fronting the No campaign on behalf of the Tories and the capitalist class.

Despite this, some sections of Scottish workers may hold their noses and vote for Labour in the general election as a means to try and get rid of the Tories. Others, however, will never vote Labour again.

All the parties which supported a Yes vote are growing, with 14,000 joining the SNP so far, reflecting that they are seen to have stood up to 'project fear'.

However, a significant section of Yes voters have no illusions in the leadership of the SNP. Support for socialist ideas is growing rapidly.

Our sister party in Scotland, Socialist Party Scotland is campaigning for the immediate launching of a new mass workers' party. Such a party, in the current situation, could grow very rapidly, transforming the situation.

Unfortunately, some on the left - including Tommy Sheridan who played a positive role in the referendum, putting forward a left case for independence - now seem to be calling for a vote for the SNP in 2015, with building an electoral left alternative being put off into the indefinite future.
This would be a very serious mistake which cannot be justified on the grounds of 'unity' for independence.

We are in favour of the maximum possible principled unity between organisations and parties which stand in the interests of the working class. The SNP, however, does nothing of the kind and has consistently put forward pro-big business, anti-working class policies, including implementing major cuts in Holyrood.

It will be putting forward a new cuts budget in a matter of weeks. The potential exists in Scotland for the development of a mass party of the working class which would be a qualitative step forward in Scotland but also act as inspiration to workers in England, Wales and well beyond.

The aftermath of the referendum is also continuing to reverberate in England and Wales. The Westminster capitalist parties are undoubtedly heaving a sigh of relief. A week beforehand, as they belatedly recognised the scale of the surge to Yes, there was genuine panic that the union was about to unravel, dramatically weakening the power and prestige of British capitalism.

Their nightmare scenario has been staved off, but all the major parties have been weakened by events in Scotland.

The Tory Party was once the most successful capitalist party on the planet - with a skilled leadership reflecting the power and long-term strategic vision of British capitalism. Today's bungling, inept Tory leadership ultimately reflects British capitalism's decline.

Cameron's crass statement on the steps of Downing Street attempted to tie the No campaign's 'vow' to give more powers to Scotland to giving more rights to England's MPs to deal with 'English matters'. This was an attempt to appease the right of his party and to cut across the growth of Ukip. It was also a cynical manoeuvre to try and win votes in England from Labour.

It ignored, however, the bigger issue: the inevitable fury of the Scottish working class if the 'vow' turned out to be worthless, leading to a further growth in support for independence.

Cameron has been forced to beat a hasty retreat, claiming that he never intended to tie the Scottish and English questions together!

In fact the 'West Lothian' question has been exaggerated by the Tories for their own reasons. There have only been two periods since 1919 - from 1964 to 1966 and between March and November 1974 - when the party in government had not won a majority in England.

Of 5,000 votes in the House of Commons since 1997, the outcome of only 21 depended on the votes of Scottish MPs.

However, a section of the parliamentary Labour Party is echoing Cameron and Ukip. This reflects their fear of the electoral consequences of the English nationalism that the Tory right and Ukip are trying to whip up, which they are responding to by joining in!

The Labour leadership, however, has called for a 'convention' to look at proposals for devolution. This is cynical: an attempt to delay dealing with the problem.

But a real 'convention' - made up of democratically elected representatives of workplaces and communities - would demand to look not only at the West Lothian question and regional devolution but also issues concerning parliaments which are more important for the majority of voters: such as the endless expenses scandals and the 11% pay rise that MPs have recently voted to give themselves.
The workers' movement should demand that the salary of MPs be cut to the level of the average wage. Where expenses are needed, they should be strictly necessary ones only - similar to what some building workers and others are able to claim against tax as they travel the country in pursuit of their work.

Moreover, rather than MPs checking and auditing their own expenses, why not scrutiny committees made up of workers, the unemployed, those forced onto benefits and small shopkeepers and business people threatened by the ongoing economic crisis?

The workers' movement should also make demands to transform the current truncated 'democracy'. The House of Lords should be abolished; there should be a single assembly which combines the legislative and executive powers hitherto divided in Britain. Members should be elected for a maximum of two years with votes at age 16, with the right of recall by their constituents.
Democracy like this would lead to greater participation by the mass of the population. A change in the electoral system to proportional representation would also be an improvement.
The fact that these issues are not being raised so far in the debate in Britain reflects the absence of a mass party that stands in the interests of the working class, which is needed as urgently in England and Wales as it is in Scotland. The Labour conference, taking place now, confirms yet again that a Labour government will mean continuing vicious austerity - a freeze on child benefit for two years, keeping the Con-Dem benefit cap, raising the state retirement age and scrapping the winter fuel allowance!

This programme will not mobilise popular support for Labour. It is an understanding that a Labour government will mean no real change which led many workers in Scotland to vote Yes. This, not the West Lothian question, is also the major factor that endangers a Labour victory. Nonetheless, the hatred for the Tories and the growing division in their ranks means that Labour may well be elected despite itself.

This is a new era of four, or in fact five, six and more-party politics, in which 'stability' will be elusive.

Whatever the political stripe of the next government, it will be weak and crisis-ridden - managing an economy which, at the very best, is stagnating.

The most important lesson of the Scottish referendum is that working class people - if organised - have the power to force change.

The coordinated public sector strike action taking place on 14 October is an important step in the battle against low pay, and also vital preparation for the industrial struggle against austerity that will be needed beyond the general election.

Ukip are making gains by posing as the anti-establishment party, while in reality they are a bunch of right-wing millionaires and stockbrokers.

A real 'anti-establishment' party is urgently needed. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is working to prepare the ground for a party - a mass party of the working class with clear socialist policies - which would be capable of uniting different sections of the working class and cutting across racism and nationalism.

As a step in this direction the Socialist Party is arguing for TUSC to aim to stand as widely as possible in the 2015 general and local elections.


from The Socialist newspaper