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

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Where's our recovery? Report shows huge support for taxing rich

By Matt Gordon

Francis Bacon, the 17th century philosopher, said that money was like muck - no good unless it is spread evenly. However, a report produced this month by the Equality Trust and Ipsos MORI shows that the rich and powerful of Britain would rather pollute all of society with their stinking midden than allow that to happen.

The report shows that there is a widespread misunderstanding about how the UK tax system overwhelmingly favours the rich.

It reveals that the poorest 10% pay 43% of their income in tax while the richest 10% get away with paying only 35%. So much for the 'we're all in it together' 'big society' of David Cameron, or the 'one nation' of Ed Miliband.

Those at the bottom also pay a greater proportion of indirect taxes such as VAT and pay four times more of their income in council tax than the top 10%.
Who's benefiting?

The report notes that for the majority real wages are continuing to fall, while the super-rich are seeing theirwealth pile up. In the past year, the richest 100 people in the UK have seen their wealth increase by £40 billion to a record £297 billion. The report asks, if there is a recovery, who is benefiting?

Most striking of all is that the majority of people not only think the tax system is fairer than it really is - 68% of people believe that the top 10% already pay more, despite the reality - but that most would go much further. 82% believe that the top 10% should pay a greater amount of tax, and 96% say that the system should be more progressive. So there is clearly huge support for a tax system that favours ordinary people.

These figures leave out the £120 billion in avoided, evaded and uncollected taxes - which is a further indictment of the gaping chasm between rich and poor.

It completely shatters the lies of Tory Chancellor George Osborne and other ministers that the rich have 'paid their fair share', and especially that his recent changes have lifted more of the poorest workers out of taxation.

The 'tax free' threshold may have changed, but income tax is only a quarter of the taxes paid by people; the other 75% of indirect taxes are levied disproportionately on the poor and the working class.

The report concludes with the recommendation that all parties should commit to the principle that any future changes to taxation are progressive. We support this, as well as taxing the idle assets of big business piled up in bank vaults, but it is not enough.

The huge amount of avoided and evaded wealth shows that the capitalists would rather suffocate us all in manure than give up their profits.

Taxation is just one source of anger among many Tory austerity attacks, but unfair taxes sparked the English civil war in the century of Francis Bacon and a mass non-payment campaign overthrew Thatcher's hated poll tax.

The dung heap of capitalism is fertile compost for the growth of socialist ideas and for a more equal society fit for everyone.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Iraq: Oil war's bloody legacy

From: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/18775/17-06-2014/iraq-oil-wars-bloody-legacy

By Judy Beishon


At the time of Bush and Blair's catastrophic and criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Socialist Party and Committee for a Workers' International warned it could lead to the break-up of Iraq and terrible sectarian war that is now being played out in front of the eyes of the world.

US and British imperialism laid the basis for being faced with not one, but a number of Saddams and the rise of al-Qa'ida type terror organisations like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) that is sweeping across north Iraq today. The turn of events threatens to trigger a shake-up of the entire region, with profound and possibly tragic consequences for the populations.

To justify the 2003 war and subsequent occupation - in which over half a million Iraqis died, plus thousands of intervening troops - Bush and Blair claimed to be ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and laying the basis for democracy. The WMDs didn't exist and their interest was never democracy - it was the vast oil wealth in Iraq and their influence in the Middle East. In pursuing their goals, they created the conditions for a prolonged period of bloody ethno-sectarian conflict.

The overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein and the 'debaathification' carried out, saw Sunni Muslims removed from the state apparatus and jobs. Faced with mass resistance to its occupation and to defeat Sunni insurgents, US imperialism resorted to sectarian 'divide and rule' and imposed a Shia-dominated, corrupt government which greatly worsened the division.

Isis taking control of Fallujah in January and now Mosul - Iraq's second largest city - is seen as disastrous by the US government as it effectively reverses the driving out of Sunni militias from those cities by US marines in what were sustained, brutal assaults during the US-led war.

Now US imperialism is seriously weakened in the Middle East following its catalogue of foreign policy disasters, and mass opposition in the region and at home to its interventions. Obama was elected to the US presidency pledging to end the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so he withdrew the US troops from Iraq in 2011, and subsequently claimed that the US killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan had destroyed al-Qa'ida's core. Then last year Obama again came under mass pressure that stopped him from bombing Bashir Assad's forces in theSyrian civil war. Cameron in Britain was also prevented from going down that road.

As a result of this history, neither Cameron nor Obamaare contemplating putting large numbers of ground troops back into Iraq. But it's a measure of the alarm with which the imperialist strategists view the Sunni militia gains that Obama is rapidly boosting supplies of arms and heavy military equipment to the Iraqi army and is considering an aerial bombardment of the Isis-held areas. Air strikes however, if carried out, will be counterproductive, inflicting massive bloodshed on civilians who would inevitably be hit, as the bombardments in Afghanistan bear witness.
Sunni uprising

Sections of the nearly one million-strong Iraqi army - US and British trained and equipped to the tune of $30 billion - disintegrated in the path of the offensive driven by an Isis force of less than a few thousand. In taking Mosul, a city of two million people, and a number of towns, including Tikrit, Isis was supplemented and aided by uprisings from within the minority Sunni population which has suffered heavy discrimination and victimisation under the initially US imposed Shia-led government of Nouri al Maliki.

Former Baathist security personnel from Saddam Hussein's ousted regime were among those who joined the offensive. Meanwhile the Kurdish Peshmerga forces used the crisis to rapidly take the city of Kirkuk into their own hands, seeing it as a capital for a Kurdish state.

The Iraqi government was left paralysed, with virtually no control across the entire north of Iraq, unable to even get a quorum in parliament in order to introduce emergency measures. Over half a million refugees poured out of Mosul and other captured areas, fearing government bombing raids, Isis, or both.

One of the great ironies of the present situation is that it is in the interests of both the US administration and its sworn enemy, the theocratic Iranian regime, to bolster the hapless Maliki government. So disturbed was the Iranian elite at the plight of its Shia protégés in Baghdad that it quickly sent its General Suleimani to Baghdad to help pull together volunteer Shia militias and government army forces that could defend the city and others nearby.

This is another humiliation for the US leaders - to need the cooperation of a detested regime which it has been harshly punishing with sanctions and at whose hands they had many troop losses during their occupation of Iraq. However, to justify talking to Iran, US Republican senator Lindsey Graham commented: "Why did we deal with Stalin? Because he's not as bad as Hitler. We should have discussions with Iran to make sure they don't use this as an opportunity to seize control of parts of Iraq."

Another recipient of venom from the US administration, Bashir Assad's forces in Syria, have too come to the aid of Maliki by launching some strikes against Isis bases in Syria. Assad had previously turned a blind eye to much of Isis's aggression in Syria because it was mainly directed at seizing ground from other Islamic militias that were at the forefront of fighting Assad's regime.
Baghdad

Isis and other Sunni militias have declared that invading Baghdad and holy, mainly Shia and mixed cities south of it are among their aims, but it appears unlikely that they could quickly succeed in this given the balance of forces that are accumulating. Shia militias are reactivating, with new influxes into them, including the Mehdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr which was involved in fighting the US-led occupation. Iranian forces are reported to be backing them up.

In Mosul and other Sunni dominated areas that Isis swept through, the Iraqi Shia-dominated army was widely viewed as a repressive tool being wielded by a government pursuing a sectarian agenda against the non-Shia sections of society. There have been credible reports that some Iraqi army leaders in those areas led a disbandment of their forces in collusion with Isis, but in any case the army's unpopularity in the Sunni dominated areas contributed to soldiers' low morale and desertion in the face of the jihadist onslaught. Isis had built up a reputation for gruesome savagery against Shias - it is an al-Qa'ida offshoot that even al-Qa'ida disowned - which added to the fear of the fleeing troops.

Reports have emerged of Isis executing hundreds of Shias and unarmed Iraqi army soldiers in the captured areas and the group has previously brutally killed many people in Syria. This bloodshed comes on top of a great many other atrocities committed in Iraq by Sunni militias against Shias and vice versa by Shias against Sunnis in recent years.

However, while an invasion of Baghdad may not be attempted in the short term, it is unlikely that the remaining Iraqi government forces will be able to regain control of all the areas now in the hands of Sunni-led militias or the Kurdish Peshmerga. Some towns are changing hands - Maliki's army recaptured two north of Baghdad - but the government has failed to retake Fallujah through shelling it since Isis seized it in January this year.

As for Kirkuk, the leaders of the Kurdish semi-autonomous zone have been locked in a long running battle with Maliki's ministers over who will profit from theoil production in their zone, a fight that they would welcome being free of by keeping control of Kirkuk as part of further steps towards de facto independence.
Isis

Isis, with many foreign jihadist fighters in its ranks and a growing number drawn from local populations, has imposed repressive Islamist rule in the Raqqah area of Syria and wants to extend this to form an Islamist caliphate linking up with its captured areas of Iraq and maybe eventually with parts of Lebanon and Jordan. Its leaders proclaimed the end of the border between Iraq and Syria - states drawn up in the 1916 deal between British and French imperialism that divided the spoils of the Ottoman empire between those two powers.

Journalist Robert Fisk, among others, has reported that Isis has financial backing from wealthy Gulf Arabs, including members of the neighbouring Saudi elite, who are US allies but would like to end Shia control in Baghdad. In Syria Isis increased its wealth through imposing taxes, kidnapping and other extortion and it has now seized huge sums of money from captured banks in Mosul and large quantities of abandoned Iraqi army weaponry - mostly US provided.

Some Isis commanders have tried not to antagonise people in the areas they have seized, while others immediately issued Sharia edicts telling thieves they would have their hands cut off, women to cover up their bodies and avoid leaving their homes, banning political parties, and other reactionary laws. These announcements instilled fear into much of the population, including many Sunnis who initially hoped that Isis would at least deliver them from discrimination and the arrests and torture that have been meted out on Sunnis by Maliki's government.
Repercussions

Overall, the recent turn of events spells further terrible suffering for ordinary Iraqi people regardless of the community they are in. The prospect of escalating sectarian division also threatens to further draw in the surrounding countries, including Turkey which has already faced kidnappings and detentions of a number of Turkish people at the hands of Isis, and moreover does not want to see an independent Kurdistan.

Furthermore, once again, there are jitters regarding oil supply and the world economy, as fears grow of possible disruption to the large oil fields in the south of Iraq.

Another significant danger worldwide will lie in the eventual return home of hundreds of war hardened and traumatised jihadists who have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq - from countries far and wide including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Britain. Not yet seeing an alternative to the rotting capitalist system other than to try to turn the clock back to the days of feudal persecution, subjugation of women, dire poverty and summary justice, an increased danger of terrorist attacks will arrive with them.

Working class Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and the other nationalities and ethnic and religious groups in Iraq have nothing to gain from any of the propagators of sectarian conflict, from whichever quarter. Iraqi Sunnis have previously rejected the forerunners of Isis and driven them out of their communities and many are now appalled at the actions of Isis. There is widespread anger among Shias at Maliki's corruption and sectarianism. Sunnis, Shias and Kurds alike are suffering from the constant insecurity, lack of basic services and poor living standards.

There have been many times historically when people in Iraq have shown their desire for unity against division, such as in April 2004 when 200,000 Shia and Sunni demonstrated in Baghdad against the US-led occupation. Grassroots building of democratic, non-sectarian working class led organisations is essential, to organise defence of all communities and to put forward an anti-capitalist programme, as the only way of showing a way out of ongoing bloodshed, repression and poverty.

That programme would need to challenge and expose the self-interest and greed of all the pro-capitalist political and military leaders that are fighting for hegemony across Iraq today. It should explain the necessity of removing them from power and replacing them with democratically elected workers' representatives who will call for a socialist solution, in the interests of all workers and the poor.

The Socialist Party and CWI support the right of self-determination for all oppressed nationalities and groups, but point out that the resulting states and state-lets would not be economically viable unless linked up in a voluntary socialist confederation, in this case of the peoples of Iraq and the region. Only on that basis could cooperation be achieved that could lift everyone's living standards, making the best use of all the natural resources for the benefit of all.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

$15/hr Minimum Wage Won in Seattle

Seattle has become the first major city in the USA to pass a $15/hr minimum wage law. Here Socialist council member Kshama Sawant explains how the campaign pushed back corporate interests and won this step forward. Let's take inspiration from the example and fight for a living wage for all workers here.


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Vote Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts on May 22nd!



Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts leaflet for local elections in Bristol, May 22nd 2014.
Promoted by Tom Baldwin (agent), Top Flat, 96 Cotswold Road, Bristol, BS3 4NS.