Saturday, 23 February 2013

Credit rating downgrading proves that austerity isn't working - Socialists call for mass movement to stop the cuts

Press release from the Socialist Party

Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary says: "The government has justified brutal austerity by saying that it would reduce the deficit and protect Britain's AAA credit rating.

"As we warned the opposite has happened. The deadline for cutting the deficit has now been moved back to 2018. And today's news that Moody's has cut the credit rating compounds that failure.

"There is no justification for the misery the governmentis inflicting on working class people. This crisis is a crisis of capitalism; caused by big business and in particular the bankers.

"Ordinary people should not be paying for it with our jobs and services. We are part of building a mass movement against the cuts.

"We support the campaign by trade unionists for the calling of a 24-hour general strike as the next step in the fight against austerity.

"We also believe the anti-cuts movement needs a political voice. We are part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which brings together socialists and trade unionists, including the RMT, to stand candidates against cuts and privatisation."

BADACA: Help take the smile off George Ferguson's face next Tuesday

Tuesday 26th February - From 1pm - Lobby Bristol City Council

This is the full meeting of Bristol City Council where a vote will be taken on George Ferguson's budget - £35 million of cuts and 330 jobs lost. Despite the inconvenient timing we need to get as many people as possible to a lobby from 1pm outside the Council House and as many people as possible in the public gallery for the meeting. We have written to all councillors calling on them to speak out against the budget. A large and vocal lobby and a packed gallery may encourage them to do this. Please come if you can an publicise among others - even if you can only get there for a short time in your lunch hour it will help. Bring banners, flags, placards etc. Facebook here.

Tuesday 26th February - from 5.30pm - Lobby the Institute Of Directors

In previous years the council's budget meeting has gone long into the evening. This year, George Ferguson is attending an IOD event at 6pm - meeting his big-business friends. This means that either the council meeting will be guillotined or will continue without him - meaning he won't have to hear what councillors think of his budget. BADACA is organising a protest outside the M Shed Museum where the IOD event is taking place. Please join us there from 5.30pm. Bring banners, flags, placards etc. A flyer/poster for this can be downloaded from our website here. Facebook here

Sunday, 17 February 2013

My Decision to Join the Trotskyist Camp in 1928

By James P. Cannon

This is a letter sent to Theodore Draper, a historian of the American communist movement. It was written in 1959. The entire series of letters sent from Cannon to Draper has been published under the title “The first ten years of American communism” by Lyle Stuart Inc, in 1962. It was later reprinted by Pathfinder Press, New York.

Trotsky in Cayoacon, Mexico 1940
May 27, 1959
It seems to me that I have already written myself out on “The Birth of American Trotskyism”—in which I played the central role because I just happened to be standing there at the time and there was no one else to do it. I couldn’t add much to what I have already written in the “History of American Trotskyism,” in my letters to you, and in the big article—“The Degeneration of the Communist Party and the New Beginning” in the Fall, 1954 issue of Fourth International.
That’s my case. If I were to write about it again I could only repeat what I have already said. You’ll find a better and fuller exposition there than I could write again today. I have the faculty, which for me is a happy one, of pushing things to the back of my mind once I have written them out. In order to write a fresh report on the origin of American Trotskyism, I would have to force myself back into a semi-coma, recalling and reliving the struggle of 31 years ago. That is too much for me to undertake again.
The only thing I left out of my extensive writing about that period, which I try to leave out of all my writing, was the special element of personal motivation for my action—which cynics would never believe and research workers never find in the files and cross-indexes. That is the compulsion of conscience when one is confronted by an obligation which, in given circumstances, is his alone to accept or to evade.
The whole damned thing was a frame-up!
In the summer of 1928 in Moscow, in addition to the theoretical and political revelation that came to me when I read Trotsky’s Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern, there was another consideration that hit me where I live. That was the fact that Trotsky had been expelled and deported to far-away Alma Ata; that his friends and supporters had been slandered and expelled and imprisoned; and that the whole damned thing was a frame-up! Had I set out as a boy to fight for justice for Moyer and Haywood in order to betray the cause of justice when it was put squarely up to me in a case of transcendent importance to the whole future of the human race? A copy-book moralist could easily answer that question by saying: “Of course not. The rule is plain. You do what you have to do, even if it costs you your head.”
But it wasn’t so simple for me in the summer of 1928. I was not a copybook moralist. I was a party politician and factionalist who had learned how to cut corners. I knew that at the time, and the self-knowledge made me uneasy. I had been gradually settling down into an assured position as a party official with an office and staff, a position that I could easily maintain—as long as I kept within definite limits and rules which I knew all about, and conducted myself with the facility and skill which had become almost second nature to me in the long drawn-out factional fights.
I knew that. And I knew something else that I never told anybody about, but which I had to tell myself for the first time in Moscow in the summer of 1928. The foot-loose Wobbly rebel that I used to be had imperceptibly begun to fit comfortably into a swivel chair, protecting himself in his seat by small maneuvers and evasions, and even permitting himself a certain conceit about his adroit accommodation to this shabby game. I saw myself for the first time then as another person, as a revolutionist who was on the road to becoming a bureaucrat. The image was hideous, and I turned away from it in disgust.
I never deceived myself for a moment about the most probable consequences of my decision to support Trotsky in the summer of 1928. I knew it was going to cost me my head and also my swivel chair, but I thought: What the hell—better men than I have risked their heads and their swivel chairs for truth and justice. Trotsky and his associates were doing it at that very moment in the exile camps and prisons of the Soviet Union. It was no more than right that one man, however limited his qualifications, should remember what he started out in his youth to fight for, and speak out for their cause and try to make the world hear, or at least to let the exiled and imprisoned Russian Oppositionists know that they had found a new friend and supporter.
In the History of American Trotskyism, p.61, I wrote:

The movement which then began in America brought repercussions throughout the entire world; overnight the whole picture, the whole perspective of the struggle changed. Trotskyism, officially pronounced dead, was resurrected on the international arena and inspired with new hope, new enthusiasm, new energy.
Denunciations against us were carried in the American press of the party and reprinted throughout the whole world, including the Moscow Pravda. Russian Oppositionists in prison and exile, where sooner or later copies of Pravda reached them, were notified of our action, our revolt in America. In the darkest hour of the Opposition’s struggle, they learned that fresh reinforcements had taken the field across the ocean in the United States, which by virtue of the power and weight of the country itself, gave importance and weight to the things done by the American communists.

Leon Trotsky, as I remarked, was isolated in the little Asiatic village of Alma Ata. The world movement outside Russia was in decline, leaderless, suppressed, isolated, practically non-existent. With this inspiring news of a new detachment in far-away America, the little papers and bulletins of the Opposition groups flared into life again. Most inspiring of all to us was the assurance that our hard-pressed Russian comrades had heard our voice.

I have always thought of this as one of the most gratifying aspects of the historic fight we undertook in 1928—that the news of our fight reached the Russian comrades in all corners of the prisons and exile camps, inspiring them with new hope and new energy to persevere in the struggle.

In Moscow, in the summer of 1928, I foresaw such a possible consequence of my decision and action. And I thought that that alone would justify it, regardless of what else might follow. Many things have changed since then, but that conviction has never changed.

1 Secretary of State under the Roosevelt administration.
2 The reference to Trotsky’s “army” is more than an ordinary metaphor. It had a double meaning in that it referred to his unique role as the organizer, the leader, the teacher, the general of the Soviet Red Army that led the revolutionary war in defense of the great Russian Socialist Revolution—as well as the political founder and leader of the world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

10th anniversary of 15 February 2003: A million on the streets to stop the war

By Ken Smith, Socialist Party representative on the Stop the War steering committee 2003-2007

It was the day that shook the world. From cold, grey, sub-zero London to sunny Sydney, a vast tide of humanity marched in every continent in the most momentous display of mass solidarity ever seen, hoping to stop the impending US-led invasion of Iraq.

The New York Times talked of the day showing two superpowers on the planet - the USA and world public opinion. The global hurricane provoked political turmoil worldwide and Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair's biggest political crisis.

In an estimated 600 cities across the world, people marched - possibly more than 30 million in total - against a threatened war which they rightly feared would lead to greater global instability.

Ten years on from 15 February 2003, all the fears of the marchers have come to pass and then some. The invasion led to the slaughter of more than half a millionIraqis. Millions more Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. Thousands of service personnel - including 4,486 in the US and 179 in the UK - have died.

Around the world lives continue to be lost and damaged in the name of the 'war on terror'. For example through drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the latest onslaught on Mali; through genocidal slaughter and repression, as in Sri Lanka; and through increasing denial of democratic rights. These are, in reality, wars conducted in the interests of big business.

Mass opposition
The war for oil has left Iraq and the world in a state of permanent instability to this day and hasn't done anything to reduce the risk of terrorism.

The scale of opposition to Bush and Blair's drive for regime change in Iraq could not be doubted after that momentous day. Up to two million marched in London. Demonstrations took place in most major cities across the USA and there were huge demonstrations in every country where their "leaders" backed Bush's war drive.

However, the protests of the biggest anti-war opposition humankind had ever experienced did not succeed. The war went ahead with all its ultimate consequences. So does that mean that the tens of millions of us who marched failed or that demonstrations change nothing?

Undoubtedly, the demonstrations made the ruling classes of the world pause, seeking further justification in the form of a second UN resolution for their imperialist aggression.

Socialists explained that the UN process was "merely a diplomatic ploy to legitimise a predetermined decision to launch a war against Iraq" and that the UN was unlikely to act against the interests of its most powerful constituent, US imperialism.

Moreover, the scale of opposition in Britain saw Blair, previously known as 'Teflon Tony' because apparently no scandal or complaint could stick to him, teetering on the brink of defeat. The impact of the anti-war movement was something from which he never recovered.


The millions marching on that day were not marching to defend Saddam - as some, such as Observer columnist Nick Cohen, claimed. Most who marched were fully aware that Saddam was a vicious dictator who had ruled through the most brutal repression. The Socialist Party also gave no support to Saddam's rule and argued that his overthrow was the task of the Iraqi people.

No one doubted that Saddam had used chemical weapons in the past and could use them again - though there was enormous scepticism even then about the claims of stockpiles of so-called weapons of mass destruction, which were later proved bogus.

The main reason millions marched, and hundreds of millions more backed the marchers, was because they didn't believe foreign intervention was justified. They feared the consequences; and they suspected that, behind the propaganda fig leaves of George W Bush and Blair, this was a naked imperialist war for regime change to get their hands on Iraq's oil. It was also concerned with US imperialism's strategic interests and Bush's prestige after the 9/11 attack.

The millions came from all sections of society. There were those from socialist organisations and trade unions, and those who had been involved in the anti-globalisation movement in the decade previously, who knew what the likely consequences of war would be.

Yet, overwhelmingly the millions were people who had not previously been involved in political activity and who were not persuaded of the need for war in Iraq and were motivated to take action themselves.

The demonstrations - particularly in Britain - represented a unique chance for those leading the movement to clearly call on those newly mobilised masses to come behind a new political movement: a movement that could offer an alternative to the neoliberalism and war offered by establishment politicians.

The demonstration speakers represented a kaleidoscope of British society - reflecting the Stop the War Coalition's (STWC) 'popular front' approach.

This meant that, despite objections from the Socialist Party, the leadership of the STWC, strongly influenced by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), bulldozed the decision through the STWC steering committee to allow a platform to then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy - without any public criticisms of the fact the Lib Dems only opposed the war without a UN mandate.

The leadership also refused to allow any speaker directly on behalf of a socialist organisation, denying the millions who marched a chance to hear a real alternative to war and capitalism. This undoubtedly helped to build up the Lib Dems' 'radical' image particularly among young people, helping to pave the way for the Con-Dem coalition.

Former Labour cabinet member Mo Mowlam, who was also to speak, was being promoted by STWC leaders as a Labour rebel, but six weeks later she called in the Daily Mirror for more bombing to win the war.

The Socialist Party explained in leaflets and articles that, "unless Blair's rule, and the interests of the capitalist ruling class that he represents, are put at greater risk from a movement at home than they would be by not going to war, Blair will not be deflected from his path".

We explained that this meant action before the invasion took place, as well as after; building on the magnificent turnout on 15 February with mass civil disobedience, especially strike action, and seizing the time to build a mass political alternative, preferably in the form of a new mass workers' party.
Strike action

Among the platform speakers at the demo were some trade union leaders who made the call for industrial action to stop the war, who were also uneasy about giving a platform to Liberals and Labour. In its material and speeches elsewhere, the Socialist Party supported this but argued that decisive industrial action to stop the war would require serious preparation.

Former Labour MP George Galloway had said in private discussions before the big day that he was going to use his speech to call for a new anti-war political alternative to be established. On the day he pulled back and spoke more obliquely, denouncing Blair and Bush, but only warning in general of splits in the Labour Party if Blair went ahead in supporting the war, saying that he and others would "refound the Labour Party" on socialist principles.

In the event George Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in October 2003, at the time of Blair's choosing, and that opportunity to launch a mass party was lost.

However, even though some punches may have been pulled in speeches, why did the demo not then translate into mass civil disobedience and general strikes which could have halted Britain's involvement in the war?

The steering committee of the STWC met three days after the massive demonstration. The SWP and Communist Party of Britain leadership of the STWC acknowledged that "there is a massive responsibility on this committee to come out with a clear plan of action in the next few days."

At the time, the Socialist Party had three members on the 50-plus steering committee but did not have any members in the inner core of officers who made the day-to-day decisions and who were responsible for the political direction of the STWC.

However, it was forcefully put by Socialist Party members at the meeting that it required something more than abstract talk of a "political crisis" to make "mass civil disobedience" and effective industrial action a reality.

Recall TUC

Under pressure from us, backed up by former NUM leader Arthur Scargill and George Galloway MP, it was agreed that "after getting two million on the streets we need to take up the call made by some trade union leaders for a reconvened TUC and to popularise the idea of all forms of industrial action."

It was understood at that meeting that it would be wrong to put all our faith in a reconvened TUC calling industrial action, as was proved a few weeks later.

After 15 February, a serious attempt was needed to involve the majority of those who had marched into representative, democratic and effective coalitions at every level of society.

Socialist Party members were also particularly vocal on the need to draw on the experience of a mass civil disobedience movement that had brought down Thatcher - the anti-poll tax movement where mass demonstrations were combined with 18 million people refusing to pay the hated tax.

Of course, a campaign to stop a global war was on a bigger scale than the anti-poll tax movement, but the scale of opposition and potential anger that could be mobilised was even greater as well.

But, we argued, the most crucial aspect of building a movement out of the mass turnout on 15 February had to be organising effective and sustained action in the workplaces. Strikes, then as now, show that it is working class people who have the real power in society to bring everything to a halt.

Day X

To bring to reality the slogan of "stop work to stop the war" serious preparations had to be made. Socialist Party member Bernard Roome, who was a member of the Communication Workers Union national executive at the time, had successfully moved a resolution at the union's executive "to campaign for all members to take protest action on the day that war is officially declared."

Socialist Party councillor and former Labour MP Dave Nellist also had successfully moved at a STWC steering committee that a planning meeting calling together all the executive and leading activist members of trade unions should be convened to coordinate action on Day X - the first day of the war.

Even before Day X, if a mass day of civil disobedience had been called on the day that Parliament voted to support an invasion, then it was possible this could have had the impact to force MPs to vote against war and defeat Blair.

If Britain's participation in the invasion of Iraq had been stopped, even at that late stage, this would not have stopped Bush and the US regime. It was a life or death matter for the regime in the US.

In fact, veteran journalist Bob Woodward, in his book Plan of Attack, revealed that in March 2003 Bush had offered Blair the chance to keep British troops out of the war. But Blair was determined to assert Britain's prestige.

However, the growing anti-war movement in the US would have been given an enormous push from the defeat of Blair and an impetus could have developed for a new political party in Britain.

Blair and much of the Labour leadership faced growing anger over their war policies, as well as pursuance of privatisation, university fees and their anti-working class agenda. This even spread to the party itself with a parliamentary 'revolt' and a handful of resignations.

Could Labour have been reclaimed for the anti-war masses, starting to take action and thinking about how to effect change? Following years of erosion of Labour's democratic structures it was impossible for working class people to have an impact on the party's policies, as was shown by various failed attempts to pass anti-war resolutions.

Even those who argued reclamation was possible put forward no clear strategy beyond asking people to join, an invitation that most anti-war activists declined and membership and support fell.

The Socialist Party argued that the anti-war movement did need a political voice and welcomed all positive steps towards working class political representation. However, in the belated formation of Respect, George Galloway, the SWP and others made fundamental programmatic and organisational mistakes, which prevented Respect from providing an effective political channel to the masses moving into action against the war and over other issues.

After 15 February, there were inspiring displays of trade union action, civil disobedience and the heroic organised and determined action of school students who walked out en masse on Day X - the day the war started.

International Socialist Resistance, a youth campaign initiated by young Socialist Party members, had distributed 60,000 leaflets on 15 February making a call for school students to organise themselves and prepare for school strikes. ISR members helped coordinate the strikes in many areas.

Opportunity wasted

However, the leadership of the anti-war movement did not seriously address how to build and sustain a mass campaign of civil disobedience against the war.

Instead, they organised cross-party People's Assemblies and further demonstrations. Feeling the hot breath of the anti-war movement on their backs a number of politicians from the pro-war parties found their 'consciences' and participated. But the STWC leadership did everything they could to accommodate these right-wing establishment representatives - rather than make demands on them.

The scale of the anti-war movement in Britain, the US and elsewhere did lead to on-going crises for Bush and Blair, but not enough to topple either regime and stop the war.

Ten years on, the consequences of this blood for oil reverberate everywhere still. Nowhere is this more the case than in Iraq - billions of dollars were poured in to try and rebuild the country's infrastructure but whole swathes of the population have very limited access to electricity and drinking water.

Meanwhile the profits of the subcontracting and arms companies have skyrocketed. Deadly and near-daily attacks on security forces and civilians continue to claim lives.

15 February 2003 was an inspiring day to be alive, you saw the potential for the war to be stopped. Nevertheless, it also showed that mass demonstrations are not enough in themselves to stop political leaders whose power, prestige and ultimately political survival are at stake.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Organised fightback needed to save council services

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 6 February 2013

By Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party Southern regional secretary

"Multiple failures" is how the government's own financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, has described the crisis facing council budgets across the country.

It is estimated that by March 2015 councils will have had £9 billion cut from their budgets by the Con-Dem government of millionaires. The 'posh boys' are seeking to further enrich their friends in big business through mass privatisation of our services.

At the sharp end the poorest and most vulnerable are being asked to pay more through cuts. With a staggering 200,000 council jobs lost since 2010, leaving remaining workers with a huge increase in workloads and having seen a three year pay freeze, there is huge anger at the failure of the government's austerity agenda and the prospect of further cuts in jobs and pay.

For working class people, the answer is clear - these cuts are unacceptable. When a lead has been shown by the trade unions, the response has been immense - millions of workers took strike action against attacks on public sector pensions in 2011. And industrial struggle is not the only weapon available to workers. There is an increasing struggle taking place to force action from inside the council chambers around the country.

Pressure on Labour

Labour MP David Blunkett has warned of disorder or disillusionment in the face of the cuts. This reflects the hapless position of the Labour Party leadership when what is urgently required is courageous leadership to channel the anger in an effective national campaign to halt the government's plans and protect jobs and services.

Labour council leaders from Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester wrote to the government warning that vital services will no longer be protected. Even Tory councils have joined in, quailing in the face of the anger their party's cuts have invoked.

While just a few councillors have been prepared to take a stand, they are a beacon to those who want to fight and a painful embarrassment to those Labour councillors who wring their hands but 'reluctantly' carry out the Con-Dem cuts.

Every attempt is being made by Labour and their allies in the unions to wipe an alternative to cuts from the political map.

But who can doubt that the resources exist to fund local council services when a handful of bankers in the city of London were rewarded with bonuses in 2011 of £13 billion? This is more than the council cuts nationwide over five years.

The potential exists to channel the growing anger into a movement that could halt the government's cuts. This would mean councils refusing to implement the Con-Dem cuts and putting forward 'needs budgets' to meet the demands of the local community.

Such budgets could be put together by council unions, the wider trade unions and local communities to create jobs, build affordable council housing and provide services for the young and old.


Labour hides behind claims that such a stand is 'illegal' and Eric Pickles, minister for local government, will send in commissioners to implement the cuts. In fact changes to legislation make it easier for councillors to take a stand. Councillors can no longer be surcharged unless they are found guilty of financial crime for personal gain.

Huge support for defying the cuts, with mass demonstrations backed up by strike action, would make it incredibly difficult for Pickles to remove democratically elected councillors. And a movement on this scale would be able to stand again and replace those who were removed if needed.

Across the country this month, council budgets will be set. Labour councils are set to do the Con-Dems' dirty work again. But in Southampton, Hull and Stoke, cracks have begun to appear, with individual councillors refusing to vote for cuts. Under extreme pressure, facing mass opposition, how many other councillors may seek to join the fightback?

This could take place side by side with an increase in industrial struggle too. With the wider attacks on the NHS and benefits, the battle of local authorities could be a means of uniting opposition to all cuts and mobilising the trade unions for national coordinated action in the form of a 24-hour general strike.

If any Labour council utilised the powers at its disposal to protect jobs and services, it would gain the backing of millions of working people, desperate to score a blow against austerity. If a future Labour government committed to restoring reserves and borrowing by councils which averted cuts, the destruction of local authorities could be stopped.

But given that Labour has now fully embraced capitalism and stands in the bosses' interests, such a stand is very unlikely.

Like the Unison members in Stoke who have suspended their payments to Labour, trade union members entering the fray will look beyond the excuses of Labour councillors and seek out a road to fight and a political voice for that struggle. The Socialist Party is prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with all who do and will argue for any alternative to Labour to adopt a socialist programme.

Trade unionists, campaigners and socialists have to stand against councillors who are not willing to stand up to the Tories. And those councillors who are, face being gagged and expelled from the Labour Party.

Such developments raise the urgent task to unite all those opposed to cuts to offer a clear political alternative to austerity. The continued development of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is an important step towards this.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Tunisia: Kiling of Chokri Belaïd provokes mass protests across the country

The CWI and its supporters in Tunisia vigorously condemn the brutal murder of the left opposition leader, Chokri Belaid. ‘Chokri’ was the leading figure of the left-wing ‘Democratic Patriots’ Party, with a strong influence in the UGTT trade union federation, and a spokesman and leading figure of the left coalition, the ‘Popular Front’. He was a well-known and long-standing opponent to Ben Ali’s dictatorship, as well as a lawyer with a long record of defending the victims of political repression, under the old as well as the new regime. He was imprisoned by both the Bourguiba and Ben Ali dictatorships.

On the morning of Wednesday 6 February, Chokri was ruthlessly shot with four bullets in the head, neck and chest, as he was leaving his house. Chokri Belaïd subsequently died of his injuries in hospital.

This act is not an isolated incident. Based on all evidence, it is clearly a professionally-organised political assassination, targeting a symbolic figure of the left. And this in a context of growing tension and political violence from the state forces, from fundamentalist Salafist bands, as well as militias at the service of the ruling Ennahda party.

In statements on the radio on the eve of his assassination, Chokri Belaïd reported death threats he had received recently because of his political stance. Last Saturday, he had similarly accused “mercenaries” hired by the Ennahda party of carrying out an attack on a Democratic Patriots’ local meeting in Le Kef, which left 11 people injured. The Ennahda-led government regarded Belaïd as one of the instigators of ‘social unrest’ in the country. By attempting to silence his voice, it is the revolution, and the resistance of the working class and the youth, as a whole, which are in the firing line.

The CWI has never hidden its differences with the political orientation of Chokri Belaïd and of the Democratic Patriots. We nevertheless want to express our full sympathy with all the activists of this organisation, as well as with the left in general and with the revolutionary people of Tunisia, and our deep feelings of resentment against this cold-blooded assassination. This adds to the already too long list of Tunisian martyrs who lost their lives fighting against injustice and oppression, and for a better society.

The overwhelming majority of Tunisian people reject this act of violence. Immediately after Belaid’s death, a large wave of anger is already resonating throughout the country. Shortly afterwards, tens of thousands of people were already protesting in Tunis, Le Kef, Gafsa, Sousse, Sfax, Sidi Bouzid and other cities, demanding justice and the fall of the present government and a “new revolution”.

Acts of violence, riots, and the burning of Ennahda offices have also been reported in some areas. While we understand the rage and anger which exists, we also genuinely think that the most efficient way to express it remains through the channels of organised mass mobilisation, the power of working class action and of their powerful trade union centre, the UGTT.

The setting up of collective bodies of defence and protection, democratically organised by the population in the neighbourhoods, could avoid excesses by rioters and face police repression, as well as the predictable violence of some militias. Stewarding teams could be set up in that context, working in conjunction with the UGTT, the UDC (unemployed union) and other popular organizations.
Towards a general strike! Down with this rotten and discredited government!

The best way to commemorate the death of Chokri Belaïd is to continue the revolution, more determined than ever, to end oppression in all its forms. Ultimately, only the mass mobilisation of workers can counteract the current downward spiral of violence by imposing a solution which can serve the majority.

The fact that the Ennahda Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, has announced the formation of a government supposedly composed of “apolitical technocrats” should fool nobody. It is a new attempt to prevent the masses from determining the government they want. It leaves this to technocrats handpicked and closely selected for their subservience to the current system. And the fact that this proposal was rejected by Jebali’s party indicates that the political crisis at the top of the State has reached a climax. It is time to put an end once and for all to this crumbling government, which has only violence, unemployment and misery on offer!

A general strike has been called for Friday 8 February by the UGTT, echoing the call made yesterday, Wednesday, by several opposition forces, including the Popular Front, the Republican Party, Al Massar and Nidaa Tounes, who have also announced the suspension of their participation in the National Constituent Assembly. The date of the strike is to coincide with the funeral of Belaïd.

The fact that the question of the general strike is back on the agenda for the second time in less than two months, while the last one took place in 1978, is in itself an expression of the organic crisis facing the country, and of the huge social anger that has been brewing for months on end. But two crucial remarks are necessary in this regard.

The first is that the UGTT activists and workers in general cannot rely solely on hypothetical and often very late watchwords from the top to determine what has to be done to build the struggle in the coming days. The experience of last December, when the national leadership of the UGTT arbitrarily decreed the cancellation of the general strike the night before, is still fresh in all memories.

For example, the magistrates and lawyers’ unions have already issued a statement in which they say they will be on strike for three days, the university teachers of ‘La Manouba’ are already on strike and the student union, the UGET, has begun a students’ general strike today. The regional branch of the UGTT, in Jendouba, has meanwhile decided to call a general strike in this region on Monday, 11 February.

Without further waiting, general assemblies should be convened wherever possible: in the workplaces, but also in schools, in universities, in the neighbourhoods, etc. This entails electing committees within them to take the fight in hand at all levels, so that the movement is structured around and according to the will of the masses involved in the struggle.

Discussion on the initiatives to be taken and the following-up of the strike actions must be brought up and democratically controlled from below. This can prevent a handful of union leaders concluding, behind the curtains, some deal without popular control, as has happened all too often.

If after the general strike on 8 February, the government has still not understood that it must leave the scene, an extension of the strike actions in the coming days, coupled with mass demonstrations, will be necessary to obtain a satisfactory result.

On the other hand, the support of parties like Nidaa Tounes for the general strike raises, at least, serious questions. The camp of its leader, Essebsi, is full of people with the blood of left activists on their hands, and who were complicit with the dictatorship against which Chokri Belaïd himself fought for many years.

The labour movement, the UGTT and the Left must at all costs avoid falling into the trap of a dichotomy based on the “secular” camp against the “Islamist” camp, a thesis dear to secular, but pro-capitalist parties, such as Nida Tounes. Their goal is not to defend the workers and the popular masses, but rather to better serve the interests of big business, the bankers and the imperialist powers, although with a different “colour” to that of Ennahda today.

Belaïd’s sister was correct to emphasize that Chokri was among those “on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed ...” contrasting with those in the political establishment who are now trying to cynically exploit his death, reducing his character to an “enemy of Islamists”, putting aside the fact that Belaïd was also on the radical left.

In this sense, the Tunisian masses may not want to bring down the government, only so that those driven out the door two years ago can come back quietly through the window, using, in addition, the revolution and the strength of the working class as a Trojan horse. In this sense, we say: no to the plague, and no to the cholera - no Jebali and no Essebsi! Yes to a sustained mass struggle until the creation of a revolutionary government of the workers and youth, supported by the trade union movement, the left and popular organisations!

In the current context, the ‘Popular Front’ and its many activists around the country could serve as a backbone for a mass campaign with the strategic vision of establishing such a government, independent of the capitalist class, from its political parties and its so-called ‘technocrats’, and taking decisive action to put the key sectors of the Tunisian economy under the management and control of society.

We demand:

For the continuation of the revolution until victory! For a general strike until the fall of the government!

Not to a government “re-modelling” behind the backs of the masses! For truly democratic elections, and the formation of a government composed of representatives of those who actually made the revolution!

For a revolutionary government of workers and youth! Down with the capitalist exploiters and the politicians at their service!

Capitalism out! For a socialist planned economy, serving social needs, and democratically run by the people!

Proposed Response to Ferguson’s Attacks from Bristol Unison


Proposed letter to the mayor re the budget statement.

Dear George Ferguson

I am writing to you on behalf of Unison, and in response to your statement on budget proposals 2013/14. We have consulted with UNISON members in each directorate and their responses are included in this letter. We are shocked by the scale of the cuts to the services of our city that you are proposing. During your election campaign you said that you were committed to developing our city These cuts certainly are not going to get Bristol working. The council has minimised the number of redundancies in the past through redeployment but that is becoming increasingly difficult as the workforce shrinks. Redundant employees are likely to become reliant on welfare benefits and will pay reduced council tax. This will reduce revenue to the council. Furthermore, for every job loss there is less ‘spending power’ going into our city which will be negative for Bristol. With the loss of 323 FTE posts services are going to deteriorate. Most services have already been cut to the bone. I think citizens of Bristol were looking to reverse this trend, and hope that you would stand up for the people of Bristol. With these cuts, we believe that services will fail, leaving the old and vulnerable in Bristol in dire straits. We believe that Bristol citizens could support council tax rises if they are going to support the most vulnerable but this is simply not the case here.

Furthermore, you stated in your election vision that you would improve democracy. We do not accept your rationale for the significant involvement of paid and unpaid consultants and the council has been unable to provide a breakdown of the requirement for, and cost of consultants in this financial year. This is a direct threat to democracy within the council and our city. It does not give us hope that decisions will be accountable or transparent. We are therefore asking for this information as a matter of urgency. You speak about seeking extra funding, and securing extra investment and jobs for our city. UNISON members are also citizens of Bristol and welcome investment in their city. How will you achieve this? We also recognise that you wish to have a debate about the future of local government. Are you going to involve your staff, and the trade unions in these discussions? We welcome involvement, and improving democracy and relations with the workforce. Involving council staff in changes to services and the way that they are provided could reduce the need for expensive consultants and produce a more sustainable outcome.

We would also like you to read and respond to UNISON’s concerns and questions arising from the directorate budgets outlined below and drawn up by our members and representatives in each directorate

The closure of a children’s home and 3 FTE staff losses will result in a saving of £320k. The home that is closing is Capgrave. This is a specialist unit, and the displaced children will be put into the same environment as teenagers, and young adults. How can the council justify this, given the additional risks to children engendered by this proposal?

Integrated screening of need through the Bristol 1st response team resulting in 4 FTE job losses. Is this the whole programme or just this year? There is a projected £29k saving this year, and this will directly threaten service delivery.

Commissioning targeted and integrated family support services 54 FTE job losses between now and saving 900k. Where are families going to get future support? Will this not lead to additional pressures, and the possibility of family break ups, with greater cost to the council and our communities? How will the council track this?

Trading with schools 3 FTE job losses with a saving of £132k. How will this cut make BCC services more attractive to schools to buy back?

Delivering a new relationship with schools (academy related) 3.6 FTE job losses saving of 218k. How will these relations improve, if staff and therefore capacity is cut?

Remodelled Strategic Enabling and Support Processes – 5 FTE job losses saving of 100k. With this cut, support processes are bound to be weaker. How will the authority compensate for this?

LACSEG grant loss from central government and again academy related 15.5 FTE job losses saving 1,050k. What will the mayor, and his cabinet be doing to address this on behalf of the citizens of Bristol?

This makes a total of 88.1 FTE job losses and gives lots of challenges through the Children First review. How will the council continue to put children first, or is this dormant now? What affect do you feel these job losses will have on the local economy. More people and their families will be reliant on welfare, and council tax revenues will be dropping.

Can we please have a map of the grades of the posts being deleted, so we can map the long-term effect?
Corporate Services

MTFP savings proposals in Corporate Services; Legal and Statutory 73,75 & 76 – Statutory/Democratic Services

Unison wishes to raise the following concerns in connection with the above.
Lack of Consultation

Information about budget proposals affecting posts and services has been circulated and has ended up in the public domain without any consultation with employees, trade unions or councillors. The first time they saw them was in the Medium Term Financial Plan. Staff were engaged in a review in 2011. It feels as though any comments from the review and savings have been ignored. Management at all levels within the department itself and Corporate Services have not been able to account for the proposals when questioned by Unison. This lack of consultation is incompatible with the Bristol City Council Managing Change Policy and employment law.
Impact of Cuts

The proposed amount to be saved is £290,000 – this is 15% – twice the amount of cuts the council faces. This is excessive for a department that has already received cuts. In recent years, several staff have either left or reduced their hours without this shortfall being replaced. This is applicable to all teams. Members’ Services’ front-line staff has been reduced by 33% since 2006. Staff have been informed that cuts made so far are not being off-set against the £290,000. Implementing further staff cuts would have a severe impact on the effective functioning of the democratic central point of the council and service to the public.

Equalities Impact Assessment

There is no record of the Equalities Impact Assessment. It needs to cover employees, councillors and impact on members of the public who require assistance from their local councillors or who want to raise issues in their community by participation in the democratic process.

No cuts can be implemented without a thorough review of services, in consultation with employees, unions and councillors.

Inclusion of the proposed merging scrutiny officer and democratic service officer posts in the Medium Term Financial Plan

There has been no consultation with staff about this – scrutiny and democratic services staff found out that it was in the MTFP when it became public. Despite questioning, staff have been presented with no rationale for its inclusion, or why it would save money. They have not been informed whether there are implications for terms and conditions, or why this level of detail about individual posts is in the budget. Senior managers don’t seem to know why it is there. It is unacceptable that this should be included in public as a saving in advance of any service review and without consultation with staff.

Staff who are affected by this should like to understand why the Mayor has such an issue with their posts that they are cited publicly in his budget in this way – this is an unusual level of detail for the MTFP, and they are not aware that any other staff group has had such a statement made about its terms and conditions in the budget. It is extremely unsettling to staff to know that there are agendas at a senior level about their work and role which have not been evidenced by consultation with the staff involved or communicated to staff.

Staff are disturbed that a decision about some jobs seems to have been with no rationale relating to service improvement. The issue of merging job descriptions was discussed a year or so ago, and was agreed by managers to be ineffective and unrealistic in terms of the needs of the service

Cuts in Audit are potentially damaging to the council’s reputation and ability to demonstrate probity. We have just had a situation in markets, with a deficit of £200,000 that may well turn out to be fraud. These figures would never have been realised if it were not for audit’s intervention after a whistle blower raised concerns. Surely, given this scandal, we wish to strengthen our financial probity, not weaken it.

We have concerns about the procurement system COPS. Nearly all the articles are more expensive than on the open market, and it costs large amounts in officer time as they try to order goods that can be brought locally for a fraction of the price on COPS. We suggest that considerable savings can be made in this area and urge you to examine this.

Reduction in the Training Budget (CS82)

We believe that this proposal is premature and will damage the ability of the organisation to adapt and respond to the massive change envisaged over the next four years. We note that the People Programme includes a workstream related to skills and demographics but feel that such a significant cut in the training budget will mean that this workstream will be under – resourced, and hence unsuccessful in enabling the councils aspirations for workforce development. The justification for the change would appear to be that there is an underspend in this area. We have to therefore challenge why our members have not received the training they ask for in their PMDS’s and are told that there is no money for it.

The justification for the reduction in the training fund is not clear to us, and we would therefore like further details related to training, which presumably would have been taken into account when this decision was made. We request the following information:
The resources allocated for implementation of each department’s annual training plan for 2013-2014.
The existing and anticipated demand for specialist training across the authority in 2013-2014 arising from the PMDS process, in light of the Statutory Right by employees to request time off for training;
the anticipated number of new and job-changing employees who will be provided with an appropriate induction programme in 2013-2014;
the monitoring statistics available for training and development opportunities undertaken according to gender, grade and ethnic origin for 2011-2012;
the anticipated use of Development Centres for staff entering the redeployment pool – (i) to explore and measure competence in key areas of a job, with a view to defining areas of strength and areas for further development; (ii) to ensure involvement of redeployed staff in projects with a specific view to developing individual knowledge and competence; and (iii) to provide secondment and shadowing opportunities for redeployed staff to develop transferable learning.

Neighbourhoods and City Development

With reference to the proposals to cease bringing empty properties back into use (NH101), UNISON find it bizarre that this proposal is even being considered, given the clear and growing need in the city for housing. The proposal seems to be that in order to save a paltry £60K, the council intends to stop up to 500 empty homes being brought back into use. With the effect of “welfare reform” likely to mean that housing demand among vulnerable groups grows, we believe it is perverse to reduce housing supply in this way and runs counter to your commitment to protect services for vulnerable people. Please can you explain in more detail the rationale for this proposal, and how you intend to deal with the housing demand growth arising from the projected growth in Bristol’s population and the effect of welfare reform. We strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal.

We are similarly dismayed at the proposal to delete the Homelessness Prevention Fund (NH104). This impacts directlyon homeless households. These are some of the most vulnerable people in the city. The council does not appear to have money to support these people in accessing a home, but does have money to spend on vanity projects like the hydrogen ferry. We believe Bristolians will be rightly consider that this is the wrong priority and could prove to be more expensive in the long run.. The result of this proposal will be that more families are reliant on B&B for housing. This is a scandal recently publicised on the BBC – and acknowledged in the impact column of the budget paper, i.e. “Certain increase in use of B&B”. Although, on paper, this proposal is stated to save £280K, we know that in the long term the costs to the council of housing families in B&B will far outweigh this and so this proposal is clearly a false economy. If you decide to proceed with this misguided proposal, we would ask that the costs for B&B placements are clearly accounted for, and reported to cabinet in order to assess the impact of the proposal.

The proposal is to streamline care management processes to deliver improved and higher performing social work and adult safeguarding services to service users and their carers. We have seen a presentation about this at a recent Transformation JCC. The structure as envisaged is pretty much in line with existing arrangements. The main change is the loss of 30+ employees, which once again will have a negative effect on service delivery. How do you feel that a cut of this magnitude is going to improve an already stretched service?

Day opportunities have been part of on-going consultation. We do not accept that the Hubs as envisaged offer an improved service. We firmly believe that it equates to a “Woolworths” approach to social services, i.e stack them high; and in fact will be dangerous, with dementia and challenging behaviour in the same space. We urge you to reconsider before it is too late. I would also like to point out that nearly 70% of the workforce wants voluntary severance. Do you think that this is indicative of low morale, and complete frustration with service change? Do you think this is worth addressing?

We also note that you are proposing creating alternatives to residential / nursing care by expanding community supported living. You speak about accessing local services. What local services please? Most are experiencing cuts or are being closed. Day centres being a very good example. Home care has been privatised, and most service users only get a minimal service; some only 15 minutes. The voluntary sector has been decimated by cuts, and there is little left in the council in way of services. Furthermore, you are also cutting the supporting people budget by 10%. How can you envisage minimising impact to service users? We are returning to Victorian England, with people left to their own devices. We note that you are intending to increase the number of customers for the community meals service. You will have to, as many more people will be losing their jobs, and will be reliant on shrinking services.

In summary, UNISON members are very disappointed with this budget which does not address the needs of the most vulnerable We urge you to rethink, and work with the trade unions, your employees, and the citizens of this fine city, and develop services, and income. Give us something we are proud to pay our council tax for. Keep people employed so they are spending, and keeping business rate income. Let us defend our city from the banks and Whitehall, and be proud to be the Mayor of Bristol.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely
Steve Mills

Branch Secretary Bristol Unison

On behalf of the membership