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

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


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.

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, 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.

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.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts candidates standing in every ward in Bristol

Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts candidates and supporters at the Bristol May Day rally

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will be standing candidates in all 24 seats in Bristol being contested in the local elections on May 22nd. The candidates will appear on the ballot paper under the description 'Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts'. People across the city will now have the option of voting for a real alternative to the main parties - anti-cuts campaigners who will put defending local jobs and services ahead of chasing their own political careers.

TUSC candidates:
Avonmouth - Patrick Hulme
Bedminster - Robin Clapp
Bishopston - Martin Saddington
Bishopsworth - Joe Etherington
Brislington East - Matt Gordon
Brislington West - Ibado Ali Mahamoud
Filwood - Marion Jackson
Hartcliffe - Rob Nash
Henbury - David Rawlings
Hengrove - Mark Baker
Henleaze - Chris Farrell
Horfield - Martyn Ahmet
Kingsweston - Caroline Vincent
Knowle - Domenico Hill
Lockleaze - Roger Thomas
Redland - Laura Collins
Southmead - John Yeandle
Southville - Matt Carey
St George West - Tom Boyd
Stockwood - Phil Bishop
Stoke Bishop - Michael Wright
Westbury-on-Trym - Mike Luff
Whitchurch Park - Frankie Langeland
Windmill Hill - Tom Baldwin

Previous TUSC mayoral candidate, Tom Baldwin, currently standing for Windmill Hill, is a TUSC spokesperson. Tom said:
“We’re standing to give a voice back to ordinary people and protect the jobs and services that we need. 
“£83m of cuts will be made by Bristol City Council. These will be devastating for the city with the loss of 1000 jobs and vicious cuts to vital services like libraries and care. Yet all the parties on the council – Labour, Tory, LibDem and Green – are involved in George Ferguson’s cuts cabinet while UKIP say they want even more cuts!
“Nobody else is standing up for people like us and offering any opposition to the onslaught from the Tory government. We’ve been hit hard by a recession we didn’t cause and we’re still being hit hard now. If there’s a recovery then where’s ours?
“There’s plenty of money in this country but we can’t wait on the charity of the rich and their representatives in power. We need a voice of our own, not indistinguishable politicians falling over each other to do the Tories’ dirty work and pass on the cuts.
“Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts councillors would oppose all cuts. We would move an amended budget based on Bristol’s needs, not carrying out the Tory agenda of robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. We’d build a campaign that can take them on and win back the money they’ve stolen from the city.
“I’ve met a lot of people campaigning bravely and tirelessly to defend the services they rely upon but this finds no reflection in the council chamber. Our members are out there campaigning with them all year round, not just in elections but we think working-class people also need a political voice on their side.”

TUSC policies include:
·         Opposing all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions.
·         Refusing to pass on budget cuts. Instead we will move a budget based on the needs of the people of Bristol, not the demands of the Tories. We will mobilise a campaign to try and win back the money the government have stolen from the city.
·         Refusing to evict tenants who can’t pay rent due to the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts.
·         Building council houses and capping rents to meet housing needs.
·         Opposing any privatisation measures affecting council services.
·         Campaigning for the Living Wage for all staff employed by directly by the council or working on council contracts.
·         Using all powers available to councillors to oppose cuts and privatisation of local NHS services.
·         Candidates standing on a worker’s wage, taking no payments or expenses beyond what is necessary to do the job.
See for more information.

May Day March & Rally

Footage from the Bristol May Day march and rally on Saturday 3rd May. Dedicated to the memory of Bob Crow and Tony Benn.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Bristol City Council agrees over £80m of cuts

By Tom Baldwin

Bristol was dealt a huge blow this week as the council agreed a budget with over £80m cuts to jobs and services. However, the budget meeting we were gave a tiny glimpse of what a determined opposition could have achieved.

Despite a shocking lack of detail, the budget proposed by the 'independent' Mayor and his cross-party cabinet made for chilling reading. At stake were up to 1000 jobs and vast swathes of council services including libraries and care services. But the seriousness of the situation was lost on most councillors. They laughed and joked or fought staged skirmishes around the edge of the budget, while 95% of the cuts went virtually unchallenged.

Confusion reigned in large parts of the meeting as councillors tied themselves in knots trying to face both ways at once. The Labour, LibDem and Green groups all announced their intention to vote against the budget. Panic set in as they realised this would mean the budget being rejected. Clearly this was intended as a gesture to try keep themselves 'clean', it wasn't meant to actually stop the cuts!

The Conservative group leader berated the others for "grandstanding" when they hadn't proposed significant amendments to the budget and all had members in the cabinet that was recommending it. He was right but of course, the Tories weren't about to offer any real opposition. On the contrary, he was keen to see his party's policies implemented and not above lying to achieve it, falsely claiming that the budget had to be agreed that night by law.

The meeting was adjourned and frantic horse-trading began to try and get the budget through. Despite being told for months that level of cuts was necessary and unchangeable, suddenly an extra £1.3m could be rustled up in just half an hour. This was the cost of buying Labour's support. It was a small improvement but the cuts they prevented were dwarfed by those they voted for. This was a cosmetic concession, £1.3m out of an £83m cuts budget, when the council is sitting on £200m in reserves! The overall effects will still be disastrous for the city.

Nevertheless, it shows that austerity is not the immovable object our councillors would have us believe. Despite all their crocodile tears about the 'tough decisions' they're being forced into, they do have the power to oppose cuts.

Imagine how much more could be done by principled and consistent anti-cuts councillors. The night before the budget meeting the Council House held a very different event. In a meeting organised by Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts, Southampton anti-cuts councillor Keith Morrell gave the example of how councillors can fight cuts. He was expelled from the Labour Party for voting against cuts but was successful in campaigning to save a swimming pool in his ward.

Keith explained how the council’s budget should reflect the city’s needs, not Tory demands for cuts. He and colleague Don Thomas had put forward an alternative budget that used borrowing and reserves to protect all jobs and services for a year while a campaign could be built to win back the money stolen by the Tories.

Campaigns for needs budgets could force this unpopular government back but we’d be far stronger with political representatives that were willing to take a stand. Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts will be standing in every seat in Bristol in May to offer a genuine anti-cuts alternative.

Bristol Demo - No to Budget Cuts!

Video of the 8th Feb demonstration of hundreds in Bristol against council budget cuts, organised by Save Our City.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Bloodshed in Kiev: What lies behind the Ukraine crisis?, 19/02/2014
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

What lies behind the Ukraine crisis?

Rob Jones, from Socialism Today (March edition, No.176)

Massive protests are rocking Ukraine once again. President Yanukovich’s riot police have violently clashed with protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square. To date, 29 are reported dead and hundreds injured. A rotten political system lies exposed. In article written just before these events, Rob Jones looks at the different forces behind the Ukraine crisis.

Passions have run as high as the weather has been cold in Ukraine. Demonstrators have seized ministry and city administration buildings in the capital Kiev and throughout the country, particularly in the western regions. In the East, where president Viktor Yanukovich has his main base of support, local authorities have blockaded their own offices using huge blocks of concrete to prevent their occupation. Protestors have used whatever materials they can to build their barricades. In some places, piles of old tyres are used. In others, sandbags full of snow and ice have been heaped up.

Ten years ago, a massive protest, the ‘Orange revolution’, against the fraudulent conduct of Ukrainian presidential elections, saw Yanukovich replaced as president by Viktor Yushenko. Yushenko kept his grip on power for one term before Yanukovich was elected back to office. Now, once again, Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) has been filled for over two months with protesters, tents and barricades as thousands of protesters hold out in their campaign to bring Yanukovich down again. The word ‘Maidan’ has entered the political lexicon as symbolising protest, this time in the form of ‘Euromaidan’.

The spark was the unexpected decision by the Supreme Rada (parliament) on 21 November to suspend the signing of the ‘association agreement’ with the European Union, scheduled to take place at the EU summit in Lithuania at the end of November. This was not a proposal for Ukraine to join the EU. In the current economic climate the EU can maybe integrate one or two of the smaller states in eastern Europe, but it would not be able to handle Ukraine, the third poorest country in Europe with a GDP per head of €5,600, yet the largest by area and the fifth largest by population (excluding Russia). The association agreement was intended to encourage Ukraine to adopt EU ‘values of democracy and justice’ and, most importantly, enable a free-trade agreement to be reached.

According to the then premier, Mykola Azarov, who was sacked in January as part of Yanukovich’s concessions to the protesters, the decision to delay the association agreement was taken following the receipt of a letter from the IMF on 29 November. This outlined the conditions for the refinancing of the rescue loans taken out in 2008 and 2010. Azarov said: “The terms were an increase of gas and heating tariffs for the population by approximately 40%, a commitment to freezing basic, minimal and net salaries at the current level, a significant reduction of budget expenditures, the lowering of energy subsidies, and the gradual curtailment of VAT exemption benefits for agriculture and other sectors”. He complained that, although the EU was making promises about future economic benefits, it was not prepared to offer immediate help to the country.

Since the start of the global crisis, Ukraine has been in a dire economic situation. Between 2008 and 2009 the economy dropped by 15% and has not yet recovered. Unemployment jumped from 3% to 9%, a figure that vastly underestimates the real situation. GDP per head is the third lowest in Europe, beating only that of impoverished Moldova and Kosovo.

The desperate situation in which many Ukrainians live explains why the movement took on such a pro-EU colouring, at least in the early stages. Many, particularly youth, look on the EU as a haven of relative wealth and freedom, especially when compared to the alternative – Russia. One figure alone is enough to explain why: the average wage in Ukraine is €250 a month, and this tends to be lower in the western part. The average wage in neighbouring Poland, which is in the EU, is twice as much. As news came out that the signing of the agreement had been cancelled under Russian pressure, students flooded onto the streets in the west of the country. In Lviv, capital of West Ukraine, the demands were wide-ranging: from demands that the government sign the association agreement to those on university administrations to allow students to come and go from their hostels whenever they like.
East-west tug-of-war

Underlying the original Orange revolution, and playing as significant a role in Euromaidan, is the national question. There are sharp divisions between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east of the country, where most heavy industry is located. But exacerbating the language division has been a no-holds-barred struggle by the different imperialist powers to reap economic gain from the exploitation of Ukraine and achieve geopolitical advantage. The western powers were prepared to go further in making concessions to the Ukrainian government before the outbreak of Euromaidan solely because they wanted to use the country as a bulwark restricting Russia’s influence. Russia in its turn wants to maintain its influence and uses any aid it offers as a lever to strengthen its position.

Yanukovich is usually seen as pro-Russian but, since his return to power in 2010, he has been pragmatic in his relations between the powers. His first visit was to Brussels, where he confirmed that Ukraine would remain as part of Nato’s outreach programme. Shortly after, he visited Moscow, where he promised to restore previous good relations. He resisted, however, any attempts by Vladimir Putin to recruit Ukraine to the Eurasian customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Until December’s shock decision, it seemed that Yanukovich was enthusiastic about the EU’s association agreement.

As the date for signing it came closer, Russia stepped up its restrictions on trade. Trade volume between the two countries fell by 11% in 2012 ($45bn) and by a further 15% in 2013. The trade volume between Ukraine and the EU is about the same but, given the state of the EU economy, it has not been able to increase its trade to make up for the loss from Russia. The €1.8 billion aid over ten years offered by the EU to compensate for such losses was clearly nowhere near adequate. In addition, Russia uses the gas pipelines crossing Ukraine as a further lever.

It now seems difficult to believe, but the first few days of Euromaidan were held in a holiday atmosphere. Many students seemed to treat it as one large picnic, commenting that they had not come to support any particular political idea. At the big rally on 24 November the speeches from the main opposition parties went down like damp squibs. The crowd chanted ‘down with the gang’ referring to Yanukovich’s clique. Some nationalist speakers who attempted to whip up division by chanting against the ‘Moskali’ (an offensive term for Russians) were also met with indifference. This was to change quite quickly. By early December, when a speaker from the Svoboda (freedom) party called for a stall set up by independent trade unions in the square to be removed, a crowd of far-right thugs attacked the trade unionists, leaving one with broken ribs.
The political ‘opposition’

From the beginning three figures, representing the coalition of opposition parties in the parliament, have been the political face of the protest. Arseniy Yatseniuk represents the party of the jailed former premier Yulia Timoshenko, once known as the ‘gas princess’ from the time when she controlled most of the gas imports from Russia. She was one of the leaders of the Orange revolution. In power, her government followed an economic course based on a dish of pro-Europeanism and neo-liberalism served with a mild populist sauce. Vitaly Klitschko, a world boxing champion, leads his party Udar (punch or blow), which argues for European integration and is linked to the European People’s Party, the Christian Democratic bloc in the European parliament.

The third leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, represents the Svoboda party, which has 37 seats in parliament and controls local government in three regions. This party is ultra-right-wing and, according to some, neo-fascist. Until 2004 it used a Ukrainianised swastika as its party symbol. Tyahnybok himself virulently hates anything left wing and justifies those who collaborated with Hitler as fighting “Moskali, Germans, Jews and other unclean elements”. For electoral reasons Svoboda has attempted to moderate its image but has, together with the even nastier union of ultra-right-wing parties and football hooligans (the Right Sector), played an increasingly dangerous role in Euromaidan.

Following the refusal to sign the association agreement, Yanukovich was forced to travel the world searching for funds. Although agreeing to $8 billion-worth of trade deals in China, Beijing proved unwilling to give direct aid to Ukraine. Russia, however, agreed to a loan of $15 billion and to cut the price of natural gas by 33%, although this deal is subject to Yanukovich remaining in power. While helping Ukraine to avoid defaulting on its debts immediately, the economy, after three months of street protests, is still in a desperate state.

Increased state violence

By the time this deal was made, Euromaidan had already developed out of control. An attempt by state forces, and particularly the Verkuta riot police, to break up the protest by clearing Maidan Nezalizhimosti at 4am on 30 November, supposedly to allow for the New Year tree to be erected, left many badly wounded. In response, hundreds of thousands turned out to demonstrate on 1 December, with an even bigger demo a week later. The nature of demands changed. Demands to sign the association agreement became less important, those for the resignation of the president and government with early elections became more dominant. Various groups started to occupy government buildings. Even the presidential administration building was under siege. The ultra-right groups began to set up militia and defence squads.

The stepping up of protests in this way caused a catastrophic crisis in the regime. By retreating to repression, the government had merely provoked more anger. Unable to calm the protesters, the government passed a series of twelve laws on 16 January that became known as the ‘laws on dictatorship’. These would have brought Ukraine into line with the more authoritarian regimes of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. ‘Extremist’ activity, although undefined, could lead to a three-year prison sentence, occupying government buildings could earn five years. Organisations receiving money from aboard would be treated as ‘foreign agents’, the wearing of masks was banned, and restrictions were placed on the internet. Police and other state agents would be granted immunity for any crimes carried out while dealing with protestors.

These laws led to another upsurge in protest. Not only was the weekend demonstration following the passing of the laws attended by over 200,000, but the more extreme, mainly far-right protesters stepped up the occupation of government buildings. The far-right UNA-UNSO issued a call for all Ukrainians to take up arms against the government. Rumours were rife throughout the country that tanks were being moved. The wife of a riot police officer told the press that the riot police were being ordered to evacuate their families from the city. The riot police were given permission to use water cannon in temperatures of -10C.

But Yanukovich was first to blink. On 24 January he hinted that the dictatorship laws would be amended. Four days later, prime minister Azarov offered his resignation and the government fell. The promise to repeal the dictatorship laws was used as a lever to end the occupation of government buildings. Yanukovich offered to form a coalition government, including Yatseniuk and Klitschko. Undoubtedly the two would have been prepared to serve but, under pressure from the more radical protesters, they have initially rejected the offer, saying that the only possible option is for a ‘government of the Maidan’ to be formed and Yanukovich to resign, paving the way for new elections.
Left political confusion

If an election were held today, the parties of Yatseniuk and Klitschko would get good votes. But their willingness to work with Svoboda could well mean this far-right party getting places in government too. The bourgeois opposition leaders have created a trap for themselves by being prepared to work with the ultra-right. In particular Klitschko, who positions himself as the natural European and actually lives in Germany, has bowed to the pressure of the far-right. He now begins his speeches on the Maidan with the ultra-right slogan ‘Glory to the Ukraine’, to which the crowd respond, ‘Glory to its heroes’.

These events have led to an apparent strengthening of support for Svoboda and the Right Sector. The reasons for this should be understood, however, and to a large degree the left has to take responsibility. Nominally, the largest ‘left’ party in the country is the Communist Party with 32 seats in parliament. Unbelievably, as soon as the protests began, its parliamentary fraction announced it would stop calling for the government’s resignation. It fully supported the passing of the dictatorship laws and complained when they were partially withdrawn.

The CP bases its policies not on what serves the interests of the working class in Ukraine but on what serves the geopolitical interests of Russia. While CP leader Petr Simonenko criticises the EU and US for their outrageous and direct intervention in the Maidan, he argues that Ukraine should join Russia’s customs union. Regional branches of his party have even tried to organise demonstrations with this demand. This position, of course, gives the far-right ammunition to attack the left in general for just wanting to abandon Ukrainian independence in the interests of Russian imperialism.

The ‘non-system’ left – those not represented in parliament – have not been much better. There is no doubt that, from the beginning of the Orange revolution, the main feature has been a clash between the interests of different sections of the Ukrainian bourgeois. This time is no exception. Those oligarchs in favour of going west are those in general whose business interests are related to light industry and services, while those who look east are from heavy industry.

However, as has happened with sections of the state and security forces, there have been signs that some of the oligarchs are hedging their bets. Even Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akmetov, who originally proposed Yanukovich for president, condemned the violence against the protesters, although he has since ‘returned’ to Yanukovich’s side. The third richest, Dmitry Firtash, who made his wealth through his links with Russia, is reportedly the main sponsor of Klitschko’s Udar party. Petr Poroshenko, in fourth place, addressed the demonstrations in Maidan demanding that the association agreement be signed immediately. His interest is clear. When Russia introduced trade sanctions against Ukraine in 2013, his Roshin chocolate factory was the main victim.

A section of the non-system left draws the conclusion from this that the whole Maidan experience is simply a struggle for the interests of the oligarchs, without sufficiently understanding that the anger of those who participate is fuelled by economic desperation and hatred of the increasingly autocratic government. Those from a ‘communist’ tradition tend to argue that this is not our struggle. In particular, they see no other factors involved other than the influence of the far-right. An example is the Borotba group, which on many questions has a good position. In Odessa, overwhelmingly a Russian-speaking city, it occupied the administration building to prevent it being taken over by the small but vocal local Svoboda organisation. In essence, its actions were understandable, but it failed to give an alternative, apart from general phrases, either to the Maidan or Yanukovich’s forces. To do otherwise would have required addressing the national question.

Another section of the non-system left depicts Yanukovich as a fascist. It argues that to refuse to struggle on the grounds that it is impossible to work with the right-wing forces will lead to the victory of the fascist junta, which would mean that any form of self-organisation, independent trade unions, or political parties, will be impossible. Its intervention in the protests fails to provide a clear alternative and it ends up tail-ending the pro-capitalist opposition leaders.

Support for the far-right

Although support for the far-right groups appears to have grown during these protests, it has not been built on a firm base. Svoboda has only managed to gain by hiding its real nature from the masses. Not so long ago, Svoboda criticised the moves to integrate with the EU as an “acceptance of cosmopolitanism, the neoliberal empire which will lead to the complete loss of national identity with the legalisation of single-sex marriages and the integration of Afro-Asian migrants into a multi-cultured society”. Just three days after the start of Euromaidan, its Lviv organisation organised a torchlight march with white-power flags in solidarity with Greece’s Golden Dawn. But such was the distaste among others, that Svoboda has put such interventions on hold. The Right Sector, however, does not hide its position. The EU, it says, is an “anti-Christian, anti-national structure whose real face is gay parades, race riots, the legalisation of drugs and prostitution, single-sex marriages, the collapse of morality and spiritual decline”.

Some of those protesters who are following the nationalists argue that they are not doing so, primarily, because they support the nationalists’ ideas but because they are providing a lead. Such support will not last for long. Indeed, according to at least three opinion polls in January, support for Svoboda nationally has fallen significantly since the last election. Unfortunately, even the presence of the far-right gives the regime a powerful propaganda weapon for use in the eastern part of the country where the vast majority of the population still associate fascism with the horrors of the world war.

The clear weakness in the current movement, and indeed one that has existed since the first Orange revolution, is the lack of a clear left and working-class alternative that could give it a genuine revolutionary character. From its start in November many of the activists have expressed their opposition to the current political parties. Only in this vacuum has it been possible for the far-right to gain the position it has. If a serious left force had existed, and intervened decisively in these events, this would not have happened.
The role of the workers’ movement

This necessity for a left alternative is demonstrated by the continuing economic crisis. Ukraine has already been in recession for 18 months and, although Ukraine’s central bank supported the hryvnia (the Ukrainian currency) by nearly $2 billion in January, it has still fallen by 10% since November. Economists warn that the country is on the verge of another default. Neither the alliance with the EU nor agreement to join Russia’s customs union will provide a solution to Ukraine’s dire economic crisis.

Clearly a central part of the struggle should be over wages and conditions. While Yanukovich is touring the world searching for $15 billion to bail out the economy, his friend Akmetov has that precise sum in the bank. Ukraine’s industry and banks should be brought into public ownership so that the resources of the country can be used in the interests of all its citizens and not for the benefit of a few oligarchs. If that was to happen, Ukraine would not have to turn to the EU or Russia for help. It is necessary for genuine trade unions to be built to head the fight for decent living conditions.

The workers’ movement should place itself at the head of the struggle for democratic rights. The current movement is correctly calling for the resignation of Yanukovich and for new elections. But all that means today is the return of a new coalition government made up of the same parties that held power after the Orange revolution with the addition of the far-right Svoboda. It is necessary for the working class to organise to establish its own genuine and mass workers’ party that can defend the interests of all workers in the country and fight for political power. The current Rada is dominated by politicians who only represent the interests of the oligarchs. The workers’ movement should spearhead a struggle for the convening of a constitutional assembly at which representatives of Ukraine’s working people, students, unemployed and pensioners can decide how they want the country to be run in a democratic way.

Most importantly, the left and workers’ movement needs to take a clear and unequivocal position on the national question. The division of the country along national lines can only benefit the oligarchs, imperialist powers and big business. Decent wages and conditions, democratic rights and a workers’ government can only become reality if there is a united working-class struggle on these questions.

It is essential therefore that the working class rejects those politicians who seek to sell the country to either Russia or the EU, or attempt to establish a regime in the country that is based on the domination of one nationality against another. A united workers’ movement would give full support to the development of the Ukrainian language and culture but also defend the rights of those who speak Russian. While supporting the right to self-determination, the left needs to emphasise the need for the united struggle of the whole Ukrainian working class.

There is no solution to the problems faced by the Ukrainian population on the basis of the policies proposed by politicians such as Yanukovich or Klitschko, or by joining Russia’s customs union or the EU. A victory of the far-right around Svoboda or the Right Sector would lead Ukraine into dark days of ethnic conflict and reactionary dictatorship. The only way out is to fight for the establishment of a strong, united workers’ movement with its own mass workers’ party that can take political power. It would need to establish a socialist economy based on the public ownership of industry, banking and natural resources democratically planned by working people, in a united and independent socialist Ukraine as part of a wider federation of socialist states.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Floods misery: Government cuts to blame

 By Dave Carr -

 While thousands of homes and shops are waist deep in toxic water, and flooding hits new areas, government ministers indulge in a blame game.

environment minister Eric Pickles blamed the Environment Agency for not dredging rivers, while the department's incapacitated minister Owen Paterson was reportedly raging to Prime Minister David Cameron over Pickles' attacks.

In reality, the entire
government is to blame for a lack of preparation and its outrageously inadequate response.

After all,
climate change scientists have been warning for years about the expected increased frequency of extreme weather events - including unprecedented rainfall - caused by human induced global warming.

Moreover, instead of investing in measures that have enormous potential to defend people, land and property against flooding, the government has pursued a vicious austerity agenda of public spending

These cuts have been borne heavily by the Environment Agency, including its budget for flood prevention.

Incredibly, on top of previous cuts, some 1,500 agency jobs (15% of the workforce), including 550 jobs in flood prevention, are due to be axed by October.

Yet the cost to people's homes and the country's ruined infrastructure will run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

The floods have exposed how this government puts the interests of a rich elite above those of a long-suffering public.

It's high time that these 'Eton millionaires' are booted out and an environmentally sustainable plan of flood defences and infrastructure is put in place.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

PUBLIC MEETING - Councillors CAN Fight the Cuts!

£83m of cuts to Bristol council are being prepared by Mayor George Ferguson. These will mean 1000 jobs lost and huge cuts to services including libraries, parks, care services, leisure centres, children's centres, pollution management and sexual and domestic violence projects.

But this can be stopped. Below are details of two important events in the campaign against these cuts...

PUBLIC MEETING – Councillors CAN Fight the Cuts!

Mon 17th Feb, 7.30pm, Council House/City Hall, College Green. Speaker: Keith Morrell

Keith is an anti-cuts councillor in Southampton. He was kicked out of the Labour group for sticking to his promises and refusing to vote for the closure of a swimming pool. His campaign was successful and the pool has been saved. The day after the meeting councillors in Bristol will vote on £83m of cuts to the city. Keith will explain they have a choice and can save jobs and services.
Organised by Bristol Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts
Facebook event:
Contact Tom on 07986951527 or


Sat 8th Feb, 1pm, Castle Park to College Green
Called by Save Our City
Facebook event:
see for more info