Thursday, November 23, 2006

People's Assembly tackles new anti-Muslim racism

by Karen Dabrowska

STOP THE WAR Coalition last Saturday convened a people’s assembly in central London to help tackle the new racism in the United Kingdom which targets the Muslim community.
The aim of the assembly is to bring people together to discuss the relationship between Islamophobia and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to organise a campaign in response to war and racism.
It was convened after the head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, said that more than 200 Al-Qaeda cells were plotting at least 30 major attacks in Britain. The police are working to contend with some 200 networks, totalling over 1,600 identified individuals actively engaged in plotting terrorist acts here and overseas.
She said: “Killing oneself and others is an attractive option for some citizens. The threat is serious, is growing and will be with us for a generation.”
Opening the assembly, Stop the War Coalition chairperson Andrew Murray, described Islamophobia as the last resort of the warmongers to make up for their failure. “George Bush said he was getting ready for one last push. We too are ready for one last push to get the get the troops out of Iraq.”
Stop the War Coalition widened its aims to opposition to the racist backlash against Muslims and the defence of civil liberties.
Veteran leftist politician and president of Stop the War Coalition Tony Benn said there was no war on terror. There is a war on Iraq, Afghanistan and a threat to Iran. If the war was a war on terror, the British government would have called for a ceasefire when Israel invaded Lebanon.
“There is a war for power and oil which is being presented as a war on terror,” he said.
Tony Benn drew the assembly’s attention to invasions by the US marines: four invasions of Cuba, four of Nicaragua, seven of Honduras, two of the Dominican Republic, one of Guatemala, two of Panama and four of Columbia.
He criticised attempts to present Islam as a threat to the British way of life. All the great religions preach that we should live together. Now the definition of a moderate Muslim is one who doesn’t mind his country being invaded. Every hospital that has been closed could have remained open if there was no war against Iraq.
“The problem with Great Britain is that is cannot win the war on Iraq. But this presents us with a supreme opportunity to build a world where human rights are respected and we deal with environmental problems and poverty”, Benn concluded.
A second generation British Muslim of Pakistani origin detained at Guantanamo Bay, Moazzam Begg, received a standing ovation when he addressed the assembly. Begg described Belmarsh Prison in south-east London as “Britain’s Guantanamo”, where terrorist suspects are held without charge or trial.
On his return from Guantanamo, Begg said his greatest difficulty was seeing “the people I come from demonised in a way which has never happened before. I expected Britain would welcome people who had been persecuted but all the intrinsic values of this country which made me British are being eroded.
“Iraq and Afghanistan have a direct link to what happens in Britain but only Tony Blair does not understand this.”
Begg described the ordeal of Ibn Al Shaikh Al Libi, a Libyan captured during Operation Enduring Freedom, who was sent to a torture centre in Cairo. After he was raped and electrodes were applied to his testicles, he allegedly confessed that he worked on obtaining weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein.
This confession was used by Colin Powell to create a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and a justification for entering Iraq.
Sumiya Hensi, a fourth year law student at Dundee University, and Esther Sassaman, a Jewish American working as a secretary in the university’s social work department, addressed the assembly together with their arms around each other, about a Special Branch pilot scheme monitoring Muslim students on campus.
“They come to our events, they question students and intimidate them,” Hensi said. “My parents have worked hard in this country, the pay their taxes, this is a real slap in the face.”
Sassaman described a petition organised by the students to defend liberty. “This is a pilot project which needs to be stopped before it spreads across Britain.”
Green Party MEP Jean Lambert warned that the collective right to protest is deeply restricted, freedom of speech is deeply compromised, passionate speech is now an incitement to terrorism and the British government is compromising its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, while remaining shamefully silent about Guantanamo Bay. “We need to defend our right to act against an illegal and unjust war.”
Tongue in cheek comedian Mark Steele ridiculed the Muslim threat referring to sawn-off veils and veils with serrated edges. “The British government is brilliant at opposing the racism of the past against the Irish, the black people in America and the Spanish Inquisition, but racism is on our doorstep and it is harder to oppose when it is on our doorstep.”
“What kind of society asks parents to rat on their children, lecturers to rat on their students?” asked Anas Al-Tikriti former president of the Muslim Association of Britain. His 20 years of work with Muslim youth forced him to conclude that British society faces a much greater risk from fraudsters, rapists, and paedophiles than from Muslim extremists.
Terrorists and extremists are driven by the state of politics (the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and the oppression of the Palestinians) not verses from the Qur’an.
The convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German, said that the Jews were fully integrated into German society yet this did not prevent their persecution. “Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett have told the Muslims to stand up and be counted. They have stood against the war. The people who are being attacked are being demonised and we have to fight attempts to make racism acceptable.”
The assembly was also addressed by trade unionists, Sami Ranadani a political refugee from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, playwright David Edgar, Yvonne Ridley of the Islam Channel, Rose Gentle from Military Families Against the War, Craig Murray the ex British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Ismael Patel of Friends of Al-Aqsa.
The assembly’s closing statement declared its solidarity with all the Muslims peoples in Britain facing a hurricane of official and unofficial legal, political and physical attacks in a climate of Islamophobic hysteria. It recognises these attacks as being essentially racist and anti-democratic.
It said: “They are driven by the same political agenda as has inspired the criminal and disastrous ‘war on terror’, which has laid waste Iraq and Afghanistan and presently threatens Iran and elsewhere.
“In particular we condemn the statement made by government ministers designed to isolate, demonise and even criminalise Islamic religious practices, choice of dress and cultural expression. We affirm that such diversity in fact makes an important contribution to the overall development of our society.
“We condemn terrorist atrocities such as the London bombings last year, which are in all circumstances, indefensible. However the assembly believes in common with the majority of the British people, that the key to tackling the treat of such atrocities is a change in the foreign policy of the government.
“It has subordinated this country to the aggressive foreign policy of the Bush government in its invasion of Iraq, its treats to Iran and its support for Israel’s aggression against Lebanon.”

Red salute to Russian Revolution

WORKING PEOPLE have held events to mark the 89th anniversary of the Great October Russian Revolution across the globe this month and last weekend comrades and friends came to the reception at the NCP’s Party Centre in London for their own celebration of the ten days that shook the world. As usual the print shop was transformed into a bar and buffet for the event and NCP chairperson Alex Kempshall kicked off the formal part of the evening of tributes to the achievements and sacrifice of the Soviet people throughout the 20th century.
Explo Nani Kofi of the African Liberation Support Campaign Network (ALISC), an old friend of the NCP, spoke of the importance of the October revolution to the national liberation movement. Friends of Korea were well represented with Ella Rule delivering a message on behalf of the Korean Co-ordinating Committee of Friends of Korea in the UK along with solidarity messages sent from vice-chair Dermot Hudson and the DPR Korea embassy staff.
Harpal Brar, the chairman of the CPGB (ML) and prolific writer on Soviet history stressed the contribution of Lenin and Stalin to the working class movement and Michael Chant from the RCPB (ML) spoke of the importance of revolutionary struggle in the 21st century.
NCP leader Andy Brooks recalled that the Soviet revolution had, in practice, ended the First World War while the Soviet Red Army had decisively brought about the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire in the Second World War. Finally the “red” home-made cake was brought out, as has become customary at NCP socials, and it was appreciated in the usual way.
Of course no NCP event can pass without a mention of the New Worker fighting fund. NCP National Treasurer Dolly Shaer recalled her long years of struggle which began when she joined the Young Communist League in the 1930s in a stirring appeal that raised £468. Friends slowly departed for last trains and buses as night closed but some die-hards kept the bar open till 1.00 am!

London news round-up

Police tracking Oyster cards

CIVIL liberties campaigners last week raised concerns over a 300 per cent increase in the police use of Londoners’ Oyster travel cards to monitor the public transport journeys of suspects. Officers now routinely use the smart cards as part of their investigations.
Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, who is also a surveillance expert, said: “That’s one hell of an increase. Are the people whose personal details are given to them notified in any way? It’s another step towards a surveillance society. If there’s a valid reason for asking and a valid outcome, let’s discuss it in the open.”
More than six million Londoners use Oyster cards to travel on buses and Tube trains every day. Heather Brooke, author of the consumer guide Your Right to Know said: “I am troubled by how secretly this has been done and the way the police have started to use this as a database almost as a matter of course.”
She said that in the United States the use of similar information has not always stood up in court because these cards can be borrowed or stolen.
“I can imagine there will be a whole black market in Oyster cards to prove you are somewhere or someone you are not,” she added. Brooke also pointed out that although the congestion charge end at 6.30pm every weekday, the surveillance cameras are never turned off. They automatically read number plates and check them against a database of stolen vehicles, outstanding fines and criminal offences.

London Olympic costs soar

THE PROJECTED costs of the 2012 London Olympics rose sharply last week due to massive extra security costs and unforeseen VAT bills. Estimates of the likely total costs now range from £3.3 billion to £8 billion. The original Olympic bid in 2005 put the cost at £2.3 billion to be funded by the National Lottery and London council taxpayers.
Then the Government drew up a separate project at just over £1 billion to improve the east London area around the projected Olympic site.
Estimates for the security needed have risen from £190 million to £1.5 billion while regeneration costs are also a lot higher than originally thought.
The plans included a 20 per cent contingency for cost overruns on the building programme but the Treasury now wants this increased to 60 per cent.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is opposing this “absolutely breathtakingly ridiculous” increase on the grounds that would “give the green light” to developers to come in over budget. He said that London council tax payers should not have to pay more than the £625 million already pledged. The Treasury insurers argue that, given the track record of previous Olympic Games around the world, they are not scaremongering.

Workers thank Arsenal

THE REMPLOY Consortium of trade unions today thanked Arsenal Football Club and its supporters for their help in saving the jobs of disabled workers at the Holloway Remploy factory. The recent demonstration held by the disabled workers outside the new Arsenal stadium brought a change of mind from the company which has now committed to maintain the employment of the Remploy workers in Holloway.
The Remploy Consortium of trade unions has accepted the company’s assurance that they will rent a new factory equal to the size of the present Holloway site which will enable the disabled workers to be gainfully employed for now and the immediate future.
The old Remploy factory was sold under a compulsory purchase and will be demolished by March 2007. Remploy will rent a rent a local factory and equip it so that the needs of their disabled workers are met in time for the transfer for one site to the other without any lose of pay to the employees.

Bring all Tube contracts back in-house!

THOUSANDS of Londoners struggled to get to work last Monday as signal failures on the London Underground Central Line led to very few trains running. This was put down to failures by the maintenance company Metronet, which makes £1 million a week from its 30-year contract. It was also blamed for serious delays on the Circle and District lines.
The RMT transport union called again for all Tube infrastructure work to be brought back in-house “before the privateer contractors bring the entire system grinding to a halt”.
As the capital was plunged into chaos by engineering overruns and infrastructure failure on three of London’s essential Tube arteries, RMT renewed its call for the part-privatisation of the network to be scrapped.
“Privatisation of Tube infrastructure has demonstrably failed, failed and failed again,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
“Only last week the PPP Arbiter issued a damning report on Metronet’s failure to deliver, and this morning Londoners have woken up to find huge chunks of the Underground network simply not working.
“Tube infrastructure work needs to be carried out by an organisation whose sole aim is providing a service, not by privateers whose main aim is to drain as much profit as possible out of the system.
“We have said time and time again that the PPP is a complex device designed to convert public money into guaranteed, risk-free profits.
“Today should also serve as a warning that plans to allow privateers to get their hands on the operations of the East London Line should also be scrapped.
“How many more times does this have to happen before the government bows to the inevitable and allows the miserable PPP to be buried once and for all?” Bob Crow said.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Southall celebrates October Revolution

A HIGHLY successful October Revolution celebration was organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain-Marxist Leninist last Sunday in Southall, West London, with speakers from the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain-Marxist Leninist, the New Communist Party and CPGB-ML was attended by around 50 people.
Michael Chant, on behalf of the RCPB-ML, said that the Great October Socialist Revolution had “opened up a path for progressive humanity and made possible the progressive gains of the 20th century. In recent years that path has been blocked, beginning with the death of Stalin and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The revolution has objectively passed from flow to ebb, and it is the task of communists, not just to say how glorious the October Socialist Revolution was, but to unblock the path of revolution and progress.”
Giles Shorter of the CPGB-ML said the consequences of the Bolshevik victory would “continue to unfold long after the treacherous liquidation of socialism in the Land of the Soviets itself has been reversed.”
His talk examined the ideological and objective factors which allowed the Bolshevik revolution to succeed, and looked at the huge gulf separating Lenin and Stalin from Trotsky.
Internationally the First World War was the main factor which distracted the bourgeoisie, but internally it was the Bolsheviks’ correct political line 1917 which succeeded – in contrast to the revolutions of 1848 and 1871 – in winning the peasantry from being a reserve of the bourgeoisie to a reserve of the proletariat.
Even in 1922, Trotsky was claiming that the Soviet state would “inevitably come into hostile collision not only with all the bourgeois groupings… but also with the broad masses of the peasantry with whose assistance it came into power.”
Trotskyism, Giles concluded, represents “the most profound defeatism about the ability of the masses to make revolutionary history in the real world.”
Theo Russell thanked the CPGB-ML on behalf of the NCP and for organising the event. He said: “The October Revolution showed for the first time that the workers and peasants are able to take state power and keep it. The success of the Soviet state proved that socialism could exist in one state, refuting Trotsky’s theory on world revolution.”
He stressed Lenin’s constant emphasis on combating the revisionism which eventually brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union.
“The bourgeoisie celebrated what they thought was a historic victory in 1990”, he said, “but that victory has crumbled into dust and the economic and political crisis of the capitalist system is deeper than ever.
“The imperialists thought they could turn back the march of human progress, but now they are realising the limits to their power and learning that the forces for national liberation, peace and socialism can never be extinguished.”
The evening was rounded off with poems and songs from English, Indian and Pakistani comrades, and a performance by comrades from the RCPB-ML on piano and violin of Shostakovich’s Twelfth Symphony celebrating the 1917 revolution, The Dawn of Humanity.

pic: theo russell makes his point

Remembering the Soviet war dead

PAUL Kyriacou, the Mayor of Southwark and Philip Matthews of the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund last Sunday led a ceremony of remembrance at the Soviet war memorial, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, for the 27 million Soviet citizens killed in the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany.
This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Moscow, considered to be one of the greatest battles of history. Nazi forces attempting to capture Moscow were halted and thrown back by the Soviet counter-offensive, which began on 5th December 1941.
Wreaths were laid by the Mayor, by the local MP Simon Hughes, on behalf of the House of Commons, and by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation.
Others who laid wreaths included the ambassadors of the Ukrainian Republic, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet Republics; a representative of the RAF Russia Association, the Royal British Legion, the local branch of the trade union Ucatt and the Russia Convoy Club.
The event was organised by the Soviet Memorial Trust.

London bus strike

THOUSANDS of bus drivers in north and west London employed by Metroline, owned by Singapore-based ComfortDelgro Corporation, took strike action last Tuesday in a dispute over pay. This is the first London bus strike in seven years.
The Transport and General Workers’ Union said Metroline bosses had failed to put more money on the table at last minute talks on Monday morning.
An initial offer of three per cent was increased through the negotiations to four per cent, but the union rejected it because it did not meet the drivers and engineers’ claim for a basic rate increase to £11 an hour from the current £10.43.
Further one day strikes are planned on 20th and 27th November if the dispute is not resolved.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

London news round-up

Eurostar cleaners ballot for strike

MORE THAN 100 members of the RMT transport union who are employed by OCS as cleaners on its Eurostar contract are to be balloted for industrial action over the company’s failure improve a pay offer that falls way short of eradicating poverty pay rates.
Members are to be asked to vote to strike and for action short of strike to back their campaign for a minimum pay rate that matches London mayor Ken Livingstone’s recommendation of a living wage of at least £7.05 an hour.
“OCS is paying cleaners as little as £5.50 an hour, even for nights, Sundays and bank-holiday work, and that is simply not good enough,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said last week.
“The paltry increase they are offering includes consolidation of a £10 weekly attendance bonus and boils down to an insult of 20p an hour and would still leave pay rates around £1 an hour below a living wage.
“I am sure that Eurostar passengers will be horrified to learn that the people who clean their trains and stations are paid at such miserable rates.
“If OCS can afford to pay their top director £175,000 a year and can stump up cash to sponsor a stand at the Oval they can afford to pay the people who actually make their money a decent wage.
“And it is no use Eurostar burying their heads in the sand either. Poverty wages are being paid to cleaners working on their railway, and they also have a responsibility to stop it.
“If OCS want to avoid industrial action it is up to them to come back to the talks table and negotiate decent pay rates,” Bob Crow said.

Rally against global warming

MORE THAN 20,000 people filled Trafalgar Square last Saturday in a mass rally to demand that the Government acts to tackle the threat of global warming.
The event was organised by Stop Climate Chaos and supported by over 40 organisations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the earth, Oxfam, Make Poverty History, Surfers Against Sewage, the Women’s Institute and the Ramblers’ Association.
It was timed to come just before the United Nations climate change talks in Nairobi and just after the Stern report into climate change.
Those who came included walkers from the West Midlands, cyclists from Somerset and one man who paddled his canoe from Oxford.
Ashok Sinha, the director of Stop Climate Change, said: “The event reflects how widespread the concern about climate change is. It is emerging out of the green box. People realise it’s not just an environmental question but a moral one.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, James Stuart Jones, was critical of the Government stance on the environment; he said: “Ministers have lent their support to the Stern report on climate change, but, sadly, lent is the word because they give support one day and take it back the next.” A large contingent of the protesters marched past the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square on their way to Trafalgar Square to highlight the US position as the planet’s worst polluter.

NHS workers descend on Parliament

MORE THAN 1,000 National Health Service workers and their supporters, last Wednesday, 1st November, travelled to Westminster to lobby their MPs to demand a stop to the cutting and gradual privatisation of the NHS.
The event was organised by NHS together – an umbrella movement including health service unions, patient groups, pensioner groups and hundreds of local campaigns who have come together to defend their hospitals and other NHS services.
This was the biggest lobby against NHS cuts since Labour came to power in 1997 and it included nurses, doctors, laboratory workers, health visitors, care assistants. In many cases their colleagues were working overtime to allow them to take the message to Parliament that the NHS is now not safe in anyone’s hands. For many it was the first time they had taken part in any political activity.
As the lobby proceeded a rally took place in the nearby Methodist Central Hall, where Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public sector union Unison described the event as “historic and defining”.
He said that the Government’s “market madness” means a “national crisis in the NHS is unfolding before our eyes.”
Prentis drew a huge cheer from the hall when he said that the “dedicated NHS workers who have delivered so much … deserve more than failed privatisation.”
An open-top bus, decked out in the NHS Together colours, toured the capital, drawing waves and hoots of support from passers-by and motorists, while frontline health workers – many in uniform – waited in the cold November sunshine to tell MPs of their concerns.
Maddie Nettleship, a nurse specialist from Gateshead, said the lobby offered an opportunity to “show the opposition of NHS workers to privatisation of the NHS and the cuts that go with that.
“I’m seeing colleagues very, very stressed, working with staff shortages and therefore not able to deliver the standard of care that people deserve.” general protest
And Mike Smith of South Durham, a worker in health service finance, explained that he had made the journey in order to make “a general protest about the way things are going in the NHS.
“People have not been replaced in a lot of departments and the work’s falling on those who are left, causing a lot of stress.”
Ian Macalear, a primary care mental health practitioner and member of Leeds Community Health branch, said that he was “hoping to alert MPs to our concerns about privatisation and the break-up of the NHS; that’s why I’ve come down today.”
Senior health care support worker Dave Anstein from Salisbury Health branch, stated simply that he wanted to “get someone to listen to us for a change, instead of not listening and doing what they want.”
Stephen Campion of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association told the rally that NHS workers had had “enough of waking up on a Monday morning to find out the Government’s latest policy on the NHS”.
And he caught the mood of the campaign perfectly when he told the rally that the Government needed to “stop, look and listen”.
Paramedic and Unison member Andrea Shields insisted that “the NHS is about treating people – not number crunching.”
And she had a message for politicians: “If you look after the NHS, we will be able to look after you.”
John Wood, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, who left his clinics in Lewisham, south-east London, to protest, said: “This Labour government is tearing it [the NHS] down.”
MPs from all parties made their way to the Methodist Central Hall to meet groups from their constituencies.
On the same day as the lobby a YouGov opinion poll, commissioned by the TUC, showed that voters are very concerned about the current direction of the NHS.
While 63 per cent say their own recent experience of the NHS is either “good” or “very good”, this does not translate into a recognition that the NHS has improved, with half (52 per cent) saying that the NHS has got “much worse” or “a little worse”.
Voters are also not impressed by the pace or the direction of NHS reform. Instead they want Government to work with NHS staff.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

London news round-up

Students protest over tuition fees

by Caroline Colebrook

THOUSANDS of students marched through the streets of London last Sunday to protest as the rise in tuition fees to as much as £3,000 a year comes into force with the new college term, which started this month.Demonstrators marched past Parliament and Downing Street before holding a rally in Trafalgar Square.
Recent figures from the admissions service Ucas show that 15,000 fewer students are beginning courses this autumn than last year, a fall of 3.7 per cent. The National Union of Students claims this drop is a result of the rise in tuition fees and the prospect of long-term serious debt before young people even begin their working lives.
Most students, especially those from working class backgrounds, will not only incur debts for their loans but also for their accommodation and subsistence living costs. This can total up to £33,000 by the end of a course.
Many students try to lessen this burden by doing part-time and weekend work during their courses but this reduces the time they can give to their studies and leaves them tired so that the quality of their academic work suffers.
The Government claims that the new package is fairer as the fees are no longer paid upfront and grants and bursaries are available to some disadvantaged students.
The National Union of Students has called for the policy to be reversed. It takes years to recover from that financial burden, particularly for women, due to career breaks and pay inequality
NUS president Gemma Tumelty said: “We really believe that debt will be a huge deterrent on students entering education. “This year there were 15,000 fewer students – that’s a huge concern to us, particularly when Government is trying to widen participation.”
Tumelty said that having to pay off student debt prevented graduates from investing in pensions and mortgages and contributing to society through spending.
“It takes years to recover from that financial burden, particularly for women, due to career breaks and pay inequality”, she said. “What is always overlooked is that education is a benefit to society as well as the individual.
“We’re the institutions producing doctors, nurses, engineers, and that is a huge benefit to society and therefore society should pay.”
A recent ICM opinion poll conducted for the NUS found that 74 per cent of the public felt higher costs would deter students. The survey of 1,019 adults in Britain found most thought estimated costs of £33,000 for a three-year degree course would put young people off going to university.
The NUS demand for the abolition of tuition fees was backed by the University and College Union (formerly Natfhe). UCU general secretary Paul Mackney said: “Anyone who believes that charging more for degrees is the way to encourage the most able candidates to apply to, or even consider, university is living in a dream world.”

Shop stewards fight to restore union rights

by Rob Laurie

LAST SATURDAY saw about 250 trade unionists from around the country meet at the Camden Centre in north London for a National Shop Stewards’ Conference, which focused on building the grass-roots campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill.
The conference was organised by the National Union of Rail and Maritime and Transport Workers, who’s general secretary, Bob Crow, delivered the opening address.
He observed that at present Britain’s trade unions are encumbered with more legal shackles than they had after Trade Disputes Act was passed in 1906 by the Liberal government and that nine years of a Labour government have done very little to undo the damage wrought by the anti-trade union offensive launched by Margaret Thatcher.
He called for widespread support for the Trade Union Freedom Bill which, while still not meeting International Labour Organisation standards, will be a welcome first step towards restoring trade union rights.
He was disappointed that the TUC while officially in favour has not put much energy into the campaign. Crow also argued that mergers are no solution to declining union membership, at present while density in the public sector remains high, in the private sector 91 per cent of the workforce is unorganised.
While the Tories claimed their trade union laws were about “levelling the playing field”, one speaker described the present “level playing field” as being like the north face of the Eiger, which forces trade unions to give employers notice of strikes, but allows employers to sack workers instantly by megaphone.
Perhaps oddly for a conference which sought to encourage a grass roots movement, most of the platform speakers were general secretaries or deputy secretaries. Among them was Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, who paid tribute to his members on the tabloid Daily Star who recently prevented the publication of a racist front page.
The fact that this action was illegal did not deter the journalists from taking this welcome stand, the first such action in decades.
Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades’ Union noted that if, as we are often told, the class struggle is over, then the employers have not been taking any notice.
Both inside and outside the conference a number of grouplets called for trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and support one or other political party which would unite the working class on an unstoppable path to socialism.
The RMT itself has already tried this approach and supported the Scottish Socialist Party shortly before that organisation split over a court case in which the leader’s allegedly lively sex life came under scrutiny.
One speaker from Liverpool claimed that if only the working class elected enough MPs from his “United Socialist Party”, then the struggle would be speedily won, but unsurprisingly he was a bit vague about how this is might be achieved. A steering committee was elected to establish a National Shop Stewards’ Network which plans to hold a formal delegate conference next spring, which will be composed of bona fide trade union representatives. The planned network does not seek to replace any existing trade union structures but to offer them support.

Pensioners: ‘don’t leave us to rot in poverty’

HUNDREDS of pensioners rallied to Westminster last Wednesday to accuse Prime Minister Tony Blair of leaving millions of them to “rot in poverty” by denying them a decent pension before they die. The event was organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) to demand an immediate rise in the basic state pension and the restoration of the link with average earnings.
The Government has said it will restore the link by the year 2012, but, as the pensioners point out, this will be too late for today’s 2.5 million pensioners who are currently living below the poverty line.
Some of the protesters made the point by dressing up in skeleton costumes. Others carried placards attacking the generous pensions that MPs have awarded to themselves.
The NPC is demanding a rise in the basic state pension from £84.25 a week to £114 a week, which is the minimum income guaranteed to pensioners who have no other income.
“The Government’s White Paper on pensions contains nothing of immediate benefit to today’s pensioners,” said NPC general secretary Joe Harris.
“Already one in five older people live below the poverty line and millions more are being forced into hardship by rising fuel and council tax bills.”
He accused the Government of being “breathtakingly complacent” on the issue by refusing to restore the earnings-pension link before 2012, adding: “Pensioners cannot afford to wait any longer – we need a decent state pension now.”
Joe Harris is calling for the balance in the National Insurance fund – more than £34 billion – to be used to pay for an immediate increase in the state pension.
“The question therefore is not whether the country can afford to provide a decent state pension for everyone, but whether MPs have the political will to do the decent thing. It’s our job to convince them they must,” he said.
Ironically, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister Anne McIntosh gave support to the rally, as has Tory leader David Cameron. But the pensioners were quick to remind them that it was their “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher who scrapped the link.
They say that if the earnings link had not been abolished by the Conservative Government in 1980, basic state pension would now be around £136 a week, compared with the current figure of £84.25.
The pensioners also handed in a petition of 100,000 signatures calling for action to end poverty among the elderly will be handed into Downing Street.
Meanwhile official figures released last week showed that 25,000 people died in England and Wales last winter as a direct result of cold weather and the illnesses that accompany it.
Gordon Lishman, a director of the charity Age Concern, said: “It is a scandal that so many people over 65 are put at risk every winter. More needs to be done for older people so that they can heat their homes adequately without worrying about the cost.”

Network Rail fine over Ladbroke Grove

NETWORK Rail, the Government-owned body that controls Britain’s entire railway infrastructure, last week admitted errors under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and some liability in the 1999 Ladbroke Grove rail crash.
The crash claimed 31 lives after the driver of a local Thames train went through a red light and took his train across the path of an oncoming Great Western express during the morning rush hour.
But that red light was notoriously difficult to see – especially with the early morning sun shining straight on to it so that the electric light was practically invisible in the more powerful sunlight. Drivers had problems with it on many occasions before and Railtrack, the privately-run company that preceded Network Rail, had been warned many times of the danger of an error.
Network Rail admitting risk creation but denied responsibility for the accident. Now it faces an unlimited fine, which is due to be set in December.

Peace protesters arrested in Parliament Square

FIVE peace protesters were arrested outside the Houses of Parliament last weekend as around 100 of their comrades erected tents on Parliament Square to commemorate the second anniversary of the Fallujah uprising.
The protest was also in defiance of a new “anti-terror” law that forbids unauthorised protests within one kilometre of Parliament.
The protesters demanded “No more Fallujahs”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “Five people were arrested in Parliament Square yesterday afternoon on suspicion of unlawfully demonstrating without authority having failed to give their personal details when requested by police – contrary to the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act.
“One person was de-arrested shortly afterwards. The remaining four are currently in custody at a central London police station.”