Friday, November 21, 2008

LRC Conference calls for left unity

by New Worker correspondent

THE LABOUR Representation Committee conference in London last Saturday, attended by hundreds of left-wing Labour Party, trade union and other left organisations, presented a remarkably united front, endorsing 19 out of the record 20 resolutions submitted to it.
Organisations that submitted successful resolutions included the New Communist Party, the Campaign for Socialism, Socialist Appeal, Lambeth and Southwark LRC, the Communication Workers’ Union, PCS Labour Left, Unison North East Essex Mental Health Branch, Branch 558 of the BFAWU bakers’ union, Nottingham NUM Ex and Retired Miners Association and the Socialist Youth network.
Over two hundred delegates packed the Conway Hall for the LRC’s annual conference that was held under the title “The Future of the Left” to discuss the way forward and elect the new national committee.
The only resolution that was defeated, from the Trotskyist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, contained a clause calling for support of “non-Labour socialist candidates” in elections that would have given the Labour Party a legitimate reason to expel all LRC members and supporters.
The current economic crisis and building a united working class response to it dominated the speeches and discussions.
Left Labour veteran Tony Benn delivered the opening speech, pointing out that the people of Britain are now well to the left of the Labour government and questioning Gordon Brown’s decision to cut taxes. “Who does this really benefit?” he asked. “What do they really mean when they say, ‘We will do whatever it takes’.”
He concluded saying: “We need to be confident and people will come to us.”
Ogmundur Jonassen an MP from the Icelandic VG (Left Green) party delivered the first of two international contributions. He explained that the Icelandic people, like the British, were suffering from the effects of a government that has pursued the policies of Friedman and Hayek.
He also made a strong attack on the British government decision to use anti-terrorist legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain when the Icelandic bank Landisbank collapsed.
Jonassen pointed out that the actions of the United States banks and government had done serious damage the British economy but Gordon Brown’s government had not used anti-terror legislation against them.
He said the measures did nothing to benefit the British working people and seriously damaged the welfare of Icelandic working people.
“The people of Britain are not to blame and the people of Iceland are not to blame. It is the unjust and corrupt capitalist system that is to blame,” he said.
The other international contributor was Audun Lysbakken, deputy leader of the Norwegian Socialist Left (SV) party, who also linked the struggles of the working class in his country with those in Britain.
Other speakers included Katy Clark MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Jeremy Dear (NUJ), John McDonnell MP and Matt Wrack (FBU).
Jeremy Dear led the debate on the economy, pointing out that we do not simply want Britain restored to the condition it was in before the crash – that would only lead to the same problems happening again. “There is an opportunity here for a complete transformation of society,” he said. And he called for an end to tax avoidance used by wealthy individuals and corporations.
John McDonnell spoke on the acute housing crisis and the scandal of Government encouragement to buy-to-let landlordism and the shortage of council housing that drove rents up.
He also reminded conference of two million pensioners still living in poverty and of the recession of the 1980s that saw “a whole generation brought up in unemployment”.
McDonnell also spoke of the hardships of the migrant workers in his constituency, with three or four asylum seekers being deported daily.
He spoke of immigration service and police raiding homes in the early hours of the morning and raising work places during the day; of people being dragged away in handcuffs and forcibly put on planes before they had any chance to appeal.
And he reminded conference that “the Government is sending people back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan”.
The New Communist Party resolution on combating the dangers of fascism and racism was moved by NCP central committee member Daphne Liddle.
The resolution was in two parts, covering the dangers from the British National Party, which is trying to fill a gap in our local communities left by the disappearance of locally active constituency Labour and other parties.
She called for a return to door-to-door canvassing where the lies of the BNP can be properly countered.
The resolution also called for the repeal of unjust immigration and asylum acts, “anti-terror” legislation and an end to the growing “surveillance state” and to private sector involvement in the administration of the state.
Four other members of the NCP took part in the conference including NCP leader Andy Brooks and Michael Fletcher, who successfully moved the motion on low pay and trade union rights on behalf of his Unison N E Essex Mental Health branch.
The LRC is supported by nine Labour MPs, a number of trade unions at national and regional level, and socialist, co-operative and progressive movements, including the NCP, that do not stand against Labour in elections .

photo: Daphne Liddle moving the NCP motion

Tube sparks strike solid

ELECTRICIANS employed by EDF Energy working on the London Underground as “tester” technicians staged the first of two 36-hours strikes last Monday in a dispute over pay.
The technicians, who are responsible for finding and fixing faults on the network, are members of the RMT transport union, which reported the strike as “100 per cent solid”.
And it warned that if employer EDF Energy Powerlink is to avoid a second strike in two weeks’ time the company should negotiate seriously over their claim for pay parity with non-shift colleagues.
The union also raised concerns that managers, some of whom have not worked “on the tools” for many years, were being left to deal with power-supply faults on dozens of different types of high-voltage equipment involving currents of up to 22,000 volts.
The strike, by 25 highly skilled technicians who voted for action by margins of more than ten to one, began at 17:59 on Sunday night (16th November) and finished at 07:59 on Tuesday 18th November. A ban on working beyond scheduled duties also began on Sunday night.
“Our members have shown EDF Energy Powerlink very clearly how they feel about their claim for pay parity, and it is time for EDF to get off its high horse and talk,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boris scraps transport projects and jobs

TORY London mayor Boris Johnson last week announced that several major Transport for London projects are to be scrapped and jobs could be lost as TfL tries to save £2.4 billion over the next 10 years.
But Johnson said £39 billion would be spent on projects like Crossrail and Tube improvements.
The London Labour Group said he had made a “bonfire” of transport projects.
Dropped schemes include a £1.3 billion cross-river tram plan, a £500 million Thames Gateway Bridge scheme in east London, and a £750 million extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Dagenham Dock.
Also axed are a £500 million Oxford Street tram scheme, a £170 million Croydon Tramlink extension and public space proposals for a number of areas including Parliament Square and the Victoria Embankment.
TfL said it aimed to avoid redundancies but a spokesperson said the organisation was looking at “de-layering of management” and was looking at “reductions in headcount”, which would include reducing the reliance it had on outside consultants.
The RMT transport union responded by saying that any threat of forced redundancies will be resisted.
The union today said it was alarmed by the announcement that “hundreds” of jobs could be lost across TfL as part of a drive to find £2.4 billion in “efficiency savings”.
“TfL has made vague statements about the need to reduce headcount across TfL and that can only cause alarm among our members,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.
“Reducing the use of over-priced outside consultants is all well and good, but there can be no question of any job losses among the people who deliver the services that London depends on.
“There is no way that London’s transport workers should be made to pay for the failure of the bankers and privateers whose greed has created the crisis our economy is now in.
“The mayor was elected on the promise of bright new ideas, but there is nothing remotely bright or new about wielding the axe on jobs and services.
“If the mayor is looking for efficiencies he should find a way of bringing the Tube Lines PPP contracts back in house, because they are still draining huge sums of public money from London’s transport budget.
“We thought the Government was going to plough money into public projects to help us through the recession, but first we have had attacks on Network Rail’s essential budgets and now it seems London Underground is coming under attack. “It goes without saying that RMT will resist any forced redundancies among our members,” Bob Crow said.

Remembering the Soviet sacrifice

by Robert Laurie

LAST SUNDAY, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, the Soviet War Memorial Trust Fund held an Act of Remembrance which focussed on the Soviet contribution to the defeat of fascism. In his opening remarks Trust Chair Philip Matthews said he hoped that the new American President will have a better understanding of Russian security fears than the outgoing one. The Liberal-Democrat Mayor of Southwark, who comes from Sri Lanka, stressed the global dimension of World War Two and the important role of Black and Asian troops from the then British colonies by recalling that a great uncle of hers was killed in France. The Russian Ambassador Yury Fedotov also spoke stressing the importance of strengthening ties between Britain and Russia.
The embassies of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine all laid wreaths as did students from the Russian Embassy School. A number of veterans from the Russian Convoy Club were present. During the war these white-bereted navy veterans undertook dangerous journeys ferrying munitions from Britain to the Soviet Arctic through waters infested with Nazi U-Boats. Despite the high losses sustained the British government has never honoured them with a specific campaign medal, but the Soviet and later Russian governments have done so frequently. This year special tribute was made to the 98 men lost when HMS Goodall was torpedoed in the closing stages of the war on the 29th April 1945 while on convoy protection duty in the Kola inlet in northern Russia.
Wreaths also came from the Marx Memorial Library, the builders union UCATT, the New Communist Party , the Communist Party of Britain and several individuals.
The Soviet Memorial Trust Fund was founded in 1997 to raise funds for a memorial to the 27 million Soviet War dead in World War Two often forgotten by British Governments that like to airbrush the Soviet role in defeating fascism out of history.
The work of the Trust, which organises similar events to mark the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army on the 29th January and Victory Day on the 9th May can be supported by donating to the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund, 320 Brixton Road, London SW9 6AB.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Celebrating Great October

THE GREAT October Revolution is commemorated by communists all over the world and last weekend London was no exception at the NCP’s traditional celebration of the greatest event of the 20th century.
As usual the print shop was converted into a bar while the folding area doubled up for a buffet largely prepared by our own comrades. In the main meeting room, the impact of 1917 was highlighted by our friends during the formal part of the proceedings opened by Party Chairman Alex Kempshall. Michael Chant of the RCPB(ML), John Mcleod from the SLP, Pratyush from Revolutionary Democracy, the Indian communist communist journal and NCP leader Andy Brooks all spoke about the significance of the Russian Revolution and the need for a united working class movement in Britain and the rest of the world. Ill-health sadly prevented our President, Eric Trevett, from coming but he sent a message which was read out along with greetings from the Manchester New Worker Supporters Group and the Juche Idea Study Group. Perhaps the most traditional part of an NCP social is the collection and Dolly Shaer made a rousing call to keep our press going. It certainly had an impact and £2,387 was raised for the Special Appeal!
photo: Andy Brooks, making a point, and Alex Kempshall

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Viva La Pasionaria!

MEMBERS of the International Brigade Association, trade unionists and other anti-fascists assembled in the evening on Tuesday 28th October at TUC Congress Centre to celebrate the memory of La Pasionaria and other women who took part in the 1936-38 Spanish war against fascism. The event was organised by Philosophy Football to take place exactly 70 years after La Pasionaria made her most famous speech on 28th October 1938 to the parade of the International Brigades on their withdrawal from Spain.
She told them: “Today many are departing. Thousands remain, shrouded in Spanish earth, profoundly remembered by all Spaniards. Comrades of the International Brigades: Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of that very cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries and some to forced exile.
“You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.
“We shall not forget you; and when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory of laurels of the Republic of Spain – Return!”
Many of those attending Congress House last Tuesday had indeed recently returned from a short visit to Spain to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of that war where they had visited historic battle sites, graveyards and memorials. welcomed
And they had been warmly welcomed by the local Spanish people.
Few were International Brigade members, there are not many of them left now. But the relatives and close friends – members of the IBA – and other anti-fascists are carrying on the tradition, making sure the events of that war will never be forgotten.
And they continue to remind the world that if western governments had stood by the democratically elected Spanish Republican government in its fight against the fascist forces of Franco – heavily and actively backed by Hitler and Mussolini – European fascism could have been defeated in 1936 and the Second World War prevented.
Two veterans attended last Tuesday’s event at Congress House: Jack Jones, former general secretary of the TGWU and pensioners’ leader and Penny Feiwell (nee Phelps) who, in 1936, was a young nurse who went as a volunteer to help tend the Republican wounded. She worked in makeshift hospitals just three km behind the front lines.
There were speeches from Marlene Sidaway, secretary of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady, Sally Alexander, co-editor of Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War, Unison’s head of health Karen Jennings and national Union of Students Black Students officer Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy. There was music from Rhoda Dakar and Nick Welsh, folk violinist and singer Eliza Carthy accompanied by Saul Rose. And there was a humorous poetry reading from Jackie Kay. There was also Spanish food and wine.

Ed Balls attacks London living wage

THE CHILDREN’S Secretary, Ed Balls, last week attacked the concept of a London living wage, which is currently set at £7.45 an hour as the recommended minimum wage needed for survival in the capital.
The idea was introduced by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone in recognition that living costs in the capital – especially housing – are significantly higher than in most other places and that the minimum wage level, which at £5.73 is too low anyway, is totally inadequate in London.
Livingstone’s successor Boris Johnson has also declared his support for the London living wage and has promised it will be paid to all staff employed by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. It has already led to the promise of a big pay rise for thousands of cleaners on the London underground from next year.


Now Ed Balls is claiming that it would be “artificial, inflationary” and not “necessary or appropriate”.
“An artificial ‘living wage for London’ could distort labour markets and prove poor value for money. Moreover, in seeking to reflect perceptions of the cost of living, this proposal could also raise inflation expectations at a time when increased vigilance is needed on inflationary risks. We do not believe it is necessary or appropriate.”
Ball’s stance has attracted criticism from poverty charities, businesses and unions representing low-paid workers for the government’s stance on the London living wage.
Mark Donne, the director of the Fair Pay Network said: “It is extremely disappointing, particularly from a children’s minister, yet perhaps not entirely surprising that such senior government figures have taken this view on the living wage. “The London living wage is extremely popular with the London electorate and cities such as Oxford, Norwich and Leeds are keen to follow suit.
“In both the moral and business cases, the national minimum wage, and indeed the living wage where implemented have lifted low paid people from poverty and bolstered local economies.”
The network represents charities ranging from Oxfam to the Child Poverty Action Group and the TUC.
Guy Stallard, the director of facilities for the management accountants KPMG, a company that employs more than 123,000 people, said: “We have found that paying the living wage is a smart business move as increasing wages has reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, whilst productivity and professionalism has subsequently increased.”
Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, which represents 1.3million workers in public services, said: “A shocking 40 per cent of London’s children live in poverty, which means that millions of families in the city are struggling to make ends meet. The London living wage is a real opportunity to help these families cope with the high cost of living in the capital – and Ed Balls is only going to make their situation worse with his attack on decent pay.”


A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said: “If the government is serious about tackling the capital’s obscene levels of poverty and deprivation, then it would join me in urging all London employers to accept the London living wage as the basic pay rate.
“London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and work and it is not only morally right to pay the living wage but also makes good business sense, contributing to better recruitment and retention of staff, higher productivity and a more loyal workforce with high morale.”