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Posts Tagged ‘Labour Movement

Another Europe is Possible Conference as “New leftwing coalition urges Labour to reject Brexit.”

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A Vital and Vibrant Conference. 

Over 150 voting members, from all over the country,  of Another Europe is Possible attended the campaign’s first conference of Saturday.

The day kicked off with Emiliano Melino from the IWGB which organises  workers in the ‘gig economy’. His small union, many of whose members do not have British passports, has come out strongly for a People’s Vote on Brexit.

After some initial discussion there were workshops.

In the Lexit atelier Marina Prentoulis spoke of how a small section of the Greek left had become so anti-EU that their nationalism bordered that of the far-right. Contributors noted the development across Europe of a “sovereigntist” current which put issues of national identity and sovereignty in place of socialist internationalism.

The UK Lexit left, both  those claiming to oppose ‘borders’, except when voting for Brexit, and those against the free movement of labour, were at an impasse. Speaking on behalf of the British working class they ignored the challenge to develop a Europe-wide strategy of transforming the EU through alliances with the rest of the European left.

After debate, which included discussion of approaches to the British state, the legacy of Official Communism, and the views of the Bermondsey Republican Socialist movement on Britain and Catalonia, there was agreement on launching a broad radical campaign against Brexit.

This is a good summary (Socialist Resistance)  of the strategy adopted by Another Europe is Possible.

The conference,

…opted for an approach which could engage the widest possible coalition of radical forces opposed to Brexit.

Most AEIP members are Labour supporters and activists, but the campaign includes the Green Party, Left Unity and a few other organisations. The strategy document and the tenor of the contributions leaves no room for doubt that this a campaign which actively seeks to be radical and distinct from the politics of the pro-referendum campaign fronted by Alistair Campbell and Anna Soubry.

Another Europe Is Possible ready to challenge Brexit

Amelia Womack,  Deputy leader of the Green Party, gave a good speech on the benefits of the EU.

Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who has won national attention for revealing that he is HIV positive, gave a resounding and call for action. Describing, with a moving illustration from his case-load, the racism of both the Brexit campaign and its results. The MP expressed concern at Web articles trying to re-brand 20th century ideas of go-it-alone British socialism. Russell-Moyle urged us all to work together for the internationalist ideas of Another Europe.

People stood up to applaud the speakers.

The organisers, who concluded the meeting, should be thanked for their hard work.

And samosas.

A few centre left and far-left Websites continue to pump out pro-Brexit views, such as the Euston Exiteers now given a voice  on  Harry’s Place.

There, this Monday, Alan Johnson argues for a ‘national popular’ Gramscian strategy, inspired by Norberto Bobbio,  to haul up the drawbridge to protect us from Europe.

By contrast, with some optimism and lots of good will, the internationalist side of Another Europe,  saw the basis of the creation of a broad left alliance against Brexit.

This can be seen in this news which echoes many of the themes of Saturday’s conference:

New leftwing coalition urges Labour to reject Brexit

Guardian. Jessica Elgot

A leftwing, remain-supporting coalition of Momentum activists, local party chairs and Labour councillors is to create a pop-up pressure group to persuade the Labour leadership to ditch a commitment to Brexit in any snap election manifesto.

The push came as another Labour frontbencher, Rosena Allin-Khan, broke with the party line and backed a second referendum on the final deal in an onstage announcement at a People’s Vote rally on Sunday.

In effect, the group hopes to force a more explicit commitment to a second referendum in the next Labour manifesto and for the party to campaign to remain.

We call on Labour to back remain

With Theresa May’s deal likely to be defeated on Tuesday, and a number of key parliamentary blocs losing confidence in the Tory government, we are facing a period of political crisis and upheaval, and a general election looks increasingly possible.

As Labour members and supporters, we want our party to fight in the months ahead, including in any general election campaign, to stop the anti-working-class disaster that is Brexit.

To quote the official policy passed at Labour conference 2018, we want “a radical government: taxing the rich to fund public services, expanding common ownership, abolishing the anti-union laws and engaging in massive public investment”.

As the party of working people, Labour must defend all the rights threatened by Brexit – workers’ rights, environmental protections, free movement. With the Tory deal published, the realities of Brexit are clearer than ever. Fighting effectively for a radical Labour government means committing to giving the people a final say, and campaigning for remain in that referendum.

In Europe, just as in domestic policy, Labour must offer a radical alternative to the status quo. Our movement must champion a revolt across the continent against austerity, neoliberalism and anti-migrant policies and for a democratic, socialist Europe.

Labour’s policy is shifting, but is not yet committed to stopping Brexit. We will continue the campaign to win Labour to a vision for a radical government leading the fight to transform Europe from within the EU. To this end, and to provide anti-Brexit Labour supporters with a platform, organising framework and programme of activity, we intend to create an independent campaigning coordination within the campaign for a Corbyn-led Labour government.

Catherine West MP
Julie Ward MEP 
Luke Cooper Convenor, Another Europe is Possible
Billy Hayes Former general secretary, CWU 
Emma Burnell Co-chair, Open Labour
Zoe Williams Journalist
Paul Mackney Former general secretary, UCU
Michael Chessum National organiser, Another Europe is Possible 
Alena Ivanova Momentum activist
Marina Prentoulis Senior lecturer at UEA and Another Europe is Possible
Prof Mary Kaldor LSE
Ana Oppenheim Campaigns officer, Hornsey & Wood Green Young Labour
Lynn Morris Open Labour national committee, Canterbury CLP
Rachael Ward Open Labour national committee, Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP
Rachel Muers Committee member West Yorkshire Open Labour, Leeds North West CLP
Juliet Harris LGBT officer for Open Labour
Jamie D’Arcy Chair, East Midlands Labour
Steve Lapsley Regional Officer, Open Labour
Prof Pauline Stafford Leeds North West CLP
Ralph Berry Bradford councillor
Dr Jo Ingold Leeds North East CLP
Pablo John Leeds North West CLP
Abigail Marshall Katung Leeds North East CLP
Daniel Round Dudley Momentum and Stourbridge CLP
Niccolo Milanese Director of European Alternatives
Rebecca Lawrence Chair, Lewisham Deptford CLP
Marcus Thorne Organiser, Lewisham for Migrants campaign 
Marcel Golten Vice-chair, Harrow East CLP 
Ana Oppenheim Campaigns officer, Hornsey & Wood Green Young Labour
Obi Saiq Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP youth officer, Picturehouse BECTU rep and activist
Omar Raii London Young Labour committee
Janine Booth TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee, Hackney South CLP Trade Union Liaison
Andrew Coates Ipswich CLP, Unite chair
Christie Neary Croydon NEU activist, NUS Trans Committee
Pat Murphy National Education Union national executive
Justine Canady BFAWU activist
Rhian Keyse Exeter CLP, UCU activist
Barbara Veale Lewisham Deptford CLP
Dave Levy Lewisham Deptford CLP
Lionel Openshaw Lewisham Central branch chair
Cllr Fred Grindrod Birmingham Bournville ward

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Support the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.

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We are Labour members and supporters united in our commitment to defending and extending the free movement of people in the context of the debate around Brexit.

The UK is at a crossroads in its relationship to the rest of the world, and so is our party. Immigrants and free movement are being scapegoated by a political and economic elite that is subjecting ordinary people to cuts and austerity. During the greatest refugee crisis in recent years, the Tories have responded with brutality and detention centres.

Labour should respond with clarity, humanity and solidarity. We fought the last General Election arguing against such scapegoating, and celebrating the contributions of migrants to our society. That tone must now translate into policy.

Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services. These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.

A system of free movement is the best way to protect and advance the interests of all workers, by giving everyone the right to work legally, join a union and stand up to their boss without fear of deportation or destitution. Curtailing those rights, or limiting migrants’ access to public services and benefits, will make it easier for unscrupulous employers to hyper-exploit migrant labour, which in turn undermines the rights and conditions of all workers.

Free movement enhances everyone’s rights. There are more than a million UK citizens living in the EU, and millions more who may enjoy the right to do so. UK workers in the EU have access to benefits, healthcare and other public services. Tens of thousands of UK students study abroad each year under ERASMUS schemes. UK and European citizens have the automatic right to family reunion.

Labour must build a society for the many, not the few. We need well-paid, secure jobs for all, with guaranteed hours, collective bargaining and stronger, freer trade unions. We need a policy of massive investment in council housing, public services and infrastructure. And we need to tell the truth about who and what is to blame for the crisis: an unaccountable elite who have run the economy in their own narrow interests. Ending free movement would be counterproductive to achieving all of this.

List of signatories.

More information: Labour Campaign for Free Movement.

This important initiative  has been signaled by Shiraz Socialist. We hope it gets the widest possible support.

Labour MPs Clive Lewis, David Lammy and Geraint Davies have joined trade union leaders in backing a new Labour campaign for free movement. (New Statesman.)

Their participation in the campaign underlines the tension between the Labour party’s official line that free movement will end after Brexit, and the theory expounded by many leading Labour politicians that migration has forced down wages.

The MPs were joined by the MEP Lucy Anderson, Transport Salaried Staffs Association general secretary Manuel Cortes, National Executive Committee members Ann Black and Darren Williams, and the leaders of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union.

Cortes said: “We are fully committed to challenging and fighting unscrupulous bosses who exploit EU migrants. We put the blame firmly on the perpetrators not the victims. We strongly believe that free movement enriches our society.”

A statement from The Labour Campaign for Free Movement said: “Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services.  These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe.”

BBC report:  New campaign urges Labour to back free movement

Guardian report: Labour MPs ask Corbyn to commit to free movement post-Brexit

The Sun says, “The move would be in defiance of the referendum result – as the British Social Attitudes Survey found the main reason people voted to leave was due to concerns over uncontrolled immigration from the EU.”

Comment: 

Will this call be supported by everybody on the left.

In 2016 (September, Socialism Today. No 201) the Socialist Party said this on free movement,

The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.

How many others wish to create a form of “closed shop” against free movement remains to be seen.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 5, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Vote Labour, Vote on Thursday for Sandy Martin for Ipswich.

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Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

Sandy Martin: Tireless Campaigner.

Labour’s candidate for Ipswich, Sandy Martin, is an outstanding campaigner.

With support far broader than the left and the Labour Party, Sandy has promoted Green issues for many decades, and, as a Labour and Co-operative County Councillor for St John’s, Ipswich he is widely recognised in his ward as a tireless representative for his constituents’ interests.

As leader of the Labour Group on Suffolk Sandy has opposed the Conservative led body austerity and ‘outsourcing’ – privatisation – policies.

An active member of the UNITE and a supporter of labour movement causes, Sandy is always willing to give his backing, and attend, union events and protests. From protests against Benefit sanctions and ATOS, to, earlier this year, the April “All Together for the NHS” march in London.

A democratic socialist and one of the  East of England Constituency Party representatives on the National Policy Forum, serving on the Transport Commission Labour’s candidate is committed  to making a real difference to people’s lives.

His campaign in Ipswich has been backed with real enthusiasm, particularly by young people.

Sandy is simply one of the best people in the labour movement and we are proud to have such a candidate.

This is the solution his so-called opponent, Ben Gummer, gives to Britain’s social problems.

Image result for miracle in ipswich lady lane

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 7, 2017 at 10:53 am

Brexit ‘Left’ Reaches Delusional Stage and Talks of ‘Commonwealth’.

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Lexit: Desperate last-minute Flailing.

As the left and the labour Movement, from the trade unions, the Party to the majority of radical groups,  stand increasingly united behind a Remain Vote the Brexit ‘left’ is desperate.

They are scrambling round for self-justification.

From whingeing about the ‘absence of a working class voice” in the referendum,  Socialist Worker has been reduced to asserting that, “A socialist Europe is not on the ballot paper and there is no method for reforming the EU.”

Oddly this a Referendum about membership of the EU, and it does not include an option to vote for the SWP either.

Nor does saying three times that the EU cannot be changed make the claim true.

John McDonnell says,

Labour is pushing for an ambitious programme of reforms that will make the EU work for the best interests of working people here and across Europe.

For example, all the EU member states have a share in the European Investment Bank (EIB). The UK’s share is 16 per cent, equivalent to its size inside the EU. But the Tories have failed to make the most of it, with the UK only receiving 11 per cent of funding. If we took our fair share of the extra funding that the EIB has offered, that would be £35bn of additional investment. That’s more than double the entire UK public investment spend for a year.

The SWP’s position would have us not even try to get this ideas on the practical agenda.

This argument in today’s The Socialist, plumbs the depths of delusion.

voters – particularly working class voters – are increasingly seeing the referendum as a chance to protest both against Cameron and everything they have suffered in recent years: low pay, zero-hour contracts, benefit cuts, the lack of affordable housing, and public services cut to the bone. One poll shows that 60% of ‘blue collar’ workers intend to vote for exit.

What is the basis of this ‘blue collar’ (not a Marxist category) support for Brexit?

There is no mention in this article of something too obvious, er, to mention.

Socialist Party ‘aligned’ Trade Unionists Against the EU leaders Enrico Tortolano and Ragesh Khakhria (both part of the PCS which officially has a neutral stand during the referendum) get to grips with the issue of what motives this support in the Morning Star.

They observe, in arguing for something now called a ‘People’s Brexit‘  that,

….millions of working-class voters are unrepresented by the mainstream political parties and large chunks of the trade union movement.

The stance and position of those who are supposed to represent labour is at odds with the experience of the working class in Britain as well as the rest of the EU.

Working-class people are experiencing unemployment or insecure jobs, low pay, no pension with little prospect of owning their own home, or living in secure council housing.

It’s nonsense to pretend that the movement of more people into these communities is having no impact on their lives.

Rich Tories have already cut schools and hospitals they use to the bone.

For the metropolitan liberal elite, far removed from such concerns, the prospect of a people’s Brexit simply violates their sense of entitlement and jeopardises the prospect of middle-class benefits that the working class will never see.

So ‘movement of more people’ – free movement of labour in the European Union – is a problem which has created support for Brexit. Only the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ –  do not see this reality.

This is clearly at odds with Socialist Worker’s charges against “Fortress Europe”. They charge the EU with putting up barriers to refugees and migrants from outside the Continent. SW notes that the Official Remain campaign is led by those who want to “regain control” of Britain’s borders.

Does the Socialist Party and Trade Unionists Against the EU want to regain “control” over UK frontiers, stop the flow of “cheap labour” that is having an “impact” on “communities”?

If so, how?

And if the SWP opposes such moves, why are they backing a vote for those whose entire project in recent weeks has been centred on a hate campaign against migrant workers

Perhaps we should consider not just migrants and refugees on the frontiers of Europe but   “people” in “movement” who have come to Britian. Khakhria and  Tortolano, whose own forebears were no doubt in “movement” have no answer to this issue.

The pair note, no doubt wistfully, that,

Historically, the labour movement and Labour leaders such as Clement Attlee and Hugh Gaitskell felt a much greater affinity with the Commonwealth countries than they did to the capitalist Common Market.

Yes, New Zealand Lamb and butter, that’s the best reply to the ‘capitalist’ EU.

 

As Galloway and Farage Unite: Vote Yes for a Social Europe.

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George Galloway and Nigel Farage

George Galloway and Nigel Farage join forces at an anti-EU membership campaign event in London.

 

For a Social Europe: Against Brexit.

“Consider again the profile of this general left-wing stance. Its basic dilemma is that of a felt equidistance between the alternatives of simple left-wing nationalism and the Common Market—that sole and unpalatable way of transcending nationalism which the existing historical situation seems to present.”

Tom Nairn. The Left Against Europe. 1972. (1)

As David Cameron announces the “successful” conclusion of negotiations with the European Union (EU) the British left appears faced with an unpalatable choice. The coming Referendum debate will be largely held on either endorsing membership of the EU on these terms, or the Brexit alternative. That is, between plans to limit benefits to European migrants, the Government’s wider package for a ‘special for the UK and its free market policies within a European framework, or exit, national sovereignty, and more restrictions on migrants and freer market policies in a global economy.

The appearance of George Galloway at Nigel Farage’s rally last night indicates the way one section of the ‘left’ has decided to campaign. We wonder how many others will follow this ‘Enoch Powell” moment (Grassroots Out unites politicians – the ones we normally try to avoid.

Alex Callinicos argued last year “Socialists in Britain will have to take a stand on the entire project of European integration.” For some time voices on the British left hostile to that project have become louder. Perry Anderson, once an opaque supporter of Europeanism, even Trotsky’s backing for a capitalist United States of Europe, has more recently muttered warnings against the EU becoming a “deputy empire”, with an economic “semi-catallaxy” free-market internal order, distant from its populations. In sum, the European ‘social model’ is inexorably moving in the direction of “oligarchic rule” by the Council and Commission, contemptuous of democracy. Another New Leftist, Susan Watkins, has argued that the restrictive ‘fiscal pact’, German autocratic control of the EU’s financial instruments is at the core of the management of the Euro crisis, mass unemployment and austerity. The European Parliament is an “unaccountable co-decision assembly serving as a democratic façade.” (2)

For some on the left the Greek crisis reinforced the view that European integration is a process directed against the left. The European political blocs, principally the Christian-democratic/Conservative, Liberal and Social Democratic alliances the radical left plans of Syriza and forced on Greece another round of austerity. They put the decisions of these political actors, – including those more directly economic fractions in charge of financial decision-making – within the ingrained logic of a supranational drive for a neo-liberal Europe. It is true that if Greece wanted to remain within the Monetary Union it would have to accept policies that those in charge of the Euro would accept. But the balance of political forces arrayed with the EU’s institutions determined the terms to which Tsipras was forced to accept. (3)

In parts of Europe some of the left has discovered the merits of ‘sovereigntism’. A central plank is the idea that the power of economic decision-making should be held by national Parliaments. Popular on the British left during the 1970s, and written into the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) as a pillar of the Socialist Challenge, this did not stop short of advocating import controls – a form of protectionism now proposed by the French Front National. Working class power requires saving the independent Nation Stat. This means Exit.

Without ready appeal to the celebration of the Nation in the 1789 Révolution, few in Britain are as explicit as the programme of the Trotskyist Parti ouvrier indépendant, and its latest split,  the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique, in evoking the nation’s rescue from the failures of the EU. But the thought is there. It is echoed in the quietly uttered view that there is a great deal of truth in UKIP’s complaints against Brussels. That the “free market of labour” is a device of the bosses; that good old collective bargaining is diverted if not hampered by Europe-wide EU regulated works’ councils. Galloway indicates just how far some of these people are prepared to go.

A ‘left’ attempt to capture the progressive side of the discontent Nigel Farage feeds on was behind the vanity election slate, No2EU/Yes2Democracy in the last European Elections. It sunk without trace.

Those who cite Greece to boost their support for Brexit, ranging from Tariq Ali (who advocated an “out” vote last year) to James Meadway, face one massive problem. The most radical critic of the Syriza capitulation, and, as the former Greek Finance Minister, not the least, Yanis Varoufakis, stands for a radical plan to tackle the lack of democracy in the EU by radically transforming its structures. We may admire, rather than be wholly convinced, by the detailed proposals of DiEM 25  We may voice great suspicion that one nationalist crew at least, the SNP, backed by erstwhile New Leftist Tom Nairn, has clambered onto the social Europe bandwagon out of its own selfish interests. (4)

Yet – this needs underlining a hundred times – the cause of Europe is now being rethought. Internationalist projects filled with generosity for the present and hope for the future, grounded on left values, are emerging.

The coming referendum will not be about a utopian vision of a social Europe. But it will be about whether we can lay hold of the mechanisms that would create the possibility of one coming about. That can only be through the European Union: allied with our comrades across the Continent in an effort to transform its basis and structures.

In debating Callinicos (above) comrade John Palmer made the following points:

• For socialists voting in the EU membership referendum the question then is simple—which vote would encourage and strengthen the racists and ultra-chauvinists most, a Yes or a No?

• There can be no doubt that if Britain leaves the EU many European regulations restricting working hours and other employment and social reforms will be scrapped. Again the question for socialists is clear—which referendum outcome will most threaten the interests of women’s equality and those of the organised labour movement—a Yes or a No?

• Which referendum outcome would represent the greatest setback to human rights in Britain—a Yes or a No to continued EU membership?

• Which referendum vote would best strengthen future working class unity, a No or a Yes? I think the answer to all the questions posed above is clear: Vote Yes. Then let the struggle for a different Europe redouble. (5)

Indeed: internationalists have no choice but to follow Palmer’s advice and vote Yes.

Imagine a Brexit and the celebrations of the winners: the non-stop media coverage, the endless Flag waving, the speeches, the anti-EU George Galloway having sexy-time with Nigel Farage on Russia Today, and the boot of Reaction smashing into our Faces for the foreseeable future. …

No don’t.

*****

(1) Tom Nairn. The Left Against Europe. New Left Review. Series l. No 75.
(2) The internationalist case against the European Union. Alex Callinicos. International Socialism. No 148. 2015. Chapter Ten. “Prognosis.” The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso. 2009. Susan Watkins. The Political State of the Union, New Left Review 2015. Series II/90. S ection of Watkins’ analysis of the Parliament is reproduced in the latest Le Monde Diplomatique. Le Parlement européen est-il vraiment la solution? February 2016.
(3) Les Leçons du plan d’ajustement imposé à la Grèce par l’Union Européenne.Phillipe Lamberts. Le Monde Diplomatique. October. 2015.

(4) Link: DiEM’s Manifesto.
(5) The EU referendum: The case for a socialist Yes vote. John Palmer. International Socialism. No 148. See also: Best fight on the EU terrain. Elliott Robinson. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Anti-Austerity Protests and New Movements in Belgium.

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Crédit photo<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
: Alexandre Demarbre<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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En front commun, les syndicats entendent protester contre les mesures du gouvernement Michel.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

Protests against Austerity – supported by all the trade union federations – are taking place in Belgium today.

They are demonstrating against the latest round of cutbacks of the Michel Coalition government (a centre-right cabinet backed by the hard-right Flemish nationalists of Bart de Wever).

On the spot news here (in French).

Tout autre chose/Hart boven Hart (Another thing Completely/ Heart Over Heart) – a citizens’ movement partly inspired by Podemos – took to the streets yesterday in Brussels for a ‘parade’.

The parade consisted of ten blocs, each representing the theme “Any other horizon”.  These were “common goods  by and for all,” “tax justice”, “a place for every generation,” “solidarity against poverty”, “dignified work”, “a nurturing environment,” “value our diversity “,” ecology:  it makes sense, “citizens without frontiers “and” dare democracy! “. Podemos, MOC (Mouvement Ouvrier Chrétien) and sp.a. (socialisten en progressieven anders, a small left split from the Flemish Socialist Partyjoined with a float  “against capitalism” during the parade. Pro-Palestinian protesters, too, decided to make their voices heard during this event.

Reports Le Soir.

17 000 personnes ont bravé la météo pour la parade Tout Autre Chose  Russia Today says,

Rainy weather in Brussels did not stop tens of thousands of people from protesting against austerity measures introduced by the new Belgian government. Attendance estimates from police and organisers differed sixfold.

The rally saw somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000 people on Sunday, RTFB broadcaster reported, citing police estimates. Meanwhile, march organisers claimed that up to 120,000 people participated.

Image from HART BOVEN HARD Facebook page Some are wondering if Belgium is about to experience a Podemos type movement.

TUC Welfare Conference: Fight for a Decent Benefit System!

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TUC: Welfare Conference, called by the TUC Consultative Committee for Unemployed Workers’ Centres.

Up to a hundred activists came to the Welfare Conference, held on Friday in Congress House. As the introductory speakers made plain the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, assisted by large sections of the media, have launched a frontal assault ion the basic principles of an equitable benefit system.  Instead of helping people in need they have attacked the most vulnerable.

Eleanor Firman (Disabled People Against Cuts, DPAC and UNITE) illustrated what this has meant on the ground. As a result of cuts in housing benefit and the bedroom tax their group in Waltham Forest had had to defend those facing eviction.

She talked of how the Work Capability Assessment targeted disabled people. Those not meeting the government’s criteria – enforced through a flawed system run by private companies (ATOS and now Maximus), could expect to be treated with “harshness”, to the point of being left destitute. This was only one example of how welfare ‘reform’ was making people’s lives a misery. The answer was to challenge the DWP with the help of bodies like UNITE Community and, where they still exist, Law Centres.

Workshops covering benefit sanctions, the basis of the benefit system, unpaid work, and equality were held.

In the one I attended, on Sanctions, participants concentrated less on particular stories of injustice than on the nature of the arbitrary regime. We tried to bring together a rejection of all sanctions with proposals for real social security for all.  Disabled needed to be assessed not by private companies and computerised questionnaires, a source of many sanctions, but by clinical criteria, – the work of GPs. The power of ‘work coaches’ to decide to withdraw benefits – whether they should eat or have a home – should be removed.

There were fruitful discussions throughout the day. Groups talked through proposals for a universal minimum income, others investigated the socialisation of basic needs, “universal goods in kind’, proposed by the Greek party, Syriza. A group of us looked into the use of Blogging, Twitter and other social media to spread an alternative message to the media hate campaigns.

Others planned activities on Monday the 2nd of March Day of Action against Maximus and the 19th of March Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions. Further protests against benefit sanctions are planned to coincide with May Day.

Stop Sanctions: A Priority.

In the afternoon Richard Exell, the TUC’s senior Policy Officer on these issues, spoke. He cast aside his prepared notes. Instead he talked of how public opinion had been swayed behind the Coalition’s polices. Cautious about demanding an end to all sanctions Richard observed, however, that the way they had left hundreds of thousands destitute may help to alter popular attitudes. The children of claimants, through no ‘fault’ of their own, were left hungry and dependent on food banks and charity. Now they will affect those in low-paid work who received benefits. There was a need to develop alternatives to this and to Universal Credit.

Paula from DPAC stated that the introduction of the new system, with its new complicated ‘claimants’ commitment’ spelled ‘Armageddon’ for those reliant on benefits.

A set of principles and demands – drawing on the Centres’ Charter for the Unemployed is being drawn up. It will include demands for a decent level of benefits, an end to sanctions, and opposition to all forms of workfare – to make volunteering really ‘voluntary’ – a higher minimum wage, rent controls, and decent jobs for all.

These will be put into a coherent form at a further meeting on the 25th of March. The finished programme will be designed to take into union bodies and wider afield.

In a speech that touched on the way activists can change government and party (Labour) policy Lynne Groves drew on the way the Bedroom Tax had been challenged, and cuts in social services opposed. Activists and the wider public were urged to get involved in UNITE Community Branches, open to all.

At the end of the meeting Kevin Flynn noted the seriousness and richness of the debates that had taken placed. Amongst other points he welcomed the “historic formation of the National Union of Bloggers”.

The breadth and depth of the experiences of those attending this meeting – about 100 strong – were striking. The words ‘the labour movement’ really came to life. There was strong participation of the disabled, young people, women, and black people. Those attending came from a wide variety of work backgrounds: from heavy industry, clerical and service work, to the voluntary sector. Delegates attended from all over the country, from Newcastle, Liverpool to the West Country and even South London.

It was, as always, a real pleasure to hear Northern accents. The discussions were more than good-natured and creative. Everybody had something to contribute. It was, in short, bloody great!