Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘Trade Unions

Oil Refineries and Petrol Depots Blocked as French Union Protests Accelerate.

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Le Monde,  The day after a new day of demonstrations against the ”  El Khomri” labour ‘reforms’ the CGT “oil” section, has called for oil refineries to be blocked. (Via Solidarité Ouvrière)

French unions, students, and radical activists in groups such as Nuit Debout continue to campaign against the ‘Loi Khomri”.

The laws will undermine the ability of unions to reach collective agreements (although unions are weak and divided with only 8% members,  over 98% of French companies operate within the framework of collective bargaining, compared with under 29%, 63.7% public sector, only 16.0% in the private sector,   in the UK, (Here). The ‘reforms’ will encourage local negotiations, means to go over the head of unions, and other devices to weaken the collective system.

They will reduce hard won workers’ rights, getting  rid of the ‘red tape’ that helps the system of Inspecteurs du Travil, enforce decent working conditions.

Contrary to the falsehood being broadcast by the UK ‘Lexit’ campaign the pressure for these changes comes from the French Employers’ organisation, the MEDEF, not Brussels or the European Commission.

As can be seen in this banner which links the government, from Hollande, Valls, and Macron, to the Bosses’ federation.

https://npa2009.org/sites/default/files/29861.jpg

The action by the CGT is considerably more significant than the clashes between demonstrators and police which have been widely reported internationally.

French President Francois Hollande vowed Tuesday to stick with his controversial attempts to reform the labour market, even as a new round of violent protests broke out.

France 24.

Police fired tear gas in central Paris as an initially peaceful protest organised by unions and students was disrupted by a more radical fringe.

The labour reforms have sparked two months of protests on France’s streets, drawing 68,000 nationwide on Tuesday, authorities said, while organisers put the turnout at 220,000.

Withdraw, withdraw this law of the wealthy, it’s the law of the bosses,” was the message blasted from loudspeakers at the Paris march.

But Hollande said the battle against unemployment was not yet won and he placed the need to reform over his personal popularity, which remains at near-record lows a year ahead of a possible bid for re-election.

“I will not give way, because too many (previous) governments have backed down,” Hollande said in an hour-long interview with Europe 1 radio.

“I prefer that people have an image of a president who made reforms rather than a president who did nothing,” he said.

Police were quick to act as violence by masked youths broke out during the march in central Paris, kicking off another week of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the package of reforms. Some 87 people were arrested.

Demonstrations were also reported in cities across the country from Marseille in the south to central Lyon and Lille in the north.

Lorry drivers blocked roads and ports in northern and western France, and there were clashes between protesters and police in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes, where thousands more took to the streets.

“We have been ignored, so we will work even harder to make our voices heard,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, at the Paris rally.

The government argues the changes contained in the draft law will make France’s notoriously rigid labour market more flexible, but opponents say it will erode job security and do little to bring down the unemployment rate, stuck at 10 percent and nearly 25 percent for young people.

The labour reform, which would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, is likely the last major piece of legislation for Hollande, the least popular leader in modern French history who faces a re-election next May.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Boost for ‘Another Europe is Possible’ Remain Campaign: Varoufakis, McDonnell, Lucas and Clive Lewis Join.

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Ex-Greek finance minister will help launch nationwide campaign alongside John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas

The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis will join the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and Green party MP Caroline Lucas for the start of a tour to persuade leftwingers to vote to stay in the EU.

The senior figures from the political left are teaming up as part of the Another Europe is Possible campaign, in which they will make a progressive case for the UK to stay in.

The tour will start with an event in London with Varoufakis, who was severely critical of the EU’s dealings with Greece’s debts when he was finance minister but has recently warned that Brexit could plunge Europe into a 1930s-style depression.

Other rallies will involve trade unionists, as well as the Labour MP Clive Lewis, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, at cities including Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester.

Lewis said: “This referendum will define relationship to the world for decades, and we will be joining together with progressives across Britain and Europe, not just to make the case that we are better off in Europe, but also to talk about the kind of society we need to build.

“Capital long ago fled national borders. In order to build a society which is fair for everyone, we need an international response to austerity and the financial crisis. That’s why we are campaigning on an unapologetically progressive platform – for social justice, the environment and freedom of movement.”.

This follows last week’s decision by the Fire Brigades Union,

Fire Brigades Union conference says, ‘Stay in Europe to change Europe’

National conference agrees to support campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. But brilliant speech from General Secretary Matt Wrack rejects status quo Europe and calls for alternative

Delegates at FBU conference debated EU membership at length both in a fringe meeting on Wednesday and in a plenary debate today, but ultimately decided by some margin to remain and campaign for change with trade unionists across Europe.

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, gave a fiery speech, critical of the current EU but strongly in favour of staying in to defend workers’ rights and change the union from within.

In particular, Wrack passionately defended the free movement of workers, saying that problems such as unemployment and housing crisis were caused by banks and the failure of markets, and not by migrants.

Kieron Merrett, trade union officer for Another Europe Is Possible , who spoke at a conference fringe meeting the evening before the vote, said:

“It’s terrific to see one of Britain’s best organised trade unions back the workers’ case for ‘In’ with an explicit ‘stay in Europe to change Europe’ line. It was an excellent debate that we were delighted to participate in. But the message must now go out, not only to every firefighter, but also every trade unionist in the UK. There is only one way to vote in this referendum to defend the vital interests of working people. That’s to vote to remain inside the European Union.”

Supporters of leaving the Union are also holding a rally this week.

Lexit: London left leave rally WEDNESDAY

All London meeting this Wednesday 18 May – 7pm:

The Internationalist Case against the EU – Friends Meeting House (Small Hall) 173-177 Euston Road, NW1 2BJ.

Speakers: Philippe Cordat (CGT union confederation France), Brid Smith (TD (member of parliament for People Before Profit, Ireland), Quim Arrufat (international secretary of the left wing Catalan party CUP), Lindsey German (Counterfire), Argyri Erotokitou (Greek doctor and leading member of Antarsya, Alex Callinicos (Socialist Workers Party) and Rob Griffiths (Communist Party).

In the Morning Star today Alex Gordon Lexit convener on the Left Leave Campaign writes on the present conflicts about new labour laws in France.

French Trade Unions Fight EU Attacks on Workers’ Rights.

Startled by this link between the EU and the El Khomri Law?

It’s backed by the following extraordinary claim.

LAST week France’s Socialist government issued an emergency decree to weaken workers’ rights at the behest of the European Commission.

Last Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls imposed the hated “El Khomri” law — named after Minister of Labour Myriam El Khomri — using an emergency constitutional mechanism (Article 49.3) to prevent a debate or vote that his government would lose in the French parliament.

Gordon repeats this assertion,

President Hollande’s decision to invoke Article 49.3 of the constitution to comply with radical measures the European Commission demanded in November 2015 brutally exposes his own government’s weakness.

Article 49.3 of the Fifth Republic was designed to prevent repetition of the chronic instability that characterised France’s Fourth Republic (1946-58), which famously saw 22 governments come and go in a mere 12 years.

In other words, it’s French Sovereignty which is is being used to……obey Brussels.

Every single report indicates that the El Khomi law originates in the demands of the French employers’ organisation, the MEDEF (” le basculement idéologique dans lequel François Hollande et Manuel Valls, inspirés par le Medef. Liberation. Passim). The Communist Daily, L’Humanité noted the same in February, “le Medef est devenu extrêmement offensif pour remettre en cause le modèle social français, pour réclamer des baisses d’impôts et de cotisations sociales, pour exiger la remise en cause du droit du travail. S’appuyant sur son vaste réseau de médias et d’économistes, il prétend cogérer l’État en imposant la réduction de la protection sociale, le report de l’âge de la retraite, la baisse des dépenses publiques..).

This is the first I’ve heard of an involvement of the European Union in the El Khomri law.

But, you’ve guessed it, the news hounds of  RTRussia Today, have sniffed it out for the benefit of all, no doubt including the Morning Star,

Bruxelles, discret chef d’orchestre de la loi El Khomri.

Brussels, discrete Chief Conductor of the El Khomri law.

The author of the RT article, Pierre Lévy, is in charge of the journal Ruptures that claims to be, “progressiste et iconoclaste”. It is to say the least, a strange mixture of ‘communism’,  anti-globalisation rhetoric, and French nationalism. In other words it’s a ‘sovereigntist’ project, an assertion of French nation against the European Union. (1)

Instead of this claptrap, for a serious account of the long-standing employer pressure to get red of labour law ‘red tape’ see the Blog de Gérard Filoche

Or this article by Filoche, an expert in French labour law, from his experience as an Inspecteur du travail: Un nouveau bouquet de lois sur le travail en janvier 2014.

Meanwhile in the UK a ‘sovereigntist’ connection runs through Alex Gordon’s ‘Lexit’ rally.

Amongst the speakers we note Philippe Cordat  Cordat is “Secrétaire du Comité Régional de la Cgt Centre, that is a region of the French trade union federation, not the national CGT. He appears to have conflicts with the CGT union leadership –  as outlined in this Front Syndical de Classe.

Cordat has strong opinions on the ‘super-national’ forces at work in the European Union.

The« idée européenne » a été historiquement portée par deux forces : la social-démocratie et le Vatican.”

The European ideal has historically been carried by two forces, social democracy and the Vatican. (Here)

Cordat also has views on the activities of the Socialist Party, the NPA and other far-left groups, as well as Freemasons and religious networks not to mention bosses’ influence inside his union ,

A bien y regarder la déferlante anti-communiste qui marque le débat public dans le pays depuis plus de quarante ans a conduit de nombreux syndicalistes à faire une fixation sur « la mainmise de Moscou » sur la CGT sans ouvrir les yeux sur les pratiques du PS, de la LCR devenu NPA, des autres structures de l’extrême-gauche des réseaux maçonniques et religieux, du patronat qui s’activent dans et autour la plus importante organisation syndicale française.

The successive waves of anti-Communism that have marked public debate in this country over the last 40 years, we can see,  has led many trade unionists to be fixated by the ‘hand of Moscow’ in the CGT, without opening their eyes to the activities of the Socialist Party, the LCR which has become the NPA, and other far-left  structures, Freemasons and religious networks, as well as the bosses, operating in and around the most important trade union body in France.

Réflexions d’un syndicaliste de la CGT  Philippe Cordat. (2011)

These opinions form part of Cordat’s wider complaints against the the CGT’s own version of Another Europe is Possible (whose details are too similar to the UK campaign to need repeating).

He stated in 2012 (Front Syndical de Classe) that this strategy is completely wrong.

Elle ne remet en cause ni les fondements, ni même les principes pour lesquels l’UE agit en ce moment : effacement des souverainetés, remboursement des dettes au profit des marchés …

It does  not question the foundations and the principles which drive the present EU: the iblteration of soveriegnties, the payment of debts to the profit of the markets…..

This emphasis on the importance of national sovereignty is shared by the Communist Party of Britain as one can see here: Why the EU is a negation of parliamentary sovereignty and democracy. argues Robert Griffiths.

It is to be wondered if the ‘revolutionary’ speakers at the Lexit meeting, from Counterfire and the SWP, not to mention Antarsya, or even the ‘municipalists’ of the Catalan CUP, share this sovereigntist vision.

Or indeed if they have the slightest concern about this project:

Iain Duncan Smith says workers’ rights should be ‘flexible’ after Brexit in epic on air tantrum.

 

(1) Fondé par Pierre Lévy, ex-journaliste à L’Humanité, ex-militant du PCF et de la CGT Métallurgie1, BRN compte ainsi dans son équipeLaurent Dauré (UPR et Acrimed)2, Dominique Guillemin (UPR)3 et surtout Bruno Drweski, militant anti-impérialiste entretenant un réseau d’amitiés et d’alliances tant à gauche qu’à l’extrême droite4. Il est à noter que le directeur de la publication de BRN, Hervé Berbille, a participé ès qualité à une réunion de l’Action française à Bordeaux en 2005 visant à promouvoir le « non » au TCE, comme le relate le compte-rendu publié sur le site de l’organisation d’extrême droite5. Confussionnisme Info. “RUPTURES, NOUVEAU MENSUEL SOUVERAINISTE.”

Democratic Socialist and Labour Movement Arguments for a “Remain” Referendum Vote – Chartist Special.

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Special Chartist Referendum Supplement (available here)

Read Chartist Magazine.

Editorial.

Remain and reform together.

An historic decision will be made on 23 June.

Labour has come out clearly for remain and reform of the European Union. Jeremy Corbyn has nailed Labour’s colours to the mast of internationalism, cooperation and worker’s rights in Europe. While the Tory Party tears itself apart, Labour is mounting an independent united campaign to secure an in vote.

The spectre of narrow nationalism, xenophobia and fascism is once again stalking Europe. Within the EU, ‘warts and all’ and working with socialists and greens across the 27 member countries is the best way to combat this menace to our rights and freedoms.

We know there are problems with the EU, largely the result of the domination of neoliberal free market privatisers and a harsh austerity agenda being pursued most viciously in Greece. But the Syriza government and left critics are determined to stay and take the fight for an alternative, democratic road to the heart of Europe. This must be the British road as well.

In this world where global capital can move across borders to divide and rule, working in stronger regional blocks to curb and regulate their tax dodging and exploitation is the only approach with a hope of success.

A Brexit could also set the clock of social progress back years. Have no doubts that the Tory opponents of the EU and UKIP stand for untrammelled capitalism and a much harsher, meaner, dirtier, inhumane and divided Britain. Cooperation with our European brothers and sisters on issues from climate change, cyber crime, terrorism, human rights and economic justice is the internationalist way.

Vote remain to continue the fight for a democratic Europe. Vote remain for a socially just Europe that will tackle corporate greed and put people before profits.

Articles:

In for social solidarity  Frances O’Grady, General  Secretary of the TUC, says the way to equality, jobs and workers’ rights lies through the EU.

Julie Ward MEP on standing up for a Social EU.

Nature needs the EU too. Anita Pollack, former MEP and author of  “New Labour in Europe: Leadership and Lost Opportunities” on the environmental case for the EU.

Owen Tudor, TUC Head of EU and International Relations, Total reversal of workers’ rights?  On Michael Ford QC s opinion about the risks of Brexit.

Don Flynn , Director, Migrant, Rights Network. False promise on migration.

Ann Pettifor, member of the Labour Party’s  Economic Advisory Committee and Director: Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME). Why I’m voting to ‘Remain’.

Mary Southcott, coordinator Friends of Cyprus  and a member of the Chartist EB. EU umbrella for peace.

Stronger in for jobs and rights. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP puts the case to vote to remain in the EU.

Essential reading!

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France: Serious May Day Clashes as Police Introduce ‘Kettling.’

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 Des policiers en civil aspergent des manifestants durant la manifestation du 1er Mai à Paris.

 Police in Civilian Dress Spray Paris Demonstrators. (le Monde)

France 24.

Police fired tear gas after protesters hurled bottles and other projectiles during a May Day rally in Paris Sunday, where controversial labour reforms were the main focus of demonstrations.

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators took part in the march in the French capital amid a heightened police presence after several recent protests against labour reforms ended in violence.
  • There were ugly scenes as a small group of protesters in balaclavas hurled projectiles at the security forces, who responded with volleys of tear gas, bringing the march to a standstill.
  • Calm was later restored, however, and the majority of those taking part in the demonstration did so peacefully.
  • Police said between 16,000 and 17,000 people took part in the rally and Paris. The CGT union put the figure at 70,000.
  • Rallies in other French cities including Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseille passed largely without incident earlier Sunday.

Le Monde carries a report in which demonstrators accuse the Police of having acted with the aim of stirring up trouble.

« C’est la première fois que je vois ça », commentait un manifestant d’une cinquantaine d’années, présent dimanche à Paris, alors que les forces de l’ordre avaient pris en sandwich la tête du cortège, constituée majoritairement de jeunes sans étiquette syndicale, la séparant en aval du reste du défilé et la bloquant devant par une ligne de CRS quasi inamovible. Résultat : quarante-cinq minutes à peine après le début de la manifestation, au-dessus de ce peloton de tête « nassé », les premiers gaz lacrymogènes fusaient et rencontraient les premiers pétards et autres feux d’artifice, occasionnant quelques charges sporadiques des policiers. « On appelle ça la politique de la tension », regrettait un manifestant. « La surprésence policière est une provocation », surenchérissait un autre.
 This is the first time I’ve seen that” commented on Sunday  a middle-aged demonstrator at Paris, as the police held the head of the march, largely made up of young people unaffiliated to the trade unions, and separated them at the top, by a solid line of the riot squad (CRS), from the rest of the demonstration.

As a result, a bare 45 minutes after the beginning of the demonstration, above and outside this ‘kettle’, the first tear gas grenades were thrown, and were met with bangers and other fireworks, followed by sparodic police charges. “You could call this the ‘strategy of tension” one marcher said regretfully, “The massive police presence is a provocation” forthrightly added another.

British readers will note that the Police used a tactic we are familiar with: ‘nassé ‘ means literally netted, as in fish,  but in the jargon of marches it signifies “Kettled”.

 

One demonstrator alleged that this was a deliberate “strategy of tension” to rattle up disorder.

 

Which is not to deny the existence of bands of ‘casserus’ – those who smash things up (casser) on the margins of French demonstrations.

A May Day rally held by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party was crashed by a group of topless Femen protesters.

Topless Femen activists on Sunday interrupted the French far-right National Front’s (FN) annual May Day gathering for the second year running, baring their chests and toasting “The end of the FN” before being arrested.

At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.

Their torsos were daubed with slogans including “Fascists stay in the shadows” and “Long live the end of the FN”.

Their protest was short lived as riot police controlling the gathering moved quickly to arrest them with the enthusiastic help of FN security guards.

Bystanders shouted “Put them under the wheels of your truck” and “Don’t be gentle with them”.

The official FN gathering this year, dubbed a “patriotic banquet”, took place earlier in the day at Saint Augustin in central Paris, in a break from tradition that usually sees far-right supporters march from another statue of Joan of Arc on Rue de Rivoli, next to the Louvre Museum, to nearby Opéra.

However, bitter infighting that saw FN leader Marine Le Pen oust her father Jean-Marie last year meant there were two different rallies at two different Joans and more airing of the family feud.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, 87, kicked out of the party for refusing to tone down racist and anti-Semitic comments, held court at the traditional spot in front of about 400 supporters where he woefully predicted a loss for the FN in next year’s presidential elections.

Earlier, Femen posted a picture on Twitter of its topless militants mopping the ground outside Opéra, under the slogan: “We are proud to clean our democratic and secular streets of Marine Le Pen’s dirty hatred”.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 2, 2016 at 11:49 am

France: Day of Action against ‘Reform’ of Labour Laws.

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13h05, les étudiants en marche derrière les syndicats, s'engagent sur le boulevard de l'Hôpital.

Libération reports that over 200 marches and protests have taken place in France today against the Valls’ government ‘reforms’ of labour law.

There was a strong presence of school and university students.

There have been violent incidents on the margins of the demonstrations.

France 24 says,

Clashes broke out on the streets of France on Thursday during fresh protests over labour reforms, as workers went on strike in protest against the planned changes to working conditions.

Some French train drivers, teachers and others were on strike, while a separate strike by air traffic controllers threatened travel chaos for thousands of passengers.

The industrial action has not affected Charles de Gaulle airport, although 20 percent of flights at Orly airport have been cancelled.

State railway company SNCF has warned of disruptions to national and regional train traffic. International lines to London and Brussels should not be affected.

The travel chaos resulted in more than 400 kilometres of tailbacks on motorways around the capital.

The Eiffel Tower is closed all day. The company operating the monument said in a statement that there were not enough staff to open the tower with “sufficient security and reception conditions”.

City clashes

Riot police flooded the streets and clashed with protesters in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes, among 200 demonstrations expected across the country.

Police said around 10 people had been arrested in the capital, where demonstrators marched under banners reading, “We want better” and “A giant leap forward to the 19th century.”

The Socialist government is desperate to push through reforms to France’s controversial labour laws, billed as a last-gasp attempt to boost the flailing economy before next year’s presidential election.

But protests by unions and students turned violent last week, and demonstrators vowed an even bigger turnout on Thursday.

They are angry over plans to make it easier for struggling companies to fire workers, even though the reforms have already been diluted once in a bid to placate employers.

Hollande’s government was still reeling from his decision Wednesday to abandon constitutional changes that would have allowed dual nationals convicted of terrorism to be stripped of their French citizenship.

The measure had been derided as ineffective and divisive, including by left-wing rebels within the Socialist party – many of whom also oppose the labour reforms.

Note: the measure has been derided because it will weaken the rights of employees (see earlier detailed post on Tendance Coatesy: France Mass Protests: Unions and Students against ‘reform’ of the Code du travail, the “Loi Myriam El Khomri”. March the 9th) .

Communist Senators protest against the law today in the Senate:

Unemployment still rising

Already the least popular president in France’s modern history, François Hollande is seeing his numbers continue to fall, with another poll on Wednesday showing he would not even make it to a second-round run-off in a presidential election.

Hollande, 61, has vowed not to run again if he cannot cut the country’s stubbornly high unemployment figures – long hovering at around 10 percent – and he hoped the labour reforms would encourage firms to hire more staff.

But pressure from the street and parliament’s back benches caused the government to water down the proposals so that they apply only to large firms.

Some reform-minded unions have given their support to the changes, but last week’s demonstrations saw cars burned in Paris and more than 30 people arrested as protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas.

A recent opinion poll found that 58 percent of the French public still opposed the measures.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said this week that she understood why “such a profoundly reformist text has raised questions and requires debate”, adding: “It is not a blank cheque for companies”.

Bosses are also unhappy, particularly over the removal of a cap on compensation paid for unfair dismissal, and the scrapping of plans that would have allowed small- and medium-sized companies to unilaterally introduce flexible working hours.

Parliament is set to vote on the reforms in late April or early May.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 31, 2016 at 4:13 pm

100, 000 Demonstrate Against Austerity in Brussels.

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Our Belgian Comrades on the March. 

The United front of Belgian Trades Unions (Christian union ACV (green colour), the socialist union ABVV (red) and the liberal ACLVB (blue)   has announced that 100,000 marchers took part in a national demonstration against Austerity  in Brussels yesterday (the Police estimate 81,000) (reports from Le Soir and  En Belgique, une immense manifestation contre l’austérité. Le Monde.)

They were joined by two leaders of the francophone Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste), Elio Di Rupo  and Laurette A. J. Onkelinx  (of Kabyle origin).

Members of the civil platform ‘Hart Boven Hard’ also participated in the protest.

The principal slogan of the unions was “Que des miettes pour nous ” – only crumbs for us. It symbolised the inequalities in the country.

Other slogans took up, in a humorous vein, this theme, mocking the – admittedly odd looking, – Federal Prime Minister Charles Michel,

©Sylvain Piraux

Washing Powder Michel Guaranteed to shrink your spending power. 

©Dominique Duchesnes

Mr Potato: He Reduces us to Mash. 

The media spoke of the success of the event, which many expected to draw smaller crowds (Le défi de l’après-manif? Inclure la rue). There were some strikes in public bus services to accompany the protests.

There were a few violent clashes between protesters, some said to be anarchists, and the police.

Des manifestants antiaustérité jettent des pierres en direction de la police mercredi 7 octobre à Bruxelles.

Affrontements entre quelques manifestants et forces de l'ordre lors d'une marche contre les mesures d'austérité du gouvernement de Charles Michel.

Austerity for the trade unions means direct attacks on their membership.

Last year a series of “reforms”, ending indexing of salaries to the cost of living pushed back (meaning effectively wage cuts as they drop behind price rises) , pension age put back to 67 years, reform of early retirement plans and savings in public spending without any taxation of capital.

 

The march  demanded improved purchasing power, a tax shift that includes a fair share of the burden for the rich, and job schemes to get the vulnerable groups in society at work (English language report here).

Little has appeared in the British media on this important protest.

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 8, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Jeremy Corbyn at Burston Rally Calls for Labour to Open up Policy Making to Members.

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Burston Strike Rally.

From SJ Burston Facebook Page

As many as 3000 people have attended the annual Burston Strike Rally in Norfolk – among them Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn.

The rally is held every year to celebrate the longest strike in history which happened in 1914. Then schoolchildren ‘went on strike’ to support their sacked teachers. The strike lasted 25 years. ITN.

Clive Lewis, elected this year as Labour MP for South Norwich, and one of the original Parliamentary backers of Jeremy Corbyn’s bit for leadership, spoke. He called for not let up in our efforts to get Corbyn elected, and the importance of the campaign to bring Labour in line with the mood for changed politics.

Jeremy addressed the rapt crowd. He talked of the need to build on the labour movement’s achievements, of the debt we owe to those who fought for the NHS, for the Welfare State, for legislation like equal pay, health and safety and the human rights act.

The Labour governments of the 1990s had helped with initiatives like Sure Start and more resources for public services. But their achievements had been built on sand: they had accepted the free-market consensus laid down in the Thatcher years.

Unable to confront directly the Conservatories’ call for more austerity, they had not challenged it. Instead of attacking the financial causes of the crisis, the banks, they had accepted the need for cuts, if reluctantly.

Labour had to break with austerity. It had to oppose welfare ‘reform’, from the sanction system to the assault on disabled people’s benefits. It to start backing trade unions and defnding the right to organise, to belong to a union and to strike.

Corbyn outlined plans for a National Investment bank as a pillar of his programme to rid the public sphere of the dead hand of PFI.

One theme of Corbyn’s speech is worth underlining.

He called for opening up Labour’s policy process to the party membership.

This is a subject he frequently focuses on.

I don’t think we can go on having policy made by the leader, shadow cabinet, or parliamentary Labour party. It’s got to go much wider. Party members need to be more enfranchised. Whoever is elected will have a mandate from a large membership.

Guardian.

Those familiar with the present Labour policy process, culminating in the National Policy Forums, will know that it is hard, if not impossible, to influence the Parliamentary leadership’s decisions.

This is how the way they make policy began (Tribune. January 1995. Andrew Coates – ironically encouraged to write this by Peter Hain).

January 1995

The Tendance, who is well acquainted with people who have participated at every stage of the Forum process (and was himself there when it was set up), can give chapter and verse on how the Leader, his office,  and his communications staff have ignored well-thought out proposals on everything from Planning Legislation to Welfare.

It is ironic that it is the very system of rule by the favoured few which introduced the present open election process for the Labour leader.

The right-wing of the party under Blair – the modernisers – have long had the ambition to make Labour into a version of the US Democratic Party.  But it was not just the ingrained cultural cringe of the British political scene towards the US that was the immediate stimulus.

They were impressed by the following changes on European left (the Italian former Communists’ beat them to the change over to ‘Democrats’).

They gained the ear of the party Leader……

Italy 2007:

On 14 October 2007, voters of the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) were called to choose the party leader among a list of six, their representatives to the Constituent Assembly and the local leaders. The primary was a success, involving more than 3,500,000 people across Italy, and gave to the winner Walter Veltroni momentum in a difficult period for the government and the centre-left coalition. Wikipedia.

This system continues.

Progress published an admiring article in April 2013, by Shamik Das:

The Partito Democratico was the only party to organise primaries both for its leader and its parliamentary candidates, and was the only party without the leader’s name on the ballot paper.

During the leadership primaries, both the eventual winner, Pier Luigi Bersani, and his principal challenger, Matteo Renzi, utilised the web, with the party gaining a strategic advantage. Between June and December 2012, it was the only political party with an online presence, dominating cyberspace – and it is a presence that continues to grow and deliver.

The PD’s primaries’ database stands at an impressive three million contacts (out of an electorate of about 50 million, with turnout  at 75 per cent), a small army the party re-energised and mobilised in the general election. Detailed analysis of the database was undertaken, from people’s professions to backgrounds, knowing where to go, what to ask of them, and how many voters each can contact in turn. Many of these three million people (in a democracy of a similar scale to our own) are recently engaged and spreading the message ever further. Imagine such strength in the UK.

There is also this:

France 2011:

This was the first primary to be open to the general public. In order to participate to the open primary, voters had to meet the following conditions:

  • be registered in the French electoral lists before 31 December 2010 (or for French persons under 18: be 18 at the time of the 2012 presidential election, or be a member of Socialist Party (PS), Radical Party of the Left (PRG), Young Socialist Movement (MJS), or Young Radicals of the Left (JRG); foreigners will be able to vote if they are members of PS, PRG, MJS, or JRG);
  • pay a contribution of minimum €1;
  • sign a charter pledging to the values of the Left: “freedom, equality, fraternity, secularism, justice, solidarity and progress”.

The six candidates participated in three televised debates on 15 September, 28 September and 5 October 2011.

In the first round election day, around 2,700,000 voters cast their ballots: Hollande won 39 percent of the vote, followed by Aubry with 30 percent and Montebourg at 17 percent. Former presidential candidate Royal came in fourth place with 7 percent of the vote.[1]

Second round

On 9 October 2011, after the first results of the first round, Manuel Valls called his voters to cast their ballots in favor of François Hollande; on 10 and 12 October 2011, Jean-Michel Baylet and Ségolène Royal respectively announced they would support François Hollande. On 14 October 2011, Arnaud Montebourg did not instruct his voters how to vote, although he explained he would personally cast his ballot for Hollande.[82]

François Hollande and Martine Aubry contested a runoff election on 16 October 2011, after a televised debate held on 12 October 2011. Almost 2,900,000 voters participated to the second round: François Hollande won the primary with around 57 percent of the vote, becoming the official candidate of the Socialist Party and its allies for the 2012 presidential election.

In Progress in 2013 Axel Lemarie lauded the French primaries,

n 2011 the French Socialist party embraced the principle of an ‘open primary’ to select its candidate for the presidential election of 2012. This first experiment was a success in terms of both mobilising supporters and gaining media coverage. All registered voters were given the chance to take part in the selection process. In fact, in order to participate voters needed simply to sign a charter pledging allegiance to the values of the left and to pay a symbolic contribution of at least €1; they did not need to be members of the Socialist party. For the first time in France, a presidential candidate was chosen by the general public through a unique democratic and participative process.

More than 9,000 polling stations were open for the first round of the primary both in France and across the world. To ensure maximum legitimacy, an oversight body, comprising a prominent lawyer, a law professor and a specialist in ethics, was charged with registering the candidates, monitoring the elections and announcing the final results. To be declared the winner, a candidate needed to receive more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast. If no candidate received this, a second round was to be organised between the two leading first-round candidates.

Over 2.5 million people voted in the first round and in the second this number rose to around three million. Moreover, the televised debate between the two second-round candidates was a huge success, attracting an audience of around six million viewers, energising the party and dominating political coverage.

Building on this success, the party organised another open primary process for the local elections next March. It was also deemed a success. For example, in Marseilles, 23,440 voters participated in the second round of the primary, which represents around a quarter of those who voted for the Socialist party  during the last local elections in 2008. And it showed how the open primary process can be full of surprises. In the Marseilles contest, former minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the favourite to win the primary, was eliminated after the first round.

Impressed by the evidence from Italy and France, and no doubt the silver tongues of the Progress wordsmiths,  Labour came round to adopting their own version of the’ primary’ (they failed to spot one small cloud on the horizon – in France, the left candidate came from nowhere to 17%).

Against the wishes of many in the party, and almost by stealth, the new election system was set up.

Whatever the final results we can imagine that Progress are already celebrating their achievement.