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Morning Star Warns Against Trade Union Influence and Support for a People’s Vote on Labour Brexit Policy.

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Blairites and Tories in backing a “people’s vote.”

UNIONS could undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda for change if they back a referendum on the EU exit deal, Mick Cash warned today.

TUC 2018 Backing ‘the people’s vote’ could undermine the Corbyn project

RMT’s Mick Cash issues warning against joining the Blairite’s call.

The piece notes (see above) that “delegates at TUC Congress voted to ratify a general council statement saying the option of a “final say” referendum should not be “ruled out.” and the general union GMB has publicly backed a vote on the Brexit deal, but other unions would prefer to push for an early general election.”

Mr Cash warns, in the light of this decision, against the TUC and trade unions having an influence on Labour Party policy on Brexit.

“The RMT leader said the labour movement should refuse to “line up” with Blairites and Tories in backing a “people’s vote.””

Mr Cash, whose union represents transport staff, seafarers and oil workers, said: “We need to understand those in the Westminster bubble are calling for a people’s vote for the sole reason of a second referendum on the EU. They are your Chuka Umunnas, your Chris Leslies, your Peter Mandelsons your Tony Blairs, the Lib Dems.”

In other words the Left Against Brexit, part of the campaign for a People’s Vote, and the much broader section of the Labour party in the over 200 Consistencies which have backed motions supporting Labour for a People’s Vote, are all in the ‘Westminster bubble”.

Worse it seems we are acting to thwart Jeremy Corbyn.

He said these politicians “want us in the EU so that the EU can stop Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for nationalisation and for state aid and for workers’ rights.”

He stormed: “We, the trade union movement, will be lining up with people who are seeking to force the hand of Jeremy Corbyn and with people who want to attack the socialist leadership of the Labour Party and who want to attack socialist policies.”

The RMT is not affiliated to Labour.

In the 2009 European Elections they aligned with fringe groups (such as the Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party) to stand against Labour as No2EU – Yes to Democracy

The won a handsome 153,26 votes nationally  – below 1%.

In 2014 they got 31,757 – 0,2%.

The Morning Star then cites the opinion of another union leader.

Citing something they call the “consensus position” they refer to Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.

(he) told the hall: “I understand the argument for a so-called ‘people’s vote’ on the deal — not on leaving the EU. That people’s vote has already happened.”

Can the People can only vote once?

No: because,  McClusky adds,

He said the referendum option “must be left on the table,” arguing: “Let’s focus on the prize — sweeping this government away in a general election and giving a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn the chance to repair two wasted years of Tory wrangling.”

The article tries to marshal another recruit to their fading cause:

“…public sector union PCS leader Mark Serwotka argued: “We are not with Chuka Umunna, but neither are we with Jacob Rees-Mogg.

“We are an independent working-class movement.”

As the PCS is also not affiliated to the Labour Party it is by definition independent of the debate at the Labour conference.

Addressing Congress earlier in the day, TUC leader Frances O’Grady described EU laws as “the rock that national laws and union agreements build on.”

She said the TUC would “throw its full weight behind a campaign” for a “popular vote” if the government “come back with a deal that doesn’t put workers’ first.”

Communication Workers Union general secretary Dave Ward said he wanted “a people’s government” rather than a “people’s vote,” warning: “We have got absolutely no reason to support a second referendum that re-runs the debate that divides our country at the moment.”

Royal College of Midwives policy director Jon Skewes suggested an election was unlikely, arguing: “They will change the guard rather than do that.”

At a fringe meeting, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union official Sarah Woolley said: “We need to embrace that the UK is leaving the EU. A decision was made and we need to be proactive and make sure that our members are protected.

“The only thing that is certain is that next April we won’t be a member of the EU.”

She said unions should threaten PM Theresa May with a general strike “if you are not going to do the deal we want.”

No doubt a helpful suggestion.

We shall contact Seamus Milne again offering the services of the Ipswich workers’ militia to help ensure workers’ defence,  but what of the People’s Vote?

Mick Whelan, who leads train drivers’ union Aslef, told the same meeting that the EU Fourth Rail Package could enforce British-style privatisation across Europe.

“We don’t apologise for being protectionist about where we want to be for our railway,” he said.

Was the nationalisation of the East Coast line stopped by EU rules?

And what business is it for Brexit protectionists what policy the EU adopts?

And economist Costas Lapavitsas, a former Syriza member of the Greek legislature, said: “There’s a considerable ignorance in this country about what the European Union is.

“[The] Maastrict [treaty] basically created a union which is a neoliberal machine.

“We need an internationalist position on this … but internationalism of labour is not the same as internationalism of capital.”

An “internationalist” position is precisely the Left Against Brexit’s position.

What is the opinion of union members?

Perhaps the Morning Star could have asked McDonnell to explain why he wants a debate that answers the concerns of this section of the ‘Westminster Bubble’?

Here is the ‘Blairite’ Labour for a People’s Vote motion,

Oppose Tory Brexit and win a radical Labour government

This CLP supports the earliest possible election of a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn. The current government is putting Tory Party dogma first, not jobs first – and they have no mandate for their agenda.

We note and support Labour’s six tests for Brexit, which aims to ensure that the post-Brexit settlement preserves the benefits we currently get from collaboration with Europe, defends our rights and protections, and delivers for all parts of the UK. It is increasingly clear that the Tories’ Brexit deal will fail these tests.

We believe that only Labour can lead the British people into a progressive and economically sound relationship with Europe.The Brexit deal being pursued by Theresa May is a threat to jobs, freedom of movement, peace in Northern Ireland, and the future of the NHS and public services. Tory Brexit will wreck the British economy, will commit us to a series of long-term trade deals which will enforce American-style deregulation, and will undermine the rights, freedoms and protections currently enshrined in EU law. All of this will bind the hands of a future Labour government, and will make it far harder for us to deliver on our promises.

We therefore urge Labour to oppose the Tories’ destructive Brexit and unite the country behind a radical vision for the future. In government, Labour could rally left-wing parties across the continent, and create a Europe for the many, not the few.

The social problems that caused the Brexit vote – inequality, declining public services, falling pay, a lack of quality affordable housing, and so on – will be made worse, not better, by Tory Brexit and the continued austerity that would result. The problem is the policies of the political establishment, not immigrants, and the solution is a radical social and economic programme.

We must make the election of a radical Labour government our first priority.

We note that given the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the most likely route to a general election before 2022 is the collapse of the government’s Brexit agenda. This motion supports all available avenues to bring down the government: voting down the EU exit deal in Parliament, calling for a snap election, and a popular vote on the deal.

We note and support the 2016 Conference commitment to a public vote on the Exit Deal so the people have the final decision on whether to accept the government’s deal or to stay in the EU.

We call on the Labour Party to:

1. Oppose any Brexit deal that does not satisfy Labour’s 6 tests.

2. Call for an immediate general election, and make a manifesto commitment to call a public vote on the Brexit deal with an option to remain in the EU if the public rejects it.

3. If we cannot get a general election, to campaign for a public vote on the deal with an option to remain in the EU; and following a defeat for the government, to call for an immediate general election.

4. To place radical social and economic policies at the heart of our programme of government – taxing the rich and big business to pay for better public services, rapidly expanding common ownership, abolishing anti-union laws and engaging in massive public investment.

Delegates from this CLP to Labour Party conference should vote in line with this policy.

It is far better to back the Labour for a People’s Vote motion than the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy one, which many believe is more subtle attempt to ward off commitment to opposing Brexit.

Brexit: living standards and jobs must remain Labour’s priority

Conference notes:

1) that following the UK/EU talks on 16/17 August the government still has no agreement on departure terms from the EU, despite the departure being scheduled for March 2019.

2) on 23 August the government started publishing some ‘technical notices’, advising people what to do in the event a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit.

3) the 6 August publication of ORB’s poll, indicating disapproval of the government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations has reached an all-time high of 76%.

Conference deplores the Prime Minister for prioritising negotiations within the Cabinet over those with the EU and her ministers for talking up the possibility of a ‘No-Deal’.

Conference notes any agreement the government negotiates is unlikely to protect the economy and people’s rights.

Conference continues to support Labour’s six tests, the commitment to a customs union and seeking full access to EU markets.

Conference calls on the Shadow Cabinet to continue with its policy of securing living standards and jobs, which requires free trade between Britain and the EU.

Conference agrees that Labour should vote against any agreement the government reaches with the EU which does not secure this objective, and how Labour achieves its objective should be decided in light of the situation at the time of the conclusion of any agreement negotiated between the government and the EU. At this stage in the UK/EU negotiations Labour should not exclude in advance any means or tactics to prevent a Brexit outcome which hurts jobs or living standards.

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Written by Andrew Coates

September 11, 2018 at 12:09 pm

TUC: Frances O’Grady Speaks to and for the Whole Labour Movement.

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Frances O’Grady Speaks for Whole Labour Movement.

If you want proof that the whole of the British labour movement has not taken leave of its collective senses in the last few months Frances O’Grady  stands in a place of honour.

This is her statement on the Brexit result.

O’Grady addresses the referendum result:The referendum result on Britain’s membership of the European Union heralds a whole new era of uncertainty for the working people we represent.The General Council asked me to lead a campaign that talked about what was in the best interests of working people. About the rights we enjoy – fought for by unions but guaranteed by the EU. About the risks to our economy and our public services – our precious NHS. And about what life outside the single market could mean for jobs.The campaign wasn’t easy.

For me personally, facing Boris and Andrea Leadsom in the BBC debate was quite an experience. And not one I’d be in a hurry to repeat. But, as someone told me, at least now I can say I’ve played Wembley.

The campaign wasn’t clean, or even honest. Fake promises of more money for the NHS. Dog whistle appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment. And the bizarre spectacle of a self-styled anti-Establishment vanguard.

Led by a serial back-stabber, a former stockbroker and a member of the Bullingdon Club.

While many sat it out, we stepped up. We made sure our members knew what we thought. And, in the end, our polls showed that a majority of trade unionists voted Remain.

For many it wasn’t an easy decision. And I respect those who thought differently. Especially those in our movement, who made the judgement they thought best. And those in the communities we have always championed. Who paid a high price for globalisation, And are still paying the price of the crash.

In this movement, we’re democrats. We accept what the British people have said.

So I say this: Whether you voted Remain or Leave; our job now is to get the best deal possible for working people. And to build a Britain that is successful, prosperous, fair. A Britain of great jobs for everyone.

We face a new government and a new prime minister too. Now, as a rule, I’m all in favour of having more women in charge. But it’s no secret that this isn’t one I would have chosen.

Nevertheless, in three weeks’ time she will be stood in a hall like this one. Giving her big speech to an audience that’s… well, a little different from this one. And, woman to woman, I’m going to take the liberty of giving some advice about what she should say.

After all, on the steps of Downing Street, the new prime minister admitted that life is much harder for working people than many in Westminster realise.

She promised us social justice. She vowed to govern for the many, not the privileged few. So my advice to the new prime minister is this: prove it. Show us that your top priority is to make sure workers don’t pay the price of Brexit.

There are five tests that must be met before you pull the trigger on Article 50.

First: EU citizens living and working in the UK must be guaranteed the right to remain. They are our friends, our neighbours, our workmates. It is plain immoral and inhuman to keep them in limbo. The public agrees: guarantee their right to stay.

Second: we need an all-Ireland agreement on economic and border issues. This movement worked hard for jobs, justice and peace. It would be foolish to take that for granted.

Third: we keep being told that Brexit means Brexit. I’m not sure many union leaders would get away with saying a walk-out means a walk-out. A strike means a strike. And that’s that.

At some point we’d have to spell out what we want. What we think we can get. And win a mandate from our members to negotiate. The same goes for the prime minister.

How can her government know what to negotiate for if it doesn’t know what the country thinks?

Or what the rest of the EU would accept?

Now in some corners of Whitehall there is talk about Canada and the CETA [Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] model.

Well, let me give the government fair warning. Britain didn’t vote for new trade agreements that: destroy jobs, set up secret courts and open the way to privatisation. If they go for the son of CETA, we will make opposition to TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] look like a tea party.

The fourth point. Negotiating our exit can’t be left to the Tories. This shouldn’t be about managing the internal politics of the Conservative Party. It’s about shaping the future of our country. We need a cross-party negotiating team, including the nations, London and the North. And it can’t be a case of cosy chats with the City and the CBI either. As the voice of working people, trade unions must be at the table too.

And that leads me on to the fifth and most important point. Before we go for Article 50, we need proof that workers’ rights will be safe. We fought hard for those rights. They weren’t gifted by Brussels, but won by trade unionists. And people didn’t vote Leave to get rid of holiday pay; to lose time off to care for sick children; or junk rights for temporary and agency workers.

And our European neighbours won’t agree good access to the single market if Britain undercuts them as an offshore haven for cheap labour.

So, prime minister, no ifs, no buts. Guarantee workers’ rights, now. And for the future. And tell us about your plan for the economy.

Just one week after the vote, the TUC published a national action plan. To protect jobs. To protect investment. To make sure ordinary working people don’t pay the price. They can’t afford it. After all, workers in the UK have already suffered the biggest fall in wages since the crash of any developed economy, except Greece.

Now, you won’t catch me talking down industry. We know the importance of confidence. But, delegates, we remember the recession after the financial crash. We know, all too well, the risk of complacency too. And union reps across the country. Convenors at our biggest workplaces. They are telling me about the worry and uncertainty their people are facing.

Investment plans stalled. Job hires on hold. That means government must be ready to step in. And work to keep the advantages we get from membership of the single market. For all of our industries – not just the City.

That’s the key to a successful Brexit for working people.

 Her speech to the TUC today in Brighton is just now being reported.

TUC chief Frances O’Grady slams ‘greedy firms that treat workers like animals’ in keynote congress speech

“Let me give fair warning to any greedy business that treats its workers like animals – we will shine a light on you,” she said.

“Run a big brand with a dirty little secret? A warehouse of people paid less than the minimum wage? A fleet of couriers who are slaves to an app? Let me put you on notice.

“There will be no hiding place. We will organise and we will win. Britain’s unions will not rest until every worker gets the fair treatment they deserve.”

Ms O’Grady said Brexit, which has prompted a “whole new area of uncertainty”, was led by “a former stockbroker, a serial backstabber and a member of the Bullingdon Club“.

She told Mrs May: “Show us your top priority is to make sure workers don’t pay the price of Brexit.”

The union chief demanded more council homes, the building of High Speed 2 and a “Make Your Mind Up Time on Heathrow” – expanding the airport.

….

“Taking back control” should start with steelworkers’ jobs and Tories should end “an economic philosophy that treats people as nothing more than a commodity”, she said.

She slammed the Tories’ “silly spiteful” Trade Union Act, a crackdown on the right to strike, but insisted the government was pushed back on key issues.

She added: “You can’t build a strong economy without a strong NHS and strong public services too.

“So listen up please government, pull an emergency brake on austerity and end that public sector pay squeeze now.”

Unions have already warned workers will suffer unless they are prioritised in Brexit talks.

The TUC said jobs and rights would be at risk if Britain was a “bargain-basement economy” after quitting the EU.

Ms O’Grady urged Government to get “the best deal we can for workers” and tackle investment.

TUC research showed one of the biggest risks of Brexit was loss of foreign investment.

Between 2010 and 2014, the UK performed “very poorly” in spending on industrial plants, transport and housing.

Full version: (TUC)

Frances O’Grady address to Congress, Monday 12 September 2016

Thanks.

I want to formally move the General Council Statement and campaign plan.

But first I want to put on record my thanks.

To you delegates, for your loyalty to the working people we represent.

To the President and to the General Council, for their good humour and camaraderie.

And to the staff of the TUC and all our unions.

Their dedication and professionalism is second to none.

I also want to send our solidarity to workers:

Staff on the railways and in the Post Office – about time we had that People’s Bank;

in schools and colleges; offshore workers; the junior doctors and the whole health team; Marks and Spencer and fast food workers;

Ritzy cinema staff still fighting for a real Living Wage; at Uber, Amazon, Asos and Sports Direct.

And workers everywhere standing up for their rights.

Full text here.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

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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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!

 

All our support for Syriza!

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Greece is the most striking example of what happens when political matters are being dealt with by economic powers. The fact that non democratic entities such as the European Central Bank or the IMF sort out problems which were created by those same economic powers in the first place, is a serious step back regarding the concept of democracy as a whole, which used to guarantee that the citizens’ decision was the most sacred contract within European societies.

On the contrary this country, which suffered the worst financial scam, is being punished a second time instead of the actual culprits being punished: those politicians who hope to give back what they lost in speculations by directly dispossessing their citizens.

Greece today is crumbling as a result: it has become a place where misery, hunger, necessity, unemployment and social, work and environmental need and insecurity are added to the total inability to supremely decide on economic or social policies. The elections of 2015 represent a historic opportunity to start giving the economy back to the Greek people, which should always have been the case. Unfortunately, we are worried to see that conditions are being put on the free decision of the Greek citizens to give a unique chance of victory to parties that are questioning the antidemocratic tendency imposed by international economic institutions and by the European Commission.

We, the signatories, civil servants from different backgrounds, demand for the Greek people to be free to choose. We cannot accept the intimidation campaigns which are currently conditioning the votes through the media or international institutions.

We urge the European institutions to make sure these elections remain trouble-free, and to prevent any attempt to limit and/or condition the decision made by the Greek people. We think that Syriza’s victory can be the starting point of what will stop the trend which, in the name of financial speculation, is destroying economies, the environment and the well-being of the people. They will ensure that, beyond the 25 January, the sovereign decisions of the Greek people will be respected.

 

Alberto Garzón – Deputy of Izquierda Unida at the Congress of Deputies (Spain)
Gabriele Zimmer – Deputy of Die Linke at the European Parliament and President of the GUE/NGL (Germany)
Sergio Coronado – Deputy of Europe Écologie Les Verts at National Assembly (Francia)
Maria Dolors Camat – Deputy of ICV-EUiA at the Catalonian Parliament and president of ICV (Catalonia, Spain)

Frances O’Grady,Trade Union Council (TUC) : Why the Greek Elections are so important – for the Greeks and Europe as a whole

This Sunday, the Greek people go to the polls in what must be one of the most important elections not just for Greece but for Europe as a whole. What is at stake is the future of democratic control of the economy, and the European establishment’s love affair with austerity.

Nowhere in Europe has suffered so much from the after-effects of the global financial crisis. The austerity programme imposed on the Greek people by the troika of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission has seen unemployment rocket to 25% (and more than 50% among young people), the minimum wage and pensions slashed, public services sold off and in some cases – eg Greece’s public service broadcaster – shut down. Many Greek people have been left destitute, homeless and fearing for their futures. Some have left the country or abandoned their hopes of starting a family.

Above all, these changes have undermined democratic control in the country known as the birthplace of democracy – something that has helped the neo-nazi thugs of Golden Dawn grow. Unelected forces from outside the country have dictated the terms on which the Greek government and economy can continue to function. Labour’s equivalent in Greece, PASOK, has all-but collapsed under the strain. Collective bargaining has been undermined, and the unions’ role reduced to fire-fighting, resisting closures, sell-offs and attacks on living standards.

For the rest of us in Europe, the elections on Sunday are important because they could see the rejection of austerity and renewed discussion of the sort of sustainable investment plans that the ETUC has advocated. The IMF has – astoundingly without showing any remorse – accepted that the levels of austerity they helped impose on Greece were based on flawed economic models. Every serious commentator I know acknowledges that, somehow, Greece’s debt needs to be reduced, and that continued austerity in Greece is not the answer. That means some form of rescheduling the debt, including debt forgiveness, must be arranged, and the infamous Memorandum under which Greek national sovereignty and economic sustainability was removed needs to be replaced.

The costs of the global economic crisis need to be shared more fairly, and of course, there are problems in Greece that exacerbated the crisis, and are not externally imposed. Public debt was too high before the crisis. But that wasn’t the fault of the people who are now paying for austerity: Greece needs to address the oligarchy that led it down the ruinous path it was already following before the global financial crisis hit, and whose members have so far not had to pay the price.

Although the Greek people have suffered most under austerity, if they reject it that will have repercussions in forthcoming elections across Europe – starting with Spain – because austerity is hitting everyone (arguably it already hit Germany in the last decade when pay growth stagnated and the sort of low paid jobs we are used to in the UK spread to Europe’s richest economy.) The UK’s working poor and middle classes have also suffered from the ideological craze for slashing the state back to the size it was in the 1930s, the spread of low-productivity and zero hours jobs, and stagnating wages.

Now every poll shows Syriza, the left party headed by Alexis Tsipras, who I met last year, in the lead. Some European politicians have, disgracefully, been threatening the Greek electorate with dire consequences, including expulsion from the Eurozone, if they dare to vote the wrong way! There are powerful forces mobilising against the interests of the Greek people. So if they choose an alternative path on Sunday, they will deserve and need our support and solidarity.

 Greece Solidarity Campaign.

See also:  Greece: the prospect of a Syriza victory (Shiraz Socialist).

Alexis Tsipras of Syriza is far from Greek orthodox: The Communist ‘Harry Potter’ who could implode the Eurozone (Independent).

Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm

TUC October 20th Demo: Ipswich Begins to Organise, with Suffolk Coalition for Public Services .

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Last night around 18 activists, from a number of trade unions, unemployed and Suffolk anti-cuts campaigners held a meeting in the UNITE offices.

Its aim was to begin to organise support for the TUC National Demonstration on October the 20th.

As we entered the room people were talking about the TUC vote to “practicalities” of holding a one-day general protest strike. This  would include the 6.5 million trade union members in the UK. It responds to widespread calls in the labour movement for action against the Liberal-Conservative Coalition’s austerity and privatisation policies.

On the invitation of UNITE a speaker from the Coalition of Resistance, Neil Faulkner, gave an introduction. He explained  why we should oppose these measures and offered a clear counter-argument to the cuts agenda.

Neil argued the claim that ‘there is no alternative’ to cutting public spending to reduce the deficit, was false. The policy is driving the economy into a downward spiral. Greece showed that if you cut and cut you produce something that resembles a 1930s  depression not growth.  

The Cabinet  is not acting for economic rational reasons. They choose to protect the  banks, and the rich. This was class war that they had begun.  The Liberals and Conservatives  are using economic difficulties to bring down wages and make working people pay for the crisis. They were taking the opportunity  to drive forward the privatisation of the NHS.

Opposition to the cuts has to begin with demands to take the banks into real social ownership and to bring about a ‘green transition” to a fairer society. If the post-war 1945 Labour Government could set up the NHS and the welfare state in the ravaged condition of the country, we could create a more socially just society again.

Activists pointed to how the government’s plans to deal with unemployment had poured millions into the pockets of private ‘welfare-to-work’ companies without providing real jobs. Proposals to pay welfare in ‘vouchers’, which could only be used in certain shops, were mentioned. 

On the one Day protest General Strike one union representative observed that there was a potential for opponents of our movement to exploit this and raise hostility to unions. Others said that this was why we had to make the case for such action now.

A member of the audience claimed that the BNP, which did very badly in the May local elections, and the EDF, which has been unable to gather large numbers of supporters, represented a threat that could be as great as Greece’s fascist Golden dawn.

Some scepticism about the last round of  national protests, and divisions in the trade union and left,were mentioned. Answering this others noted that in Ipswich here had been great solidarity between different unions, and local anti-cuts campaigning groups, in our large local protests.

Interest in the October the 20th Demonstration is growing locally.

It was agreed to begin to hold street stalls every Saturday in Tavern Street, Ipswich.

There will other activities. Ipswich Trades Council will help co-ordinate the push to build support.

The Suffolk Coalition for Public Services will also be holding a meeting next week.

This will not just consider the national TUC demonstration.

Suffolk County Council has transferred many of its services to private ‘co-operatives’ and ‘charities’ which will implement hefty cuts. These include foster care, care homes and community care. These transfers go with reductions in budgets and threats to staff conditions. They take public provision out of democratic control and give it to local oligarchies and profit-making companies.

Suffolk County Council is at present looking to transfer its country parks and recreation sites out of democratic public control to ‘community organisations’.

The future of the Libraries looks insecure, argue Rose Hill readers.

The Suffolk Coalition for Public Services will be revived around these issues.

The Anti-Workfare Campaign: Reflections.

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https://i2.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02148/ema_2148531i.jpg

Emma Harrison with Benefits from the Unemployed.

Unpaid ‘Work experience’ in major retailers has been in the news all week.

As companies have pulled out government Ministers have defended the scheme for the under-25s.

Emma Harrison, of A4E, has also been under attack, not only for the £8 million pounds she made personally out of the unemployed, but for allegations about A4E fraud .

She has resigned as Chair of the company.

The Work Programme, and its workfare plans, looks vulnerable to popular opposition.

This is the time for some thought about the policies of successive governments towards the unemployed and building an alternative.

  • Tony Blair and Gordon Brown introduced the New Deal, and then the Flexible New Deal. These involved unpaid ‘placements’ for the out-of-work. These, with courses designed to make people employable (CV writing, interview techniques), were going to help. Their ‘one-size-fits-all’ basis was a major barrier to making this effective  from the start. Behind this was the assumption that the problem of unemployment was the result of people not actively seeking work, and that they had to be made to do so, “equiped to compete on the global market”.
  • The Trades Councils Conference of 2008 passed a resolution condemning the workfare side of these programmes. I wrote the original of this resolution (cited in Chartist here). It also criticised the way the New Deal providers operated. People before or without placements were often left for 35 hours a week in front of computer screens doing ‘job search’. Those on them could be bullied and had few rights. Companies could take advantage (financially) of the system. The low-level  ‘training’ equiped nobody to get decent jobs.
  • These programmes introduced a growing lobby for further Welfare ‘reform’:  handing over greater aspects of the Welfare state, and notably the parts to do with unemployment, to private firms. They promised that ‘social’ enterprises and charities would be included. Private Eye notes A4E boasts, “we have continued to continue to government policy development”, while “seeking to “establish a reputation as a thought leader in political circles around public sector reform”.  (22.1.12).
  • However the New Deal and the Flexible New Deal went ahead – the latter only reducing the time of the placements (which were drying up anyway). The Coalition Government introduced the Work Programme.
  • The ‘thought leaders’  included key adviser Lord Freud. He worked for Labour’s Work and Pensions Minster James Purnell and moved smoothly to the Conservatives in 2009. A former Work and Pensions  Minister David Blunkett deserves a special mention. Having lobbied for private companies to get involved in welfare-to-work delivery he was rewarded with a paid post in A4e (Guardian). Private Eye says that A4E also employs Sir Robin Young, a former chief at the Department of Trade, and former Tory Policy Unit Jonty Olliff Cooper. No doubt other welfare-to-work businessmen have a similar recruits.  They have helped establish the consensus that unemployment  and particular the large ‘residue’ of the long-term workless had to be handled by the private sector. The public sector is largely cut out of the profitable  welfare-to-work industry. Despite previous promises  ‘social’ bodies play a minor role, as sub-contractors.
  • The Work Programme introduces a menu of changes. Contractors are only paid for by results (previously this was a ‘bonus’). For the unemployed the most important aspect is that they have to carry out any job-related activity their adviser tells them to do. These can mean trivial tasks, such as making endless nuisance calls to companies about possible vacancies, to attending lectures. If they are thought to be unwilling they may be sent on 6 weeks Mandatory Work Activity (MWA), or (at present in pilot form) the Community Action Programme (CAP). The CAP is full-blown workfare for 6 months: 30 hours of unpaid labour, and 10 hours compulsory ‘job seeking activity’. To repeat: these are in no respect whatsoever voluntary at all – not that Work Experience for the under-25s is, in reality, always a choice either.

The Anti-Workfare Campaign.

  • Opposition to workfare has, by the process which translates Trades Council Motions and the input of the Unemployed Workers’ Centres Combine into policy, become Trades Union Congress policy. But the TUC has  tended to give priority to issues such as changes in Disability benefits, and  poverty, made worse by  cuts in Housing Benefit.
  • There is a reluctance to admit that the Coalition’s Work Programme has built on, and not broken with, the Labour Government’s welfare-to-work strategy. The principle that the out-of-work should be farmed out to private Providers, and encouraged, that is to say, mandated, to take up ‘Placements’ – working for benefits – remains. The Community Action Programme continues to claim that working unpaid for 6 months will “give customers the opportunity to update and develop their knowledge and skills and provides a more recent work experience history.” 
  •  The people who actively campaigned against the New Deal and the Flexible New Deal published our criticisms in small circulation left journals, such as Labour Briefing and Chartist.  The Liberal-Conservative Coalition’s welfare reforms were more widely criticised. We set up Ipswich Unemployed Action’s Blog as a forum where people could speak freely about their experiences on these programmes, to offer criticisms of them, and to develop alternatives. Others have done the same. We found a growing echo.  Now the national media is taking an interest in these issues. The Government’s Workfare schemes have faced widespread opposition.
  • Pride of Place has to go the Boycott Workfare initiative and to Cait Reilly for her brave stand. They have brought campaigning to a wider audience. In recent days a ‘social network’ campaign, such as Respect for the Unemployed and others (which we have participated in through Ipswich Unemployed Action) has taken off. Tesco’s involvement in unpaid Work experience brought in a range of campaigners. Right to Work’s occupation of Tesco shops got national attention .
  • The SWP-led Right to Work’s action, and the Socialist Party’s campaign on Youth Unemployment (Youth Fight for Jobs)  are welcome initiatives. But they represent only one section of the movement. The TUC, campaigning unions and the  broader left need to be involved.
  • There is now mass unemployment, with a pool of people excluded from proper jobs. No government will challenge the market that’s created this. Everything has to adapt to business, and the unemployment business is part of the problem.
  • The misery created for the many by unemployment has to be tackled. For this we need to have a clear set of demands.

Ipswich Unemployed Action campaigns for:

  • Decent benefits for all – a raise so people are not forced into poverty and debt.
  • No compulsion on back-t0-work schemes.
  • Measures to stop the bullying and exploitation of claimants.
  • Genuine training  – not just the endless ‘job preparation’ courses that we all get.
  • If we can’t find work the government should create real jobs of community use, paid for at the minimum wage, and the ‘rate for the job’.

We have to oppose  private companies running welfare-to-work.

Stop Mandatory Work Activity and Close Down the Community Action Programme! (more here).

Written by Andrew Coates

February 25, 2012 at 12:09 pm