Friday, March 30, 2012

Record Eleven Government Defeats ; But More Needed

The Government have now lost a record eleven votes on the Legal Aid Bill. The House of Lords have voted to protect disabled people, children, and domestic violence victims from the worst of the legal aid cuts. It's vital that the Government does not overrule these changes. To help, see here.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Left Of Centre" by Jon Williams

Here is an interesting article by Paul Richards, especially the last few paragraphs - basically what are Labour’s policies going to be if they get elected in 2015?

Yes Labour opposes some awful Tory legislation (e.g. the Health and Social Care Bill), but will Labour reverse these Bills or modify to something that represents our values and beliefs?

I don't attach much weight to Liam Byrne's "Fresh" as it seems to have originated from the same place as "Refounding Labour" - probably "Progress" the party within a party.

It seems Western political language has moved from advocating a capitalist system to an austerity one. The recent economic woes have tarnished capitalist modus operandi, so there is a shift in language to still allow the 1% to continue business as usual.

Let's hope the up and coming NEC Elections will elect candidates who support party democracy and allow ordinary members views to reach the Shadow Cabinet.

Hoping the NHS doesn't become PHS (Private Health Service)!!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Abdullah Muhsin Outlines The Plight Of the Independent Trade Union Movement in Iraq

Abdullah Mushin has a long term involvement in seeking to establish independent trade unionism in Iraq. He is currently the foreign representative of the Iraqi Teacher's Union and is in daily contact with trade unions in Iraq. This article initially appeared on the web-site of Labour Friends of Iraq. He gives details of the current state of play in the struggle for widespread and independent trade unionism in Iraq. His cause is in need of continuing support by trade unionists in this country.

Nine years after the end of Saddam’s regime, and more than two months since Iraq gained its full national sovereignty, the country is experiencing a state of political chaos at best and extreme disintegration at worst.

This has unfortunately allowed fascists such as Al Qaida and Saddam’s diehard loyalists to kill and maim many innocent Iraqi civilians in the last few weeks with suicide car bombs and the assassination of a former leader of the Iraqi Teachers' Union.

Democrats hoped that the end of Saddam’s authoritarian regime in April 2003 would be a new dawn for Iraq’s once mighty democratic trade union movement to rebuild itself in a democratic and independent fashion from the ashes of wars and dictatorship.

However, Iraq's new political elites are unconcerned about the plight of Iraqis who are living without proper social services and with great insecurity.

Instead, these elites are fighting each other for bigger shares of political power and control of Iraq’s natural resources.

Saddam’s unions disappeared in 2003 but left a bad cultural legacy in the minds of Iraqi workers who see unions as no more than instruments of violence in the hands of the state.

The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) was openly and democratically created in May 2003 to replace Saddam’s defunct labour fronts.

It aimed to be a workers voice that champions and defends rights to social justice, jobs, fair pay and working conditions. It aimed to arrest and then eliminate Saddam’s cultural legacy.

However, the occupation authorities, from day one, opposed the IFTU by deliberately keeping Saddam’s anti union laws in place and by putting hurdles in its way.

Successive Iraqi governments have endorsed and maintained this opposition towards nascent democratic unions. They have also repeatedly meddled in their internal affairs to control them and, if that failed, to hinder them vehemently.

The failure of democratic politicians (there are many in parliament and government) to make the necessary changes has helped lead to the near total collapse of law and order and Iraq being engulfed by sectarian strife which segregated Iraqi society along lines of ethnicity, religious and ideological and nationalistic affiliations.

This impacted heavily on workers' attitudes, for they were not immune and they also responded in extreme lines. This national political mess led to the creation of opposing unions along sectarian, religious and ideological and nationalistic lines.

The IFTU, itself a new and fragile structure, recognised immediately the danger but its hands were full with no legal rights to organize and no access to its monies and resources.

The IFTU was battling to build genuine independent and democratic unions, fighting to free its monies and to abolish Saddam’s anti-union diktats in favour of labour laws compliant with ILO standards.

And it struggled to build one united trade union movement that’s capable of halting the threat of sectarianism ever getting grip of Iraq’s nascent trade unions. The IFTU also campaigned to build unions capable of standing up for workers' and women's rights.

From late 2004 it initiated a quiet policy of contacting and speaking to all trade unions centres in Iraq including those in Iraqi Kurdistan. The purpose was simple: for the short term it was trying to find a common ground to work together on issue of common interests. In the long term it was trying to set the foundation for building a united , democratic and independent grassroots trade union structure that has no room for extremist ideas of any shape and form.

This quiet policy initially paid off and a unification meeting was set for September 2005 in Syria at the ICATU headquarters where I was one of four people who represented the IFTU.

The IFTU signed a merger statement with leaders of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), the old official federation and the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions (GFITU) which had split from the GFTU after the invasion of Iraq to form the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW).

The unity statement agreed that the GFIW should work to organize a national conference within three to six months to democratically elect a new leadership and adopt a new democratic internal constitution.

In 2008 two more Islamist federations joined the GFIW which now united five trade union centres. The IFTU's reasons for merger were genuine but unfortunately others had sinister motives. Some of these unions’ leaders who joined with the IFTU worked covertly with some dominant Islamist elements within the state to control the GFIW right from the beginning.

They wanted to divert the GFIW from its primary task of defending workers' rights and to make it a new instrument in the hands of some dominant parties.

Progressive Iraqi forces failed to make a legal and moral democratic stand in support of the Iraqi unions. Combined with extreme government pressure and interference by hardline forces this meant that the unions were finally over taken by the Iraqi state.

The state acted covertly in co-operation with their stooges in the GFIW leadership. The Ministry of Labour used state resources, including security forces, to secure total control of the GFIW at a meeting of its national general council on 18 January 2012. The GFIW website details these twists and turns.

My hope, as one who has spent much of my life in defending and building independent trade unionism, is that the GFIW can regain democratic ideals and values such as social justice, independence and above all serving workers rather than the interests of hardline political masters.

To be blunt, however, the struggle is now harder than before. Further sacrifices and hardship are needed as well as continuing support from the international labour movement. I have some hope that this can be done if the original spirit of the Arab Spring can be harnessed.

Hat tip : Labour Friends Of Iraq.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"The Lessons Of History" by Bryan Robson

(Left) Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister during the Miners' Lock Out of 1926. (Right) Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister during the Miners' Strike of 1984-5.

The First Betrayal

The 1926 miners strike was caused by the Mine Owners' ultimatum that the length of a mineworkers' shift be increased and that their wages should be decreased. The response by the Miners Federation of Great Britain and its general secretary A J Cook was to call a national strike that began in May 1926. Cook's slogan for the strike was ‘not a penny off the pay not a minute on the day.’

What is not so well known is the fact that this strike should have begun in 1925 but for the intervention of the Conservative Government of Stanley Baldwin and his Chancellor Winston Churchill. The government paid a large financial subsidy to the Mine Owners as a delaying tactic to prepare for a confrontation at a later date of their choice. The response of the mineworkers was to claim a victory, and call it Red Friday; not knowing,of course, the devious intentions of the Tory Government to defeat them at a time of their choosing.

The first piece of legislation put through Parliament, in preparation, was the ‘Emergency Powers’ Act. Other preparations, included the setting up of the Organization for the Maintenance of Supplies; this organization was to be staffed with blackleg labour and volunteers. The volunteers being students. In the meantime, large stocks of coal were to be laid down for the possibility of a long dispute taking place. As a result of forward planning, the Mine Owners and the Government together inflicted a defeat on the miners and the MFGB. They returned to work defeated and demoralized, having to leave behind them black listed colleagues, and of course they had to accept the terms of the Mine Owners.

However, before we leave this important piece of history we must note a significant betrayal by the Nottinghamshire miners which at a later date was to play a major role in the 1984/85 miners strike. George Spencer the Labour MP for Broxtowe negotiated a separate agreement with the Nottinghamshire Mine Owners, and as a result led the Nottinghamshire Miners back to work leaving their fellow miners in other areas to struggle on to defeat. The result of this being that George Spencer was expelled from the Labour Party and became a Liberal MP. The sweetheart union created by George Spencer was called the Nottinghamshire Miners Industrial Union, but was better known in general as Spencer’s Union.

The Second Betrayal

Much has been said about the National Union of Mineworkers failure to hold a National Ballot regarding the 1984/5 strike, but it must be said that the NUM had run a ballot in 1982 regarding a National Coal Board proposal for a National Incentive Scheme, and although a majority of the members of the NUM had rejected this scheme, the Nottinghamshire miners ignored the result on the basis of the federal structure of the NUM, and at this point large stocks of coal started to be piled up in preparation of the forthcoming strike.

The closure programme for the coal mining industry, and therefore strike, was to be delayed in 1981 by the Tory Government. This was because of the Yorkshire Area’s large majority for strike action after the threatened closure of Cortenwood Colliery, which was followed by other areas with large majorities. Three years preparation by the Tory’s was put to good use, and this time instead of the likes of George Spencer’s sweetheart unionism I found that Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson were playing the same sweetheart role with the Nottinghamshire miners as Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill had done nearly 60 years earlier.

I believe there were strategic mistakes regarding picketing, however, I would like to concentrate on the relationship between the Thatcher government and the sweetheart union called the Union of Democratic Miners (Nottinghamshire's breakaway Union). Because politicians like to boast about their achievements after retirement, I acquired Margaret Thatcher’s book ‘The Downing Street years’, and Nigel Lawson’s book ‘The View from Number 11’ - both of which were very revealing.

In Nigel Lawson’s Book, he describes the importance of the Vale of Belvoir mining development as being vital for keeping the Nottinghamshire miners on side and detaching the more moderate area’s from the other more militant ones. In other words buy the Nottinghamshire miners with new jobs that would replace the old ones on closure. So were the Nottinghamshire Miners claiming that their right to work was based on a failure of the NUM to hold a national ballot or a selfish "I’m all right Jack" attitude? This book is worth reading for the duplicitous nature of ruling class Toryism, and it’s no holds barred use of the state and its institutions to remove by ANY means the opposition to its objectives. There is much more to read in this book regarding the miners strike.

In Margaret Thatcher’s book she describes the cosy relationship between the Nottinghamshire Miners leaders (UDM) and herself as follows; "I told my Private Office that when the strike was over I would have representatives of all the working miners to number 10 for a reception, and indeed I did." She also states that she kept in touch with Roy Lynk, the Nottinghamshire leader of the UDM, "who knew that he could speak to me, if and when he needed." Could they have been closer at this point in time?

When Michael Hesletine announced over thirty pit closures in about 1991, he also announced the closure of seven Nottinghamshire pits, to which Roy Lynk responded by going down Silverhill Colliery to do a sit-in. But before he went down the mine, he claimed the working miners of 1984/5 had been betrayed and stabbed in the back, so it seems to me there was more job promises than the Vale of Belvoir.

So it can be seen that the ruling class are not to be trusted, as the ‘divide and rule’ philosophy is not just about creating Empires, but can be usefully deployed over domestic policies. Finally I would remind the UDM miners that Thatcher said “greed is good,” but in this case it did not apply to them!