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Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Statement from a Newcastle University Worker:
Restructuring of the Universities
New Worker Book Review:
The Irish Socialist Who Gave the World The Red Flag
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Commentary by the Northern Regional Committee of RCPB(ML)
Much has been written about in the media about the recent resignation of Stephen Byers as Secretary for State for Transport. However, what has tended to be glossed over is Tony Blairs reshuffle as a whole and the new ministerial appointments that the Prime Minister made following the resignation. What is most striking is how the sacking or "resignation" of Ministers is utilised to make sweeping changes to the executive of government. During the reshuffle after Stephen Byers there were 22 new appointments and nine new Labour Party whips (which are in effect Parliamentary whips). This goes much further than replacing one Minister. Furthermore, the scenario of the Opposition calling for the sacking of a Minister and a subsequent "resignation" is a very convenient diversion from the fact that Parliament does not elect or control appointment to Cabinet or to government ministries. Even more significantly, this arrangement of "Opposition calls for resignation", "resignation" and "new appointments" is the way the party in power serves the interests of the financial oligarchy that they represent in that it is used to bring into government career politicians that best represent their interests at any one time. This goes hand in hand with the political process that marginalises people from selecting candidates for elections and allows party leaders to select and parachute career politicians into Parliament and fast-track them into the executive of government.
During the recent reshuffle, one such career politician who was fast-tracked was David Milliband, being appointed Schools Minister. David Milliband was elected MP for South Shields at the last general election in June 2001. Prior to the General Election he had been head of Tony Blair's Downing Street policy unit. He had no connection with South Shields and only became the candidate after the election had been announced and the incumbent MP, David Clark, unexpectedly resigned. David Milliband was selected by the Labour Party in spite of the fact that there was widescale opposition to the Labour Party leadership in imposing an outside candidate, and opposition by many even within the South Shields Labour Party on the grounds that there were better local candidates. He won the election with a reduced vote for the Labour Party with words from the hustings such as: "We are ready to move beyond the politics of the 1980s. I now want to put my energy into achieving change on the ground;" and: "Use public money to support the development of new businesses." This policy, this "change on the ground", has not solved the chronic unemployment crisis in South Shields or stopped the decline in manufacturing, which has seen notably the closure of Viasystems and the closure of its subsequent management buy-out. Yet within one year Tony Blair is fast-tracking David Milliband on the ladder of ministerial appointment.
This demonstrates how the system works to parachute career politicians into Parliament and how it suits the party in power and the overall interests of big business and finance capital. Such a system is fuelling the political crisis. As increasingly people demand a say in political affairs, the government introduces a whole programme of "constitutional reform" such as replacing the hereditary House of Lords not by an accountable second chamber but by further political patronage. In the regions it is to introduce "regional assemblies" which in the name of giving the regions "a greater say over the key issues that affect them" are aimed at putting the regional economies and public services at the disposal of the global monopolies by putting in place this same party-dominated system of career politicians that exists at Westminster.
At the same time, it serves to expose the Labour Party as a party that has nothing to do with the voice of labour, or with some social-democratic reforms of capitalism, but as a party that wants to increasingly find ways to circumvent the electoral process so that it can better serve the interests of the financial oligarchy. This is what the government is doing as the crisis deepens. It serves the interests of the rapacious monopolies in justifying their attack on the rights of the people at home and abroad fighting to oppose the "New World Order", and to crush any opposition to their plans to make maximum profits from public services and every aspect of the economy. It is a system which serves the growing fascism and the drive to war.
When one set of career politicians becomes increasingly exposed, then this system serves the bourgeoisie in finding a new set of career politicians that can be called upon to take power, a further set who can be found to reiterate in ever more sophisticated ways that individuals should fend for themselves. The efforts of the Conservative Party to regroup fits into this scenario. The aim of the bourgeoisie is to have in place a "centre right" alternative similar to the other "centre right" coalitions that are being brought to power in Europe and elsewhere. Such an Opposition is of exactly the same quality as the New Labour government in power, but it retains a character of the worse of two evils. It is this character that the New Labour government and its pundits use to justify the anti-social "Third Way" programme and retain its favoured position as representing the interests of the rich. But neither the path of New Labour's "Third Way" nor the path of the Opposition that the bourgeoisie is preparing offer progress for the people. The two form an indivisible whole. These political arrangements work to represent the interests of the bourgeoisie and disempower the people. They act as a block to democratic renewal, to finding a way out of the crisis and to the further development of society.
Such a block, such a crisis in the political process, is calling for modern political arrangements that subordinate the executive to the legislature and subordinate the legislature to the electorate. What are some of the features of modern political arrangements which are taking shape as the alternative is planted and nurtured?
Firstly, how should candidates be selected? Workers, health workers, women, national minorities with their cultures, pensioners, differently abled, students and other collectives should be able to select those candidates from their peers who are respected and are part of the collective, able to represent the best interests of that collective in the legislature and provide a voice for those interests. Such candidates should be particularly chosen in the workplaces, as well as educational institutions, as well as other various collectives, not as representing a "community" but the rights and interests of an objective collective of the people. Such a modern definition of a candidate opposes the idea that only the high-flyers, intellectuals, lawyers, et al, can represent the whole "community" including all the collectives of the people. That archaic conception of a candidate is not only a block on the development of democracy but debases the collectives of professional people whose best interests themselves are not represented.
Secondly, it is not political parties who should choose the candidates. The job of political parties is to politicise sections of the polity. But this is not how the big parties operate. They depoliticise the people in the present political process by dividing the polity on the basis of parties and force the electorate to hand over all decision-making power based on a minority of the total number of voters. That power is handed over to the Party leader who also more and more decides who is to stand in which constituency. Then the people are subject to the kind of moral blackmail that these are the "representatives" in the system of "representative democracy", i.e. candidates that can "cut it" with the "makers and shapers" but in fact who line up behind and are the champion of the moment for the financial oligarchy, the real winners in making "business successful in the global market". So, the illusion is complete. Here the electors have a "rising star", but in reality it is the finance capitalists who actually hold the power in the country and for whom the decisions are made. In Britain under New Labour this deception has become a fine art. A radical reform is needed from this system. What is needed is not a reform that is, as it were, wresting the existing system back for the working people, for the labour movement, but a fundamental alternative which undermines the system the bourgeoisie has perfected and which is 100 per cent backed by the armed and other power of the state.
So the alternative to the parties selecting candidates could and should be systematised as the struggle for this alternative develops, in terms of works electoral committees, for example. But this must be achieved on a new historical basis which involves the workers and other collectives in the political process, in the selection of candidates, and in elaborating the criteria for and defining what favours their interests, and guards against any elitism, lobbying, and so forth. There should be no funding of political parties by the state, but the state should fund these mechanisms, i.e. the state should facilitate the people being at the centre of the political process. Political parties can be funded in any way they chose to win support and represent their class, but should be barred from selecting candidates and coming to power.
Thirdly, meanwhile, while fighting for such mechanisms, the workers should mobilise the people to fight for the alternative, and themselves form the united front of the workers to build the Workers Opposition, and fight the bourgeoisie head on, stop the "Third Way" programme from going through, and organise the class in and for itself.
In the course of this, class conscious workers, as well as all other democratic and progressive forces interested in the programme of stopping the rich being paid, and in a pro-social programme representing the rights of the people and their collectives and their individual and collective claims on society, should consider joining and building the Communist Party on the new historical basis. This is the Mass Communist Party, with its myriad links in society representing what is best and most enlightened, which too should not come to power but be a powerful instrument of fighting for the programme of the working class and politicising the class, and uniting the broad masses of people behind and around its programme. This is the programme of the class for a new socialist society, in which the rights of the people are put at the centre of all decision-making, where the working class constitutes itself the nation, taking hold of what is its by right, and ensures that sovereignty, political decision-making power, rests with the electorate as a whole, when these mechanisms are developed, elaborated and sophisticated.
Statement from a Newcastle University Worker:
Jobs are under attack at Newcastle University. National organised action is urgently required. This is a national rather than a local issue. Redundancies are also being threatened at other universities, for example at Salford, Birmingham, Queen Mary London (QMUL) and Queen's University Belfast. Vice Chancellors up and down the country see Newcastle as an example of how restructuring should occur. Someone at our last EGM commented that VCs from other Universities are contacting our VC asking if Newcastle can lay on courses to senior managements everywhere on how to restructure quickly and with the minimum of fuss! If the University here at Newcastle gets away with compulsory redundancies over the summer, this will be a green light to the managements at Universities up and down the country to repeat this success story. We need to build big and representative action committees explicitly to fight compulsory redundancies everywhere. Our fight is your fight - you must support our lobbies and national AUT must take national action NOW before it is too late, the most effective at the present time would be to withhold exam marks.
The University of Newcastle upon Tyne, despite the fact that it is not currently in debt, has announced that, as part of its restructuring, it is contemplating the possibility of compulsory redundancies in the near future to generate financial "headroom". According to management, the savings are required if Newcastle is to become a "Top Ten" university. They told a journalist that they have had 129 applications (all grades of staff - UNISON, MSF, AUT, etc.) accepted for voluntary severance to date! They have not yet told us the number of job losses anticipated. Our estimate is that they are looking for 200 to 300 job losses, possibly around 260. They also told the journalist that they were half way to their target which would make our estimate about right. The voluntary severance scheme closes at the end of July 2002 for academics and 31 October 2002 for support staff. Staff are effectively being asked to pay for this restructuring with their jobs. This is all about Newcastle fighting for its position as a research University, encouraged by the New Labour government's neo-liberal economic policy which means public services are being run down and private money is being sought after to replace public funding (vis a vis PFI in the health service). In addition to the loss of staff, there will also be a major increase in workload for remaining staff and the prospect of regular six monthly reviews of performance with targets being set for i) numbers of papers published; ii) grant applications made; iii) numbers of research students; iv) amount of income generated from private sources. About 70 departments have been shrunk down to 30 Schools. One to one interviews are currently being conducted to "populate" the new Schools where targets have already been mentioned in some interviews. So far there have been voluntary redundancies using the University Voluntary Severance Scheme. This is stated as being open to all staff to apply for - however, many staff have been refused permission to leave under this scheme. The take-up on the scheme has now fallen off considerably and it is no longer projected to achieve the £6m cost reduction that was sought. In addition to the voluntary redundancies under this scheme there have also been substantial numbers of staff who are on fixed term or other forms of contract who have simply not had their contracts renewed. These are again forms of redundancy that are not being declared by the University.
The University will be spending the money saved on various (as yet undisclosed) projects to enhance the University's standing. These will be hard pressed to recover the damage that has already been done to the staff morale, and by the savage cuts to the Centre for Lifelong Learning (a Centre for which the University has always been rightly proud). The Physics Department has also been divided up to "populate" different Schools. Schemes that have been announced to date include the provision of a new suite of offices for the Vice Chancellor (replacing the recently re-furbished offices in Kensington Terrace), the probable demolition of several significant buildings to create open spaces on campus, and the construction of some new facilities. It is also interesting to note that the University is currently paying for a personal chauffeur for the VC.
Newcastle University campus unions (AUT/MSF/UNISON) call on campus unions from up and down the country as well as students and other interested parties to make every effort to attend the next two lobbies at Newcastle University. Here is a chance to make a difference. The government and the university managements are vulnerable over the issue of redundancies, that is why they are trying their best to keep it quiet.
Don't let management get away with quietly making people redundant over the vacation. They are relying on the fact that we are all busy with exams, etc. Let's show them that we are not going to be intimidated. Oppose ALL of the compulsory redundancies threatened at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Support and attend the Lobbies of Council (12th June, 3pm outside the Centre for Life, next to Newcastle Railway Station) and Senate (18th June, 1 pm, to assemble outside the Students' Union). Fax messages of support to Newcastle AUT at 0191 222 6734 (address: 10 Eldon Place, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU).
Our fight is your fight!
By Theo Russell, NCP
New Worker Book Review
The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.
Jim Connell, born 1852, died 1929.
The Red Flag has gained a place in the history of the international proletariat second only to The Internationale. A new pamphlet by Andrew Boyd of the socialist history society details the life of the fiery Irish socialist behind the song, Jim Connell.
Connell penned The Red Flag in 1889 on a short suburban train journey to New Cross in southeast London, and it was first published in the journal Justice. Within a week it was being sung in Liverpool and Glasgow.
Many years later, Connell wrote that the song was inspired by the upsurge in trade unionism at the end of the 1880s, the Land League in Ireland, the struggle against tsarism in Russia, and the hanging of the Chicago anarchists in 1887 the struggles of the international proletariat of his time. It reflected a time of great strides in working class political life, after a quarter century of economic depression when reaction had reigned supreme on the international scene.
Connell was born in 1852 in Kilskyre, County Meath, Ireland. In 1867, a time of political turbulence and land rebellion in Ireland, his family moved to Dublin. Here he first encountered socialist activists, in particular John Landyre a member of the International Workingmen's League, the First International. He also joined the nationalist Fenian movement, and claimed to have been sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
In the footsteps of millions of Irish men and women, Connell then made his way to England and London in search of reliable work. Here he developed his knowledge of politics, economics and science, particularly Darwin's theories.
In a pamphlet entitled Socialism and the Survival of the Fittest, Connell challenged the idea of capitalism being a "natural" system. He contrasted many species in nature, such as bees, who were "natural communists", with capitalism, which protects the unfit and parasitical in the shape of those non-producers, the capitalists themselves.
Connell was to spend the rest of his life in England as a socialist activist, writer and journalist. For 10 years he was a member of the Social Democratic Federation led by Henry Hyndman, an arch-opportunist with the rare distinction of being condemned and despised by Marx, Engels and, later on, Lenin. The SDF did however support the cause of Irish land reform and self-determination; both Connell and Hyndman were on the executive of the National Land League of Great Britain, which aimed to promote the need for land reform in Ireland amongst the workers in England.
In the late 1890s Connell left the SDF and joined Independent Labour Party, then led by Keir Hardie and the leaders of the "new unionism". The ILP, a reformist party dominated by Fabians, was described by Lenin as "an opportunist party that has always been dependent on the bourgeoisie," but it had some progressive aims, including parliamentary representation for the trade union movement and nationalisation of key industries.
With the outbreak of imperialist war in 1914 the labour and socialist movement in Britain and across Europe was split asunder, the majority of social democratic leaders, including Hyndman, betraying the working class and adopting a jingoist pro-war stance.
Andrew Boyd recounts that Connell was a life-long pacifist, as was Keir Hardie, who argued in public meetings and in parliament for Britain to remain neutral in the war. But apart from saying that Connell "had always been a pacifist," Boyd has nothing to add about Connell's position on the war.
The pamphlet says nothing of Connell's reactions to the momentous events taking place in Ireland, his home country the 1916 Easter Rising, the Tan War, and partition in 1921.
According to his daughter Norah Walshe, Connell believed that Soviet Russia was on the right road to socialism and heard "glowing accounts" of Soviet society from his old comrade and friend, the trade union leader Tom Mann, who visited the young Soviet state.
The Red Flag remained the anthem of the Labour Party's conferences for many decades, but in 1925 the despicable turncoat Ramsay MacDonald attempted to have it dropped. A competition to find an alternative was set up by the Daily Herald, but unfortunately for MacDonald, of the 300 submissions the highly respected judges were unanimous that none "would even run a sporting chance of replacing the Red Flag".
Incredibly, The Red Flag was last sung at a Labour conference as recently as 1999, when MacDonald's worthy heir Tony Blair and his New Labour colleagues decided it just had to go.
Jim Connell was by all accounts something of a maverick. According to the communist author Wal Hannington, a close friend in Connell's later life, he was "very much an individualist who would have found it difficult to accept any sort of party discipline," while Norah Walshe said that at times he could be "wild, uncontrollable and impulsive".
Notwithstanding, he was a man who remained true throughout his life to the ideals of socialism, using his many skills to further the cause, and in the process giving us The Red Flag. He died in February 1929 in Lewisham, south London.
Jim Connell was awarded the Red Star Medal by V I Lenin in 1922. His memory is preserved by a plaque at 22a Stondon Park, Lewisham, South London, and a bronze bust in Crosskiel, County Meath, Ireland.
Andrew Boyd's pamphlet leaves some questions unanswered, but it does provide an excellent image of Jim Connell and his life. As he points out, his greatest monument is of course The Red Flag itself.
Jim Connell, Author of the Red Flag, Andrew Boyd, 2001. Cost £3.50 post free from: Socialist History Society, 50 Elmfield Road, London SW17 8AL; in Ireland (north and south) from : Donaldson Archives, 532 Antrim Road, Belfast BT15 5GH.
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