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Durham Miners' Gala Online:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Durham Miners' Gala Online:
The Second Saturday in July 2020 - Workers Speaking in the Defence of the Rights of All
In Defence of Pensions:
March and Rally of Nissan Workers against Attack on Pensions
The United States:
The Crisis in the United States and the Striving for Change
Upsurge of Resistance in the US:
The People Must Rely on Themselves Not the State to Bring About Change that Favours Them
Trump's July 3 Mount Rushmore Speech:
An Obsolete Definition of Who Is a Citizen
Newcastle Stop the War Zoom Meeting:
NATO, War and the "Special Relationship"
Another Education is Possible
For Your Information:
Covid-19 and the Impact on Social Care
Durham Miners' Gala Online:
On Saturday, July 11 at 1pm Alan Mardghum, President of the Durham Miners' Association (DMA) welcomed everyone to the online Durham Miners' Gala for 2020. He said that normally this would have meant there would have been in excess of 200,000 people on the streets of Durham celebrating at the Durham Miners' Gala. He said that "by cancelling some time ago due to the coronavirus outbreak I think we made the right decision, but we need to mark this event with the online version of the Durham Miners' Gala". He thanked the key workers who have kept this country going in very, very unusual circumstances and he said you will be hearing from rank and file key workers in the course of this event who have played a massive part in keeping us safe.
He passed on the condolences of the DMA and all its supporters to those who have lost loved ones in this current pandemic and said our thoughts our with you and he spoke of all those who had died in the labour movement in the last year and in the pandemic. Poignantly, during the proceedings, he introduced the DMA Brass Band to play a very moving rendition of Gresford, outside a windswept Redhills, dedicated to the memory of all those who had gone.
Alan Mardghum also spoke about the 25 brass bands in the Durham miners' area who would be contributing to celebrating this event as well and he said there would also be short films throughout the day and also spoke in the procedure of the online event about the importance of the Gala's stand of international solidarity. He said the Miners' Gala would be back better than ever next year marking the 150th anniversary of the first Durham Miners' Gala and Big Meeting back in 1871. He then made a direct appeal to join the Marras  to raise the funds for future Galas well into the future.
In the film that followed  Ross Forbes, DMA Programme Directorin speaking about the history of the Gala said: "The origins of the Durham Miners' Gala when it first came to Durham were that it was the people of the county, the coalminers coming to Durham to claim their reets [rights]. It was the start of a political movement and organised labour."
Deb Egglestone, NASUWT teacher from Shildon said that the students she teaches were also disappointed when they heard that the Gala had to be cancelled as they all look forward to being part of the event every year, but said as the teachers and key workers that we rely on we adapt. She read a poem she had written in celebration of teachers who have been working hard in lock-down .
Jason Llewelyn, Branch Secretary CWU Durham said if the pandemic has taught us one thing it has taught us that the economy in this country, its infrastructure survived through the pandemic because of workers, normal working class people. They do jobs that quite often get unrecognised, like cleaners, delivery people, people working in hospitals and the lesson that will be learnt from that. It is the importance of those people, the importance of the trade unions and that next years Gala will be a celebration of that and the work we need to do.
Miriam Mafemba, a Unison representative and a staff nurse from Newcastle Hospitals said that this year has been an extremely challenging year for all of us working in an acute NHS Trust during the current pandemic. She said it has been particularly stressful and challenging and the solidarity amongst her colleagues and the support from the public has been amazing and this is the spirit of the Big Meeting. She said her union at this year's Gala would be calling on the government to properly recognise the work of health workers and start negotiations on a pay award for all health workers.
Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said Durham was one of the highlights of the year for tens of thousands. He said Covid-19 has highlighted some of the injustices and inequalities in our society and we have seen a stark reminder of those in power who have failed to plan and prepare. This has been exacerbated by 10 years of austerity by those who have devastated our public services including the fire and rescue service. He said the crisis has shown who really matters and he said it is not those making the profits out of society but it is all those who have carried on our society so it can continue to function, both public service workers and workers in every sector as well. He said that beside the nice words we are already starting to see the attacks on workers as the bosses expect us to pay the price yet again for the crisis. He continued that we are already seeing tens of thousands of jobs under threat, or going. He said that we have to put a marker d own here at the Gala that we are not prepared to accept that and that we want to see a different way of doing things around the principles of our movement. He said, these are the principles of solidarity and socialism that we carry in our hearts and in our heads, of looking after each other, of putting workers at the heart of decision making and they should be the guiding light as we enter the post Covid-19 world. He concluded. "We can't be together today but we will over the coming months organise together, talk together, think for ourselves and organise for ourselves."
Val Clarke, a Unison health and safety representative and cleaner from Gateshead said that in spite of the massive disruption of Covid-19 with everyone pulling together we have found ways to get around the problems to keep everything running as smoothly as possible and that she was involved in doing checks to ensure that safety measures were put in place to protect key workers. She said we now need to continue and not be complacent.
Vinnie Humphries ASLEF train driver, Gateshead, said that train drivers have found themselves in a position of ensuring national and local transport routes have remained open for key workers needing to travel. He said it would have been much harder without the trade unions and they had been working together with workplace safety one of the paramount goals for the unions at this time of national emergency. He said in spite of the fact there is no Durham Miners' Gala this year the pride and unity of Gala will serve us in the struggle to come because our communities are facing serious hardship. He said we must hold the government to account and show that inequality is not just a way of life. All working people need pay that reflects their necessity so let's all stand together in solidarity and unity is strength.
Yvette Williams, Justice 4 Grenfell said how beautiful it was last year when the DMA visited Grenfell. She said she was proud that we both hold the biggest street celebrations in Britain. We have the Notting Hill Carnival in the South and you have this wonderful Gala in the North. She said the question of inequalities showed that the issue of race was an issue of class and we must join together to resist these conditions and we must fight to win. She said that when she stood with her daughter and watched Grenfell burn it told her everything that was wrong with the society that we live in. She said it was the community and others that gathered to join us that were left to look after people and there were no statutory services that came to assist us at the beginning. The cladding which burnt so rapidly was put onto the building to make it look pretty to the wealthy areas around Grenfell tower. She commented that three years after the fire, 23,000 homes still remain with cladding on and she commented that it is a bit like the Covid-19 pandemic a virus that has also quickly acquired the status of inequality inthe communities where we live. She pointed out that those in power have chosen to leave out social inequality from the terms of reference of the current enquiry so there will be no recommendations that will be delivered for change.
She referred to the Black Lives Matter movement. George Floyd's murder showed that those who make the profits show us no humanity. At the same time, it lays bear that it is the exploitation of mining communities like in Durham, the Grenfell community, alongside the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade and the imperial plundering. She declared that we are the ones who have contributed to the world economy and everyone should be outraged at the murder of George Floyd and she said they need to remove their knees from our necks now. She said she had so much to share but wanted to tell everyone that ever since her father carried her in his arms in 1972 to see the demonstration in support of the miners in Saltley Birmingham, where they lived, she had known from him and since then from her own experience what solidarity really meant. She concluded by saying, remember the things that keep us together. "We have our culture, we have our organising and organisations, we have our strength, we h ave our communities and we have our love."
Workers' Weekly hails the contribution of The DMA that in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to cancel the Gala, the online Gala has contributed an event that brings people together for a virtual "day in Durham", which continues the aims, struggles, sacrifices and aspirations of the working class seen itself over 135 Gala days and Big Meetings. This online event has in particular given a voice to workers speaking out in their own name in the present pandemic crisis taking a stand on livelihoods, safety, health and life and an end to the ruling elite's racist colonial legacy that it uses in its attempt to divide people.
This year has yet again been a manifestation where some 30,000 people have liked this online event, contributed, or taken part in its cultural presentations, its collective values and most of all in its defence of the the rights of all.
Marras: Friends of Durham Miners' Gala
 Join us for an online celebration of the Durham
 Poem: Celebration of Teachers (15.30)
On Saturday, July 11, hundreds of Nissan workers attended a march and rally organised by Unite at Nissan's Washington plant near Sunderland. The rally was in response to the firm's plans to close its defined benefits pension scheme.
The march and rally, the first held since the plant opened in 1984, was disciplined and organised with participants socially distanced and with masks. Workers gathered near the plant at around 11.30am and marched to the plant main gate for a rally. At the head of the march was a large red banner, "Nissan Don't Drive Off With Our Pension!". Also present was a banner "Stay Strong Barcelona" in reference to the Nissan plant in Spain which is threatened with closure.
Unite in a statement on their website announcing the rally said that these "were 'opportunistic' plans, which will affect around 1,800 staff, as well as its refusal to offer an industry standard lump sum usually provided when such schemes are closed". The union went on to say that "without 'substantial movement' by the company on the scheme's closure, which would result in staff losing tens of thousands of pounds from their pensions, there could be industrial action at Nissan in Sunderland for the first time".
Steve Turner, Unite Assistant General Secretary, addressing the rally outside Nissan said that the struggle is about pensioner dignity and addressing pensioner poverty. He urged the workers to fight for their pension scheme.
The attack on the Sunderland pension scheme comes as Nissan plans £2.3 billion of cuts worldwide. Workers are determined not to allow Nissan, in alliance with Renault, to utilise the Covid crisis as cover for its anti-worker, anti-social offensive against the workforce. The fight against Nissan's plan to axe the defined pension scheme is an important part of this battle.
For further information on the situation facing Nissan car workers read:
The Situation at the Nissan Car Plant
The main feature of the all-around crisis which is deepening in the United States is that all state institutions, including its governing institutions, bureaucracy, military and political system, are broken. The divisions in the ranks of the rulers are profound indeed, while they are more antagonistic than ever to the people despite the pretence of many to be on the side of the people, on the side of justice.
The major political parties in the US and their media are held in contempt by the multitudes, while pervasive disinformation leaves the polity with a deadening sense of anger confounded by indifference, a feature of depoliticisation intended to leave the people open to the worst demagoguery. Political and economic elites claim the right to speak in the people's name because they constitute a self-promoted "chosen few", a "natural aristocracy", who are entitled to rule and claim the privileges of office. This elite grants itself immunity as protection against incursions on their "right" to hold the monopoly on force by which they rule.
The degeneration in the United States is such that the clash between Condition and Authority is more glaring than ever before. US President Donald Trump is holding his first re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma - the site of the worst racial massacre in US history in 1921. However, the people all over the United States, joined by peoples all over the world, continue to speak in their own name and their striving for empowerment reaches new heights of resistance to police and military violence.
How the likes of Donald Trump can seize the presidency of the United States, said to be the greatest democracy in the world, cannot be understood apart from analysing the US Constitution and its political system in the context of the actual historical situation. How else can one explain what is taking place?
In the actual historical situation, the conflict between the forces and social relations of production underlie the deepening economic crisis, instability and disequilibrium. The productive forces, including the modern working class, exceed by far the bonds of the capitalist social relations of production to which they are allegedly safely tied. This is especially true of the unfolding scientific, technological and industrial revolutions, whose development is in the main driven by competition among sources of capital. Without benefit to the people, these productive forces have grown to such an extent that the sustainability of the natural-social environment is threatened. Such threats result from capitalist social relations that fetter the productive powers. Society's fettered productive powers are actually a block to their organization by society to satisfy the claims of its members in order to meet their needs at a level consistent with the stage of social development.
If this problem is not sorted out, great tragedies face the people. The US government, with its military and bureaucracy, does not have an interest in sorting out these questions to the advantage of the people. The same is the case for Britain, France, Germany and other countries, said to be advanced democracies whose nation-states as constituted long ago have passed away, because only the claims of the owners of capital are deemed legitimate, which means that they compete to lay hold of the monopoly of force. This is how the claim to legitimacy is established by these decadent and corrupt forces as well as, according to them, the authority to use this force in the name of society.
The owners of capital place their claims on society by virtue of holding the right to the monopoly of force of the state machinery. Likewise, by claiming legitimacy and the authority to control the right to use the monopoly of force and coercion, the owners of capital restrict and limit the claims of the working class and people. But the claims to legitimacy are necessarily undermined if people in their conditions of life are completely restricted in terms of the satisfaction of their needs. On this basis, the claims of those who hold the authority that says they legitimately control the monopoly of force in the name of society are called into question.
This is what is happening today. It is what lies at the heart of the demands of the people in the United States when they call for the police to be defunded and disarmed.
The resistance struggle in the United States continues to militantly uphold the demands of justice and give expression to the peoples striving for empowerment even as the rulers, their pundits and media provide a circus to disinform them. It is therefore more necessary than ever to calmly view and analyse the actual historical situation so as to find the line of march which informs the polity. In this context, we reproduce below two articles from the United States Marxist-Leninist Organisation (USMLO) analysing recent developments in the US.
(Based on an article by Pauline Easton in TML Weekly)
Voice of Revolution
People in their millions across the country are demanding that the broken liberal institutions of governance be replaced with modern institutions which are in accord with the needs of the times. To contend with this growing resistance, one aspect of the rulers' disinformation campaign in the United States is that the only role for "the people" is to appeal to the state, and its governments in place at any particular time, to bring about the changes the polity requires. People are to limit their battles to pressuring those in power to do what is right and just. However, the culture of resistance evident in the US, present and past, actually reveals the opposite: it was the enslaved people themselves who were the heart of winning their liberation at the time of the US Civil War, fighting alongside working people south and north to eliminate the slave power and for their right to participate in the political life of the country.
The movement today with African-American workers and youth and working people from all walks of life playing a main role is also not satisfied with reforming the old order. It is demanding fundamental changes and beginning to define what they are. Many actions are being taken in communities across the US to inform and mobilise people to give expression to the changes people want. The people are relying on their own organised forces to bring about changes that favour them.
So too Indigenous peoples continue to defend their lands and fight for the recognition of their rights. Trump chose to speak at Mount Rushmore, which sits on unceded Sioux land. Wounded Knee, site of a US massacre of hundreds of children, women and men in 1890, is only about 75 miles away. It is also the site of repeated FBI organised raids in the 1970s against Native Americans demanding that their rights be upheld, including the killing of dozens of people. Organiser Leonard Peltier was framed for murder during a 1975 raid. He remains today one of the longest serving political prisoners in US jails. Peltier was deported from Canada despite evidence that he was being framed under the hoax that the US demand for his extradition met the requirements of the Canada-US extradition treaty. The US state refuses to release Peltier because he will not renounce the struggle of Indigenous peoples and continues to join in organising efforts. 
The more recent struggle of the water protectors at Standing Rock, joined by people from across the country and even the world, is yet another example of the determined and undaunted quality of the resistance of the Indigenous peoples in the United States and the demand for the recognition of their rights, as defined by them, not the genocidal US state.
For New Relations and a Modern Democracy
The conceptions that the state determines society, and the constitution determines democracy and the democratic institutions, and that these are the best in the world and eternal, are promoted by the rulers to hide the ensemble of social relations between humans and humans and humans and nature. They hide what these relations reveal which is the need for people's empowerment in order to open society's path to progress.
It is society, with its ensemble of human relations between humans and humans and humans and nature, that provides the basis for the state, not the other way around. The claim is made that the state is separate from and external to what goes on in our lives. In fact, the rulers established a state which comes out on top of everyone's life and enters every aspect of life, as is abundantly clear today. Nonetheless, on the basis of the self-serving conception of the neutral, external, perfectly conceived state, the human relations existing in society are ignored. People are instead supposed to look to the state, its governments and institutions and the Constitution as the source of change.
What needs to be looked at is the direct relation people have to producing their way of life, their relations with nature and with all humans. These relations are revealing that the existing relations of power that keep the people out of decision-making must change.
The outcome of the current battles will depend on how far the people see and grasp this necessity for change, the necessity to bring about the deep-going transformations demanded by history. Trump, the elections, the disinformation that the state determines the citizen and the rights of citizenship, are designed to block even looking at this necessity for political power and for fighting for decision-making in the here and now. It is up to the people to determine what is needed, in both content and form, to provide equal membership in the body politic. Membership by virtue of being in that body politic is sufficient to be a citizen, to be that person who enjoys equal rights and duties in that body politic.
The necessity for change means that the people must arm themselves with their own way of looking at the world and all its human relations, their own outlook, politics and institutions. Only in this way can they see and bring into being a bright future for themselves as an integral part of humanity itself.
1. Peltier has been part of current protests as have other political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose presence in the current movement sweeping the United States is felt in myriad ways. Abu-Jamal is a journalist and political activist framed in 1982 for the killing of a police officer in Philadelphia. He was convicted for murder, sentenced to death and after concerted struggle, condemned to life in prison. Many people, especially women, in Trump's detention camps have also expressed their support and demands through hunger strikes and other means.
President Trump's July 3 speech at Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, was indicative of many things, not least of which is his racist, anti-worker and anti-communist outlook. What Trump said boils down to repeating that the US is the main force for equality in the world, the greatest nation on earth and that it is indispensable -- at a time many millions in the US and worldwide are demonstrating just how illegitimate such claims are. Along with saying that July 4 is the "most important day in the history of nations", the speech is imbued with the denigration of the peoples of the world and their contributions. Referring to the presidents whose faces are sculpted on the face of Mount Rushmore, Trump said:
"They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: 'all men are created equal.'"
"Before these figures were immortalised in stone, they were American giants in full flesh and blood, gallant men whose intrepid deeds unleashed the greatest leap of human advancement the world has ever known."
"We will state the truth in full, without apology: We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth."
Besides noting the extreme chauvinism and racist spirit of the speech, going to the heart of the matter is a major concern of the people of the United States: Who gets to define citizenship in the United States?
According to Trump, he gets to define who is and who is not a citizen in "his America". Despite his particularly narrow and racist definition which is rejected by everyone except a very few self-serving bigots of his ilk, the real issue is the practice in the United States where it is the state which defines the citizen, not the citizens who define the state. Ipso facto, it is not the people who define their own rights and duties by virtue of their being.
Should the being, qualities and beliefs of citizens be determined by those who have usurped the monopoly on the use of force and coercion backed up by an obsolete Constitution and laws which seek to give this legitimacy? No, it should not. It is the people who should define citizenship and give it a content consistent with their needs and the requirements of the times in a manner which favours them.
The location of the July 3 speech and the speech itself were used to attack the mass movement which continues in the United States. It is clear that Trump is using the oft-repeated declaration that he is a law-and-order president to oppose the people's striving for empowerment. But the clash between the exploiters and the oppressed over where the country is headed, anger with the government's failures concerning the Covid-19 pandemic and categorical rejection of police violence and impunity ring ever louder. The demand for equality and accountability far surpasses Trump's threats of suppression through the use of force.
Despite differences in the ranks of the ruling elite for and against Trump, the ruling class as a whole is eager to block the emergence of a modern conception of rights and citizenship which the people's striving for empowerment is giving rise to. Their differences are over how to appear to govern on behalf of the nation while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Differences also pertain to who they can put in the office of the president who can best give an air of legitimacy to their monopoly over the use of force. If Trump cannot do it and quell the revolt within the ranks of the elite and between the elite and the people, then they need someone who can. It is the search for such a person we see in the run-up to the Democratic and Republican Conventions, planned for August 17-20 and August 24-27 respectively, and the ongoing election campaign. The obsolete Constitution cannot help them to sort out what's what because the conditions it was devised to deal with no longer ex ist.
A modern conception of rights declares that all those who make up the body politic are equal members with equal rights to decide the quality and shape of that body politic. A body politic can no longer tolerate a hierarchy of privileges given out by those with the right connections. It can no longer tolerate being divided between those who govern and those who are governed, those who rule and have the monopoly over the use of force and those who are ruled and have nothing.
Repeatedly in the Mount Rushmore speech, Trump emphasised that to be considered American, one must believe in what the state decides. This means supporting the military and its wars, evidenced in part by having both the state Air National Guard and the Air Force's Blue Angels fly over. When he proclaimed July 4 as "the most important day in the history of nations", he said that "every American heart should swell with pride. Every American family should cheer with delight." Implicit is the threat that should they not, they will be dealt with swiftly and deserve whatever they get.
"Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children," Trump said. "Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive," he said.
Those standing up against state-organised racist assaults, against the slave power and its Confederacy that defended the system of slave labour, against the violence and impunity of the police and military today, are the "they". This "they" stands outside of "the American people", Trump says. On the basis of this claim, this "they" can legitimately be targeted as "the enemy". It is neither mistaken phrasing on his part, nor an exaggeration about how those who seek to give rise to a modern definition of rights are categorised. The theme is repeated throughout the speech.
"Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America's destiny," Trump said. "We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation's children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life," he said.
The "American way of life" and "destiny" Trump and the rulers are striving to protect is precisely what is being questioned by the mass movement of unprecedented size, scope, vigour and determination. Neither Trump nor any of the pundits commenting on the speech have any intention of dwelling on the fact that this "way of life" is responsible for hundreds of years of enslavement and genocide of Africans and Indigenous peoples (and that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln all enforced), and that continues to this day. It is a cover-up for the use of armed force against Mexico and pretend that large swaths of territory appropriated by the United States were not stolen from Mexico. It is to divert attention from the continued and stepped up discrimination against Mexican Americans, the colonisation of Puerto Rico that continues to this day and discrimination against peoples of Latin American, Caribbean and Asian origin, and the "destiny" of the US as a world imperialist power responsibl e for untold wars, occupations, massacres and genocide on a world scale, of which Teddy Roosevelt was a major architect.
While the people are demanding that the defunct liberal institutions of governance be replaced with modern institutions which are in accord with the needs of the times, Trump also once again targeted governors and mayors who will not do his bidding. This reflects the deep divisions among the rulers and their military bureaucracy and policing agencies, as to how the US can maintain its monopoly on the use of force to maintain its domination at home and abroad.
"The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions," Trump said. "My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country," he said.
Who are the "fellow Americans" Trump is trying to rally? Calculations put the number of people directly participating in current protests at 15-20 million. Their "America" is not the one Trump describes. What the people in the United States want is inscribed on their signs, murals, street paintings and expressed in their slogans. Signs carried in demonstrations, especially those involving immigration and separation of families, and those against police impunity show clearly that Trump's America is not the "America" of the people; Trump's "the people" are not the people who are coming forward to speak in their own name and who represent themselves.
The rulers fear the growing consciousness that the "way of life" the elites praise, of which Trump's is just one variant, and the governing arrangements that protect it do not represent the people, do not serve the interests of the peoples of the world or of the US. The rulers have no intention of providing a new direction which provides a way forward because all of them serve narrow private interests. For the elites, the liberal democratic institutions are the end of history, the pinnacle of what human civilisation has given rise to. This is why many within the ruling class who oppose Trump say he is deviating from the constitution, and the liberal democratic institutions must prevail. They hide the fact that these institutions are obsolete and the Constitution is obsolete. They can no longer sort out the contradictions within the ranks of the rulers or between the rulers and the people who are demanding arrangements consistent with the times and their needs.
The people of the United States are striving to take democracy beyond the limits imposed at the time of the American revolution, Civil War and subsequent developments. They seek to put in place a democracy of the people's own making that empowers them to govern and take the decisions which affect their lives.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
To take part contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
As part of its monthly meetings, Newcastle Stop the War Coalition is holding a discussion meeting on Zoom to update everyone on Britain's current activities and war preparations in NATO alongside the US and its "special relationship". If you want to take part in the discussion, please contact Newcastle Stop the War before the meeting.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign
Join the live online discussion with special guest from Cuba, Niurka Gonzalez, General Secretary of the Cuban teaching union, (SNTECD) next Wednesday, July 22, at 6pm.
Hear what can be learnt from Cuba's education system and how the Cuban teaching union is being consulted and involved in recovery plans for the education sector as Cuba begins to ease its lockdown.
Please register for free and submit any questions in advance using the link below.
Drawing on themes raised in the recent publication, Beyond the Blockade, British teachers discuss Cuba's alternative approach to education and society and the lessons drawn through four years of National Education Union (NEU) delegations.
The General Secretary of the Cuban teaching union joins Cuba Solidarity to discuss Cuba's response to Covid-19 in the education sector and the role teaching unions have played during the crisis and in plans to get children back to school. She will also look back on 25 years of solidarity between the National Education Union (NEU) in Britain and the National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers (SNTECD) in Cuba.
Niurka Maria Gonzalez Obera, General Secretary, SNTECD (Education,
Science and Sports Union Cuba)
Malcolm Richards, Devon NEU and editor of Beyond the blockade
Bernard Regan, NEU trustee, Secretary Cuba Solidarity Campaign
Lucy Coleman, Early Years teacher, Oxfordshire NEU
Chair: Gawain Little, NEU executive member, Chair of International Committee
Hosted jointly by the National Education Union and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign
On July 15, over 300 viewers tuned in to an online rally by RMT, ASLEF, TSSA and Unite, all the unions representing employees of Transport for London (TfL). It was the first such joint event in several years, and organisers hope it will be the first of many in the months to come.
The rally was called in anticipation of major cuts to jobs and services due to a drastic reduction in TfL's revenues during the pandemic, as passenger numbers dwindled and fares were suspended. So far, the government has signalled it will make both TfL employees and passengers pay for the budget deficit. The £1.6 billion bailout package it issued in May not only falls well short of the funding needed, it required TfL to raise fares, stop free travel passes for under-18s and restrict free travel for over-60s.
TfL was also forced to accept two government officials onto the TfL board, who have already hired KPMG, a notorious job-cutting consulting firm, to advise on TfL's reorganisation. And TfL has been starved for years. Since the Conservative government cut its yearly £700 million stipend in 2015, London is now the only European capital whose transport network is not subsidised by a national government.
The new union campaign, called "Protect our Transport: Keep London Moving", is opposing all cuts to transport services, cuts to jobs and deterioration of terms and conditions for TfL workers. It is also demanding the full restoration of government subsidies to TfL and a "fully funded, green, integrated and accessible public transport system that meets air quality targets".
The rally showed there exists a strong feeling of anger and a willingness to fight among workers. Speaker after speaker spoke of the injustice felt by TfL staff that they had put their lives on the line during the lockdown, only to have their livelihoods on the line now. Many spoke of the workers who had died from Covid-19, disproportionately of minority backgrounds, and viewers observed a minute of silence for lost colleagues. Others mentioned the gross hypocrisy of the government, who are handing out no-strings-attached money to private train companies while placing stringent cuts on TfL, a public service. And no one missed the chance to call out Johnson's blatant opportunism in using the crisis to gain more power over the network.
The "Protect our Transport" campaign represents some important steps forward for trade unions in the sector. Firstly, each union spelled out the importance of unity in action. As Michelle Rogers, the president of RMT, said, "We don't always agree, however we have to work together to win this." There was also a palpable readiness for an all-out battle, with several speakers claiming a collective strike was on the cards. Secondly, it is significant that the rally took place well ahead of the next TfL budget announcement; the unions are thinking ahead. Finn Brennan, the ASLEF district organiser for the London Underground, explained how his team had already asked for a "cast-iron guarantee" from TfL that there would be no cuts, and as they have not received it, they are "moving quickly" to initiate dispute themselves.
Finally, the campaign is clearly aiming to link industrial action with a broader class struggle for a safer, more equitable and more sustainable transport system. Peter Kavanagh, Unite's London Regional Secretary, spoke of the need for an "external-facing campaign", in which the unions would work with community and environmental advocacy groups. The rally itself included speeches by community activists. Cheryl Beckford, a Unite equalities rep, reminded viewers that minorities staff and communities will be worst affected by cuts to jobs and services.
Paula Peters, from Disabled People Against Cuts, explained how service cuts would delay new disabled access projects in rail and tube stations and pointed out that government proposals for driverless trains were dangerous, especially for disabled riders. Oisin Mulholland, a youth activist from Prospect, showed eloquently how loss of the free travel pass would not only make it harder for working class children to get to school, it would also limit their opportunities to learn outside the classroom, by visiting museums and attending cultural events.
This campaign is a critical fight to protect jobs and safeguard the future of public services coming out of the coronavirus crisis.
(from a Counterfire article by Kate O'Neil)
Trade unions have accused Centrica, the owner of British Gas, of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to force its 20,000 employees to accept worse employment contracts or lose their jobs.
Centrica is attempting to dictate to the workers and their trade unions its "fire and rehire" plans, which, in the language of the company is to "simplify" the wide range of employment contracts used across its 20,000-strong workforce, having already announced plans last month to make 5,000 redundant.
Unions have accused the company of raising the possibility of a section 188 notice  in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic to blackmail staff into agreeing to lower pay and tougher contract terms, following what the company says are record losses prior to the pandemic.
Unite regional officer Mark Pettifer said:
"The notice that Centrica has given the trade unions that it is going to 'fire and rehire' its 20,000 staff on what, we believe, will be inferior pay and employment conditions is deplorable. It is part of a disturbing trend where employers are using the pandemic to shed staff and erode employment conditions. Centrica is adopting the same tactics as BA and is using Covid-19 as a smokescreen to cut jobs of loyal and dedicated staff who have worked through the lockdown providing energy to the nation.
"Centrica has been in consultations with the unions for the last fortnight over its future plans and now in an act of bad faith unveils its 'fire and rehire' plans. It smacks of blackmail - 'If you don't do what we want, we will issue notice of dismissals'. Unite urges the Centrica management to have an urgent rethink and engage constructively with the trade unions to tackle the specific issues facing Centrica and, more generally, the UK energy sector post-Covid-19."
Matthew Bateman, the managing director of British Gas, told employees via a video meeting that there was a possibility that the company may need to give notice to all employees that their current terms and conditions would be ended and new terms offered. He added that the section 188 notice was "a normal legal step" which was "really, firmly our backstop position" to ensure that the talks with union representatives "don't take too long". "We know this is an emotive subject and we also know that it will cause further anxiety for our teams," he said.
The workers and their unions are taking a stand against the dictate of what the monopolies call the competitive nature of the market place. It is unacceptable that a utility company, which fulfils a public need, should put private vested interests in the first place, when what is required is a public enterprise serving the needs of society and in which the workers have a decisive say.
1. The duty to consult, set out in section 188 of the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act (TULRCA), is triggered when an employer proposes to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within 90 days or less.
Sophie John, July 9, 2020, Office for National Statistics (ONS)
As the coronavirus pandemic has developed, carers and those receiving care have been significantly affected. The ONS has undertaken several pieces of analysis looking at the impact on social care patients, care staff and those with caring responsibilities. Sophie John examines the overall picture of findings so far.
The impact on those working in the care sector
Health and social care workers are the largest proportion of key worker occupations, making up 31% of these roles while 15% of key workers are identified to be at moderate risk from Covid-19, mostly due to certain health conditions such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes. Using the Coronavirus infection survey, we found that people working in patient-facing roles like NHS professionals and nursing home or care home workers had a higher positive Covid-19 test rate (1.58%) than those who work in non-patient facing roles (0.27% tested positive).
The nature of these roles, where staff are in close contact with patients and other employees, may result in them being more likely to come into contact with someone who has Covid-19. To explore this we have reported on elevated death rates involving coronavirus for male and female social care workers.
Additionally, the health and social work industry have, understandably, the highest levels of staff continuing to work at their normal place of work, rather than remotely. The Business Impact of Covid-19 survey (wave 5) revealed that people who worked in this industry also had the highest proportion of increased working hours when compared to other industries. Furthermore, it has been reported that more key workers (12%) than non-key workers (10%) have caring responsibilities.
In a survey of more than 9,000 care homes providing support for dementia patients and older people in England, more than half (56%) of the care homes that responded had at least one confirmed case of coronavirus, as reported by care home managers. Across those care homes where managers reported at least one case of coronavirus, 7% of staff are estimated to have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Care homes using bank or agency nurses or carers regularly, are more likely to have cases in staff and residents compared to those care homes who never use bank or agency staff. Care homes where staff regularly work elsewhere are more likely to have more cases in staff than those who have staff who never work elsewhere. Finally, care homes in which staff receive sick pay are less likely to have cases of Covid-19 in residents compared to those care homes where staff do not receive sick pay.
What about care home residents?
Since the beginning of the pandemic nearly 30% of all care home resident deaths in England and Wales were deaths involving Covid-19. Total care home resident deaths currently (19,394) make up 40% of all Covid-19 related deaths. Of the deaths involving Covid-19 in care home residents almost three quarters (74.9%) occurred within the care home.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) also collect information on recipients of domiciliary care in England; that is care provided in a private home by a home care agency registered with CQC. From 10 April 2020 (when data are first available) to 19 June 2020, there were 6,523 deaths of recipients of domiciliary care in England, which is almost double the three-year average. Of these 12.6% involved Covid-19 which is lower than the levels of Covid-19 in those living in care homes.
Looking at infection, of the 56% of care homes that reported having at least one confirmed case of coronavirus, 20% of residents are estimated to have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
What has been the impact on caring responsibilities?
The social isolation measures introduced to reduce Covid-19 transmission, whilst essential, may have adversely affected the well-being of care receivers and providers. A common concern throughout the pandemic was that people's access to paid or unpaid care was affected while others expressed concerns regarding their household finances due to care costs increasing.
Some people have reported that their caring responsibilities have been affected by Covid-19, with the majority spending more time caring for others. One third (33%) of carers mentioned giving more help during the pandemic than they had provided previously. Almost one third (32%) also mentioned giving help to someone who they did not help previously.
Since the pandemic, 48% of the UK population said they provided support to someone outside of the household. Although not directly comparable, 11% of people reported caring for a non-resident, before the pandemic.
In some cases, carers have reported being unable to see someone they usually would provide support for or having to organise alternate care where paid care has been reduced. Over 80% of people said that they had avoided physical contact with older and vulnerable people due to Covid-19 and some have had to avoid physical contact with those they have care responsibilities for.
Unpaid carers, who provide support to someone they live with, are most likely to mention feeling worried about the future (36%), with 32% reporting feeling stressed and 16% concerned about the effect the pandemic has had on their personal relationships.
Over the coming months, the ONS will continue to provide insight into the impact Covid-19 is having on the care sector which will be published on our dedicated Covid-19 page with edited highlights in our Covid-19 round up.
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