Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 45 Number 2, January 31, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Utilising the Election Campaign to
the Advantage of the Electorate

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Utilising the Election Campaign to the Advantage of the Electorate

Workers' Forum:
Northern Public Services Alliance Summit Calls for Defeat of Coalition Government
The Workers’ Opposition Has the Aim of Defeating the Coalition Government and Holding the Future Government to Account
“Reinstate Charlotte Monro” Campaign and its Implications: What Is Just Is Just

No to TTIP! Mounting Opposition to the Neo-Liberal Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

British Government Must End All Intervention and Interference in Iraq and Syria

Syriza Triumphs in Greek Elections

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Utilising the Election Campaign to
the Advantage of the Electorate

It is over three months before the General Election on May 7. But already there is intense speculation on the balance of forces in the new Parliament, and the “100 days” to the election rocket has gone up. Meanwhile the people’s forces are gearing up to stand candidates and overall to use the election campaign to their advantage.

There is a broad desire to make sure that there is no repeat of the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition, and to ensure that the austerity agenda is defeated. In the wake of the Greece election results, this sentiment has only grown. There is the sense that this austerity agenda can in fact be defeated, and that anti-social, anti-worker and xenophobic programmes and legislation can be opposed and a new path opened up for the electorate.

At the same time, the ruling elite and the monopoly-controlled media are working to ensure that the people’s forces are divided, so that an outcome favourable to the people is averted. This is also reflected in the people’s movements, with divisions being created as to whether to be pro- or anti- the Labour Party, for example. Other forces declare that only by voting for them can policies be put in place which will change the direction of society.

What has to be recognised is the context of the battle between what is favourable to the people and society as a whole, and the drive of private monopoly interests to consolidate their control of the state so as to further utilise it to dominate in the global market. What is developing in this election campaign is the intervention of parties and organisations other than the Westminster cartel parties, which have been earning the contempt of the people.

It is a number of years now since the affirmative cry that “there is an alternative!” gained widespread popularity in the workers’ movement. People are fighting on the basis that there is and must be an alternative to the austerity agenda. So not only does the electorate enter the campaign on the basis that the austerity agenda must be defeated, but that they must support and elect candidates who are putting forward that there is an alternative to austerity, who have the courage the break from the old prejudices encapsulated in the programme to offload fraudulent austerity onto the people and to privatise public services on the grounds that such capitalist competition is supposed to benefit the people.

Underlying this movement to oppose the austerity agenda is the sentiment that people must have control of their lives and this is being denied to them. In particular, the electorate must demand that candidates should stand for the rights of human beings – their right to health care, their right to education, all at the highest standard society has to offer, their right to organise, their right to participate in decision-making and political affairs. Above all, the electorate wants candidates who come from the ranks of the workers’ and people’s movements, who take their stand on the basis that solutions must be found to society’s problems which favour the people not the rich and the ruling elite.

There is a sentiment for change which is gripping the electorate. Now is the time to seize the initiative!

RCPB(ML) gives the call to the communist, workers’ and people’s movements to go all out to work to reject the Coalition parties who have demonstrated their colours in government, to defeat the austerity programme these parties advocate, and instead to elect candidates who oppose austerity and stand for the rights of all!

Article Index


Workers' Forum

Northern Public Services Alliance Summit
Calls for Defeat of Coalition Government

On Saturday, January 17, the Northern Public Services Alliance (PSA) organised an important all day summit conference in Newcastle attended by around 100 trade union activists from across the public service unions in the region.

Opening the conference, Clare Williams, Chair of the PSA, said that the summit was to focus on work between now and the General Election in the northern region and beyond. She said that “we have to recognise that it is important that we get rid of the Coalition government”. The message she gives is that “we understand the false divisions between people, public or private, colour of peoples skin, religion, gender, or sexuality”. She said that “ultimately we’re in a battle for what type of society we want to live in”.

Following the Chair’s introduction, the summit shared thoughts on the austerity agenda and how it was affecting the country and the North East, on the experience of building alliances and coalitions to defend public services, and also on sharing views on developing a “Manifesto for Public Services” to use in workplaces and communities.

Among the speakers was Peter Wilcox, regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who said, “We have to build alliances if we are to have an impact at the election. We all need to work together.” Kevin Courtney, National Union of Teachers Deputy General Secretary, said that his union had a “Stand up for Education Manifesto”. We must build our cause at one with the children and parents on education, he said, pointing out that building trade union alliances was key. Recalling the important march for the National Health Service (NHS) of the “Darlo Mums” in the summer from Jarrow to London, Rehana Azam, GMB National Officer for Health and one of its organisers, said that this was part of making NHS the number one political issue in the election. This was ahead of the attempt of the media, big parties and UKIP to make immigration the main issue in the election, she explained.

Giving the keynote address to the summit, Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison, said: “We are now moving to an election which is probably the most critical election that I have ever been involved in. Unless we get the Tories out everything we have heard (in the summit) is nothing to what they intend doing if they get a majority.” He said, “Already 59,000 jobs have gone from public services in the North East. Double it, because the intention is to take public spending back to the 1930s by 2019. That is their vision for our society.”

Dave Prentis pointed out to the summit that the trade unions are the trusted ones compared to the big party politicians. He said that for the organisations of the trade unions to deliver is probably the most important thing of all. “If we do that we will win the election,” he said. “It won’t be won by Miliband. It won’t be won by the attacks on Ed Miliband. More and more it will be our issues coming to the fore.”

Dave Prentis said that “the focus was to go all out to defend the NHS and make that the main issue”. He concluded by saying, “We do believe that the people of this country want to maintain their public services and don’t want them privatised and we know they want the NHS protected as also their schools. We want to bring about a fairer and better society that we all believe in no matter what our politics. We can to do it but we have got to get involved and can’t wake up the morning afterwards and say if only we had tried a bit harder. We are talking about weeks to win the most critical election this country has ever faced.”

After workshops in which the content of a Public Services Manifesto was discussed, the summit finished with a short question and answer session with Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, and Councillor Laura Pidcock, Northumberland County Council.

Overall the summit was timely and vital in terms of the context and bringing together the public service workers to develop their resistance over the coming weeks to the Coalition government and its “austerity” agenda. The summit also highlighted that over the coming weeks the health workers were prepared to engage in their fourth one-day strike against the Coalition government on January 29. In the event, the strike was suspended following a proposal put forward by the Department of Health, on which the health unions will consult their members. The Fire Brigades Union has a march and rally to Save our Fire Stations in Sunderland on February 7, and on the same date the Gateshead PSA is holding a demonstration against the massive ongoing cuts to services in Gateshead.

Article Index


Commentary from Workers’ Forum

The Workers’ Opposition Has the Aim of
Defeating the Coalition Government and
Holding the Future Government to Account

The Northern Public Services Alliance (PSA) summit in Newcastle was on one level a fighting conference to rally the public sector organisers behind the fight against austerity. As Dave Prentis said, this is the most vital election in memory and the trade union public service workers must get into the fray to defeat the Coalition government. In this sense, the conference was successful.

But on another level its weakness was in also focusing the summit on urging all activists in the trade unions to support and campaign for the Labour Party victory in the election. Such a weakness endangers dividing the anti-austerity resistance along political lines rather than further building the resistance to defeat the Coalition government.

The Workers’ Opposition must unite all those forces and candidates that stand against the austerity agenda and for the rights of all. This must be the stand in releasing the initiative of the working movement to turn the election into a battleground where genuine anti-austerity candidates, that can win, are elected and that the Coalition government is defeated on the basis of the political and tactical considerations worked out in the workplaces and communities in every constituency as to what best serves the interests of the working class and people.

Another weakness was the question discussed and promoted by a speaker from Centre for Local Economic studies CLES, who correctly identified that the old social contract between government, big business and the trade unions for a “welfare state” was now dead but then called for a "new social contract" with government. This question was not elaborated as to what it meant but in this context it was to get the Labour Party as the possible next government to take on the concerns of the trade unions and adopt some of their policies. Dave Prentis said that “Unison has been working hard with Labour and – whatever people’s politics at this summit – the only chance of getting rid of the Tories is to get Labour elected”. This was the point being made overall.

But the issue is to develop the independent politics of the working class, politics which is independent of any party or force that is tied to the interests of the big business monopolies and call for a new direction for society and for the economy. Such a Workers’ Opposition has the aim of not only of defeating the Coalition government but also holding the future government to account and placing the alternative agenda of the working class and people at the centre of the politics of the country as the main opposition.

Article Index


“Reinstate Charlotte Monro” Campaign and its Implications:

What Is Just Is Just

Charlotte Monro, an occupational therapist and handling co-ordinator at Whipps Cross University Hospital in East London, was dismissed by Barts Health Trust after she addressed the Waltham Forest Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee in her capacity as a union rep about concerns over the hospital. The charges related to failing to respect confidentiality (by talking in her union role to staff about proposed changes), failure to disclose convictions and bringing the Trust into disrepute – this last charge being dropped on appeal. Charlotte’s union Unison is bringing the case to tribunal claiming that Charlotte was wrongfully dismissed in July 2013.

Charlotte’s Employment Tribunal began on January 19 in Docklands, and campaigners and trade unionists held a rally on January 20 outside the building where the tribunal was being held in support of the justice of her stand. So many people came in to the public area of the hearing that a larger room had to be found.

After running for four days, the Tribunal was adjourned until March 13 for the final two days of the hearing, when Charlotte will finally be able to give her own evidence. Two witnesses for Barts Health Trust were on the stand for most of the four days, followed by two of Charlotte’s witnesses. Meanwhile the Support Charlotte Monro campaign is organising a public meeting “The Right to Speak Out!” at BMA House, home of the British Medical Association, on February 12. It is intended to deepen the discussion about the implications of the case and other similar ones. It is being held in defence of the rights of NHS and other public service workers and to oppose the climate of diktat that is preventing trade unionists and other staff from contributing in any way to the safeguarding the future of the health service and other public services. [see Coming Events page for further details]

The important issues represented by this case are being clearly brought out in the hearing and thoroughly discussed. The issue of the right to speak out as a trade union representative on issues of concern for patients and staff has been particularly highlighted.

Speakers at the rally of around 40 supporters of Charlotte Monro’s case for reinstatement, demonstrating outside the Employment Tribunal, pointed out that exercising the right to speak out and where necessary challenge what the authorities are dictating is critical to patient safety and to the accountability of health service managers.

The case is being seen as a test case for the way NHS Trusts deal with their staff and union reps, and comes after Barts admitted it has a problem with “bullying”. It is also seen as touching on the issue of NHS failures to protect “whistleblowers”, particularly as it is against the law to sack workers for their trade union activities.

Charlotte had reported concerns to the Scrutiny Committee, as a trade union representative, about bed reduction at the stroke service at Whipps Cross Hospital. She was also charged with prematurely disclosing information about job losses to her union members, and later charged with failure to disclose criminal convictions which actually arose out of political activities in the context of the upsurge in the anti-fascist movement in the 1970s.

During the Tribunal, Professor Joanne Martin, Director of Academic Health Sciences at Barts Health NHS Trust, who had chaired Charlotte’s appeal to Barts Health Trust in 2013, made reference to Charlotte’s valuable contribution and long service to Whipps Cross Hospital. During questioning at the Tribunal both witnesses for Barts Health Trust acknowledged that when Charlotte talked to staff members about proposed changes and potential job losses she was doing this in her capacity as a trade union representative. She did not present any factual inaccuracies to the Scrutiny Committee but rather presented the concerns of staff which constituted a difference of opinion.

Judge Jonathan Ferris suggested that it was completely appropriate for Charlotte, as a trade union representative, to present staff opinions even if they were different from the opinion of Barts Health. Both witnesses for Barts Health asserted that it was Charlotte’s failure to disclose her previous criminal convictions which led to her dismissal, rather than the nature of the convictions. Barts witnesses were asked why they had opted for dismissal, and whether they had considered that violence in scuffles with the police, on political demonstrations, when Charlotte was in her 20s, would be repeated by her as a 65-year-old health professional with a long and highly respected career. The judge probed the lack of guidelines on the part of the Trust, leading to confusion over questions such as what was meant by “multiple convictions”.

Charlotte’s professional body considered an allegation over her past convictions, and concluded that there is no case to answer, recognising that the convictions date back a long time and have a specific historical context. In light of Charlotte’s long and distinguished career, whilst her convictions should have been declared earlier, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) fully upheld her right to continue to practice as an Occupational Therapist.

Managers at Barts Health were also said to have “beefed up” the accusations faced by Charlotte Monro to make her alleged disrepute appear more serious, her barrister Nicola Newbegin told the hearing.

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis has said that Charlotte was a “long serving and respected health worker” and that “no employer should be allowed to act in this way”.

Reinstate Charlotte campaigner Norma Dudley said: “All that Charlotte did was represent her union members and draw the attention of the local council and the community to the consequences of proposed cuts and service changes at Whipps Cross. Barts Health Trust actions have created a climate of fear seen to be aimed at keeping NHS workers quiet about cuts to services and union members cowed into submission over pay and conditions. The call to reinstate Charlotte is part of a determined drive by staff, unions and the local campaigns to change this culture that is incompatible with care. At a time of national crisis in the NHS it is more vital than ever that NHS staff are able to speak out against the damaging effects of cuts on the health of the patients in their care.”

A petition calling to reinstate Charlotte and end the bullying climate at Barts is attracting widespread support. [ here ]

References from:

Reinstate Charlotte Monro Campaign
Waltham Forest Save Our NHS
Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
Evening Standard journalist Ross Lydall’s blog
Journalist Paul Donovan’s blog “Between the Lines”

Article Index


No to TTIP!

Mounting Opposition to the Neo-Liberal
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The House of Commons debated TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, on January 15. The debate took place on a motion moved by Labour MP Geraint Davies, which stated: “That this House believes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and any associated investor-state dispute settlement provisions should be subject to scrutiny in the European Parliament and the UK Parliament.”

It can be seen how the terms of the motion fell short of condemning the content of the TTIP provisions for enshrining the power of the monopolies over the decision-making power of the governments of the EU. TTIP is part of the neo-liberal offensive in which states are acting as the executives of the monopolies, so that the public interest is of no consequence and the public authority is wrecked. Nevertheless, the debate could be seen as part of, and indeed a response to, the broad opposition which has been increasingly developing to block the monopolies acting with impunity and without restrictions through the provisions of TTIP.

The British government has been playing a major role in advancing TTIP and providing justifications and obfuscations over its provisions. It has used the rhetoric of “removing red-tape”, “increasing competitiveness” and “creating jobs and growth” to push TTIP.

Because of the people’s opposition, including a petition signed by 1.2 million people, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) section of the negotiations has been suspended. In a EU-wide consultation exercise, there were 150,000 objections, including 52,000 from Britain. The European Commission is now to decide whether to abandon ISDS altogether, or merely postpone ISDS negotiations till a later date.

The government is asserting that there is no threat to public services, in particular the NHS, through TTIP. It keeps repeating ad nauseam that there is no threat of the privatisation of the NHS as a result of TTIP, and that as a public service it would be protected. The issue is that private health companies are already in control of areas of the NHS and are entrenched in delivering health care. There is a real fear that US health monopolies, amongst others, would take advantage of TTIP to extend their move to extract value from the NHS. The government is taking the health service in the direction of privatisation and marketization. As was pointed out in the Commons debate, the text of TTIP does not indicate that public services under the control of the state will be exempt. It says that “services of general economic interest” would be governed by normal competition law “in so far as the application of such rules does not obstruct the performance in law, or in fact, of the particular tasks assigned to the enterprises in question”.

No to TTIP!
No to Monopoly Right! Yes to Public Right!

Article Index


For An Anti-War Government!

British Government Must End All Intervention
and Interference in Iraq and Syria

On January 22, the governments of Britain and the US co-sponsored a meeting of what they refer to as the Counter-ISIL Coalition Small Group, at Lancaster House in London. As Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, kept emphasising the small group of representatives of the 21 countries who met in London were just a fraction of over 60 countries that have allegedly joined the “global coalition” to “degrade and defeat” what is now increasingly referred to by the Arabic acronym Daesh. In addition to the hosts, the London meeting was also attended by government representatives from: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The “global coalition” was established under the direction of the US government and held its first meeting in Belgium in December 2014.

In the official statements, both before and after the meeting, Hammond and Kerry had the difficult task of trying to maintain that their armed forces were scoring military victories against their declared foe in Iraq, while at the same time stressing the necessity for ever more draconian legislation and curtailing of liberties in countries throughout the world, allegedly taken in order to combat the threat of what Hammond referred to as a “poisonous ideology”.

The British government has acted alongside its major ally the United States to launch military air strikes in Iraq. It uses the justification that it has been invited to do so by an Iraqi government, which cannot be considered an independent or sovereign body, since militarily and economically it is almost entirely dependent on the Anglo-Americans and their allies. For its part, the Iraqi government has declared that it is being attacked from “safe havens” located in Syria. Thus the pretext is created not only for the Anglo-Americans to exercise control of Iraq but also to continue to launch attacks against the sovereign country of Syria where they are determined to effect regime change. It has been widely reported that the US government is carrying out more air strikes in Syria than in Iraq, but without the authority of the Syrian government. Despite offers from the al-Assad government to join forces against Daesh, Kerry announced in London that the “coalition” would instead step up its training of the Syrian anti-government forces in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. The aims of the Anglo-Americans and their allies remain unchanged, to consolidate Iraq as their proxy and to topple the government in Syria.

At the same time conditions have been created for the recent events in France and Belgium which are then used as the justification for ever more repressive legislation, surveillance and curtailment of rights. In this context Hammond referred to the need to counter “violent Islamist extremism”, which Kerry stressed was “the challenge of our time”. The US government will host an international meeting in February allegedly in order to counter “violent extremism”, while the counter-ISIL coalition will continue to meet on a regular basis.

All the evidence shows that it is the previous illegal military intervention of Britain, the US and the big powers in Iraq and Syria that have created the current situation of instability, weakened major states in the region, caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and led to the emergence of ISIL/Daesh, which moreover is linked directly or indirectly to the big powers and their allies in the region. The efforts of the Anglo-American and their allies to effect regime change and create proxies in the region will continue to create such conditions of instability that have dire ramifications and consequences throughout the world.

The interference of the British government and its allies in the affairs of other countries, which is causing such instability and misery around the world, must be brought to an end. There can be no justification for such interference, nor for regime change. The times cry out for an anti-war government.

Article Index


International News

Syriza Triumphs in Greek Elections

Greece's parliamentary election was held on Sunday, January 25, resulting in Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, gaining 149 seats, just short of of the 151 needed for an overall majority.

The election was held following the failure of the Greek parliament to elect a President of State by the end of December last year. The single candidate, put forward by previous pro-austerity government led by the neo-liberal New Democracy party, was rejected by a majority of members of parliament, resulting in the dissolution of parliament and the calling of the snap election.

The Greek electoral system employs a version of proportional representation where the winning party is awarded an additional 50 seats. The 149 seats won by Syriza includes this additional 50. There are 300 members of parliament, meaning that 151 seats are needed for an absolute majority.

The breakdown of parties in the legislature following the election is as follows:

Syriza: 149 seats (36.3% of vote, up 9.4% points)
New Democracy: 76 seats (27.8% of vote, down 1.9% points)
Golden Dawn: 17 seats (6.3% of vote, down 0.6% points)
The River: 17 seats (6.1% of vote)
KKE (Communist Party): 15 seats (5.5% of vote, up 1.0% points)
ANEL: 13 seats (4.8% of vote, down 2.7% points)
PASOK: 13 seats (4.7% of vote, down 7.6% points)

Syriza could have potentially chosen to form a minority government. However, for strategic and tactical reasons, they have formed a coalition with ANEL, or Independent Greeks, an anti-austerity, though also anti-immigration, party. This decision will undoubtedly present difficulties, but is an attempt to deal with the political reality with which they are faced.

The fascist Golden Dawn party came joint third. While certainly a negative aspect of the results, it should be noted that their share of the vote has actually fallen from the 2012 election and their poll ratings are substantially reduced from their peak.

Alexis Tsipras, Leader of Syriza, lays flowers at the
National Resistance Memorial in Kaisariani. It stands on the
spot where 200 political activists – mostly communists
– were executed by Nazi forces on May Day 1944.
The vote of the communist KKE, who are calling for a unilateral cancellation of the national debt, illustrates that they have begun to recover some lost ground.

The results as a whole reveal that Greeks have firmly rejected the status quo and the forces overtly favoured by the European establishment. The old forces have been unable to resolve things and perpetuate the status quo, and the old political cartel has collapsed, as reflected in the greatly-reduced vote for the previously-ruling New Democracy and the derisory 13 seats achieved by the old party of the official left, PASOK.

One consequence has been the formation or rise of smaller parties. For example, the new party The River, which formed in February last year, won third place in parliament. The results could therefore be said to reflect a political system in flux, where the old party-model does not currently apply and what will replace that has yet to be consolidated.

The election was surrounded by disinformation from the Greek and international media and overt intervention by the EU establishment. This campaign has sought to discredit and misrepresent Syriza and spread fear with the aim of disorienting people from taking the initiative.

One key feature of this disinformation concerns the characterisation of Syriza as "extreme left". The idea here is that there is no alternative to austerity. To propose any alternative, and to merely suggest that the needs of the population should take more of a priority in relation to other claims on the Greek economy, are radical suggestions that are labelled "extreme". To pursue such extreme policies will lead to chaos, and so voters should fear the rise of this maverick party, runs this argument.

The decisiveness of the election result therefore represents a stand that has been developing in the face of such scaremongering and disinformation. It represents the stand that there is an alternative to austerity.

Greece is experiencing austerity at its sharpest, and the growing sentiment is that enough is enough. There is a developing consciousness of the alternative as a matter of necessity and that the resistance to austerity cannot confine itself to remaining reactive. The need has arisen to create conditions where people can start to elaborate their own solutions and develop their independent politics and have the space to grow in strength so they can bring their weight to bear, and so that it is more difficult for the pro-austerity forces to impose themselves and to continue in the old way.

The vote is a reflection of a growing sense of the need for strategy and tactics in this regard, a developing of the political level of the population. The election was a very practical political battle, which had to be resolved in favour of people being able to unite in action aimed at ending austerity.

The election of Syriza by such a large margin despite the fear-mongering and disinformation is therefore a significant result. Syriza's platform is not in itself revolutionary. Yet, to carry it through is a block to the austerity agenda and of importance to all in Europe.

Article Index


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