Monday, December 05, 2016

Defending democracy outside the Supreme Court

The small crowd outside the Supreme Court this lunchtime included a small number of knuckle-dragging fascists, some adherents of the little-known school of thought which holds that Boris Johnson was sent to us by Christ (one of whom was dressed, inexplicably, as a leprechaun) and a range of other oddities (including a disgruntled former taxi driver from Crawley).

The only organised left-wing group was the Movement for Justice, who have correctly identified that "Brexit" is racist and should be opposed. For the first time in my life I held a placard from the MfJ - because they were the only people there defending the values of socialism and democracy.

Are the left content to allow the far right to hold the space outside the Supreme Court - or will other socialists be there later this week?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UNISON members organising to transform our trade union

Some friends have asked me, knowing that I am subject to obviously unjustified disciplinary action by my own trade union in retaliation for my having made a legitimate complaint to the Certification Officer concerning proven malpractice in a recent internal UNISON election, whether my decision to stand down from our National Executive Council shows that “the bastards have got to me.”

I can assure you that this is not the case. I can also assure all readers that I do know a bit about the relevant law.

I chose when to become a Branch Secretary and shall now (for the third time) choose when not to be. I joined our National Executive at a time of my choosing and shall now leave at a time of my choosing (and shall support Sean Fox of the Haringey branch to stand in my place because he is far and away the best candidate).

I remain completely committed to the transformation of UNISON into the trade union which we wanted it to be when we voted it into existence in 1992 – and to that end am pleased to publish the following information received today from Glen Williams on behalf of the new UNISONaction Broad Left;

UNISONaction broad left Meetings have taken place across the UK and it is very clear that there is a growing determination amongst our activists to raise the profile and activity of our union. 

UNISONaction operate a total transparency policy and so please find below the details of the lead coordinators for the UNISON Regions who are getting organised with further regional details to follow. If you want to find out what is happening in your Region and where UNISONaction is up to please email the Regional Lead identified below. If your Region is not represented yet please feel free to email Glen Williams (see below). 
Yorks and Humberside Region – Ade Kennett and Vicky Perrin -
West Midlands - Dave Augers -
East Midlands –Gary Freeman -
South East – Paul Couchman -  07834468135
South West – Berny Parkes -
North West - Glen Williams -
Greater London - Hugo Pierre and John Mcloughlin-
Northern Region  - Paul Gilroy - –
Scotland  - Mark Ferguson and Carol Ball -;
Cymru/Wales – Mark Evans -

I encourage all UNISON members to engage in organising to make our trade union into what it could (and ought to) be. Lay UNISON activists need to stand up for lay control of our trade union.

The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) - an apology

There are some funny people in the labour movement.

But not all are amusing.

One weird bunch who were in favour of voting alongside UKIP in June’s referendum (and are now celebrating the victory of reaction and demanding action) have had some influence in UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office in recent years. No lay activists openly associate with this organisation but it appears that some paid employees of our trade union share its rather odd views.

These, generally anonymous infiltrators into our movement believe that it is “a decade of intense migration with approaching a million from the new European Union states coming to look for work in Britain” rather than a decade of Government failing to invest in our public services that “has had a debilitating effect on schools, housing and medical services.” This faulty analysis would embarrass a student of GCSE politics (never mind a student of Marx), but is commonplace amongst people who describe themselves as “Communist” (!)

It is not therefore a surprise, given their inability to comprehend the world around them that these so-called Marxists conclude that since “mass migration provides a potentially limitless reserve army of the unemployed to undermine workers’ organisation, pay and conditions built up over centuries by the working class here” it is therefore important that “our resistance to this begins with the fight to leave the EU.” It is shameful that anonymous labour movement functionaries who try to associate their politics with Fidel Castro, a true hero of our class, should peddle such nationalist and racist nonsense.

This blog has from time to time made observations about the (and honestly this is not a joke name) Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) which is now little more than an apolitical freemasonry of the labour movement bureaucracy (with a sideline in reactionary British nationalism).

Of course there are risks in making enemies...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Certification Officer orders rerun of General Secretary election

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will be glad to get back to the niche concerns which normally catch the attention of your blogger.

It is interesting to read of a trade union in which an attempt was made to ban paid officials from standing for the position of General Secretary.

And worth noting that the Certification Officer can exercise their power to order a rerun of an election (as they have in a recent case involving UNITE, albeit in that case the Union conceded the breach of their rules).

Monday, November 28, 2016

Where next in Weimar Little England?

When, two days ago, I wrote for the first time from “Weimar Little England” I did not realise that I was being anachronistic because we had already opened hostilities with the Poles. The random deportations of European migrants for allegedly sleeping rough joins the recent mass deportation to Jamaica to reveal to us the society in which we have been living for some time.

The official racism which legitimates, but never satisfies, right-wing populism is as happy scapegoating white “foreigners” as black (perhaps nearly as happy?) Bigotry is simple and straightforward (and all too common). For socialists trying to work out how to respond to these darkening days these are, however, confusing times.

I know that there would be great value in a united response to the resurgent forces of reaction and the far right (and I am inclined to be present outside the Supreme Court on Monday even if it is true that Farage has called off his attempt to be Mussolini).

However. I am confronted by some questions, of which these are three;
How can we unite with those who campaigned (whether they are comfortable to acknowledge it or not) alongside the populist and far right in favour of a vote to leave the European Union which, by the time it was cast, was a vote against immigration?
How do we engage, as anti-racists and anti-imperialists, with those whose first response to the death this weekend of Fidel Castro was to echo ill-informed criticisms rather than acknowledge achievements?
How do we work with those cowards and careerists are misleading the “Momentum” organisation having engaged in a blatantly racist witch-hunt of their own Vice-Chair as part of a craven capitulation to Zionism (never mind the Labour right-wing to whom they gave ground)?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but I do know that we will not succeed on the basis of simply ignoring these divisions. As urgent as is the task of uniting against our adversaries an even more urgent task is to understand what we face and to respond on the basis of principles.

We must start from a position of socialist internationalism, of unyielding support for equality and opposition to racism and imperialism. These principles we cannot compromise if we are to be useful in dealing with the rising tide of racism and reaction nationally and globally.

I shall keep thinking about what this means in practice.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thoughts on Castro from Weimar Little England

Yesterday, whilst I was mostly thinking parochially, the rest of the world was marking the passing of Fidel Castro.

It is no surprise that the Western media would generally focus on denigrating a great revolutionary, nor that they would focus upon the minority of Cubans living in exile, many of whom appear to prefer Trump to Castro.

What is also not surprising, but perhaps more disappointing, is the response of many who consider themselves to be part of “the left”, at least here in the UK.

Even on the day that we learned of Castro’s death, many people had to qualify any comment by remembering the things that they (from their sofa in Islington) disagreed with Castro about.

I suppose I have been shedding illusions in “Trotskyism” ever since the fall of the wall, but petty sniping at the track record of Socialist Cuba at this time forces me to conclude that I am no part of that “left”.

That is not to say that I, or anyone, should be starry-eyed about Castro, or any leader. The last thing the left needs, as should be increasingly obvious, is fan-clubs.

However, politics is very often about choosing sides – and if we are going to defeat the forces of reaction who are now rampant in Europe and the United States we have to be as clear and straightforward as our opponents.

It is a strength which the socialist left has inherited from liberalism that we are critical and questioning – but it can be a terrible weakness when we put these valuable traits to the fore at all times, when sometimes we need to be firm in support of our side.

Yesterday, elements of the Western left exhibited also the Euro-centrism which very much gets in the way of “thinking globally” whilst “acting locally”.

Criticism of historic errors by Cuba in dealing with the rights of LGBT people should be part of a balanced and comprehensive assessment of the Cuban revolution, as should commentary upon authoritarian tendencies common to post-revolutionary regimes.

It is however, risible, for UK leftists to put such criticism front and centre of brief responses to the death of a great revolutionary leader, whilst seemingly ignoring the role of our own country in exporting official homophobia to the Caribbean (where surely other islands closer to “our” influence have more questions to answer?)

Those who consider themselves socialists, but who are so very wise that their understanding of the dangers of “campism” means that they qualify and nuance every word when asked to choose between two sides demonstrate the weakness which is likely to lead to our defeat by the coming rightwing tide.

That they also allow their great wisdom to obscure a truly global assessment of a revolutionary leader who gave so much to Africa and the Caribbean suggests that elements of the European “left” will contribute their share of responsibility for what our continent (and its transatlantic diaspora) may once more be about to unleash upon humanity.

I don’t want to contribute in any way to dividing the opponents of the rampaging resurgent right, but I don’t think we can build unity on shifting sands.

I don’t know what to do – but I am at least thinking about this without false certainty.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A message from "Weimar Little England"

I spent some time yesterday arguing with two old friends who will not I hope be offended if I say we disagreed because I felt they were in denial about aspects of the current political situation whereas they felt that I (and a like-minded comrade) were exaggerating.

Regular readers of this blog may not be sure they agree, but I used to be someone who was particularly prone to measured and cautious expressions of opinion as I tried to persuade interlocutors. I genuinely was not given to exaggeration – before this year I would sarcastically have dismissed someone saying that democracy is at serious and immediate risk in the advanced capitalist nations (albeit it had been massively weakened by the growing power of corporations against states).

I think that 2016 has shown all of us that we were wrong. I know I was. I did not foresee that a combination of bigotry and stupidity would lead to a vote to leave the European Union, nor that a similarly toxic mix across the Atlantic would bring to power a dangerous demagogue. I fear I will not be surprised now if Austria elects a fascist President, nor even if France falls.

It is not at all an overreaction to the events of this year to foresee nuclear war in Europe, nor to consider the likelihood that real tyranny will triumph in the USA. I quite understand that it is more comfortable to deny this, to insist that things are not really so bad and that former friends who backed Brexit cannot be responsible for the consequence of the racism and bigotry of their co-thinkers on that question.

It is understandable but it is wrong. It is that bad – and those who choose the wrong side on vital questions at a dangerous time cannot escape responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

As we were having that argument a wise person was asking pertinent questions; “You know films set in the 1930s when everyone is pottering on as normal and you want to shout at the screen? Well, how would you know if you were in one?”

The answer has to be that you wouldn’t, but that if you even think you might be you have to be consistent and brave in standing up, in every part of your life, for what you believe in. I never knew my maternal grandfather (who died of TB in the 50s) but I know he was a mild mannered man – yet in the late 30s he concluded an argument with a visiting German Nazi by pouring a bucket of water over him.

The vermin of UKIP and the American “alt-right” won’t play by any rules in arguing against the beliefs of all democrats and trying to undermine all in which we believe. Our only rule in response has to be that we won’t surrender to them. There is no legitimacy in the referendum result any more than there is legitimacy in the election of “President” Trump.

And then today we woke to the loss of Castro.

It is as if events conspire to remind us that the chapter opened by the October revolution is now definitively closed. There is no global alternative to capitalism.

Capital no longer needs to fend off a threat from a combative working class with social welfare, civil liberty and democratic rights.

We must hope that the passing of the great revolutionary does not destabilise Cuba. That one island can stand for more than half a century against US imperialism will always be an inspiration to those who believe in progress whatever happens next, but it will be a further setback if the Cuban revolution is defeated.

Socialist Cuba has given so much to the world, and in particular to the peoples of Africa and the Caribbean (who have often borne the brunt of global capitalism). We must continue to be inspired by this example and draw courage from the example of the Cuban people, as from the example of all previous revolutions.

As socialists we must remember our responsibility both to our class and to the future of humanity. It may well be that the choice between “socialism and barbarism” is being made around us in a way we would not support, but this question is not settled. We have the power to change the world.

If we know that we are indeed characters in a film set in “Weimar Little England” we have to stand up now, and every day, to resist bigotry and prejudice, to defend those under attack and to protect the values of democracy and socialism.

We may not win but at least we must fight.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Farewell Eric

I can’t quite believe the content of an email which I have just received from our General Secretary at just after 5pm this afternoon;

“Dear All,
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the sudden and tragic death of our friend and president, Eric Roberts.
Eric passed away earlier this afternoon having been diagnosed with cancer earlier this week.  The news has come as a great shock to us all, but at this sad time our thoughts and our love are with his family.

I am updating this post on 25 November to include this link to the UNISON website where you can read and post tributes to Eric.

Eric was not a close friend. Indeed he and I often found ourselves on opposing sides of arguments within our trade union. I would not do the injustice to his memory of failing to note this.

Eric was, however, a great trade unionist with a passionate commitment to our movement and its cause. 

I saw this at its very best a couple of years ago when Eric gave a funny, caring and passionate farewell to another trade unionist for whom I also had rather more respect than affection, and of whom I said, as I shall say now of Eric, that he was literally irreplaceable.

Ave atque vale.

UNISON and the Certification Officer - a welcome ruling back in 1997?

As far as I can recollect, no one has ever asked me to blog about the history of hearings in front of the Certification Officer involving UNISON.

But I knew you wanted me to anyway.

So as I get time I’ll remind you of some aspects of the past of our trade union which are all too easily forgotten.

One of the earliest cases involving UNISON was one in which our trade union (or at least its leadership) seemed almost to welcome intervention in its affairs. Nineteen years ago, the Certification Officer ruled that a donation of £100 made by a UNISON branch to an appeal in support of the Socialist Worker newspaper had breached the Union’s political fund rules.

Although by the time the complaint came to be considered the contested donation had been repaid, and therefore there was no need for any enforcement order, the Certification Officer did not simply make a declaration that the political fund rules had been breached but also came to an agreement with UNISON that this declaration would be publicised by the trade union. And so it was.

The publication of this decision within UNISON signalled the start of a sustained attempt to marginalise – and in some cases expel – activists who were associated with the Socialist Workers Party. At the same time the Birmingham and Sheffield local government branches were taken over (into what we would now call “regional supervision” but without consultation with Regional lay structures) and there were a number of contested disciplinary cases – at least one of which found UNISON being told to reverse a decision by the Certification Officer.

That disciplinary witch hunt came to an end with the election of a new General Secretary, who took office for the first time in January 2001, although its consequences continued to be felt for some time. Over the subsequent period UNISON’s National Executive sought, through our Development and Organisation Committee, to impose greater lay scrutiny of some areas of internal controversy, with regular reporting both of branches under regional supervision and cases taken to the Certification Officer.

Funnily enough, when, some years later, the Certification Officer found that much larger sums (£2,184.41 in total) had been spent in breach of the same political fund rules as had been breached to a much lesser extent in the earlier case, the union did not volunteer to publicise the decision as they had in 1997. Indeed no subsequent Certification Officer decision has ever attracted quite the welcome of that long ago decision about £100 being sent to the Socialist Worker appeal.