Saturday, 5 October 2019

"WITH UNITY YOU CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS" - reflections on Belfast shipyard workers' victory



Thursday 3rd October, 2019, will become an important date in the history of Belfast workers' struggles, and indeed of workers well beyond the city limits.
That morning, a proud but emotional group of workers returned to work in the Harland and Wolff shipyard, nine weeks after they had faced total, permanent closure.

By seizing control of their workplace at the end of July, the 123 members of Unite and GMB trade unions prevented the devastating disappearance of this landmark workplace. They defied and defeated the owners who had run the yard into the sand; the Tory government of Boris Johnson who dismissed appeals for government intervention with the contemptuous remark "this [closure] is a commercial decision"; and the sceptics in our own trade union movement who habitually greet closures and redundancies with the refrain "there's nothing we can do to stop it." 

They fought like lions

If these brave workers hadn't taken swift, united, militant collective action, the hovering vultures would have swooped, asset-stripping, turning this shipyard, established in 1861, into yet another marina or other waterfront tourist attraction. 

Instead of caving in with whimpering resignation, these workers and their local union officials fought like lions, refused to give up their belief in the rich potential for the yard and its skills, and demanded renationalisation to build that future, highlighting especially their readiness and ability to contribute to a thriving green energy industry.

Where private capitalist ownership squandered workers' skills and the unique facilities of Europe's biggest dry dock, working men and women had a vision for the future - and fought for that dream. 

Whilst their central demand for nationalisation fell on the deaf lugs of Boris Johnson and his cabal, the nine weeks of relentless campaigning and the workers' case for a thriving future for the yard has won over a new owner, InfraStrata. Eighty of these fearless fighters returned to work on Thursday 3rd October, with confident predictions of that number rapidly growing to 400.



I spoke to Harland and Wolff's Unite shop steward, JOE PASSMORE, his first evening back at work. 

"It's been quite emotional today, Richie," said Joe, with classic understatement. "It's historic." 
I asked him where their determination to fight back came from. 

"Previous owners tried to run it into the ground, with contempt and mismanagement. There were community leaders,  including ex shipyard workers, talking to the company - going back years, we've now discovered - telling them about the possibilities and potential. But they were too aloof to listen. But we knew we had a successful industry in the making and we were not prepared to let it suffer a slow death. That's where our belief and determination came from."

Workers' Unity the Key to Victory

Their fighting spirit and determination inspired the solidarity of workers far and wide. Very significantly, the H&W workers were themselves united; not divided on sectarian lines. Nor did they allow any hard or soft border to cut across their working class unity; amongst the trade unionists who joined their solidarity rallies (usually with generous donations in hand) at the shipyard gates were strikers in Northern Ireland's civil service and health service, but also workers from Dublin and veterans of sit-ins at Waterford Glass. 



Occupation and Renationalisation

But how did they prevent closure? What lessons for workers facing similar threats - whether the Ballymena Wrightbus workers, or others across Ireland and Britain? 

Joe is keen to inform and inspire others:
"The first key to our success was how we let everyone know what was happening, with use of social media. That meant we didn't have to hold meetings every day. Our members knew everything we were doing, including the crises we faced and the brick walls we ran into. 
The next key was our use of the press to reach everyone. The first ten days especially we were headline news in every paper and TV, making sure we were in everyone's thoughts. 
Social media and the press are vehicles, but the key to it all was preparation and organisation. Even while we were in negotiations with the previous owners we set up our own Cobra Committee,  where we looked at the worst case scenario,  and planned to occupy the plant. We took on board the lessons of previous situations where they'd done this, like Visteon and even in Scotland.  

"Our intention was to lock the gates and let nobody in. But what we actually did, without pre-planning it, was that we took control of the gates, and with people we judged were good for our cause, we applauded them through the gates. Control of the yard gates was key, not locking the world out. 
"We needed the forest of flags from all different trade unions at the gate, and our visible presence. We even had Belfast tour buses being detoured to visit us, a tourist attraction, with tourists standing up waving to us! We had to be in the public eye, to get our case across."

"You Can't Buy Commitment Like That!"

I suggested the relationship between workers and their union is a critical factor in any battle. Joe told me of his pride in the workforce and the union. 

"Each time we got coverage in the press it gave our people confidence and the belief grew that we would get an outcome. We had people covering the nightshift on the gate every single night for nine weeks. They never got a penny pay for doing this, don't forget. That's an incredible level of commitment. You can't buy that. They never stopped believing. They knew where we were, even the setbacks in the campaign, and they still believed in us."

So where are they up to now, after gaining a new owner, InfraStrata? Joe explains:

"All along our vision was about saving the jobs, but by getting back inside to then relaunch the yard. "We've had nine weeks of sitting in the wind and cold, having earnest discussions about the future. We have a strong union to deal with any issues that arise. Our job is to reeducate them into leading the company from the bottom up. The guy who's taken over has promised the union, through our reps, will be part of decisions.

"The core of Infrastrata's current work is controversial, it's building gas storage facilities. But he says his long term interest is in repairs and green energy,  and that's our realm. 
And the other thing that inspires our confidence in the future is that he's looking at apprenticeships and reskilling. We didn't even have to tell him. We are skilled tradesmen, but all of a certain age. If only we can get hold of young people and teach them the skills - even enough to be semiskilled steelworkers or welders in the interim before apprentices start - that would be a huge boost. We are hopeful for the future. 
And the new owner's hopeful of 400 jobs in the yard."



Joe sees their own battle in its broader context. 

"Our situation is a microcosm of the whole UK. There's big possibilities in green energy, but to build on those opportunities we may not have the people and that's scary. 
It's contradictory when the government give the orders for green energy but haven't been responsible enough to build up the workforce, with the skills. A Labour government would face the same. We really have to look at infrastructure as well as orders. We need skilled employment to be the absolute priority before we lose it."

In another sense too, Harland and Wolff is a microcosm.
Joe explained to me how the government sets budgets and prices for green energy, "so private companies look for the cheapest possible option. Big companies cut to maintain profit, so when it gets down to small companies they won't take on work that won't make a profit. The likes of H&W just about break even. The government won't subsidise, they are trying to do it on the cheap. They don't seem to see the bigger picture and the effect of their actions, behind the political headlines." 

To me that underlines the absolutely justified central demand of these workers' campaign, for nationalisation of H&W. 
But not in isolation; as we've repeatedly written throughout this battle for survival, we need public ownership of all the shipyards and the entire energy sector (alongside transport, construction and the banks) to plan and invest in a clean, green, sustainable future, with full involvement and input to decisions by the shopfloor experts: workers like those who've just saved the Belfast shipyard. 

Replace the Orange and Green Politicians

Fighting for future generations will have been a steep learning experience for every worker involved. Amongst many other lessons, the role of Orange and Green politicians will have been exposed. 
One memorable moment in their campaign was the announcement by Unite that they would stand workers' candidates in East Belfast and elsewhere, a challenge that certainly concentrated the minds of the foot-dragging DUP politicians, who had done nothing to wield their leverage over the Tory government to pursue workers' demand for government intervention, for renationalisation to the save the shipyard. 

Speaking to me the night the victorious trade unionists had returned to work, Joe was blunt in his appraisal.  
"The politicians played little or no part. Even those we met at the TUC Congress, it was all words of sympathy, not saying what they would do for us, not one of them saying how they'd go about it. But it's action that wins struggles, not sympathy."

Writing as a socialist who grew up amidst the destructive Orange and Green politics that curses the working class in N Ireland, I hope the threat issued by Unite will grow into an anti-sectarian, united working-class challenge in elections, with worker candidates backed up by the unions and cross-community groups, taking up the class issues that unite ordinary people.
That would be another massive monument to the united victory of the Harland and Wolff workers of 2019. 


Moving Mountains!

This heroic battle, and particularly the fact it won the jobs back, has sent ripples out across workplaces. As Joe told me, "Every dispute now the first thing workers say to the union officials is should we occupy?!" 

When I asked Joe for his core message to other workers facing job losses or closures, it was the same solid, inspiring one that he has carried with him at meetings throughout the past nine weeks.

"If you have a cause and believe you are right, don't be afraid to speak out. 
"A voice among a couple of friends is great, but when everyone stands as one, united, that's real strength. That's when you get publicity, and the bigger your noise the bigger your chances of victory. 
"There's incredible strength in unity and people have to realise that with unity you can move mountains."


Wednesday, 25 September 2019

DRIVE OUT THE TORIES WITH MASS DEMOS - not reliance on judges!



Anyone worth their salt will rejoice at the humiliating denunciation of Boris Johnson's illegal suspension of the Westminster parliament by the unanimous decision of all eleven judges in the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.   


Johnson is an unelected Prime Minister, chosen by 90,000 Tory party members. He used arcane powers resting within the entirely appointed, unelected Privy Council to enlist the powers of the unelected, medieval monarchy to prorogue parliament - to bypass any limited checks and accountability imposed upon him by MPs. 

So, the unprecedented and excoriating verdict of the Supreme Court judges against this marauding would-be dictator, with his Eton-educated sense of upper-class entitlement, is to be celebrated. 

But reliance on the unelected, upper-class judiciary to win justice for the working-class majority against the rampaging Tories is a dangerous delusion, which far too many mainstream (i.e. pro-capitalist) politicians are only far too eager to feed to the population. 

Instead of relying on judges for protection, we need to agitate and organise for action led by the single biggest civic organisation in society, the trade union movement. Which has been all too lacking so far in these tumultuous times.  

Johnson's Classic Trumpism 


Johnson has consciously cultivated the image of a lovable, bumbling buffoon. Far from it. He's a vicious, calculating, dangerous enemy of working-class people, prepared to go to any lengths to maintain the rule of the grotesquely privileged elite that he is an integral part of.

Just one of many illustrative examples: he was the first prominent Tory to publicly call for a ban on the right to strike for public sector workers, while he was Mayor of London. Thus setting the pace and the foundations for the Tory government's subsequent 2016 Trade Union Act - which has erected more and higher hurdles to a democratic majority for trade union action than the average horse encounters at Aintree. 

Now, amidst all the dizzying twists and turns, all the bizarre and archaic parliamentary manouevres, one thing is clear: Johnson is trying to paint himself as ‘the people's champion’, the hero without a cape who is determined to deliver 'the will of the people', only obstructed by the rotten, corrupt politicians. Classic Trumpism. 

Right wing populism designed to fool the people 


The idea of BoJo (or Trump) being the people's champion against the establishment is a vomit-inducing joke. Millionaires standing up for the millions? Aye, right! 

The real and present danger is that by these manoeuvres, posing as the Brexit hardman, Johnson could mop up most of the Brexit Party voters, and with the treachery of his own parliamentary Blairites splitting Corbyn's Labour asunder, win an outright majority in a general election.  

Which would usher in a period of class-war savagery not witnessed since the dark days of Thatcher's dictatorial regime in the 1980s. For Johnson is hell-bent on winning a mandate - through demagogic, populist lies about representing the people against the widely unpopular parliament - to be an uncontrolled semi-dictator, shorn of the checks and balances of parliament. 


Johnson Wants a Trump Deal


Then he would unleash his preferences for ripping up even the limited protections of workplace rights enshrined in some of the more progressive EU Directives (there are many utterly regressive ones too!) - such as on paid holidays, breaks, the Working Time Directives, and "ripping up red tape" on health and safety regulations. Not to mention proposals by the same Tory think tank that initiated Universal Credit which recently recommended retirement at 75.

And his vision of a post-Brexit Britain is based on a Trump Deal, where whole swathes of the NHS would be handed over to US multinationals for profiteering at the expense of public health. 

As an aside, dewy-eyed EU fanatics (SNP and Scottish Green leaders included) should also be reminded that the same plans were afoot under Britain's EU membership, through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP – between the EU and United States. 
In or out of the EU, capitalism means ruthless exploitation for profit, and threats to the single greatest achievement of the post-War workers' movement, the NHS. 

 

Capitalist justice being handed out at Orgreave, 1984

Don't Rely on Unelected Judges for Justice!


It's right to rejoice at the Supreme Court ruling against Johnson's proroguing of parliament, and to use that judgement as an extra argument for his immediate resignation. But when even Labour left-wingers praise the neutrality and righteousness of the judiciary - or fall over themselves with concern at the Queen being lied to by Johnson - they are sowing extremely dangerous illusions, and dodging the central task of helping to build a mass movement of the working class to protect ourselves from the rampages of Johnson and the Tories.

An extra-parliamentary movement, rather than total reliance on parliamentary manoeuvres alone, let alone reliance on the judges for justice (or the monarchy for some mythical neutrality that rises above the murky world of politics).

For starters, the judiciary are divided on this whole issue, with different Court bodies declaring Johnson's actions legal in some, illegal in others. So not a solid defence of democracy there, then!

But far more to the point, justice - like most things in life - is class based.

The Courts have frequently been used to mete out brutal injustice to workers who dare defy the rule and ruin of the rich. 


A Dirty History of Repression 


In the 1970s, Ricky Tomlinson, Des Warren and the Shrewsbury pickets were jailed - and tortured - for their role in a building workers' strike, on trumped up charges, under an obscure law that was exhumed as a weapon against these workers in struggle - the 1875 Conspiracy Act.

In the 1980s, miners and their communities were hammered with the help of the Courts - and the millionaires' media, the police, secret services, undercover use of army personnel, jail sentences and legislation on benefits to starve them into submission. Thatcher and her parasitic, financial wing of the capitalist class were aided by the judiciary as they laid waste to industry and sought to smash the key obstacle to their mission, the organised trade union movement.

Numerous groups of workers and their unions have been denied the right to fight back and resist assaults by the government and employers in Court rulings against democratic majorities in strike ballots.

And that's not to even elaborate on the dirty, inglorious history of the British capitalist judiciary in brutal miscarriages of justice against the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Maguire family, the Hillsborough 96, and countless more.

Speaking at USDAW Annual Delegate Meeting 

Call Trade Union-led Demos


No, we urgently need those in authoritative, leading positions in the trade union and labour movement to stop peddling illusions in the judges and start organising and agitating for rallies and demonstrations to defend the working class against the rampaging attacks planned by Johnson and his upper-class crew. 

At the national Executive Council of my own union, Usdaw - which I was elected onto by the Scottish members last year - I've argued for such action to be fought for in the structures of the TUC and STUC. At the May, June, July and September Usdaw EC meetings I've repeatedly put forward the proposal for the TUC and STUC (plus their equivalents in Wales and N Ireland) to call and mobilise for demos around the theme 'We won't pay for Boris's Brexit'. For putting forward concrete demands in defence of our jobs, wages, workplace' rights, migrant workers' rights, the NHS... with the aim of uniting workers who voted Remain and Leave.  

Nobody disagreed each time I proposed this. All agreed the toxic division in the working class over Brexit must be fought with action and arguments based on the common class interests of workers who voted differently in the 2016 Referendum - introduced by Cameron to fend off Farage and the Tories' own right flank. 


No Call for Action at TUC Congress


As a delegate at the more recent TUC Congress, we heard many excellent speeches on the very same theme of wanting to heal the division in the working class arising from Brexit - including one that particularly chimed with me from Unite's Howard Beckett, about growing up in a country where people were defined by their attitudes to a Border, which he (and I) chose to reject in favour of trade unionism and socialism.

But I sat (and tried to get in to speak!) awaiting a clear call for unifying union-led rallies and demonstrations to defend working class interests - and topple the Tories - in vain! 

Yet even now, at this eleventh hour, that's what is urgently needed, if we are not to sleep walk into a majority Johnson government that feels emboldened to decimate our rights, jobs and services, confident in the belief that the leadership of the TUC won't match fire with fire. 

Posties gear up for huge conflict with cowboy millionaires

Unite the Many Separate Struggles


The heroic fight put up by the united workers of Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard - occupying the yard since the end of July, demanding renationalisation to save the yard, jobs and skills, and for a plan based on green energy production - was rightly and roundly applauded at the TUC Congress.

So were the fighting speeches of CWU leaders Dave Ward and Terry Pullinger, as they won the unanimous backing of delegates from all 48 unions present for the planned strikes by 100,000 Royal Mail workers, against the vicious assaults on the workforce and postal service by the latest millionaire cowboy to take over the privatised Royal Mail.

Similar warmth and solidarity was given to other groups of workers waging their own strikes and struggles, including librarians, NHS staff and cleaners in the civil service. 

All of which points to the potential for pulling workers together in action in our common, class interests - regardless of how people voted in 2016 on Brexit.


New generation take action 


Furthermore, a whole new generation could be enlisted to such anti-Tory demonstrations, if calls for defence of workers’ rights, jobs and public services is married to concrete demands for a Green New Deal to combat the climate crisis, creating at least 1.5 million new, quality, unionised jobs and apprenticeships. 


#StopTheCoup Rallies


Substantial demonstrations have been staged against Johnson's brazen trampling on even the vestiges of democracy that capitalism has conceded, in the form of parliamentary elections, under the banner #StopTheCoup. But these have been mostly called - and dominated in terms of platform speakers - by groups wishing to block or reverse the Brexit vote, advocating Remain and claiming undiluted virtues for the EU. By definition, that alienates workers who voted Leave - vast numbers of whom are not racists, but were lashing out their disgust at the establishment's decades of neglect, whether at EU or UK levels. 

No Such Thing as 'The National Interest'


During all the current parliamentary shenanigans, we are subjected to calls for 'a government of national unity' to steer us through the Brexit crisis. 
Loud amongst these voices is that of new LibDem leader, Jo Swinson, who of course draws the line at the notion of Jeremy Corbyn being a caretaker Prime Minister - proffering instead the option of somebody like Tory grandee, Kenneth Clark. 
Hardly a surprise from someone who was instrumental in assaulting sickness and disability benefits; imposing student tuition fees; cutting funding for youth training; preventing caps on fees charged by landlords; and blocking a tax on bankers' bonuses...  in her tenure as a Coalition partner in crimes with Cameron's Tories. 
The same Jo Swinson famously advocated a monument to Maggie Thatcher - something I suspect she didn't highlight in her election manifesto in former mining villages around East Dunbartonshire!


There's no such thing as one national interest 


Two Nations - Us and Them


Instead of peddling the dangerous nonsense of needing SNP, Labour, LibDem and rebel Tory politicians to “come together in the national interest”, we need to recognise there is no such thing as ‘the national interest’.

Which ‘nation’ does this refer to? The 0.01% of the population whose income has tripled, or the millions of workers whose wages have suffered the longest, harshest fall since the time of the Peterloo Massacre, 200 years ago?

The Big Six energy companies piling up mountains of profit, or the million Scottish families shivering through winters due to fuel poverty?

The giant agribusinesses and supermarkets, or the workers turning in desperation to food banks?

It’s the interests of the working class we need to act in defence of; the vast majority of the population.

Instead of perpetuating and exacerbating the Remain/Leave divide, we need action based on the common class interests of working-class people, regardless of how they voted in the false, binary choice offered them in 2016. 


The power of united workers in action needs to be called up 


TUC and STUC - Call Demos to Unite Against the Tories!


The TUC,  Scottish TUC and individual unions should urgently step into the breech and give such a lead, naming the day for mass rallies, then linking together solidarity for those in struggle (like Royal Mail workers, RMT members, etc) with youth climate strikers and working class communities facing the axe of escalating cuts and deprivation. 

The crisis in the Tory party is historically unprecedented. The oldest capitalist party in Europe is ripped asunder. Their appointed Prime Minister now has a parliamentary 'majority' of about MINUS 43! 

They shouldn't be let off the ropes. More than any other single organisation, the trade unions have the potential to give a decisive lead, winning the support of other sections like climate strikers, by calling rallies and demonstrations that could heal the wounds and divisions over the false choices of a capitalist EU or a capitalist Britain.

The time is rotten ripe for trade union and labour movement leaderships to step up to the plate, rather than sit back and rely on judges and parliamentary shenanigans to save us from the savagery planned by the people's enemy, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

CLIMATE CHANGE: A WORKERS' ISSUE



As school students and other young people spearhead global strikes and direct action against the planet-threatening climate crisis, they have appealed to workers to join them in 'a global general strike'. 

This appeal is an extremely important and welcome step forward; a glimmering of recognition by young people too young to have experienced work or trade unionism that the organised workers' movement is critical to winning meaningful action against global warming. And an important riposte to the utterly false and dangerous idea that it's older people who are to blame for the climate crisis.

As we've said before, the climate crisis is not a generational issue, it's a class issue.  

Older or middle-aged workers haven't polluted the planet. Profit-crazed capitalists have. 

For over 200 years they've plundered the planet and exploited its people for carbon, to fuel their accumulation of private profit. 
Recent reports confirm that it's the likes of BP and Shell - financed by the big banks - who are the biggest polluters. 
Another reveals the biggest 100 companies on earth account for 71% of carbon emissions. 

Trade Union Issue

As the recent TUC Congress unanimously agreed, climate is a trade union issue. The radical changes needed to tackle the impending disaster - with scientists giving us a mere 12 years to stop irreversible damage to the planet - require the active, urgent, collective action of workers. 


As the SSP has consistently argued, and TUC Congress reiterated, we need a Just Transition to fossil-free energy, not a punishing programme of job decimation and deprivation of working class communities, as some of the fringes of the environmental movement advocate. And public ownership of all forms of energy and other key sectors of the economy - including transport, housing, shipyards, and banking - is at the very heart of the solution to pollution. 


Public Ownership of Energy 

Policies adopted - unanimously - at the recent TUC Congress recognise this truth. Alongside Motions demanding that 'workers must be at the heart of delivering' a Just Transition, and a green transport system, Congress demanded public ownership of energy and the big banks. As Bakers Union general secretary, Ronnie Draper, said in proposing it:


"Public renewable power is less expensive than private, which not only faces higher interest rates and other costs, but also relies on various subsidies and long-term “power purchase agreements” in order to guarantee profits for investors.
Public ownership not only eliminates those unnecessary costs and provides cheaper power for users, but also allows us to address domestic skills deficits. Under public ownership and a planned approach, we can make use of the skills we have in the present, while we develop the new skills we need for a vibrant, thriving sector in the future."


SSP Members Active on Issue

SSP members in the unions have combined with others to maximise involvement of workers in the Youth Climate Strike week of action. For instance, both as an elected Usdaw national Executive Council member for Scotland, and SSP representative, I've collaborated with union activists in Unison, GMB, PCS, Unite and EIS to establish a Campaign Against Climate Change group in Glasgow. 

Though in its infancy, this group is working to involve workers alongside young people. We recognise that the first task is to engage with workers, explaining the issues, offering alternatives that would enhance workers' lives, rather than pose a threat to jobs and living standards. 
For example, we've discussed the win-win policy of free installation of solar energy in homes, and I advocated the council unions lobby Glasgow city council to take over the bus service being surrendered by First Group, as a baby step towards a full municipal bus service, which in turn should become part of a free public transport service to help combat car pollution. 

Alongside that we have been building for attendance at the demos and rallies on 20 September, for instance during workers' lunchtimes, or using flexitime, or days off, or where possible by clocking off to attend. Unison stewards have negotiated non-victimisation agreements with councils for members who participate.

Answering Workers' Fears 

Likewise, at the September meeting of the Usdaw Executive Council, I got the issue put on our agenda, introduced it, spelling out the key issues from a worker's perspective, and advocated concrete steps by our union - all of which were agreed, unanimously.  That includes appealing to all reps to take part in rallies if possible, encourage members whose shifts allow to join the events, and to stage workplace events where feasible - above all, starting discussions on climate change and alternatives in meetings of members.  

Crucially, we need to overcome the legitimate fears of many workers that what's on offer is the slaughter of jobs and a 'hair-shirt'  existence. That emerged in our very healthy discussion at the Usdaw EC, which our explanation of massive job creation through a Green New Deal, and trade union control of a Just Transition, convinced the entire meeting. And that's in the union primarily organising retail workers; how much more critical it is to have a package of policies to engage, convince and mobilise workers in the fossil-fuel sector, such as North Sea installations.


Class and Climate 

That's precisely where a class-based socialist alternative comes into its own. The public ownership demanded by the TUC would open up the opportunity to redeploy existing workers, reskilling where necessary, as well as a whole new green industrial strategy that could create at least 1.5 million skilled, well-paid, unionized jobs. 


The concrete example of the heroic resistance to closure being staged by the 123 Harland and Wolff shipyard workers in Belfast proves the point.  They are battling for renationalisation to include green energy production, which they've already done as their primary source of work in recent years, to help build equipment for offshore energy. 


Alongside the campaign to end the globalised capitalist lunacy of equipment for the giant £2bn NnG offshore windfarm a few miles from the Fife BiFab yards being built in cheap-labour Indonesia, and then transported 7,000 miles in diesel-belching vessels, this shows how democratic public ownership of all production and distribution of energy supplies could vastly boost jobs and wages, combat fuel poverty, and help clean up our corner of the planet for generations to come. 




System Change - to Socialism 

We urgently need system change to combat climate change. 

Change to a system of democratic public ownership, where the skills of workers are deployed to produce and distribute clean, green energy; build and retrofit homes to the highest environmental standards; offer an integrated, free public transport network that combats both poverty, social isolation and pollution; and uses the vast funds of a state bank to help finance a Green New Deal. 


The power of organised workers - alongside the energy and vision of young people - needs to be mobilised for such a clean, green, and nuclear-free, socialist Scotland. 
The SSP commits to combine with others for that future. 


Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Harland & Wolff: THE POWER OF WORKERS!


At the end of July, the iconic Harland and Wolff Belfast shipyard was declared dead by politicians and 
management alike. The 123 workers and their unions (Unite and GMB) seized the initiative, seized hold 
of the yard, and demanded “Save Our Shipyard – Renationalise Now!”.
Their courageous, decisive action and clear-cut battle-cry has mustered the active support of workers 
all over Ireland, north and south, as well the UK, USA, South Africa, and across Europe. Daily solidarity 
visits, collections for the hardship fund, and solidarity rallies and marches, have given a glimpse of the 
latent power of a united working class determined and willing to take action.

Occupied - Renationalise Now!

When the politicians – particularly the DUP, who ‘represent’ the shipyard area of East Belfast – refused 
to take meaningful action to pound the minority regime of Boris Johnson into saving the yard, its jobs 
and skills, the workers declared they will stand trade union-backed candidates against them in a 
general election.

This determined stance and collective action has not only inspired thousands of trade unionists, but 
brought the local DUP politicians to heel, and won extensions (by the administrators) of the ‘unpaid 
temporary layoff’ period to 30 September, buying time to either achieve renationalisation or get a 
serious buyer, with every existing job guaranteed.

Four weeks after the yard’s obituaries were being written, five credible bids are now being 
negotiated. That’s the potential power of collective union action, which needs to be deployed 
far more generally.

Two Futures

This battle provides a glimpse of two stark choices for the future. 
One where the government is prepared to let the whole community, jobs and skills sink to the 
bottom of the Irish Sea, because, in Johnson’s words, “this is a commercial decision.” 
Or one where the collective strength and action of workers through their unions secures 
public ownership and a whole new green industrialisation, with quality jobs for the future.

The entire trade union movement – including those gathering at the TUC in Brighton, should 
pile in with solidarity until victory for the Harland and Wolff workers – and apply its lessons 
across the board.


Joe Passmore (on right), UNITE shop steward, with Paul Beattie (GMB)


I spoke to JOE PASSMORE, Unite shop steward in Harland & Wolff, about their heroic       showdown with those who would leave an industrial desert in Belfast and call it progress!


Richie: YOU'VE TAKEN ACTION TO STOP CLOSURE OF THE SHIPYARD. WHAT WOULD 
THE IMPACT OF CLOSURE HAVE BEEN, PERSONALLY OR GENERALLY?

Joe: “The impact would have been on the wider community. Yes, it was about our 123 jobs, but 
the number of jobs generated when we get a  contract goes into the hundreds, and a few years 
back we had 1,500 working here. A lot of them local people, living in Belfast, feeding into the local 
economy. 
It would have been a catastrophic loss, and also a lot of industries feed off us. In fact a lot of jobs 
have been lost in other companies since we went into administration.
But it’s not only about jobs, Harland and Wolff is iconic in Belfast. The idea that those giant cranes 
would become a monument to the past would be heart-breaking. And aside from the emotional part, 
an economic disaster.”

RV: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO OCCUPY THE YARD?

Joe: “We occupied because this was a set-up. The more we learn, the more we think plans to close 
this place go back years, with key players including politicians and government departments.
They sold us a dream about refitting cruise liners and gave an exclusivity clause to the company 
promising this, MJM Marine, of Newry. Two weeks before they were meant to finalise the deal, 
MJM withdrew the bid, cut it from £9m to £2m, and didn't include the workforce in their plans!
Their plan was to bring people in from abroad, on slave wages, and then get rid of them. That's
 what this company has done elsewhere.
Pulling the plug was blatant profiteering at the expense of working people.

There was intense anger at this. The union held meetings at board level with the owners, and took 
over the running of the meetings! We called in the politicians. But we also set up our very own
 "Cobra Committee", a Council of War.
We made it plain we are not going to lie down. We planned to take control and that's exactly 
what we've done, blocking off all entrances bar one. And our motto is that we only let people 
in who have our future at heart; we will not accept the vultures.

Five or six companies are starting to finalise bids this week. Why were they never in the loop before?
They were excluded because of the agenda to close the shipyard. Now they are falling over themselves 
because of the stand we've taken and the publicity it's gained. We've scared off the vultures and scared 
the living hell out of the politicians.

The DUP has the ear of the government but wasn't prepared to do anything. We were butting heads 
with them. It's only very recently they've shown any willingness to help, because we had them on the 
ropes. 
We focused their minds by announcing we would oppose them in East Belfast in a general election, 
taking away workers' votes, which would lose the seat for the DUP.”



RV: YOUR CALL FOR RENATIONALISATION HAS BEEN DYNAMITE IN LIFTING THE 
SIGHTS OF WORKERS HERE. WHY DO YOU DEMAND THAT?

Joe: “Renationalisation is the easy way to solve this. We have plenty of work we could bring in right 
now.
Before they pulled the plug, BAe packages for submarines worth about £3m were lined up to come 
to us, with all the technical stuff sorted.
Even since going into administration, enquiries about use of our docks for ship-repair work, worth 
about £1m-£1.5m, have come in. So we could already have enough work to keep us going up to 
Christmas. But we couldn’t take the work because we don’t have an owner.

The government are aware of all this, and the work it could bring in, but seem reluctant to go near 
the word nationalisation. I don't care what they call it, but it's the obvious solution.
We need to force industrial leaders to recognise the advantages of long term planning and
investment in people over short-term financial gain. the consequence for continuing on the 
present trend will be catastrophic to British industry. 
Looking at Ferguson's in Scotland, even the DUP parliamentary leader has recently said there's no 
reason why if the devolved Scottish government can nationalise, that the UK national government 
can't do so.
Now it looks like we need to rely on the big hitters to buy us.”

RV: ANOTHER SOURCE OF INSPIRATION TO MANY OF US IS YOUR CALL FOR RENEWABLE 
ENERGY PRODUCTION AT H&W. WHY?

Joe: “That has to be a big consideration. At least two of the five bidders are concentrating on 
renewable energy. The last ship we built was 2004, it's been mostly green energy production 
since. We have a history of it, and have all the prototypes. It's what we are capable of.”

Previous article in Scottish Socialist Voice 


RV: WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN MESSAGES TO TRADE UNIONISTS HERE?

Joe: “We have hit a nerve with our stance. We've found a way of fighting. We will not let anyone 
destroy our communities for short-term financial gain. 
My biggest wish of all is that other people, other workers, see something unfair, morally corrupt, 
and that they stand together, refuse to accept it. If we don't take charge, say we're not moving 
until these things are put right, the whole of industry will be destroyed.

My main message to other trade unionists: this is what you can do if you stand together.

We are 100% unionized, but it's not enough to get a membership, this is what the unions should 
be doing. Get over the defeat of the miners and other issues. We are stronger and smarter. We 
shouldn't underestimate what we can do. Several other disputes in Northern Ireland are drawing 
on this example, beginning to see the potential.”

………...
Send union donations to either Unite or GMB offices in Belfast - help sustain this very 
important struggle. 

Unite, 26-34 Antrim Rd, Belfast BT15 2AA
GMB, 1A Victoria Rd, Holywood  BT18 9BA 

Friday, 16 August 2019

PETERLOO MASSACRE,1819: Rise Like Lions!



Two hundred years ago, on 16 August 1819, one of the defining events of working class history in Britain occurred; the Peterloo Massacre. 

A crowd of 60-80,000 working-class men, women and children gathered in St Peter's Fields, near Manchester, demanding radical reforms in the face of rampant political corruption, and ruin and starvation for the people. 

The ruling authorities - magistrates, politicians and military officers, fully endorsed by the UK government - replied with a savagery that profoundly changed the outlook of the masses in the days and years that followed. 

At least 15 were killed and 700 wounded as the cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry charged, swords drawn, hacking left and right into the crowd, under the orders of magistrates safely ensconced in a nearby mansion, who feared the entirely peaceful, well-disciplined crowd would challenge their economic and political monopoly of power. 

The first to die was two-year-old William Fildes, knocked from his mother's arms as one of the cavalry galloped to St Peter's Fields, intent on helping to put these protesting workers back in their box.

Political corruption remains today - if modified compared to 1819

Corruption and Famine

The demands of the mass rally arose from bitter anger at their treatment by those in power, especially in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, which ended in 1815, and in its wake led to a very brief boom in textile manufacturing, followed by deep and chronic depression. 

Whilst the mill owners and other rising capitalists continued to luxuriate in wealth, mass unemployment, starvation and actual famine stalked the country, including Lancashire, the main centre of textile weaving and spinning. 
The Corn Laws of 1815 exacerbated the conditions of mass starvation, imposing tariffs on foreign grain imports, forcing food prices up and the quality of food down, triggering outbreaks of famine. 

Rotten Boroughs

Propping up the inequality and mass hunger was a political system stinking of the worst corruption.  

Voting rights were restricted to adult male owners of freehold land above a threshold rental value. This tiny, narrow franchise - part of the shoddy compromise between the landowning and capitalist classes in the decades after the English Civil War - totally excluded the wealth producers, the working class, those rightly described by many historians as "the manufacturing class". 

For instance, Manchester and surrounding towns had a population of a million, but the whole county of Lancashire had just two MPs, returned by a tiny handful of the propertied class. 

Of 515 MPs across England and Wales, 351 were sent to 'the Mother of Parliaments' by a minuscule 177 rich individuals - and every single one of Scotland's 45 MPs relied on the same system of patronage. 

In at least two separate seats, two MPs (in each) were elected in a 'rotten borough' by one, single, solitary voter! So twice as many MPs as voters! 

Next time you get a lecture from a Tory, or employer, or lickspittle defender of the wonders of capitalist democracy, it might be worth acquainting them with this slice of rotten, corrupt reality. 

Peaceful Demands for Democracy

The 60-80,000 who assembled, after marching in well-drilled formation from neighbouring towns and districts, carried banners with slogans like Universal Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, Annual Parliaments, No Corn Law, Liberty and Fraternity, Unity and Strength. 

They were entirely peaceful, but put the fear of rebellion into the corrupt, cankered hearts of the rich and their magisterial agents. They amassed troops from Special Constables and several cavalries, thousands of armed men in total. 

"The Tory party in arms" feared revolution and assaulted peaceful meeting 

Business Mafia on Horseback!

These sabre-wielding militias were enlisted from the class of tradespeople, shopkeepers and especially publicans, described at the time by one local newspaper as "the fawning dependents of the great, with a few fools, who imagine they acquire considerable importance wearing regimentals." 

More recent historians have described them more succinctly: "The local business mafia on horseback", or, in another case, "Young members of the Tory party in arms."

Next time you're assured British democracy is a God-given blessing we should be grateful for, it's worth remembering the struggles and martyrdom workers went through to even win the elementary right to vote every few years - and the armed savagery in opposition to basic democracy of "the Tory party in arms", the "business mafia on horseback". 

From Peterloo to Chartism

The horror and outrage at the massacre in St Peter's Fields - dubbed the Peterloo Massacre in bitter ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo, just four years earlier - spread beyond Lancashire to the whole country. 

But it met with an escalated bout of repression, including the arrest and prolonged imprisonment of those who organised and spoke at the Peterloo rally, such as the radical orator, Henry Hunt. He was slapped in jail for 30 months. Workers were sacked, leaving their children to starve, for merely attending the rally. 

But repression cannot hold down the working class indefinitely. Henry Hunt contributed to a new force in the decades after Peterloo, the Chartist movement, Britain's first working class political party. 

Gradually, through mighty battles, general strikes and attempted insurrections included, this movement squeezed incremental reforms on the right to vote from a capitalist ruling class that fought brutally to retain a monopoly not just of economic but also political power. It took over a century after Peterloo to win full suffrage for the working class, for women as well as men. 

Democracy Today - a Good Idea!

Today, of course, we live in a very different world - in some respects! 

Past generations fought and suffered to win the limited democratic rights of today. The demands for universal suffrage and vote by (secret) ballot have been conquered, at a high price for earlier generations of fighters. 

But unless we win economic democracy there can never be full-blown political democracy.  

Two hundred years on, we may not be suffering famine in this country - but that's the cruel fate of millions in the global South, and here in the fifth-richest economy on earth, we have mass reliance on food banks. It's sobering to register that one of the causes of this is the fact real wages have declined more and for longer in the last ten years than in any decade since Peterloo! 


We may have the right to assembly - so long as the ruling powers deem it safe to allow us to exercise that right. Police assaults on striking miners' demonstrations in 1984/5 were a harsh reminder of the limitations of even that right, so long as we have a capitalist  minority in ownership of the main centres of wealth. Likewise, their kettling of anti-capitalist protesters on numerous occasions since. 

Orgreave: Capitalist state was mobilised to smash miners' union 

Workers in Chains - Still!

The (anti)Combination Acts passed 20 years before Peterloo were torn to shreds by mass workers' resistance, but the whole array of anti-union laws - introduced by Tory governments, retained by Labour governments - still make this one of the most repressive countries in the developed world. 

The rights fought for by the pioneers at Peterloo and in the Chartists are still often denied to workers, such as the growing number of employers who refuse to permit let alone recognise and negotiate with workers' collective trade unions. 


We may have the right to vote in this country,  but we don't really have the right to decide.

The working class majority population are still dictated to by a few capitalist monopolies: a few big banks; the Big Six energy companies; private shipyard owners who throw skilled dedicated workers on the scrapheap; one-man capitalist dictators like Jim Ratcliffe of INEOS who threaten to shut down the whole Grangemouth plant and hold the Scottish government to ransom; Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or the Walton family (ASDA owners) who threaten workers with the sack if they don't surrender to their dictats, and likewise instruct governments on what they must do, even when it subverts the will of those who elected the governments.



Break the Chains!

In saluting and honouring our dead and maimed predecessors at Peterloo and elsewhere, we should redouble our determination to fully achieve real democracy. 
Including workplace democracy, economic democracy, as well as an end to political rule by a rich, powerful elite. 

We need to relentlessly expose the corruption and inherent exploitation and inequality of capitalist rule. We need to paint a picture of a socialist democracy, where those who produce the wealth of goods and services also collectively own and control that wealth, taking concrete steps to eradicate poverty and inequality. And use that vision to inspire others to rise like lions. 


As a modest contribution to that effort, I wrote the book, Break the Chains. It strives to arm activists with arguments for socialist change, and elaborate the case behind a whole package of 21st century policies that would transform the lives of millions.

Introduction to Break the Chains

I quite consciously referenced the Peterloo Massacre in the Introduction to Break the Chains - and just as consciously quoted Percy Bysshe Shelley's inspirational poem, written in anger at the Massacre.  

In Shelley's phrase, the working class still, 200 years later, need to "Rise, like lions after slumber/In unvanguishable number!" 
Never forgetting that - even more so than in the world of 1819 - "Ye are many - they are few." 

Copies of Break the Chains available HERE


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

50 YEARS SINCE TROOPS SENT INTO IRELAND








It's hard to believe it was 50 years ago today, on 14 August 1969, that the Harold Wilson Labour government sent troops into N Ireland, declaring it a stop-gap, emergency, temporary measure. 

They first arrived in Derry, the next day were also deployed in Belfast, and were to remain for 30 years, during the bleak, dark days of sectarian division, 3,720 violent deaths, and ruthless state repression; the 'Troubles'.

The vast majority of people today - whether Protestant, Catholic or neither - are absolutely determined there will be no going back to those days. 


During election times, the Orange and Green sectarian politicians still today rely on headcounts of 'their own' communities to hold onto their overpaid positions, trading on the Good Friday Agreement to climb to office - where they are quite relaxed about cosying up to politicians of 'the other side' to carry out Tory austerity cuts; privatise services; impose the miseries of Universal Credit; slash budgets by cutting Corporation Tax on big business; and make a fortune for friends and family through the corrupt Renewable Heating Initiative scam. 


The same politicians would prefer us not to know that it was repeated waves of strikes and rallies by workers, united in opposition to the sectarian killings, that were instrumental in bringing about the ceasefires 20 years ago. 

What is equally unknown and unspoken of - including outside of Ireland - is that during the period immediately prior to the British army's arrival, multiple opportunities for working class unity and indeed socialist change were thrown up. 
Opportunities created by the courageous struggles of ordinary people, including trade unionists at shopfloor level, but unforgivably squandered by the leadership of the trade union and wider labour movement. 


Background reading on why troops sent in & results



In this short pamphlet - Class not Creed, 1968 - I sketch out the bloody and pernicious history of Britain's ruling rich in their exploitation of Irish land and labour, in particular their coldly calculated incitement of sectarian divisions; their divide-and-rule tactics, culminating in the 1921 partition of Ireland. 

That side of history is relatively well known; the pamphlet also unearths some of the many, many examples of working class Catholics and Protestants uniting in struggle, in defiance of their political 'masters', who sought to keep them divided and thereby easier to exploit.  


That happened right throughout the 20th century - including on the eve of the violent eruptions of August 1969, when the Labour government deployed troops rather than a united workers' movement to confront the Paisleyite mobs and RUC/B Special police who went on the rampage in Derry's Bogside and parts of Belfast, burning Catholic families out of their homes. 

Even less known, are the heroic efforts of shop stewards in the Belfast shipyard - who set the tone and set the pace for others in workplaces where the bigots threatened assaults on workers, by calling a mass meeting of all 8,000 workers, passing a declaration of opposition to sectarian division and intimidation, leading them out in a token strike against sectarian violence; actions unanimously agreed by the 8,000 and acted upon that day, 15 August 1969. 


Or the Peace Patrols and Vigilante groups - many of them joint Protestant/Catholic in composition - who patrolled several Belfast estates in August 1969, quelling the bigots from attacking people's homes, preventing a slide into outright civil war, in a way that the British army was simply incapable of doing. 

With very rare exceptions, these defence groups were not only non-sectarian but anti-sectarian. 

In the Ardoyne and Unity Walk, they stopped attacks on Protestant families. In East Belfast they prevented attacks on the homes of the Catholic minority. Joint Catholic/Protestant peace patrols operated in several areas, including Ballymurphy, Turf Lodge, New Barnsley, Springmartin and Springhill. Far more homes would have been burnt out, far more murderous attacks would have happened, had it not been for these courageous efforts. 


Troops take aim on Bloody Sunday, Derry 1972


The tragedy is that the leaderships of the trade unions and labour movement in 1969 did nothing to coordinate and build on these ground-level and workplace efforts to stem the sectarian tide, relying instead on pious pleas for 'calm', and support for use of the British army.  


The latter went on to prove in action that working class people have to rely on our own forces, our own unified communities and organisations, not the forces of a capitalist state. 
Far from being defenders of the Catholic community, the army was soon deployed in an array of repressive measures, including house raids; curfews; internment without trial; shoot-to-kill policies; torture - and as some socialists warned at the time, practiced methods later used by the British government and its state against workers in struggle, most spectacularly against the 1984-5 striking miners. 


Workers' unity in action, 2019 


The failures of the leaderships of the Civil Rights, Labour and trade union movements turned a golden opportunity for unity and socialist change into decades of bitter sectarian reaction, starting in August 1969, as the bigots drove the peace patrols out of existence and put the workplace shop stewards on the defensive. 


To their eternal credit, however, these same rank and file union leaders led several waves of strike action against the killings - from both sides - during the 1970s and 1980s, preventing outright civil war. 
Meantime, the best the army could offer was - in the cold, cynical phrase of Tory Minister, Reginald Maudling - to reduce the North "to an acceptable level of violence"


I encourage you to have a read of Class not Creed, 1968. It gives background context to the deployment of the British army 50 years ago, why the ruling class through the Wilson government decided to send them in. It recounts some of the main events afterwards. And it describes what might have been if there had been a large, cross-community socialist party that could have built on the real events and heroic efforts of thousands of working class activists, 50 years ago. 


We need to study and learn from the past to ensure there is no going back. We need to base our efforts on class, not creed. 

Order copies here (£3 including postage): 
https://scottishsocialistparty.org/product/class-not-creed-1968/