Tuesday, 18 November 2014


As I listened to the BBC Radio 4 feature on 'The Mersey Militants' on Saturday 8th November, it filled me with a mixture of fond memories and fury. 

Mass struggle won jobs and services in Liverpool 1984
Warm recollections of the titanic battles I took part in during the 1980s, as the Merseyside regional organiser of the socialists who led mass movements that defeated Thatcher's government. 

Fond thoughts of the fighting spirit, camaraderie and rich lessons in working class struggle that the events of 1983-7 displayed, as the mass movement surrounding the socialist city council waged war against Maggie Thatcher's Tory government - and won dramatic reforms that transformed the lives of thousands of Scousers.
Irreplaceable experiences for anyone who aspires to change society through and with working people's struggles.

Fury at the obnoxious distortions peddled by the likes of the treacherous windbag, Labour leader at that time, Neil Kinnock. Even 30 years on it makes your blood boil to hear his sneering mis-representations of the genuine - and successful!- socialist struggle and marvellous class fighters involved in that chapter of history.


And while it was uplifting to hear the defiant defense of what we did then from a few of my socialist comrades of the time who were interviewed, it rankled to hear opponents distort our record, and others totally understate the critical role of socialist policies and organised socialists in successfully leading a movement of tens of thousands of 'ordinary' people who became 'extraordinary'.

Anyone curious to hear an account I gave of the Liverpool showdown, in a speech about five years ago at Campsies SSP, can listen to the podcast they made, which is the very first posting on this Blog.

But rather than expand on the unforgettable struggles of the Liverpool people that I had the privilege of being in the thick of, the BBC feature made me think once again how lessons from our history are invaluable to the struggles of today.


Councils across Scotland are poised to wield the knife to jobs and local services in a renewed round of municipal butchery. Councillors of all mainstream party colours - including not just Tory and LibDem, but also Labour and SNP - are preparing budgets for 2015/6 and subsequent years involving tens of millions of cuts in most areas, with hair-raising attacks on workforces and working class communities.

This assault includes £150m slashed next year in just a clutch of the bigger councils - on top of hundreds of millions in recent years; but the BBC describes this as "a drop in the ocean compared with the following years."

Mass Struggle on the streets of Glasgow, 2014

Glasgow Labour council plans £71m cuts in the next two years, hard on the heels of £175m 'savings' since 2010! Job losses accompany attacks on the most vulnerable communities e.g. 40 per cent cuts to funding of Glasgow Association of Mental Health.

Numerous councils are slashing education, the single biggest council service. Highlands and Fife are amongst those proposing to cut the school week, with horrendous effects not only on kids' schooling but also parents' childcare and work arrangements.

Inverclyde has included the ingenious idea of abolishing head teachers in their primary schools.

High-performing East Renfrewshire plans to increase class sizes for S1 and S2 Maths and English from its current 20 maximum to 30, and wants kids to run school libraries while the council shed full-time librarians.

Libraries face municipal vandalism, for instance with seven Moray rural libraries targeted for closure.

Stirling council workers are in dispute over the council's attempts to impose literal pay cuts plus extend the working week by an hour; combined, that means at least a 4.5 per cent cut in hourly pay.

Across Scotland, council staff have suffered two years of zero pay increase followed by 1 per cent this year, alongside devastating staff reductions and subsequent crushing workloads for those who remain.

But now compulsory redundancies loom, unless a ferocious fight is mounted for the necessary funding.


These attacks are the result of spending cuts imposed by the Westminster dictatorship of and for the obscenely rich, which has chopped the block grant award to the Scottish government.

But amidst all the fanfares for the phenomenal growth of the SNP in membership and opinion polls, their Holyrood government is passing down these Tory cuts to councils, rather than mount a mass people's rebellion to save jobs, conditions and services.


Assuredly, there is an alternative. The SSP has every year demanded that the Scottish government and local councillors should refuse to pass on Westminster's cuts, instead set No Cuts Defiance budgets, and then link up with council workers' unions and community user groups in a massive campaign to demand back the stolen £billions off Westminster to balance the books. Simultaneously, we have fought for the Scottish government to use its power over local taxation to abolish the unfair, regressive Council Tax and replace it with a progressive, income-based Scottish Service Tax.

SSP councillor Jim Bollan has pursued this alternative annually in West Dunbartonshire council, winning the support of tenants' organisations and all the council workers' trade unions - but not a majority of councillors, who hide behind talk of having to obey the law and avoid being jailed. In fact no such threat of imprisonment exists, provided they sought mass support, rather than conduct a folded-arms gesture.


Thirty years ago the socialist council in one city, Liverpool, dared to fight the Iron Lady herself - arch Tory hate-figure Maggie Thatcher - and won, in 1984!

We gained about £65m in grants and concessions off the UK Tory government, allowing the council to not only avoid all cuts, but march forward with massive reforms, building 5,000 new council houses for rent, new schools and nurseries, expanded social services, alongside a freeze on rents and service charges, and the creation of 12,500 building workers' jobs.

And despite threats and surcharges, not one councillor was ever bankrupted or jailed; we built a mass movement around them, cudgeled the intransigent Tory government into retreat, and raised the cash to pay the councillors' surcharges, raising tens of thousands of working class people to their feet in the fightback. All that in one isolated city, smaller than Glasgow.


So imagine what a whole nation could achieve, if the SNP government, with the wind in its sails after the referendum, took this courageous course of defiance. But that requires the political will that flows from a vision of an entirely different kind of society.

Instead of heeding and applying this precedent, the SNP has passed on about £3billion of Westminster cuts in the past three years, and the recent Scottish government budget included a further £500m cuts.

It's true that without the powers of full independence, any Scottish government is hamstrung by the limitations of the block grant handed over by Westminster, and the Tories' austerity drive has horrific consequences for all the Scottish services and jobs dependent on this shrinking pot of money.


But that's where the severe shortcomings, the lack of socialist vision, of the SNP government comes to bear down on us. Instead of just blaming Westminster for the cuts but then meekly passing them down to councils, NHS boards, colleges, etc, the SNP government should be defying the Tory cuts, refusing to implement them, mounting a campaign of the Scottish people, demanding back those stolen £billions - with rallies, mass demonstrations, strikes and occupations of threatened facilities.

Look at the panic-stricken retreats and promises of the Westminster cabal (Tory, LibDem and Labour) in the face of a threatened Yes vote - and then imagine the power to win back funding that has been used to cut taxes to the obscenely rich, if a Scots rebellion was led and encouraged by the elected Scottish government!


About 80 per cent of council funding comes from the Scottish government, most of the rest from the Council Tax.

Setting No Cuts Defiance budgets at Scottish and in turn council levels would also buy the time to rush through emergency legislation to abolish the hated, unequal Council Tax and introduce in its place a progressive, income-based Scottish Service Tax that could raise far greater funds for council jobs and services. That's what the SSP had in our founding programme back in 1998, which we then costed thoroughly with the help of economists.

The latest detailed figures we compiled - four years ago - show that far from Scotland suffering devastating cuts at local level, our income-based Scottish Service Tax would mean about 80 per cent of people paying less than they do under the Council Tax, the super-rich paying a damned sight more, with the net result of increasing council funding from £1.8billion to £3.4billion a year (in 2010 figures).


Back in the 2011 Holyrood elections, the SNP scented the popularity of the policy the SSP had been conducting street campaigns and battles inside the trade unions for, adopted a bastardized version of it, and won a massive increase in their vote by promising to scrap the Council Tax and introduce what they called 'a local income tax'.

But once elected, the SNP failed to pursue this plan, and instead introduced the Council Tax freeze. Welcome though it is to lower-income families to not face massive hikes in their bills, in fact this disproportionately helps the higher-income households, and adds another squeeze to council spending abilities.

The SSP would not endorse Labour's demand to end the freeze and let bills rip through the roof for ordinary families. But instead of freezing Council Tax bills, the SNP government should put the entire Council Tax system in deep freeze! Scrap it, and tax the rich minority their fair share instead, boosting annual income for local services and jobs.


As council budgets are debated, we need trade unionists, community groups and councillors to back the call for No Cuts budgets to be set, Defiance Budgets, with plans laid for campaigning on the scale of the referendum in workplaces and communities around the central message of 'give us back our stolen £billions - and scrap the Council Tax, to instead tax the rich.'

Heady Days: October 1986 - confirmation of our expulsion from Kinnock's Labour Party

Friday, 14 November 2014


As the SNP conference meets, the media are speculating that proposed changes to the SNP constitution are designed to "reward the wider Yes Scotland movement for its efforts in the referendum campaign by allowing the fast-tracking of activists to be party candidates at next year's General Election", adding this "paves the way for SNP constituencies to approve non-party members to stand as MPs under a different banner, such as Yes for Scotland, in May's poll." (Herald 14 November 2014).

The same article goes on to claim "The SNP has resisted calls from the Greens and Scottish Socialists for a pro-independence pact next year, but [if agreed, this constitutional change] ...would open up the potential for pro-independence campaigners who are not party members to stand under the SNP banner". 
As an aside, I'm personally unaware of whether or not  the Greens have called for such 'a pact'; certainly the SSP has asked them to back a pro-independence alliance for 2015, and we would hope they'd join forces with us in pressing for this with the SNP leadership.

But the SNP's plans reflect the massive pressure from their own ranks, especially those thousands of new recruits who fought alongside the SSP and others for a Yes vote, saw the value of a united front, now favour that being sustained for the Westminster elections, and look to SNP conference to agree it. Another indication of the mood for such a united front is the election of  Stewart Hosie as SNP deputy leader, after he had declared for some such arrangement.

However, and it's a big however, if the Herald has got it right, allowing people "to stand under the SNP banner" is far removed from a genuine alliance or united front. It's an attempt to square the circle; to go it alone as the SNP in the glow of mass recruitment and spectacular opinion polls, whilst trying to appease the demands of (especially new) SNP members for a continuation of the success that was the multi-faceted Yes movement. It wouldn't work! If they intend to suggest SSP or Green party members stand as SNP candidates it's a complete non-starter. 

FOR A GENUINE ALLIANCE TO CONFRONT TORIES AND LABOURIf, more probably, they hope to rope in Yes campaigners with no party affiliation to stand under the SNP banner, that's up to those individuals to decide, but they will have to face up to being held responsible for all that is negative about the SNP, as well as what is positive. In particular their track record on passing down Westminster cuts rather than mounting a mass campaign of resistance, whether at Holyrood, council, college or NHS board levels.
There is a powerful mood to unite in opposition to the Westminster Tory dictatorship and their cuts, and the SSP's call for a pro-independence, anti-cuts alliance for next May's elections matches the hour. 
So we hope the ranks of the SNP respond to our appeal for a genuine alliance of pro-independence, anti-cuts candidates - named as such in every seat - as outlined in the Press Release below that I sent out in the west of Scotland at the weekend.

PRESS RELEASE: for immediate use (9.11.14)
SSP calls for pro-independence, anti-cuts 'Yes Alliance' for 2015 Westminster elections 

The Scottish Socialist Party is campaigning for a Yes Alliance to contest the Westminster elections next May. This was agreed at the recent SSP national conference.

SSP west of Scotland regional organiser RICHIE VENTON told us:
"The savage cuts to benefits, pay, jobs and people's basic democratic rights announced in the wake of the Referendum has driven increased numbers of Scots to favour independence. And even those still unconvinced of full-scale self-government are strongly in favour of vastly increased powers for Scotland over benefits, taxation and measures to protect Scotland from the Twin Tory Coalition onslaught.

"Many of the same people want to punish Labour for their collaboration with the Tories in blocking independence, leaving us at the tender mercies of Cameron's dictatorship of and for the obscenely rich.

"The SSP is conducting a systematic campaign - in the streets, communities, workplaces and through local public meetings - for powers for the Scottish parliament to transform our lives, including the ability to set a £10 Scottish minimum wage for all at 16; establish a benefits system that supports people instead of demonising them; to ban fracking and take the Big Six energy giants and the green energy sector into democratic public ownership, to banish profiteering and fuel poverty; to repeal all the Thatcherite anti-trade union laws; and to implement progressive taxation of the very rich and big business to fund decent public services. 

"We have these distinctive policies, often radically different from those of the SNP. For that reason alone, we are not prepared to give a blank cheque to the SNP in the 2015 elections. We will not be calling on people to just vote SNP and forget their differences with them on key matters of policy.

"However, we are stepping up our appeal to the SNP, Greens and people of no political party who made up the very successful Yes campaign to sustain that united front in the Westminster elections. That's what our recent SSP national conference agreed unanimously.

"We want a pro-independence, anti-cuts alliance that agrees one candidate in each constituency, to challenge the Tories and Labour, appealing to not only the 45% who voted Yes, but to the No voters who want a radically fairer distribution of wealth and power.

"We believe the beauty of such an alliance is that it would appeal to outraged, disenfranchised Labour voters in a way that the SNP on its own never will, with socialists, greens, SNPers and independents standing as candidates in an agreed allocation of seats.

"And my message to the forthcoming SNP Conference is that they need to recognize the growing support for this idea at grassroots level. For instance, I have spoken at several local Yes groups that support such a multiparty alliance, including many people who have joined the SNP recently.

"The SSP will never drop its commitment to an independent socialist Scotland, but we are eager to reach agreement with others in the interests of resisting Tory attacks on the working class, and of keeping the flames of social justice and independence alight, through a pro-independence, anti-cuts alliance for May 2015."

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

UNIONS MUST BREAK FROM LABOUR TORIES: stop funding arsonists to torch your home!

On 1st July 2014 I wrote a blog - "Ructions after Referendum" - which included the statement: "The exposé of Labour as open collaborators with the avowed Tory enemy of workers has added immensely to the process of workers unshackling themselves from their old Labour loyalties...After September 18th we are likely to see eruptions, schisms and a haemorraging of members from Labour in Scotland."

Within weeks of the Referendum result - a No majority won primarily through the agency of Labour lies, scaremongering and false vows! - absolute ructions have erupted in Labour, with an intense squeeze on them from the hundreds of thousands of trade unionists who fund their party. 

Workers without a mass party 
The Labour party was founded 120 years ago by pioneering socialists and trade unionists who had seen through the false promises and capitalist ideology of the Liberals, who up until then had enjoyed the loyalty of big swathes of the working class. They sought to build an independent mass party of the working class, a political wing of the trade union movement. 

But that was then! History has turned full circle. Workers entered the 21st century with no mass party to represent and voice their aims, interests and aspirations. Labour's attachment to the UK state, displayed during the Referendum, is an expression of its deeper ideological devotion to capitalism. Since at least the 1990s Labour has transformed into an openly capitalist party, the New Tories.

Labour's shameful record
That was harshly exposed under the spotlight of Labour being in government from 1997-2010. Thirteen years in which Labour retained the most vicious anti-trade union laws in the whole of Europe; announced the slashing of 100,000 civil service jobs; scrapped the 10p tax rate for the lowest paid; implemented rampant privatisation; raided workers' pensions; allowed the worst levels of inequality since 1886, according to Oxfam; and dragged us into the blood-soaked killing fields of Afghanistan and Iraq. 
Not to mention Gordon Brown's boasts of having ended the capitalist cycle of 'boom and bust' being smashed to smithereens by the bankers' crisis of 2008; a crisis which Labour obliged workers to bail out and pay for through subsequent years of austerity.

Make the Break campaign 
Back in January 1999 the SSP launched the 'Make the Break' campaign, appealing to trade unions to end their funding of Labour's New Tories, instead demanding a democratic choice of pro-trade union parties that workers could help fund through their union fees - on top of what individual workers could do by joining the SSP to pursue the goals long since abandoned by Labour. 
Some unions did in subsequent years, but now the time is rotten ripe to 'Make the Break' and help build a mass, working class socialist party. Immeasurably more so than in 1999, especially after the mass politicization of working class people that the Referendum debate produced.

Millions for a party supporting millionaires!
Yet many trade union leaderships persist with Labour affiliation and funding of their own worst enemies. It might be only a few pence a month that each union member gives to Labour (usually without knowing it!) if they're in one of the affiliated unions. But over a period it adds up to £millions of members' hard-earned money going to an outfit that couldn't give a toss about low pay, inequality, workplace victimization or the shackles on workplace rights imposed by successive Tory and Labour governments.
Given their track record, it's obscene to note the level of trade union funding since 2001: Unite has given Labour £41.4million since then; Unison £19.6m; GMB £15.7m; Usdaw £12.29m; CWU £7.6m. And in 2013, the trade unions accounted for 77 per cent of the total funding enjoyed by Labour.
It's time to end this madness. It's equivalent to holding a whip-round at work to buy the fuel to hand over to an arsonist to torch your own home!

Don't resign - organise! 
Thousands of workers in Labour-affiliated unions are in revolt, rightly furious at the treacherous role of Labour in blocking Scottish democracy, the right to rule our own country. And at bottom this is a rebellion against the continued anti-working class policies of capitalist austerity on offer from Labour.
Hundreds in each of several unions have furiously - but foolishly - resigned from their union in disgust at being told to vote No by a leadership that failed to hold democratic debates or votes amongst members first. That includes Usdaw, GMB, CWU. 

Foolishly, because in most cases that leaves them with no alternative union that is recognized by their employer, leaving workers defenceless in the face of exploitation or victimization.
Hundreds have taken the much more constructive and wiser route of staying in the union but withdrawing payment of the political levy to Labour, by filling in exemption forms. And vowing to fight for democracy in their own union. To illustrate the scale of this growing force determined to punish Labour, almost half my own Usdaw branch members have completed these forms in the past few weeks - with more to come! And that includes many who voted No, but feel abandoned and betrayed by Labour.

Life's political
But it's important to avoid the pitfall of believing that "the unions should stay away from politics". That is impossible. Workers' conditions, incomes and rights are determined by political decisions.
Anti-union laws have helped reduce wages to their lowest share of national wealth in 60 years. The pathetic level of the minimum wage - which has become the norm rather than the minimum - needs to be challenged politically. Not with Labour's recent insulting promise of £8 by 2020 - which would barely even match inflation - but with the demand of the SSP for a £10 minimum here and now.
Political decisions on public services, privatisation, fracking, Corporation Tax levels and a multitude of other issues deeply affect our daily lives. Workers need an organised socialist voice and vehicle.

Democratise the unions 
And as hundreds of thousands demonstrated by their participation during the Referendum, we should never leave those decisions to an elite, the 'political class' of career politicians, most of whom have never done a day's work outside the machinery of their own party and parliament.
We need to demand union members' meetings and decision-making Scottish conferences, where as well as pursuing the fight for measures to tackle poverty, inequality and the dictatorship of capital, we can democratically decide which political parties members' fees can contribute to. A multiple choice of pro-trade union parties. That would assist workers in choosing to help construct a mass socialist party that stands up, unashamedly, for the working class against the profits, power and privileges of bankers, billionaires and bosses of big companies.

Murphy's Blairite claptrap
When contender for Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, launched his mission statement with talk of "representing both the prosperous and the poor", he is repeating the nauseous, dishonest claptrap of Blairite New Labour. In reality they represent 'the prosperous', at the expense of 'the poor'.
At their recent Scottish Labour Gala Dinner, these worthies forked out £200 each in the city where people rely on foodbanks for handouts to avoid literal starvation.
They have countered the Tory Coalition's additional £25billion in cuts over two years with their own cuts over three years - of £27billion!
Murphy epitomizes all that is rotten about modern Labour: a capitalist party that tries to disguise its devotion to capitalism with empty sound-bites that try to hide and deny the class realities of society to their working class electorate, whilst cooing messages of reassurance to the City of London spivs and profiteering capitalist class. 
Murphy's former spin doctor, John McTernan, has claimed that the really significant vote in the Referendum wasn't the 53% Yes vote amongst working class Glaswegians, but the 61% No vote in Edinburgh's middle class. He concludes that Labour in Scotland should tack to the right and win over the "aspirational middle classes" as well as its traditional heartland working class. 

Facing both ways
Classic Blairism. But the material basis for this con-trick has melted away with the 2008 banking crisis, which burst the financial bubble that for a short spell in history had deluded not only "the aspirational middle classes" but also sections of workers that things were getting better under New Labour. Based on plastic wealth, credit, that inevitably turned into debt and demolished any temporary feel-good factor in the working class. 
Since then, the class divide has deepened, making it all the more untenable to keep up the pretense of simultaneously 'representing the prosperous and the poor' for any length of time. Something Labour is discovering as their support in working class Scotland plummets at an unprecedented rate. 

SSP upholds principles of the socialist pioneers
Workers and their unions don't have to imprison themselves with a choice of two factions of Thatcherism. They should stop funding their Labour enemy, demand democratic choices and membership control of their unions' political funds - and join the SSP in pursuit of the democratic socialist aims of the labour movement pioneers, often enshrined in their own union rule books.