Friday, 18 August 2017


A small group of McDonald's workers has today made history. 

Forty of them, in two McDonald's restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford, south east London, have voted to stage the first ever strike in Britain in the history of this fast food multinational.
By a whopping 96% in the ballot, conducted by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). 

They are striking against bullying; cuts to their hours that has left some of them unable to pay the rent, leading to the loss of their home; and against zero hours contracts, for a £10-an-hour wage, with union recognition. 

Braving the Bullyboy Bosses 
Imagine the bravery of these workers. Small in number, but incredibly courageous, considering the vicious anti-union record of McDonald's. Living on the derisory national minimum wage, with no nest eggs to fall back on, but prepared to walk out on strike for justice, decent wages and union rights. Striking against bullying and cuts to hours which they regard as punishment for joining a union.

They deserve our unqualified, active solidarity. Including donations to the BFAWU union's strike fund, via...

Zero Hours Contracts Hell 

This strike hasn't dropped out of a clear blue sky, however. 

It's the result of years of being underpaid, undervalued, harassed, treated without dignity. And the insecurity and poverty pay that go together like burgers and chips under the use of the infamous zero hours contracts. Contracts which remain despite recent promises - under trade union campaign pressure - to concede more secure hours.

With over 90% of McD's workers on them, the fabulously wealthy multinational can dish out Big Mac starvation wages, preying on the fear and insecurity that go with the hell of zero hours contracts. 

The Fight for $15 
From the opposite side of the class divide, these workers have also been inspired to take action by the heroic struggles of workers across the opposite side of the Atlantic. Strikes, pickets, demos and political campaigning around the Fight for $15 also started out with a tiny minority of McDonald's workers going out on strike - in New York City, back in November 2012. 

As I explain in more graphic detail in Break the Chains, this movement has won massive breakthroughs in several cities and states, with over ten million workers now on the road towards $15-an-hour! Workers primarily in fast food and retail, (but also other low-paid sectors), challenging the claims in the UK that "it'll never happen in the likes of retail", which some of us face from union leaders as well as company bosses. 

A Million Times More
Contrary to the squeals of anguish from the top bosses of McDonald's, they can easily afford $15 now, or its equivalent £10 now. After all, their Chief Executive Officer, Steve Easterbrook, just awarded himself almost double the annual income he scraped by on in 2015 - now a modest $15.4million! 

McDonald's condemn the unions and their members for fighting for $15 whilst this corporate dictator is on over a million hours' worth that rate. The reason they ferociously resist unionisation of 'their' workers, whether in the US or UK, is plain for all to spot: the right to be in a union is the only guaranteed means to prevent bullying, end zero hours contracts, and win £10-an-hour. All of which would curb the multinational's insatiable hunger for profit! 

£10 Now! and a 16-hour Minimum Contract 
It's to the eternal credit of the Bakers' union that they've turned fine words into active deeds - unlike, unfortunately, the leadership of too many other unions. 

The BFAWU moved the motion for "a £10 minimum wage for all workers", way back three years ago at the September 2014 TUC congress. It was passed - unanimously! 

To their shame, many union leaderships have done nothing in the three years since to actively pursue this policy. 

The SSP has fought for action within our own unions for £10 now, alongside relentless campaigning on the streets for an immediate £10 for all over 16. In fact that's been our central demand since September 2014 - not the welcome, but feeble, promise of £10 in 2020 (and then only for workers over 18), recently pledged by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour. 

The SSP has also consistently called for a total ban on all zero hours contracts, and pioneered the policy of a legally guaranteed minimum 16-hours-a-week contract for all part-time workers, except where a worker requests lesser hours, in the presence of their union rep. 

The BFAWU have conducted the Hungry for Justice campaign among fast food workers, demanding "£10 and a union". That's what has emboldened these workers to throw down the gauntlet, striking against a multinational. 

Solidarity With the Strikers
Readers should send messages and donations to these brave McDonald's strikers, and help fan a spark into a flame across the UK. A movement that can hopefully help erase the curse of poverty pay, zero hours contracts and bully-boy bosses getting away with it in the absence of organised union rights. 

Stand up for these brave McDonald's strikers. Demand £10 and a union, secure jobs and an end to bullying. 

Monday, 14 August 2017


Victories for the working class, our unions, our rights at work, are nearly as rare as people of conscience in the Tory Cabinet! 

So it's all the more justified that we celebrate the recent abolition of Employment Tribunal fees, as ruled unanimously by the seven Supreme Court judges. They deprived the Tories and LibDems of a fourth birthday party for the pernicious measure they jointly imposed in July 2013. 

Under mounting pressure from the trade union movement, and growing public fury, the upper-class judges abolished forthwith the fees of £1,200 payable before workers could even get a Tribunal hearing on cases of unfair dismissal, discrimination, or equal pay.
And the £1,600 payable to seek an Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing; to challenge any of the 50% of ET cases that go against workers, or the incredible 78% of all ET cases on discrimination - potentially the most important, involving the biggest compensation - which rule on the side of employers. 

This decision was the result of three years of legal challenges by UNISON, and widespread public support, as expressed in the response to Jeremy Corbyn's promise to  scrap the fees - ending years of criminal negligence by Labour, who merely promised to reduce the fees. 

Build on Employment Tribunals Victory 

This outcome underlines the potential power for progressive change possessed by the organised trade union movement. It answers the doubters and sceptics, who surrender under the battle-cry, "There's nothing we can do".

Now we need to push for far more sweeping changes, actually mobilizing the solidarity in action of workers and their unions, demanding a full-blown Charter of Workers' Rights.   

Not by waiting for some Messiah, but by motivating and mobilizing the millions of workers and their communities; utilizing the unified power of our class against the capitalist class and their political mouthpieces. 

And not just demanding it as a futile propaganda exercise towards the stone-faced Westminster puppets of capitalist rule; we might as well appeal to the stone statue of Churchill as await the Westminster road to workers' rights.
We need to target the far more accessible and susceptible Scottish government, and the 32 Scottish local authorities, with such demands. 

Unite for a Charter of Workers' Rights 

The SSP is more than eager to unite in action with supporters of other parties and none; trade unionists, young people, community groups; anyone willing to demand a Charter of Workers' Rights that could begin to transform the lives of the millions - unashamedly at the expense of the millionaires - both at work, at home and in our communities. 

By no means an exhaustive package, this could include the following:

Full rights at work from day one. 
Not 'equal rights', as demanded by Jeremy Corbyn's For the Many, Not the Few manifesto - which would include equal exclusion from the right to an Employment Tribunal hearing on unfair dismissal for the first 2 years in a job. 
Full rights, from day one, whether part-time, full-time, temporary, agency, etc.

The right to organise, strike and take solidarity action with fellow workers - and on so-called political issues, like privatisation or cuts - without fear of victimisation. 
This would require repeal of all the anti-union, anti-worker laws, introduced by Thatcher's Tories, retained by 13 years of Labour government, made even more repressive by the Tories and their LibDem coalition partners. Not just the welcome, but extremely limited pledge by Corbyn to repeal the 2016 (anti-) Trade Union Act, but all 30-years' worth of repressive laws. 

A guaranteed, well-paid, secure job for all on leaving school or college. 
Scotland's teenage model, Govan shipyard worker's son Connor Newall, told Radio Scotland that if he wasn't blessed with a career with cameras shooting at him he'd be in the army being shot at in wars. That captures the criminal lack of decent jobs, contrary to the vast array of work that needs doing to build a decent society. 

We should demand action - not pious platitudes - from the Scottish government and local councils to create hundreds of thousands of decent jobs, for instance by building social sector houses for rent; expanding education and public transport; investing in an NHS fit for the 21st century; ensuring free, quality social care services; developing a vast new, publicly-owned green energy industry.

A legally-enforced living minimum wage set at two-thirds male median earnings - for all over 16, with equal pay for women. 
Wages have been systematically driven down, to boost profits, and to cut public spending. Wages have stagnated and declined at the worst rate since the Napoleonic Wars. 

We should demand this guaranteed living minimum wage, legally enforced, which would mean over £10-an-hour here and now. Not three years hence in 2020, as promised by Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto; and not just for those over 18, as it says - but for all over 16, as consistently fought for by the SSP for the past 20 years. 

And if Labour or SNP MSPs and councillors are serious about a living wage, demand they here and now declare a voluntary £10 Living Wage for all workers they directly employ, plus issue public contracts only to firms implementing £10 minimum - pending their return in-house. 

Demand back the funding off Westminster and Holyrood to pay a minimum of £10-an-hour to the half-a-million workers employed by central and local government. 

A guaranteed 16-hour contract; ban all zero hours contracts. 
The SSP has pioneered this policy, to cater for those who prefer part-time work, but to banish the curse of casual, insecure contracts. Legally oblige all employers to guarantee a minimum 16 hours-a-week, unless a worker requests lesser hours, accompanied by their union rep. 

Demand the Scottish government and local authorities set the pace by introducing this 16-hour guarantee for their 500,000 workers. 

A guaranteed warm, weather-tight, affordable home for all, built to the highest environmental standards in Europe.
End the scandal of 157,000 families in Scotland languishing on the waiting list. Build 100,000 new social sector homes for rent over the 4-year parliament. Create tens of thousands of well-paid construction jobs and apprenticeships. Combat fuel poverty and pollution by building and renovating to the best standards of insulation and green housing technology in Europe. 

Guarantee a living state pension, with voluntary retirement at 55 for men and women. 
Reverse the creeping abolition of the state pension - the worst as a share of average wages in Europe! Give workers a genuine lifestyle choice between working and retiring on a living pension - based on the national minimum wage - immediately at 60, rapidly moving to 55. This would give concrete content to the "review of pensions" in Corbyn's manifesto. 

Guarantee free public transport for all, through immediate, democratic public ownership.
End the crimes of train fares rising twice the rate of wage increases since 2010; reverse the spread of safety-threatening Driver Only Operations; chaos and cuts on the privatised buses; mounting pollution and spreading social isolation. 

The SSP campaigns for immediate public ownership of our railways - not the gradual, piecemeal, potentially chaotic return to the public sector "as [separate] franchises expire", as Jeremy Corbyn's For the Many manifesto pledges. And for investment in an integrated, fare-free public transport network.
A modern solution to pollution and poverty. 

Demand More, Far More
The significant victory on Employment Tribunal fees should embolden workers to demand more, far more. 

The appeal of Jeremy Corbyn's radical-sounding social and economic policies should encourage us to demand more, far more, than his very modest manifesto policies actually advocate. 

The potential power of organised unions - held back for decades by vicious laws, use of the weapon of fear by employers, and cowardly trade union leaderships - should now be unleashed to reverse the tide of attacks on our rights and livelihoods. 

Join the SSP in demanding a concerted, broad campaign - rooted in the unions and community campaigns - for a far-reaching Charter of Workers' Rights. 

Help to make Scotland a place that puts people before profit; the 5.3 million people before the ten billionaires who own the same £30billion as the entire annual Scottish government budget. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

IS CAPITALISM GOOD FOR US?! - radio debate between SSP v. Adam Smith Institute

Last week, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson declared that capitalism is good for us all!
She believes that all it requires is better, bolder leadership from her own party in putting the case for capitalism.
In her words, to "Ctrl + Alt + Del: Conservatives must reboot capitalism".

BBC Radio Scotland took up this theme - and asked me to represent the case for socialism against capitalism, on behalf of the Scottish Socialist Party, in a short debate against the founder and president of the right wing Adam Smith Institute, Madsen Pirie.

When I accused him of being "the high priest of Thatcherism" and all the atrocities against working class communities which that capitalist creed imposed, Madsen gleefully claimed to be "the high priest of capitalism"!

Here's the link to the 7-minute debate yesterday morning (29th July) on BBC Radio Scotland.

The debate starts at 1 hour 35 minutes into the Good Morning Scotland broadcast.

And hopefully I've overcome a technical problem and you can click here to listen to the MP3 recording of just the debate item itself.

Feel free to comment on and share this brief clash over whether Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson's claims to capitalism being good for us are justified!!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL FEES TO BE ABOLISHED: a victory for workers' rights

Victories for workers, their unions and their rights at work are all too rare in recent years. 
The unanimous decision of the seven Supreme Court judges (the top legal institution in the UK) that the government's Employment Tribunal fees are illegal, is a precious rarity. 

It ends the criminal policy - introduced by the Tory/LibDem Coalition four years ago, in July 2013 - which has meant workers being charged up to £1,200 in order to even lodge a challenge to unfair dismissal, discrimination and other injustices at work. 
At least tens of thousands of workers have been denied access to a legal hearing against unscrupulous employers, let alone actual justice. Purely because they can't afford to fork out such huge lump sums, non-refundable if their case fails. 

Bosses Emboldened in Exploitation 
Company bosses have been emboldened in their exploitation of workers, arrogant in the knowledge they're very unlikely to ever face the possibility of a Tribunal hearing - which in the past deterred some of them - because it's a public 'court' which thereby exposes malpractices by employers to the full gaze of the wider public. 
Quite often, employers settled 'out of court' through what's called Compromise Agreements - with compensation packages - rather than face the stench of publicity about how they had mistreated workers. 
In the years since this brutal exclusion of workers from justice was imposed, the number of Employment Tribunal cases has collapsed by at least 70%. 
Union figures suggest pregnant women were the worst affected, unable to challenge discrimination at work because they couldn't afford Tribunal fees.
It's stating the obvious that lower-paid workers were especially hammered by the ET  fees system, which meant coughing up more than a full month's wages for full-time workers on the minimum wage, for instance. 

Collapse in Cases Pursued 
Of course, workers who are not union members faced the impossible fees being payable out of their own pockets. 
For those in trade unions, the sad fact is that all too many union leaders and legal departments ran for cover in many potential Employment Tribunal cases, dodging the costs unless they were absolutely 100% confident of winning, and thereby recouping the costs off the bosses found guilty of injustices. On numerous occasions, if there had been no fees the national unions would have pursued a member's case, but the fees served the purpose for which they were designed by the Tories and LibDems: curbing the willingness of the more weak-willed union leaderships to take up legal challenges on behalf of members.

Reimbursement of £27m! 
What price justice? Well, for starters, the Supreme Court has ruled that those who did scrape together the fees should now be reimbursed - to the tune of £27million! That in itself is a phenomenal victory.
It's a victory for the UNISON trade union which took the legal case against Tribunal fees right up to the Supreme Court. 
It's a victory for those political forces like the SSP who fought against Employment Tribunal fees before and since they were imposed. 
It's a victory for all those trade unionists who have demanded abolition of the fees.

This is not a ruling by some neutral, benign body called the Supreme Court. It's a politically calculated move on the part of one powerful arm of the state, made in a living context. 
It's a victory conceded by the judiciary against the Tory government designed to take the political sting out of this outrageous class-ridden system of employment laws, in the face of massive opposition, as shown by the popular support for Jeremy Corbyn's pledge to abolish the fees. His promise was a refreshing break from the spineless stance of Labour for all the previous period, with their feeble offers to reduce the fees, rather than simply scrap them. 

Demand Justice for Workers Priced Out 
This Supreme Court ruling kicks the door ajar for the unions to charge through and demand more far-reaching concessions on workers' rights. 
In addition to the £27million promised in reimbursements to those who paid the fees over the last 4 years, the unions should demand re-opening of cases of injustice at work where the fees prevented workers (or their unions) from pursuing Employment Tribunal challenges. 
The Supreme Court has ruled the government was in breach of other, older, overarching laws, meant to uphold access to justice. That's surely an opening for the organised trade union movement to challenge the government for breaches of human rights at work?

Scrap the Lot! 
This huge victory on this one, narrow, but important link in the chain of anti-union laws should embolden the unions to escalate the fight to repeal all these class-ridden laws. Anti-union, anti-worker laws designed by Thatcher's Tories in the 1980s, retained by 13 years of Labour governments, and made even more repressive by the subsequent Coalition and Tory governments. It's a resounding answer to all the faint-hearts and weaklings in the trade union movement and politics who say "there's nothing you can do about it". 
It's a platform to launch a serious struggle to challenge, defy and defeat the whole panoply of anti-union laws which currently make capitalist Britain home of the most repressive set of employment laws in the western world - and for a Charter of Workers' Rights which would also help empower workers through their unions to reverse the obscene levels of exploitation and inequality that the anti-union laws have helped employers and their pet governments impose. 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

SCRAP THE PAY CAP: don't let divided Tories divide workers

The Tories are suffering internal Mayhem, with public divisions between Cabinet members spilling out over how to respond to the public fury at pay cuts under their brutal regime of austerity since 2010. 
But like the centuries-old class they represent, they're past masters at dividing their working class opponents, in their ruthless desire to cling onto power, to retain the ability - that goes with being in government - to hand out perks and privileges to their own class of people.    

The trade union movement, socialists, and all those wishing to put an end to the planned poverty and inequality that is austerity, need to be especially vigilant in this period of Tory crises. We must not let weasel words divide one section of public sector workers from others. Nor allow the Tories to make workers pay with job losses, further service cuts, or tax rises, for any cosmetic concessions on the hated public sector pay cap.

After the pounding the Tories suffered in their self-inflicted snap general election - and especially the tide of support for the anti-austerity message of Jeremy Corbyn - Theresa May's Cabinet are wrestling with how best to silence the roar for decent pay and an end to cuts to public services. 

Listening to Public Fury?? 
They are especially desperate to give the (false) impression of listening to 'public opinion' in the wake of the furious backlash at the vote by Tory and DUP MPs to block pay rises for the likes of nurses, police officers and firefighters - when that was proposed by Corbyn as an amendment to the Queen's Speech. 
A public fury fueled by the Tories' sudden discovery of a spare £1bn to buy power, courtesy of the DUP. 
And mounting anger at the fact the same Tories literally cheered as they voted down pay rises, mere days after the population's hearts went out not only to the victims of Grenfell Tower, but also to the firefighters who raced into the inferno to try and save lives, at risk to their own. The Tory cabal trotted out praise for the emergency services one week, pay cuts the next. 
No wonder the 'Not One More Day' demo in London on Saturday 1st July attracted up to 100,000 people, angry at Tory cuts and demanding their removal. 

Cabinet of Chaos 
Several Tory Cabinet Ministers have called for 'a review' of the 1% cap on public sector pay, in operation since 2010, and an easing of their cuts in funding of some services. They are cynically desperate to give the appearance of having listened to public criticism. Each of them is also eager to save their own skin, and jockey for potential leadership challenges to the hapless May. 
Tory Education Secretary Justine Greening has pleaded with May to abandon plans for further cuts to per pupil spending in state schools. The IFS think tank estimates it would take an injection of £1.2bn a year just to halt planned additional cuts, let alone the vast sums needed if they had any intention of reversing cuts already imposed. Until now, Greening was happy enough to administer the knife to state schools whilst pouring resources into selective Grammar Schools for the well-off... until her 10,180 majority was slashed to 1,554 in Putney last month! 
Arch opportunist Boris Johnson has suggested 'a rethink' on the 1% pay cap. Don't forget he was one of the chief pioneers of curbing, or totally banning, the right to strike for public sector workers, as far back as when he was Mayor of London. 
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt - object of unfriendly rhyming slang from many an angry NHS worker! - has publicly suggested new deals for nurses, and teachers. 
Damian Green, de facto deputy Prime Minister, has raised the need for 'a national debate' on the continuation of student tuition fees. 

Weasel Words
Michael Gove, who is actually Environment Secretary, found it more opportune to advocate a possible end to the 1% not for staff in his own department, but for... NHS workers.
There's the clue, the warning, of what these new-found 'critics' of pay cuts and austerity in public services are up to. 

They are feeling the hot breath of revolt from workers and students who are sick of Tory attacks - such as the threat of the first ever strike action by the Royal College of Nurses, and the literal queues of students at unlikely places like Canterbury University, eager to vote for Corbyn's pledge to abolish tuition fees this autumn. 
But in looking for a line of partial retreat from the policy of austerity that they've repeated like a devout religious chant for the past decade, the Tories are seeking to divide and conquer workers' opposition.

Pay Review Bodies
The weasel words of Michael Gove are a case study of this poisonous plan. He has trotted out media statements about how his government should 'respect' the looming reports of (eight) Pay Review Bodies for public sector workers. To the uninformed, that sounds like good news for the 5.3 million UK workers employed in the public sector. But let's pause and look at some detail behind the headlines.

The two years' pay freeze and 1% pay cap imposed since 2010 has been a devastating pay cut to these 5.3 million workers, as the cost of daily living rises, alongside substantial increases in workers' pension contributions. According to studies for the civil service union, PCS, the government's own workforce will have been hammered by a 20% real terms pay cut by 2020. 
The fact that large swathes of civil service staff themselves rely on the in-work, top-up benefits they administer, and nurses are amongst those who've had to turn to food banks, is a damning indictment of government policy. 

Divide and Conquer 
But far from offering a guaranteed end to the below-inflation pay cap for all 5.3 million workers - let alone pay rises to compensate for a decade of cuts to their real incomes - Tories like Gove are angling for a divisive concession to just some of them. 
For starters, his talk of 'respecting the Pay Review Bodies' only covers substantially less than 50% of the 5.3 million in the public sector. For instance, the vast majority of civil service staff are totally excluded from these Pay Review bodies. 
The Tories' tactical trick to me seems obvious: promise to concede a few crumbs to the likes of nurses, maybe police, possibly even firefighters - because of the place they hold in the affections of the public - but to hell with the vast armies of low-paid civil service and council workers; show them ruthless resistance on pay. 

"Weary after Seven Years of Hardship"
Chancellor Philip Hammond this week told a CBI dinner of bloated business executives that he "understands why people are weary after seven years of hardship, repairing the damage of the Great Recession", but rejected any concession to 'taking the foot off the pedal', insisting "the government must hold its nerve." 
Theresa May responded to rumour and counter-rumour of the Tories ending the pay cap by stating they will "consider the Pay Review Bodies' reports on a case by case basis." Another signal of divide-and-conquer tactics - even within the parameters of the less-than-half of public sector workers who ARE covered by such Bodies.

Hammond on Mock the Week?
The Tories' shenanigans are in part driven by their desperate attempts at political  survival, in the face of growing opposition to their austerity and pork-barrel politics - and the surge towards Corbyn's anti-cuts message. But they are also reflecting the panic in big business circles at the parlous state of the capitalist UK economy. 
Tory Chancellor Hammond must have thought the CBI dinner on 3rd July was an audition for a place on the Mock the Week panel, when he declared:
"After seven long and tough years, the high-wage, high growth economy for which we strive is tantalizingly close to being within our grasp." (!!??)

Back in the Real World
That's the man allegedly in charge of a British economy with an invisible 0.2% growth in GDP last Quarter - the worst in the G7 biggest economies; with a Scottish economy teetering on the edge of a technical recession; with dire warnings from the Bank of England at credit card debt rising by 10.3% in the 12 months to April. 
An economy where wage-slashing and political insecurity has led to the GfK consumer confidence index today reporting a five points plunge to minus 10 in June - meaning sectors like retail and hospitality are bracing themselves for tough times ahead. 
The same economy where the recent Scottish Widows Adequate Savings index sounded alarm bells at 1 in 4 Scots saving nothing for retirement this year (up from 19% last year), including an astonishing 70% of workers aged 22-29. This despite the new Auto Enrolment Pension scheme. 
All in large part because the sustained and conscious drive to slash wages as a share of national wealth has led to the longest and deepest cuts to wages since the Napoleonic Wars, two centuries ago! 

Worst Wage Cuts since Napoleonic Wars 
Austerity for the working class may have meant boom times for the profits of the multinationals, but it's not even achieved its own stated goals of cutting the government's budget deficit.
Sections of big business, and now of the Tories, are belatedly awakening to the fact their own robbery of wages is undermining the spending power of the working class, thereby choking their prospects for profiteering. Plus they dread a revolt by millions of workers against the long, excruciating pain of the public sector pay cap.

United Strike Action 
The Tories are divided; we must build united action, rather than allow the cornered rats lash out and divide workers, sector by sector. 
The time is ripe for coordinated industrial action to 'scrap the cap' for the entire public sector - not just the minority covered by Pay Review Bodies, and certainly not just for selected sections such as nurses, or firefighters, or the police, as hinted at by the Tories. 

The Scottish teachers' union, EIS, is amongst those proposing coordinated action on pay at the September TUC conference. Already, at the recent 'Not One More Day' demo, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka called for united public sector strike action. 
A serious, urgent plan to prepare and build such action should be implemented by union leaders, with explanatory materials and meetings across the public sector. And lessons need to be applied from November 2011, when a huge one-day public sector strike was squandered by leaders of several unions capitulating to shoddy promises, letting the Tory-LibDem Coalition off the hook, letting them divide and defeat the millions who'd shown willing to fight back. 

Don't Trade Pay for Job Cuts 
In fighting to scrap the cap on pay, workers must also guard against a 'rob Peter to pay Paul' tactic from the Tories; concessions on pay at the price of further job losses, further public service cuts, and/or tax rises for low to middle-income workers. 
Given the weak state of the economy, and the IFS estimate that it would take £6billion per annum by 2019/20 to bring public sector pay up to that of the private sector, the enfeebled Tory government won't just roll over without pulling every dirty trick in their book. 
They'll deny the existence of 'the money tree'. They'll try to resist across-the-board pay rises for all 5.3 million public sector workers, deploying their tried and tested divide-and-rule tactics. They'll demand even more work from even fewer workers in the event of having to retreat on pay. They'll tell us all that the pot of funds is finite, a matter of 'balance between pay, jobs and public services'. 

SNP Government 
In the case of Scotland, we already have the warning signs of this approach. After meekly obeying and implementing the Westminster public sector pay freeze for the seven long years since 2010, the SNP government have now stepped into the turmoil surrounding the Tories and announced they will lift the 1% cap. That is welcome news, compared to the 'will they, won't they' chaos emanating from the Westminster Tories. But Nicola Sturgeon's explanation is worthy of close attention by public sector workers, their unions, and all those opposing austerity. 
To quote Nicola:
"Over the coming months, ahead of our next budget, there will be a number of discussions with different unions,  public sector workers and employers about how we find the right balance between ensuring people earn a fair wage and protecting employment and public services. That won’t always be an easy conversation – unlike at Westminster we really don’t have a magic money tree, but no matter what the UK government does the SNP will deliver a new pay deal for Scotland’s public sector workers."
The danger nestling in this statement is that after growing anger among workers in Scotland's NHS, local authorities and FE colleges, the Scottish government will try to trade concessions on pay for setbacks on jobs and/or services.

Break Out of Austerity Straightjacket 
The pressing priority is to build a unified, coordinated plan of demonstrations and strike days to put the enfeebled Tories on the run, to scrap the cap for all public sector workers' pay, and demand pay rises to compensate for a decade of savage cuts. But that movement needs to add the demands 'no more job losses, no more service cuts', and refuse to be trapped in the straight-jacket of austerity; of the pretense that the funds available for the public sector are fixed, invariable, finite. 

The IFS's estimate of £6billion to catch up with private sector pay in itself is a modest sum compared with Treasury plans to spend £802billion this year - making it all the more viable as a fighting aim for the unions. 

The fact £1billion was discovered 'down the back of a sofa' at the Treasury to buy the allegiance of the DUP should embolden us to demand funding for pay, jobs and services - including a serious campaign to mobilize workers and communities in Scotland to demand the pro-rata equivalent of £2.9billion. 

And that's as nothing compared with the fortune that could be harvested through taxation of the obscenely rich. 
As just one illustration of the oceans of wealth sloshing around - whilst millions stave off starvation through resort to food banks, or reliance on credit cards rockets, or workers are unable to put anything aside for their retirement - the richest 1,000 humans in a UK population of 60 million have combined wealth of £658billion.
Even a modest 10% wealth tax on these 1,000 alone would reap in £66billion - eleven times the sum reckoned to raise public sector pay to that of the private sector; well over two years' worth of the entire Scottish block grant from Westminster. 

That's not to mention the £120billion a year, every year, that big corporations and hyper-rich individuals avoid, evade or simply don't pay in taxes. Or the £200billion being squandered on Trident weapons of mass annihilation. 

Win Back the Stolen Billions 
There's absolutely no excuse for poverty pay - neither in the public nor private sectors. There's equally no excuse for Westminster or Holyrood suggesting we have to choose between pay and jobs, pay and public services, robbing Peter to pay Paul. 
The consistent, persistent demand of those of us in the Scottish Socialist Party for a mass campaign to win back some of the £billions stolen from Scotland by successive Westminster governments could not be more timely. The Tories are in crisis. Growing swathes of the population have been shocked and appalled at the system of austerity, privatisation, deregulation, cuts to safety standards, cost-cutting for profit - the whole capitalist ethos of profit before people - that created the atrocity of Grenfell Tower. The £1billion bung to the DUP can be used to prise open the door to demands for funding for jobs and services, as well as pay rises to reverse the 20% pay cuts for millions. 

The Tories are divided; don't let them divide the working class as they cling onto power and rule for the rich. 
Do your bit in your union, community or party to demand unified, decisive action - including mass demos and public sector strikes - to win the funds to not only scrap the cap on pay, but reverse the cuts to jobs and public services. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

HILLSBOROUGH: the background to crimes by the state

As the incredible, superhuman tenacity, determination and dignity of the families of the Hillsborough 96 pays off - at last, 28 years later - with the Crown Prosecution Service issuing criminal charges against six of those responsible for this man-made tragedy, here's the article I wrote 5 years ago - in September 2012. I wrote it in response to that week's ground-breaking Hillsborough Independent Panel's Report.

It spells out the atrocities against innocent working class people who never returned from a football match, with the attempts to frame them and smear an entire city, to cover up all that's rotten about the state.
All that I've added to the original is a couple of pictures.


Hillsborough (2012 article)

HILLSBOROUGH: truth at last, now for JUSTICE!

Words can only begin to hint at what the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s Report signifies.
A victory for the truth over the pernicious lies poured out by police chiefs, press and politicians – who tried to frame the 96 who died that terrible day in April 1989.
A victory for the superhuman tenacity, courage and heroism of the victims’ families and other fans who have fought for justice for 23 years – overwhelmingly working class people, with no resources but a deep well of determination and strong principles.
Overwhelming relief and vindication, tinged with renewed sadness, for the families of the 96 who perished in this man-made disaster: at last their loved ones’ names have been cleared.
A new wave of bitter outrage at the revelation 41 of the 96 could still be alive today, but for the incompetence of the police chiefs, which meant only 2 of 48 ambulances that arrived actually reached the pitch.
A renewed unity and sense of their own strength in challenging the authorities – not just for the indescribably brave family campaigners, but for all Liverpool fans, and indeed the whole city’s working class population.
Fury, and for some, utter disbelief at the blatant, corrupt cover-up by police chiefs, as they crudely doctored documents and witness statements – with successive Tory and Labour governments aiding and abetting their inhuman smearing of the dead in order to camouflage their own responsibility for the slaughter 23 years ago.

Class hatred

And after an initial attempt to palm off the clamour for justice with 24 hours of apologies and a shift back to trivial ‘business as usual‘ in the media, this naked expose of corruption in ‘high’ places has now forced the Crown Prosecution Office and Independent Police Complaints Commission to initiate an unprecedented scale of inquiry into police officers and the football authorities, with the potential of it leading to charges of gross misconduct and even manslaughter.
At last, a generation later, some hope of justice for those who died and those who have tirelessly challenged the most monstrous lie-machine in modern Britain.
Whilst pressing for prosecutions of those responsible, and re-opening of the inquests on the 96, we should not lose sight of the wider and deeper implications of this appalling episode.
It reveals a system that is steeped in class hatred for working class people, with the establishment, all the various arms of the state, implicated – a brutal reminder of just how low these people in power are prepared to stoop to retain their power and privileges.

Millions shaken

In some respects a great deal that is in the Report was known already 23 years ago. But its great merit is to have documented 450,000 pages of documentary evidence, piecing together the horror story and bringing it all out in the open.
Millions of people have been touched by the revelations, shaken to the core in their assumptions about the police, press and ruling powers.
Back in 1989, many of us warned of a monstrous cover-up by the police authorities, senior judges, Tory government and the media – the various arms of the ‘establishment’. Little did any of us know that it would take a whole generation, 23 years, for the truth to come out, after successive Tory and Labour governments had helped to keep the lid on what was known to those at the top.

Police savagery

At the time, in articles in the socialist press, I branded the initial West Midlands police inquiry into the South Yorkshire policing operation at Hillsborough as being a case of the Devil investigating the actions of Satan.
Some of us had lived through the savage class brutality of the Tories during the miners’ strike four years before Hillsborough – with Thatcher’s use of South Yorkshire and other police forces as a well-fed, well-paid, beefed-up government militia that treated working class people as scum, rampaging like uniformed thugs in the pit villages.
But even veteran socialists are still gob-smacked at the crudely blatant corruption of the police, who altered 164 police statements – in 116 cases to completely remove anything critical of the police actions at Hillsborough.

Top rank forgers

Senior police officers, including the subsequently knighted Sir Norman Bettison, and the solicitor representing South Yorkshire police, supervised the recording of junior police officers’ recollections of events that day. In contrast to the normal procedure of writing up their notes in official police notebooks – which can then be legally requisitioned as evidence in any court case – the police were instructed to write them on loose sheets of paper. Then they were doctored under the vigilant eye of police chiefs.
Later, these top-rank forgers offered the excuse that amendments were made to remove ‘opinion’ about the fans.
That was a cynical, dirty lie: the documents published by the Independent Panel reveal that not a single case of this happened; plenty of vicious ‘opinions’ about fans remained in the amended statements – but in 116 junior officers’ statements, all their original comments critical of the policing that tragic day were removed.
Similar corrupt doctoring of eye-witness statements by ambulance workers were conducted by the chiefs of the ambulance service.

Tragedy waiting to happen
This was literally a tragedy waiting to happen, mostly through a combination of the blatant failure of the football owners to invest in crowd safety measures, and the refusal by police chiefs to learn from and act on their own incompetent performance.
They had plenty of fresh warning: the very same FA semi-final, between the same Liverpool and Notts Forest, had been held at the very same Hillsborough ground the previous season, 1988. Overcrowding, lack of ground safety measures and incompetent policing had led to a near-disaster, with fans being crushed, but no fatalities.
But absolutely nothing was done to improve matters after the review of these events, either by Sheffield Wednesday’s profit-conscious owners or the heads of the South Yorkshire Police.

They framed the dead!

People at the match told me 23 years ago how they arrived to scenes of utter chaos at the turnstiles. Liverpool supporters had complained in advance about ticket allocation not reflecting the respective numbers from Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. There was no proper direction of fans to turnstiles, with only two policemen outside Leppings Lane!
Fans thronged into the middle terraces, even though the side terraces were half empty: stewarding was almost non-existent.
Overcrowding in the middle terraces was clearly visible by at least 2.30pm, or earlier; a clear half hour before the 3pm kick-off. But whilst doing nothing to address this, failing to usher fans into the plentiful spaces on the side terraces, the police officers in charge vastly compounded the crush by ordering the opening of Gate C (one of the Leppings Lane exits) – to reduce the logjam at the turnstiles, where it was clear fans would not gain access until at least 3.30.
Instead of delaying the kick-off, they tried to shove thousands of fans through Gate C as well as turnstiles like cattle, with the added disastrous result that Gate C led them straight down a steep tunnel and back up into the already-overcrowded middle sections.
And in their vilification of the dead and injured, the same police chiefs who ordered the opening of Gate C then told the media that afternoon that the gate had been broken down by fans – a malicious strand to their lies about “drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans” being the cause of the disaster.

Prisons not palaces

The root cause of this human tragedy was the way the football authorities regarded working class people as sources of vast profit, but also inherently violent thugs.
In the years before, there had been a sustained vilification of fans – and in those days football was almost exclusively the sport of the working class – by the media and government, branding them as hooligans, forging ahead with plans to introduce ID cards, in tandem with plans for ID Cards for the hated poll tax.
They built high perimeter fences, with narrow emergency exit gates that acted as traps rather than escape routes in any emergency…because they regarded it as an issue of crowd control, rather that one of crowd safety for people investing their modest weekly incomes in ‘the beautiful game’.

Profits before lives

The clubs failed to re-invest their profits in ground safety and comfort for the people who made the pools companies £661m profits from football the year before Hillsborough alone.
Many of the grounds were more like clapped out cowsheds, prisons with their perimeter fences, rather than palaces of entertainment. Hillsborough, capacity 54,000, had no proper medical facilities.
Fans had no say; football is like any other capitalist enterprise.
They fenced fans into pens, more accurately cages, like a sub-human species. The police were drilled to treat them with contempt, and arrests, rather than cooperate with supporters’ organizations in protection of crowd health and safety.

41 could have lived

As the crush began, the police stopped ambulances getting onto the pitch, falsely telling them that it wasn’t safe as the fans were rioting. That’s why many of the 41 who could have survived died that day.
Rows of police, three deep, were lined up outside the cages at the goalmouth where people were dying. Eyewitnesses at the time told us how police ignored pleas for help: shoving the fence back into position when fans desperately tried to smash it down as a means of escape; refusing to help a child gasping for breath who was passed over the heads of the fans; truncheoning a group of fans who managed to get onto the pitch to try and rip down the railings.
This callous failure to act as a rescue service largely lay in the previous training of police as unthinking, obedient servants of the police chiefs, who in turn deployed their forces on behalf of the Tories against mining communities and disaffected young people, and whose attitude to Liverpool working class people in particular was steeped in class hatred.

Tory hatred of Liverpool

It is no mere coincidence that the police mercilessly doctored the evidence in order to smear Liverpool fans and hide their own scandalous role. And Thatcher’s Tory government’s fingerprints are all over this monstrous frame up.
Only four years earlier, hundreds of thousands of the city’s working class, led in mass action for jobs and services by socialists, had inflicted a decisive defeat on the Iron Lady of capitalist reaction.
Mass demos of 50-60,000, general strikes and a determined, militant upsurge of workers united in action had won £60m in government funds to create massive improvements in jobs, housing and public services.
Liverpool was an inspiration to workers across the UK and beyond – and the target of ruthless revenge by the Tories and their media lickspittles.
They portrayed Liverpool people as violent dole-cheats, mindlessly militant, worthy of being taught a harsh lesson.
They discussed in the Tory Cabinet about organising the “managed decline” of Liverpool – something pursued through systematic workplace closures.
Thatcher made the trip north the day after the Hillsborough Disaster, 16th April 1989, to meet with South Yorkshire Police chiefs, no doubt to endorse their launch of a propaganda offensive against the victims. In part this was to protect her loyal protectors during the momentous class confrontation of the 1984-5 miners’ strike – the civil war without bullets – but it was further fuelled by Thatcher’s and the Tories’ desire to avenge their government’s defeat by the rebellious Scouse working class, led by socialists, in 1984.

Press vitriol

The demonisation of Liverpool’s working class came out in its full inglorious venom after Hillsborough.
The press didn’t even have the decency to wait until the dead were buried before spewing out their vitriol.
A Sheffield Tory MP, Irvine Patnick, passed the Sun a packet of vicious lies, peddled by police chiefs to a local Sheffield press agency (White‘s), which the Murdoch rag gleefully published. This accused Liverpool fans of being “drunken animals”, of “urinating on the dead and police”, of “mugging dead bodies”, of “assaulting firefighters”.
The Report confirms what we argued in 1989: this was a monstrous lie on a monumental scale – designed to blame the victims for their own deaths and stop awkward questions being asked about the role of the FA, the unsafe state of the football grounds, and especially the role of the police. In fact it further reveals that the police tested dead children for evidence of drunkenness.
Boris Johnson, the extreme right-wing Tory London Mayor who basks in a carefully created disguise of buffoonery, wrote in the Spectator magazine editorial that Liverpool “is wallowing in victim status” after Hillsborough.
Edward Pearce of the Times thundered “Liverpool is the world capital city of self pity…why are you treated like animals? The plain answer is that a good and sufficient minority of you behave like animals.”
The fangs of these Tory animals were revealed, and working class people should never forget that that is the true face of capitalist politicians and their pet press.

Re-open the Inquests

>One of the multiple bodies of the establishment knee-deep in this obscene cover up was the Crown Prosecution Services’ mini-inquests and Coroner‘s Court, presided over by the CPS’s Dr Stefan Popper.
The evidence at the mini-inquests was viciously slanted and selective, feeding the media’s line about drunken disorder by announcing the alcohol level in each of the victims.
Popper took an arbitrary decision to assume all the victims had died in the first few minutes of the crush, and therefore refused to investigate anything that happened after 3.15pm, the time the first ambulance arrived on the pitch.
This was instrumental in the cover-up; the 3.15pm cut-off time meant all evidence regarding the response of the emergency services (and therefore whether some of the 96 could have survived even after the crush) was ruled “inadmissible” by the Coroner‘s Court.
The Hillsborough Families consistently challenged this decision, but to no avail – until the Independent Panel’s documentation blew apart the authorities’ excuses for the 3.15 cut-off point.
The Coroner’s verdict for all the victims was ‘accidental death’, attributed to asphyxiation. The assertion was that nobody could have survived for more than a couple of minutes. That is perhaps the most cruel revelation of the Independent Panel Report: medical evidence, involving cloning of the brain, shows that 41 of those who died did not die almost instantaneously, but survived long enough to have been revived, given the right and punctual medical attention.
And other medical experts have subsequently estimated the toll could be as high as 58 out of the 96.
That fact has been deliberately buried for 23 years so as to avoid the finger of blame pointing at the incompetence of senior police and senior ambulance service officers – both of whom doctored junior staff statements to remove all reference to the appalling chaos caused by those in charge of the emergency response.

Labour betrayal of working class

One of the most appalling recent revelations, hot on the heals of the Independent Panel’s Report, is the documentary confirmation that the Labour government which replaced the Tories in 1997 sustained the cover up of the real facts, prolonging the pain and indignity of the victims’ families and the vilification of the reputations of the 96 by a clear extra 15 years.
Within five weeks of taking office, Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw had made up his mind there was no need for a further Inquiry into the causes of the tragedy.
Whilst assuring Hillsborough Family campaigners he would leave no stone unturned in seeking the truth, he cynically organised Labour’s own cover-up, in connivance with PM Blair.
On 5th June 1997 Straw wrote to Attorney General John Morris:
“I am certain that continuing public concern will not be allayed with a reassurance from the Home Office that there is no new evidence. I therefore propose that there should be an independent examination of the alleged new evidence by a senior legal figure.”
On 9th June he rammed home the same cynical calculation in a secret Memo to Tony Blair, fearing the public would refuse to accept their verdict from the government, and that it had to come from an independent source instead.
Late in June Straw met the hand-picked ‘senior legal figure/independent source’, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, appointed to lead the review. Straw told him his officials had already looked at the case and concluded “there was not sufficient evidence to justify a new inquiry”. So he conveyed his scepticism to the judge before he even started his Review.
On 26th June, a Note of a discussion between Home Office Minister Alun Michael (Straw’s junior) with Des Parkinson, secretary of the Police Association of England and Wales, reveals that:
“Jack Straw was very concerned to avoid starting a hare running. As a result there had been some ‘creative thinking’ in the Home Office to find a way of testing the evidence without reopening the whole affair.”
This is in stark contrast to the weasel words of Straw in a statement to the House of Commons four days later, on 30th June:
“I am determined to go as far as I can to ensure that no matter of significance is overlooked and that we do not reach a final conclusion without a full and independent examination of the evidence.”
The Stuart-Smith Inquiry dragged out for seven months and predictably concluded there was no case for a new Inquiry – and utterly failed to investigate evidence that police statements from the fateful day had been substantially rewritten.
No wonder Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died, responded to these recent revelations by stating: “What he [Straw] did was deceitful. All governments let us down, not just the Conservatives.”
This was an appalling example of Labour’s betrayal of working class people in their devoted defence of all arms of the capitalist establishment.

Never again!

Successive Inquiries and successive Tory and Labour governments buried the truth, terrified of the backlash against institutions that the rich rely on to maintain their power. But they reckoned without the Hillsborough Justice campaigners, who were adamant in their demand ‘Never again – justice for the 96′.
This victory for working class people in exposing the truth should not be the end of the matter. Apologies without justice mean nothing. The Hillsborough families are rightly demanding the reopening of the inquests, which were part of the cover-up, with their ‘accidental deaths’ verdict. That, and the call for prosecutions of those who were in charge of this man-made disaster, are the next steps towards justice.
The apologies from the Sun editor of the time, some police chiefs (though even now, not all of them), Boris Johnson and David Cameron are too little, too late. They had little choice but to apologise, given the devastating impact of the truth revealed; not to do so could have led to the Tory government’s downfall, and irreversible damage to the standing of the police.
But already within 24 hours of the Report, there were signs they wanted to make this a one-day wonder of apologies, swiftly followed by days of distraction with stories of tasteless, intrusive pictures of topless Royals. For the sake of those who perished, they must not succeed.

Justice at last??

In the wake of the damning, irrefutable public exposé of the role of senior police in the Independent Panel’s Report, unprecedented investigations of serving and retired police officers and bosses of the football authorities has been launched by both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Those facing potential charges of gross misconduct or even manslaughter include Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, who had tried to dodge the full consequences of his role in the unforgivable cover-up by first of all apologizing whilst provoking fury with the remark that “Liverpool fans had made policing more difficult than it should have been”, and then by announcing his retirement on a full, generous pension next March.
The scale of the CPS and IPCC investigations have the potential, at least, of starting to bring about some measure of justice – although the public outcry at the revelations of the truth which has been instrumental in forcing this action from the authorities will need to remain as eternal vigilance to ensure justice is done.
And the mid-September Panel Report’s damning revelations to millions has been joined by the current flood of revelations about the despicable sexual abuse by Jimmy Saville, and in particular the cover-up by that pivotal wing of the media, the BBC.
Taken together, these monumental scandals mean the powers-that-be will be terrified of a complete meltdown in the public’s faith in the media, police, prosecution services, allegedly independent complaints bodies, judiciary and governments; hence their obligation to be seen to do something about it, even if it has taken them 23 long, cruel years to even start.

Monument to the 96

In continuing the struggle for justice, democracy, accountability and socialism, I stand by the words I wrote in April 1989:
“They are desperate to cover up the real culprits – the police, the Tory ministers, the football clubs who just want our ticket money. They do nothing about the clapped out, unsafe grounds, which are part of the whole rotten free enterprise system which the Tories and their press uphold…
The unity of working class people in this hour of sorrow cuts across the rivalries which big business fosters in order to reap profits…
The messages on the sympathy cards are careful not to appear controversial in deference to the bereaved. But the collective grief does not prevent the collective rage. The anger at the treatment of fans by the football authorities peeps through even in sympathy cards…
One day the silent, choked up rage of these two million people [the number who poured into Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 in the first week after the tragedy -RV] will be turned on the authorities responsible for this needless suffering and death. They will erect the best possible monument to the fallen 96 – a society where men, women and children can work, rest and play without fear of poverty or death for profit’s sake.”