Britain

With less than five months to go before Scotland goes to the polls to vote on independence, the Better Together campaign is in a state of panic as the gap between both sides continues to narrow.

For workers and youth, it is clear that the fallout from the 2008 global economic crisis adversely impacts upon the majority of households in the UK. It is plain for all to see: as jobs are lost by the thousands, public services are cut to the bone, and the juggernaut of austerity ploughs on desolating communities, synchronously wealth continues to flow upwards into the pockets of the elite.

Over the last weeks and months, concerns about energy have become more and more widespread in Britain. Firstly the simmering controversy over “fracking” has become more prominent, with a series of demonstrations pushing this issue into the public eye. Then the pledge of Ed Miliband that the next Labour government will freeze energy prices was met with howls of protest from the coalition parties and threats by the energy companies that “the lights will go out”. In addition, the announcement that Britain will build the first new nuclear power station for decades has been overshadowed by the attempt to close the Grangemouth oil refinery. The question has to be asked: is Britain facing a serious energy crisis?

Ofgem – the regulator for the British gas and electricity markets – this week called for an investigation into the “Big Six” energy firms regarding anti-competitive behaviour. As a result, there will now be a lengthy review of the energy market by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will look into Ofgem’s accusations of "possible tacit co-ordination" by the major energy companies regarding the prices they offer.

The events in Britain and worldwide are and will have a major impact on the consciousness of the working class and youth. Although the situation will be protracted, there will be sharp and sudden changes in the situation. This crisis will at a certain point become pre-revolutionary, as in Greece today. After all, Greece is only a mirror reflection of Britain in the future. Then the situation can open up in the direction of a revolutionary one, where there occurs a profound break in consciousness.

This year’s budget from George Osborne has been described as the most typical Tory budget he has yet given. Whether that is correct is open to debate; but what is true is that it has many of the features of previous Tory budgets in a pre-election year: huge handouts to the rich, lots of shiny baubles for wavering Tory voters, and nothing for the poor.

The death of Tony Benn after a long illness at the age of 88 marks the passing away of an outstanding leader of the British left. Although Tony Benn came from a very privileged class background – his father, Viscount Stansgate, was a Labour peer – he became the standard bearer for the left and the militant working class in the 1970s and 1980s.

The first few weeks of March 2014 will be a time of deep reflection for hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who will recall what they were doing when the 1984/85 coal miners’ strike began.

As the rain continues to fall and the storm winds continue to blow, in what has proved to be the wettest winter for decades, the Tories have continued to shout and bluster in the face of a crisis to which they can find no solution.

The bourgeois media have predictably taken the bait by presenting the recent policies of Miliband and Balls on the banking system and tax as revealing a ‘growing contempt for capitalism’ amongst Labour leaders. In doing so, they have made these policies seem far clearer and bolder than they really are, and as a result probably more popular.

With less than seven months before Scotland goes to the polls over its future, the “No” campaign to keep together the 300-year old Union with England has once again been put on the back foot due to the clumsy intervention of the English Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Friday 3rd January saw the release of previously secret Cabinet documents from the Tory government relating to the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984 – 85. The BBC news website stated “Newly released cabinet papers from 1984 reveal mineworkers' union leader Arthur Scargill may have been right to claim there was a "secret hit-list" of more than 70 pits marked for closure.”

Workers around the country have reacted with astonishment and anger at the decision of the Parliamentary Standards Authority (PSA) to press ahead with the recommendation to give Westminster MPs a huge 11% pay rise in 2014 – about £7,600 a year extra.

George Osborne’s so-called recovery has arrived we are told. However, it is a “recovery” not for you or me but for the millionaires and London’s estate agents. Most people do not see or feel any recovery at all. The regime of austerity is set to continue with ever more cuts being pushed through. Osborne, the Coalition Chancellor, has announced that £25bn in further cuts will be needed after the 2015 General Election, with the welfare budget in line to be slashed. Once again benefits will bear the brunt forcing many more ordinary people into a desperate situation.

With less than 18 months until the next General Election, the past few months have seen the Tories step up their campaign against their main opposition, with a barrage of attacks on those associated with the Labour Party – primarily Unite the Union and the Co-Op Party. But with the Conservatives leading a coalition that is presiding over falling living standards, and which is rightly seen as supporting the bankers and fat-cat energy companies, it seems that the mud being slung by the Tories will not so easily stick.

Christmas and New Year is traditionally a time for celebration and the strengthening of relationships with friends and family. That such warmth between people is rare enough to be termed the “magic” of Christmas says a lot about the alienation of people from their own communities in their day-to-day existence under capitalism.

The title "The Strange Death of Tory England", a book published in 2005, might seem an overstatement considering the nasty party has been in power since 2010. However the chronic sickness and decline of British capitalism is doing its best to infect the party that represents this diseased system. So unpalatable is the Conservative Party to huge proportions of Britain, representing as it does endless austerity, privatisation, inequality, and scandal, that it hasn’t won an election outright since 1992.

The recent interview between Russell Brand - actor, comedian, and guest editor of New Statesmen - and Jeremy Paxman - presenter and interviewer on the BBC’s Newsnight became an overnight sensation, quickly gaining popularity to become the most watched video on YouTube.

People are becoming increasingly revolutionary, according to the latest polls. A growing hatred for big business and profiteering comes on top of the bankers’ bonus scandals, the Libor rigging scandal, the foreign exchange manipulation scandal, and the callous profiteering of the energy companies. Energy companies are now trusted less than bankers and car salesmen. This backlash against capitalism has rung alarm bells amongst the apologists of big business.

Despite comments on a tentative recovery with improvements in the housing market and banking profits booming once more, there is no doubt that there has been no recovery for the vast majority. Government debt stands at £1.2 trillion; many cuts are still to be made; poverty continues to grow – last year real income fell by 3% and government studies have shown that 52% of people in Britain struggle to pay their bills.

Students coming to London this year face an unprecedented attack on their education. Ever since the Tories and Liberals trebled university tuition fees to £9,000 in 2010, we have seen university funding continually rolled back and the costs of student living soar.

As part of the battle against the “cost of living crisis”, Ed Miliband has announced plans to incentivise businesses into paying a “living wage” through temporary tax breaks. The Labour leader paints a win-win situation, in which both workers and business gain. Every increase in real wages for workers is a step forward that is to be applauded. But what is likely to be the real outcome of Labour's latest pledge if implemented?

The following article is written by comrade Bill Landles, a longstanding defender of the ideas of Marxism, whose activity goes right back to the days of the Revolutionary Communist Party during the Second World War, where he played a role in the apprentices’ strikes. We are publishing  a transcript of a speech by Bill on the apprentices' strikes of 1944.

Grangemouth,situated in Scotland, is one of the most important petrochemical and refinery industries in Britain, employing almost 2300 workers, with about ten thousand jobs inderectly relying on the site. This was a scene of a key showdown for British workers over the past 10 days. The union, UNITE, was faced with an ultimatum from the Ineos bosses, to accept massive cuts and changes to terms and conditions or face drastic consequences. In the end the workers were let down by their union leadership that capitulated to the threats without any fight. This has serious consequences. It is vital that all workers learn the lessons of this dispute.

The Marxist Student Federation is a new organisation for revolutionary students. Supporters of Socialist Appeal have taken the decision to launch this national platform for Marxist ideas in the student movement because it is clear that there is both a need and a thirst for Marxist ideas in the movement. The response we have received at the freshers fairs with the numbers signing up and coming to our opening meetings has been phenomenal. We have never met so many young people wanting to learn about Marxism and fight to change society.

The verbal exchanges between Cameron and Ed Miliband over the last few weeks seem at long last to indicate that battle lines are being drawn. With 18 months until the General Election, the political ground has at last begun to shift. The Labour Party seems to be moving – in its rhetoric – slightly to the left, while the Tories are reverting back to their old image as the “nasty” party.

The strength of feeling among teachers can be seen in the magnificent turnout for the regional strikes that took place this month on October 1st and 17th. Teachers in the NUT and NAS/UWT, representing 90 per cent of teachers, have come out en masse, with the result that thousands of schools have been closed for the day.

George Osborne announced that the British economy “has turned the corner”. Cameron has chimed in to hail the new “recovery”. But after years of stagnation and falling living standards, who are they trying to kid? The economy is crawling on its belly and we are still being hit with mass unemployment and wage cuts.

Figures recently published by the Office for National Statistics have revealed that those living in the wealthiest London boroughs enjoy their good health for, on average, 18 years longer than those living in the poorest areas. Capitalism is literally making life a misery for an increasing number of working class people in Britain, and what is becoming clearer and clearer is that if we don’t break capitalism’s hold on society, then it will be capitalism that breaks our society apart even more.

In a year’s time, on 18th September 2014, Scotland will go to the polls over a key constitutional change – over whether to support an independent Scotland or not. This will be a vital issue, the outcome of which will have profound consequences for the fight for socialism in Scotland and the rest of Britain.

Although anti-immigration hysteria, racism and propaganda are nothing new to these shores, there is currently a particularly rabid hue-and-cry over immigration in Britain. It must be emphasised that this wave against immigration is artificially manufactured by the bourgeois media and parties. It is not a spontaneous reaction from below, and is currently fuelled in particular by the rise of UKIP, which in turn is a consequence of the bourgeoisie’s - and especially the Tory’s - insistence on banging the xenophobic drum for years now.

The youth of today have no tangible stake in the preservation of capitalism. The failure to provide any kind of future for young people has resulted in a cry of despair which is the death knell of any social system. Such a phenomenon is present in all the recent episodes of social explosion, from the austerity riots in the UK and Sweden, to the youth movements of Greece and Spain, and of course the great Arab revolutions.

Sharp and sudden changes in the situation - that is the nature of the period. In the space of 24 hours, Cameron and the coalition government have gone from banging the drum for military strikes against Syria to a humiliating parliamentary defeat. The situation is unprecedented, where the government of the day, recalling Parliament to basically rubber stamp a vote, has been defeated over a vote on military action.

In his masterpiece called  Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels pointed out that even in a “democratic republic”, wealth still wields power indirectly, but all the more surely. “It does this in two ways”, he explains, “by plain corruption of officials, of which America is the classic example, and by an alliance between the government and the stock exchange.”

On Tuesday 09th of July Socialist Appeal and the SOAS Marxist Society hosted a discussion at SOAS to analyse and discuss the current revolutionary situation in Egypt and, more broadly, in the Middle East. Jorge Martin and Hamid Alizadeh from the International Marxist Tendency opened the meeting to a crowd of around 40 attendees. 

In July 1888, 1,400 female workers walked out on strike at the Bryant and May factory in East London. 125 years later, that struggle still holds a place of honour in the history of the labour movement.

The May county council elections in Britain this year brought some crumbs of comfort to the Labour Party as it gained more than 260 seats and its share of the vote stood at 29%. Given the dismal record of the Coalition, Labour had hoped for more gains.

Public opinion in Britain and throughout the world was horrified by the murder of a soldier on the streets of Woolwich in South London. The gruesome images of a young man with bloodied hands, brandishing a kitchen knife and haranguing passers-by shook the entire nation to its foundations.

Amidst the onslaught of privatisations, cuts, pay freezes and redundancies emerging from the capitalist crisis, Britain’s environment-conscious Green Party are becoming increasingly torn by political polarisation. Forced to carry out the same agenda of public sector cuts being advocated by the Con-Dem coalition in the interests of capital, the Green Party in Brighton & Hove City Council is beginning to experience inevitable contradictions and conflict regarding its political agenda.

In an article featured in The Times newspaper yesterday sees former Tory chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson calls for Britain to exit the European Union. This adds to the mounting pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron, and it reveals the deep rifts developing within the Tory party at all levels.

Last week local elections were held in many parts of Britain. The Tories, and their partners-in-crime the Lib Dems, had another bad night at the polls. The BBC now estimate that, based on these results, the main parties would get this share of the vote in a general election: Labour 29%, Tories 25%, UKIP 23%, Lib Dems 14%. A closer look indicates that Labour would do better, but there is still widespread mistrust towards the present Labour leadership.

Thousands of protesters participated in May Day (International Workers’ Day) in London yesterday. The banners and slogans raised were extremely militant, calling for the end of austerity throughout Europe by overthrowing capitalism.

While Thatcher is laid to rest, the heirs of Thatcher continue to haunt us. This Tory-led “we are all Thatcherites now” Coalition is presiding over the biggest assault on working people for more than 80 years.