Britain

British doctors have gone on strike today for the first time since 1975 over the government cuts to pensions. Unsurprisingly, this has been met with a chorus of indignation by the Tories who have accused the doctors of “penalising patients” by taking industrial action.

Forty years ago, in 1972, Britain faced a sharp and qualative change and teetered on the verge of a general strike for the first time in nearly 50 years. A wave of factory occupations and sit-ins had swept the country.  More than 23 million days were lost in strike action, excluding 4 million lost through political strikes. Only once, in the revolutionary year of 1919, was the number of days lost greater. The Tories, in a pamphlet misnamed In Defence of Peace, were already digesting the writings of Brigadier Kitson, who urged the army to be prepared for civil unrest. The spectre of revolution was once again beginning to haunt Britain.

ULU Marxists, Socialist Appeal and www.marxist.com are proud to announce the 2nd Marxist Summer School: Prospects for the World Revolution, this June 15-17 in London. Join us for a packed weekend of discussion and debate on what relevance the theory and programme of the Marxists has in this epoch of world revolution.

Last week's local elections saw a disastrous showing for the Coalition government as the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats respectively lost 403 and 329 council seats. At the same time the Labour Party saw a huge net gain of 824 councillors meaning they were able to gain control of 32 councils across the country.

At a time of massive cuts and redundancies, restructures and “refocusing” in Local Government and the civil service and schools; inevitably, the issue of greater workloads comes to the fore. It’s very easy for senior managers to attempt to try and solve their immediate problems by pushing the whole burden of work onto those people who didn’t get their P45s in the post.  Too often this means impossible demands being placed on front line workers, more often than not the lowest paid and in most cases women. Tory plans for the NHS mean that the same process will be witnessed in the NHS, with horrendous consequences.

The remarkable victory of George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election has sent a massive cannon ball across the bough of the Labour leadership. At a time of huge unpopularity of the Coalition government, Labour should have romped home in this traditional heartland. To their astonishment, Labour was driven into second place behind George Galloway, who scored a massive 36.59% swing from Labour to Respect.

A few weeks ago, everyone was expecting industrial action on 28 March in the next stage in the pensions’ campaign involving the public sector unions PCS, NUT, and UCU. A section of the RMT was also due to take part, as was the FBU. There were high expectations that up to a million trade unionists would take industrial action to defend workers against the vicious attacks of the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition. In the end, one union after another pulled out.

The month of March is the season for student union elections in Britain. Thanks to the setting up of Marxist societies, and as a result of the tremendous student movements of recent years, Socialist Appeal are now present on many campuses across the country, and a solid base of young Marxists now exists in several universities. Socialist Appeal comrades stood in two student union elections recently: Ben Gliniecki and Arsalan Ghani stood for President of the Students Union and President of the Graduate Union in Cambridge University; Nico Baldion and Paul Bolton stood for the positions of President and Education Officer respectively at the University of Arts London.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), the British government has only implemented 6% of its planned cuts to date. This is an austerity programme that is £10 billion behind schedule and which is set to last well beyond the next parliament. Although 6% is but a small step on a long road of enforced privation, already we can see the devastating effects this is having on millions of people

The decision of the Cameron government to deploy HMS Dauntless off the coast of the Falklands Islands in the South Atlantic represents a gratuitous provocation to the people of Argentina.

British construction workers have won a marvellous victory. The attempt to cut to wages and conditions by a group of profit-hungry construction bosses has been beaten back by the heroic action of ordinary rank and file workers.

Forty years ago this month, the power of the organised working class was demonstrated outside a West Midlands fuel depot. The lesson was not lost on both unions and bosses. The example of Saltley Gate remains as relevant today as ever in the face of renewed attacks by the bosses and their government on the working class. Terry McPartlan looks back at the events of February 1972.

With all the hype surrounding the Hollywood version of Margaret Thatcher as the ‘Iron Lady’ who (supposedly) brought the miners and trade unions to their knees, there now comes the real story of the Miners Strike of 1984 from Betty Cook and Ann Scargill, two women who not only played their part during the strike but who now say that the events of that historic year changed their lives forever.

Workers have reacted with anger and bewilderment at the latest statements coming from Ed Miliband and Ed Balls endorsing continuation of the Coalition’s public sector wage freeze and in effect accepting Coalition cuts. This represents a sharp turn to the right by the Labour leadership, justified – we are told– by the remark that a “changed” Labour Party needed to deliver “fairness” in tough times.

Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party is turning into an elaborate parody of the emptiness of reformism. With capitalism unable to afford any reforms, he is like the school pupil who works extremely hard to avoid working whilst giving the impression of being studious. He is trying very very hard, tossing and turning, to give the impression that reformism can work without any actual reforms. Unfortunately for Ed, in this case the illusion does not work.

The Great Unrest is the term used by historians to describe the period  a 100 years ago when Britain saw many industrial conflicts such as the Cambrian Combine Strike, the Tonypandy Riots and many other struggles.  In Wales there was also a major dispute in the Cynon Valley and riots in Llanelli during the Railwaymen's strike. Strikes occurred in Clydeside, London, Liverpool, Hull and many other towns and cities throughout the land.   Important ideas were developed and discussed during this period which had a profound affect on the Labour and trade union movement. Darrall Cozens, a member of the UCU and Coventry NW Labour Party, considers what we need to learn from these events.

Margaret Thatcher is a hate figure for millions in Britain who suffered under 13 years of her rule. We, who opposed Thatcherism to the bitter end, will never forget the mass unemployment, the cuts, wholesale privatisation and the attacks on the trade unions as well as our democratic rights. Those who fought back were regarded by Thatcher as “the enemy within,” a term she used against the National Union of Mineworkers, as they fought for their communities and their jobs. Thatcher represented capitalism ‘red in tooth and claw’ and we will not forget it.

There were unprecedented scenes in Birmingham on N30 after the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition that runs Birmingham City Council tried to ban the planned TUC protest march.

More than two million public sector workers took strike action yesterday. That amounted to a virtual general strike of the public sector. In terms of numbers, the action was bigger than the “Winter of Discontent” in 1979  - bigger even than the 1926 General Strike. Even The Financial Times, the organ of Big Business, surprisingly described Wednesday’s strike as “undoubtedly historic”.

Around Britain, supporters of Socialist Appeal have been on picket lines and demonstrations. Here are the reports we har received so far. [Updated 2 December with more reports]

On November 30th 2011, three million public sector workers in Britain will strike over the government’s attacks on their pensions. This coordinated strike action represents the biggest strike movement since the general strike in 1926. To all intents and purposes it will be a 24-hour public sector general strike.  

Socialist Appeal supporter Adam Booth spoke against Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business in the UK coalition government, in the Cambridge Union on Thursday 27th October, in a debate that highlighted the two starkly contrasting choices facing society as a result of the crisis of capitalism: austerity or socialism.

The 4th October marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a momentous event in which the working people of London united to deliver a decisive blow against the menace British fascism. In this article we commemorate the brave stand of those workers who fought the fascists while seeking to expose the real nature of fascism and drawing lessons for today's struggles against the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP).

Eighty years ago in 1931, Labour right-wingers joined with the Tories to form a National Government. This act had but one purpose. Like the Coalition government of today, its aim was to carry through ruthless cuts to save the profits of capitalism. Rob Sewell looks back at the great betrayal.

The riots in Britain are only a symptom of a general crisis of capitalism.  The Marxists will not join with the bourgeoisie and its agents in their hypocritical chorus of denunciation. Our duty is to find a road to the youth, to help them to find the right road – the revolutionary road, the road to the socialist reconstruction of society.

The phone-hacking scandal that has led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper has brought to the surface the real state of things within the British establishment. The rottenness of a regime, that prides itself at being a model of “democracy,” is out in the open for all to see. What has now been revealed is that a powerful media empire that for years has played a key role in British politics, making and unmaking political leaders, has been buying police officers, using influence with politicians, and all this peppered with out and out criminal activity.

Pay more! Work longer! Get less! This is the stark and uncompromising message on pensions that the Tory- dominated government is sending to millions of working class people. In the public sector, six million state employees will find that the expected reward of a half-decent pension in exchange for low wages during their working life is now being taken away. In the private sector of the economy 87% of final salary schemes have been abolished as being “unaffordable”, the latest one being Unilever in April. Not content with attacking directly the living standards of the working class with job losses, wage freezes or even wage cuts, the government is also reducing living standards indirectly by cutting the social wage that includes public services and pensions.

The phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the British establishment in the past week is not only bad news for Rupert Murdoch's News of the World and its parents NewsCorp and News International, who have now had to sacrifice their main paper, it is bad news for the politicians, the police and the capitalist class as a whole.

Cameron and Osborne appear oblivious to the crisis unfolding in front of their very noses. While standing on the edge of a precipice, they are busy reassuring everyone that Britain has nothing to fear from the European financial crisis. They are the modern equivalent of the emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burnt. British banks, they say, are sound and with enough capital to insulate themselves against a sovereign debt crisis across the Channel.

Thousands of trade unionists hit the streets of London and other cities all over Britain today in a national strike called by the Public and Civil Service Union (PCS), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), University and College Union (UCU) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) to protest the government’s plan to vandalise pension schemes. This was an important turning-point for the British labour movement.

We are being reassured that the financial crisis gripping Greece cannot reach Britain. Many facts and figures are provided to back this up. However, a closer look at the situation reveals the real underlying financial crisis that sooner or later must surface in Britain also. In this article Adam Booth looks at the situation in Greece and Europe as a whole and shows how Britain cannot escape the inevitable.

“From Scotland to Spain, the problem is the same!” was one of many slogans being shouted from the streets of Edinburgh today (29th may) as around 200 - 300 people (most from Edinburgh’s sizeable Spanish community) organised to demonstrate in solidarity with revolutionary movements in Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

The Walton by-election, in Liverpool, took place in July 1991, twenty years ago. It arose after the sudden death of Eric Heffer, the left-wing Labour MP for Walton. At the time it created quite a political stir. It was also a key factor in the demise of the Militant, which had boasted it could win the seat, but failed miserably. The whole episode played into the hands of Labour’s right wing that used it to expel Militant from the Labour Party. To understand what happened we need to take a brief look at the background.

On Thursday history was made as the Scottish National Party, who only a decade ago seemed destined to play second fiddle to the Labour Party in Scottish politics, became the first party in the Scottish Parliament's twelve year history to form a single party majority. More importantly, for the first time there is a pro-independence majority in the Parliament, and consequently a referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom will be held within the next five year term.

Elections are simply a snapshot of the mood at any particular moment in time, but they can reveal a lot about the real underlying processes taking place in society. That was the case with the May local elections, which marked the first anniversary in power of the Coalition government and from which we can draw important lessons.

As the election results come in (with the AV vote expected tonight) we take a quick look at what they all mean. We will return to these questions shortly  with a more detailed analysis.

Saturday 26th March 2011 marked a watershed point for the modern Labour Party. The Trade Union Congress had called for workers, students, pensioners and all those affected by the coalition cuts to converge on the capital. The question was: would Labour show up to the party too?

While the Great and Good were busy spending our money on the Royal Wedding, low-paid cleaners at Buckingham Palace were fighting to increase their meagre wages to something like a decent level. Sign the petition in their support.

On Friday 29 April the people of Britain will be invited to participate in the joyful celebration of the marriage of Mr. William Windsor and Ms. Katherine Middleton. At the same time that the government is cutting billions from unnecessary extravagances such as hospitals, schools, teachers, nurses, the old and the sick, the unemployed and single parents, the Coalition has had the good sense to spend a lot of money on something as essential to the Public Good as the nuptials of Willy and Kate.

The magnificent 500,000-strong demonstration on 26 March – the biggest trade union demonstration in the history of the British labour movement – was a marvellous response to the Coalition’s austerity measures. It sends out a clear message: the workers of this country are not prepared to take the government’s austerity measures lying down.

School students took to the streets of London against coalition education reforms again yesterday, this time to demonstrate against the abolition of a grant, the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a weekly payment for 16- to 18-year-olds whose household income is under £30,800 to encourage them to stay in education. Students travelled from as far away as Sunderland and Cornwall to protest against the scrapping of the EMA. The allowance had already been closed to new applicants.

The events of the past two months represent an important shift in the consciousness of British students. Having grown up knowing only economic boom, previously labelled as “apathetic” by the media, stood up and made their voices heard. Their message is simple and has found an echo across many layers of society: “We will not be forced to pay for a crisis we did not cause!” This wave of protests and occupations has swept even the most deeply entrenched prejudices of the last period from the political landscape, leaving many (both on the right and the left) trailing in its wake.

In response to the 10th November demonstration, students across the country decided to go into occupation. Before Christmas there were 30 of such occupations. Coupled with the increasingly militant demonstrations against the Government’s attacks on education, these university occupations are hugely significant in so far as they have radicalised not only students at the occupied universities but also school students and even people outside of education.

The deepest crisis since the Great Depression, with its accompanying financial, banking and sovereign debt crises, has opened up splits and arguments not seen for generations. Where do they go from here? Savage austerity, which threatens the weak recovery, or possibly pump-prime the economy and risk market turmoil? That is their choice as the crisis moves into its next dangerous phase. Under the topsy-turvy logic of capitalism they are both right and both wrong. Whatever they do they will not be able to cure this unsolvable and protracted crisis of the system.

Around noon yesterday students gathered in various parts of London to march towards the centre of the city. All over London the students had made a conscious effort to bring out school students in the morning and the days before with leaflets. At least half of the protesters were school students   probably more. Many were working class kids from poor areas. Even The Financial Times admitted that some 20-30,000 students participated.

The student movement in Britain continued on Wednesday 24th November, with tens of thousands of students demonstrating in cities and towns across the country. Most notably, the latest events have brought thousands of school students into the movement. Yet again the students are at the forefront of the fight against the cuts. The latest protests will only have served to radicalise further layers of society, and will act as a catalyst for the labour movement. [Update 26/11/10: video added]

In ancient Rome, when things got a bit tricky, the Emperor would splash out on a series of games complete with gladiators, mock battles, lions eating Christians and other fun for all the family, The idea was to distract people from the realities of life and keep them happy - at least until the Goths arrived for their annual bout of pillaging, sacking and raping.Nowadays, such carnage is not possible - even on X Factor. So we have the next best thing, yet another royal wedding.

We are told that because of rising life expectancy the number of pensioners is going up and therefore, to afford pensions, we must cut payments and increase the age of retirement. This conveniently ignores one important detail: the wealth produced by the working class has been growing much faster than the increase in life expectancy. So where does the problem lie?