Britain

"Where there is discord may we bring harmony..." said Margaret Thatcher  30 years ago this May when she was elected as British Prime Minister in 1979. Some politicians are remembered for their achievements, in Aneurin Bevan's case the founding of the NHS; others like Tony Blair will be remembered as warmongers and traitors to the ideals of the Labour movement. Meanwhile John Major will be remembered, if at all, for his ineffectual personality and his blandness. But very few will have been hated by working people with such intensity as Margaret Thatcher.

General Motors, the largest car manufacturer in the United States of America, which employs nearly a quarter of a million people world wide, has filed for bankruptcy. This has initiated the largest industrial insolvency the world has ever seen with debts of £105 billion! The firm, which owns Vauxhall and its European sister Opel, employs 5,500 workers here in the UK. The future of the British employees have entered into uncertainty with sale of the European arm of General Motors to a consortium led by Canadian car parts manufacturer Magna, backed by Russian investment bank Sberbank.

On the day that the Pakistani army continued to be bogged down in a ferocious battle against the Taliban inside its own borders and yet another British soldier was killed in Afghanistan, the one hundred and fifty third since 2001, it is evident that the British military is engaged in a war it cannot win. Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth has outlined desperate measures which entail a wholesale reform of the Territorial Army. Gone forever will be the image of a glorified Dad’s Army as the TA is to be integrated with the rest of the army and better prepared for wars abroad.

Britain is experiencing a deep crisis – not only in terms of a collapsing economy – but a political and social crisis affecting its very foundations. The daily revelations in the Daily Telegraph of the misappropriation of public funds and outright corruption amongst MPs of all major parties have caused public outrage at a time of mass redundancies, repossessions and pay cuts. These astounding events mark a sea-change in British society.

The MPs expenses scandal - based on nicked data 'obtained' by the Daily Torygraph - has become the talking point of the day. Around Britain people are furious that these same publicly paid MPs, who tell us all to cut back and grandly complain about every minor infringement of benefit claims, have taken expense claim fiddling to a level undreamt off by most of us.

Workers at Visteon, following a four-week battle, have gained a victory. After the occupation of the Visteon plants and 24 hour picketing when the company announced its liquidation, Ford/Visteon bosses were finally forced to concede to the workers' demands. Workers in Enfield and Basildon have already voted in favour of the deal, while those at Belfast will be voting soon. Rob Sewell interviewed Rob Fitch, shop steward at the Visteon plant in Basildon, who was also one of the national negotiators that secured the new deal.

An active trade unionist, member of Unite, Steve Kelly discovered that he was on the Blacklist. Here gives an account of his experiences as a trade unionist and calls for action to be taken to remove the Blacklist.

The use of blacklists by bosses all over the world is common knowledge. They share information about known trade union activists and use this to stop them getting jobs. Recently in Britain proof emerged that such a list exists. Here we reproduce an article by the British Marxists on this important question.

The leader of the attempted occupation of the Visteon plant at Basildon (component supplier to Ford) speaks to Socialist Appeal. After the ending of the occupation, the workers have maintained a twenty-four hour picket on the factory. The plant in Belfast remains occupied.

The media has been trying - not too convincingly - to claim that the brutal response of the police in London of the past few days was a necessary response to violent anti-G20 demonstrators. All those who participated in the events saw a different picture, a police force intent on provoking violence. This is clearly part of a plan to portray the peaceful protestors as "violent", in effect an attempt to criminalise ordinary people protesting. Here is an eyewitness account.

Visteon workers in Enfield and Basildon have joined with Belfast workers in occupying their plants. Management has put the firm into administration and workers were just brutally kicked off the premises without any notice. Belfast workers have been defending their occupation by staying in overnight. The workers are taking action because they have to.

While the G20 prepare to meet, a week of protest activity has also been going on, starting with last demonstration of around 35,000 people. Here we provide a brief report.

The chances of a referendum on Scottish independence appear increasingly distant following a Scottish parliamentary vote in favour of a resolution condemning moves towards one. This is a huge blow to the Scottish National Party but it has also done little for a Labour Party that has lost all sense of direction, as its leadership exposes itself as utterly unable to capitalise on the SNP’s fall from grace.

The economic crisis looks likely to hit Scotland as badly, if not worse, than the rest of the UK, and is already causing the Scottish National Party some major political headaches.

The workers of Britain are facing 20 years of austerity, not seen since the inter-war period. Whoever wins the next general election – whether it be Labour or Tory – they will be forced to go onto the offensive against the working class. But we can already see the outlines of the future class struggle in this country, which will create the conditions in which Marxism can gain the ear of the workers. [This text is based on a speech given by Rob Sewell at the recent conference of Socialist Appeal, the Marxist Tendency in Britain].

Workers of the Prisme Packaging Plant in Scotland are occupying their factory since March 4 after they were told that they were to be laid off without any back pay. Since then the workers are fighting for their right to work and pay. This shows the growing radicalisation of the working class of not only Scotland but also of Britain as a whole.

There is a burning anger in the workplaces against the bosses’ attacks. Pressure is mounting for the trade union leaders to act in defence of jobs and wages. Internationally, workers have taken to the streets, such as in the recent demonstration of 200,000 workers in Dublin. The British workers will inevitably move in the same direction at some stage.

High-ranking British police officers have expressed concern that Britain may be facing an outburst of street protests. The head of the Metropolitan police's public order branch has spoken of the possibility of riots like those that rocked the country in the 1980s, erupting later this year as people who lose their jobs, homes or savings join a wave of violent mass protests. The perspectives of the police come close to those of the Marxists.

Today, almost 25 years since the miners’ strike began, the industry has been decimated, with only a few thousand jobs left. The proud traditions remain and many miners have taken their fighting traditions into the wider labour movement but many of the pit villages are crumbling. The main lesson of the Ridley Plan for the labour movement and the politically active layers of the youth is that a Tory government would be forced to move against the working class, to deal with the crisis that the capitalist system clearly faces.

Coupled to the Bologna Process has been the privatisation of education and all that this entails. So now not only are students faced with the fact that they will have to work harder and longer hours for a shorter period of time, that the costs of their education will also increase, but also that their courses may end up being influenced by some company who’s only real interest in to create profit out of the process.

Socialist Appeal published a supplement containing articles on the wildcat strike at Lindsey Oil refinery. The pdf file is available for download here (1.4mb). The supplement was used to intervene at picket lines around Britain.

Socialist Appeal interviewed construction workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery during the dispute. Here we publish the interviews. They explain how the strike was not against foreign workers but against undercutting of terms and conditions by companies exploiting EU legislation.

The media in Britain and internationally have systematically portrayed the recent Lindsey dispute as being a struggle between “British workers and foreign workers”, when in actual fact it has nothing to do with this. The struggle was about defending wages and conditions as established in hard fought for trade union agreements. Here Rob Sewell points out some of the dirty tricks of the press.

Socialist Appeal interviewed Antonio Recano, an engineering shop steward, who worksin the construction and maintenance of industrial plants, and works for one of the companies operating within the Syracuse oil refinery. He is a member of the FIOM-CGIL (metalworkers' union), on its Syracuse provincial committee and also the Central Committee (national committee) of the FIOM-CGIL.

The protest at Lindsey was a victory for the workers involved. It sends out a clear message to the rest of the workers in Britain: militant action pays and shows what can be achieved in the face of attack. The background to this dispute was a deliberate employers’ offensive to undermine the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) and had nothing whatosever to do with racism or xenophobic tendencies. It was the bourgeois media that consciously tried to portary it as such in order to hide the real content.

Last week industrial action began at the Lindsey refinery in Lincolnshire. Swiftly the strikes spread to Grangemouth in Scotland, Wilton in Cleveland and all over the country. By Friday 3,000 skilled workers were out from 11 plants. On Monday thousands more joined the action. As a news item, the dispute has been highlighted by pictures of workers carrying placards with the slogan, ‘British jobs for British workers.’ However, most of the workers on strike are aware that their enemy is the employer. That, after all, is who they are striking against.

On Thursday, January 22rd, there was a successful inauguration of Dr. Lal Khan's new book, "Pakistan's Other Story - The 1968-69 Revolution" in London. Young and old, students and trade unionists, turned up to hear a panel of speakers including Zakir Hussain, Qayyum Butt, and Alan Woods who addressed the audience before Lal Khan spoke. (Including videos of the speeches)

Stock exchanges in Britain and the USA have been on the slide over the past few days. The reason is not hard to seek. The FTSE has been spooked by bank shares collapsing. Barclays, for instance, saw 25% of its share price shaved off in one hour last Friday (16.01.09). This was the day after the bank announced 2,100 job losses. It’s starting to look like the time back in October when it seemed that banks such as Barclays and the Bank of Scotland (now HBOS) that had been in existence for hundreds of years would be destroyed by a share collapse in a matter of hours.

He is the hero of the hour, the man who, if we are to believe the media, single-handedly has saved the world financial system from meltdown. When all around were panicking and in despair, here was a man who kept his head and threw billions of pounds at the banks, a veritable 21st century miracle! That man is Gordon Brown, a man who dances to the tune of the bankers and capitalists, not the workers who voted Labour into power.

Sooner or later the financial tsunami will run into the sand, but in its wake the real economy will be left in recession. The immediate crisis will have abated, but the sludge, mud, sewage and devastation lasts much longer. They're still mopping up the mud from the 2007 floods… how long will the recession last and how deep will it go?

Now a policy of wage restraint during a serious financial crisis is, sooner or later a finished recipe for an intensification of the class struggle in Britain. Already the strike figures for this year - before the recent financial meltdown - have outstripped last year's figures

Winston Churchill is one of the most famous figures in British history and the official approach is that it would be unpatriotic not to admire him. The purpose of this article is to draw aside the veils of myth and legend which establishment historians and fawning admirers have spun around him and look at the real Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. The facts reveal a different man altogether.

In the early hours of this morning (08.10.08), the government and the financial authorities have finally agreed an ambitious plan to save the banks. They present the £50bn bail-out as decisive action to stop the rot. In fact their hands were forced, and there’s no sign that it will stem the panic on UK stock markets in any case.

On Wednesday around 100 people gathered in Bolívar Hall in London to attend what was a very successful launch of the English language edition of Alan Woods' latest book, Reformism or Revolution - A Reply to Heinz Dieterich. The debate revealed that as capitalism world enters into a deep crisis, the ideas of genuine socialism are alive and well. Now is the time to spread the ideas of revolutionary socialism. (Including the audio file of Alan Woods' speech).

Back in 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Company in Britain was preparing to sack 20% of its 18,000-strong workforce. The Shop Stewards approached their members for technically viable means of using the existing equipment and human expertise to make socially useful products instead of weapons. The result was a 6-volume document which revealed that workers have the know-how to run industry. What was lacking was the capital. For that you need to expropriate the capitalists.

Today Trades Councils in Britain have been consciously relegated to the sidelines by the trade union bureaucracy, but in this article, written at the time of the struggle against the Heath government's ill-fated Industrial Relations Act [1971] Dudley Edwards outlined the history of the trades councils in Britain and pointed to their potentially vital role.

For ten years Gordon Brown has been mouthing the phrase "no return to boom and bust". Now we see it is meaningless, as the British economy slides into recession, possibly the worst for decades.

The British National Health Service was set up sixty years ago, officially on July 5th 1948. It was the result of years of struggle on the part of the working class for a free universal health service. At its height it was as close as you could get to a communist principle under capitalism. Over the years the capitalists have been working hard to drag us back to the dark days when the poor could not afford decent healthcare.

Pressures have been building up in British society. High house prices, fuel and food price increases and pay restraint and cuts particularly in the public sector are all having a huge effect on workers. It's obvious that there's going to be a change and the longer it is delayed the worse the storm is when it eventually breaks.

This article was originally published in 1971 in the Militant International Reviewunder the title Marxism and the Pilkington Strike – A lesson from history. The Pilkington glassworks had entered into dispute and had come up against the problem of the stifling control of the bureaucracy over their union, the GMWU. The Socialist Worker advised the workers to leave and set up a new union. The Marxist tendency, gathered around the Militant, advised against this and events later confirmed the correctness of this position.

British capitalism is in big trouble. The official annual inflation rate has hit 3.3%, its highest level for 16 years. The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has been forced to send a letter to the Chancellor of Exchequer, Alastair Darling, to explain why the Bank has been unable to keep inflation from rising at more than 2%, which is the target set by the government for the Bank.

The political landscape in Britain is changing before our very eyes. This morning’s prominent TV news is of the tanker drivers’ strike, showing scenes of pickets with Red Flags turning away lorries at Shell refineries. The next item is the deepening government crisis, followed by a warning from Gazprom that oil prices could reach $250 a barrel. It was like a typical news bulletin of the 1970s.

In any historical period, the dominant ideas are those of the ruling class. In 1989 the world was treated to the words of Francis Fukuyama, who published an essay with the title 'The end of history?' His argument was not that historical events had literally stopped happening but that the collapse of so-called 'communism' in the Soviet union meant that western liberal democracy had successfully established itself as the ultimate and ideal form of government. Marxism lay totally discredited he declared, gloatingly.

This is a two-part article looking at the decline in the quality of life for working people in Britain today. The first article focuses on the workplace, where there has been relative decline in wages and deterioration in the conditions of employment. The second part looks at the attack on the 'social wage'. Real wages, i.e. purchasing power has been declining and the overall infrastructure of what once was an advanced welfare state, has been crumbling.

Lal Khan was speaking in Birmingham on June 1 at a meeting organised by the local PTUDC, where he outlined the developing crisis in Pakistan and highlighted the need for socialism as the only answer to the problems of the workers and peasants.

The New Labour government is on the rocks. The wreckage of Blairism, under the leadership of Gordon Brown, was dealt a further crushing blow at the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. A 7,000 Labour majority was turned into a 7,000 Tory majority in a swing of 17.6%. It was the Tories' first by-election gain in 30 years.

The Crewe by-election, with an 18% swing to the Tories, confirms that they are on target for a landslide win in the next general election. Railway workers and other working class people who have voted Labour for generations have finally had enough. The betrayals and disappointments of New Labour have caused these electors to break the habit of a lifetime. Make no mistake about it. Mass working class abstentions have done for Brown and his witless crew.