A Great Loss to Socialism

Daniel BensaidIt is with great sadness that we hear of the death of the French Trotskyist leader Daniel Bensaid, especially coming so soon after the death of Chris Harman, another veteran of ’68.

He died at the age of 63 after a long illness.

Bensaid was one of the most important thinkers in contemporary Marxism, and one who never divorced theory from the building of a revolutionary organization.

His struggle started in the early 1960s in the Union des Etudiants Communistes, the French Communist Party’s student organisation.

In the post-war period Stalinism dominated the French working class movement like in no other country in Western Europe (apart from possibly Italy), and in fact the PCF was the last to dump uncle Joe.

Despite the overwhelming dominance of the Stalinism, and the tiny number of French Trotskyists, he was won to the their ideas and was expelled from the UEC along with a number of others to form the Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionaire (Revolutionary Communist Youth).

Despite the small size of the JCR it was to play a key role in the events of May 1968 and grew into a larger organization, which was then banned. Following this they formed the Ligue Communiste, which by then had gained enough strength to stand Alain Krivine as a candidate in the the Presidential elections of 1969 and receive some 240,000 votes.

The LC was in its turn banned in 1973 following its participation in demonstrations against a fascist group, but it survived as it refounded itself as the LCR, Revolutionary Communist League.

The LCR unlike so many on the left survived the bad years of the eighties and was able to through itself into the struggles which blossomed from 1995 onwards becoming the most important organization of the French radical left.

Bensaid remained a leader of the LCR throughout this time whilst also teaching at the University of Paris and keeping up a prodigious literary output.

In recent years he took more time to concentrate on theoretical questions as a new generation of leaders emerged from the struggle. Amongst the books he wrote in this period is a Marx for Our TImes probably his best known work in English.

As Trotsky observed “The revenge of history is greater than that of the General Secretary” (meaning Stalin). Daniel Bensaid was proof of this.

Whilst French “Communism” has slid into terminal crisis, the tradition Bensaid stood in has gone from strength to strength and 2009 the LCR merged into the NPA, New Anti-Capitalist Party, undoubtedly the most important revolutionary organization in Europe, in which whole new generation of militants are remaking the Marxist tradition for the 21st Century.

There is more on Daniel Bensaid on the NPA’s website

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What do Florence + the Machine, Candi Staton and Jamie Principle have in common?

As it is Christmas something different is in order.

Things on the left have not been great over the last year. It is a times like this that one needs to think about other things as well, to have as Dennis Healy defines it, “a hinterland”And I have found myself listening to more music.

The music in this case being old skool house.

I found myself going back to the start, to the music I listened to as a teenager, when it was still startlingly new and only just seeping across the Atlantic into London’s clubland, spawning a bacchanalia that was to last for years.

I have gone back to tracks that have rolled around my head without ever really knowing who did them, their inter relationship, or where they all came from in the first place. Such arcane knowledge was not really of great interest to me then.

Obviously it is of more interest to me now as I reach a certain age.

It is by mere happenstance that in the charts (can you really say that anymore?) is yet another re-imagining of You Got The Love by Florence and the Machine

The original called Your Love and is generally considered to be the first house tune (if not record, the first to be actually pressed was On and on by Jesse Saunders).

It was. remains on of the most perfect dance records ever made. It is often credited to Frankie Knuckles, but is actually by Jamie Principle. A lot of the early work of Frankie Knuckles is intertwined with Jamie’s so often confused. But then Frankie Knuckels was Chicago’s most important DJ at the Warehose club (which gave house music its name) and Jamie principle was just a kid in his bedroom.

Which makes it all the more extraordinary that this was the work of a youngster who’s musical background was more church music and glam rock than disco and electronica.

He would go onto create some other seminal tracks such as Bad Boys, Waiting On An Angel and of course the very early Baby Wants To Ride, one of the oddest dance tracks ever committed to vinyl with its mixture of ecstatic sexuality and agitprop. Its a great tune, maybe I’ll post about it another time.

Anyway, Your Love was an overnight sensation in the clubs of Chicago but only circulated on tapes and wasn’t issued until some time afterwards. It has never really had the recognition it deserves.

It did became a world wide hit under a new guise. This time it was when a DJ under the name of The source laid vocals on top of it by Candi Staton (best know for Young Hearts Run Free) to create You Got The Love.

It was a smash hit has been regular feature on the radio ever since.

This all came as something of a surprise to Candi Staton when she was told that she had an international hit. She said that she couldn’t remember recording any such record. then she remembered, she had recorded it for the soundtrack of a documentary about a very obese man trying to lose weight.

So one of houses greatest records being released by Florence And The Machine (a purveyor “soul inspired indie rock”) is not the strangest thing that could have happened with this track.

Its still quite a nice cover and she belts it out in a way that does just to its ecstatic nature.

And if anyone wondered what You Got The Love without Jamie Principle sounds like, here it is..

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“From ‘Fanfare to Fiasco’. What a deBAcle!”

Jerry Hicks

Jerry Hicks

Statement by Jerry Hicks on the BA strike:

20th December 2009

From ‘Fanfare to Fiasco’. What a deBAcle!

The vote by British Airways cabin crew to defend their hard won terms and conditions was fantastic. More than 80% of members took part in the ballot and a staggering 92% supported taking strike action, proving how members feel both vulnerable and angry. It also proves how well organised the union members and their branch are.

It is worth taking this into context when comparing it with political parties who bemoan ‘indifference’ and brand their electorate as ‘apathetic’ when council elections barely inspire a 30% turnout. Even General Elections fail to capture the imagination of people, with average polls of 60%.

Given such a winning hand, what could possibly go wrong? It started with a flurry of national officials ‘popping up’. At least one blatantly electioneering on the backs of the members, was the first visible sign of the impending unedifying debacle, followed by the spectacle of the Joint General Secretary initially, whatever his intentions, undermining the dispute. Then we see him crying crocodile tears and feigning anger outside the High Court. I and millions of trade unionists know that our main opponents are the government and the employers, but our dismay and frustration extends to those in the union leadership who have allowed it to happen.

Thatcher’s and Tebbit’s anti-union laws drawn up with all the intent and malice to thwart trade unions and its members are now Tony’s [Blair] and Gordon’s [Brown] anti-union laws. The paradox is that it is our union Unite that helps funds the Labour Party with £10s of millions since 1997.

After more than twelve years of Labour government, it’s a scandal that employers like British Airways are able to use anti-union laws. But it should come as no surprise that they do, or that the courts rule against us. Repeal of these laws simply has not been a priority for the TUC or our union. If it had been, Unite would not have been dragged into the High Court, and how much stronger would we all be now and especially the BA cabin staff.

Sadly, in fact all too often, our union has hidden behind those same laws when repudiating workers who, when at their wits end, are brave enough to take on employers by breaking the unjust laws, as with Lindsey oil refinery in Humberside which was coupled with solidarity walk-outs; or the Visteon workers occupying their factories to win back their pensions when sacked with only 15 minutes notice. Instead of supporting those struggles and confronting the anti-union legislation our union chose to comply with the laws. Those disputes were successful, despite the union leadership.

All three main political parties are now lining up to wield the axe as they try to make us pay for the banking bosses mistakes. Employers, one after another are sticking the boot in.

Which means that over the coming weeks, months and years – disputes and strikes are inevitable.
Members have proven over and over again their worth. The question is, will the union’s leadership be the solution or part of the problem?

Next year there will be two elections that will be defining moments. One is the General Election and I hope the Tories don’t win it. The other will be for the election for General Secretary of Unite, the country’s biggest trade union with the potential to be the most powerful union.

It is almost certain all but one of the candidates will come from the current leadership, who bear a collective responsibility for where we are now and how we got here. More of the same will not reinvigorate our union. As someone who is not an official of the union I will offer a real choice and the chance of something very different.

Notes to editor: Jerry Hicks’ legal challenge forced the election for General Secretary in the UK’s biggest union Unite Amicus this year in which he finished runner up. He is thought of as being a possible winner in next year’s election for General Secretary of the whole of Unite.

email: jo@benefield.force9.co.uk

To visit Jery’s website click here

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The end of the right to strike? Or, £68m of Ingratitude

The BA strike has been, as was expected, ruled illegal by the courts.

As the law on strike ballots stands it is practically impossible to organize a ballot that does not trip up on something or other.

The union has announced that there will be another ballot, which means that any strike action will not happen for a considerable time. They will also have missed their chance to take action when it would be most effective.

This has not stopped BA from implementing the changes that the workers oppose in the meantime

Workers seem to be angry, but also increasingly disillusioned. And who can blame them?

Though obviously a grievous blow to the union it is hard not to wonder how serious the union’s leaders ever were about actually striking.

Strike action has just become a threat that union negotiators bandy about in a dance with management.

Ballots increasingly seem to be organized to be kept in their pocket for safekeeping.

How else can Tony Woodley go on television and say that he could “guarantee” that if management come back to the negotiating table (and that’s it, not even that they withdraw the changes already made) the strike would be off?

Well that’s democratic isn’t it. Workers as a stage army to be marched up to the top of the hill and down again at the behest of the Grand Old Duke of Wallasey.

Reports in The Guardian suggest that workers are angry at the union’s legal team for their inability to organize a legal ballot.

For once it the union has to be defended on this one. It is now practically impossible to organize a ballot that doesn’t get caught out on at least one failing.

To give an idea of how byzantine the regulations have become one should listen to Bob Crow on his union’s battles with the courts (its about three minutes into the clip).

To have lost the right to organize effective legal strikes, a basic human right, is shocking in itself.

But what adds insult to injury is that this situation exists after 12 years of rule by the Labour Party, the party set up by the unions a hundred years ago to guarantee the right to strike.

The present Labour Party has done nothing to restore our trade union rights.

And Unite has just become another victim of them.

And how much does Unite pay into the Labour Party?

Since 2001 the unions that now make up Unite (TGWU, AEEU, MSF, GPMU) have paid £68 million to the Labour Party.

What have they got back?

To see donations by trade unions to the Labour Party click here

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Jerry Hicks says back the BA workers

Statement by Jerry Hicks, rank and file candidate for General Secretary of Unite:

Jerry HicksSupport BA cabin crew & repeal the anti-union laws.

The vote by British Airways cabin crew in favour of industrial action was a brilliant result. More than 80 percent of members took part and 92 percent supported taking action.

It proves how members feel both vulnerable and angry. That anger was translated into a massive vote for strike action.

All three main parties are now lining up to wield the axe. One employer after another is sticking the boot in. Willie Walsh is the spearhead of all those bosses who are trying to squeeze out profits at workers’ expense by shedding jobs and slashing wages.

After more than a decade of Labour government it’s a scandal that employers like British Airways can still use Thatcher’s anti-union laws. Repeal of these laws simply has not been a priority for the TUC or our union.

If it had been Unite would not have been dragged into the High Court wasting time, energy and money that could have been used to serve our members.

Every trade unionist should do everything they can to support BA cabin staff. We all know that it would be a massive victory for all of us in the working class movement if they win.

Jerry’s website

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Irish Green Party: telling it like it is

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Pre-Butchery Report?

The left blogosphere has been surprisingly quiet about the Pre-Budget report.

This is some how surprising considering as it is, to all intents and purposes, the Labour Manifesto for the coming election. It tells us how they intend to run the country if they are returned to power.

There has been much talk in the media of a “return to class war” (when was the Labour Party a party of class war?). Well maybe that is what the spin-doctors would like us to think. It doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

Class War?

The headline grabber was meant to be the 50% tax on bonuses.

But this seems to have caused little fuss in the City. The reaction was rather muted. Apart form a few rent-a-quote pundits it seems to have been ignored.

A spokesman of the Institute of Directors on Channel 4 News though just brushed it aside as a “populist side show”.

And right he was to do so. The amount it will actually raise will only be some £500m, a drop in the ocean of public finance. Compared to the billions that will be paid out, one way or another, not a big hit. It certainly can’t be described as a redistributive measure.

Even before the spokesman of the IOD spoke on Channel 4 the show had already set out a number of ways that the tax could be avoided from raising basic pay, to putting into bankers’ pension funds. And they were just a few that the journalists had thought up in their office. Considering that the City employs an army of people who’s job it is to think up financial wheezes of such complexity that even they in the end don’t understand them, it won’t take them long come up with ways of effectively neutralising this measure.

Anyway the times are good in the City, it is awash again with tax-payers’ money and consolidation caused by the crisis means there is less competition around; in fact the banks that were “too big to fail”, have grown even bigger.

Bankers are now are so immensely rich now they hardly need care about such petty baiting.

Take from the many…

So what about away from the sideshow?
For most working class working class people it means one thing. You’re going to be hit.

By the end of next year most workers (or those on more than £20,000 p.a., which happens to be the median average wage) will be hit by a 1% increase in National Insurance.

If you work in the public sector, as one in five of the workforce do, you really are going to be hit by a double whammy.

Pay increases will be kept to one percent for the next two years. This is in effect a pay cut, as inflation is likely to be, even by the Treasury’s own calculations, often over optimistic, higher.

And as we all know the headline inflation rate does not reflect people’s real experience. Every study has shown that the poorer you are, the higher inflation is for you.

Race to the bottom

This isn’t he only attack on the only attack on public sector workers.

Pension contributions are also to be capped, affecting some four million workers.

A myth has been built up that public sector workers’ are waiting to collect fat pension, and it is a myth. The average local government pension is just £4,000 pounds a year.

This myth has been propagated in order to create divisions between public and private sector workers; to create feelings of envy and bitterness.

It is based on a certain truth though. Public sector workers have an advantage of many private sector workers just by having a pension plan. Millions of others now don’t have any. Five million public sector workers are in a final salary pension, but only 800,000 workers in the private sector are.

And what does Mr Darling have to say about this?

“Public pensions need to be broadly in line with those offered in the private sector.”

Anyone who thinks that the government is making a turn back to some kind of social democracy should read that sentence again.

In the last few decades millions have seen their pensions schemes disappear or had them raided by the bosses.

Millions have no pension provision for the future, and for those that do, most are going to have to get by on a poverty pension.

Yet rather than trying to rectify this disastrous situation, Darling believes it should be imposed on even more workers. This race to the bottom and the generalizing of lowest common denominator conditions is at the heart of neo-liberalism, and Labour seems to be more tied to it than ever.

For those that are on benefits a rise next year will be to followed by a cut the year after.And that is in a benefits system that grows ever meaner and more coercive.

The deepest cut

For those that are working, with pay increases running at less than inflation (the average private sector rise was 0% this year) and with taxes and NI to set to rise, living standards are going to be cut.

Public spending also faces swinging cuts.

Alistair Darling has committed himself to halving the budget deficit in t he next four years, and 80% is to come from cuts in public expenditure.

This is as, Will Hutton writes in the Observer “the deepest and fastest proportional cut since the Second World War”

Pledges to “protect “frontline services” ring rather hollow, if for no other reason than what this means is never fully described.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies was quick to pour cold water on this promise. In fact services face average cuts of 5.6% a year. Other services face even bigger cuts, as deep as 15%. By 2013/14 all the spending increases of the Labour years will have disappeared and we will be a back at the same levels as when the Tories were last in power.

Even then the way this may play out on the ground may be worse still. In many privatised services and PFI and PPP projects the state is tied into long contracts it cannot break. Whatever cuts are made to budgets the privateers have to be paid whatever they were originally contracted for. The savings will have to be found elsewhere.

The vast new industry of private sector contractors employed by the state (and some £68bn worth of PFI contracts have already been signed, with a total £215bn pledge over the contracts lifetimes) is in the same boat as the bankers. No matter how stormy economic weather for the rest of us, they will always be seen right by the government.

More to come?

Things may turn out to be even worse than so far set out. All this is predicated on the treasury’s growth forecasts. And these have been shown to be consistently over optimistic.

If Labour wins it is highly likely that the nest government will have to come back and say “you know what, things are worse than we thought they would be”

And what will happen then? It is clear from the PBR who is expected to pay for the crisis.

The measures already announced mean a substantial cut in working class living standards and massive cuts in services.

The grandstanding about “sharing the pain” simply does not add up. The rich are facing quite modest rise in taxation. It will not effect there standard of living not one iota.

New Labour has continued the policy of allowing the rich to continue to enrich themselves, no matter the cost to the rest of us.

This is something Darling does not even dare talk about, let alone actually address.

Figures just released by the Office of National Statistics show that the richest 10% of the population own 44% of the personal assets. They are nearly five times wealthier than the bottom half of the population put together.

The bottom 10% are worth less than nothing. In total net wealth terms, they are in debt.

In terms of financial assets held (most peoples “wealth” is mostly tied up in property or pensions) the wealthiest 20% own 84% of the assets; the bottom 50% own just 1%.

Labour seems to have no intention of addressing these inequalities. In fact their proposed polices will worsen and deepen them.

Lesser Evil

It is clear what kind of “core vote” strategy this is.

It is the politics of the “lesser evil”; “the Tories will be worse”.

As that doyenne of “consciousness liberals” Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian:

“This was social democratic, said the government briefers as soon as Darling sat down. Yes, compared to Conservative plans to cut more furiously while gifting £11bn to the richest 2%, of course this Labour budget is better. No contest”

We will never know which of the parties will be the worst, as only one of them can from the next government. Both are planning massive attacks on working class living standards and public services.

The Tories plan to cut harder and faster we are told, but then it is likely that Labour will probably also cut harder and faster than they have so far let on.

Nor is there a real difference in the basic economic policies followed by each.

This is not like 1979 when the Tories ushered in a massive turn towards neo-liberalism, defeating a Labour Party that had no real plan for resolving the crisis.

Even less is it 1932 when Roosevelt brought in the New Deal.

If there is a comparison to be made with the US it might be 1993 when Bill Clinton came into office following the recession of the early nineties. What followed was the dismantling of much of what was left of the New Deal.

This time around we face something similar.

A working class that has already in the last thirty years had the balance of wealth and power decisively shifted against them, face another massive assault, whether by Labour or the Tories.

The proposed cuts are just the tip of the iceberg. For in their wake will come yet more neo-liberal “reform”.

Neo-liberalism is already deeply embedded in the state and the economy. Its ideology is still dominant. This is clearly seen in Darling’s pronouncements on public sector pensions and the drum beat for “efficiency savings”.

This means the fewer people doing more work for less money, an intensification of labour that has now become relentless and constant, and increased exploitation.

In pursuit of these “savings” ever more contracting out (privatisation) will take place and wages and conditions of all will have ever more downward pressure put on them.

In the private sector, as in the public, mass unemployment and the ideology of the market will be an ever-greater stick. And stick it will be; the economic crisis has much withered the carrot.

The devil and the deep blue sea

Is the “lesser evil” the best we can hope for?

The liberal commentariat seems to think so.

Some have predicted unrest in reaction to the coming austerity programme.

Yet we have had two years of crisis, growing unemployment and falling wages with little organised resistance. The union leaders (with some notable exceptions) have done nothing to fight-back and, have done nothing to “rock” Labour’s boat.

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison said of the attacks on the public sector “I am not going to sign up to this. I know how our members feel: they feel angry and betrayed. It is just not on to make nurses, social workers, dinner ladies, cleaners and hospital porters pay the price for the folly of the bankers.”

Yet what does he plan to do about? Based on his past record we can expect precious little.

If Labour wins we’ll be told that we have to put up with it, as the alternative is worse.

If they loose the cry will go up to “make sure it is a one term Tory government”, which will of course be endangered by the phantom menace of a “return to the 70s”.

Only real resistance to austerity can hope to turn the situation around. And this requires a decisive break with orthodoxies of actually existing capitalism, and its supporters in the working class, the Labour party.

And that is how we have to measure the coming general election. Meekly voting for one of types of neo-liberal assault will not save us from it.

We have to fight the likely incoming Tories and their reactionary propaganda.

But we also have to build an alternative to the more insidious influence of Labour, which will try to tie our hands who ever is in power.

Institute of Fiscal Studies on the PBR

Office of Natioanl Statisitcs Wealth and Assets survey


Filed under Economics, Labour Party, Pre-Budget Reprt