Friday, November 25, 2005

Ireland – ‘Campaign for an Independent Left’

The current issue of SOLIDARITY (Issue 15) carries a report by Colm Breatnach (reproduced below) on discussion on a left alternative in Ireland. The political platform, amended through disussion, and agreed at the founding meeting, is reproduced here for the first time.

Following months of discussion, a number of groups and individuals with a strong track record of campaigning on community and trade union issues have launched a campaign to form a new party of the left in Ireland.

The initiative was launched in June by two independent socialist elected representatives: Seamus Healy TD (Irish MP) and Councillor Joan Collins of Dublin City Council, representing two local organisations; the South Tipperary Workers' and Unemployed Action Group and the Community and Workers' Action Group based in the south western suburbs of Dublin. The Irish Socialist Network, a participatory socialist and Marxist organisation, has also played a key role in promoting this initiative.

Others involved include supporters of Red Banner magazine and a number of well known activists such as Des Derwin, vice-president of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, Dermot Connolly, former General Secretary of the Socialist Party (CWI) and Roseanna Flynn, one of Ireland's leading anti-racist campaigners. Many of these comrades have also been involved, along with activists from the Labour’s Militant Voice in the US and comrades who produce SOLIDARITY in Britain, in the regular Trade Union Activists Forum held in Dublin since earlier this year.

This initiative is especially important given the fact that the main centre left parties, Labour, Sinn Fein and the Greens all now favour entering coalition with conservative parties rather than building a real alternative to neo-liberal policies of the right.

While there is no proposal to set up a new party prematurely, the long-term aim of the process is not just a coalition of existing left groups or the creation of yet another small left party, but the ambitious goal of creating a new mass party of the Irish working class. The campaign is open to working with other left forces but the participating organisations are committed to a bottom up, democratic type of organisation as opposed to the old top-down centralised leadership model.

The task now is to bring the message to working class communities that there is now a real possibility of building a movement that belongs to their class.

The groups involved come from varying backgrounds. The ISN is a democratic Marxist, Dublin/Belfast based group mostly made up of former members of the Workers Party and the SWP.

The STWUAG is a large regional organisation made up of community and trade union activists, with a strong local electoral base, having one member of the Dail (Irish Parliament) and a number of elected councillors. The CWAG is a similar organisation that grew out of the Anti-Bin Tax Campaign in the south western suburbs of Dublin. Most of its members are new to politics but some including CWAG councillor Joan Collins, are former members of the Socialist Party(CWI).

A number of individuals involved in the initiative are also part of the editorial group of the independent revolutionary socialist journal, Red Banner, who also come from various far-left backgrounds. Though some have jokingly called the new initiative 'the left-overs' because of our varied background, our experience on the left has meant that we have, so far, proceeded in the necessarily slow but systematic manner that arises from a commitment to democratic methods, rather then the top-down 'follow the leaders' method of the traditional far-left.

Colm Breatnach

Campaign for an Independent Left
Building a new party of working people

The individuals and groups involved in the Campaign for an Independent Left are united by the common aim of a radical transformation of Irish society. We are committed to the struggle to build a society where working people democratically control all aspects of their lives - social, economic, cultural and political - and where the gap between rich and poor is eliminated.

To help achieve this transformation, we believe it is necessary to develop a new independent all-Ireland party of working people. By independent we mean a party that we will oppose in real terms the right wing pro-capital parties, north and south, and will under no circumstances enter into government with them.

This will be a grassroots campaigning party—broad, pluralist, democratic, and with no agenda other than advancing the interests of working people.

We now commit ourselves to campaigning for such a party, winning over people active in the labour movement, community campaigns, and the various movements for social justice to get involved in making it a reality.

The following are the initial points of basic political agreement that have brought us together to begin this process.

1. No coalition with parties of the right, under any circumstances.

2. Public ownership and democratic control of the country’s resources and services, so that they can be developed in the interests of working people and our environment. An end to the privatisation or commercialisation of public services.

3. A comprehensive universal public health-care system. An end to all state subsidies for private health care.

4. A free, secular education system, aimed at the full and equal development of each human being from pre-school to university. An end to all state subsidies for private education.

5. The provision of housing as a basic right.

6. A public transport system based on the needs of users, not profit, and the protection of the environment.

7. A progressive taxation system that will redistribute wealth, making the rich pay their fair share, and lifting the burden of stealth and double taxes from working people.

8. No to so called “social partnership”. We want trade unions run democratically by their members, and fighting for their interests. Repeal all restrictive legislation against union activity. Unite Irish and migrant workers by fighting for basic trade union rights and conditions for all workers.

9. We believe in equality and solidarity between all working people—men and women, black and white, Travellers and settled people, Catholic and Protestant. We will offer 100 per cent opposition to all forms of racism, sexism and sectarianism.

10. We are for an inclusive, multi-cultural society with equal rites for all; asylum seekers should have the right to work; for an end to deportations; full citizenship for all children born in Ireland; work permits to be issued to workers and not employers.

11. A foreign policy based on opposition to imperialism, and solidarity with those fighting for democracy, justice and peace, the re establishment and maintenance of military neutrality, opposition to an EU dominated by big business and for a Europe of solidarity between working people.

We appeal to all individuals and groups who share our vision of a new party of working people to contact us and help build it in practice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Australia: huge rallies against Howard anti-union laws

According to trades union estimates, 546,000 trades unions members joined rallies opposing the anti-union legislation which the Howard government is proposing to introduce. Green Left Weekly reported that in several locations resolutions were passed, calling upon the ACTU to organise nation-wide industrial action against the new laws, and upon the Labor opposition to commit to repealing all Howard's anti-union laws, and vowed to strike if any worker is penalised under these laws.

However, Greg Combet, ACTU General Secretary, speaking at one of the rallies did not call for a campaign of action to stop the laws being introduced, but a campaign to overturn them (before they have been introduced!).

See the fact sheet about the proposed law below, and Combet's speech to one of the rallies.
The Facts

Beneath all the glossy advertising are proposals that will unfairly curtail your rights at work, cut the amount of time you can spend with family, and erode your job security.

1. Make it easier for workers to be sacked

The Coalition is attacking job security, leaving 3.6 million employees vulnerable to unfair dismissal. It wants to:
Abolish all unfair dismissal protection for people working in workplaces with less than 100 staff.
Change workplace agreements so they no longer have to contain minimum award redundancy standards.
Make sure workers who are made redundant or retrenched due to the 'operational requirements' of a business will not be able to claim unfair dismissal, no matter what size their workplace.

Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s abolition of unfair dismissal protections.

2. Allow employers to put workers onto individual contracts that cut take-home pay and reduce minimum standards

The Government wants more employees pushed on to its AWA individual contracts so that employers can:
Single out employees, forcing new working conditions on to them one at a time.
Have more control over your working hours and make more people casual.
Get rid of work rights like weekend, shift and public holiday rates; overtime; redundancy pay and allowances.

Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s plan for individual contracts.

3. Change the way minimum wages are set to make them lower

The Government wants minimum wages in Australia to be lower. This will reduce the living standards for many people who are only just keeping their heads above water. To achieve this the Government wants:
To stop the independent umpire – the Industrial Relations Commission – from setting minimum wage rates.
Minimum wages to be set by a so-called “Fair Pay Commission” tasked only with ensuring the economy is competitive – not with balancing the dual needs of a strong economy and wage fairness.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s plan to lower minimum wages.

4. Replace the award safety net with just five minimum conditions

Most of the minimum pay rates and working conditions we take for granted are guaranteed in State or Federal awards, which also underpin workplace agreements. The Government’s new laws will:
Take away any requirement for agreements to be consistent with award rights, and strip down agreements to just five minimum conditions: a minimum hourly rate, 10 days sick leave, 2 weeks annual leave (2 weeks of which can be cashed out), unpaid parental leave and a maximum number of weekly working hours.
Preserve the 38 hour week in theory - but not extra pay for overtime, weekends, shift work or public holidays. There will be no rostering limits on when you will be asked to work these hours.
Remove protection for important rights like: limits on when you can be required to work, overtime pay, weekend or night work rates, work related allowances and annual leave loading.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s proposal to replace the award safety net.

5. Restrict Australians' access to unions and make it harder for employees to bargain as a group with their employer

The Howard Government’s plans will affect everyone’s right to get help when they need it most. The Government wants to make it harder for unions to protect and represent employees by:
Making it harder for employees to ask unions to make workplace visits.
Making it harder for unions to legally take industrial action when negotiations break down.
Increasing penalties for unions and workers.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s attack on unions and collective bargaining.

6. Reduce the powers of the independent Industrial Relations Commission

The Government wants to weaken the powers of the independent umpire in the workplace by stopping it from setting minimum wage rates or considering new award conditions. It will do this by:
Taking away the role of the independent umpire is a recipe for more disputes and lower workplace standards.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s attack on the Industrial Relations Commission.

Visit the website

Address to the National Day of Community Protest, 15 November 2005
ACTU 15 November 2005

Greg Combet, ACTU Secretary, addresses union members and the community on the campaign to protect workers' rights.

Today, by rallying in such huge numbers, we declare that working people will not be denied a central place in Australia's future. Working families built this country. They fought and died for it. They do not deserve to have their rights at work taken away.

The Government's laws are motivated by ideology - the articles of Liberal Party faith - the prejudices of the Prime Minister. We face these laws simply because the Government has won control of the Senate and has the power to do what it wants. And in the next couple of weeks the Government will abuse that power and ram these laws through. When it does so it will not signal any set-back for our campaign. Rather, it will signal the start of a determined, relentless effort to overturn these laws and put in their place decent rights for the working people of this country. That is our goal.

You have already heard the main ways in which the laws attack worker's rights. Let me give you some more specific examples. Building workers have been especially targeted. They risk gaol for standing up for their rights. I am concerned for them and their families. The most important thing unions do on building sites is protect the safety of workers. And yet the Government wants to smash the building unions. It will put lives at risk.

I want the Prime Minister to know something right now. We will hold the Government to account for the human cost of these laws. Just as we supported the maritime workers when they were targeted, we will support building workers and their families. All of us face risks under the new laws - even for doing bread and butter union work.

It will be illegal to ask for workers to be protected against unfair dismissal when negotiating an agreement - and there's a $33,000 fine just for asking.
And there will be a $33,000 fine for asking for union involvement in a disputes settlement procedure.
A $33,000 fine for asking for the right for people to attend union education courses.
A $33,000 fine for asking to protect jobs against contracting out.
A $33,000 fine for asking for a commitment to collectively bargain.
And a $33,000 fine for asking for anything else the Government might like to ban.

These are scandalous abuses of democratic rights. But we will not be intimidated. Unions must continue to stand up for people. As a union leader let me make this clear. I will not pay a $33,000 fine for asking for people to be treated fairly. Because the Government has gone too far.

On such a fundamental issue we must look the Government in the eye and stare them down.
I will be asking other union leaders to do the same. We must be disciplined and responsible. There is no place for foolhardy or reckless behaviour. But we must also be firm in our resolve to stand up for people.

It is true that it will take time for some people to be affected by the laws. But the rights of every person will be diminished. And for many the change will come quickly - particularly the most vulnerable. When these laws have done their job there will be only five minimum standards to protect people. The award safety net will be gone.

To get anything above the five minimum standards the Government wants you to negotiate an individual contract. We all know what that means - take what's on offer or get lost. No negotiation. No choice.

John Howard should have the guts to come out and say what he's really up to - to argue his case.
Instead the Government spends tens of millions on slippery, deceitful ads. The claim that people's rights will be protected by law is the most expensive lie ever perpetrated in Australian politics.

It would be a mistake for anyone to be conned by their ads, to think 'I'll be alright - it won't happen to me'. Even the best employers can be driven by competition to force down labour costs using individual contracts. Why, during a 14 year economic boom with record business profits, do Australian people have to be put under this pressure?

We will never compete with China and India by driving down labour costs. We will simply end up with an army of working poor and widespread inequality - a society like the United States. That's not the sort of society unions want to see here.

A decent democracy should be improving opportunities for people, reaching out to those who need a hand, and ensuring that basic rights are protected - making Australia more fair not less. Unions believe in fairness and justice, in prosperity for all not just the few, in people having a say at work. We believe these are democratic rights - rights that are worth fighting for. And fight we will. We will fight until we win.

We will campaign for as long and as hard as it takes to overturn these laws. Anyone who thinks our campaign will fade away had better think again. These past months have only been the warm-up to the main event. The real campaign starts now. After the Government rams these laws through Parliament we will work right up to the next election to hold them to account for what they have done.

There are two key things we must achieve in this campaign. Firstly, to build our strength in the workplace so that we can protect job security and pay and employment conditions. Only by sticking together can we achieve this. That is something within our power. Because the laws cannot take away our commitment to each other. If you're not in a union - join - and ask others to join - because the best protection will be achieved by standing together.

The second thing we must do is win the support of the wider community. We must invite Australians to join a movement for change - not just a movement to achieve rights at work, but a movement for fairness and justice, a movement for democratic rights.

We must build a broad coalition of people committed to a better future. Be part of it. Contribute in practical ways. Get involved by registering on our website or by filling out the postcard. Help us raise funds so that we can take the experience of working people into every home with our advertising.

Ask others to do the same. Take the issues into your local community. Lobby politicians. Get active in marginal seats. Put at risk the job security of politicians who don't support worker's rights. Help build a wall of opposition to laws that place business interests above family and community. Because Australia needs to change. We need to reward effort not exploitation. To encourage cooperation not division. To build a sense of community not isolation. Compassion not intolerance. To inspire hope not fear.

I believe that the values for which we stand beat as strongly in the hearts of Australians today as they have done for generations. United by these values, we will not be defeated. We will see off bad laws and bad Governments. We will deliver justice for working people. Let this great event, broadcast across the nation, the largest meeting of working people ever held in Australia, mark the beginning of a movement for change.

I am confident that if we have the courage to stand up for our values, to provide the leadership, to fight for our cause, to reach out to others and invite them to join us, we will win.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

RMT Demonstration

Despite the tube and bus bombings on 7 July, the Government and London Underground are pressing ahead with plans to cut station staff numbers on the Underground. They are either in their own dream world, or they just don't give a monkeys!

The Government introduced legal minimum staffing levels after 31 people died in an underground fire at Kings Cross in 1987. Now they want to abolish these rules - assuming no one will care!

The RMT has called a national demonstration outside Kings Cross Station on Saturday November 26 assembling at 11:30am. This protest is supported by the FBU and Aslef.

Speakers include RMT general secretary Bob Crow, Aslef general secretary Keith Norman, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, John McDonnell MP and TUC south-east regional secretary Mick Connolly.

Please spread the word to trade union activists including health and safety reps.

Oliver New

Download leaflets and posters from the RMT web site at:

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Report from the Conference Against City Academies

A report of a conference organised by Birmingham NUT and Islington Campaign against Academies, on October 8th. It was attended by 85 delegates, from 6 parents action groups, 27 NUT associations, two other unions, three universities and one Labour Party branch. Approximately 15 current campaigns were represented.

First session chaired by Jackie Ranger- Birmingham NUT past president
Ken Jones from Keele University gave an overview of the city academies programme, its intended design and impact on existing structures. He quoted Tony Travers, the foremost expert on public policy as saying that the public sector was being passed into the hands of voluntary, charitable, private and cooperative hands away from the direct control of the state. Ken posed the question of how local opposition springing up as a reaction in local conditions could be generalized into national opposition to this privatization programme (a summary of Ken’s speech should be available in the near future).

Richard Hatcher from the University of Central England and a Birmingham NUT executive member, gave an introduction to research which he and Ken have been conducting in two North London boroughs among campaigners against academies. He gave direct quotations from parents, teachers and others to illustrate the methods being used by academy supporters to substitute PR for proper consultation. He also demonstrated the negative impact such manoeuvres had on parents. An Islington delegate confirmed that academy supporters are using a DfES manual, ’Academies; marketing tool kit.’ He reported that a parents’ meeting had been successful because it had been held on the estate where most of them lived. It thwarted the attempts by the academy supporters to stage manage the consultation process. He also pointed out how important it was to gat at the sponsors, who in this case were city financiers with no expertise in public services or education.

A Natfhe speaker warned of the dangers to national pay and conditions, with city academies being in the forefront of the ‘new flexibilities’ to fragment national agreements.

A representative from the Conisbrough & District Parents Action Group (CADPAG) described the first victory against academies in their part of South Yorkshire. In the consultative ballot, 90% of the parents had been opposed to the academies proposal. She stressed the importance of teacher and student involvement and a sympathetic local press.

A Lambeth delegate reported the success around Glenbrook primary school, detailing the attempt to take over one of the few green spaces in that part of London whilst cramming 1500 pupils into a smaller unsuitable site elsewhere. A ballot of parents in the area showed 84% opposed to the proposal.

A parent from South Durham spoke of the city academy to be set up in Alan Milburn’s constituency, involving the closure of two other schools, one of which is in the Prime Minister’s Sedgefield Constituency and is ‘one of the best performing schools’ in the country. This fed into the story from the previous day in the Times Educational Supplement of the how schools described as failing by the government and replaced by academies had, in fact been performing satisfactorily.

Parents from the Isle of Sheppey described their initial isolation, both physically and politically on hearing that their one secondary school run by a so called super head, who was only prepared to stay if the school became an academy, was to have its status changed. They described how heartened they were when 300 parents turned up to an initial meeting to discuss the proposals. They have had a number of other successful meetings since and their campaign goes on

Liverpool delegates reported on the valuable lessons that had been learned from the imposition of an academy in their area. One sponsor had withdrawn but the academy proposal was going ahead, sponsored by Liverpool University. Barnsley said that an attempt to set up an all-through 3-19 academy had stirred up great opposition there and had been withdrawn. The United Learning Trust now proposed a secondary academy to be built right next to a primary school in the hope that there could be ‘close collaboration’ in the future.

Manchester Parents reported that one ULT academy had been set up with 6 more proposed- 200 people had attended an initial consultation meeting

In Merton, where two academies are proposed, a delegate talked of the ‘3 cousins syndrome’. His son and two cousins, all living very close to one another, clocked up 30 miles per day between them, going to different schools because they could not get into the school on their doorstep. One academy sponsor is the carpet retailer, Lord Harris. He stressed that any campaign should emphasise the positive aspects of the comprehensive system. Coventry reported on the proposal to set up two academies at the expense of three existing schools. One of the academies would be run by the same religious fundamentalists already running an academy in the less affluent part of Solihull. In Nottingham three further academies are proposed in addition to the Djanogly Academy which is an ex-city technology college.

Waltham Forest referred to their victory over Jasper Conran’s attempt to sponsor an academy, pointing out the extreme sensitivity sponsors have to adverse publicity. The area now faced a more serious threat from the United Learning Trust, an Anglican education foundation with the stated aim of setting up 20 academies nationally. The delegate reported that in response to a question from the Schools’ Adjudicator (an official charged to oversee changes to schools’ status) as to the advantages that an academy would bring to the existing school curriculum, ULT representatives were unable to give any sensible answer.

One parent from London, with children at an academy stressed the importance of continuing to campaign within existing academies because of the attacks on staff conditions and pay levels, but significantly because democratic accountability to parents is weak.

Some publicity materials were circulated which included Brent NUT’s ‘white elephant demonstration’ on the steps of the workplace of a proposed sponsor of a second academy in Brent. It had been reported elsewhere that the sponsor had rung the organizer of the demonstration urging him to call it off.

General points that emerged from the reports included;
• The attempts to suppress democratic consultation is causing an opposite reaction among some parents and other interested parties.
• There is an optimistic feeling about these campaigns - almost as if this is the Government’s step too far.
• The sensitivity of sponsors to having their intentions and motives held up to public scrutiny is their weakness.
• The consultation process is where they are at their most vulnerable.
• The need to research the sponsors’ backgrounds & to share information is essential.
• Head teachers are putting pressure on staff in schools threatened with takeover not to speak out.
• Falling rolls are being used as an excuse to establish academies.
• The need to exchange information, ideas and tactics.
• To emphasise the positive arguments about comprehensive education.
• The need to get campaigns started early and to mobilize as widely as possible.
• The central importance of parent-teacher alliances to avoid isolation.
• Campaigns to be action based; the most effective campaigns are imaginative, using wit and humour to get their message across.

A summary of the ideas from the workshops and decisions taken by the Conference. Session chaired by Jane Nellist, Coventry NUT and nominee for NUT national vice president

• A national network to be set up as an umbrella group to support campaigns both around existing academies and against proposals to set up new academies.
• To broaden the base of campaigning and to seek to participate in other campaigns organized by the TUC, NUT CASE et al.
• A steering committee to be set up open to representatives from existing and new campaigns against academies, to be entirely in the hands of the constituent campaign groups.
• First steering committee to be set up within one month of the conference; date and venue to be decided by Birmingham NUT. The steering committee to be responsible for ;
• naming the organization
• to consider proposals coming from the working groups including;
• drawing up a campaigning guide
• to draft an open letter, statement of intent to be signed by as many people as possible and publicized as widely as possible,
• setting up regional groups
• intervention in next year’s local government elections
• forming links with other groups campaigning against privatization
• boycott campaigns against academy sponsors
• organization of a national demonstration—may be in Sedgefield.
• Seek donations and affiliations

Birmingham NUT were asked to do the following; (All done as of time of writing)
 Issue a press release
 Circulate a report of the conference to all participants
 Circulate the report to all NUT branches
 Send the report and a covering letter to the NUT General Secretary
 Convene the first steering committee meeting.

Organisations in attendance;

Parents groups; Conisbrough & District, South Durham, Barnsley campaign against academies, Merton, South Manchester – Longsight & Levenshulme,

National Organizations; CASE

Unions;Natfhe West Midlands; AUT

NUT Associations & Divisions
Barnsley, Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brent, Bristol, City of Nottingham, Coventry, Dudley, Ealing, Enfield, Hackney, Hull, Islington, Lambeth, Leeds, Liverpool, Merton, Redbridge, Rochdale, Salford, Sandwell, Slough, Stockport, Swindon, Waltham Forest, Westminster

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Conference on Working Class Representation

You may have heard rumours of an RMT conference on working class political representation. For your information we publish below details such as they are so far.

A resolution from the Bristol RMT branch was passed at the union’s AGM in July, which read:


That this branch calls on the AGM to reaffirm its decision of 2004 which rightly characterised ‘the Labour Party under its current leadership as the party of privatisation and neo-liberalism, support for imperialist wars of the extreme right Bush administration, attacks on civil liberties and trade union rights and freedoms.’

And recognised that: ‘it is more important than ever our union takes up the important task of developing political representation of the working class.’

The last year has seen no relenting of these policies, indeed the run up to the General Election was characterised by a wholesale attack on workers’ pensions; housing and health. Therefore, this AGM calls upon the Council of Executives to:

• Build a national conference of trade unions and organisations of working class communities and political organisations to discuss the crisis of political representation of the working class;
• Continue the work already begun by the union, in the European Social Forum, to develop a high profile for the debate internationally on the question of trade unions and political representation."

The resolution was passed with only three votes against.

The RMT Council of Executives passed a resolution to implement this AGM decision. It instructed the General Secretary to "Organise a broad based Trade Union and Labour meeting to discuss the crisis in working class representation". Trades unions at the national level, RMT branches and Regional Councils are to be invited, together with the RMT Parliamentary Groups (Westminster, the Welsh and Scottish assemblies).

It makes clear that the purpose of the meeting is "to discuss the crisis in working class representation not setting up a new political party", "though this will obviously be one of the topics of debate". The conference will also promote the Trade Union Freedom Bill."

It is not clear whether the participation of union branches from other unions will be accepted if their union at the national level does not support the conference.

It will not be open to resolutions.

The branch circular says "I would emphasise that the conference will not be used to promote the establishment of a new political party. The Conference will be a broad based Trade Union and Labour Movement meeting to discuss the crisis in working class representation and to promote the campaign for a trade union freedom Bill."

It will take place on Saturday 21st January 2005 from 11.30 - 3.30 at Friends House, Euston Road, London.

As soon as we have more information we will let people know.