Sunday, 30 June 2013

PCS Pay Progression: A view from the HMRC

Guest Post by Andrew Seymour

I've just read your blog and feel frustrated at the chancellors announcement with regard to the continuing pay freeze and the intention to abolish pay progression.  He appears to be incapable of understanding the full impact of these measures (whether or not he's out of touch with us normal Joe's in the real world is open to debate).   

If I may, let me give you a bit of background info. I have been employed by HMRC for 9 years now and PCS have let me down badly on the subject of Pay Progression.  We were given assurances by PCS and HMRC back in 2007/08 that we would reach our maximum pay grade within a time frame of 5 years.  But many, many employees including myself have yet to reach this holly grail.  Manly because these assurances were not bound up contractually but were offered and accepted under implied terms only.  This has led to a divided workforce, those on a sliding scale of greater pay on one side and those earning less on the other.  Even though as comparators demonstrate we are doing the same job, like for like with the same terms and conditions.  The feeling of resentment and anger aimed at PCS has a real tangible presence.  

The collective bargaining power has since long gone over this issue amongst others (I wont go into the details here but Tom Taylor proved that).  This I feel has been down to the lack of real understanding of member issues and off course lack of any meaningful strategy form PCS.  But we must fight on.

George Osborne says: “Progression pay can at best be described as antiquated; at worst, it’s deeply unfair to other parts of the public sector who don’t get it and to the private sector who have to pay for it.

“So we will end automatic progression pay in the Civil Service by 2015-16. 

This announcement means - staff will never catch up with colleagues on the same pay band. How can the chancellor advocate such a discriminatory pay structure? This does not sit comfortably with Equal Pay Legislation, especially with the recent ruling against the local authority of Dumfries and Galloway

Alastair Pringle, Scotland director for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in the appeal, said: "The Supreme Court judgement confirms Dumfries and Galloway Council's attempt to limit the circumstances in which women can compare their work and pay with that of their male colleagues is inconsistent with the fundamental right to equal pay for equal work."

He said the decision "keeps the door open for thousands of other women who find themselves doing equal work as their male colleagues in the same employment, but who are paid less".

PCS should look into taking a similar course of action and raise Equal Pay claims against HMRC and other government departments. This may get the employer and government's attention.  We have many examples of colleagues doing the same job, like for like job descriptions but being paid less.  Its time PCS supported those members and challenge pay discrimination head on.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

FEMEN activists released from Tunisian prison & organise new protest over Egypt

The feminist organisation FEMEN has been in the news again today as the BBC reports that the three women arrested in Tunisia in May have been released from prison today. They had been arrested for staging a topless protest outside a court room in Tunis in support of Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Sbiou (Tyler).


(Source FEMEN)

The women, two French and one German have had their quite severe sentence suspended and will now be leaving Tunisia "at the earliest opportunity". Meanwhile Amina Tyler remains in prison awaiting trial for carrying an "incendiary device", which turned out to be an "illegal gas spray". 

The three women stated FEMEN exists to "fight for the rights of women wherever they are threatened".


(source FEMEN)

At the same time with everyone watching and waiting for tomorrows big demonstrations in Egypt, FEMEN activists targeted the main Mosque in Stockholm, Sweden and issued the following statement:

(Please note this is a translation by Google from Russian):

Led by the Egyptian activist FEMEN Alia Al Mahdi, three sekstremistki movement held a topless rally in the main mosque in Stockholm. Egyptian, Tunisian and Swedish sekstremistki FEMEN symbolically rid of the black hijab, in the heart of a place of worship. 

Sekstremistki welcomed this gesture antiislamistskuyu great Egyptian revolution, the beginning of which is scheduled for June 30. 

FEMEN calls upon the Egyptian women to take an active part in the overthrow of Islamism revenge for centuries of humiliation and slavery.

"I believe that the Egyptian women would rather die than allow the regime Mursi clothe yourself in a light-proof bag Islamism" - said sekstremistka FEMEN, famous Egyptian dissident antiislamistskaya Alia El Mahdi. The fire of revolution, burn!

You can find the FEMEN Website here:

Friday, 28 June 2013

Protests begin against Islamism in Egypt

Inspired no doubt by the protests against Erdogan in Turkey, democrats and secularists in Egypt have begun a series of protests in advance of a mass demonstration on Sunday, the first anniversary of the election of Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi.

As I write Sky News is reporting that protesters have attacked the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria and set it on fire. At last one person has already been killed and 70 injured in what is heading to be a major confrontation in one of the most populous Muslim countries in the Middle East.

The parallels between Turkey and Egypt are clear for all to see. What the opposition objects to is the imposition of a conservative form of Islam in peoples private lives, as well as the rushed through Islamic orientated new constitution imposed on the country by Morsi.

Signs of growing disquiet have already been seen as demonstrations have successfully brought down the Morsi appointed Governor of Luxor. The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this week that:

Adel el-Khayat stepped down from his role yesterday in an attempt to stop further “bloodshed” after his appointment a week ago prompted fierce clashes between his supporters and opponents outside his offices. The row is a setback for Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who had selected him for the post.
However, the resignation is unlikely to pacify critics of Mr Morsi, who faces a stern test this Sunday when Egypt’s secular opposition plans huge protests aimed at forcing him from office.
The report continues:

Mr Khayat’s Construction and Development party is the political wing of Gamaa Islamiya, which carried out one of Egypt’s worst terrorist atrocities when its members opened fire on tourists at Luxor’s 3,400-year-old Hatsheput Temple in November 1997. The 62 dead included six Britons, among them a grandmother, her daughter and five-year-old granddaughter.

Mr Khayat, whose party was among dozens of hard-line Islamist factions to emerge after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was among 17 provincial governors appointed by Mr Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party sees them as part of its bedrock of religious support.
But the appointment drew condemnation from secularists, and outraged businessmen in Luxor, who feared it would jeopardise the city’s efforts to rebuild itself as a tourist centre, and lead to bans on selling alcohol. Tour guides and restaurateurs — already suffering from a slump in business since Mr Mubarak’s fall — set up barricades around government buildings last week and painted the gate with a sign: “No entry for terrorists.”
These complaints sound very similar to those made by Turkish secularists when Erodogan also sought to impose restrictions on the sale of alcohol and clampdowns on "public displays of affection". There are far too many people in both countries that have moved away from the restrictive conservative practises that the Islamists seek to impose.

There are similarities in the possible role of the military in both countries. The army in Turkey has always seen itself as the upholder of the secular state founded by Kemel Ataturk. So far they have kept out of the conflict, though one report I read suggested soldiers were seen handing out gas masks to people on early protests. The Egyptian army has so far kept out of the conflict, though they appear to be on hand as reports on Sky suggest that tanks have been assembled on the outskirts of Cairo.

The role of trade unionists was pivotal in Turkey and should be in Egypt as well. The Equal Times website has published a report which outlines the following:

Two years on from the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, democracy still eludes Egypt.
Independent trade unions are suppressed; street children are arrested and tortured; female protesters are attacked; and dissident voices are being silenced.
  • ILO must support Egyptian workers’ fight for freedom
  • Children detained and tortured by security forces
  • No press freedom under Morsi
  • Women say ‘no more’ to Tahrir square violence
Go to:

Trade unionists in the UK and around the world should give their full support to the Egyptian protesters in their struggle against clerical fascism .

At the same time we must not forget the struggles also taking place in Tunisia as well as Turkey.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Wishful thinking on the far left

The release of Ken Loach's film and his subsequent statement has led to the establishment of yet another group to the left of the Labour Party which goes by the name of Left Unity. Not exactly original and frankly a name that is itself based in wishful thinking as one thing the far-left has never been good at is "unity".

They seem to be embarking on the road to establishing themselves as a political party with the name the Left Party now being touted around their inner circles.  They claim to have around 100 local groups though their membership does not seem to have increased much since I last wrote about them in March. Rather they have started holding meetings and are planning their first national conference to maybe agree some kind of manifesto around which the new set of comrades can agree.

Unique amongst the organised far left they do have an open and active blog which is worth dipping into on occasion. The contributions range from articles by quite genuine unaligned activists to the ridiculous, but at least they don't censor other peoples views.

What prompted me to cover this group again was an article by Will McMahon who wants an electoral alliance with the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition. The TUSC is the bastard son of the Socialist Party and has garnered not just the support of the SWP but the affiliation (and bankrolling ) of the RMT. Not that this had led to any breakthrough of any description. Not that this puts our Will off claiming:

 ....the capacity of TUSC to get credible votes in local elections (not withstanding some of its poorer votes). A series of three to five per cent plus votes in council by-elections, most recently in Southampton, in spite of the lack of serious organisational infrastructure at either local or national levels and a rather unwieldy name, indicates that the basis for an electoral vehicle for socialism still exists.

Given that the turnouts in these elections tended to be extremely low 5% of little represents nothing. has he so soon forgotten the Eastleigh by-election. But that's not all, Machon goes on to consider that:

A clear staging post on the way to a new mass socialist party establishing itself as a permanent feature in the national psyche will be the 2014 local and 2015 general elections. An electoral coalition made up of TUSC, Left Unity, local socialist groups and thousands of independent socialists, as well as the existing far left groups, that stood in over 120 constituencies in 2015, would begin to present itself as a national political alternative for the working class. The seriousness of such a project could draw to it tens of thousands of grass roots militants and campaigners alongside existing leaders of non-Labour affiliated trade unions

Given that most trade unionists and members simply want the removal of the Coalition Government , I suspect that even if the notice such an alliance, they will be voting for the candidates best placed to remove the Tories and their Lib Dem allies. The Tories will be under threat from UKIP which is also likely to attract support from sections of the disaffected working class.

Of course reference is made to previous "unity" projects on the far-left starting with the Socialist Labour Party launched by Arthur Scargill, the Socialist Alliance, and the TUSC. I leave out Respect because it seems to me to be more of a far-right formation in many ways, but that debate can take place another time when Galloway starts kicking off again. The point is all these projects failed. The reason? The involvement of the Leninist sects (SWP, SP etc) and their potential involvement worries the LU comrades.

Their discussion threads contain numerous references to what is basically the self centered and elitist nature of all these competing outfits who try to raid anything that moves to recruit them to the party. And yes it does sound a bit like a night out on the razzle.

The comrades at Left Unity are right to be worried, these groups wreck everything they get involved in (just look at my union PCS). It would be a pity if the efforts of ordinary people were wasted, so rather than found a new party that will probably cease to exist in a few years time, if that my advice is to adopt a more realistic approach.

Get involved in the unions or the Labour Party. There really is no alternative, sorry guys.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

PCS members stuck between a trot and a hard government

The PCS union launched a "day of action" following the decision of it's National Executive Committee to call of a planned strike today. Unsurprisingly there was no mention of it across most of the media and the actual numbers of members who took part was quite limited. This action comes after Mark Serwotka the General Secretary of the PCS made a speech at the so-called Peoples Assembly in which he stated:

"PCS represents some of the lowest paid workers in Britain, and we have had a strike in every single week for the last month. 

True, but to what effect one has to ask. Lets see what John McInally, PCS Vice President has to say in The Socialist newspaper:

We know our action is having a real disruptive impact but ministers are refusing to talk to us because they are trying to make deals at departmental or group level without talking to the union nationally. They want to stop effective collective bargaining.

He continues:

One of the reasons PCS is able to deliver action consistently is that we've always consulted with members and activists, so that the action will be effective and sustainable.

Really? At no stage have more than a third of members taken strike action and in many departments the turnout has been from low to derisory. The leadership have failed to motivate the vast majority of members and whilst they clearly do have what they call an "activist base", the argument with members about the necessity of action at this time has been far from won.

McInally tells us there will be a long period of consultation with the members, ostensibly to find out members views. Whether many members will bother taking part is another question. Every year PCS members are exalted to the need for industrial action, usually coinciding with the internal electoral process of the union.

The era of austerity has sent to the wild eyed Trotskyists who run PCS into a state of apoplexy. The leadership of PCS, dominated by the Socialist Party and the SWP immediately launched a campaign for for strikes without really thinking things through, let alone considering whether plans for such long term action would be sustainable by the very people who would be expected to make the necessary sacrifice needed.

More to the point could PCS really do it alone? John McInally continues to "talk the talk" when he says:

We'll also try to build as many alliances as possible with other unions. Members are asking themselves why, while every part of the public sector is under attack, PCS seems to be the only union taking action.

Every time PCS has tried to make such "alliances" they have manged to fall out with their allies. Trying to support an alternative candidate against Len McCluskey of Unite botched that one and the National Union of Teachers are more concerned about getting the other large teaching union, the NASUWT on board rather than blindly follow Serwotka and co.

Today saw a major attack on the civil service take place. The Yorkshire Post reported that Chancellor. George Osborne announced:

The Chancellor said public sector pay rises will be limited to an average of up to one per cent for 2015-16 and automatic progression pay and re-grading were being scrapped.
He said: “Progression pay can at best be described as antiquated; at worst, it’s deeply unfair to other parts of the public sector who don’t get it and to the private sector who have to pay for it.
“So we will end automatic progression pay in the Civil Service by 2015-16.
So it would seem a new dispute is in the making. Except there is a real problem. The PCS/Socialist Party leadership has spent so long on promoting a Marxist inspired "generalisation" of the class struggle as a substitute for a proper trade union campaign that they have already undermined a substantial section, if not the majority of the membership.

This reductionism  is continued by McInally who writes:

The best way forward is to build mass coordinated action, including a 24-hour general strike in order to defeat austerity.

Even the "Peoples (or activists) Assembly" did not end up backing such a call much to the Socialist Party's chagrin.  They are heading towards a day of "civil disobedience" as the PCS website points out:

A national day of civil disobedience is planned for November 5 and a second national People's Assembly will be held in spring 2014. 

Such disobedience probably means UK Uncut bothering shoppers in Oxford Street and  a few hooded Anarchists smashing things up. Not an activity that PCS members could get involved with, if they want to keep their jobs. there are rules on "conduct unbecoming civil servants" that Management would probably jump at to use against Reps.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dan Hodges says:

Then there are the union leaders themselves. Moderates, like TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, think the whole idea is barking mad, which is why she successfully headed off calls for a General Strike a couple of months ago.
But O’Grady is expending quite a bit of internal political capital keeping the more militant unions in line. So much so, that there’s even been talk by some of them of just going ahead and organising one without the TUC’s official sanction.
There is a need not just for a futile one way consultation about the non existent prospect for further action amongst PCS members at this time, but also everyone needs to consider the future of trade unionism in these changed times.

A challenging prospect, but one that is really needed to ensure that unions not only survive and prosper but pick and choose the fights they can win without undue influence from parasitical outsiders that have their own agendas and not our interests at heart.

UK: TUFI attacks union support for BDS; TUC clarifies – boycotts of settlement goods only

Cross-posted from TULIP

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

In an article published last week on the Left Foot Forward website, Alex Bjarnason, organiser and communications Officer for Trade Union Friends of Israel, attempts to explain why many British trade unions have supported the campaign to boycott the Jewish state.
He writes:

“I’m often asked what motivates these activists, beyond the reaction to genuine injustice that angers us all. Many belong to far-left fringe groups and view the State of Israel as a colonial experiment supported by American imperial ambitions, based on occupying stolen Palestinian land, a case study of everything wrong with the modern world that must be resisted.

“More cynically, they recognise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides an irresistible opportunity to recruit for political groups that are dying because the next generation have lost interest in Marxist  revolutionary politics.”

He adds that “Such views have become worryingly common in the British trade union movement, with many trade unions voting to support the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.”

Bjarnason concludes by saying that “we need to work on building stronger links between moderates in the UK and progressives in Israel and Palestine who recognise the urgency of supporting the peace process and realise a better-future will be based on friendship, tolerance and co-existence.”
In the comments section following the article, Owen Tudor, the head of international affairs for the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) clarifies the organization’s stand:

“In the context of the statement about ‘many trade unions voting to support the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign’ it is worth noting that the TUC Congress policy is toboycott goods from illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, a policy supported by the vast majority of UK unions. It is not helpful or sensible to blur the distinction between boycotting Israel (which is explicitly not the policy of the TUC) and boycotting illegal settlement goods, which is indeed in line with other international boycotts – most recently of the regime in Burma.”

Please also see:

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

One Law for All: The Pro-Islamic Left (Press release)

Two new reports from One Law for All and upcoming events
Siding with the Oppressor: The Pro-Islamist Left
A new report by One Law for All entitled “Siding with the Oppressor: The Pro-Islamist Left” exposes Stop the War Coalition, Respect Party, Unite Against Fascism and individuals such as Ken Livingstone and George Galloway and their agenda and methods.
This section of the Left uses accusations of racism and Islamophobia and a conflation of Muslim with Islamist in order to defend Islamism and Islam rather than out of any real concern for prejudice against Muslims or their rights, particularly since Muslims or those labelled as such are the first victims of Islamism and on the frontlines of resisting it.
The report has been written as a companion volume to “Enemies not Allies: The Far-Right”. Like the far-Right which ‘despises’ multiculturalism yet benefits from its idea of difference to scapegoat the ‘other’ and promote its own form of white identity politics, the pro-Islamist Left also uses multiculturalism to side with the oppressor by viewing the ‘Muslim community’ and ‘Muslim world’ as homogeneous entities thereby ignoring and silencing dissenters.
This politics of betrayal sides with the Islamic far-Right and the oppressor. Challenging this perspective is especially important given its wide acceptance as ‘progressive’ in mainstream society.
Any principled point of view must oppose all forms of fascism, including Islamic fascism, and instead side with the countless people, including Muslims, who are fighting and challenging Islamism here in Europe as well as the Middle East, North Africa and the world.
Multiculturalism and Child Protection in Britain: Sharia Law and Other Failures
Another new report by One Law for All entitled Multiculturalism and Child Protection in Britain: Sharia Law and Other Failures reveals how a multicultural approach, adopted by local authorities and other public authorities, to child protection is placing children in danger and creating parallel societies.
The report also exposes Sharia tribunals and their increasing authority in the issue of child custody, and questions the impact this has, and is likely to have, on the equal protection of children regardless of race or ethnicity.
Both reports are available for free download on One Law for All’s website. The books are available for purchase at £4.00 from One Law for All.

ACT NOW! Help PepsiCo Indian workers get justice!

Workers who are members of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) at West Bengal warehouses exclusively contracted by PepsiCo are fighting for fairness and justice in the face of mass dismissals as a result of exercising their right to join a union. 162 workers out of 170 have been brutally fired by PepsiCo.
Act Now - Send a message to the executives of PepsiCo to stop their anti-union campaign, reinstate the unfairly dismissed workers and recognize the legitimate union in India.
The company was officially informed about workers joining a union after the workers submitted documents for registering their union on February 27, 2013. The management immediately started to threaten the workers with dismissal if they insisted on forming the union. PepsiCo India managers hired some local union-busting thugs who assaulted the workers and the company dismissed 50 workers as a first reaction to unionization.
In response to these attacks the union reacted by going on a one-day warning strike from midnight of 29 April 2013. Workers along with the union leaders made a police complaint about coordinated threats and assaults by management but no action was taken by the police no doubt heavily influenced by PepsiCo management. After this incident, management fired a further 112 workers without any notice and recruited new workers as replacements.
In addition to denying these basic rights PepsiCo is also using labour contractors that are not officially licensed (something that is mandatory). Workers are therefore not paid the current minimum wages set since January 1, 2013 and no social security payments are made for them as required by law.
A public action at the ILP cricket match on May 26 criticized PepsiCo's role in the mass termination of workers and human rights abuses at the warehouses contracted by PepsiCo.
ACT NOW- Tell PepsiCo to respect human rights in India, reinstate the dismissed workers and start negotiations with the union.
PepsiCo should end its anti-union campaign in India, reinstate the unfairly dismissed workers and negotiate a fair agreement with the union for pay and conditions fully respecting legal rights of workers!

For updates go to:

Monday, 24 June 2013

Atheism from Islamic and Jewish backgrounds

Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew

With discussion taking place on a number of websites about One Law for All, Islamophobia, and related religious questions, I was intrigued by the pair of posters issued by the  American Atheists ( back in March 2012.

Links to two articles about athiesm, one from an Islamic background and the other from a Jewish perspective are reproduced below:

The Golden Era of Arab Atheism?

It is unlikely that Western media will take note, but there seems to be a rejuvenation of Arab atheism. Western media never take note of Arab intellectual trends, especially if they deviate from the classical conventional assumptions about the Theologocentric (as Maxime Rodinson called it in his La Fascination de l’Islam) impulses of all Arabs and all Muslims.
Secular trends in the Arab world have been long ignored in Western media and even scholarship. Furthermore, Saudi and Qatari media, which dominate the bulk of pan-Arab media, will certainly suppress such news, but there is a new phenomenon. Arab atheist groups are spreading on the Internet and Facebook groups dedicated to Arab atheists are increasing in popularity. And the Egyptian newspaper al-Wafd even took note and published an article about “the secret world” of atheists. There are reasons for this phenomenon.
Jewish Athiest
Who the hell am I, and why would I have the chutzpah and azus (brazenness) to make this blog?
I’m probably not too different from you. Except that I’m an atheist.
I was raised Jewish (Orthodox), studied in yeshiva in Israel for a few years, and got really into Judaism. It wasn’t overnight. I needed convincing and some answers, but it seemed that I had gotten them, and soon I took the plunge.
Looking back, I guess I was “fundamentalist” - though back then I might have preferred a term like “ultra orthodox” or “yeshivish”. I even did kiruv (outreach) and anti-missionary work in my zeal. Sure, I was perhaps a bit eccentric, but I was more or less an average yeshiva bochur (student), and I was appreciated as being “the guy who has the answers to lots of secular questions.” Or so we all liked to believe.
I suppose my exposure to tough questions doing kiruv was a first step in opening my mind to some questions. I soon discovered that despite what most of my rabbis said, evolution actually did make a whole lot of sense. I soon discovered that Judaism is often not all that different from Christianity and many other religions. I realized that, looking objectively, there is some pretty crazy stuff in the torah and judaism. It might’ve bothered me at the time, but never shook my faith; in fact, reconciling it probably bolstered my faith - at least for the time being.
But questions remained. Slowly I took certain parts of it less seriously and gradually became much less observant - but still quite unsure of how I felt about Judaism on the whole, though god was still in the picture, if only in the background.
I thought to myself, “damn, I’m probably just a few good atheist books away from really giving up on this.” And so I avoided those books! Or at least, put them on the shelf, so to speak.
In the past few months I moved away from the Jewish neighborhood I’ve been living in for awhile. It’s been a good opportunity to finally start thinking about my beliefs and of what makes sense to me. So I finally reached for those forbidden books (actually, mostly youtube videos at first!).
And I’ve realized something.
Pretty much nothing about God or the foundations of Judaism really make a lot of sense.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A road to nowhere at the "Peoples Assembly"

Fir the last few months the left, and in particular the far-left have been promoting an event they describe as a "Peoples Assembly". This finally took place yesterday and attracted around 4,000 participants apparently. The initiative, launched by the Counterfire group (a breakaway from the Socialist Workers Party) managed to get the backing of a number of trade unions and even manged to to persuade TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady to appear.

In addition they managed to wheel out the venerable Tony Benn, one of the last of the generation of Labour lefts that managed to make the Labour Party unelectable in the 1980's along with one or two of the modern types like Owen Jones. Nonetheless the event remained the kind of attraction such events really boil down to, an assembly of the remains of the Trotskyist left and others that populate the fringes of British political life.

There certainly was the usual fare on sale outside the hall with a virtually deserted SWP stall, the shrill sellers of some obscure rag called Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism plus the usual suspects, though one group the Alliance for Workers Liberty was missing, preferring to have its own event in the dark recesses of the University of London. Probably for the best as the rest of the comrades tend to treat them as some kind of pariahs.

Meanwhile the Assembly was entreated to speeches proposing a course of action against "austerity" which included the following statement which caught my eye in particular as it contains a reference to my own union the PCS:

We support all current industrial actions by the unions. We encourage and will help to organise the maximum solidarity action with the PCS and teaching union members taking strike action the week after the People’s Assembly, as well as with other action by unions planned for the autumn.
Of course, the "Dear Leader" of PCS, Mark Serwotka was there to promote his (and that of the Socialist Party) agenda, but this assembly comes at a time when the PCS dispute has to all intents and purposes come to an end. The reason? Simply put the strike campaign failed to garner enough support from PCS members to warrant a further strike which was "pencilled in for next week". 

The National Executive have down graded this to a "day of action" in which activists and members are expected to make 15 minute protests at lunchtime waving little red cards with messages on them. Sounds quite Maoist to me, but then Serwotka has built a bit of a "cult of the personality" around him.

Truth is that even at its' height the strikes never had the participation of more than a third of PCS membership, and during the weeks of regional and departmental action was certainly far less than even that, with some areas having quite derisory and humiliatingly low turnouts.

Meanwhile the blog A Very Public Sociologist  tells us that John Rees of Counterfire said:

when the PA meets again in the winter he wants to see the thousands attending not in their capacity as individuals but as delegates representing hundreds of thousands of people active against the cuts.

Wishful thinking methinks. The whole assembly failed to gain much media attention and was probably ignored by the majority of people who act as union reps around the country, most of whom would probably prefer a visit to the dentists than sit in a hall of "wild eyed loons" most of whom haven't realised the world has moved on somewhat from the days of the Bolshevik coup.

The problem with these rallies is that they attract the wrong people. It was hardly a "Peoples Assembly", more of a "Activists Assembly", and these came from a somewhat limited milieu themselves. The title of the Assembly was illusory to say the least. 

There is a need for a new movement to take on the arising struggles against unfair Government policies, but its' going to have be far more open, pluralistic and geared to recognising that people are individuals and not just some amorphous "class" that the outdated Marxists like to classify everyone in.

The current left is actually part of the problem, and only when they are finally consigned to the dustbin of history can we hope for a renewal of ideas and movements to build a more rational world.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

We are in the middle of an Education Emergency

At this moment there are 57 million children without access to education and millions more who aren’t learning in school. Working together, we can lower that number to zero by 2015.
On July 12 — less than a year after she was shot by the Taliban for her strong voice in this fight — Malala Yousafzai will mark her 16th birthday by delivering the highest leadership of the UN a set of education demands written by youth, for youth, to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
We can’t stand on the UN floor next to Malala — but we can all stand with her. Sign this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to show your demand for emergency action in support for Malala’s education fight.
Send this message today!
Dear Mr Secretary-General,
I stand with Malala in demanding that the leaders of the world end our global Education Emergency. After the recent violent murder of 14 girls in Pakistan who simply wanted an education, I support the civil rights struggle of 57 million girls and boys who will not go to school today — or any day. Side by side with Malala, we demand that at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders agree to fund the new teachers, schools and books we need — and to end child labour, child marriage and child trafficking — so that by December 2015 we meet the Millennium Development goal promise that every boy and girl be at school.
We must be united in this fight, and we must act now. Thank you for standing with us

Friday, 21 June 2013

End of the British "X-Files"

“Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space, listen...” 
― Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Sometimes a comment made in jest actually tells us a truth that is difficult to comprehend. The Universe is indeed a vast place and of course it's getting bigger as it is ever expanding, though what into I'll leave for the scientists to try and figure out. With hundreds of thousands of known galaxies with literally billions of stars with a possibility of planetary systems the possibility for life existing elsewhere is at the very least a mathematical possibility.

Speculation has been rife about the existence of life on other worlds both in science fiction and scientific circles for as long as I can remember, and of course classic stories such as War of the Worlds by HG Wells (written as long ago as 1898) have been the stuff of nightmares, especially since the Orson Welles broadcast in 1938 caused widespread panic because it was presented as a series of news bulletins.

In the modern age we have been thrilled by Star Trek, awed by Star Wars and scared by Alien and more since modern technology has allowed the development of such wonderful special effects culminating in Avatar one of the most stunning pieces of science fiction ever put on celluloid. A world that created wonder in the minds of those who watched it, and largely led to the overlooking of what was quite a simple story line.

Aliens had come to paradise and were ruining it. The natives became restless and despite their backwardness overcame the alien invaders, the technologically more advanced human race. We were the villains in this set piece of action and adventure.

This brings me to the point of this post which was to highlight a rather sad news story that appeared on the front page of The Times today. The Ministry of Defence has closed its' UFO desk run by the Royal Air Force for the last 60 years. No longer will you be able to write to them to report a sighting, ask a question (and these were legion it would seem) about such diverse topics as "Planet X", time vortexes and more. The MOD has decided the UFO desk "serves no defence purpose" and "merely encourages the generation of correspondence".

The MOD have a point though. The existence of "Flying Saucers" as they are colloquially known has never been proved despite the hordes of Ufologists that scan the skies, report sightings, post videos and collate stories of abduction and cattle mutilation. Whilst I remain a sceptic having never seen a UFO or any conclusive evidence that such things exist, it is not beyond my imagination. I do have ask why any visitors from so far away would come here just to insert objects up peoples bottoms or take a slice of beef, but heck they are supposed to be "alien".

Trouble is that whilst there are many genuine people who claim they have seen spaceships from another planet, the world of Ufology is full of cranks, crackpots and frankly down right frauds. There's millions of pounds to be made from touting books, videos and lectures around the world because so many of us want to believe.

I find it hard to believe that given the vastness of the universe there is no other life out there. However there is as yet no proof, no contact. For the time being the British Mulder's and Sculley's will have to find another job, but the amateurs can continue to watch and as always there remains hope. Apparently you can now send a tweet into outer space.

The Times helpfully reports that members of the public can do this via Lone Signal who are running a project called METI (messaging extra-terrestrial intelligence) which beams signals to Giliese 526, a star 17.6 light years away via a radio dish in California.

You can join them here:

The truth is out there, I hope..... and one day we'll find it.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Socialist Unity attacks freedom of speech

The advent of the Internet and the development of the blog has led to the ability of anyone with a computer to sit down and put their views up for public consumption. This is of course a major step forward for freedom of speech and expression that we should all applaud.

One of the great things about blogs is the facility to talk, discuss and debate. Some blogs have a more or less open comments policy, some moderate to varying degrees and some censor. Some political groups (like the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and others) simply post on line and expect you to lap up their views. But then these groups don't actually believe in democracy so that's fine, but they never actually make that too obvious.

Earlier this month the Shiraz Socialist blog published a short comment by Paul Lavet. He wrote:

“I note that the Socialist Unity blog has just carried a piece denouncing Britain’s “blood soaked” role in Syria. Strangely enough, the article did not use a similar adjective to describe the Russian role. I pointed out this double standard in a comment which is currently “awaiting moderation”. It will be interesting to see whether it is printed.”

They then went on to publish a picture of a limited edition T-Shirt which you can find here:

One of their editors, a certain Mr Tony Collins, has developed a passion for deleting comments and posts he doesn't agree with. When I tried entering the fray over their current witch-hunt against feminist and secularist Anne Marie Waters I found just one of the three comments I tried posting allowed through the Socialist Unity censor, and that was just so he could slag me off out of context. That's politics I suppose, but a very unhealthy form.

In his frenzied assault he also attacked Harry's Place, an excellent blog which I support and work with as regular readers will be aware. I'm sure Sarah AB won't mind if I quote her after she attempted to respond to Mr Collins and was barred from doing so. She told me that:

It’s so frustrating that I actually feel I would be willing to have a sincere and open minded discussion about this – yet I’m banned.  

I always tried to be civil over on SU. What is the point of blogs and so on if you are not going to share ideas and even - just possibly - change your mind?  

Quite. However Mr Collins has a different idea about what free speech is. He just told someone that they are banned for a remark I have not seen so I cannot comment on that, but what caught my attention was the following added to his post in brackets. It makes for interesting reading:

(What is it with you right-wing people – your egos are so massive, you continue to try to post on here despite us making it clear that you are not welcome to; you all have a sense of entitlement, as if somehow you’re so important and you simply must be heard. Well, Harry’s Place has never turned away a right-wing racist, so please, all of you, go over there. They’re keen on what they call “freedom of speech”, which is a technical term for “giving the EDL left cover and spending 10 years doing all everything possible to undermine the left and increase racism”)

So now we know. Free speech is just about defending the EDL, I'm sure that will come as a surprise to all of you who exercise your rights by both writing and reading on this Internet thingy we all enjoy so much.

Whatever "Socialist Unity" is really about is debatable. Unless you are one of the select few that have views close enough to the SU Politburo you are "right-wing" and quite obviously providing cover for the EDL. What a ridiculous little man Mr Collins is.

I have tried challenging Andy Newman about this over at Left Futures who he managed to get to reproduce his absurd attack on Ms Waters. I wrote:

I find it laughable that the Marxists of SU criticise anyone for “militantly enforcing their views”. For the record I seek open and rational discussion to debate and persuade, something the censorship policy pursued by one of your co-editors in particular (and picked up on Urban 75 for the record) would suggest you seek to do otherwise.

Despite the fact Mr Newman always likes to have the last word he managed to avoid answering this point, so now we know Socialist Unity is against Free Speech except for themselves.


I tried to reply to Mr Collins shrill comment on Socialist Unity with the following but it was err..banned.

Good grief what is the matter with you. The comment in brackets is an appalling distortion of what free speech is all about. If that's how you seek to persuade people (and I really don't know how you define "right wing" except perhaps its anyone you don't agree with) then its' you that's damaging whatever the left is supposed to be though I'm not sure what your politics can be defined as.

Blogging is supposed to be about exchanging ideas freely, not ranting with extreme prejudice. You like to dish it out but can't take either criticism or frankly accept people don't actually think like you it would seem.

Andy tried to claim he was a "Social Democrat" over at Left Futures, though failed to answer my query about this sites blatant censorship policy. If you want to be a private club, that's fine but don't pretend to be something you are not.

Yeah I know. I'm banned.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The growing danger of a wider conflict over Syria (Updated)

The civil war in Syria remains a major concern as the conflict continues to widen. The now open intervention of Iran who are providing some 4,000 troops to back President Assad comes at a time when the terrorist organisation Hezbollah has already intervened on the regimes behalf. This has led to the rebels of all factions being driven back, endangering civilians already in dire need of humanitarian aid.

The West are now seriously considering arming the rebels but questions remain over the dangers of Islamist extremists getting hold of advanced weaponry.  The rebels are seriously divided and estimates put the number of Islamist fighters to be at least 5% of the FSA forces. The West will have to consider a wider problem as will indeed the Assad backers of Russia and China. The conflict is beginning to take on the nature of a regional civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The effect on Hezbollahs standing has already changed amongst the more "conservative" Sunni states. Bloomberg reports:
Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has led to greater polarization between Islam’s two main sects, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar. Without the group, it “would have been more of an inter-Syrian fight rather than being a sectarian one,” he said.
The result is a watershed in the 31-year history of Hezbollah, which seeks to portray itself as an anti-Israel resistance group and a champion of the downtrodden and oppressed, irrespective of their brand of Islam.
Its fighters are also likely to get mired further in Syria’s civil war to protect its central conduit of weapons and prevent the well-armed rebels from strengthening Sunni militias in Lebanon, said Torbjorn Soltvedt, senior analyst at Maplecroft, a U.K.-based risk consultant.
The report continues:
Hezbollah’s open alignment with the Syrian regime has triggered an escalation in the Sunni rhetoric, including from Saudi Arabia’s top cleric.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh called Hezbollah a “loathsome, sectarian” group in a statement carried June 6 by the official Saudi Press Agency. He also endorsed Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s call on Sunni Muslims from his base in Qatar to fight a holy war in Syria.
A further effect will be felt by both the Lebanese and Egyptians:

One of the consequences of Hezbollah’s engagement in Syria is the possibility that Lebanese Shiites who work in Gulf countries and send money back home would be expelled, said Peter Harling, project director with the Middle East Program of the International Crisis Group think tank.

President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood is backing the rebels:

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who hails from the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, on June 15 suspended diplomatic relations with Assad. Egyptians stood by Lebanon and Hezbollah against Israel in 2006, and “today we stand against Hezbollah for Syria,” Mursi told a stadium packed with his supporters.

A huge conflict is brewing with violence already breaking out. The only real option is for all the major powers who are intervening in the region is to push for an immediate ceasefire. If nothing else to stop the killing which is reaching the 100,000 mark.

The world must address the growing humanitarian crisis. Ensuring balance by arming the rebels is a calculated risk but could lead to Assad being forced to negotiate. 

The time to act is now.


The Irish Times reports:

Violent sectarian spillover from the Syrian conflict reached across southern Lebanon today, with armed clashes by rival groups of Sunni and Shia militia members in the Mediterranean port of Sidon that left at least two people dead and forced the Lebanese army to seal off the area.
It was one of the most serious outbreaks of violence in Sidon, a mostly Sunni city whose population largely sympathises with the Sunni-led insurgency in Syria and has grown increasingly angry with members and sympathisers of Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia militant organisation that is fighting on the Syrian government’s side.
The Sidon tensions underscored the fragility of Lebanon’s patchwork of sects, which has further weakened because of the conflict in Syria and has raised the risk of destabilising the country and the broader Middle East.
Lebanese news agencies said the Sidon clash had pitted fighters loyal to a militant Sunni cleric, Sheik Ahmad al-Assir, who has called for holy war against Assad, against armed members of Hizbullah occupying buildings in theAbra district of Sidon, which al-Assir’s loyalists have historically controlled.
The sheik accused the Hizbullah fighters of provoking the Sidon fight by attacking a water truck belonging to his brother, and the anger escalated from there.
Automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were fired in the clashes, which appeared to be the most serious in Sidon in months. “We will not remain silent over this criminal act,” the sheik was quoted as saying by Lebanon’s National News Agency.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Unions join the fray in Turkey as Erdogan threatens military intervention

LabourStart photo of the day.

The fight for defending democracy took a sinister turn yesterday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the demonstrators of being "terrorists" and continued to make vague inferences about unnamed "international forces" influencing the protests for their "own motives", though failed to specify who they were.

The BBC reports another disturbing development:

The Turkish government has said it could use the army to end nearly three weeks of unrest by protesters in Istanbul and other cities.
The government would use "all its powers" and the armed forces if necessary, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on state-run television.
It is the first time the Islamist-rooted ruling party has raised the prospect of deploying the armed forces.
The issue is sensitive as the army is seen as a bastion of secularism.
This comes at a time that the main two unions call strikes in support of the protesters. The Turkish paper Hurriyet reports:

The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Turkish Doctors' Union (TTB), the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Dentists Union (TDHB) have called on workers to take to the streets in a joint decision.

"The ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] government has launched an offensive against the nation, who refuse to give up their rights and freedoms by staging an insistent resistance," the group said in a statement.

The members of the unions will stop working on June 17 except for emergency cases and will march to their cities' centers.

The group has also asked for tolerance because of the disruption and also demanded the support of the people in the squares for a more "egalitarian, free and democratic Turkey."

Meanwhile Eric Lee of Labourstart continues to call for solidarity and has issued the following message:

Gokhan Bicici, arrested last night in Istanbul.

Gokhan Bicici is a friend of mine. 

In 2011, he invited LabourStart to hold its annual Global Solidarity Conference in Istanbul. 

I remember the conversation well -- we had it in a cafe next to Gezi Park, just off Taksim Square.

Last night, Gokhan was filming the demonstrations. 

He was brutally attacked by police and dragged off.

Incredibly, the attack was filmed and you can watch the entire minute-long video here:

If you use Facebook, please share that video widely. 

As I write these words, over 11,200 people have already done exactly that.

But over 60,000 of you who are receiving this message have not yet signed up to the current LabourStart campaign demanding an end to police violence in Turkey. 

Please do not delay a moment longer -- sign up now:

If you have already signed up, please encourage your union to spread the news by email to as many members as possible

Your union has thousands of members who would support this campaign if they knew about it.

This is the largest online campaign LabourStart has ever done with over 18,300 messages sent to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.  

I think it can be even larger.

As for Gokhan, here is what the Independent Media Center have to say:

"He suffered an eyebrow cut, his gas mask was broken, his iPad was confiscated and he was kept waiting, injured and handcuffed, for four hours by police who told him he had been detained but refused to tell him where he would be taken, and failed to carry out any official procedure. As of 23:30, our friend is being held inside a police vehicle in front of the Taksim Atatürk Cultural Centre, and has been told he will be taken to the Istanbul Police Directorate. We strictly condemn the abusive treatment of Gökhan Biçici, and demand that he is immediately released, that those who are responsible, who are clearly documented in various photographic and video recordings on social media, are immediately revealed and brought to trial."

He is still being held by the police now, hours later.

Spread the word.  Build the campaign.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Socialist Unity attacks secularist activist

As an atheist I think the Bible should be re-written to contain just one sentence:

In the beginning Man created God in his image.

That's it. The rest is simply a combination of superstitions from the minds of early humans seeking a way to explain a world that they couldn't scientifically understand which led to a formalisation of belief systems utilised to control peoples minds and introduce a social cohesion. Of course that's oversimplifying the matter, but for the purposes of this post it serves to give notice that I have no belief in any religion or theology.

Growing up in the 1970s religion was taking a "back seat" but some still sought to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. The Festival of Light led by Mary Whitehouse comes to mind. Two particular incidents have stuck in my mind over the years. The protests over the now classic Monty Python film the Life of Brian and the prosecution of Gay News over some dreadful poem (I'm no fan of poetry either it has to be said) for blasphemy.

It wasn't until the burning of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses that I recall either religion or in particular Islam of being of any matter in the general way of politics. Until then, like many other people I probably saw Islam as "just" the religion of Arabs and hadn't given it much thought.

However one thing I am firmly in favour of is free speech and oppose censorship vociferously. A group of leftists had planned to publish an advert condemning the death threats against Rushdie and I sent off my cheque to sign the statement in good faith. It was returned shortly afterwards with a covering letter sating that they had decided not to go ahead with the advert as it might be construed as racist.

How exactly supporting a writer from an ethnic minority against threats from within the Muslim community escapes me. The left showed a cowardice from which they have never recovered.

Last night Andy Newman the editor of Socialist Unity published a bizarre article attacking secular activist Anne Marie Waters who he (quite erroneously) describes as an anti-Islam extremist. Mr Newman writes:

I was recently horrified to discover that the anti-Islam extremist, Anne Marie Waters is considered one of the front-runners to be Labour’s candidate for Brighton Pavilion, for the next general election. Indeed, because alongside her bigoted anti-religious views she is also a pro-NHS campaigner, there is a danger that the left and some unions may support her for the Labour candidacy.....
He then attacks the organisation to which she belongs:
...the views of the “One Law for All” campaign are dangerous in a society experiencing a rising tide of Islamophobia and intolerance – giving a cod-leftist gloss to the rantings of the ‘counter-Jihad’ movement and the street thugs of the EDL – but that someone who defines their main political priority as being an “anti-Sharia” campaigner and promotes extremist intolerance against not only Islam but all religions, and who also uses dog whistle comments opposing immigration, is a very unsuitable person to be a Labour candidate for parliament.
Really comrade? Lets see what she actually has to say for herself:

Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are discriminatory, particularly against women and children, and in violation of universal human rights.
Proponents argue that the implementation of Sharia is justified when limited to civil matters, such as child custody, divorce and inheritance. In fact, it is civil matters that are one of the main cornerstones of the subjugation of and discrimination against women and children. Under Sharia law a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; a woman’s marriage contract is between her male guardian and her husband. A man can have four wives and divorce his wife by simple repudiation, whereas a woman must give reasons, some of which are extremely difficult to prove. Child custody reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive; women who remarry lose custody of their children; and sons are entitled to inherit twice the share of daughters.
Proponents argue that the right to be governed by Sharia law is necessary to defend minority rights. Having the right to religion or atheism, however, is not the same as having the ‘right’ to be governed by religious laws. This is merely a prescription for discrimination, inequality and culturally relative rights. Rather than defending rights, it discriminates and sets up different and separate systems, standards and norms for ‘different’ people. It reinforces the fragmentation of society, and leaves large numbers of people, particularly women and children, at the mercy of elders and imams. It increases marginalisation and the further segregation of immigrant communities. It ensures that immigrants and new arrivals remain forever minorities and never equal citizens.
Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, Sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no Sharia.
Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Ms Waters is also active in the National Secular Society, hardly "extreme" in any shape or form.

Socialist Unity 's politics get weirder as the "discussion" develops. I put discussion in inverted commas as they censor so many contributions, twisting the debate in their favour. For some reason their supporters want to turn the debate about Sharia into one about Jewish laws:

Anne Marie Waters talking up a mythical foreign ‘Other’ and endowing it with everything she dislikes, and Howard Fuller’s hoary old ‘universal in theory, selective in practice’ interpretation of ‘secularism’ (where are the discussions of the dupatta and the sheitel? Where is the condemnation of gittin?).


Anyone who does spend their time campaigning against “sharia” is part of the problem. Proponents of Sharia law aren’t the problem.... 

Actually Socialist Unity is "part of the problem", providing a "progressive" front for conservative reactionaries who don't believe in rights for women, gays, Jews or anyone else.

But what else would you expect from cheerleaders for George Galloway?

For information on One Law for All go to: