A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Tide of job losses must be fought

Unemployment statistics released on 18 March last year confirmed that there are now two million people without work. Those claiming unemployment benefit increased by 138,400 in February - the biggest rise since records began in 1971. This could be the worst employment situation of the whole of the post-war period in Britain. Unlike other recessions where job losses were concentrated in manufacturing regions, job losses are hitting workers across the country, with architects and lawyers losing their jobs as well as construction workers, shop workers, etc. With unemployment expected to reach three million early in 2010, this is the most damning aspect of this recession and will have consequences for many people over a long period.
Many signing on for Job Seekers Allowance for the first time in their lives are shocked to find that they are expected to live on just £60.50 a week, with hardly any jobs to seek. The PCS union has attacked James Purnell (work and pensions secretary) for ignoring a moratorium on the closure programme of job centres.

Unemployment can bring a range of problems including homelessness, health problems, suicide and a lower life expectancy. 40% of the unemployed are under 25. This will increase when 600,000 young people leave school in three months time. Young unemployed people will be particularly badly affected as lack of work experience can impact into later years - hence the reference to the 'lost generation.' Not content with the miserly benefits allowed for those out of work or ill, Labour is going ahead with welfare reforms that will make life even harder for benefit claimants. Those still arguing that the Labour Party can be shifted away from its pro-capitalist policies should note that last week's third reading of the Welfare Reform bill in the house of commons was opposed by only 30 Labour MPs. The car industry is still in decline - UK car production fell by 59% last month alone. LDV (the Birmingham-based van maker) is still trying to find an investor to save the plant. The CBI reported that factory orders across the whole of manufacturing declined at the fastest rate for 17 years in February.

The government is now warning that public sector workers must also suffer the pain of unemployment. Chancellor Alistair Darling is predicting a public sector deficit of £150 billion by next year. Council chiefs are rolling out a "doomsday study" of which services would have to be cut and are not ruling out local authority cuts of 30% in 2011 which would devastate jobs and services. Threatened with the prospect of losing their jobs many workers are accepting shorter hours and pay cuts in the absence of their unions leading a struggle.One reason why the job losses have increased so rapidly is because laws have allowed more 'flexibility', including workers being employed on short-term contracts. These workers can be laid off quickly and without redundancy payments. Many are angry, especially young people and trade unionists who feel as if they have been sold out - and all those who are angry at these devastating figures need to map out a strategy and programme to fight back against unemployment and offer an alternative.

There have already been many examples of fighting back against redundancies and worse working conditions. Workers at Waterford Crystal in Ireland and Prisme in Scotland have occupied their workplaces in protest at job losses while Lindsey oil refinery workers in England took successful unofficial action to protect their conditions and jobs. At a car parts factory in Canada workers occupied the plant, welding the doors shut from inside. They won double the redundancy payments that they were originally offered. Three million French workers joined a national strike last week against attacks on jobs and public services. Trade union leaders will have an opportunity at the anti-G20 demonstration in London on 28 March to build on this anger and raise the sights of trade unionists, their families and especially young people. Local days of action against job losses should be organised which can highlight those jobs that have been lost or are under threat and give people confidence to resist job losses and demand action from the government.

Work should be shared out on the basis of a maximum 35 hour week with no loss of pay. New jobs could be created if a programme of building social housing is instigated, improvements to the health service, more teachers trained to allow smaller class sizes as well as policies to tackle climate change. A one day general strike should be planned and built for to show the government and the bosses that working class people will not pay for their crisis. With no major party representing working class people, a groundswell of anger could be released through riots instead of organised struggle, if the union leaders don't give a decisive lead. However, so far most trade union leaders have simply expressed their sadness at redundancies, taking the attacks lying down and refusing to lead struggles to save jobs. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, described job losses as "individual tragedies", which of course they are. But Unison and other unions should use the strength of the unions, made up of seven million workers, to avoid 'individual tragedies' by taking action to defend jobs, including the nationalisation of struggling factories in a socialist, democratic fashion, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.

All eyes on the oil prize

It is nearly seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq. US imperialism had hoped for a quick war, the Iraqi oil industry under the control of US companies and a compliant, stable regime. However, the situation today is very different to what George Bush and Tony Blair envisaged. The Iraqi population has been abandoned, facing high levels of unemployment and a lack of basic resources, while the Iraqi government and oil companies struggle for control of the country's enormous oil wealth. This has increased sectarian and national tensions within Iraq and these tensions are spilling over into the forthcoming elections on 7 March. Recent bomb attacks underline the dangerous situation that ordinary Iraqis still face. Control of the oil wealth in the predominantly Kurdish area of northern Iraq is a major issue underpinning a lot of tensions. That oil wealth is potentially vast. Estimates put the reserves in Iraq at 115 billion barrels, probably more than Iran's and second only to Saudi Arabia. Yet production is still running at 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) lower than the pre-war daily average of 2.5 million.

In post-Saddam Iraq, the US government was hoping to dramatically increase output under the control of predominantly US oil companies. To try to achieve this aim Paul Bremer, Bush's chief representative in Iraq in the year following the invasion, under the guise of removing all members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from their positions, sacked oil technicians, engineers and administrators leaving behind only a skeleton crew of Iraqi oil workers to manage the existing production. Bremer was hoping that private oil companies, eager to exploit the oil wealth, would come in with their workforces to take over. Some companies did, but attacks on oil pipelines and facilities increased from 200 in the first two years of occupation to 600 in 2007. In part this was in response to Bremer ripping up agreements over access to oil by the local population. The major oil companies weighing up the risks decided the danger was too great at that stage. Also, significant action was taken by Iraqi oil workers striking against the privatisation of oil facilities in Basra.

Arguments developed between the Iraqi government and US about how the oil fields could be developed. None of these arguments centred on improving conditions for ordinary Iraqis, but who gets the biggest share of the oil wealth, the Iraqi regime or the oil companies. In an attempt to develop the oilfields, on 2 January 2009 the Iraqi government offered a new deal to oil companies wanting to invest in Iraq, offering them $2 for every barrel they extracted after their original investment costs had been met. The major oil companies initially rejected these terms out of hand, demanding complete control over production and payments of $25 per barrel! However, the Chinese National Petroleum company was keen to gain a foothold in Iraq and get its hands on some of the vast reserves. It induced BP, its partner in Iraq, to develop the Ramaila oilfield near Basra on the Iraqi government terms. As a result of this other companies, not wanting to see the Chinese government gain all the most lucrative contracts, accepted contracts on the initial terms. These companies are mainly state-owned but include Shell and Exxon.

However, some members of the Iraqi parliament are now challenging these contracts, no doubt wanting to get their own hands on this oil wealth but also feeling the pressure from ordinary Iraqis angry at seeing jobs and the oil wealth leaving Iraq. As Brigadier Marriner, the British defence attaché at the British embassy in Baghdad mused: "As a senior American politician said, 'If this was not about oil in 2003, it certainly is now." This is the background to the current elections. The government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is widely distrusted in Iraq. Iraq is judged as the fifth 'most corrupt' country in the world by Transparency International. US president Barack Obama is desperate for these elections to be held and to show some thin veneer of democracy. The Iraq war and occupation has already cost the US government over $707 billion. At a time of the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s and with a US government debt of 12% of GDP, Obama urgently wants to limit the cost of this war with the aim of an ultimate withdrawal. But this cannot be at any cost. They want some form of stable regime that they can work with and one that will not stand in the way of the increasing exploitation of the oil wealth by private oil companies.

What these elections are not about is offering any dramatic improvement in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. All of the parties contesting the elections support the maintenance of capitalism and the ensuing cuts and privatisations that flow from this, while the wealthy elite enrich themselves at the workers' expense. Unfortunately for Obama a spanner has been thrown into the works with the banning of about 500 of the 6,000 candidates and 15 of the parties by Iraq's accountability and justice commission. Many of these are Sunni candidates and some have links to the banned Baath party. There is a fear that this could lead to an upsurge in sectarian violence and a boycott of the elections by sections of the Sunni-Arab population. These elections will only serve to underline the majority of Iraqis' feelings towards the political process. As a retired agriculture professor in Baghdad recently said: "Most people don't trust the politicians now. They know they're backed by some outside power, and the biggest power is the Americans, so whoever the Americans back will win."

The conditions that most Iraqis face are a clear reminder that the war and occupation were nothing to do with improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Unemployment stands at around 50% and about four million Iraqis are displaced. Alongside the fear that many Iraqis feel with the upturn in the bombing attacks, the conditions that many Iraqis face are brutal: 1,730 square kilometres of land are contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance, making 11% of all water supplies inaccessible. Access to clean water is critical yet 15% of households are not connected to the public water network and in some areas 73% of the population have no access to safe water. The number of women dying in childbirth is 300 women per 100,000 births in Iraq compared to 140 women per 100,000 births in neighbouring Iran. Yet prior to the years of western sanctions and then the invasion and occupation, Iraq had one of the more advanced health systems in the region.

Nearly a quarter of the population lives below the official poverty line of $2.20 a day and in just under 10% of districts in the country acute malnutrition in children - newly borns to five years old - runs at over 10%. Overcrowding in housing is also a massive problem with 13% of housing in urban areas occupied by ten occupants or more. There is a shortfall of two million houses. There is evidence that the suppressed workers' movement is struggling to improve the conditions for Iraqi workers, however small these steps forward may be. The beginning of 2010 saw a strike of hotel workers at the Rasheed hotel in the green zone in Baghdad over a risk bonus. This followed on from a strike of leather workers which was successful in winning a 25%-30% safety bonus for 1,500 workers in the state-run enterprise of leather industries. Previous to that there had been an 18-day strike of 4,000 textile workers. There is evidence that the suppressed workers' movement is struggling to improve the conditions for Iraqi workers, however small these steps forward may be. The beginning of 2010 saw a strike of hotel workers at the Rasheed hotel in the green zone in Baghdad over a risk bonus. This followed on from a strike of leather workers which was successful in winning a 25%-30% safety bonus for 1,500 workers in the state-run enterprise of leather industries. Previous to that there had been an 18-day strike of 4,000 textile workers.

What is clearly lacking throughout Iraq is a non-sectarian mass workers' party that will fight for workers' rights and for the defence of public services, though these struggles can be part of the process of developing such a party. This party needs to develop a programme that can begin to take the struggles of the Iraqi people forward. Its programme should include the democratic ownership by the people of Iraq of the major companies that dominate the economy and it should use the wealth of these companies, including the vast natural resources, for the benefit of the people of Iraq as a whole. A big issue in Iraq is the national aspirations of the Kurdish population. Consciousness varies in different parts of the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, with support ranging from autonomy to outright independence. We need to support the right of the Kurdish population to self determination up to and including independence if that is what the majority of the population democratically decide.

It is no surprise that control of the oil reserves plays a part in this situation as well. The Kurdish area of Iraq sits on 5% of the world's known oil reserves - the 6th largest in the world. There are growing ethnic tensions between the Arab, Turkoman and Kurdish populations. On the Arab/ Kurdish border known as the 'trigger line' there are 130 violent attacks a month. Many in Iraq, particularly in the government, do not want to see the separation of Iraqi Kurdistan - concerned at the loss of the oil wealth in the country. However there is also pressure from neighbouring states, in particular Turkey, which is completely opposed to an independent Kurdish state of Iraq for fear of the effect this would have on the Kurdish population in Turkey. In the Kurdish area in Iraq there is a growing mood amongst the population against the established Kurdish capitalist parties, the PUK and KDP, who many see as corrupt and not committed enough to national independence. Both the PUK and KDP have a history of perpetrating outrages against one another, including a catastrophic Kurdish civil war in 1993-1998. A new political force Gorran ("movement for change") made a significant breakthrough in the elections to the regional parliament in July last year, winning 25 seats on an anti-corruption platform. Gorran, however, is not a workers' organisation. It is headed by former PUK leader and media owner Nawshirwan Mistefa, who wants to 'modernise' the Kurdish region based on a free market economy. The current situation shows the urgent need for an independent Kurdish party that is able to connect the national liberation aspiration to the social liberation of workers and poor people.

Sex mis-education?

How can there be so many lunatics opposed to sex education? Apart from anything else, what makes them think a lesson about sex is going to make kids go out and immediately have sex? It's education about it, not an instruction to get it done before dinner break. Maybe they should demand an end to history lessons as well on the grounds that "I don't want my 14-year-old learning about Napoleon as he's too young to invade Italy." Mark Steel is a comedian, a columnist for the Independent newspaper, and a socialist and activist in Britain. He's the author of two collections about contemporary Britain, It's Not a Runner Bean: Dispatches from a Slightly Successful Comedian and Reasons to Be Cheerful--as well as Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution. A law has been devised making sex education compulsory. But now, after "extensive lobbying" from the priesthood, an amendment's been added that religious schools will still be able to teach their own unique Biblical version. For example, according to Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, the schools "can still teach contraception is wrong, but they can't refuse to teach it."

So that's an improvement, I suppose. The Catholic teacher can demonstrate putting a condom on a banana, saying, "First, we expel the air, then place it over the end, then we remember that if you do this for real, you'll face an eternity in unimaginably agonizing molten lava searing through your pores as you scream in soulless anguish while demons submerge you in relentless unbearable horror, then right the way along, nice and snug, and we're done. Now you try." If the only rule is that they have to teach about sex, but it doesn't matter if it's in any way true, the religious schools might as well teach anything they like. They could tell the class: "Copy down these facts: 1) Doing it from behind makes your tongue fall out. 2) Masturbation causes earthquakes. 3) Every time you get an erection, you poke an angel's eye out."

There are no other subjects that schools would be allowed to teach with their own version of the truth. If a teacher told his class, "Some people believe the capital of Italy is Rome, but I've always said it's Nairobi in the North Pole," they wouldn't get an Ofsted report saying, "He might be teaching geography that's cobblers, but he's teaching it, and that's the main thing." Religious schools will probably try this trick with other lessons now to see what they can get away with, refusing to teach chemistry as they don't believe in sulphur, or announcing they won't teach the six times tables, as the Pope's had a vision that it's wrong. So we're left with differing methods of approaching sex education. One might be to acknowledge that we get desires that can be lethal at times, so it's probably for the best if we find ways of managing them safely and respectfully. Or there's the more traditional method, which is more along the lines of "You know those natural feelings you get--well, they're unnatural, so stop having them."

They might as well teach that God wants everyone to be cold, and if we feel a desire to shut the door in winter, we must fight the temptation, and we must go to the park in January in our swimming trunks, and if we shiver or reach for a coat, that's Satan at work, and we should discuss it with the priest. This might do less damage than teaching sex education that involves pictures of sexually transmitted diseases, and stories of the decrepit life that awaits anyone who submits to sexual temptation. Imagine the outrage if people in favor of sex education resorted to those tactics, by saying, "This is what happens if you stay a virgin all your life," and showing a picture of Ann Widdecombe. But somehow, it's when sexuality is most denied and suppressed that you find society most riddled with torment and horror--of abused children shipped out of the country to avoid embarrassment and hushed-up, illegal abortions, and all the things that God doesn't seem to mind as long as no one uses a condom.

But then, the government probably isn't bothered about the social implications of their policy, as long as the schools get good exam results. They won't mind if the Catholic school turns out a heap of screwed-up teenagers as long as they get A grades for correctly calculating the angles in the holy trinity. In any case, it's probably all irrelevant, as most schools manage to make lessons excruciatingly dull, whatever the subject. So it could be a sex education lesson about responsibility in relationships, using the problems of Ashley Cole, and by the end, everyone would be staring out of the window as the teacher bawled, "Come on, we ought to know this, what's wrong with Ashley's texts? Well, before he writes 'then make you scream like a hyena,' there should be punctuation. No wonder he's in trouble, now write it out as he should have done."

An expensive threat to civil liberties

New Labour has brought in several pieces of repressive legislation recently that attack our civil liberties but at least they've abandoned the unpopular plan for compulsory ID cards, haven't they? No. The ID card scheme is still very much alive. Even though it is not yet compulsory to have an ID card, the voluntary pilot scheme has been extended. It has already been on trial for a few months in north-west England.A limited take-up of just a few thousand reflects public concerns and many people cannot afford the £30 cost. Despite this the government have pressed on. From 8 February cards have been available in London to all 16-24 year olds that can stump up the cash. The scheme remains compulsory for foreign nationals, fuelling fears of discrimination. Stop and search, another power extended by New Labour, is already used massively disproportionately against people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The ID card's days may be numbered - if a Tory government is elected in May, they promise to ditch it. But civil liberties campaigners shouldn't celebrate. Cameron and Co still want biometric passports containing the same information as the ID card and want to maintain the national identity register that stores this. Anyone registering for a new passport is automatically added to this database. Both main parties want a version of this scheme, despite its unpopularity. The public is divided on the issue but high profile data losses in the last couple of years have increased opposition. People rightly worry about their data's security and accuracy when looked after by the government, especially with public sector cuts likely to affect staffing levels. There are other potential problems such as the impossibility of collecting some biometric data from people with some disabilities. Recent history also provides many examples of government IT schemes that failed to function properly and were delivered hugely behind schedule and over budget.

We are told to expect massive cuts to vital services to bring down public debt but this scheme's cost is astronomical - around £5 billion according to the government but at least £10-20 billion according to the London School of Economics. Workers are expected to pay twice, through their taxes and by paying for the documents themselves. An ID card looks set to double in price from the current £30 if it is extended nationally next year while a passport now costs almost £80.We are told that this scheme is needed in the fight against terrorism. The government has used this argument as a cover to bring in many repressive powers. By invoking the horrors of the 7/7 attacks in London and other atrocities they hope to gain support for ID cards. In fact this and other 'anti-terror' measures will add to the disaffection already felt by many youth, particularly those from Muslim and other ethnic minority backgrounds who will feel (with justification) that their communities are unfairly targeted.

What ID cards and the national identity register will achieve is a greater ability for the state to monitor individuals and to infringe civil liberties. Taken along with all the other legislation New Labour has passed, the power of the state is boosted and can be used against anyone the government considers a threat. When workers resist being made to pay for a crisis caused by bosses and big bankers, these powers could then be used against trade unionists and socialists. We now know that employers in the construction industry were running a blacklist which meant workers have been denied jobs due to past trade union activities. Last December the courts blocked the planned BA cabin crew strike, showing very clearly whose side the law is on. An unelected management can lawfully butcher workers' living conditions, then an unelected judge can say it's illegal when 90% of them vote to strike against it!

The ID card and national identity register schemes should be opposed. Trade union campaigning was instrumental in pushing the government back from imposing compulsory ID cards on some airport workers. Trade unionists and socialists should make sure they fight to stop this whole scheme - the fight for civil liberties is vital to the whole working class movement.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Are union workers ready for coming battles?

Recently, chancellor Alistair Darling said that halving the government's deficit in four years was 'non-negotiable'. He claimed that health, education, police and overseas aid budgets will not be affected by his cuts. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that in real terms there will be cuts of 16% for all other departments. If the Tories win the general election their cuts could be worse and deeper. Newly released figures on employment reveal that many full time workers are being forced into part time work. This is with a cut in wages of course, to suit the requirements of the employers. The number in full time work fell by 113,000 in the three months up to the end of November 2009, while the number in part time work grew by 99,000; there was no coincident that these were mainly women workers. Many bosses choose to cut workers' hours, rather than get rid of them altogether, so they do not have to train new workers when the economy picks up again.

Workers are also under attack on numerous other fronts, including on their level of pay, pension and their terms and conditions. Whoever wins the election, all the establishment parties are of one mind when it comes to making working people pay for the crisis. So far, in answer to these attacks, the union leaderships, with a few exceptions, have been abysmal. The leadership of the biggest public sector union, Unison, with 1.3 million members, has spent far more effort in attacking the left in general and the Socialist Party in particular than it ever has in defending its members' jobs and wages. The close link between Unison's tops and the Labour government has meant that those leaders will do their utmost not to embarrass the Labour leaders, especially in the run up to the general election. Their record of capitulation goes back a long way. For instance, they failed to defend the pensions of local government workers in 2006/7. This was when, led by the PCS, other public sector unions were at least able to protect present pension rights for existing members, including civil servants and teachers.

Like all bureaucracies that seek to protect their own interests, as the government's attacks against their members intensify, Unison's leaders seek to close down all opposition groups who are fighting for the union to adopt a fighting programme against these attacks. That is why the battle to defend jobs and conditions is increasingly tied to a battle to defend democratic rights and a fight to reclaim the union from the hands of the unelected full time officialdom. Despite all the obstacles thrown in their path, important sections of workers in Britain have demonstrated that when their backs are against the wall they will fight back. These have included the Visteon car part workers in London, Basildon and Belfast, the Vestas wind turbine workers on the Isle of Wight, the Prisme workers in Dundee, and the Swansea Linamar workers in defeating their bosses' attempt to sack Socialist Party member and works convenor Rob Williams.

The above disputes featured the occupation of factories and were an instinctive reaction to the dictatorial actions of the employers. The few minutes' notice given to the Visteon workers to leave their factories was first met with a stunned resignation by the workers in Enfield and Basildon. But when the workers heard about the occupation in the Belfast factory, they followed its lead and occupied themselves. This demonstrated that despite all the capitalist property laws they were not going to accept being treated that way. The issue of occupation could feature heavily in the future, as it does now in the workers' struggles in France. These figures do not tell the whole story. For example they do not include the Visteon workers' occupation because the workers had been sacked and therefore could not be counted as workers striking against their employer! Royal Mail workers who were on official strike regularly throughout the latter part of 2009, particularly in London, were also involved in unofficial action as a result of the after effects of the official dispute. Their unofficial action is probably not included in the official figures.

There were 370,000 days lost in strikes in the first 10 months of 2009 (January-October inclusive) compared to 759,000 for the whole 12 months of 2008. This gives the impression that the curve of strike action was downward. But by the end of 2009 the figures were creeping upwards. In 2008, the number of days lost in strikes in the public sector was 711,000 out of the total of 759,000. Most of this was down to the two-day strike of local council workers on the issue of pay. In October 2009 alone, the postal workers' strike accounted for 199,000 days lost. The interim agreement that ended the postal strikes could be described as a draw, but the employers were forced to retreat on a number of fronts. It remains to be seen if this 'peace' continues into 2010. The National Union of Teachers (NUT), with a left leadership, including recently elected deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney, have the best chance in years to resist the attacks on teachers which have tremendously increased teachers' workloads.

Already in 2010 there have been important developments, with some skilled workers taking action to defend jobs. These include workers at Fujitsu, who have never organised a national strike before but have been spurred into action by threatened job and other cuts. These workers have been encouraged to strike by the company posting record profits. Other workers with no particular track record of militancy could similarly move into struggle against the bosses' attacks.An important issue regarding perspectives for the unions is trade union density. Are the unions making inroads into the huge number of workers who are not in a union but have indicated a desire to join one if given the chance? 30 years ago, unions in Britain encompassed a majority of those at work, reaching a membership of 13 million, 12.7 million of whom were in unions affiliated to the TUC. In manufacturing (engineering, the car industry etc) over 90% were in unions. There were 250,000 shop stewards, mainly in manufacturing industry, who by organising militant industrial action at shop floor level, led the public sector to emulate them.

NUPE, which organised council manual workers and health workers, grew from 60,000 in the 1960s to over 600,000 by the end of the 1970s. NUPE later went on to become a part of Unison. Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher deliberately set out to destroy the power of the unions by, amongst other things, introducing a deliberate policy of de-industrialisation. This saw the closure of whole swathes of industry and thereby undermined part of the base of militant trade unionism and the shop stewards' movement. This, coupled with the anti-trade union laws, was aimed at fatally wounding trade union organisation. She was not wholly able to do this because trade unionism is deeply embedded in the psyche of workers in Britain, with over 150 years of tradition behind it. But trade union membership has been halved over the last 25-30 years. Another contributory factor to this decline was the general move to the right by the trade union leaders following the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and eastern Europe and the accompanying capitalist ideological onslaught.

But there is a 'trade union premium' - the difference between the wages of those in a union and those who are not. Average hourly earnings of trade union members in 2008 were £13.07 whilst non-trade union workers received £11.62 per hour. A union premium of 12.5%. And there are many other issues besides pay, where workers can benefit from being in a union. How does UK trade union membership compare with other parts of the world? Internationally it is highest in Scandinavia at 70%+ of the workforce, whilst in France it only stands at 7.8%. Yet the French capitalists faced around 8,000 strikes last year whilst the Swedish capitalists faced just a handful. In Sweden the unions have for decades been heavily involved in the administration of the national insurance system which every worker has to be part of. This has enabled the unions to keep their membership at a high level. Despite their lower trade union density, French workers, with their militant history, tend to take to the streets when they feel action is required. But generally it still requires the French unions at a national level to give a lead, whether or not the workers are in a union.

There is a higher degree of struggle at present in France, but the weakness of the trade union leadership has meant that the French government has still attacked the interests of working people. For example, the 35 hour week has seen major attacks upon it by the government, urged on by the whole of the capitalist class. The union leaders' authority is being used to hold back the struggle, though they are sometimes forced to respond to the anger of the workers by organising action. Across the world and in Britain, the unions remain the most important means through which working people defend their interests against the onslaught on jobs and conditions at work. But to become more effective organisations they will have to adopt fighting policies and programmes and develop the necessary leadership. Much of the existing leadership is incapable of giving a lead without massive pressure from below. This pressure has to be organised and one way of doing this is by means of building broad left organisations within the unions.

Broad lefts have existed in Britain in a number of unions to draw together activists in an organised form, who want a more militant fighting programme for the union. The Socialist Party and its predecessor the Militant have played a major role in developing these organisations in various unions from the civil service union CPSA, now the PCS, to the postal and telecom unions. PCS, and before it the CPSA, developed a healthy broad left. After years of struggle the right wing was defeated and a broad left leadership, along with others who opposed the undemocratic methods of the old right wing leadership, won power and a big majority on the union's national executive. Civil service workers and the PCS probably face their most severe test yet, as the part of the public sector facing the biggest cuts from a New Labour or a Tory government. The old PCS right wing would long ago have capitulated to the government. They would have acted as policemen to root out opposition to the government's plans inside their union, much as the right wing in Unison are doing now.

In Unison the witch-hunt against Socialist Party members and other socialists has led to the coming together of some of the left on the basis of a "reclaim the union" type organisation whose development is in its early stages. The forthcoming Unison snap general secretary election, foisted on the membership by a leadership keen to get it out of the way prior to the general election, will give a means to further develop the left. But this is only on condition that the left outside the Socialist Party is prepared to face up to how much the rank and file membership hate the link between the union and the Labour Party. The Socialist Party has made considerable gains as a result of calling for the link with the Labour Party to be broken, whereas the rest of the left have lost out, as a direct result of their ideological confusion.In other unions there is also a chance of the development of either new broad lefts or a revival of the existing broad lefts. For the union Unite to develop a healthy broad left, it will also have to clarify its position on the link with Labour.

There is no one way of winning workers over to a fighting programme. Rank and file bodies such as the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) could take initiatives to give a lead to those in struggle. But whatever happens the Socialist Party and its supporters in the unions will be in the forefront of these struggles. Amongst 16-24 year olds in the UK, only 5.1% of those in work are in a trade union. So the unions' orientation to young people is an important question. PCS is in the process of developing a new young members' network with its own internal life and democratic methods. But other unions are still a long way from developing similar organisations. One of the key lessons of the past has been that workers will join the unions if they see that they are fighting organisations. That is why the rail union RMT has seen a big increase in its membership, whilst many other unions have declined in membership. The PCS has maintained its membership despite a massive decline in jobs in the civil service under successive governments.It is vital that campaigns like Youth Fight for Jobs are discussed and supported throughout the whole trade union movement. Orientating to young people and showing them that the unions will fight for their interests will build trade union membership.

According to the government's business department, trade union membership in 2008 fell by 0.6% to 27.4% of the working population or around 6.9 million workers. It was 28% in 2007. The private sector, in a reversal of the past, continues to be the hardest to organise. It saw a fall in trade union organisation of 0.6%, to 15.5% of those in work. In the public sector, reflecting the continuation of privatisation and job cuts, especially in the civil service and local government, trade union membership was down by 1.9% to 57.1% of all those in that sector in Britain. In Wales, union membership stood at 37.4%, in Scotland 32.9% and in England 26.1%. But within England there were also some important variations. For example, in the north east, 35.3% of all those in work were union members whilst in the south east only 21.5% of all workers were in a union, although this is up 0.5% since 2007. A number of reasons exist for the fall in union membership in some parts of the economy. The privatisation of utilities like gas, electricity and water has seen union membership go down by 14.6% since 1998. But in other parts it went up, such as in education where it went up slightly from 53.1% to 54.1%, as workers there have turned to the unions for protection. The same data shows that one third of all workers have wages and conditions negotiated, often at national level, by the trade unions even if not all those workers are in a union. Collective agreements cover 20% of those in the private sector, which has 15.5% of the workforce in a union. Over 70% of workers in the public sector are covered by collective agreements, whilst trade union density stands at 57.1%. Civil service workers and the PCS probably face their most severe test yet, as the part of the public sector facing the biggest cuts from a New Labour or a Tory government .

Never trust the Tories

David Cameron's conference speech attempted to overturn the (correct) perception of them as a party of business and the rich: Labour "has made the poorest poorer, so it falls to the Tories to help them," he said. But the truth of a Tory government was revealed in the 'slash and burn' speech of shadow chancellor George Osborne. Osborne predicted he would be the most unpopular chancellor ever, and he is right! The proposals in Osborne's speech are just a fraction of the attacks they would like to carry out, but they are bad enough. £23 billion cuts over five years. All public sector workers earning above £18,000 would have their pay frozen - nurses, teachers, civil servants, binmen, cooks, and so on. "Big government" would be cut by a third over five years. Civil servants are presented as faceless mandarins, "a huge army of regulators, inspectors and central planners." What the Tories mean is slashing essential services and farming out what is left to the private sector. 700,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs.

Within the first week 100 schools would be removed from democratic accountability and handed over to businesses in a rapid expansion of academies. Like New Labour, the Tories plan to raise the state pension age and undermine the final salary pensions of all public sector workers. They mirror Labour's attack on incapacity benefit claimants, demonising and impoverishing claimants and coercing them into work. Controversially amongst their membership, Cameron and Osborne refuse to say they will reverse Labour's new 50% top income tax rate. In reality both main parties are likely to increase taxes, mainly affecting working- and middle-class people. The bankers, whose reckless greed contributed to the historic scale of this economic crisis, got a mild rap on the knuckles. Osborne threatened taxes on bonuses if they failed to be responsible: "For I believe in the free market, not a free ride." This approach is necessary if they are to win public support, but does not sit easily with the Tory faithful. Boris Johnson directly attacked the "banker bashers".

The Tories are gambling that "being honest" will make them look more serious on the economy. In fact, the cuts proposed would not make much of a dent in the government's predicted £175 billion budget deficit, so deeper cuts are likely. But even going this far is a big risk. Laying out before the electorate the attacks that are to come could be an own goal. New Labour has been the chosen party of big business for the last decade but they are now so unpopular that a more reliable party is needed. Big business has, in the main, jumped ship to the Tories. Most commentators agree their policies are mostly repeats of ideas from Labour, just to be implemented earlier or more strongly. However, the unpopularity of New Labour means that the Tories appear to have a better chance of implementing a pro-big business programme of attacking the public sector. However, there are fears among some business leaders of the Tories ending the stimulus too soon, and thus plunging the economy back into recession.

The Tories' electoral support is fragile. Before both main party conferences, polls had Labour on 23 percentage points and Tories on 38. After the conferences' support for both parties increased but the Tory lead remained at 14 points. But this is primarily a mood against New Labour, not positive pro-Tory. A poll for The Times showed that 68% do think the party has not changed and is only doing better due to Labour's unpopularity. If the Tories traditional right wing cannot be kept in check, that support could falter. Labour will portray the Tories as destroyers of the public sector. This is true, but so it will be under Labour. For example, Alistair Darling met the Tories plans for pay restraint with his own, proposing a pay freeze for senior public servants, and a less than 1% rise for everyone else.But Labour also proposed free NHS car parking, and free care for elderly people. These are small measures but they could be enough for people to hang on to in the desperate hope that Labour is worth voting for - a "lesser evil". While for many young people there is no class allegiance to New Labour, there is still a memory amongst older working class voters of what a Tory government is like. What is certain is that a Tory government would be a government of crisis, with ferocious attacks on the working class. This should be met with equally ferocious resistance, and the forging of a party that will fight in the interests of working-class people.

How can the fascists be defeated?

Thousands of pounds of trade union members' money is given to campaigns such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Hope Not Hate every year to help combat the rise of far-right, racist groups like the British National Party (BNP). The election of two BNP MEPs last year and a rise in their profile in the media is a setback for the workers' movement and a warning for the future. However, this year's national UAF conference highlighted some questions about its approach to anti-fascist campaigning. The UAF conference on Saturday 13 February attracted around 400 people who listened to trade union officials, Labour MPs, journalists and UAF representatives. Most speakers endorsed the UAF's approach to anti-fascist campaigning. This comprises identifying the BNP as Nazis and working with any organisation, including pro-big business parties, that agrees and is willing to help 'educate' people on the threat the far right poses.

Martin Smith from Love Music Hate Racism and the SWP outlined the UAF strategy for the general election. He correctly pointed out the BNP causes division, that anger should be directed towards the bosses and that workers need to unite against the attacks of the bosses, but fell short of identifying the reasons why people are voting for the BNP and pointing out the political vacuum that exists for working class people. Like all the other speakers Smith emphasised the need for unity against the BNP with anyone who is prepared to fight them. In an article in the Daily Mail the right-wing Labour MP for Barking, Margaret Hodge, said that migrants should "earn" the right to benefits. Smith criticised these comments, but made it clear he was doing so as a "friend" who was "on the same side" when it comes to stopping the BNP. Not a word of criticism was heard about her support for anti-working-class policies like foundation hospitals and university tuition fees.

In fact Margaret Hodge was a platform speaker in the afternoon. She angered many when she called for help in her re-election campaign without giving any guarantees on protecting and fighting for the interests of working-class people. Hodge described how she was spending most of her time 'talking sense' to those won over by the BNP and working to kill off the dangerous face of fascism. What Margaret won't do however, is fight the dangerous face of poverty. People living in Barking and Dagenham have the lowest average income level in London, with 55% of children growing up in poverty. Anger about these conditions is a major factor in leading some workers in Barking to vote BNP in protest, mistakenly thinking the BNP will stand up for workers. Hodge, a millionaire, who has supported the anti-working-class policies of Blair and Brown, should not have been invited to speak at a conference about how best to fight the rise of the BNP. Shamefully when she addressed the afternoon session not one of the UAF speakers was prepared to make any criticism of her record or policies

This conference proposed a tokenistic approach to fighting fascism. Speaker after speaker did not address the real reasons why the BNP are gaining electoral support - the absence of a mass anti-racist political party that defends workers' interests. Some speakers implied that many people are naturally racist. Some even openly said that they didn't want to know the reasons why people would vote for such a racist party, ignoring the role of politicians like Hodge in scapegoating migrants and making the BNP's slogans look more respectable. Simply calling the BNP 'Nazis' is not enough. Only one speaker from the floor raised the need for democratic local committees made up of representatives from trade unions and the community to be organising and campaigning for jobs, facilities and decent public services. Trade unionists need to challenge UAF's tactics and argue for a class-based approach to fighting the BNP.

Stop cuts & defend public services

Nationally civil servants are facing an attack by the government on their 'compensation scheme' - their redundancy rights. This is part of the preparation for a jobs slaughter across the public sector beyond the general election. Tories, New Labour and LibDems are united in their determination to take an axe to the public sector. The scale of cuts planned is greater than at any time in the last eighty years. Even before the general election, cuts are increasing, with a number of councils carrying out brutal cuts. The civil servants' union, PCS, will soon announce the result of its ballot for strike action. Determined trade union action, such as that being planned by the PCS, will be a crucial part of the struggle to defend public services and public sector jobs. As Greece has shown, this will have to go beyond action by individual trade unions or even sectors. After the general election we will be faced with a general assault on public services which will affect all working and middle class people - regardless of whether they work in the public sector.

The next government's first announcements on cuts should be responded to by a massive national demonstration under the slogans: 'We won't pay for their crisis', and 'No cuts - defend all jobs and services'. This would send a warning that the trade union movement will not accept cuts in workers' pay, conditions or pensions, or cuts in public services. The next step in the struggle to defeat the cuts programme of the next government would be a 24-hour public sector strike, as a step towards a complete 24-hour general strike. However, it is also crucial to give a political answer. If we are to defeat the arguments of capitalist politicians it is important to put forward a socialist alternative to the capitalist profit system. The relentless drumbeat of 'cuts are needed' is going to sound constantly over the coming years; every means imaginable will be used to win support for cuts. Attempts are already being made to divide workers - private sector against public, young against old and, as the recent arguments in the EU over Greece's public sector debt have shown, one nationality against another.

The starting point of socialists is simple. This crisis was not created by the working class, it is not our responsibility and we will not pay for it. It started in the City - a City that was deregulated by the Tories and then by New Labour. In the last two years the enormous debts of the banking system have effectively been offloaded onto the state. The finance sector has been underwritten to the tune of £1.2 trillion, more than ten times the government's total annual spending on health. Now, in one of the biggest con tricks in history, working and middle class people are being expected to pay for this by accepting huge public sector cuts. Meanwhile the 'banksters', with their £40 billion in bonuses, are laughing all the way to the bank.  We do not accept any cuts in pay, conditions or already over-stretched services. We will not accept Dutch auctions on which services should be axed. United anti-cuts alliances at local and national level should be organised to bring together all the different campaigns against cuts.

The Tories will argue that cuts are getting rid of New Labour bureaucracy, but it will be services, pay and pensions that will be cut. The answer to the problems of bureaucracy is to kick the profiteers out of the public sector, and for public services to be run by accountable, democratic committees that include representatives of service workers and users, as well as the government. This would genuinely 'empower' workers in the public sector, unlike the Tories' plans for so-called 'co-operatives' which represent little more than privatisation by another name. In answer to the endless bleating that the money is not there to keep all public services, a starting point is to demand taxation of the rich and the big corporations. The gap between rich and poor in Britain is now higher than at any time since the second world war. New Labour, like the Tories before, has consistently cut taxes for the corporations and the super-rich.

Under pressure of the crisis and anger with the banksters New Labour has made an infinitesimal move in the opposite direction, introducing a 50% tax rate for earnings over £150,000. Yet for most of the 1970s the rate of income tax was 83% for the highest earners on the top segment of their earnings. Big corporations paid 52% of their profits in tax for most of the 1970s, but that has been reduced step-by-step, to now being just 28%. For the capitalist class it is an outrage to dare to suggest that they should pay a penny towards the crisis. When the government, under huge public pressure, suggested the bankers might like to hand over a penny or two of their huge bonuses in extra taxation, they responded by threatening to leave the country. There can be no doubt that the capitalists would threaten a strike of capital if the government was to attempt to return taxation rates to the levels of the 1970s.

In the same way the arbiters of the logic of the market, the rating agencies that gave subprime mortgage companies AAA ratings, will demand that huge public sector cuts are carried out; threatening that otherwise they will downgrade Britain's government debt. The prime ministers of Britain, Greece, Spain and Norway recently met and "asked the speculators to change their short term view for one that is more favourable to society as a whole" (Guardian 20.2.10). Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister bewailed the "paradox that the markets that we saved are now demanding and putting difficulties [budget cuts]". This pleading is utterly utopian; the markets are driven purely by their own short term profits. In reality this is recognised by these prime ministers, who are busy doing the markets' bidding by carrying out cuts.But we do not have to accept 'market logic'. The only effective answer to the rating agencies and the banksters' blackmail is the nationalisation of the banking and finance sector, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.

Instead of being run by and for the profiteers, a nationalised finance sector could be run by and for the mass of the population with majority representation at all levels of these banks, drawn from workers, including from the unions in the banking industry and the wider working class and labour movement, with the government also represented. This would need to be linked to the introduction of a state monopoly of foreign trade, as a means of controlling all imports and exports including capital. The banking and finance sector would only be a start, however. What is required is taking into democratic public ownership all of the economic levers of power, in order to begin to develop a socialist planned economy. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is contesting seats in the general election in order to put the case for socialism. It is calling for "a democratic socialist society run in the interests of people not millionaires. For bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment." The slogan 'no cuts - defend public services' will be prominent in its campaigning. In order to successfully defend itself against the onslaught that is coming, the working class will need to link a struggle against the brutal cuts of capitalism to the development of a clear socialist political alternative.

NHS not safe in mainstream hands

"You call this cuts - I'm not scared to say cuts... The amount of money available to the NHS is decided by the government. We will have less money to meet rising demands... There are hard decisions to be made. I have to balance the books." That was the £140,000 a year chief executive of North Central London NHS (NCL) trying to explain to 350 people at a protest meeting why NCL were discussing seven different "scenarios" to cut £560 million from its £2.27 billion budget by 2016-17. These NHS bureaucrats, who blame the "global recession", plan to cut services at local hospitals, particularly closing some Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments. Highly paid NHS officials put a positive spin on this, proposing to set up enlarged neighbourhood health centres ("Urgent Care Centres") outside hospital entrances and saying that long-term treatment for conditions like asthma and diabetes should move to new 'polyclinics'.But, whatever the merits of polyclinics in an integrated health system, they are being promoted now as a way both of cutting spending and providing further opportunities to effectively privatise health services.

There is widespread opposition to these cuts - one north London hospital, the Whittington, treats 80,000 A&E patients annually. With a general election and London borough elections pending, all the local political parties have been protesting, but none gets to the root of the crisis in NHS spending. Some election candidates just say: no cuts in 'my' borough. This helps NHS bureaucrats play a 'divide and rule' game. So while Labour leaders insist that the National Health Service is safe, proposed cuts in services countrywide threaten to hit the NHS hard. Campaigns against the local NHS cuts and closures need to be linked to the wider battle. The economy's decline and the huge amounts spent bailing out the banks have brought mounting pressure for cuts in working peoples' living standards and services. Determined local campaigns with protest rallies, meetings, lobbies and demonstrations can save particular NHS facilities, and such victories are welcome.

But as national cuts are being prepared, we also need a generalised nationwide campaign that challenges the government's policies; otherwise repeated anti-cuts campaigns will be unavoidable. The Tories will probably be worse than Labour on the NHS, but this is no reason to go soft on the Labour government's plans. Unfortunately this is what many trade union leaders and backbench Labour MPs have done. Alongside local campaigns, the longer term battle to save and improve the NHS needs a real socialist alternative to the Labour, Tory and LibDem parties' pro-capitalist policies. In the coming election, candidates from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) can vitally help link together different local campaigns. This should be part of a drive to build a national movement to resist the bosses' efforts to make working people pay for the economic crisis.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Is the internet harbouring a thriving Nazi community?

On most days, the man once labeled a "near genius" in a Time magazine article spends the bulk of his time in an office of the Mandeville, La., home of infamous white supremacist David Duke. There, Jamie Kelso whips across Duke's hardwood floors on a wheeled office chair as he attends to his work: monitoring the burgeoning community of the racist Stormfront Web site on one of six different computers. To the thousands of white supremacists who regularly visit Stormfront and its forum, Kelso is best known by his e-moniker, "Charles A Lindbergh." He signs off all his posts with a quote from Lindbergh, a well-known racist and anti-Semite: "We can have peace and security only as long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood." "I admire the aviator so much, " Kelso says.
The aviator, were he still alive, might well admire Kelso. As Stormfront celebrates its 10th birthday — the first major hate site on the Internet, it was created by former Alabama Klan leader Don Black in 1995 — Kelso has much to be proud of.

In the three years he's been a senior moderator of the site, it has grown from fewer than 10,000 registered users to, as of mid-June, an astounding 52,566. And while many thousands of that ever-growing total probably haven't visited in years, independent Web monitors recently ranked Stormfront the 338th largest electronic forum on the Internet, putting it easily into the top 1% of all sites on the World Wide Web. It began with Don Black. Going back to high school, Black had always been one of the more enthusiastic proponents of white power. One of his first forays into the organized movement was in the 1970s, when he volunteered for the late white supremacist J.B. Stoner's unsuccessful run for governor of Georgia. That was until Stoner's campaign manager, Jerry Ray, the brother of Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray, shot him in the chest. The shooting apparently stemmed from accusations that Black had broken into Stoner's office to steal a mailing list for the National Socialist White People's Party.

After recovering, Black went on to join the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group headed by Duke in the 1970s. Working on Duke's unsuccessful campaign for Louisiana state senate, Black won Duke's trust, moving up to become his mentor's right-hand man. When Duke left the group amid allegations that he'd tried to sell its membership list to another Klan group for $35,000, Black took over. But Black quickly got into trouble himself. In 1981, he and nine other white supremacists were arrested as they prepared to board a yacht with which they intended to invade the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica, oust its black-run government, and transform it into a "white state." Black's resulting three-year prison sentence was time well spent. He took classes in computer programming that would provide the basis for his future. Not long after his release, Black launched an abysmally unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama. He wound up marrying Duke's ex-wife, Chloe, and moving to West Palm Beach, Fla. Once there, he began dabbling with his computer, eventually setting up a dial-up bulletin board service for the radical right. By March 1995, that service evolved into Stormfront, the Net's best-known hate site.

Black saw clearly that with this new technology, white supremacists might finally bypass the mainstream media and political apparatus, getting their message out to people who otherwise would never hear it — people who now could listen in the privacy of their own homes without fear of embarrassment or reproach. "The potential of the Net for organizations and movements such as ours is enormous," Black told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996. "We're reaching tens of thousands of people who never before had access to our point of view." Being the first of its kind helped Stormfront win enormous publicity. Black and his site were written up in newspapers around the country and the world, and he frequently appeared on major network news shows like abc's "Nightline," where, clad in suit and tie, he talked politely about allowing people access to information not filtered by the "media monopoly." Though he undoubtedly turned off many viewers, each major TV appearance led to a spike in visitors to Stormfront.

Like a morning roll call, the posts pour in each day. Below the Stormfront motto, "White Pride World Wide," links to news stories with a racial angle light up the page, complete with headlines home-crafted by the members. "Mestizo Rapes White Woman in Elevator," shouts one. "Negro Man Stabs Elderly Woman, Shoots Detective, Negroes Screaming 'Police Brutality,'" another breathlessly reports. And the list goes on.
But one thing you won't normally find on Stormfront are racial slurs. In fact, new members are explicitly warned not to use such language, and also not to post violent threats or anything describing illegal activity. Black clearly has modeled his site on some of the tactics used by Duke, who famously urged his Klan followers to "get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms." As Black once told a reporter, "We don't use the 'nigger, nigger' type of approaches." When New Jersey neo-Nazi Hal Turner began posting incendiary comments this March about a federal judge whose family was murdered, he was rapidly excommunicated. "They are so afraid of rocking the ZOG [Zionist Occupation Government] boat that they scurry around behind the scenes censoring posts of folks who are strong enough to speak the plain truth," Turner fumed later.

It's not that Stormfront is about moderation — hardly. The talk is all about the evils of African Americans, homosexuals, non-white immigrants, and, above all, Jews, who are blamed for most of what's wrong in the world. As pointed out by Cass Sunstein, the University of Chicago law professor who wrote the 2001 book republic.com, "Extremists and hate-filled sites tend to attract likeminded people who, if isolated, could come to their senses." Likeminded people talking to one another, Sunstein says, "tend to become more extremist." But it's all done with a tone of simmering civility. "One of the things that Don Black does very well is he doesn't fit the stereotype of an angry man," Kelso proudly told the Intelligence Report in a lengthy interview recently. "Don is the most under-recognized giant in the whole white nationalist movement." Kelso, who was featured in a 1960s Time article about teenagers in the Los Angeles suburbs, personifies the approach. Animated and cordial, he happily offers to set up a Stormfront account for an Intelligence Report writer. He exudes a kind of grandfatherly charm — the same charm that he exhibits in some of his postings, and in his tireless welcoming of new members to the Stormfront community. It is, Kelso says, "a positive spiritual approach."

Black and Kelso have created something more than just another hate site that draws people for a few months, then fades for lack of interest. Using everything from good manners to "white scholarships" to such catchy gimmicks as highlighting its members' birthdays, these two men have built something that very few people on the entire Internet have — a genuine and very large cyber-community. That they did it at a time when major neo-Nazi groups are on the decline is merely icing. "Without a doubt," Bob DeMarais, a former staff member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see related story), wrote recently, "Stormfront is the most powerful active influence in the White Nationalist movement." Want to find the latest headlines on black-on-white crime? Go to Stormfront. New developments in the National Alliance's leadership woes? Go to Stormfront. Details of yet another nefarious Jewish conspiracy? Go to Stormfront. Stormfront's recent growth spurt is only the beginning, Kelso says. He and Black share a larger goal, one that their friend Duke also tried with a fair measure of success — establishing real legitimacy in the realm of public opinion.

Stormfront — along with the many lesser radical forums on the Internet — has always done better than the much more numerous hate Web pages. Whereas typical hate sites function as one-way transfers of information — rather like a brochure posted in a grocery store that can be read but cannot be responded to — Stormfront has always been organized as a message board. Members can post opinions, listen to others respond, then post more feedback for all to read. The potential for dialogues to develop was built in — and, therefore, so was the potential to develop a genuine white supremacist cyber-community. "The great power of the Internet is it allows people who don't know each other ... to connect with people with shared interests," says Howard Rheingold, an Internet theorist and author. "The shared interests might be that 'I have a kid with leukemia.' Or, 'I'm a Nazi.' It gives marginalized people more power." Black and Kelso, both men who could put up a relatively clean-cut and civilized front, saw eye to eye on the possibilities. So when Jamie Kelso joined Stormfront about three years ago, he successfully began pushing for leading movement writers — men like Sam Dickson, a leader of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, and Willis Carto, publisher of the Holocaust-denying journal The Barnes Review — to start posting. That was just part of an effort to make the site more inclusive. Although the forum has recently censored some posts critical of the National Alliance — a major neo-Nazi group undergoing an internal civil war — it generally has tried to maintain a relatively non-sectarian stance, making people from different sectors of the radical right feel welcome to join in. As Black once told a reporter for Newhouse News Service, "Anyone can work to promote our ideas without being a member of any organization. I used to be annoyed by people who didn't join my organization, but I see the advantage now."

Black and Kelso take care to avoid appearing dictatorial. One result is that the forum, within the bounds of the radical right, feels very democratic — a gathering of people with similar interests in what increasingly looks like a community. Every member gets to choose a graphic to accompany their postings. Little smiley faces and other signs abound. It's not unusual to spot two members using an animation where the faces toast with mugs of beer. There is a list of birthdays of members on the main page. Birthday greetings are frequently exchanged, along with notes of consolation or encouragement. There are essay contests and $2,000 scholarships for white kids. And, to encourage the shy, Kelso frequently starts innocuous threads to get people to start joining in the conversation. "Where is Your Home?" Kelso asks at the head of one. Or, atop another, "What inspired your screen name?"

The results have been fairly spectacular. In January 2002, Stormfront had a mere 5,000 members. A year later, membership reached 11,000; and a year after that, in early 2004, it had 23,000. By January 2005, membership hit about 42,000, and it finally topped 52,000 this June. In the last year, a Kelso analysis showed, the site has been gaining an average of almost 500 new members every week. That doesn't include the large numbers of those who simply read Stormfront postings without joining up (becoming a member allows one to post messages and also to view personal information posted by other members). All together, total traffic to the site gave it an Alexa Web monitor ranking this June of the 8,682nd most visited site on the Internet — a rank well above that of most civil rights sites. Bob DeMarais, for one, sees Kelso as integral to Stormfront's success. "Jamie Kelso did much of the marketing and promotion responsible for Stormfront's recent growth spurt," DeMarais wrote recently. "Kelso has a knack for making new people feel welcome and getting them to start posting."

With Stormfront growing every day, a larger question has developed: What does it mean for the movement? The site is very unlike a traditional hate group. There is no formal hierarchy, even though Black and Kelso run the site, and no charismatic leader issues orders. That's one reason that Devin Burghart, who analyzes hate groups for the Center for New Community in Chicago, doesn't think that Stormfront has the potential to be much more than a sounding board for angry racists. He also points out that for every white supremacist kept busy posting messages on his or her computer screen, there is one less person available to be out in the neighborhoods organizing.

Other experts see some organizing possibilities. "While you can certainly build a community online, it [only] thrives with face-to-face interaction," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "Starting with the Internet, however, might not be a terrible idea."
That's what Joe Trippi did. As the first manager of the presidential campaign of Howard Dean, he raised immense sums and also got people out of their homes and into the campaign — all via the Internet. "What you've got to do, is you have to have two-way communication," Trippi explained in an interview. "It's the bond, to be able to talk to each other about you, that is important." David Weinberger, who served as senior Internet advisor under Trippi and is now a fellow at the Berkman Center, agreed. "The left and the right can do the same thing," he told the Intelligence Report. "The Net can do the same thing for racists as it did for the Dean campaign. Treating your readers not as readers but as participants is a really good way of creating community and getting supporters." There are already some signs that Stormfront's cyber-community may be developing, at least in some places, into physical community. Earlier this year, a group of members got together in San Diego for the first time. "We just talked about whatever came to mind for three and a half hours or so," one wrote afterward. "We all want to start doing this on a regular basis in order to foster camaraderie and group cohesion. ... We wish to have larger and larger numbers of people coming out with each successive get-together." The event, another wrote back, "is only the beginning for bigger and better things to come. Eventually, there will be political organization and activity." All this is music to Jamie Kelso.

"You always want to paint your opponents in the worst possible light," Kelso said of antiracist activists and other Stormfront detractors. "That becomes hard to do when an organization reaches large numbers. It's not plausible to say hundreds of thousands of people are nuts. We're striving to be seen as our own kind of mainstream, and that we're not kooky." The recent successes of Stormfront have been, as Trippi would say, "viral." More than 70 people a day are joining the forum, and although some are mere tourists or even antiracist researchers, huge numbers are potential true believers. If Black and Kelso continue to succeed — if Stormfront members increasingly come out from behind their computer monitors and get into the streets — it could turn out that the forum becomes one of the real pillars of American radicalism. Kelso, always the optimist, predicts reaching a membership of 500,000 by 2010. That is probably unrealistic. But the possibility has veterans of the Internet and the world of real competitive politics worried. "I'd hate to think," Trippi says, "what Hitler could've done with the Internet."

We must end monopoly capitalism

One of the greatest resources that capitalism squanders is human labour. Unemployment has become a permanent feature of capitalism, but it swells to epic proportions during a crisis. Official figures show that unemployment in Britain today increased to 2.5 million, 8% of working people. If you factor in the 40% of unemployed who have resorted to part-time or temporary jobs or education to avoid the dole queues, and the unemployed who don’t claim benefits, that figure is probably nearer 5 million. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that global unemployment is about 239 million, 8% of the world’s workers, an increase of 59 million since 2007. What a tremendous waste of human resources. If the working population of Britain is about 33m, and GDP is £1.6 trillion, then GDP per worker is £48,500. Britain’s 2.8 million unemployed could be costing the economy £121 billion in lost production. Every man, woman and child could be £2,000 better off if we eliminated unemployment, but this is virtually impossible under capitalism.

Industry lies idle too, especially during recession. The IMF thinks the output gap, the gap between actual and potential GDP, in advanced economies is up to 5%. Around 30% of the U.S. manufacturing sector is idle. Yet there are shortages of essential amenities. In Britain, large brick, plaster and glass producing monopolies are stock piling materials. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers are without jobs. Yet thousands of homeless wander the streets, millions more live in sub-standard accommodation due to a lack of quality affordable housing. But the market economy does not link these resources to the needs of society unless it’s profitable. In 2008, 13 million people in the UK were living in households below the 60% low-income threshold after deducting housing costs. This is around a fifth (22%) of the population. This 13 million figure is an increase of one million compared with three years previously. The World Bank’s statistics state that over half the global population lives on less than $2.50 per day. 800 million people go hungry every day. Far from reducing poverty, capitalism has increased inequality. The UN has reported that, in 2005, the richest 500 people in the world earned more than the poorest 416 million.

Big business has developed all sorts of desperate and wasteful ways to increase profit. One of the most despicable tactics is ‘planned obsolescence’, a concept popularised by Vance Packard. There are three different types. The first is ‘obsolescence of function’, where a product becomes superseded by next year’s model. This is justifiable when better technology is introduced but it’s often exploited. Computer manufacturers deliberately change the design of processors to stop us from updating our old computers, forcing us to buy new ones. New software is frequently introduced that is not compatible with older versions, forcing users to purchase new software. In 2004 about 315 million working PCs were retired in North America; most go straight to the scrap heap. The second, and by far the most wasteful, is ‘obsolescence of quality’. Here the product is designed to break after a certain amount of usage. Low quality materials are used on key components in order to create ‘death dates’, ensuring repeat sales and huge profits – what madness!

This practice is thought to have become mainstream during the 1930s, when the American company General Electric reduced the life span of their light bulbs from 1000 hours down to 750 hours to increase their sales. The practice quickly spread to the automobile industry. Companies like General Motors began to use metals that rust, fan belts that constantly break, and plastics that snap off in your hand. Washing machines, refrigerators, toasters & vacuum cleaners are all designed to breakdown within just a few years. A famous recent case is the 'Click Wheel' on Apple iPods, which many consumers found to fail within 18 months of purchase. The third method is ‘obsolescence of desirability’. Here the product, still sound in terms of performance becomes ‘worn out’ in the mind of the consumer because marketing deems it ‘out of fashion’. Most of you will have seen TV adverts trying to convince you that if your mobile is more than a year old then you’re are uncool. About 250,000 tons of discarded but still usable mobiles, containing toxic materials, sit in stockpiles in America awaiting dismantling or disposal. Goods could be designed to last for much longer, which would be better for us, and better for the environment, but it’s no good for capitalism.

The role of advertising in promoting demand has become crucial to monopoly capitalism. Corporations blow fortunes on marketing, branding, junk mail, wasteful packaging, product placement, and advertising. The more similar the products are, the more resources are wasted on trying to convince you that they’re different! Colgate spends 12% of its total dishwasher soap sales on advertising; Levi-Strauss spends 11% on their jeans; and Proctor and Gamble spend 11% on their toothpaste. It gets worse. As advertising creates clutter, greater and greater volumes of advertising is required to be effective. Total ad revenue in the U.S. has swelled from around $25bn in 1920, to a staggering $300bn in 2000 (Monthly Review, April 2009). What a stupendous waste of money! With the expansion of the financial sector, greater proportions of this ad money are being used to encourage us to borrow money and get into debt! This was 12% in 2005, compared to 2% in1945. Also worrying is that greater amounts of advertising is being targeted at children; $100m in 1983, compared to $17bn in 2007. Evidence shows that this is linked to the current epidemic in childhood obesity. In short, the sales effort is a deeply dubious enterprise which inflicts great damage on our societies.

When it comes to food, never before has so much been controlled by so few. Ten companies control two-thirds of global seed sales. Monsanto is the biggest of the big. The firm makes its fortune by genetically engineering crops so they don’t reproduce, forcing farmers to repurchase seed every year. Capitalism is also poisoning our food. In the 1990s, Monsanto came up with the controversial idea of injecting cows with growth hormones to increase milk yields. This became a scandal when tests showed that this milk could cause cancer in humans. Despite being banned in Europe, this milk continues to be sold in other countries, including the U.S. Monsanto also exploited last year’s global food crisis to increase its profits. As rice stocks hit their lowest levels in 30 years, the corporation raised prices. Maize went up by 35% and soybean by 50%. As the world’s poorest people went hungry, Monsanto celebrated a 120% rise in profits. Far from being efficient, capitalism creates waste, destruction and shortages that are completely unnecessary. Socialists argue that the best alternative is for working people to take control over their workplaces, for major industries to be nationalised, and for the economy to be planned by workers’ and community councils, along with a socialist government. Industries that effect us all, such as the banks, transport, land, utilities, construction, healthcare and food, would be planned to provide us with what is needed, but to do that we need to collectively own and control them. That means expropriating the capitalists.

Paradoxically, the monopolisation of the capitalist system creates more favourable circumstances for the building of a planned economy. The commanding heights rest in fewer hands. Back in the 1800s, you would have had to take over thousands of companies in order to plan the economy. That would have been impossible. Today, the top 150 companies would probably suffice to plan the economy. For example, 99% of Britain’s electricity is supplied by six giant firms. Britain’s supermarkets are dominated by just four firms. Six giant companies control about 80% of Britain’s mobile phone industry. There has been huge monopolisation of the financial sector. In 1990, the ten largest U.S. financial institutions held only 10% of total financial assets. Today they own 50% - the largest five U.S. banks now hold $9trn in assets. So taking over the banks would be easier today than ever before. Scientific planning, which already takes place inside these giant privately owned capitalist enterprises, could be lifted out of the individual factory and applied to the entire publicly owned economy. The results would be stupendous. There would be full employment with decent wages. The cost of production could be cut dramatically reducing the price of goods. And, affordable housing, free healthcare and education could be provided for all.

Inevitably, the pressures of the situation will push the workers and youth to seek a revolutionary path. That can only be provided by the ideas of Marxists. The present crisis shows quite clearly that what the Marxists have argued for all along is the only way out. The workers’ parties should abandon any attempt to tinker with the capitalist system and adopt a programme that puts an end to capitalism, which is the source of all the problems. Building a socialist economy out of a modern capitalist economy would present far fewer challenges than attempts of the past. By putting to work the nationalised commanding heights of the economy with a democratic workers’ plan, we could quickly develop a highly flexible system for serving the needs of our population, creating greater individual liberty and shared abundance. The only way of achieving the modest demands of the workers, jobs for all, good healthcare, decent housing, decent pensions and so on, is through the nationalisation of the banks and the major companies to be run under workers’ control and management. There is no other road.

Exposed: Immigration myths that divide society

Politicians and the right wing press have unleashed a torrent of abuse against immigrants. The attacks are accelerating and getting nastier, encouraging people who want to whip up racism. A column by Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun newspaper last week was typical of the way statistics can be manipulated. He wrote that recent immigration “was a grotesque exercise in social engineering which has transformed and in some ways put at risk the way we live. “So today we see the seething resentment of British voters – including established migrants – towards those they blame for taking their jobs, living off benefits they haven’t paid for… and threatening to harm the very country that provides them with a home.” It’s the booms and slumps in capitalism that cause unemployment, not immigration. Immigrants didn’t demand the closure of the Redcar steel plant or push through tens of thousands of job losses in manufacturing. There are a million more people unemployed in Britain today than there were two years ago. That’s not because of a surge in immigration, it’s because the system across the world went into deep crisis, and bosses and bankers expected workers to pay the price.

It’s the booms and slumps in capitalism that cause unemployment, not immigration. Immigrants didn’t demand the closure of the Redcar steel plant or push through tens of thousands of job losses in manufacturing. There are a million more people unemployed in Britain today than there were two years ago. That’s not because of a surge in immigration, it’s because the system across the world went into deep crisis, and bosses and bankers expected workers to pay the price. When unemployment was at its highest in 1992 more people left the country than came here. Then, as unemployment begins to fall, a few more people are encouraged to come to Britain. But as unemployment rises the level of migration drops off. The worst ever level of unemployment in Britain was in the 1930s. But immigration was only a few tens of thousands a year. The reason for the recent increase in immigration was the entry of several eastern European countries into the European Union (EU) in 2004 – known as the “A8”. The vast majority of new workers are from these “A8” countries. They came here because there were lots of job opportunities, and many left once these dried up. Last week the press was full of outraged stories about how three English councils – Peterborough, Slough and Boston – were complaining that they could not cope with a flood of immigrants draining their resources.

A rather more sober piece in the Financial Times pointed out: “All three councils were at pains to point out that they welcomed immigration, which had boosted local economies.” The councils’ gripe is that they are not getting the share of central government funding due to councils with a changing population demographic. They are not complaining about the immigration itself, which has created wealth. And council services will be far harder hit by the cuts that are coming than any immigration effect.Britain’s population is around 61 million. There are scare stories of it rising to 70 million – with the implication that this would mean we would be “swamped”. In fact from 1971 to 2004, ­population growth in the UK ranks 31 out of 38 European and other large nations for which data are available. In this period the population of Britain grew by about 7 percent. For comparison, in the same period the US grew by 42 percent, Japan by 21 percent, China by 52 percent and the population of India doubled. There is not a fixed cake of British wealth where less will go to people already resident if new people arrive. It is people working and using their skills that create the wealth.

Strangely, many of those who go on about the costs of immigration also say the country cannot afford to give people decent pensions because there aren’t going to be enough people of working age around. Both arguments can’t be true. The only way for non-EU citizens to get in is as refugees or asylum seekers. The right wing media likes to make a big issue of illegal immigrants coming in via Calais. Every study has shown that this small number of people are coming here to work, and that they tend to come from countries directly affected by British foreign policy. It is not a coincidence that most come from Iraq and Afghanistan. Far from being a burden on the welfare state, there are large areas of the health service, and transport that would collapse without workers from abroad. Not long ago councils were complaining about having to close schools and having no one to look after old people as those born between the 1950s and 1960s aged. About a fifth of the people who do the vital job of caring for our older people were born abroad. A quarter of British nurses were born abroad – half in London. Without these people the NHS would fall apart. It’s not true that there would be a sudden surge of “indigenous” workers to fill the gap.

And while they staff public services, immigrants are more likely to be single and of working age than the population in general – and consequently depend less on public services such as healthcare. There has never been as much housing in Britain as there is now. There are two bedrooms for every person in this country. The real problem is that the rich have got huge houses – and second and third houses – because housing is distributed according to what people can afford, not what they need. There are nearly a million empty properties in Britain. Most of them are private sector homes that can’t be sold at a profit because of the recession. There are over 650,000 empty homes in England alone (including 1,798 in Barking and Dagenham). It would cost about £1.5 billion to bring 250,000 homes back into use, which would also create 65,000 jobs. That sum is nothing compared to the amount handed to the bankers, or poured into the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the £100 billion for Trident nuclear weapons replacement. The housing problems stem from the control by private developers and landlords of the housing market and the collapse of council house building.

Immigration rules and the way in which they are implemented are racist. They are directed against black people far more than white people. Half of the Nigerians who overstay their visas are pursued by what is now the UK Borders Agency, but only one in 50 Australians are persued. When the likes of odious right-wing rags like the Daily Express and the Sun run anti-immigrant stories, they always stoke up the image of Britain being “flooded” by people from Africa, Asia or eastern Europe. They never bleat about the thousands of whites from Australia, the US, Canada, South Africa or north western Europe who come to Britain to live and work.Every group of migrants to Britain have faced racism – from the Irish to the Jews, to people from the Caribbean to Asians and east Europeans. But even when these groups settle in and are partially accepted, attacks on new immigrants spill over into attacks on all Asian and black people, whether they were born here or not.

Bosses and bankers want working people to squabble among themselves rather than turn their fire on the real enemy – the rich. A recent equalities report shows that a tiny 1 percent of people in Britain take home more than £2,000 a week – and the gap between rich and poor is growing. Working people need unity to fight the attacks now, the avalanche of cuts after the election, and hundreds of thousands more job losses. If our rulers can get us to think that immigrants are the problem, then they will escape with their wealth and power intact. It is true that there is a lack of affordable housing in Britain. Young people do have far too few opportunities. But it’s not the fault of immigrants. The NHS is always stretched and sometimes grossly inadequate. And working people are insecure about their jobs, get too little money and have to work far too hard for the pittance they get. But it’s not the fault of immigrants. A united working class has the power to save jobs, win decent pay and conditions, and defend public services. That means rejecting the lies about immigration and the racism and hatred of Muslims which so many politicians and newspapers are now peddling. We shouldn’t let them divide and rule us. We should hit back together.

A workers’ weapon that can defeat closures

“The workers moved unfinished car bodies in front of all the entrances, forming a barricade. They welded a steel frame around every door and placed bullet-proof metal sheets over every window, drilling holes into them so the nozzles of fire hoses could be screwed in.” This is not just a book about history – it is about a tactic that has made a sudden comeback over the last year. As workers have been hit by the recession, many have started to turn to occupations once again. So last February workers at Waterford Glass in southern Ireland occupied against closure. In April, workers at the Visteon car parts plants in Enfield, Basildon and Belfast occupied to demand redundancy money they were owed by former owner Ford. Then came the occupation of the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight last summer – a struggle against closure that clearly raised the question of what kind of ridiculous system we live in when a green energy factory can be shut down. Dave writes, “We are witnessing the return of a militant form of collective action associated with some of the great, mass struggles of the past – a form of action that many thought had vanished along with the 1970s.” As the book shows, occupations have a long history in the workers movement. Dave recounts a series of struggles.

In Italy, after the First World War, a wave of factory occupations in Turin became the centre of what was known as the “two red years”. And occupations played a critical role in France in 1936 and 1968 – not just as the most militant part of the struggle, but as a focal point in the argument about how it can go forward. Both times the upsurge of strikes and factory occupations reduced the French bosses and their state to a shambles. Occupations inspire other groups of workers. When they spread, the struggle can quickly shift from a defensive local fight to a wider offensive. As Dave points out, “Successful occupations extend the frontier of working class control and raise the general level of workers’ self-activity. “They can quickly alter the balance of power between capital and labour.” This was true of the struggle in the US car plants in the 1930s. The background to the fight was a countrywide struggle to build unions across the car industry. In December 1936 workers occupied General Motors (GM) car plants in Flint, Michigan. It was part of a wave of new unionisation sweeping the US at the time.

Many had believed that car workers could not be organised into unions – but now they were suddenly and dramatically proved wrong. When the occupation came under attack, plants across the city shut down. Some 20,000 workers left work to go and defend the workers in Flint. GM bosses surrendered after less than two months. They signed an agreement recognising the union. In the next two weeks, workers organised another 87 sit-down strikes in Detroit alone. Unionisation spread across the car industry. In response, the revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote, “Sit-down strikes go beyond the limits of normal capitalist procedure. Independent of the demands of the strikers, temporary seizure of the factories deals a blow to capitalist property. “Every sit-down poses in a practical manner the question of who is the boss of the factory, the capitalist or the workers?” Of course, raising a question is not the same as answering it. While occupations can raise the issue of workers’ power, they can also open up the possibility of alternative methods of running a factory in a narrower sense.

One is the idea of making the firm a going concern by workers turning it into a co-op. But Dave argues that, “The occupation of a factory is a tactic of class struggle – not an experiment in workers’ control. Workers’ control cannot exist in a single factory.” He uses the example of a shop steward who wrote a letter to Socialist Worker in 1975 explaining why. “The co-op means workers are landed with the responsibility of making the place a going concern,” the letter reads. “It means lowering wages and increasing productivity.
“It absolves the government and the employers from responsibility and it solves the receiver’s problem. Labour has tried to turn workers away from demanding nationalisation – the co-op formula allows them to do this and sound radical.” This is why the book argues that occupations are not just about spontaneity – they raise the question of leadership. How can we both offer solidarity and also intervene politically?
The last big wave of occupations across Britain in the 1970s was sparked by the occupation of the UCS shipyard on the Clyde. But at that time, as the book argues, “The revolutionary left had grown but was too small to counter the influence of reformism on the working class movement.” The book brings together the history of a range of important struggles to create a useful tool in organising and deepening resistance today.
Whether it’s education cuts, council job losses or factory closures, we should occupy – and fight for a “bailout” for workers not bankers.

What's going on with unemployment?

Two and half million people are unemployed in Britain today. Every day the press report more job losses.Yet we are also told that unemployment has not risen as sharply as it did during the two previous recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s under the Tories. Gordon Brown claims this shows Labour has been successful at protecting working people from the worst of the recession. Others claim it’s a result of a “flexible labour market” in Britain, where workers have fewer rights than in the past. What is the real picture? The current recession is the worst since the Second World War. Overall economic output in Britain has fallen by 6 percent since the recession started. But unemployment has only risen by 2 percent. The gap between these two figures can be explained—employers have cut working hours and some firms have only recruited part-time workers. So part-time employment has shot up by 320,000 over the last year. One million part-time workers say they would like a full-time job but can’t find one. Another 1.3 million workers, classed as full-time, would also like to work more hours, or even have a second job to make ends meet.

The total fall in the number of hours being worked each week in Britain is 4.25 percent, much closer to the fall in output. Some bosses have also pushed through pay freezes to cut costs while others have held wage rises to very low levels. One result is that more of the pain of the recession has been borne by those still in work. The collective nature of work also means this is where workers are best placed to fight back. During the 1980s by contrast, wages for those who remained in work generally rose faster than inflation, though unemployment was higher than it is currently. The burden of Thatcher’s attacks fell very heavily on those thrown out of work. There are also some worrying trends in the picture today. The number of those who are long term unemployed has increased to 27 percent of the total, its highest level since 1997. One in five young people aged 16-24 are unemployed.Even if the economy doesn’t slip back into recession unemployment is likely to rise. The high point of unemployment often occurs some time after recessions finish.

So the peak of unemployment following the 1979-81 recession didn’t come until 1984 when it reached 11.8 percent. Likewise, unemployment after the recession of 1990-91 only hit its high point in 1993. Some private sector bosses have held onto skilled labour, preferring to cut hours and hold down wages instead, in the hope of a swift pick up in the economy. They are likely to respond to any modest increase in demand by increasing the hours of existing workers rather than hiring new staff, so keeping unemployment high. But if there is a new plunge into recession they are likely to slash jobs. This is why agreements by trade union leaders to cut pay or hours offers no guarantee of avoiding redundancies. The best defence remains strong union organisation. The one area where employment has held up is in the public sector, as the government has used state spending to shore up the economy. Yet all the main parties are agreed that the savage cuts must be pushed through in the public sector to “balance the books”. The pain among working people may have been more widely spread in this recession than in the past, but the bosses have more in store for us. Strikes, occupations and resistance will be more necessary than ever to make sure they don’t get away with their attacks.