Monday, 30 June 2008

Review – Social Democracy and The Wars of Intervention - By Leon Trotsky

I picked this book up second hand as it gave me the opportunity to study the Russian ‘civl war’ just after the Russian revolution. It also gave me the opportunity to compare the repression meted out by both sides during this time too.

The book itself is a defence of the Bolshevik’s attitude towards Georgia. The country had seceded from the Russian Federation in early 1918 (it ceded as part of Trans-Caucasia, which then split apart) under the leadership of the Menshevik who retained there a capitalist state. Subsequently, the Menshevik rulers sought support from the West and ended up supporting indirectly the war of intervention against Russia. Eventually after trying to live side by side, Russia was forced to invade to stop the continual attacks on itself. Throughout this whole period the remnants of the 2nd International supported Georgia as a ‘true’ socialist state against Bolshevik Russia – glossing over a whole load of unsavoury facts, which Trotsky exposes skilfully using the Menshevik’s own documents.

In interesting thing for me from a criminological perspective however is how Trotsky defends Russian actions in this situation. Unlike many human rights activists today, he acknowledges that rights depend on material factors; the conditions already existing somewhere limit them. In this instance, it is not a question of declaring universal rights for all time, but in trying to act in a manner that upholds the rights of as many people as possible. It is no good just having rights for one individual or small group when this means that the rights of many more are quashed.

To give an example from the book, discussing the famine on the Volga, Trotsky says, “In its present form of unprecedented calamity, this famine, at least half of it, is a result of the civil war raised on the Volga by the Czechoslovaks and Kolchak, that is, by the Anglo-American anf French capital which organised and sustained it. This drought fell upon a soil that had been already exhausted and ruined, denuded of working cattle, machinery and other stock. We, on the other hand, have cast into gaol some officers and lawyers (which we by no means hold up as an example of humanitarianism), and bourgeois Europe and America attempted then to picture the whole of Russia, with its hundred million inhabitants, as a vast hunger-prison. They encircled us with a wall of blockade, while their hired White Guard agents applied the bomb and torch to the destruction of our scanty supplies. If there is anyone who handles scales of pure morality, let him weigh up the severe measures that we are compelled to adopt in our life and death struggle against the whole world…”

And this is not the only example Trotsky gives like this. All in all, this book is well worth the read, even 85 years after it was written.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

More of the Same Proposals on Crime

Monday, 16th June saw a ‘new’ set of proposals to reorganise the criminal justice system to tackle crime. Included this time are proposals to ‘toughen up’ community service by renaming it ‘community payback’ (it was renamed unpaid work not that long ago too!), forcing offenders to wear bright yellow bibs.
To give it that extra New Labour touch, in common with almost every new piece of policy, the probation service is going to be forced to contract the provision of this out.
Other proposals include giving more powers to Police Community Support Officers so they can detain people and hand out on the spot fines. Also included in the proposals are the idea of putting up posters of those convicted (to ‘name and shame’ them) as well as appointing a commissioner to the sentencing guidance council to ‘represent the public’ – the very fact this proposal is there shows how out of touch the government is with ordinary people.

Socialist Approach Needed

Fundamentally, the proposals offer nothing new, they are just another set of suggestions to make New Labour appear ‘tough on crime’. It is an incredibly slight change in style and contains no new substance at all. The whole approach of New Labour, along with the other major capitalist parties is to attack the symptoms of the problem and not the real cause – the capitalist system that they seek to defend.
As capitalism is going into recession in Britain then these problems will only get worse – unemployment will increase, big business will tighten the screws on wages and conditions for those who remain in work. If young people (and many other people for that matter) thought the future was grim over the last few years, under capitalism it will get a whole lot worse.
In response to the bleak future of the profit system, socialists argue for a society that meets people’s needs. Affordable, quality housing, well-paid jobs, provision of activities and youth centres for young people would all undermine the economic basis for widespread crime that capitalism’s deepening crisis is providing.
But this is not all socialists propose. Instead of appointing out of touch people to represent ordinary people, socialists suggest practical measures to fight crime such as democratic control of local policing so that the local community can tackle the problems that it feels most threatened by, functioning within a democratically organised criminal justice system. Then instead of having to rely on ever tougher gimmicks to prove to the public that something is being done about crime, people can see through their own involvement what is being done and have a genuine input rather than being used as pawns by capitalist politicans to justify increasingly repressive laws.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Twice As many Deaths at Work as on the 'Streets'

This is a short piece that features in this weeks issue of the Socialist

A report published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies last week showed that whilst 765 are killed in acts of violence each year, almost twice as many, about 1300 a year, are killed in workplaces across the UK.
Given the huge attention given to rightly condemned street stabbings (only a small number of the 765 deaths), what about this which accounts for far more deaths? And as one of the authors point out "'In many ways these crimes are more premeditated. They have the opportunity to plan and prevent these deaths", but as ever the interests of profits and big business come first.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

George Monbiot on Prisons

An interesting piece from the Guardian a few days ago, which I thought i'd repost here - worth a good read as its is very well informed.

Crime is falling - but our obsession with locking people up keeps growing
Wealth, and the desire to preserve it, is what drives citizens of rich nations to demand an increasingly punitive justice system
George Monbiot
Tuesday June 24 2008
The Guardian

Which of these countries has the most prisoners per head of population? Sudan, Syria, China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, or England and Wales? We win, or rather lose: I have ranked these countries in reverse order. On this measure, England and Wales have a more punitive judicial system than most of the world's dictatorships.
On Friday, the government released new figures for the prison population. It broke all records, yet again. It has risen by 38% since Labour came to power, and now stands at 83,181. What does the government intend to do about it? Lock more people up. It is building enough new cells to jail 96,000 people by 2014. At the beginning of this month it laid out its plans for titan prisons: vast broiler units, which will each house 2,500 people. But they'll be only just big enough: the government expects the number of cons to rise to 95,600 in six years.
As ever, Britain appears to be chasing the United States. In both absolute and relative terms, the US's prison population is the highest on earth: 1% of its adult population is behind bars. This is five times our preposterous rate and six times Turkey's. It is over twice the rate of the nearest contender, South Africa. If you count the people under community supervision or on probation, the total rises to more than 7 million, or 3.1% of the adult population (all references are on my website). Black men who failed to complete high school in the US have a 60% chance of ending up in jail. I feel I need to say that again: 60% of unqualified African-American men go to prison. It's beginning to look as if the state has stopped imprisoning individuals and started locking up a social class. Is this what we aspire to?
To judge by the remonstrations of the tabloids, the answer is yes. But why? And why, in the United Kingdom, is imprisonment still rising? It's not because of rising crime. Last year crimes recorded by the police fell by 2%, while the most serious violent offences fell by 9%. Nor does it reflect the conviction rate. That fell by 4% in 2006 (we don't yet have last year's figures). Stranger still, it is not connected to the rate of imprisonment either, which fell by 9% between 2004 and 2006.
The prison population is rising for one reason: people are being put away for longer. Between 1997 and 2004, the average sentence rose from 15.7 months to 16.1. That tells only half the story: the actual time served rose as well, as a result of new laws the government introduced in 1998 and 2003. In 2004 the courts started handing down indeterminate sentences - prison terms without fixed limits. These will be partly responsible for the projected growth in imprisonment over the next six years.
This exposes a remarkable contradiction in government policy. At the beginning of last year, the criminal justice ministers sent a begging letter to the courts asking them not to bang so many people up, as the prisons were bursting. But they are bursting because of the mandatory life terms, indeterminate sentences and other stern measures policy has forced the judges to pass. In 2002, England and Wales had more lifers (5,268) than the rest of the European Union put together (5,046). I can't find a more recent comparison, and since the accession of the former communist states this is bound to have changed. But it gives you a rough idea of how weird this country is.
So why, when the number of crimes - especially serious violent crimes - is falling, are both the government and the courts imposing longer sentences? Why does the UK consistently rank in the top two places for imprisonment in western Europe? Why, as this country becomes more peaceable, does it become more punitive? I don't know. Nor, it seems, does anyone else. But one thing I've noticed is that many of the states with the highest number of convicts are also those with the greatest differential between rich and poor. Within the OECD nations, the US has the second highest rate of inequality. Mexico, which is the most unequal, has the third-highest rate of imprisonment. In the EU, four of the five most unequal nations also rank among the top five jailers. The correlation, though by no means exact, seems to apply across many of the rich countries.
This doesn't demonstrate a causal relationship. But there are three likely connections. The first is that inequality causes crime. This is what Anatole France referred to when he claimed to admire "the majestic egalitarianism of the law, which forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread". But, while this has proved true at most times and in most places, crime is falling in England and Wales while inequality is rising.
The second possible link is that prison causes inequality. The sociologist Bruce Western has shown that jail in the United States is a huge and hidden cause of deprivation. When people are locked up, they can't acquire the skills and social contacts they need to get on outside. Employers are reluctant to take them on when they've been released, and they tend to be hired by the day or to get stuck in the casual economy, which is one of the reasons why so many return to crime. Among whites and Hispanics, wages for ex-cons are severely depressed. Among black people the effect is less marked: the "stigma of imprisonment", Western suggests, appears to have stuck to the entire black underclass.
His groundbreaking research shows that US labour figures, which appeared to prove that the rising tide of the 1990s lifted all boats, were hopelessly skewed. The government's claim that the boom had enhanced everyone's job prospects - even those at the bottom of the heap - turns out to be an artefact of rising imprisonment: convicts aren't counted in household surveys. Western found that while general unemployment fell sharply in the 1990s, when prisoners were included, the rate among unqualified young black men rose to its highest level ever: a gobsmacking 65%.
The third possible reason for a link between the two factors is that inequality causes imprisonment. I can't prove this, and it is hard to see how anyone could do so. But my untested hypothesis runs as follows: the greater the wealth accrued by the top echelons, the more ferociously they demand protection from the rest of society. They have more to lose from crime and less to lose from punishment, which is less likely to strike the richer you become.
The people who help to generate the public demand for long prison terms (newspaper proprietors and editors) and the people who mete it out (judges and magistrates) are drawn overwhelmingly from the property-owning classes. "Those who have built large fortunes," Max Hastings, who was once the editor of the Daily Telegraph, wrote of his former employer Conrad Black, "seldom lose their nervousness that some ill-wisher will find means to take their money away from them."
Money breeds paranoia, and paranoia keeps people in prison.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Branch Meeting: Low Pay

This fortnights meeting was on Low Pay by myself. I started off by discussing how the problem wasn't just pay itself - although the poverty level minimum wage and the public sector pay freeze is angering many. We've recently also seen increases in council tax, the scrapping of the 10p tax rate and huge increases in the costs of goods. At the same time revelations about just how good the rich are living adds insult to injury, not just details of MP's ridiculous expenses but with profits increasing for many energy companies and bail-outs of banks like northern rock when they get into trouble whilst nothing of the sort is offered to ordinary people.
I carried on by mentioning how the argument that wage increases inevitabily leads to inflation is inaccurate and briefly discussed Marx's comments on wage increases and whether or not that increases the prices of commodities in his pamphlet Value, Price and Profit.
From there we discussed what could be done about. The first obvious place to look is the trade unions - after all this is effectively their job, but unfortunately with some notable exceptions, many of the trade union leaders simply do not want to fight for these - either brokering bad partnerships like USDAW or saying that a better deal isn't possible (UNISON health). Thus we need to challenge these bad leaderships. The question of a political voice is also important as this can help strengthen such campaigns for better pay.
The discussion then led to comments about the petrol tanker drivers strike, with Sister J asking how the lessons of this can be used to help further other struggles, and also questioned whether their much higher income compared to many other workers would be used to divide workers. Brother K replied that this was indeed the tactic used by councils try to implement single status and we need to explain that we argue for levelling pay upwards rather than bringing some peoples pay down to increase the low paid (obviously we're not talking about people on several hundred thousand a year here!).
There was then a general discussion about what we could do locally to support workers struggles, with a discussion of what the branch had done up to now, and then talk of how we could take this forward and build a local stewards network as well as try and build support for the campaign for a new workers party locally. (Incidentally the CNWP conference is in London this weekend - Sunday 29th June - and looks to be fantastic - see

Plenty of fish in the sea?

This is an article from the Socialist from the beginning of 2007, but I think its very interesting, and it was written by a member of the Bangor branch too (and not me!), its certainly the only article on the topic I have seen in a left publication anyway.

BIRDS EYE is closing its Hull frozen fish foods factory blaming "excess capacity in its supply chain, especially fish." It is yet another warning sign that the capitalist fishing industry cannot meet the needs of either workers or society as a whole. We now take a look at the environmental impact of fishing today.

Gone are the days when fishing was done using hook and line or small nets and people said the oceans pos­sessed an endless supply of fish. Mechanical and technological advances, including large trawl nets and powered winches to haul nets back to the fishing vessels, mean that the constant bombardment of the oceans for more and more pro­ductivity simply cannot persist.
The owners of large-scale capital­ist fisheries deny their effect but fishing is one of the most extensive human activities in the marine environment and its effects are driving the ecosystem into a slate of irreparable damage.
The increasing threat that the world fish market may collapse at any time has not spurred people into taking action to build up fish stocks and manage them correctly - it has had the opposite effect.
Money is the first and last prior­ity to businesses whose profits depend upon large amounts of fish being caught. When a potential new fishery is discovered, it is fished as fast as possible with one group of fishers in competition with another. Unsurprisingly this approach only makes matters worse, reducing any chance of a successful recovery.
Commercial fisheries aim to catch species of high market value, the fish that a particular vessel is concerned with catching are called target species. Target species are commonly associated with other organisms that are not the intend­ed catch, when the fishing gear is deployed however fishers have very little control over the fate of non-target species.
After the catch is hauled back onto the fishing vessel it is sorted. Here target species and others that may be of high value are removed, everything else – other fishes, marine reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates - is thrown back into the ocean. These are known as discards. A current estimate is that 25% of all catches are discards, equal to a massive 27 million tonnes a year!
Such a high quantity is a product of the world's commercial fleets motivated by financial gain. Large commercial fishing vessels, over 30 metres long, seldom go to sea for less than a week at a time, hence all catches must be stored on board for the period that they are fishing.
These vessels' limited storing capacity means that if all by-catches were stored, the ship would fill up with low-value species. This is taken to extremes when perfectly good tar­get fish of above minimum size are thrown back to sea and replaced by larger more profitable ones in a pro­cess called high-grading.
Currently fisheries operate to reduce the amount of fish caught using catch quotas, here a certain quantity of fish are allowed to be caught in a particular area by a spe­cific vessel. However, this process is inefficient at preventing high mortality rates especially in mixed fisheries where more than one quota exists
For example a fisher, given an annual quota of 15 tonnes of plaice and 10 tonnes of sole, may fill its plaice quota relatively quickly. But since these two species commonly live alongside one another any further catches of plaice whilst the fisher fills its sole quota must be discarded. Here plaice has been devalued from target to by-catch species.


The desire for higher profits can have disastrous repercussions for millions of people, largely in devel­oping countries and islands, who depend on fish as their only source of protein. Proper management of fish stocks can only be achieved by worldwide co-operation.
Fish do not stick to national boundaries, continually migrating to different areas. A shoal of a fish may be protected in one place but not in another. So a conflict of interests ensues, people over-fish to make a profit in developed coun­tries whereas people in developing countries people are forced into over-fishing to ensure they do not starve.
Would the people in poorer countries that are over-fishing sim­ply to feed themselves be doing so if fish were not seen as a commod­ity in the Western world to sell and make a profit? No.
If fish were caught simply to meet people's needs, using more envi­ronmental friendly techniques without the high mortality rates or severe damage to the seabed and the organisms living there, then the term 'there are plenty of fish in the sea' may not seem so ironic.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Comments on ‘Praxis Made Perfect’ by David Downes in Understanding Deviance

This piece under discussion, written in 1978, was an attempt at a critique of the Critical Criminology of Ian Taylor, Paul Walton and Jock Young as defined in their books The New Criminology and Critical Criminology. Given that they had described their criminology as Marxist and these texts were some of the most important of works emanating from the National Deviancy Symposium, it is well worth a look at this critique.
Downes’ central argument is that they (Taylor, Walton and Young) criticise capitalist society but fail to discuss what the alternative is, just naming it socialism and leaving it at that. Furthermore, Downes is quite right when he says that they don’t analyse crime in the Stalinist countries (he calls them socialist). Indeed I think we should agree with Downes on these two points that these are two things that a Marxist criminology should address.
But Downes’ own ideas are not ones we should adopt. He makes several fundamental errors in his critique, which I will now try and highlight – some are more than likely due to the ‘new left’ circles which Critical Criminology moved in counterpoising the earlier ‘humanistic’ Marx with the later Marx, and other such muddles.
Firstly after firstly correctly saying, of critical criminology “…the entire intellectual construction rests on the postulates that capitalist society is essentially criminogenic,” he goes on to add “…and that only by the total repudiation of the ethic of possessive individualism on which it rests can ‘true’ equality and ‘socialist diversity’ – the prerequisites for a ‘crime-free’ society – be attained” (pg 5-6) No, capitalist society rests on a particular stage of economic development, not individualism – and again it is a higher economic development that is the prerequisite for drastically reducing crime.
Later on he attacks, a rather loose phrase of Young’s about the working class having control over policing in their communities – and says that it means only members of one class should be able to police that class – leading to a caste type policing system where only the rich will get properly policed (because , of course, workers can’t do anything for themselves). Of course, Young’s depiction is rather vague, but it would cover the democratic control over local policing which socialists should argue for.
Although this isn’t it, a Marxist critique of the history, work and development of the National Deviancy Symposium would be incredibly useful for the development of a Marxist approach to criminology.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Review – A Benefit for the Victims of Violent Crime EP – Anti-Flag (2007)

For those disappointed by the lack of articles to do with crime recently, this is sort of for you. You may also be pleased to hear that I'm working on quite a few pieces over the next week or two for the blog on various things too.

This latest release by anti-war US punk band Anti-Flag is a compilation of songs recorded whilst recording their previous album as well as various live versions of songs from some of their previous albums. As is indicated by the album’s title, it was released to raise funds for a victim support centre in Pittsburgh, where the band is from, after the band wanted to do something positive after the murder of the sister of one of the band members (Most victim support and rape crisis centres are underfunded and generally have to rely on donations to survive). The very fact that their reaction was in this direction is entirely positive.
What is even better is that it is not just a re-hash of old songs with just re-recordings and live songs. Although there are a few live versions of songs from their last few albums – the live version of The Project for a New American Century is recommended, there are also a fair sprinkling of new songs too, the pick of which are No Paradise, No Future and Anthem for The New Millenium Generation not just musically, but for the political message that blames problems like crime on the capitalist system. The style of the songs is slightly different to some of their previous albums, and should have prepared me a bit more for their more recent album ‘The Bright Lights of America’. If you’re buying an Anti-Flag album, get the full albums first, but this is still recommended listening.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Notes of a Shop Worker

This is a letter that appeared in last weeks The Socialist. Part of the reason why I'm posting it is that it gives me the opportunity to plug The Activist (blog of Socialist Party members in USDAW - see links) and the new Robbie Segal for General Secretary blog - the articles on both a pretty good.

I haven't been in my job all that long, but you can feel the discontent amongst the people I work with. Their main complaint is understaffing – there are never enough people working to do the job properly – which stresses us all out. In my department we cook and serve food, and the company has not too long ago launched a big drive on food hygiene. The problem being that all this training is rendered meaningless by the understaffing which means we can’t properly carry out all we’ve learnt. The company say that the understaffing is due to their high staff turnover, but of course this is the case when they only pay us the pitiful minimum wage and expect us to do so much. That said, even if they had more staff, we’d still be understaffed as that way they can squeeze more profit out of us.
Instead, what we need is the nationalisation of the major supermarket chains under the control of the workers so we can implement humane working conditions with a better wage that would benefit staff and customers alike.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Review - Rosa Luxemburg by Harry Harmer - £9.99

Bonus posts today - cos i've been working so muchg recently I haven't had time to post much, so today I'm posting twice with this review, and the rather different piece below. Btw. I am especially interested as to waht people think of both of these pieces.

At first appearances this book seems like it could be a good introduction to the life and ideas of Rosa Luxemburg. The author is acquainted fairly familiarly with Luxemburg’s life and the major disputes she was involved in within the world of socialist politics, he is also particularly acquainted with her letters, especially to her first lover, Leo Jogiches. But this is where what can be commended in this book ends.
The whole method used in the book is flawed. Partially I believe this is because Harmer tries to portray himself as much more knowledgable than he is, claiming at one point that no Marxist has explained why capitalism hasn’t collapsed from all its contradictions (a position that was held by many pre-WW1 Marxists), but this was discussed thoroughly at the first four congresses of the Communist International, which concluded that although capitalism will inevitably experience continually more severe crises it could possibly recover on the basis of massive defeats of the working class. But also problematic is that Harmer does not seem to want to understand the complexities of how Luxemburg’s thought developed, rather he wants it to be fully formed and fails particularly to understand how Rosa’s ideas on question of working class organisation and the Russian revolution were moving decisively in support of the Bolsheviks. Worst of all, however, is the implicit suggestion (and many of the worst features of the book are things that the author half-says, questions posed that the author could if he were serious answer but doesn’t) that Luxemburg, and other Marxists of the time, were simply playing at being revolutionaries because they were rich and idle. In particular he accuses Rosa of effectively being a power-hungry megalomaniac, adapting her ideas, to suit her opportunistic aims. Her belief in Marxism is put down to its “romantic allure of revolutionary conspiracy”, rather than her seeing it as the theory that explains the world best.
One could carry on listing the flaws and weakness of the book, but it is hardly worth it. There are far better sources of information on Rosa Luxemburg and her ideas than this book.

A Manifesto for Wargamers

For those who do not know me that much (which is probably most people reading this blog!), one of my main hobbies is wargaming. More specifically playing a lot of Games Workshop games, especially Warhammer 40k and Lord of the Rings. I enjoy making the models, painting them and playing battles. It isn’t cheap, the models are quite expensive, it’s very time consuming – which I suppose makes it a little odd for someone quite as poor as me to play it.
Part of the way I afforded it was to not spend all that much on anything else, but also I spent almost a year working for the company and they have a dirt cheap price for many items for their employees. The company pays its frontline staff very little at all – true money is spent on the design and creation of the models which is quite expensive, but that is still no excuse, especially when most of the ordinary shop workers are quite skilled modellers and painters themselves.
Being wealthy is of course a big advantage for people who play as you have more money to spend on things so are not limited to the cheapest kits and have a wider variety of models to choose from when playing.
Anyway, a while back this got me thinking of demands that socialists would make in favour of workers in relation to this hobby. It is perhaps not the highest thing on the socialist agenda, but it is in my opinion worth considering. So here they are below:

1) Nationalisation of the major model making and wargames companies under the control of workers and hobbyists. To plan production in accordance not with the needs of profit (ie. changing rules just to make everyone buy a new rulebook), but to meet the needs of the modelling and wargaming community (ie. produce models which are useful to them). End competition between different companies making the same or very similar products (ie. paints and scenic materials).
2) For a living minimum wage for all working in the modelling and wargaming industry.
3) Immediate reduction in prices to a level more affordable to youngsters who can often be put off a hobby they enjoy through a lack of money.
4) Allow the use of company facilities for the ordinary wargamers as a when they need them – ie use facilities for wargames clubs. Free painting, modelling and strategy lessons from beginner to advanced level.

Some of the above are to an extent in existence – when we were open most of the boards in the store where I worked were available for people to play on, and we also did introductory lessons – however, stuff was also hired out and masterclasses costed – great if you have money, but no good for people with very little of it.

Monday, 9 June 2008

The Communist Manifesto in Welsh

Recently, the Socialist Party Wales has published an online translation of the Communist Manifesto in Welsh. The original translation was done by a member of the Communist party for the 100th anniversary of the Communist manifesto in 1948. 60 years later we are maing it available again online here

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Socialist Students supports London wide FE staff strike - Monday June 9

For a united struggle of workers and young people for a decent education system for all

If your college lecturers are on strike and you want to support them get in touch!

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) who work in London FE colleges are taking strike action on Monday 9. They are not coming into work in protest at the government’ attacks on the education system, and against wage cuts in real terms. Socialist Students supports this action, sends our solidarity, and gives our active support to all workers taking industrial action.

The New Labour government has attacked our right to a decent education with fees, cuts and privatisation. While college students are suffering huge cuts in courses, unaffordable privatised college services and the prospect if they choose to go to university of fees and debt, college lecturers are being forced to work longer hours, on lower pay and on more insecure contracts. College lecturers are taking action to fight against this neo liberal model for education and attacks on their pay and conditions which also results in worse conditions for students.

Their fight with the government is our fight, students need to unite in struggle with workers for a decent education system for all.

The government is demanding that public sector workers including college lecturers have only a 2.5% increase in wages this year.

This is despite public sector workers bearing the brunt of rising inflation mortgage interest payments are up 8%, food costs are up 6% and transport costs are up by 7%. Why, when big business fat cats are making huge profits, splashing cash on yachts and gulf stream jets for their summer holidays and MP’s are allowed to get away with fiddling expenses, should public sector workers have to accept a drop in living standards?

College lecturers have had below inflation pay increases every year since 2004 and have suffered a sustained loss in income. This has gone hand in hand with redundancies due to the slashing of college funding and massive cuts in areas like ESOL and Adult Education, increased workload and for new starter’s attacks on conditions with “term time only” contracts.

The employers, the Association of Colleges have made an insulting offer of a 2.5% pay increase for 2008-9. The trade unions in FE colleges have rejected this offer and have jointly demanded a catch-up pay claim for 6% or £1,500, whichever is the greater. This would establish a minimum wage level of £7.38 for workers in FE and would go some way to meet the actual cost of living. The employers have refused to back down and so college lecturers have been forced to take strike action.

On the 24 April , UCU members were part of the 400,000 public sector workers including teachers and civil servants who took strike action against the below inflation pay freeze. The UCU has continued its campaign with lunchtime protests on June 4 which took place in colleges across England with other trade unions and students participating. If the employers and the government refuse to come back with a better pay offer the UCU and other unions may take further strike action in the summer and into the autumn. You can find out more about the UCU’s campaign here .

Socialist Students calls for the college lecturers reasonable demands to be met by the government and the employers and supports all public sector workers taking strike action against the government’s attacks. Socialist Students activists will be attending the picket lines across London offering our support and building links with education workers so we can fight back together against fees, cuts and privatisation.

Unfortunately this is not the attitude of the National Union of Students leadership. The two NUS vice presidents of FE and HE, Beth Walker and Wes Streeting have made a statement calling on the government to increase funding for colleges and to end the pay disparity between college lecturers and school teachers. However disgracefully, nowhere in the statement is there explicit support for this specific strike action calling for active support from students and student unions for this strike. The only action that this statement advocates is that students complain to college management about the effects of the strike. This will only play into the hands of management and will not help the situation of lecturers or students. The emphasis of this statement is that this industrial action will have negative consequences for students. You can read the statement here

Socialist Students condemns this statement. The NUS leadership have a responsibility to explain clearly to students and student unions why this strike is taking place and have deliberately failed to do so. The NUS leadership because of its links to the New Labour government is worried about more instability and a fight back against Brown’s government that will affect their future careers not the conditions of college students and the future of education.

Why doesn’t the NUS statement make the following points?

College lecturers have democratically taken the decision (through a unanimous vote at the UCU conference) to take this action after trying many other options.

The government and the employers have refused to listen to public sector workers despite many discussions, lobbying of MP’s and public rallies.

This strike will mean the closure of many colleges and courses not being run for one day, students may have genuine concerns about their exams and coursework. However if the government are not forced by workers to stop these attacks it will affect our ability to access free , good quality , publicly funded education.

By taking this action, college lecturers are losing a days pay, but they have decided its worth it in the struggle against the governments attacks.

The NUS leadership should also have taken the following steps to support the lecturers.

Released press releases in support of the strike action, produced posters and leaflets in support of the action and distributed them to students.

Produced posters and leaflets in support of the action and distributed them to students, emailed all students and students unions encouraging them to visit local picket lines and organise demonstrations in support of the lecturers.

Through local students unions organised meetings on campuses with speakers from the UCU, NUS and local activists groups to explain why the strike should be supported.

The NUS needs to link up with the trade unions to build a mass campaign against attacks on education. This means actively supporting workers taking strike action and mobilising students and student unions to co-ordinate action on the same day. When the UCU and other unions take action in the autumn the NUS should organise a national demonstration against fees, cuts and privatisation and use its resources to mobilise the mass of students.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Some Thoughts On My Blog

Now my exams are over and I have a little more time I am hoping to renovate the blog a little. Firstly by updating the blog archive and updating the list of blogs I link to. Secondly I'm wanting to personalise the blog a little, so expect some posts on things that I am personally interested in. Thirdly, I'm going to steal an idea from The Daily (maybe) and invite readers of this blog to request a topic they would like me to post on.

PS. There is a new article just below this one on the harassment of young people by the police in Essex which has been in the news a lot recently.

Harassing Young People

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has recently been heralding an initiative in Essex where officers harass ‘yobs’ by following young people around with video cameras. The Guardian recently published an article (30/05/08) written by one of their journalists who had spent a day with the ‘Operation Leopard’ police taskforce.
The journalist describes how the police roam the estate looking for a ‘hit list of individuals’, filming them and anyone they are with and occasionally visiting their homes. Apparently those filmed have the right not to be, but as with many ‘right’ that we don’t have when it suits the authorities, the journalist notes that this option wasn’t given to any of the 15 people filmed in his presence.
But one of the many problems of such ‘targeted’ police work is that it targets either stereotypically contrived sections of the population, or ‘known offenders’, the latter given only a tiny proportion of all crimes committed are ever arrested isn’t the ‘evidence-based’ approach its advocates make it out to be. But also, as a conversation the journalist has with a 19 year old target uncovers, just because someone has committed one or more crimes in the past, doesn’t mean they will do so in the future, indeed many people who have engaged in criminal or anti-social behaviour when they are young simply drop out of it later or ‘grow up’ as the 19 year old expresses it.
Many working class people rightly feel threatened by ‘street’ crime and anti-social behaviour, so it is perhaps understandable that many residents on the police’s survey supported the initiative believing the inconvenience of a dozen or so youths is worth it if crime is reduced. There are two problems with this though, firstly that saturation and intimidatory police tactics can often provoke a fierce backlash from the relatively powerless groups subjected to them. Secondly, there aren’t enough police officers to operate such schemes everywhere, and given that it doesn’t remove the underlying causes of such actions, as many residents themselves expressed, once the operation leaves the estate crime and anti-social behaviour will probably increase again.
Socialists do support the use of policing to tackle crime, but only under local democratic control and we would favour a more reactive use rather than proactively harassing people, who often are completely innocent. But this would be as an auxiliary to tackling the problems at the root of crime, unemployment and alienation which give many young people no future under this current capitalist system.