Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Another Wargaming Post

Tonight I've posted up three new posts as I'm probably not going to be able to post anything for almost a week.

On Sunday I went to my first wargames tournament in ages at Games Workshop Wakefields Events Centre. It was a doubles Lord of the Rings tournament. In typical fashion for me, I painted my army in the week before the competition, and thus hadn't ever played with it before as a whole. I came ninth overall, which considering I hadn't played a full on battle of Lord of the Rings for a long time, and the person I was playing with hadn't for a year wasn't bad really. Also I chose the whole army, and looking back I think the Gondorian cavalry was a mistake as it was so small that a decent group of archers could wipe it out in the first few turns of a game. Plus I had the most atrocious luck with my archers. But it was fairly fun though. Below are some pictures (the cavalry pictures don't want to come from my camera to my computer for some reason?) and my army list - including a bit of background text nonsense to attempt to justify the army.

Various Rangers of Arnor

Various Warriors of Gondor

Faramir on Horse (note Orc being trampled)
The Alliance of the Kingdoms of Men

An unexpected meeting of two bands of fighters from the kingdom of Gondor and the former kingdom of Arnor brought this force into being towards the end of the third age. For days Halbarad and his band of rangers had been tracking a party of Orcs drawn by the call of their master, the Dark Lord Sauron himself who was reassembling his forces in Mordor. Faramir, on the other hand, was on his way to inspect a garrison in North Ithilien, when he came across Halbarad and his men. The two joined forces and set off in pursuit of the Orcs.

Faramir’s Escort – (300pts)

Faramir, Captain of Gondor – In heavy armour on horseback – 85pts
Captain of Minas Tirith – Shield – 55pts

4 Knights of Minas Tirith – Shield – 56pts
8 Warriors of Minas Tirith – Spear and shield – 72pts
4 Warriors of Minas Tirith – Shield – 32pts

Halbarad’s Hunters (298pts)

Halbarad Dunádan – 65pts
3 Rangers of the North – 75pts
Dúnedain – 24pts

6 Rangers of Arnor – Spear – 54pts
10 Rangers of Arnor – 80 pts

Review – Their Morals & Ours by Leon Trotsky

This is a semi-comment/semi-review article really, but the point I make I feel is rather important.

Their Morals and Ours is an effective exposition of the class basis of morality. In it Trotsky attacks socialists and other lefts who claim to adhere to a universal morality, exposing that anything that is supposed to remain constant for all time can only emanate from some sort of ‘god’. Marxists on the other hand have a dialectical understanding of society, noting that society changes and that all ideas (including Marxism) are interlinked with the material conditions in a given stage of society.
But it is the discussion of ‘means and ends’ that I found the most interesting. Here Trotsky discusses the famous statement that ‘the ends justify the means’. He explains that for Marxists that these are interdependent, that only the means that genuinely serve the ends of the liberation of humanity from capitalism are justified. Thus they must unite the working class, strengthen its party (both internally and externally) etc. Thus such things as individual terrorism fail such a test as they tend to weaken the working class and divide it rather than strengthen it.
The context of such actions is also important. It is one thing to shoot someone in the street in cold blood, it is a different thing when one is on the front line of a war. Thus the same action can be justified or not depending on the context. The relevance of such a recognition is very useful for developing a Marxist critique of criminology.

Anti-racism stall in Wrexham

This is from The Socialist from two weeks ago, I simply hadn't got around to posting it.

A Socialist Party stall with the slogans 'jobs, homes and services not racism' and 'youth against racism' was set up in a prominent shopping area in Wrexham town centre. Overall our key demands were welcomed and amongst those who stopped to talk, one man highlighted how the Labour Party he once knew no longer existed and said that he doesn't believe anything New Labour say.
Groups of young people signed the petitions and took leaflets, returning later in the day with more of their mates to sign. A couple of OAPs congratulated us on still flying the red flag. Some people gave their names to be contacted regarding future activities. Hopefully this shows the beginning of building the Socialist Party in North East Wales.

Profits Before Plan to Stop Binge Drinking

Drinks companies have torn up a voluntary agreement banning happy-hours and other aggressive drinks promotions, which will affect over half the country’s pubs. The agreements covered a ban on incentives that encourage people to consume massive amounts of alcohol in a short time and have been dropped the trade body, the British Beer and Pub Association, say that they have legal opinion that such an agreement contradicts European competition laws. This has led even the Association of Chief Police Officers to call for action to be taken against the free market in the form of government legislation!

Fuelling Binge Drinking

The director of the world’s biggest drinks group Diageo was even quoted in the Guardian (28/7/08) as saying “There is no direct evidence that pricing affects consumption.” But then why would the drinks companies bother with pricing promotions if it wasn’t leading to increased sales? Even prior to this announcement, the UK’s biggest nightclub operator, Luminar, had begun introducing offers like 80p for all drinks.
Clearly, increased drinks sales, means increased alcohol consumption leading to a further increase in the binge drinking problem. Obviously there is massive health problems associated with binge drinking, in particular the fact that around a million admissions to accident and emergency wards are alcohol related.
But binge drinking is not just about the availability of cheap drinks, it is also related to the need for many people to escape from the daily stress that affects them in their everyday lives. Fundamentally, if we wish to tackle binge drinking, it is this that we also need to tackle.

Sunday, 27 July 2008


When I changed the layout a few weeks back I tried to make sure everything that I had previously on the blog was still there. Well I forgot the stat counter code. It's not necessarily the most important thin, but i do like to see which posts are the most popular, so i know what people enjoy reading. (btw if you want more on anything let me know - maybe i should have a vote?) Anyway, its back now.

Which gives me time to welcome two new blogs to my listings

Firstly we have Leftwrites - which looks to me like an Ausralian Socialist Unity blog - but theres some interesting discussions on there.

Secondly, we have Infantile and Disorderly, written by a supporter of HOPI and as you might have imaged from this features posts on Iran and the various groups on the lefts attitudes towards this country.

Anyways, I'll post a proper post tonight.

Knock-Off Nigel

People reading this blog will probably know what the title of this post refers to, but for those who don't it is to the latest series of anti-film piracy adverts on British TV.

Basically the jist of the adverts is that people who buy or download pirated films are basically cheapskates that are hiding within our midst and the adverts end with a public humiliation of the now revealed pirate film user by a crowd calling him knock-off nigel. You can see one of them set in a pub here ( and another set in an office

The basic aim of the advert is to try and portray people using pirated films by... saying they will become moral degenerates because of it and become subject to public humiliation - this is supposed to stop them buying them.

For example the pub-based advert strings together the following traits of a knock-off nigel

  1. they do things on the cheap

  2. instead of buying gifts they give things they have acquired free of charge (in this case by finding items in the street)

  3. they steal things from their relatives

  4. they regualarly acquire favours/gifts of friends with nothing in return (in this case scrounging drinks)

Or the second office based advert which gives very similar things but with stealing from workmates and "being a real creep".

One of the first things that stands out is that these are characteristics thrown together at random as being supposedly 'morally wrong', I highly doubt that these characteristics of pirated film users.
Secondly what is so wrong with doing things on the cheap - as someone with a very limited income I have to by necessity do things on the cheap a lot of the time because of this (also doesn't this in essence imply that to be morally good you have to spend lots of money?). This doesn't mean that all the other traits apply to me. One of them does that of being bought drinks, but that stems from the fact that I'm poor and people tend to drink as a social activity and don't want me to be sat there without a drink when I can't afford it. But then when I've had money I've done the same for other people and that doesn't make them moral degenerates either! Also, it is a semi-custom for many people to buy drinks for their partners (particularly female ones) which when extended to them shows how stupid this generalisation is!
Thirdly, it completely rips why people buy these DVDs out of context. In the adverts 'nigel' is portrayed as someone who has the money to buy 'real' films but choose not to. Some people do not have this luxury, to be able to view all the films they wish to, that is before even discussing why DVDs costs so much. But more importantly this advert discussing it from only the angle of the buyer (although previous adverts have tried to tell us that all pirate DVD sellers are gangs using it for funding other criminal activities). This can also be examined at the level of individuals who copy DVDs too, but a discussion of how mainstream companies are complicit and can benefit from being involved in the trafficking of knock-off goods was discussed on Bent Society last week (see

Now obviously you can't put all this in an advert, but an attempt to put the advert into its correct context would have been better at the very least. But we have also to question the motives behind such adverts and the whole question of pirated films/music etc. I'm hoping to write more on these issues over the next few weeks, but also I'd like to examine in further detail some of the question raised above, particularly the actual extent of film piracy and its composition. I would appreciate feedback and comments on this article very much.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Bankers' dirty tricks?

Taken from this weeks issue of The Socialist.

AFTER THE Office of Fair Trading (OFT) criticised excessive penalty and overdraft charges that make banks over £8.3 billion yearly, the British Bankers Association, representing the major banks, threatened to introduce fees for current account services.

Banking charges attracted scrutiny recently with revelations that customers paid on average £152 in charges, with over four million people paying over £200 in overdraft charges a year.

So when the OFT threatens this, what do the banks do? They draw up a list of currently free services and claim they will be 'forced' to introduce charges if the overdraft cash-cow dries up.

These include potential £5-£20 a month charges for a current account, and paying for ATM use, for direct debits and bank statements.

But they shouldn't charge for these. Most banks invest money from current accounts at high rates of interest, earning themselves a profit of £4.1 billion a year.

End this big business robbery of people's money.

Take the major banks into public ownership with compensation only paid on the basis of genuine need. Run the banks in the interest of the public and end charges.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Rights and Their Necessary Material Conditions

This piece looks at a chapter by Hector Gros Espiell from the book The Poverty of Rights (eds. Van Genugten & Perez-Bustillo, 2001). This book was the only book in my university library which attempted to deal with human rights in Latin America.

The fundamental thesis of this piece is that human rights can only be secured when there is an economic basis sufficient to sustain them. The second point flowing from this is that although many countries proclaim support for the idea of human rights, this means nothing if the above condition is not met. The author of this piece cites a wealth of human rights legislation that shows the official support for political, legal, cultural and social rights, but he notes that the actual existence of these rights is patchy in many areas of the world.
The author’s belief of how to achieve this is that the necessary material conditions is through the development of the capitalist state, saying that “…we have to recognise that law, that is to say the law of a democratic state committed to social justice, is the necessary but perhaps insufficient condition to promote the economic and social change necessary for rights to be realised” (pg.139)
But is this self-same capitalist state, which is in existence to represent the interests of the capitalists profits rather than the needs of the working masses, that keeps the present disequilibrium in society that presents such needs from being realised. Of course, this comment is in all likelihood also directed towards indicting the bureaucratic, totalitarian, Stalinist states, and it is fair to say that the spread of workers democracy in those countries would have led to being able to put in place the guaranteed rights that human rights activists crave. But then this is basically the same programme that is needed in the rest of the world to give workers the ability to control their own societies and give the material basis for full universal rights for all.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Review – Revolutionary History – Vol. 9 No. 4 – Pierre Broue

ps. you may also have noticed i've now provided a link to the Revolutionary History website in the Resources section (scroll down)

Several days ago I finished reading my way through the latest issue of Revolutionary History – which as you may guess from the title is dedicated to the French Trotskyist Historian Pierre Broue. But this wasn’t the reason why I got it (especially given that I hadn’t heard of him before). Instead I had had the obituary in the book for Ted Grant written by Tony Aitman recommended to me. And it is a rather good obituary too – looking at how Grant’s analysis of the post world war two world developed and traced out the antecedents of future developments in his thoughts. It is a pity that you have to buy to whole thing to get access to it.

Well, not that much of a pity. The main piece of the book is several translations of writings by Broue which particularly focus on the origins of the International Left Opposition and the Fourth International. After a rather long obituary for Broue, which has been translated as an introduction to his ideas (a much shorter piece would have been better). But his writings are really interesting – and after having read a few things published by others associated with this journal – I find they don’t suffer from what I think is a defect, that is a general tendency to analyse things separate from the circumstances they occurred in – Broue’s piece on the left opposition in Russia is a good example of this.

As for the other pieces in the journal, there are several obituaries for Sri Lankan Trotskyists – which have given be a desire to find out more about Trotskyism in that country. There are also several reviews at the end, but to an extent they suffer from the defect I described above (but not always – some were quite interesting).

Monday, 21 July 2008

Bangor: Bus protest

This comes from this weeks issue of the Socialist

THE WESTERN Mail recently reported that Arriva buses would be buying seven buses from rival local operator KMP and paying them to stop running some of their services. That shocked many people in north-west Wales.

From 4 August it will cost more than twice as much to take the same journey as it does at present, with a service that will most likely be far less frequent.

Socialist Party members in Bangor (where all the routes affected run through) organised a stall in protest at the constant placing of corporate profits before public needs that results from the fragmented privatised transport system we have.

People came up to the stall explaining about the problems they face with public transport and agreeing with our call for renationalisation under democratic control.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

A New Look In Development

As you may have noticed the blog looks slightly different today. A while a go I decided I needed to freshen things up a little, so today I have done so - a new look for the blog and more. It's not finished yet, I want to try and play about with the fonts and stuff. Also you'll notice that many of the links have gone missing from the side - don't worry they will be back - I've added a feature that blogger now has for most recently updated blogs (partially for my own use more than anything else)./ I'll also have a traditional blog roll, but i'm in the middle of recategorising (and if you don't like wheich category your blog has been placed in let me know and i'll move it into whichever one you want). I'm also planning on getting rid of the blog archive page (as it is far too much hassle to update) and replacing it with

Anywasy, recently I had added the following blogs to the old blog roll

Bent Society Blog
La Lutte Continue!
Derek McMillan's Blog
Militant Worker

Friday, 18 July 2008

Reports from the Local Government strike in Wales

Socialist Party Wales members visited dozens of picket lines across Wales offering solidarity and support and receiving a warm welcome for our special public sector leaflet as well as selling our paper to many of the pickets.


The strike in South West Wales was solid and our members reported overwhelming support for the action.
Alec Thraves reports:

Pickets at the County Hall, Guildhall, Refuse depot, Building maintenance, social services, the Grand theatre and others all reported just a handful, of mainly non union members, crossing the picket lines.
Clive Williams, UNISON shop steward for the Housing Department of the City and County of Swansea said: - “My colleagues ask me – Do I think this dispute is winnable? I reply, yes I do think it is winnable but it depends on the tactics of the trade union leadership. There are two factors I would like to highlight:-Firstly, the Labour Party has to be taught a lesson and that is you don’t bite the hand that feeds you! The Labour party is funded by the trade union movement and that funding must stop because we aren’t get anything in return for the money we are paying out, so that link must be broken.Secondly, when industrial action is being considered, the leadership of the public sector trade unions should carry out a ballot simultaneously with a recommendation for strike action and if that happens then success will be very likely. Today’s action has seen 99% out on strike and the few who have gone in have been insignificant”!
40 copies of the Socialist were sold in Swansea city centre at a lunch time stall supporting the council workers.

The main council building had a lively picket with hardly anyone going in and similarly at the leisure centre.Mark Evans, UNISON, Assistant Branch Secretary of Carmarthenshire County Branch, with 4000 members spread across Carmarthen, Llanelli and the Amman Valley told the Socialist that the strike had been solid with the most number of pickets ever!“The GMB refuse depots have been picketed with no one crossing the picket line, whilst pickets at other council premises were solid, upbeat and reported that very few staff have gone into work. Our shop stewards discussed the excellent response today but felt that 2 days would not be enough to win our demand and that in September we expect an escalation of the dispute. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for joint action with other public sector workers”.


Report by Ross Saunders Cardiff UNISON Schools Convenor (personal capacity)

Thousands of Unison members went on strike in Cardiff and the rest of South East Wales today against a pay offer that amounts, yet again, to real-terms pay cuts. Many schools and Council workplaces were shut, with a number of lively picketlines outside those that management refused to close. Postal workers refused to deliver the mail and many members of GMB and other unions refused to cross the picketline in solidarity.
Council management have been condemned in the press for risking unsafe working practices in order to try and hide the impact caused by the strike. They forced Butetown tunnels, a series of covered dual carriageways, open with a small crew of 3 untrained scabs. Every 12 hours 40,000 cars travel through the tunnel, which is usually staffed by 20 skilled technicians, all UNISON members out on strike.
There was a feeling of grim determination on the picketlines I visited. Local Government workers are the most lowly-paid in the whole of the services sector, and UNISON organises some of the worst off of these - including the care-workers, teaching assistants and cleaners. Pickets said that, despite the financial sacrifice, they were glad they were taking action against attacks on their pay, working conditions and the quality of the services they provide.
Labour Assembly Member Carwyn Jones spoke at UNISON, saying he thought it was unfair for some to have to suffer "pay restraint" and not others. The irony was not lost on the members who listened to him speak from the platform, which was decorated with placards, including one pointint out Assembly Members had themselves just accepted an 8% rise in their already inflated earnings.

Report by Mariam Kamish
Cardiff County Unison strikers at County Hall have been very effective. They've stood in the road, stopping every car, with a polite but firm, "May I ask you not to cross the picketline?" As a result, even most managers have felt the need to explain themselves. Delivery vans have turned back and not attempted to cross the picketline. About 30 strikers were on the picketlines at County Hall at some point during the day.People crossing (other than management) were those with exemptions from the union, because they were about to retire (and days off would count against their pensions) and temps. Temps were encouraged to join the union and assured that - management threats not withstanding - they would not have action taken against them for taking part.Management had sent out an email warning staff that they would be in breach of their contract if they didn't belong to the union, but respected the picketline. Pickets explained that all strikers were "in breach of their contracts", but were covered by provisions for legal strike action.The second day, the small numbers going into work - including management - were greatly reduced. An excellent result.

Pickets at the Council buildings in Bridgend town centre reported that the strike was solid with fewworkers turning up. Bernard Roome, CWU National Executive member, spoke to them and gave solidarity and support from the communication workers union.


Geoff Jones
Powys Council headquarters was closed and picketed. Schools and librarieswere also closed. Workers in rural Wales have been particularly hit by rising fuel costs. One striker who has to travel around the county as part of her job commented that Powys' mileage allowance now did not cover the cost of fuel so that she was subsidising the Council.


Ruthin, Denbighshire
Liz Cowell
Strikers from across Denbighshire converged at Ruthin for a lunchtime rally calling for Fair Pay; many wore T shirts emblazoned with the slogan "I'd rather be skint than a scab". Many reported support from the public and as the rally progressed many passing vehicles sounded their horns in solidaritory. The majority of strikers highlighted that the Welsh Assembly Members had no shame in awarding themselves an 8% pay increase (double the rate of inflation), while expecting ordinary workers to accept 2% (half the rate of inflation) - irony gone mad.The UNISON/UNITE strikers chanted ,"What are you going to spend your £3 rise on?"" A gallon of petrol" came the reply from the crowd. Other demands raised were "We want the John Lewis list and Money for bread and milk".Several raised the point that while striking for a pay rise to keep up with inflation they were also there protesting at cut backs in their departments - resulting in worsening services for vulnerable people and extra workloads for the staff. The speakers at the rally commented that council workers have worked so well that they have doubled the government's target for efficiency savings, meaning that Conwy council has £3Million of unallocated funds and Denbighshire £5Million. In the Strikers own words this would be more than enough to meet the unions pay demand in full.

Iain Dalton
Socialist Party members visted the picket line at the Town Hall in Bangor (Almost all other council run buildings were simply closed for the day). The picketers described their anger at seeing the farce of MPs expenses whilst they were being forced to put up with a miserable below-inflation pay increase. On the Thursday, members visited several picket lines in Caenarfon where news had just come in of all the GMB members (who are not on strike) refusing to cross the picket lines at some workplaces in the south of Gwynedd in a show of solidarity with their striking fellow workers. The mood was one of determination, particularly after finally actually taking action after years of below inflation pay increases and workers on the picket lines discussed what could be done to make future action even more successful.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Why I Am A Vegetarian and More…

This is another of the new posts I'm trying that are sort of about me. I'll be posting a report on the local government strikes from the next few days once I've collated reports from the other members in North Wales (it may even have photos! - we'll its exciting for me!).

I don’t know if I have ever commented on my vegetarianism on this blog before, but I do think I have. The first question I often find I am asked is why? Now for me it is not solely a question of believing it is immoral to eat meat - although the conditions many animals are kept in are rather barbaric – but more a case of my teeth. As a child I broke my chin/jaw and it never set quite right meaning that I always struggled to chew ‘thick’ meat. From this, when I moved out of home I tended to only eat processed food, trued some vegetarian food instead, found I liked it and started eating that instead. But more than just stopping eating meat, I found myself willing to try and whole array of foodstuffs I hadn’t before and really enjoying them.
I think many people are somewhat ‘lazy’ when it comes to food, eating processed foods, especially microwavable meals or takeaways, but I think that’s because under todays conditions of never seeming to have enough time and being stressed out we simply revert to what’s easiest, something quick and that we know and like. This is not to say that I think everyone should be expert’s who can cook a range of the finest cuisine, but ordinary people should have the time to make that an option available to them, through trying to ensure that they can acquire easily the ingredients they need and have a shorter working week to give the time. But they should also have the option to be able to eat out as and when it suits them. I’m reminded of an article by Trotsky which called for the setting up of subsidised restaurants for workers in Russia after the revolution (I believe this was alongside setting up other things such as publicly run laundrettes etc. to take some of the ‘drudgery’ out of housework). I’d go further and call for decent quality food, with a good selection of choice for vegetarians, vegans and those with food allergies too.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Class Inside The Criminal Justice System

Now I’d like to think people are well aware of the well-documented class bias in the criminal justice system (not to mention racial and other biases). So today I want to deal with the relation of class within the criminal justice system.
Why should I do this? Because there is a perception for some that those working for the state (and here I mean the prisons, police, courts etc. the ‘armed bodies of men’) form one reactionary mass. Needless to say, I think this is false. It is important to note that the tops of any industry and other state occupation (ie. teaching, civil service etc.) are different to the people at the bottom of those organisations. In my opinion there is a certain analogy between your basic civil servant, factory worker, prison officer and police constable, just like there may be between a senior civil servant, factory manager, prison warden and chief constable.
Okay, so a police officer has more discretion in their work than a factory worker. But who decides the broad thrust of the actions of these groups, it is those at the top not the bottom. Would we suggest that all civil servants agree with means testing because they have to carry it out? The same to an extent applies to strike breaking or stop and search with the police. (Of course this doesn’t mean that all civil servants or police officers are opposed to such actions either). To get some say in how their institution is run they need collective action – unlike those at the top. The courts are somewhat different with the judiciary drawn from the legal profession and the magistracy is drawn from whomever local political players nominate. Both of which are not generally working class, or are at all that sympathetic either.
Which brings me to what I suppose is the real reason why I began writing this. Namely that when I wrote about Devolution and the Criminal Justice System in relation to Wales it was pointed out that I was dismissive of the notion that extra jobs in Wales may result from establishing a fully developed Criminal Justice System.
Now the reason for me being dismissive was mostly because such jobs would only be jobs stolen from English workers, and it wouldn’t be all that many jobs, simply some administrative posts. The main benefactors would be those at the top who would be running the justice system of a region not a nation – with a prestige boost to match.
Job creation with regards to more immediate problems such as making the criminal justice system more ‘accessible’ (ie. building prisons and courts so that travel time for families etc are reduced etc.) would result in more jobs without taking them from elsewhere.
Indeed all the immediate problems that face welsh people in relation to making the Criminal Justice System more accessible to them as a nation (the lack of local prisons, lack of Welsh language provision etc.), do not require a separate Welsh jurisdiction. In my opinion a Welsh Criminal Justice system would be valid if it were to be constituted on a more progressive basis to the current system, in that it was truly democratic – especially in relation to the judiciary – basically if it were run in the interests of the ordinary workers in Wales (regardless whether Welsh speaking or not, or whether they were born in Wales or not – that should not matter) and not to create prestige posts for the Welsh middle class.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A Brief Look at the Origins and History of Police Unionism in Britain – Pt2

by the way this is sort of a part two to this article It takes up where the first one left of with the destruction of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers after the police strikes of 1918-19.

The Police Federation as it was established and still exists today is a vehicle for suppressing police militancy. Constables, who are the lowest rank in the police, were the most militant section of the police both before and during the strike. Thus the new representative structures that the Federation embodied minimised their role. This was done by splitting the structure by rank with constables, sergeants and inspectors each electing their own representatives, where each rank made up a third each of a joint negotiating body. Given that there are many more constables than sergeants, and many more sergeants than inspectors, this was a deliberate weighting to suppress the more militant ranks.
Needless to say, industrial action was banned, as was affiliation or association with outside bodies. Although all policemen were automatically members, the Federation was not allowed to collect funds from them and had to rely on a tiny grant from the Home Office. And after organising a public meeting on proposed pay cuts in 1931 – the Federation was banned from organising these. In the end – worsening conditions as a result of the second world war led to many leaving the force prompting some changes to the Federation.
These changes removed some of the most restrictive elements that had plagued the Federation, but not the substance of what the Federation represented. It was allowed to collect funds, and was able to play some kind of role in pay negotiations, able to dispute pay awards and force the government into arbitration of these. It was still merely a shadow of what NUPPO had been.
It was with this organisation that the police fought their last major battle with the government over pay before now during the 1970’s. It began with the negotiations over pay in 1970, with something as minor as writing letters to MP’s but motions that would have granted the federation the powers of a union, including industrial action were debated at the Federation’s conference.
However, the situation changed with the election of a Conservative government who increased the award offered to the police (although not for almost a year!), as a part of preparations for attempting to break the unions. On the other hand, Labour had been constrained by the need to appear fair across all pay increases (similarly to today) so as not to anger workers in TUC affiliated unions.
This was again the case in 1975 in the first pay negotiations after the return of Labour to government. The government was again imposing pay restraint as was determined not to make the police a ‘special case’, however, a rising tide of industrial militancy saw cracks appearing elsewhere. Thus 1977 Federation conference saw as delegates voting for the right to strike as a result of continuingly worsening pay deals. However, at the same time they also rejected TUC affiliation. In the end the promise of a pay review, which when implemented by the Tories gave a guaranteed increases in line with inflation, led to talk about the need for union powers being dropped.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Review – Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano (1970)

I started reading this book in preparation for an essay where I felt I needed to get a better understanding of the history of Latin America. And this is a brilliant book for doing that. The author demonstrates admirably how Latin America has been plundered by the more developed countries of Europe and the US, how these switched from the less developed Spain and Portugal to the more developed Britain and the US. He shows how growth and development in Latin America has been stifled by subordination to these countries, drawing on Marx and even more so on Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

He also shows that there has been resistance and rebellion too. Documenting both nationalist struggles and peasant uprisings as well as commenting on the Cuban revolution and Allende’s Chile (although the latter on really in a postscript entitled 7 years after as the book was written in 1970). The tale of bonapartist Paraguay in the mid-19th century is also interesting, as the only country that began to develop without being sub-ordinated to foreign capital, which was quickly crushed by a triple alliance of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – organised and financed by Britain whose dominance in the area it threatened.

There are on or two small negative points though. Firstly, there is not as much depth in the bits about the 20th century as there is on earlier centuries. Secondly, the author tends to ramble a bit, although everything he describes in a chapter is related you do tend to occasionally find yourself a bit lost in the book. But these are only small problems put against the great value that this book has.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Student Struggles In Africa

I've lost my USB strick with various pieces I'd written for the blog on it. However, I thougth i ought to post something in the meantime so there is selection of reports about student struggles in Africa

Burkina Faso

Tinette Schnatterer, who recently spoke to student activists in Burkina Faso, looks at developing mass protests and strikes in the impoverished West African country, which has one of the lowest GDP per capita incomes in the world and is ranked the 127th poorest nation.

Brutal police action against student strike
United action of protesting workers, students and poor needed!
Tinette Schnatterer, SAV (CWI in Germany)

After months of protests, 17 June saw university students in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, go on strike to increase pressure for more classrooms, higher grants and lower tuition fees. Studying conditions are catastrophic. The entire department for German Studies has to share two dictionaries and two computers. Over the last few days, another demand has been added by the students: the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the police from the university campus.
Police shoot at students
On 17 June, the biggest student union, ANEB, called a demonstration and a sit-in in front of the rector's office at the university. They wanted to force the administration to react, which until then tried to ignore the protests. But instead of negotiating with the students, the authorities called in the police. The police shot live bullets at the peaceful demonstration. It is reported that 62 students were arrested and many injured. One student told us: "A student has been shot in the leg. We thought we were in Darfur". Since then, the campus has been surrounded by the police, even though access to the campus by the police is prohibited by law.
Some of the arrested students had to be released because of a lack of evidence. Four students were sentenced to 6 months, released on probation, and fined 5,000 Franc CFA. They have been accused of 'damaging property' during the demonstration. Contrary to what has been reported in the media, the students only started to fight back when the police started to shoot at their demonstration.
During the court trial, which lasted 48 hours, hundreds of students waited in the overcrowded courtroom, and in front of the court buildings, to show their solidarity with their fellow students. This is why the court sentences were much less than that demanded by the prosecutor.
University principal shuts down the university
To underline that they will not be intimidated but will continue to struggle until their demands are carried out, students called another demonstration for 26 June. The University Administration reacted immediately and closed down the whole university. "For the moment, we shut down all the social services, particularly the hostels, the canteens and the health stations for the students", said Bibia Robert Sangaré, President of the National Centre of University Institutions.
This led to enormous problems for the striking students. Most of them have homes far away from the university, share a small room in student hostels and have no finances. The university administration is now trying to literally starve out the protesters. At the same time, a student told us:"The University Principal threatens us with the annulment of the term, they want to boycott our results and make us repeat the academic year."
Nevertheless, the students organised further protests. "The Campus is surrounded by the police. We have no possibility at all to get into contact with our rank and file members. But, on Monday, we will organise a big rally of all the students on the campus", said Adama Baguiyan, President of the General Alliance of the Students Burkina Faso (UGEB), the umbrella organisation to which the ANEB belongs.
Growing anger at neo-liberal policy
During the last months, there were growing protests in Burkina Faso, as in the whole region, against the effects of neo-liberal policies. Big demonstrations and strikes against rising food prices and against the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU) shattered the country. The brutal police actions against the students show how much the government fears these protests.
Parallel to the student protests, workers in the health industry responded to a strike call from the Synsha trade union and went on a three day strike. To transform this widespread anger into effective resistance, the unions should organise, as the next step, a one day, country-wide, general strike of workers, students and the urban and rural poor. Also political representation, that does not look for an alliance with Western banks and big corporations, but unites resistance against capitalist globalisation internationally, is necessary. Capitalism demonstrates, daily, that profits of big corporations are more important to it than food and education for millions.
"Don't shoot, you can't kill ideas"
"Don't shoot, you can't kill ideas" - These were the words spoken by the former radical, anti-imperialist president, Thomas Sankara, one week before his assassination in a military coup in 1987. The growing enthusiasm for Sankara, especially among young people, is the expression of a search for alternatives. Despite repression, thousands participated in protests to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Sankara's assassination, last year. But, unfortunately, the tragic end of Sankara's four years rule showed that a complete break with capitalism is necessary to open the way to real liberation from imperialism and the first steps towards a socialist planned economy. These steps cannot be introduced from above, or simply by a chief of government. Only a revolutionary movement of workers, youth and peasants (in Burkina Faso, 80 % of the population work in agriculture) will be able to replace the dictatorship of profit with a society where the mass of the population democratically decide what to produce and how. The mass movement is key to succcess, and the example of Venezuela shows current these debates are today.


Education Rights Campaign
Pay Teachers Adequate Wages Now!
Press Statement by the Education Rights Campaign, Nigeria

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) hereby condemns in strong terms the failure of the Yar'Adua and state governments to hearken to the demands of Nigerian teachers who are requesting for improved remuneration as contained in the Teachers Salary Scale. Also, we declare our total support of the teachers for improved living conditions. We enjoin the leadership of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) to lead the struggle to a logical conclusion that will ensure improved and adequate living wage for teachers.
It is ridiculous that the same government that claim to be committed to the human capacity development including education could wait until the teachers, most of whom are paid poverty wages, to embark on wage to improve their living standard. It is ridiculous that the government cannot recognize the link between teachers' living standards and educational development. According to a UNESCO report, Nigeria requires over 200, 000 teachers to bring to school over eight million children currently out of school, while more teachers are needed to provide quality education to Nigerian children based on international standard, but these numbers of teachers could not be got because teachers are poorly treated by the governments at all level. One would have expected the federal government to immediately concede to the demands of the teachers other than the present hide-and-seek game of the government. This again confirms our belief that the present government is not interested in the development of the country notwithstanding their grandstanding.
This is already confirmed in the manner the federal and state governments are handling the education sector. Currently across all tertiary institutions, fees are being hiked despite the fact that many students come from working class and poor peoples' backgrounds. Furthermore the federal budget for education is less than 8.3 percent while UNESCO recommended 26 percent for developing nations like Nigeria. This terrible trend of the federal government is being followed by several state governments. Those state governments which claim to be committing more than 20 percent to education only use education as a smokescreen to divert public fund for personal use. This is graphically manifested by the revelation on the looting of the UBE fund by state and federal UBEC officials.
All this has led to degeneration in the standard of education in the country from primary to tertiary level. While primary schools, save for a block of classrooms being constructed in few selected schools, are lacking basic facilities, secondary and most tertiary institutions are in rotten state. Currently while over a million students sat for the last UME examinations, a paltry 200, 000 will be admitted because the universities lack basic facilities to adsorb enough students. This is the crisis that government under funding of education and chronic mismanagement has caused to the education sector.
Therefore, for anybody interested in the revitalization of education, the current struggle of the teachers should be supported as a stepping stone towards forcing the government to properly fund education and pay adequate wages for education workers (and indeed other workers). While politicians in power collect millions of naira as salaries and allowances most teachers are paid less than the N10, 000 minimum wage. As against the excuse of the state and federal governments that they do not have fund to pay the new pay, politicians who are put in education boards and commissions like UBE boards and teaching service commissions are paid hundreds of thousands of naira as monthly pay. If truly the governments do not have the money, they should reduce the salaries of all political office holders to that of the teachers. The reason the government will not pay teachers, and indeed fund education properly, is because the government is committed to neo-liberal capitalist policies that tend to give public resources to big moneybag business and politicians.
Consequently, we of the ERC call on the leadership of the NUT not to compromise but to mobilize not only teachers but also the other oppressed people like other workers, the market women, artisans, youth and the unemployed for mass rallies, protest marches, picket and press campaign that will force the government within the shortest time to concede to the demands of teachers. Furthermore, we enjoin the NUT leadership to ensure that all categories of teachers – federal government-, state-employed and privately-employed teachers – are affected by the TSS. The current attempt of state governments to distance themselves from the issue should not be allowed.
The leadership of central labour unions – NLC and TUC – must not only support the teachers actively by declaring solidarity actions including strikes, protest marches, rallies, etc. but to also start a mass action for N30, 000 minimum wage. We also feel that NUT should join force with other staff and students' unions in the education sector to demand proper funding of education by at least 26 percent of the budget coupled with democratic management at all levels to include elected representatives of education workers' and students' unions.
For us in the ERC, we have declared July 16, 2008 as a National Day of Action to demand proper funding of education by at least 26 percent of the budget coupled with democratic management at all levels to include elected representatives of education workers' and students' unions; recall of all victimized workers' and students' activists (UNILORIN 49 lecturers, OAU 10, etc.) and end to the culture of victimization; reversal of hike in fees; proper and adequate remuneration of all education workers; among others. We call on students' and workers' activists, unions and civil society organizations to join us in this struggle which shall include mass rallies, protest marches and lecture boycotts across campuses, schools and communities. Once again we give our solidarity to teachers in their struggle for better wages.
Hassan Taiwo
Chinedu Bosah

Monday, 7 July 2008

Report From USDAW Distribution Conference

As you may know I've been plugging the election campaign of Robbie Segal in USDAW for the general secretary's post. As part of the campaign - a blog ( and a website ( have been setup with quite a lot of interesting pieces on them. Below I reprint one of them, a report from USDAW Distribution Conference.

I would like to thank Robbie Segal and anyone else that was instrumental in organising this long overdue conference specifically designed for the Distribution sector of the union.
The conference went well with lots of good feedback and ideas on how to progress and I look forward to further such conferences.

I believe the Distribution sector is a completely different animal to retail,with totally different needs when it comes to support from our union, and I will give just a few examples.

In retail, take Tesco for example their terms and conditions are negotiated at a national level by an USDAW national officer, in distribution we negotiate our own locally and only involve our national officer if agreement cannot be reached., therefore I believe we should be training our full time convenors in distribution in the art of negotiations,

In Sainsbury distribution centres we have an agreement that the union will spend time with new starters during their induction with a recommendation from the company that they join,my point being that whilst I understand that new members are the lifeblood of our union,we already have this important task covered and enjoy membership in excess of 90%,
I think the limited time spent when new stewards go on their introduction courses would be greatly enhanced by such exercises as role play in representing members in a disciplinary situation,health and safety regulations,and employment law rather than the present, recruitment,recruitment,recruitment, and on this point I think that as much effort should be placed on retaining current members as we do recruiting new ones, and we will only be able to do this by giving them the support and value they are seeking from well trained representatives.

I also believe that some guidance should be given from the union as to agreements we should be seeking,an example of such is a model of an enhanced redundancy package, easier to get an agreement during times when the company do not believe they will ever make redundancies yet almost impossible if redundancies becomes a reality.

I hope now that we will go forward with a true recognition as to the needs of the distribution sector and not be looked upon as the poor cousins in a retail union, which has been the perception for too long amongst many of our members.

Jon Harriss (Convenor Sainsbury`s Distribution Depot Waltham Point) C28

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Crime and the 1923 German Revolution

As I have said before, for a Marxist criminology we cannot just be content in analysising crime in the here and now, we must also examine what would happen to crime during and after a successful socialist revolution. This is what I am trying to do once more here. The conclusions I draw in this piece are based upon reading Witness to the German Revolution by Victor Serge.

What was crime like in Germany during 1923 – soaring! And it should be no surprise – the German economy was collapsing under the weight of reparations from the Versailles Treaty, France was occupying the Ruhr, inflation was spiralling out of control, there was also food shortages. Thus it wouldn’t surprise you that Serge reports “A hundred or so cases of poisoning from bad flour…and several cases involving rotten horse meat. There have been several deaths.”(pg26), he also reports a increase of a homelessness of a third in a year and troops killing people in the occupied Ruhr.

On July 27th he notes of how a potato seller increasing his prices every time someone bought them (there was a shortage of potatoes) was set upon by an angry crowd. On September 22nd he reports how hoarding food has led to the looting of shops.

On 13th October he reports on the case of a Prussian landlord who had assaulted, battered and finally killed peasants scavenging for wood and wild mushrooms on his land over a period of time. Defending himself saying “I don’t shoot at respectable people, but I am not afraid of shooting at scum.”(pg104), Serge reports that he was acquitted.

20th October see Serge reporting that “Hunger riots are becoming daily events.”(pg118) Interestingly, on 27th October Serge reports that “An eyewitness told me about one of these instances of looting. He was astonished at the sense of order of the starving people. Methodical looting, no unnecessary violence against property or people. They didn’t take luxury items. They took bread, fat, shoes. Suddenly achieving a primitive awareness of their right to life, men condemned to die of hunger took what they needed to live. It was only when the police intervened that the expropriation degenerated into a riot.”(pg.127) Interestingly in a later article he compares this ‘non-violent’ crime of working people with that of the capitalist class, the police and the Nazis who had attacked and threatened workers and Socialists all across the country.

What Serge’s comments do show is the material causes of crime – in this case the spiralling inflation causing hunger and leading people to looting in order to stay alive. Sure the link is never so directly causal when it not in times of capitalist crisis, but then there is nothing like a crisis to exposure the real nature of the system.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

What Next For the Probation Service?

This piece takes a look at the article ‘Doing with or doing to – What Now For the Probation Service’ by Lol Burke and Steve Collett in the June 2008 issue of Criminal Justice Matters.

The article starts with a look back to before the mid 70’s when the so-called Butskellite consensus existed. This is that there was supposed to ‘a loose agreement across the mainstream political parties that a relatively liberal approach to offenders should not be undermined by naked party politics.’(pg.9) I’m personally not so sure about this, I would relate it more to the conditions imposed by Keynesian style capitalism as opposed to neo-liberal capitalism.
At this time however, ‘the Probation service was often lauded for its work, but it remained a Cinderella service…’(pg.9) However, it also helped to co-ordinate a series of voluntary organisations organising victim support and support for offenders after release from prison.
In the 90s, a shift occurred in the orientation of the probation service – fringe service no more, according to the authors ‘In essence, the Probation Service became a law enforcement agency…’(pg.9). I believe this refers to the myriad of non-custodial sentences which are administered by the probation service – not just probation but community service etc.
They then move onto discuss the New Labour era and the contracting out of various bits of the public sector. The probation service like other public services became driven by targets and cash linked incentives. Yet almost as soon as a national service had been created, the government was planning on breaking it up again.
In the beginning of this year, the latest restructuring of the Ministry of Justice has seen the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), containing both prisons and probation, split between delivery and strategy – this means that the Director General of the Prison Service will effectively have control of Probation too.
I struggle however, to understand the final part of the article. From what they are saying it looks like the new body will be in the main a commissioning service – this fits in with some of the conclusions drawn from the recent Casey report which argues for the private sector to provide community service (suitably re-named to ‘toughen’ it up).