Saturday, 28 March 2009

NUS conference - 31 March to 2 April: Students need a mass fighting organisation

From this weeks issue of the Socialist. A version of this article also appeared in Seren, the newspaper of Bangor Students' Union.

Most students have to borrow thousands of pounds each year to pay tuition fees and living costs which mount up into colossal student debts. Many students also face an uncertain future with a large growth in graduate unemployment last year, a situation which looks unlikely to improve any time soon. On top of this it is likely that fees will be increased.

Iain Dalton, Candidate for NUS 'block of 15'

On 25 February there was a national march against tuition fees. In the past this would have been organised by the National Union of Students (NUS), using its resources to ensure that students can voice their opposition to fees. But the NUS has abandoned the struggle for free education. Instead, in an attempt to fill this void, a coalition of left student groups, including Socialist Students, and student unions organised a demonstration.
For a long time the official leadership of NUS has been in the hands of Labour Students, the student wing of the Labour Party and their co-thinkers. NUS did not organise a serious campaign against fees, failing even to organise a major demonstration on the day of the vote in parliament to introduce fees, despite a strong mood of anger and opposition. With one of the closest votes, such a tactic could have potentially swayed the extra few votes needed to defeat fees.
Since then the NUS leadership's role has become progressively worse. For example, the whole basis of the most recent NUS Wales lobby of the Welsh Assembly is based on acceptance that the Assembly is going to stop paying part of the tuition fees (currently up to £1,890) for Welsh students who study in Wales. That money is instead to be spent on bursaries, which are means tested and do not come near the huge levels of debt students face. This approach is based on the NUS leadership's belief that nothing can be done to stop the cap on fees being lifted.
The recent NUS governance review has been all about consolidating this do-nothing leadership and weakening the democratic structures.
In fact, the two most significant student movements this year bypassed the NUS nationally; firstly the wave of sit-ins against the invasion of Gaza across the country and secondly the small, but significant anti-fees demonstration.
NUS certainly needs change - but it is a change in political direction that is needed. Socialist Students provides a strategy for fighting attacks on students. That is why I am standing as a candidate in the NUS Block of 15 elections.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Anger in North Wales - Hundreds March in Bangor; Teachers demonstrate in Rhyl

There seems to have been a flurry of protesting across North Wales last week, the first report was something I was personally involved in and was a weird protest with passersby stopping and cheering on the demonstration as it passed by and was greeted by a huge mass of people in the city centre (our estimate is perhaps on the low side!)

Hundreds March in Bangor

‘The Citizens of Bangor Deserve Better’ – is the Facebook group set up a few months ago in protest atthe poor leadership of the local council. People are desperate for affordable housing, but local developers building houses for their own profit which usually consists of student accommodation and is a source of anger in the city. The recession has brought the closure of around fifty shops, adding to the lack of jobs in the city. The city also lacks a cinema and lost its theatre recently.

The list of problems is endless and with the council allowing endless amounts of expensive private student accommodation to be built, increasing service charges and taxes and not seeking to create new public amenities which residents have been asking for, they decided to get active.They know that the mass reserves of money taken by the council, rumoured to be at £47million could be used to improve services in the area. A lot of discussion on these issues was seen in the local press. The leaders of the county council were interviewed about their response to the protest group and gave poor answers, in answer to one question about improvements to youth clubs and play areas they answered that they were doing up the library!

Saturday saw the first public action of the group, a demonstration of around 100 people who were greeted by at least 100 or so more people when we arrived in the city centre, lots of shoppers also stopped to cheer on the marchers. Once there, three speakers addressed the rally, including Iain Dalton from the Socialist Party. He pointed out that the government had given billions to the banks, but only a small proportion of that would be needed for what we were demanding. He also held up the example of the struggle of the Militant-led Liverpool City Council in the mid-80’s and contrasted it with Gwynedd Council’s dumping of cuts onto ordinary people. Another speaker spoke out against the threat of privatisation of local housing, which will further worsen the situation of unaffordable housing. The Socialist Party and Socialist Students helped to organise the protest, particularly with regards to drawing up the demands of the petition, helping to advertise the event and giving ideas at meetings. There was also a strong Socialist presence at the protest with a contingent on the march and the sale of 22 copies of the Socialist and several pamphlets. The campaign will continue with talk of potentially setting up a new party to represent ordinary people in Bangor, with plans of an open meeting and further actions to take the campaign forward.

Teachers Protest in Rhyl

Over 40 teachers, members of NASUWT took one day strike action in protest at plans to axe two six form facilities in Rhyl, North Wales. The council’s plan to close Rhyl High School Six Form and Blessed Edward Jones Sixth Form would mean that the only sixth form provision in the town would be at Llandrillo College.
The action was well supported with almost 100% turnout on the picket line at Rhyl High School, where the governors are controversy supporting the councils proposals. Rex Phillips, NASUWT organiser, told The Socialist, “Aswell as the threat to teachers jobs and conditions, we are also concerned that transferring all Sixth Form provision to the FE sector means there will be no local democratic accountability. We are disappointed that the school’s governing body is supporting Denbighshire County Council. This is in contrast to Blessed Edwards, where the Governors and the Head teacher are very supportive”.
A initial public consultation revealed 240 out of 250 responder were opposed to the plans for a single six form. The one day action is unlikely to be the end of the dispute and further action is being considered, with union members at Blessed Edward Jones being balloted-results are to be expected early next week.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Brunstrom Watch: I Meet Brunstrom

Okay, so you’ve read the title and you’re probably wondering what any self respecting Marxist is doing meeting a police chief constable? Well, a few weeks ago he came to the university to give a talk (which actually replaced the lecture I usually have in the room at the same time as the talk). I can’t remember the title of the top of my head, it was something to do with constitutionalism, wales and policing. Nor did it help that I missed the first few minutes of the talk.

By the time I came in he was talking about the Government of Wales Act (2006) (I assume he was talking about the setting up of the Welsh Assembly prior to this). What he said was significant about this act was that it created a new form of law, Welsh Assembly Measures which if approved by Westminster give it powers over those things. Put he also pointed out that Part 2 Section 5 of the Act gives the Welsh Assembly powers to use this to create new criminal offences, which can have penalties of up to £500 fine and/or 2 years imprisonment (which I think is in section 2??).

What this has led to over the last few years has been the creation of some slight differences in the laws between England and Wales. Brunstrom pointed out three areas that this was so; environmental laws, animal cruelty laws, truancy laws. In each of these areas he spelt out the differences that were emerging. The one which I remember the most clearly was in relation to animal cruelty, to do with the docking of dogs tails. Apparently due to different laws in different parts of the country (and Ireland) its led to a small smuggling trade in dogs to lop their tails off.

He then talked a little about how policing in North Wales differs from other parts of the country. One factor was the 1993 Welsh Language Act which applies to the police and consumes £0.75m a year of the North Wales Police budget. There were also differences in road traffic policing (due to both North Wales and South Wales having one major road which all traffic passes along), emergency service control and the police council tax precept.

But he concluded with some more remarks on the Welsh language and the possibility of full (or elements of) autonomy of Welsh Criminal Justice. In it he pointed out the creation of a separate court region for Wales since April 1st 2008. He also noted the first ever wholly welsh language murder trial took place at Caenarfon Crown Court in 2007 (R v Ellis) and the announcement that a new prison will be built on the former site of Friction Dynamex in Caenarfon, which will be able to recruit directly welsh speakers from the local community (there is no prison in North Wales at the moment).

During the questions a few things were alluded to. Firstly, his view of politics and himself. He said that as a serving police officer he can’t comment on political issues – but by this I think what he really means is party political manueverings. Two things suggest this, firstly the fact that he is outspoken on various policing and social issues in North Wales, but secondly, the anger he had at other police chief constables who had supported the governments proposed increase of detention without trial.

I asked a question about how he thought the public viewed him for raising the controversial topics in the press. He answered that he thought he had a duty to raise these issues as he thought they were important, but were something that politicians wouldn’t do as they were too afraid of losing votes. In his own words, he could do this because he was an opinionated appointee rather than someone who had to seek election. He also said that he didn’t care what people thought of him, although be believed that people welcomed the fact that he raises issues and think that that improves police confidence.

He also got asked about the national question in Wales and he said he favoured a Welsh republic as part of a United States of Europe and that he believes that Wales will be in a similar position to Scotland in the near future.

As for what I thought of the man himself. Well, he’s very self-confident, indeed, to a point where he comes across as very arrogant. However, he’s quite intelligent at the same time and really up for his views to be challenged and criticised. Meeting him, leaves you not knowing what to make of him, but with some respect for him on at least one level.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Socialist Party Congress 2009

Last weekend was the Socialist Party's Congress in London, and I finally managed to be able to get to it. And what an exciting weekend it was! There is now an official report on the Socialist Party website at well as highlights of the first day - see and (please note these keep expanding as I was linking to this i've seen that Peter Taaffe's introduction to the discussion is being uploaded).
On the blog I want to add my own thoughts.

I didn't exactly have the best start to the day. The other delegate from Bangor branch had stayed at mine and we had to get up around 4.30pm to catch the train down to London. Which wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the fact that we had a power cut and had to get dressed and pack stuff up etc. in the dark.
Anyway, needless to say we got to the Congress in one piece. The first session was on the economy/british perspectives - seeing as there's quite a bit of stuff on this session already on the website I won't go into detail and get on to the bits of the day that most people reading this will probably be interested in.
That is the official delegation from the RMT which came to the congress and addressed us in the middle of the economy session to invite us to take part in the No2EU Yes to Democracy initiative. Like most people that day they mentioned the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute quite a bit (which seemed to be their guide as to who to approach about the initiative - they seem to be wanting to exclude the SWP for instance). They also said quite a bit of stuff which made the Yes to Democracy bit of the name make quite a bit more sense - the whole point in their draft programme about repatriation of powers - partially stems from that the new EU constitution will stop governments from re-nationalising privatised companies (ie. the railways).
Later on we had a discussion about whether to take part in the initiative or not. The jist of the reason why we decided to take part revolved around this being the first time a national trade union has decided to present an electoral challenge to the Labour Party - an important prescident. However, the initiative could get a momentum of its own too and develop much further. There was also some interesting discussion on the EU itself, Peter Taaffe introduction to this session pointed out that Militant had been opposed to the EU at its inception and had, through the Labour Party Young Socialists, organised a demo under the slogan 'Not to EU, but yes to a Socialist Europe'.
Obviously we think the name and programme and way its been announced are quite a way from ideal, but one of the other negative's people have been mentioned is also this business about not taking office if elected. In a further evolution on this, the RMT have said that successful candidates could officially become an MEP and use that platform but won't physically go to Brussels.

The second day was a discussion on party building where Bangor branch received a lot of praise in the introduction - the only problem being we weren't there to hear it as we got lost on the way to congress (I blame the directions!), although I was one of the first people to contribute to the discussion, explaining how we'd started out in Bangor at the university and then spread out and about how hectic the last six months or so have been with the branch tripling in size (incidently another person has joined the Socialist Party since the congress), beating NUS in a referendum, organising a succesful protest against the slaughter in Gaza etc. I also highlighted the work we were doing in regards to translating some material into Welsh. There were reports from elsewhere too, which were generally quite positive. The day also saw a session on the youth and student stuff where the other delegate from Bangor (Brother R to use AVPS speak) spoke about how we've attempted to build Socialist Students at his college with some results (although we keep getting thrown off campus by the management). One thing that came across was the large amount of media publicity the youth fight for jobs campaign has been getting in local areas.

The Trade Unions discussion span over two days (it wasn't two days in length though! just in case you misunderstood that) and was really interesting with debates about the party's work in UNISON and PCS especially - the former obviously referring to the witch-hunt. Next was the session on publications were I again spoke discussing the importance of members contributing to the Socialist and also raised a few other points in regards to developing publications further which were taken up by other speakers, such as having a full-timer for the party website. Finally conference concluded with a report from the CWI which focussed mainly on the convulsions taking place in Europe and the development of the CWI sections there, although one interesting anecdote was that we got a complaint from the BBC when the CWI website went down earlier in the year!

As for general stuff - the congress saw us sell out of Bangor Socialist Party branches new bilingual pamphlet on the North Wales Quarry Strikes (a second printing coming in the next week or so, copies are available for a £1). My overall impression was of a very youthful congress attended by 275 people. What I thought was really good was that we managed to get in pretty much everyone who wanted to speak into discussions too. Having missed three in a row before this, i defintely want to be back there next year.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Workers Occupy factory in Dundee

From the Socialist Party website -

Interview with Matthew - Young worker in the occupation

An occupation is taking place at Prisme Packaging in Dundee. It started at 5pm on Wednesday 4th March after the twelve employees were told their contracts were being immediately terminated without redundancy pay.

"On Monday we came into work as normal and the Managing Director came in and gave his letter of resignation. So we phoned the company secretary who was actually on holiday. We were told to speak to a guy called Alan Dand. On Tuesday he called us and an administrator came to look at the accounts. Then the company told us that they didn't have enough assets to pay for the administrator and said "Looks like we're just going to shut the door".

We were told that the director and a legal representative were coming to tell us our rights but in fact the legal representative was for the director and wouldn't tell us anything.

They won't even tell us who owns the company! We demanded that we be given a letter how much we were entitled to in redundancy payments, our P45's and statutory redundancy forms.
When we received the letter it stated how much our statutory redundancy payments were and that we were entitled to wages, pay in lieu of notice and accrued holiday pay. Then the next sentence of the letter said "Unfortunately, we do not have any money to make these payments to you.".

They said there were other routes we could take to get our redundancy payments but all they have suggested is speaking to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

After receiving these letters we were told to leave and come back at half nine in the morning but we decided we're not leaving until we receive what we're entitled to. We're not giving them the opportunity to lock the doors while we're out so we end up with nothing."