‘how do we break workfare?’ conference report

On Saturday May 26th around fifty activists from around the country (although mostly the South-East) met in Brighton for a conference entitled ‘how do we break workfare?’. Here, Ollie Sutherland summarises the main conclusions of the conference

What is workfare and why we need to break it

Workfare is a direct and violent attack on regular working people. It is forcing those unemployed into unpaid labour to receive their benefits, claimed to be valuable work experience to make them more employable. However, the labour is things like stacking shelves – hardly valuable work experience, and is given to businesses (big or small) which have no intention of hiring more staff. In fact, because the businesses can get unpaid labour from the JobCentre or private work providers, they can fire existing staff who they have to pay minimum wage for. Some businesses, like Holland & Barrett, have explicitly said this is their aim – to exploit working people, using what is technically slave labour. The scheme originates from the government’s close ties to business: workfare is the state subsidising private companies, as in making people work in private companies to receive their benefits, the state is paying the workers’ wages (£2/hour or lower) while the businesses get free labour. Continue reading “‘how do we break workfare?’ conference report”

The Bolshevik faction and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

In a recent debate between, Lars T Lih, Paul Le Blanc, and Pham Binh(1) there is agreement  that, it was not the formal aim of Lenin to proclaim the birth of the Bolshevik Party in 1912 in Prague at  the conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Nor was it the formal aim of Lenin to create a separate Bolshevik Party. Again the debate clarified, that in 1912 there was not the birth of a party of a new type, free of opportunism, but the birth of a myth of such a party. Yet for all  practical purposes, the RSDLP that emerged from Prague, in 1912, was a Bolshevik Party, in all but name.

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Continue reading “The Bolshevik faction and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.”

remembering dave spencer

Showing respect from the commune, by Mark Harrison.

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of our comrade Dave Spencer on the night of Tuesday 24, less than a week short of his 72nd birthday. Many shocked friends and comrades have written to us remembering his personal warmth and good humour, even when debating passionate issues, as he did so recently, he did so in a composed and relaxed manner that forced you to think more clearly and raise the level of your own argument. Dave’s life touched many outside traditional left wing circles, as an exponent of radical pedagogy he put his ideas into action in Coventry by running an adult education course, going out in the council estates of Coventry to teach parents in primary schools English, Maths, Psychology, cooking etc. Continue reading “remembering dave spencer”

trouble in ‘paradise’: the maldives coup

Taimour Lay writes about the reality of power and struggle in the Indian Ocean country better known in the West for its luxury resorts

People tend to fall for Mohamed Nasheed. It’s not because he possesses the specious charm of a politician or the skills of a social operator. It’s not down to good looks or wealth (though he has both). He has made mistakes, inherited privilege and never strayed far from a patrician liberalism. But he has always drawn people in with sincerity and bright humour and a uniquely open kind of moral clarity after years of harassment, torture and struggle.

A brief democratic opening was thwarted by a coup d'état

An investigative journalist, author, political prisoner and finally President of the Maldives before being ousted by a coup on 7 February, he is one of many charismatic individuals who claim they don’t want power but end up having it thrust upon them by popular acclaim. With ‘Anni’, as Maldivians know him, he really did mean it. Continue reading “trouble in ‘paradise’: the maldives coup”

love nor money: unpaid work at tesco

Sharon Borthwick looks at the absurd ideology behind last month’s row over workfare schemes

What a joke to have a national minimum wage if you are then allowed to pay your employees nothing at all. “Stacking supermarket shelves is better than dreaming of stardom via TV’s the X Factor”, smarms Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. For a quiet man he doesn’t half come out with a lot of shit. What of young persons more pragmatic dreams, to gain paid employment after education?

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“The idea that we should allow a bunch of extremists to get in the way of providing genuine, voluntary help for young people is just crazy” says the indignant Chris Grayling referring to the successes of left groups including Boycott Workfare and Right To Work in either getting firms to withdraw from or postpone their involvement with the government’s workfare programmes, including Mandatory Work Activity whereby claimants can have their benefits withdrawn for thirteen weeks for not working for zero wages  for eight weeks. Continue reading “love nor money: unpaid work at tesco”

april 2012 issue of the commune – out now!

Issue 29 of The Commune is now available. It features articles on the Sparks electricians’ strike, Tory workfare programmes, left nostalgia for Old Labour, casualisation and much more.

The paper is free: click the image above to see a PDF and see below for a list of articles as they are posted online.

International

more liberal wars for democracy? – This month’s editorial looks at the rising threat of war in Syria and Iran

communists and scotland’s referendum – Bob Goupillot and Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network continue our debate on Scottish independence

the fight against NATO and their taliban friends – the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan marked International Women’s Day with a condemnation of the Karzai-NATO régime

Work

sparks’ strike rolls back bosses’ attack – Adam Ford reflects on electricians’ successful fight against pay cuts of up to 35%

flying low: grad opportunities working lates – Philip Stott continues our series on casual work with an essay on his experience as an airport baggage-handler and aircraft cleaner

love nor money: unpaid work at tesco – Sharon Borthwick looks at the absurd ideology behind workfare schemes

Anti-cuts

sheffield council targets workers, vulnerable – David Huckerby reports on an all-too familiar case of Labour Party cuts in jobs and services

time to cut the anti-cuts campaigns? – Sheila Cohen argues for a strategic focus in organising against austerity

Theory

from kicking off to revolution: avoiding the same old defeats – Mark Kosman reviews Paul Mason’s Why It’s Kicking off Everywhere

‘chavs’: nostalgia for old labour – Clifford Biddulph punctures the myths presented in Owen Jones’s book Chavs

flying low: grad opportunities working lates

Philip Stott continues our series on casual work with an essay on his experience as an airport baggage-handler and aircraft cleaner

After graduating from university, I immediately started working for an agency who specialise in providing workers for the aviation industry. I thought I would write about two of my ‘assignments’.

Servisair are imposing redundancies on Liverpool baggage handlers, as the job becomes increasingly casualised

The first of these was as an aircraft cleaner for Derichebourg Multiservices at Liverpool Airport. I was part of a group of people in our twenties, some of whom travelled from as far away as Bury, who were taken on in order to work through the busy summer period. We worked a shift pattern, 10pm-6am; four days on, two days off and were paid an agency rate of £6.68 an hour (pretty bad for night work). Refuelling operators were the best paid and worked shifts, 8pm–8am, four days on, four off. There had been no pay rise at all for five years. Continue reading “flying low: grad opportunities working lates”

time to cut the anti-cuts campaigns?

In the lead-up to the latest national strike day on 28 March, Sheila Cohen asks whether the anti-cuts campaigns are working

I have been asked to write an article about anti-cuts campaigns, and said I don’t know much about them. I don’t know much about them because I don’t think they work. I don’t think they work because the government and ruling-class generally are rabid hyenas without an iota of inclination to give a flying **** about the needs and wishes of so-called “ordinary people” – if they did give such a thing they wouldn’t be, well, ruling. But I was asked to write nonetheless.

The several large demonstrations against the cuts programme have presented a confident outward image, mocking the Coalition: but what power do we actually have to stop Cameron and co.?

As a dutiful writer, I began preparing for this piece by doing (admittedly, a very small modicum of) research. One dedicated anti-cuts organisation I turned up which shall be nameless, but describes itself on its website as “a diverse collation of…groups and individuals that have come together to challenge social exclusion and promote social justice” includes as part of its many activities a project to unite unemployed workers, a “celebration” of its locality with a “one day community event” and, of course, intransigent opposition to racism – and quite right too. The community event was warmly received, with one participant commenting that it had, indeed, given “a real sense of community”. So what’s not to like? Continue reading “time to cut the anti-cuts campaigns?”

sheffield Labour Council targets workers and the vulnerable

Barry Biddulph reports on the 550 council jobs to be axed in Sheffield.

Anti-cuts demonstration in Sheffield

Julie Dore, the leader of Sheffield Council, will make council workers and some of the most vulnerable people, who depend on council services, pay for the financial crisis. While Julie Dore sneers in public at protesters with placards, she tells Sheffield Star readers and trade union meetings that she has protected the most vulnerable. This is a dishonest attempt to justify choosing to make cuts, rather than organise to fight the government. The image of the dented shield only makes sense if you have taken part in a battle, not surrendered before the fight has begun.

Continue reading “sheffield Labour Council targets workers and the vulnerable”

self-managed socialism: possible, urgent, necessary

Writing for Passa Palavra, Brazilian teacher Henrique T. Novaes looks at advantages and limitations of the Latin American experience of workers trying to overcome capitalist work relations through their control of their workplaces 

The destruction of the welfare state in Europe and the continuation of the state of social ills in the rest of the world are the consequences of an irrational society. In Spain, Portugal and Greece 40% of young people are unemployed and the state has unpayable debts. After riots in England’s capital city the Government insisted on calling the youth “vandals without a cause”, dismissing out of hand the obvious social causes of the revolt. Stratospheric public debts, neo-fascism, unemployment, underemployment, the return of hunger and poverty to Europe: words which keep appearing in a region which managed to create a restrained, partly nationalised – but capitalist nonetheless – capitalism in the 1945-73 period.

Capitalism under the hegemony of finance, turbo-marketisation and the return of primitive accumulation can only survive with increasing repression and the criminalisation of social movements. To cite a Latin-American example, Argentinian society reacted to the process of financialisation of its economy in 2001, a financialisation which gained strength after the military coup of 1976, throwing the country’s popular movements into the dust. In 2001 they did fight back, saying “Enough! Out with the lot of you!”: it was a symptom of the tiredness of neoliberal reforms and the neocolonisation of Argentinian society. However, the popular revolt of 2001 rapidly transformed into a new politics of ‘development’ under President Kirchner. Continue reading “self-managed socialism: possible, urgent, necessary”

reza shahabi must be free!

Omid Rezai looks at the case of a jailed militant on hunger strike in Iran

Reza Shahabi, an Iranian labour activist, has been in held in Block 209 of Tehran’s notorious Evin jail, for months without conviction or even proper charge. Paying attention to the reality of his case shows that the situation for workers and working-class movements in Iran is different to that in Europe only in degree; bureaucratic and bourgeois-legalist excuses manufactured ad hoc to justify his continuing political incarceration, his alleged second trial remaining always just around a corner, since he was found to have no case to answer to on 25th May.

The authorities have attacked him still further. He has been subjected to aggression and intimidation, pressured to cut even his scheduled fortnightly telephone conversation with his family. In response, Reza began a hunger strike, demanding his immediate and unconditional release. Beginning on 1st November, his hunger strike led to the formation of a committee for his defence which attracted hundreds of signatories from across the Iranian labour movement. Mahmoud Salehi, himself recently released from jail, has become the spokesperson for the group. The authorities increased their attacks on Reza, at one point using his weaknesses as an excuse to stop him from talking to his family, telling them that he would not see them.

Continue reading “reza shahabi must be free!”

death by a thousand (paper) cuts

Taimour Lay reports on the crisis in the print-media from a journalist’s perspective 

Most of you reading this article won’t be regular buyers of a newspaper. You might not have the time or the inclination. You might be rightly hacked off with the tabloids or fed up with the ideological biases of the broadsheets. You might think most papers most of the time won’t cover what you want in the way you want it. That’s probably why you picked up The Commune (plus, like Metro, we’re free.) Or you’re reading all you need online, including this paragraph…

In a spin: newspaper circulation is falling rapidly

For those of us who work in newspapers, it’s obvious we’re part of an industry in crisis. And it’s not just a slump, it’s an existential panic, a growing realisation that we’re the last generation who will have worked in print. A whole language and culture of work will go – the backbench, downtable, going off stone, the four-star, the slip, the runner, top and tailing – it will all be history, along with the final edition. Continue reading “death by a thousand (paper) cuts”

taking control of our struggle

A college worker recently on strike describes how the  mood in her workplace has developed throughout the pensions dispute, in tandem with a local fight over redundancy and restructuring

In my workplace both the admin staff and the teaching staff were out on strike together for the first time in years, which made the strike a very different experience. Normally, although we talk to each other every day in the course of work, we don’t organise together or support each other much in the face of redundancy, restructuring, disciplinaries etc. The teaching staff are better organised than the admin staff and usually have better working conditions, and haven’t tended to pay much attention to the problems faced by the other workers.

Unions struck on the same day, but they aren’t necessarily well linked up with each other, still less the non-unionised majority

In the buildup to the strike we had some joint meetings, both informal canteen meetings and one formal union meeting, and we did some activities together, such as leafleting. It bought it home how separated we are in the two unions, UCU and Unison, and how unnecessary it is – I had never even met most of the Unison people, and yet we work in the same building. This is not only because of the union bureaucracies. We could easily talk informally to each other but we don’t, due to inertia and inward looking attitudes. Continue reading “taking control of our struggle”

cops back bosses bullying cleaners

Siobhan Breathnach reports on Guildhall cleaners standing up against management bullying

The Guildhall cleaners started organising in the summer against bad conditions and non-payment of wages. They have joined the cleaners’ branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and fought for the London Living Wage and against bullying and harassment. The company, Sodexo, have responded to this by trying to force the organised cleaners to leave. They have suspended a union rep, who is still waiting for the resolution of his case after months.

Recently, the employer’s tactics of intimidation have got worse and some cleaners held a sit-in to protest, which started on 22nd December. They had been subject to all kinds of abuse, including one woman being locked in an area for two hours, and another being taken into the basement and threatened. Some of us from The Commune and SolFed went down to support them just after Christmas. Continue reading “cops back bosses bullying cleaners”