We said that we would give you a more considered response to the decision of your Politics conference to call for a wider regroupment involving Workers Power, Plan C and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which would conclude with a regroupment conference in the spring. This effectively replaced the existing three way process between ourselves, yourselves and the Anti Capitalist Initiative (ACI) comrades.
A similar approach has now been adopted by the ACI conference in Manchester last Saturday – with the additional proviso that the spring conference would only be an interim step towards a regroupment conference which would take place at a later date.
After your conference we gave you an initial response to the effect that, whilst we are strongly committed to the regroupment process, your new proposal was more contentious since it proposes to include organisations (Worker Power in particular) which have a very different view as to the kind of new organisation which we should aspire to build. We said that as a result of this we would need to discuss your new proposal in more detail at our National Committee (NC), which was due to be held on December 7th.
We have now had a discussion at our NC. We can confirm that we do indeed want to be fully involved in the new process and will do everything we can to bring it to a successful conclusion. We remain of the view that this is an historic opportunity to build something new on the revolutionary left that we should not miss.
We made a positive balance sheet of the convergence process which has taken place to date. The three organisations have a shared vision of what a new revolutionary party would look like – particularly in terms of pluralism, openness and internal democracy. This was reflected in the joint statement we produced on the regroupment process in the summer.
We have a shared approach to the crisis of the SWP regarding its failure to defend women comrades and the need to re-establish and reassert the principles of feminism and self organisation in nay new organisation we build.
We have also been able to carry out some good joint work during the process of regroupment. We have jointly held a joint public meeting and produced a statement on the Syrian conflict, an issue over which there are many divisions on the left. The development of Exchange has been particularly important testing ground for the collaboration and has gone very well. The current edition on regroupment is very good and the production team worked well.
We have also worked well together in Left Unity and have been able to play at least some part in the success of its founding conference. This is because we share a strategic view as to the important of building such parties, in the present period, both in terms of the space which had opened as Labour has moved to the right and the need for a political dimension to the anti-austerity struggle.
Such an approach to Left Unity, and alongside that to the Peoples Assembly, is particularly important when it comes to what the practice and priorities of a new party would be – since it is not just a matter of getting a new party off the ground but of afterwards making it useful to the wider workers’ movement.
We think that this is all good preparation for moving towards a single organisation, which if we do it right, could be an attractive proposition for many who are currently not members of any of the organisations involved.
By far the best road to success, in our view, would be a regroupment between our three organisations, which have been involved from the start, along with any new groupings which might come out of the SWP after its conference if they share this kind of perspective. In fact if such groupings did emerge involving them in this process would be an important priority.
So what about Workers Power?
To put it bluntly, we think that Workers Power would be a pressure towards exactly the kind of narrow dogmatic organisation that we are trying to avoid, and would therefore hamper the whole process. We are not, however, making any kind of precondition of this. We are ready to commit ourselves fully to the process and we will argue our corner on this as the discussion develops.
Finally we think that time is of the essence. Such opportunities do not happen very often and they do not last for very long. If the process goes on to long or lacks momentum there is a danger of fragmentation. In our view, therefore, we should continue to aim for a regroupment in the spring of 2014 rather than the longer timescale as proposed by the ACI comrades.
SR NC 11.12.13
The death of Nelson Mandela removes a renowned political leader and world figure from the South African and international stage writes South African socialist Norman Traub. As a political leader of the African National Congress (ANC) from the late 1940s , he played a key role in the national liberation struggle. Following the negotiated settlement and the first democratic elections held in South Africa in 1994, he became president. The democratic rights achieved by the oppressed black population was a big step forward. However, the social conditions of severe deprivation which they had to endure under the rule of the racist regimes remain and is devastating the lives of millions.
Mandela was the son of a chief, who was an adviser to the king of the Thembu tribe. He was born in the Transkei in the Eastern Cape, educated in missionary schools and then attended Fort Hare University. He came into conflict with the university authorities and was expelled before he could complete his degree. He left for Johannesburg, where he studied to become a lawyer and he joined the ANC. This was soon after the end of the second world war. He and Oliver Tambo, who later became president of the ANC in exile, set up a joint law practice in Johannesburg. Mandela, together with Robert Sobukwe and other young radicals in the ANC formed the ANC Youth League, a militant pressure group in the ANC. I remember as a student at the university in Johannesburg, attending a meeting addressed by Mandela and Sobukwe and being struck by the commanding presence of Mandela and the charisma of Sobukwe. At the time of its formation in 1912,the ANC was the first organisation formed to unite Africans. Its leaders saw its political role as appealing to the Great White King in Britain to undo the injustices inflicted on Africans by successive white regimes in South Africa. Its policy was to participate in elections to dummy institutions, such as Advisory Boards in the towns and Bungas in the countryside and whose advice was ignored by the White Parliament and City Councils, where the real power lay. The petit bourgeois leadership of the ANC was tied to the white liberals, the representatives of British capitalism in South Africa. The Youth League came up with a Programme of Action to struggle for the rights of national freedom, political independence and self determination and the rejection of white leadership and all forms of segregation. This was at a time when the National Party, controlled by the Afrikaner petit bourgeois, funded by the Afrikaner bourgeoisie and influenced by Nazi ideology, was elected to run the white government.
In 1949 the ANC conference adopted the Programme of Action and called for a boycott of inferior political institutions. The long serving members in the ANC executive including those who had joint South African Communist Party(SACP) ANC membership, were against the boycott. Mandela had in 1948 visited IB Tabata, who was his senior, also came from the Eastern Cape and was a leader of the All African Convention(AAC). In 1935, when the franchise was taken away from African males in the Cape and replaced by the Native Representative Council(NRC), a dummy institution; the All African Convention(a federation of African organisations) was formed to oppose the legislation. It rejected the discriminatory legislation introduced by the white government and adopted a policy of non collaboration with the oppressor and the boycott of all inferior institutions. As Tabata explained in a subsequent letter to Mandela, (which can be downloaded from the APDUSA website, www.apdusa.org.za) the ANC, which at the time had been organisationally in the doldrums, was resuscitated to smash the unity achieved by the formation of the AAC and its policy of non collaboration. He went on to explain that politically the Youth League did not belong to the ANC and that if it followed its political principles it would find itself outside the ANC. In spite of the adoption of the Programme of Action, the ANC continued its policy of working within the dummy institutions, created by the white government.
South Africa a police state
When the National Party came to power it passed increasingly repressive legislation, such as the Group Areas Act, which extended residential and occupational segregation for the blacks. The laws which the government passed came to be known as apartheid laws, though they were an extension of the segregation acts passed by previous white governments. Other government legislation, such as the Suppression of Communism Act and the banning of organisations and individuals, was designed to cripple the struggle against racist oppression. South Africa was fast becoming a police state. Faced with this situation, the ANC, turned increasingly to working together with the Coloured and Indian organisations and the SACP. Influenced by Gandhi’s tactics of passive resistance, the ANC and its allies launched the Defiance Campaign. This was a passive resistance campaign which involved volunteers defying unjust laws and courting arrest by marching into “white entrances” of post offices, railway stations, breaching curfew regulations and pass laws. Mandela as “National-Volunteer- in-Chief” played a central role in this campaign. This campaign was designed to exploit the divisions in white politics, appealing to the English section of the electorate to pressurise the government to change course. This tactic did not seriously inconvenience the white government or population. Thousands of the volunteers were arrested and many were imprisoned. The laws remained in place, disillusionment spread among those taking part in the campaign, which collapsed. The problem was that as a reformist organisation, the ANC did not view the struggle as a whole and protested against separate acts of oppression. Without a co-ordinated strategy against oppression and the necessity of building the organisation into a fighting instrument, there was no prospect of overturning the system. Not understanding that racial oppression was an instrument of class exploitation, the struggle became an “anti-apartheid struggle”, not one for the overthrow of the capitalist system as a whole.
The racist regime in response to the Defiance Campaign and other protests ,passed further repressive laws aimed at crippling the resistance of the black population. The oppressed people were subject to a merciless onslaught by the police state, including mass imprisonments, killings, torture, banning of the political organisations and emergency rule. Following the massacre at Sharpeville in 1960, the ANC and its ally the SACP, turned from passive resistance to sabotage. Sabotage consisted of blowing up telephone lines and transportation links, and other targets that would “frighten National Party supporters, scare away foreign capital and weaken the economy. This we hoped would bring the government to the bargaining table”(Mandela- Long Walk to Freedom p.336). A special organisation “Umkhonto we Sizwe” was set up to carry out this programme . Nelson Mandela left the country in January 1961 and travelled to various African and Western European countries to negotiate military and diplomatic support for the sabotage campaign. In the course of his 6 months journey, he received military training in Ethiopia but was summoned urgently back to South Africa before he could complete the course of training. Over 200 acts of sabotage, from setting fire to post boxes, attacks on public buildings and attempts to destroy railway signal systems, were carried out. The sabotage campaign did not get very far in fulfilling its aims. The impact on the white community was limited by the scanty press coverage and the usually superficial damage that resulted from the bombings. Nelson Mandela operating clandestinely, was arrested shortly after his return to South Africa in August 1962. The police were able to infiltrate a number of their spies into Umkhonto. As a result of infiltration and betrayals most of the national high command of the organisation were identified and captured, many of them at Rivonia in 1963. Ben Turok of Umkhonto subsequently said ‘the sabotage campaign failed on the main count-it did not raise the level of action of the masses themselves’. How could it, when the masses were not involved in the decision to engage in or carry out acts of sabotage?
Mandela on trial
Mandela and the leaders of Umkhonto captured at Rivonia were brought to trial in 1963 on a charge of sabotage. The lawyers defending those charged feared that the death sentence would be imposed at least on some of the accused and in particular on Mandela. When he gave evidence in his defence, Mandela ended his speech in court with the following “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” His brave stand was reported widely in South Africa, despite the fact that by law he could not be quoted in the media in his own country. The world had been paying attention to the trial and night long vigils were held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London before the verdict was delivered. He was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was to spend 27 years in prison, mostly on Robben Island.
While the sabotage campaign in the country had been smashed , as part of the ANC programme, 300 recruits were sent across South Africa’s borders for military training in sympathetic African countries, the Soviet Union and China. However, Umkhonto had not gone beyond the planning stage of a guerrilla war and disaffection occurred among those, who having received military training were confined to the ANC training camps in East Africa, with no immediate prospect of returning to South Africa to engage the enemy. The ANC conference at Morogoro in 1969 stressed that it was necessary to convert urban based sabotage to guerrilla war based in the countryside. After 1975, with the support of Frelimo in power in Mozambique and MPLA in Angola, it was once again possible for Umkhonto to establish regular contact with its supporters in South Africa. It was able to infiltrate military trained cadres into South Africa, who carried out acts of sabotage, mainly in the urban areas. Without the involvement of the masses there was no prospect of engaging in guerrilla war. The few hundred sabotage attacks carried out by trained military cadres equipped with powerful explosives, created more damage than those carried out in the first sabotage campaign. However, at no stage was the ANC sabotage campaign a serious challenge to the functioning of the South African state, its army and its economy. The ANC in exile came increasingly under the control of the SACP, which with its connections to the Soviet Union was able to ensure a steady flow of finance and military equipment from the USSR. Both the ANC and the SACP had many contacts in Western Europe and the US and organisations in solidarity with the oppressed black South Africans, like the Anti- Apartheid Movement in Britain, were established in many countries. Countries, like Sweden and Norway provided financial aid, scholarships and other support for the ANC.
On Robben Island, the political prisoners fought against the harsh regime imposed on them by the prison authorities and over the years had to resort to hunger strikes and other forms of resistance to try to gain the status of political prisoners. They won significant concessions, such as ending manual labour and better conditions for studying. Mandela studied for a further law degree from London University. He was able in prison to provide legal assistance to many prisoners, although prison regulations strictly forbade this. Inside the country South Africa was experiencing a dark period of severe repression. The widespread resistance of the peasantry in the countryside against the state reached its height in Pondoland in 1960, where eleven men were killed at Ngquza Hill by the police. In the towns, it was not before the early 70s that African workers , having all the years been denied the right to form trade unions, challenged their bosses and the state by engaging in what were then unlawful strikes in Durban. Within a short time they had established a number of trade unions. By 1979 they had formed the Federation of South African Trade Unions(FOSATU), which was the foundation stone of the non racial trade unions. The flame of rebellion spread to the African children in 1976, who in what came to be known as the Soweto uprising, heroically resisted the Bantu Education Act, with its compulsory provision that certain subjects such as arithmetic be taught in Afrikaans. The rebellion against this compulsory teaching started in Soweto, and the reaction of the state was the killing of two children, shot by the police. The revolt spread from Soweto to other parts of the country. The police showed no mercy in putting down the rebellion, at the end of which it is estimated there were 575 dead and 2389 wounded.
In the 80’s the apartheid regime was in crisis. The vacuum in black politics following the slaughter at Sharpeville in the early 60s, had been broken by the Soweto uprising and the advent of the black trade unions in the 70s. There were many strikes and the youth led the fight against racist education, setting up committees, which welded them into a disciplined force. South Africa was in deep recession, with a balance of payments crisis and increasing foreign debt. Thousands of workers were sacked and wage reductions imposed on many of those employed. Having rejected dummy institutions, such as the tricameral parliament for Coloureds and Indians and township councils for the Africans, the blacks engaged in a series of mass struggles. The government responded by sending in the police and army to the black townships to try and break the resistance of the population. The youth, trade unions and community organisations called a regional strike centred around Johannesburg in November 1984, with a set of economic and political demands. About a million people participated in the strike. For the first time in an action of this scope the independent workers movement, through the main trade union organisations, emerged as the backbone of the struggle against the apartheid regime. Outside the country, the campaigns of disinvestment from South Africa and the cultural and sports boycotts organised by the solidarity movements in many countries, were very effective. Businesses and institutions such as universities were refusing to invest in South Africa and the damage done to sport and culture in the country, was causing disaffection with the government among sections of the white population. Perhaps the greatest blow to the South African economy was the refusal in 1985 of foreign banks such as Chase Manhattan to roll over South African debt. The message from overseas finance capital to the South African government was loud and clear, either you come to terms with the black South Africans or we will no longer do business with you. What the capitalists feared most was that a revolutionary situation was developing in South Africa and that they were in danger of losing not only the capital they had invested in the country but the opportunity for further profitable investment in the country
In South Africa, the white bourgeoisie, faced with the crisis on their doorstep, had reached similar conclusions to the imperialist bourgeoisie. They too believed it was necessary to talk to the black leaders. In 1985 a top level delegation of white businessmen, including mining and industrial magnates flew to Lusaka to meet the leaders of the ANC in exile. When they returned to South Africa they expressed their belief that they “could do business with the ANC leaders”. Further meetings between white business leaders and intellectuals with the ANC leaders took place. In prison, Nelson Mandela independently, had reached the conclusion that it was necessary to approach the government with a view to them initiating negotiations with the ANC. He was able to speak to a cabinet minister, Kobie Coetzee but initially there was no response to his request for negotiations. But as the crisis facing the racist regime deepened, the government formed a special committee, headed by Coetzee to engage in secret negotiations with Mandela.
“Protect the minorities”
A “satisfactory” solution to the crisis in South Africa was one of the top items on the agenda for US imperialism. The US sponsored a conference in Bermuda in 1989 attended by members of the US Congress and Senate, at which representatives of the National Party, ANC, Inkatha and other South African parties were present. The conclusion the conference reached was that “All parties now accept that the conflict will be resolved through negotiation”. The US and the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, played a key role in the negotiations, which led to the agreement reached on the withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from Angola and the settlement of the Namibian conflict. Chester Crocker, the spokesman for the US acknowledged its indebtedness to the Soviet Union for its role in the negotiations “There is no doubt that the Soviets have indeed used their role and influence not on two but on the three parties to the agreement(International Herald Tribune 11th December 1988)”. The South African government were also not to slow to commend the role the Soviet Union was playing in the world. The South African Defence minister, Magnus Malan was reported to have said that the USSR had broken its mould of “confrontation seeker” in favour of economic and technological advances and closer ties with the West.
The pressures for a negotiated settlement in South Africa intensified. F.W. de Klerk replaced Piet Botha as South African president and soon after his appointment he had a meeting with Mandela. Mandela raised the question of “group rights” in the National Party five year plan, which would “protect the freedom of minorities” in a new South Africa. He told de Klerk that this was a way of preserving white domination and was unacceptable to the ANC. He called for the unbanning of the ANC and all other political organisations, lifting the State of Emergency, release of political prisoners and allowing the exiles to return. Two months later, in February 1990 in Parliament, de Klerk announced the lifting of the bans on the ANC, PAC, the SACP and 31 illegal organisations, the freeing of political prisoners and other measures to dismantle the apartheid state. The time for negotiations had arrived. It would be a further 4 years before the first democratic elections in 1994 took place. Over 10,000 people were killed in the black townships from the time of de Klerk’s inauguration as president in 1989 till the holding of elections. Infighting among black political organisations accounted for some of the killings, mostly between the ANC and Inkatha, whose leader was Chief Buthelezi. Inkatha had been used by the racist regime as an instrument of divide and rule. The government instead of trying to calm the situation , by its actions was egging the parties on. It hoped that through this policy it would be able to weaken the ANC and strengthen its position at the negotiating table. It consistently advocated group rights and a federation of states. It tried to establish a position, whereby minority parties had veto powers in the new political dispensation. It was mass action, which culminated in a general strike in August 1992 with four million workers staying at home, which catapulted de Klerk into breaking the deadlock in the negotiations and signing a Record of Understanding with Mandela. In further negotiations, it accepted the demand of the ANC for full democratic rights in a unitary state. However, tribalism was kept alive artificially by the entrenchment of the rule of the chiefs in the constitution. The property rights of the whites, who owned most of the wealth of the country, the mines, the factories and 87% of the land, were guaranteed in the new constitution. In February 1993, the government and the ANC announced an agreement in principle on a five year government of national unity and a multiparty cabinet.
In April 1994, the first democratic elections were held, the ANC receiving 63% of the votes. Mandela was sworn in as president of South Africa and Thabo Mbeki and de Klerk as deputy president. Just before the election, the ANC and the SACP had unveiled a document, whose purpose was redistribution of some of the wealth to the black population. The foreword to the document stated, “No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty, without land, without tangible prospects for a better life”. The title of the plan was the “Reconstruction and Development Plan”(RDP). As part of the programme, one million houses were to be built in five years, 350,000 houses were to be electrified in the first and four subsequent years and clean water, sanitation and health care were to be available to all by the end of the fifth year. Primary health care was to be extended and ten years of free education to be provided to all South Africans. The land was to be redistributed through a land claims court and the value-added tax on basic foodstuffs ended. The RDP document however committed itself to fiscal discipline and macro-economic conservatism. It stated “ We must finance the RDP in ways that do not cause undue inflation or balance of payments difficulties.” It added “The vast bulk of the RDP will be financed by existing resources organised, rationalised and directed within the RDP guidelines, without additional borrowing or a rise in general taxation.” Not a word about nationalisation of the mines or industries promised by the ANC in the 1955 Freedom Charter. Mandela’s State of the Nation address to the new democratic parliament in August 1994 revealed the real nature of the ANC economic policy. In place of nationalisation, Mandela promised to maintain financial discipline and reduce the budget deficit, which then stood at 6.8% of gross domestic product. He said he would do this without raising taxes. There was no hint in his speech of refusing to pay the illegitimate debt accumulated by the apartheid government in trying to maintain apartheid and awarding huge pensions to cabinet ministers and civil servants. Commenting on Mandela’s speech, Patti Waldmeir of the Financial times said “ Such has been the revolution in the economic rhetoric of the ANC that President Mandela might have drawn yesterday’s State of Nation address to the multi-racial parliament from a textbook on orthodoxy.”(My Life Under White Supremacy p.297-Nikani)
A totally inadequate sum of R2.5 billion was budgeted for the first year of the RDP. There were no definite sources for funding the programme, the funds were to come from savings from the various ministries. It took just one year for the RDP to be discontinued and its tasks taken over by the line ministries. Far fewer than the one million homes were built during five years. The cost of electrifying homes was to be borne by Eskom, the electricity public utility. Mandela claimed that 63% of households were connected to the electricity grid at the end of his term of office. However, of the 2.5 million homes with no electricity on Mandela’s coming into office, hundreds of thousands of homes remained without electricity when he left office. As far as the ‘substantial funds’ for land distribution that the RDP had called on the government to provide within the framework of the new constitution, they were just not there. The Ministry of Agriculture had to take over and worked out a land reform plan. In terms of the original land distribution target, the government was to transfer 30% of the country’s agricultural land(30 million hectares) to black ownership by 1999. The actual number of hectares the government had transferred by 1999 was 355,000 to 39,000 households, which works out as 0.6% of the land. This project had to be abandoned because of the lack of funds. Black poverty is rooted in land deprivation and failure to deal with the land question showed that the government was unable to make any real impact on solving the problem of poverty. On unemployment, instead of reducing the level of unemployment, which was estimated to be 5 million, when the ANC led government came to power, the job losses at the end of Mandela’s term of office were more than 500,000.
ANC sides with the bosses
After the failure of the RDP, the government closed down the RDP office and terminated the RDP special budget. In June 1996, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Policy(GEAR) statement was issued. It was designed to cement neoliberal orthodoxy. While the RDP was doomed to failure from the start, the government was determined to do all in its power to make GEAR work. A major aim of GEAR was to achieve an economic growth rate of 6% by the year 2000. In order to do this the government aimed to keep wage increases down to no more than 0.8% above the official inflation rate, at least until the year 2000. This meant that the majority of workers, who were grossly underpaid, would find the government siding with the bosses against them in their ongoing struggle for a living wage. Another key strategy of GEAR was the privatisation of state assets, which went hand in hand with a programme to cut government spending. Both meant a large scale loss of jobs.
The late Neville Alexander, in the fourth Strini Moodley Annual Memorial Lecture in 2010,( can be downloaded from www.links.org/au/node/1693) made the point that “the bourgeoisie and a few of the leaders of the Congress Alliance were clear that the 1993-94 agreements were in essence about stabilising the capitalist state and system in South Africa and creating the conditions for its expansion as a profitable venture.” Professor Terreblanche’s summary of the hidden negotiations dealing with the economic aspects of the negotiated settlement in his “ A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652-2002” said that there was no innocence on the side of the leadership of the ANC and of prominent leaders of the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions(COSATU), the federation of trade unions which had been established when FOSATU joined up with other unions in 1979. This was the case in spite of disagreements on policy, which fact became evident most dramatically with the eventual imposition of the macroeconomic policy of GEAR. The following statement gives a crystal clear picture of what actually happened.
At stake was not only the economic policy of a democratically elected government but also the nature of South Africa’s future economic system. Given that South Africa was the most developed country in Africa, the stakes were extremely high, and the negotiations were strategically hugely important for the corporate sector. For almost 20 years all the joint attempts of the corporate sector and the NP [National Party] government to find a new accumulation strategy had been unsuccessful. After almost 20 years of prolonged stagflation, the latter was desperate to convince the core leaders of the democratic movement what the economic ideology and economic system in a democratic South Africa should be.
The strategy on which the corporate sector and the ANC agreed during the informal negotiations in 1993 can be described as the fourth phase of the AAC-led [Anglo-American Corporation] search for a new accumulation strategy. […] The main characteristic of every phase of the AAC-led search for a new accumulation strategy was that the supreme goal of economic policy should be to attain a high economic growth rate, and that all other objectives should be subordinated to this. By convincing ANC leaders to accept the AAC’s approach, the corporate sector in effect persuaded – or forced – the ANC to move away from its traditional priority, namely to uplift the impoverished black majority socially and economically. (Terreblanche, Sampie. 2002. A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652–2002. pp. 95-96)
As Alexander concluded in his lecture “ There ought to be no doubt in anyone’s mind after a close reading of this text that, and why, the bourgeoisie, the self same capitalist class of yesterday, is in command of all the strategic position, no matter what the “democratic posturing of the politicians might be.” Today, the ANC, SACP coalition government, presides over one of the most unequal societies in the world . In a talk I gave to Socialist Resistance earlier on this year dealing with the present situation in South Africa, I said the following,
“ Mass unemployment and poverty wages , continue to plague post apartheid society. In fact , unemployment has doubled since 1994. When those workers who have given up looking for work are taken into account, the figure is a massive 40% of the total work force. One third of workers earn less than R960(£75) a month, while half the workforce earn less than R2,400(£185). Today , 15 million South Africans are saved from starvation by the social grants they receive. Shanty towns spring up everywhere, particularly in the big cities and it is estimated that 17 million people live in shacks, where there is inadequate access to water electricity and sanitation. The HIV pandemic affects more people in SA than any other country in the world, over 5 and a half million people, just under 12% of the population(2007). However, there has been a dramatic 5 year increase in life expectancy from 54 years in 2005 to 60 in2011. thanks to the biggest programme of HIV drug treatment. Crime and violence are horrific, over 15,000 murders are committed yearly.”
Mandela’s political career starting after the end of the second world war when he joined the ANC, spanned a long period of time. He was at the centre of the politics of the ANC from the time he helped form the ANC Youth League in the 40’s till the completion of his term of office as South African president in 1999. His role in the liberation struggle cannot be separated from the politics of the ANC. There were more radical policies championed by other political organisations to those put forward by the ANC, SACP alliance during the liberation struggle. The racist regime and the ANC, SACP alliance opposed these policies, each for their own reasons. Internal as well as external forces ensured that the plans of the organisations advocating them were thwarted at every turn.
An African nationalist
Mandela and his government in 1994 had to deal with the dreadful legacy of apartheid. That legacy hangs as a dead weight on the present. The policies of Mandela’s government and those that followed him, while providing social grants to millions of people, saving them from starvation, failed to deal with the causes of continuing social deprivation of the vast majority of blacks. He and his government, dominated by the ANC, SACP alliance together with the governments that followed his, share part of the responsibility for the dire situation the vast majority of black South Africans find themselves in today. COSATU, although not in government, as part of the tripartite alliance with the ANC and SACP, was constrained by that alliance in its defence of the interests of the workers from attacks by the state and the bosses. On too many occasions its leadership was found wanting.
The demand for full democratic rights for the oppressed blacks was central to the national liberation struggle. The achievement of this demand in 1994 was a big step forward for the oppressed. It strengthened their confidence that at last they had a say in the running of the country. The struggles they are now engaged in are being conducted on a higher plateau. There is no longer the colour bar to hide the true nature of their struggle, against class exploitation. The workers and landless peasantry are having to propel themselves forward in the titanic struggle to free themselves from class exploitation. Mandela, as an African nationalist, is recognised for his role in the struggle of black South Africans for democratic rights. He and the leadership of the ANC however, could no longer hide when in government, that their class interests were opposed to those of the mass of workers and landless peasantry in South Africa.
English based progressive parties, including Left Unity, should not organise in Ireland. Liam Mac Uaid explains why that’s a matter of principle for socialists.
There are about 1.5 million people in the north of Ireland. The place has an assembly with some devolved powers through which positions, patronage and money are shared along sectarian lines by a coalition of the junior partner Sinn Féin and the homophobic, climate change denying, creationist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The other parties in the Stormont assembly are the Ulster Unionist Party, the Alliance Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, UKIP, NI21, the Green Party, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV). That’s nine parties with elected representatives in an area with a smaller population than Birmingham and those are only the ones which are successful in elections. The tally doesn’t include a range of other groups which either don’t stand in elections or don’t get enough votes under a proportional representation system which is much more democratic than the first past the post method used in England.
It’s hard to argue that people in the north of Ireland are unaware of the importance of political parties or elections.Voter turnouts tend to be much either than in England or Wales. As well as elections people get involved in politics through demonstrations, sectarian parades and, to some extent now, armed struggle.
One can reasonably argue that a choice between the DUP and TUV is no choice at all. It would not be wrong to point out that Sinn Féin is running the northern state on behalf of the London government, has been politically defeated and practises corrupt nepotism. A number of small radical organisations in Ireland make the same criticisms.
Understandably Irish radicals sometimes survey the country’s political landscape and despair. Some English radicals do the same and occasionally reach the conclusion that what the Irish need in their struggle for socialism is an organisation to give the Irish a chance to try “proper” politics, free from all that nonsense about flags and borders. We saw that reflex at the recent Left Unity (LU) conference where the original draft of the constitution contained a clause that would permit the new party to organise in the north of Ireland.
The offending section was removed by a majority vote but a significant minority was in favour of its retention. The pressure of a busy agenda stopped a meaningful discussion of the issue and it’s safe to assume that it was the first time many of the people in the room would have considered it. Why is it so important?
No one is likely to join Left Unity who’s in favour of imperialist war and occupying other people’s countries. However it is only the fact that the north of Ireland is a British colony that even makes it possible to consider the idea of LU organising there. That colonial relationship is secured by a large military presence and a willingness to use murder and violence to protect it. Claiming the right to organise in a colony if you are a party in the occupying country is nothing but an endorsement of your state’s territorial claim. If Left Unity had voted to allow branches in the north of Ireland it would have been explicitly supporting British imperialism’s territorial claim on Ireland. In the political jargon that is “social imperialism” or in more literary language, it’s another version of Kipling’s “white man’s burden”. Only the civilising potential of British socialism can save the ignorant Irish from themselves. It’s one of the most insidious justifications of imperialism and has been used by every war criminal from Julius Caesar to Tony Blair.
A consistently principled position for socialists in Britain is to oppose British imperialism. Most activists have no problem applying that simple rule to Iraq or Afghanistan. With the defeat of the mass movement against imperialism in Ireland it’s a golden rule that is semi forgotten. For many of Left Unity’s younger activists the idea that part of Ireland remains a British colony is one that they may not have heard before. It certainly won’t have had any relevance to their daily political practice.
Socialists in Britain might look at the multiplicity of political organisations in the north of Ireland and thoroughly disapprove. There’s no harm in that. The working class in the south of Ireland has passively suffered huge cuts in its standard of living and in the north they again seem obsessed with flags and trying to blow things up. Partition and imperialism have divided the Irish working class but it’s the responsibility of that class to create the instruments of its own liberation. Well-intentioned missionaries should stay away.
The first indication that Left Unity is different from most other left wing organisations came very early in its November 30th founding conference writes Liam Mac Uaid. Ken Loach, the person who is seen as having given the inspiration for the launch of the new party, proposed that we shouldn’t take a decision on which of the political platforms to endorse. Ken lost the vote and conference moved on to next business. There was no dramatic tension, no sense of impending crisis. It would have been hard to imagine a similar scene at a Respect conference. It was a very promising omen.
Around 400 people attended the event. The morning sessions was given over to a discussion on platforms – documents which were intended to establish the general framework of Left Unity’s politics. Socialist Resistance was strongly behind the Left Party Platform which we think defines Left Unity as a radical socialist party with strong positions on ecology and feminism. To various degrees the other platforms wanted to define the new party as an explicitly revolutionary one.
The existing interim leadership received what was effectively a vote of confidence. Members voted to allow it to remain in place until a new leadership is elected at a conference to be held by the end of March.
The Left Party Platform (LPP) won convincingly with 295 votes in favour and 101 against. The Socialist Platform was supported by 122 members and opposed by 216. The significance of this is that it failed to win much support beyond the list of people who had originally signed the statement proposing it. By contrast the LPP got the endorsement of the majority of Left Unity’s members in the hall.
Another thing that made the conference rather different was that it was impossible to predict which way any of the votes would go. This was hardly surprising as most of the participants were strangers to each other. A vigorous debate on the safer spaces policy saw conference agree to refer it back for further discussion. While most participants understood the need for guidelines on protecting members from harassment and abuse the conference clearly felt that such a complex policy needed more time spent on it.
The afternoon was taken up with a long and intricate discussion on the constitution. From our perspective a crucial clause here was one which would have enabled Left Unity to organise in the north of Ireland. This emblem of the weight of British imperialism on the country’s labour movement was removed.
More explicitly than other attempts to launch new political parties Left Unity has set out to tackle issues of gender imbalances. It has a commitment to women comprising at least 50% of its leadership and speeches in defence of male privilege were received cooly, this despite the fact that men were over-represented in the hall. Left Unity is set to be a self-consciously feminist organisation.
Although the party only formally launched on November 30th it already has over 1200 members, 400 of whom were sufficiently committed or able to attend its first conference. That is a small but significant base which already makes it one of the largest organisations on the British left. It has come into being at a tricky time. There are local government elections in May 2014 and a general election the following year. Labour will win most of the anti-coalition votes as people want to punish the Tories and it will be hard to win a big audience for a new left wing party. But there is an audience for such a party. Many people will vote Labour with no great enthusiasm and will want a party that articulates something better, different, radical and socialist. Now Left Unity is there for them.
One thing is clear from the recent dispute at the Grangemouth, on the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh, writes Alan Thornett: a major defeat has been inflicted on one of the best-organised workplaces in Scotland, and on Britain’s biggest union Unite, by the Swiss based oil company Ineos and its union bashing chief executive Jim Ratcliffe.
It is a victory that the employers and the government are exploiting to the full as far as their union bashing agenda is concerned. Unite is being painted (even more than usual) as a rogue union committed to ‘unacceptable and bullying tactics’ such as protesting outside the houses of managers who have just victimised trade union activists or are threatening to sack thousands of workers and destroy their lives. Vince Cable is to set up a review into ‘industrial intimidation’ that Cameron says could lead to a major review of industrial law and to new legislation if necessary.
Such allegations are scaremongering rubbish by a Tory-led Coalition with an anti-trade union agenda, and Unite has been right to denounce them as such. With the report date of the review close to the general election, it is clearly also a part of the Tory election campaign—with Vince Cable and the Lib Dems in full support.
To its great credit the Grangemouth workforce does, indeed, have a militant history—one which has produced some of the best pay and working conditions in Scotland. Nearly a 1,000 of the 1,300 directly employed workers on the site are unionised with a shop stewards committee of 60. There are 1,200 contract workers on the site, some of which are also unionised. In April 2008 the workforce struck for two days, after a 97% vote in favour of action, and successfully defended their pension scheme. The strike had resulted in petrol shortages across Scotland.
There are two distinct halves to the Grangemouth site: the petrochemical plant, which produces raw materials for the plastics industry, and the oil refinery which processes oil from the North Sea fields. The refinery supplies 70% of Scotland’s fuel, plus large quantities to Northern Ireland and Northern England. Both are now owned by Ineos and previously by BP. The site represents a quarter of Scotland’s manufacturing output.
The recent dispute was triggered by a drive by Ineos to break down the wages and working conditions which had been established by the unions over a long period of time. They claimed that the site had lost £150m in the last four years and that this could not continue. There was, however, another agenda behind it, which was to create the conditions (from management’s point of view) to build and raise the money for a new facility to process shale gas from the USA.
The so-called ‘survival plan’ which Ineos forced through includes a three-year wage freeze, reduced shift allowances, the end of the final salary pension scheme, and a three-year no-strike agreement. Stephen Deans, the Unite official at the center of the dispute, who was also chair of the Falkirk constituency Labour Party, resigned his job at the site after intimidation by management and the threat of dismissal.
The response of most of the left to this defeat has been to denounce McCluskey as responsible. He is condemned (by the SWP and the SP for example) either for refusing to call for continued resistance or for a UCS style occupation of the site against the imposition of the plan.
The problem with this is that it is far from clear whether it was McCluskey who initiated the acceptance of the package or wshether the workforce would have voted for continued resistance in the unlikely event of him calling for it. There was not, for example, a core of militants, or a minority of stewards, calling for continued action. In fact it is not clear if at the point the ultimatum was accepted whether there was anyone calling for action.
This is not to say that the leaders of the major unions are not responsible for the situation of unions today. They clearly are. They are responsible for it historically and they are responsible for its continuation when they fail to support fight-back opportunities when they open up. Denouncing McCluskey, however, irrespective of the circumstances or the facts, does not advance the struggle to regenerate the unions very much.
In fact Mark Lyon, the Unite convenor for the whole the site, insists that he personally recommended acceptance of the ultimatum to a meeting of the stewards. The stewards were unanimous in supporting his recommendation and when it was put to a mass meeting of Unite members that meeting also accepted it unanimously. In fact there was applause and cheering as the vote was taken. Whilst this, no doubt, reflected relief that the plant would stay open, it must also have said something as far as the possibility of continued resistance was concerned.
Mark Lyon insists that McCluskey only supported the decision after it had been taken, and he continues to defend the decision he took. No one on the left, as far as I am aware, has taken Mark Lyon, or the stewards committee, to task for recommending acceptance the ultimatum, yet they must be at least as responsible as McCluskey, by any account available, for the final outcome.
Not that Lyons’s actions, or those of the stewards, were very surprising given the shock tactics employed by Ineos management and the ruthless way in which they were carried through—all of which were designed to give the maximum impression that they meant what they said.
Ratcliffe didn’t just threaten closure of the site in the event that his ultimatum was rejected. He closed both plants down a week in advance of his deadline (a costly procedure in such an industry) and sent the workforce home—imposing what was effectively a lockout. He then announced that the petrochemical plant would not reopen unless his terms were accepted and that the future of the refinery was also in jeopardy.
He told The Sunday Times: “This is not a bluff. The clock is ticking. Grangemouth could have a future, but that is absolutely in the hands of the workers. If we go down the wrong road, then I’m afraid this story will not have a happy ending.”
What also strongly played in Radcliffe’s favour was the wider fuel supply situation. He knew that there was enough refined fuel and other products at Grangemouth and available from other sources to avoid a crisis when Grangemouth closed. In fact he had been stockpiling for months to that end. That was why he was able to threaten to close the whole site, if necessary permanently, without causing a run on the pumps across Scotland and beyond.
There had been two Cobra meetings chaired by Cameron to discuss the supply situation in view of the closure of the refinery. As a result of these meeting Cameron was able to say, in answer to a parliamentary question from Tom Watson, that there would not be a petrol shortage with Grangemouth closed down. Cobra had also discussed contingency plans to deal with any chemical supply shortages arising from the closure of the petrochemical site.
The political situation in Scotland—with the Scottish and Westminster Governments competing for referendum votes—also played to Radcliffe’s advantage. It meant that he was able to get money from both of them for his shale gas development which he presented as the future of the site. He ended up with a £9m grant from Holyrood and a £125m loan guarantee from Westminster, which met the £130m he claimed to need.
The other factor which had opened the door for Radcliffe’s offensive against the unions were the actions of Ed Miliband in Falkirk West constituency Labour Party, which had led directly to the victimisation of Stephen Deans by Ineos management.
In July the Daily Mail launched a campaign (as the Daily Mail usually does) around allegations of corrupt practices used by Unite in the selection of the Labour candidate in the Falkirk West by election—which had been called following the resignation of Labour MP Eric Joyce who had been accused of violent behaviour. The allegation was that Unite had been attempting to rig the selection in favour of a candidate of its choice—Karie Murphy.
Miliband quickly intervened and suspended the constituency party. He also suspended Stephen Deans as constituency chair, and Karie Murphy as the prospective candidate. He went on to announce not only that there would be a LP inquiry into the allegations but that he was referring the whole matter to the police—who then opened their own investigation.
In September both the Labour Party and the police announced that they had found no wrongdoing either by Unite, Deans or Murphy. Miliband, however, was not going to settle for that. He went on to announce (with the full endorsement of Tony Blair) that the episode demonstrated that there was a problem with the link between Labour and the unions and that he intended to change it. There would, therefore, be a special conference early next year where changes would be proposed.
Miliband had managed to turn McCluskey’s commitment to the Labour Party and his attempt to promote LP membership through Unite to his own advantage and towards a Blairite initiative to loosen the link with the unions.
All this was, of course, was music to the ears of Ineos management, since it left Stephen Deans seriously exposed. They lost no time in suspending Deans from his job and launching their own inquiry into him claiming that they had grounds to believe that he may have used an Ineos email address to carry out Labour Party business. It was an act of blatant political victimisation directly facilitated by Ed Miliband.
Unite reacted strongly against this attack on Deans and balloted the membership for action in his defence. The result was an 81.4% voted for strike action and 90% for other forms of industrial action, on an 86% turnout. On October 11th Unite duly served seven days notice of industrial action on Ineos in line with the ballot. There would be an overtime ban and a work to rule and a three-day walkout starting on Sunday 20 October.
The response of Ineos to this (as described above) was to close the whole site down, lock out the entire workforce and issue threats of closure. Talks were held at ACAS over the victimisation of Deans but were aborted on October 15th when management walked out—according to Unite just as a settlement was about to have been reached.
It was quickly clear, however, why Ineos had walked out. Ratcliffe was dramatically upping the stakes. With the site at a standstill he was pushing the issue of Deans to one side and putting centre stage the issue of the survival of the site and a ‘survival plan’ of new terms and conditions. If these conditions were not accepted, he said, the petrochemical plant would not reopen, and probably the refinery as well.
Ineos, moreover, intended to go over the head of the union and directly to the workforce with the plan and with a financial inducement to accept. On October 16th they sent a letter to all 1,350 workers at the site asking them to indicate their acceptance of the plan by Monday 21 October. If they voted to accept the new conditions they would receive a sweetener payment of up to £15,000.
Unite’s reaction to this letter was to call a mass meeting of members the next day which voted to reject the ultimatum in the letter and to call on all workers to refuse to sign it. Unite also withdrew the strike notice over Stephen Deans. Instead they held a demonstration and rally in his support, on the day the strike over him would have started, with speakers from the Scottish Parliament and STUC. It was an acceptance that this had been overtaken by the new development.
On Tuesday October 22nd Ineos announced that the survival package had been rejected by the workforce, which was remarkable in the circumstances. A total of 665 workers had rejected the ultimatum by the deadline the previous evening. This represented 70% of the union members and 50% of the total workforce.
Next day Ratcliffe announced that as a result of the vote its shareholders (i.e. him) Ineos had decided that the petrochemical plant would now close permanently and that receivers would be called in forthwith. The oil refinery would also remain shut, whilst Ineos contemplated its future.
This was the point at which everything changed as far as Unite was concerned. By 3pm that afternoon Unite, through its Scottish secretary, announced, in effect, that it was prepared to accept the new terms unconditionally if Ineos reversed it decision and kept the site open. A mass meeting of Unite members (as described above) endorsed this and Ineos, unsurprisingly, soon agreed.
Could more have been done by Unite to hold the line against Ratcliffe? It probably could. But such closure ultimatums, particularly in strategic industries, have always been difficult to oppose even in more militant times. McCluskey had clearly lost touch with reality when he said (on the Politics Show) that the outcome of the dispute had not been a defeat for his union. That does not mean, however, that he could have changed the outcome of the dispute once the ultimatum was delivered.
Is the Grangemouth site now safe in today’s market/political conditions? Of course not. And certainly not by shale gas from the USA.
The only thing which would have secured its future would have been its nationalisation by the Scottish Government in the way it recently nationalised Prestwick Airport. Yet the only thing which Alex Salmond was interested in when he came rushing from the SNP conference in Perth into the Grangemouth situation—along with David Cameron and Ed Davey—was finding a private buyer for the site (in particular PetroChina which already had shares in Ineos) and stuffing them with money until they bought it.
It also shows the centrality of the demand for the nationalision of the energy industry. McCluskey did call upon the Scottish Government to nationalise Grangemouth but only as a last resort and after Ratcliffe had done his worst. The demand for nationalisation needs to be much more central to the work and perspectives of the unions particularly in industries such as energy. This means not only the regeneration of the unions but the development of a more politically based trade unionism and a stronger political alternative to the left of Labour.
There is another very good reason for the nationalisation of energy industry. That is the wider issue of climate change and the need for a dramatic cut back in the use of fossil fuel. Ultimately if the planet is to have a future the fossil fuel industry can’t. This raises the need for a long term energy policy for Scotland which could develop its vast renewable energy capacity and administer a change over to renewables from fossil fuels in a away that can safeguard the jobs and working conditions of the existing workforce. Only a nationalised framework under popular control can achieve such an end.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the John Lennon and Yoko Ono began to move towards revolutionary socialist positions. Like many of their generation they felt the impact of the mass radicalisation of the movement against the war in Vietnam and the fallout from the events of May 1968 in France. They had a close relationship for a while with the the International Marxist Group (IMG), a predecessor organisation of Socialist Resistance.
The famous picture of John Lennon marching with a copy of Red Mole, newspaper of the IMG, dates from this time, as does a long interview, running over four pages, he and Yoko gave to Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn for the paper in 1970.
Until now, the audio of this interview has not been publicly available. The cassette on which it was recorded, at the IMG’s Pentonville Road office, was believed lost but a copy has recently come to light. So now, for the first time, you can hear John Lennon and Yoko Ono make the case for revolution, feminism and the racism they faced when they fell in love. He also reveals that Sir Paul McCartney is a conservative and that contributed to the Beatles’ split.
Click here to hear it.
George Clooney is probably the most consistently artistically adventurous mainstream Hollywood star and his new film Gravity takes him in a pleasingly unpredictable direction writes Liam Mac Uaid. Only two characters appear on screen and his co-star Sandra Bullock is the centre of attention for most of the ninety minutes.
Viewed in 3D it’s a film quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before. Dr Ryan Stone, played by Bullock is fitting some new gizmo to the Hubble telescope and Clooney’s Matt Kowalski (a nod to the 1971 film Vanishing Point) is her pilot on the space shuttle. The clumsy Russians blow up one of their own satellites and our heroes’ ride home is destroyed in a hail of 25,000 mph space debris. Stone and Kowalski are obliged to make their way through the vacuum of space to a nearby Russian space station. They arrive there and it’s no longer serviceable so they then have to cross one hundred miles of emptiness to get to a Chinese craft. This is gripping, intense cinema and shows that 3D cinema can be a uniquely immersive and exhilarating experience.
If the director and script writer had limited their focus to the terror of being alone in a vacuum fighting to stay alive it would have been a far superior film. They didn’t. Instead they had to give us a dismally conventional Hollywood back story. Stone’s young daughter had died in a playground accident. This should be about as relevant to the plot of a film like this as her having grown the rhubarb than won first prize in a Wigan gardening festival. In this case though it’s used to squeeze in a torrent of lachrymose droning about how she wished she’d been taught to pray. In one buttock clenching scene she addresses Kowalski and tells him if he sees a brown haired four year old in Heaven to pass on the message that mummy has found her red shoe.
What begins as a film about facing death in space is unrelentingly a film about finding God for the last thirty minutes, a point hammered home by Bullock’s explosive “thank you” in one of the final scenes and imagery reminiscent of a Garden of Eden. We’re asked to believe that a scientist and lifelong atheist suddenly intuits a transcendent god when she’s worried about running out of oxygen and being shredded by bits of spaceship. Even the music changes to illustrate the contrast in her mental state from dark, alienating electronica to ultra-conventional Hollywood orchestral.
It’s a peculiar amalgam of genre defining innovation and unsubtle religious proselytising. Maybe that’s what Clooney was after. So if you don’t mind getting a little bit cross with all the god stuff and want to get the closest you’re likely to come to drifting helplessly in space it’s worth seeing. Whether or not it’ll be worth watching on DVD is a moot point.
Richie Venton, an activist in the Scottish Socialist Party, makes the case for nationalising Grangemouth on his blog which we are re-posting.
The devastating announcement that multi billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is walking away from the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth, putting this vital national asset into liquidation, means the loss of 800 skilled jobs, with countless hundreds more jobs threatened through the repercussions to the local economy.
And the same INEOS capitalist dictator has warned that Scotland’s only oil refinery will remain shut down unless the workers in that part of the huge industrial complex accept cuts to pay, pensions, shift allowances and bonuses that would total a loss of £10-15,000 per worker.
This is feral capitalism at its blatant worst, red in tooth and claw, fangs plunged not only into the workforce but the wider Scottish population. And contrary to the lies peddled by Ratcliffe and his well-named PR company – Media Zoo – this has nothing to do with the ‘financial distress’ of INEOS, and even less to do with any refusal on the part of the workforce or their union UNITE to see sense. INEOS bought Grangemouth off BP in 2006 as part of a much bigger £6billion takeover. It helped INEOS become the 4th biggest chemicals company in the world, with 51 manufacturing sites in 11countries across North America, Europe and Asia.
INEOS – which in an obscene insult to language is Greek for ‘bright new dawn’! – has plunged the Grangemouth workforce and the whole of Scotland into darkness and despair with their animalistic pursuit of profit at all cost.
Back in 2010, Ratcliffe moved INEOS headquarters from the UK to Switzerland, to dodge company taxes of at least £100m a year.
They’ve paid no UK taxes for at least the past 5 years. And again contrary to their lie-machine in recent weeks, in 2011 Grangemouth petrochemicals made operating profits of £31m – which rocketed to £49m last year. Globally, INEOS last year had a turnover of £43billion, and profits over £2billion. So pleas of ‘financial distress’ from Ratcliffe and INEOS wouldn’t fool a child learning sums at nursery, let alone the adult population.
Hell bent on even steeper rises in profit, this one-man dictatorship over Scotland’s only oil refinery and petrochemical site – employing 1,300 directly and 5,500 in the supply chain – issued a poisonous cocktail of blackmail and bullying. They demanded £150m off the taxpayer as a price for investing and retaining Grangemouth. They demanded cuts of £50m in operating cuts per year from the workforce – make the workers pay!
They perversely used the fact that Grangemouth accounts for 85% of Scotland’s fuel supplies and 30% of England’s to hold a bazooka to the heads of both Westminster and Holyrood, demanding public subsidies for their profits.
Within the workforce, Ratcliffe and INEOS saw one of the most powerfully organized industrial trade unions in the country as the enemy of their rapacious profiteering. So in the manner of Thatcher’s well planned confrontation with the miners in the 1980s, INEOS began to stockpile supplies in advance of provoking a showdown with the union and workers. Recently documents emerged proving that as far back as last March they were preparing for a strike this November!
But they weren’t just indulging in the arts of Mystic Meg: these billionaire gangster capitalists were out to consciously provoke strike action and then isolate and vilify the workers and UNITE as they held the country to ransom in demand of public funds for private capitalist profits to thrive.
To their eternal shame, the British Labour party leadership supplied Ratcliffe with an opening when they started a political witch hunt against UNITE convener at the site, and local constituency Labour Party chair, Stevie Deans. Labour – and the police who they scandalously sent a report to!! – subsequently cleared Stevie of all wrongdoing, but INEOS persisted with new investigations, ploughing through his emails, hunting for misuse of company resources for political activity – all in an attempt to decapitate the union and provoke strike action as a smokescreen for their real strategy.
SIGN OR BE SACKED
When the union stewards discovered management documents proving this long-planned provocation, they tactically withdrew the 48-hour strike due last weekend. Ratcliffe, besotted by his own wealth and arrogance, probably misread this as an act of weakness, and issued ‘sign or be sacked’ notices to the workers in their own homes – demanding that within 3 days they sign for new contracts involving £10-15,000 a year cuts to their incomes, or face the sack in 45 days. When workers refused to be browbeaten into submission – over 680 of the 1,000 UNITE members returned the forms unsigned to the union – Ratcliffe has stepped up the brutality even further, liquidating the petrochemical arm of the site (800 jobs), and still refusing to fire up the refinery unless the other 500 workers cave in to his dictatorship over terms and conditions.
PROFITS AND PAWNS
Even the mainstream media, not usually sympathetic to the workers’ side of any struggle, have overwhelmingly condemned the methods of Ratcliffe and INEOS. But the crunch question is what should be done now?
It is perverse in the extreme that an industrial complex that accounts for 10% of the nation’s GDP, and 85% of fuel supplies in Scotland, as wells it’s implications for the key Forties oilfield, is in the hands of one man – a tax-dodging multi-billionaire to boot. This one fact captures the lunatic immorality of capitalism as a system. Profit is all. People are pawns.
Ratcliffe declares the site ‘worthless’ and in need of huge public subsidies, and yet INEOS’s own company accounts confirm that last year sales jumped by 50%; gross profits rose by 20%; operating profits leapt by an incredible 56%.
So oil-rich Scotland has only one oil refinery, and it’s fate is in the hands of one venture capitalist!
As columnist Ian Bell rightly says (Herald 23 Oct 2013):” Strategic national assets are not something that can be left to the markets, far less individuals with big money and small ideas”.
CHINESE STATE OWNERSHIP?
Ratcliffe is pulling out, leaving devastation in his wake, because not even his obscene levels of bullying and blackmail have screwed the loot he wanted out of workers or governments. The SNP government is absolutely right to be looking at alternative ownership to retain the jobs, skills and vital economic output of this vast enterprise. But why, for instance, should they seek a takeover of Grangemouth by the Chinese state? The central bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party, who have rapidly transformed themselves into some of the most rapacious capitalists in the world, without a care for the health or safety of their workers – who are killed in the mines and elsewhere on an appalling scale – are already half-owners of the INEOS operations at Grangemouth. Is that where the Holyrood government seeks a new owner?
NATIONALISE – DON’T SUBSIDISE
Anyone would welcome a rescue of the entire operation – the refinery as wells the petrochemical plant – but instead of seeking either another multinational capitalist or the Chinese state as saviours, it would make infinitely more sense for the Scottish government to nationalise the whole complex – bring it into the collective ownership of the Scottish people.
That way they could also usher in new, democratic forms of management, incorporating the workers through their elected unions, and the Scottish government, in pursuit of the interests and well-being of not only the workforce but the entire population. In the old phrase, they should nationalise, not subsidise; take over the huge assets of a multinational that has revealed the real nature of capitalism as a system, and deploy the skills and expertise of the workforce as part of a state-owned energy industry, which could begin to look after people and planet alike.
INDEPENDENCE AND SOCIALISM
This whole episode also highlights the case for independence – for having the powers to take energy and other key industry into outright public ownership and control. But it also highlights the need for an independent Scotland based on the interests of the working class majority, not those of a few multinationals being bribed into investing here by low corporation taxes and public subsidies, only to bugger off again when it suits them.
We need to push for public ownership to save the jobs, skills, livelihoods and energy and industrial output at Grangemouth – and step up the argument that self-government for the Scottish people is the surest route to stopping modern pillage and plunder by capitalists with ‘big money and small ideas’
“Under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits”. Landlord checks on prospective tenants to make sure they aren’t illegal immigrants are “sensible in principle”.
Who is coming out with this reactionary drivel? Nigel Farage, Ian Duncan-Smith or Theresa May? No. Rachel Reeve, Duncan-Smith’s shadow in the Labour Party is stealing his claimant bashing rhetoric, adding for good measure that “nobody should be under any illusion that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour government”. Theresa May’s policy ideas, though considered an attack on civil liberties by the UKIP leader are embraced by her Labour shadow Yvette Cooper.
The general election may be well over a year away but the campaigning has already started. Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference was his party’s opening salvo and, as we explore in this issue, it signified a modest but perceptible leftward shift and was welcomed as such across the labour movement. Len McCluskey, the Unite leader was quick to endorse Miliband saying in a TV interview “the Labour Party is still our party remember, it’s the party of organised labour and we want to make certain that it’s well funded in order to fight the next elections.“
Neither McCluskey nor Miliband want to draw the real conclusion from the reaction to the conference speech which was that a radical challenge to the deepening impoverishment of millions of people is a vote winner. Instead Miliband instructs his lieutenants to get out the message that the party is as committed to key aspects of neo-liberalism and austerity as it was under Blair and Brown. Moreover, as Cooper demonstrates, ideas which were once found only in the most obscure and unpleasant right wing think tanks are now “sensible in principle”.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Labour will win the next general election, or more accurately, the Tories will lose it as the majority of voters will be in the region of 15% poorer in real terms than they were when the coalition was elected. Millions of working class people may not share McCluskey’s illusion that Miliband, Cooper and Reeves see themselves as representing organised labour but they will vote for the party if they see it as offering a marginal protection against the all out class warfare John Lister describes in his article.
Socialist Resistance is encouraging its supporters and readers to become active in Left Unity. In particular we are endorsing the vision for the organisation set out in the Left Party Platform which we reprint in this issue. We may not like the concept of a “UKIP of the left”, but it’s clear that Farage’s outfit has had an ideological impact on the Tories. From our point of view it’s an entirely negative one. No such pressure is being exerted on Labour from the left. The handful of MPs who are willing to take a clear stand in defence of working people are lost in a morass of time servers and gutless wonders. Left Unity has shown in the short time it has existed that it resonates with the political consciousness of significant numbers of newly radicalising people and individuals with experience of the labour movement.
Elections are only one terrain of class struggle but they are sometimes a significant one. Many of us will have no choice but to vote Labour next year and the year after. In some areas there will be credible left or Green candidates. We have to take the opportunity opened up by Miliband’s rhetorical shift by arguing that the only political solution to austerity is one that is willing to absolutely reject it. Labour won’t. We can build Left Unity into the party that will.
The privatisation of health care services is racing ahead in Britain, outstripping the pace of change in comparable countries: last year almost 9 percent of England’s £100 billion-plus NHS budget was spent on services from private providers writes John Lister.
The pace is increasing. Since the floodgates were opened with the implementation of the Health & Social Care Act in April over 200 new contracts have been offered up to private corporations and social enterprises. Among them are far-reaching new plans to “integrate” services, putting a single company or partnership in charge of budgets and planning services for whole care “pathways”.
The biggest of these so far is in Cambridgeshire, where a massive £800 million contract for the entire range of services for older people and adults has been offered up for grabs – so big a contract that NHS providers have concluded they cannot hope to win the contract without entering a “partnership” with profit-seeking private companies like Capita, Circle, Virgin or Serco.
The Health & Social Care Act has also given foundation trusts the “freedom” to expand their private patient services to as much as 50% of their income: with NHS funding frozen and falling in real terms, one foundation trust in eight has opened up new private treatment facilities since last year, and many others have expanded their private wards and wings.
Why has the Tory-led coalition focused so strongly on opening up the NHS and its budget to the private sector? Why are they prepared to divert countless millions from patient care into the overhead costs of tendering tens of thousands of contracts across 211 Clinical Commissioning Groups?
We have to discard some myths immediately:
- It’s not to save money: private sector provision is never a cheaper way of delivering like-for-like services: apparent “savings” from privatisation centre on reducing the workforce, paying them less, working them harder, or delivering less complex services – and dumping the others on to what’s left of the public sector.
- It’s not to privatise the whole NHS: the private sector does not want big sectors of the NHS which deliver emergency and other services which do not make a profit. And the private sector is not big enough to buy up the whole NHS.
- The private sector is not more efficient. The overheads, running cost and wasted spending under the heavily private provision of health care in the US are staggering compared with those in England. The USA is estimated to waste a staggering $800 billion each year – almost a third of the $2.7 trillion health spend on factors including unnecessary treatment and fraud. Admin costs are estimated to soak up almost $900 per person in the US, covering sky high salary costs, advertising, and the huge bureaucracy of health insurance. In Britain the Competition Commission has just produced a scathing report on private hospital chains, accusing some firms of massive over-charging, and called for the bigger chains to be broken up.
- The private sector is not safer for patients: incidence of avoidable medical errors are at least as high in the US as they are in the NHS. The only difference is that private hospitals in England focus only on elective surgery and less complex cases, leaving any risky treatments to public sector providers. Private hospitals are smaller, see fewer patients and therefore fewer external visitors, and spend more on the environment and in general have kept cleaning and other support services “in house”.
- Nor is does the private sector deliver better outcomes (US life expectancy despite higher health spending is lower than the UK), better quality, or “innovations” that do not rely on research and techniques first developed by the public sector.
No. In England, and every other country where public sector services are being opened up to private providers, the privatisation drive is not based on pragmatic ideas of ‘doing what works’.
On the contrary, they flow from neoliberal ideology, which since the heyday of Thatcher and Reagan has asserted that competitive markets should be the basic form of organisation, and that any public service ‘monopolies’ which impede such markets must be broken up and opened up to a multiplicity of providers. In Britain the NHS is one of the last survivors – and the Cameron government is determined to finish the job that Thatcher started and Blair continued.
This is combined with the notion of the “small state” – and the pressure to minimise taxation on big business and the wealthy, resulting in a relentless onslaught on public sector health budgets.
But neoliberalism is not simply an ideology floating in the ether: it reflects the material interests of the powerful private medical industrial complex, which has in many countries hit the buffers as it runs out of affluent customers willing or able to pay soaring prices for health insurance and treatment. So they are desperate to do more than redivide the estimated $500–550 billion global total of profits.
Easier said than done. One immutable law that makes a pure market in healthcare impossible is the “inverse care law” by wish those who need most health care – overwhelmingly the very young, very old, chronic sick and the poor – are least in a position to pay a market price for it.
These are the very last customers health insurers want on their books. Without public provision and collective funding of health care these millions are excluded from any access to health care.
So a private sector eager to expand has to seek ways to reach into the huge public sector budgets of the richest countries, to carve out a larger slice for themselves.
Hence the piecemeal privatisation in Britain and elsewhere, which has clearly followed a very different model from the “big bang” privatisation of utilities by the Thatcher government in the 1980s – by selling them off to shareholders.
In place of slick advertising campaigns which under Thatcher persuading relatively prosperous individuals to buy themselves a limited share of the newly-privatised utilities (most of which were swiftly sold again), the rhetoric has been of “competition”, and especially “patient choice” – although it is already clear that what once were competitive contracts are being transformed into new private monopolies as bigger corporations move in.
So if you want a one-word explanation of the otherwise completely irrational and expensive drive to privatisation of health care and a massive Health & Social Care Act that has made the NHS less efficient and far less accountable than before, it’s “neoliberalism”.
And if you want a political explanation of why similar policies have been embraced by both Tories and Labour, again the answer is Blair’s embrace of neoliberalism and the ideology of the market which before the mid 1990s were (quite rightly) the preserve of the right wing of the Tory Party and right wing “think tanks”.
Any coherent policy to defend the NHS has to begin from a rejection of this destructive ideology, which is incompatible with the provision of universal health care. That’s why it’s not enough to wait for Miliband and his Labour team to see the light: the left must organise, unite, and develop a serious and consistent socialist alternative.
The NHS has coexisted with capitalism and social democracy for 65 years: but capitalism and social democracy can kill it off unless a political fight is waged to keep services and staff intact and halt the fragmentation and privatisation before the damage becomes irreparable.