Cancel the franchise, not our trains!

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West Midlands Trains, photo Rob Hodgkins/CC

The performance of West Midlands Trains – the current franchise holder for rail services in the West Midlands – is talked about everywhere; in newspapers, on radio and TV and of course among rail travellers.

The Mayor of the West Midlands, Tory Andy Street, also put his oar in. Apparently, he does not have enough to keep him busy in his £79,000-a-year job. He thinks he can run the railway as well, but there is also an election coming up.

What has been lacking is any action. So West Midlands Socialist Party has launched a campaign – ‘Cancel the franchise, not our trains’ – to offer a way to get involved in the debate over the future of rail and to offer a socialist alternative to the profits-first approach.

We call for public ownership and democratic workers’ control. We say a new body should run the system – made up of one-third from rail workers and their unions, one-third from rail users, and one-third from the local authorities.

We know that a change of control and leadership would be only a start. The problems of the rail industry include lack of capacity, outdated equipment such as semaphore signalling (first used in the 1840s), overcrowding, and a “shortage of train crew” caused by the profit-before-everything approach of the private operators.

We are out campaigning on this issue. We call for the current franchise to end on 16 May, the next timetable change. We want democratic control and accountability from the people who work on, travel on and otherwise rely on a safe, reliable and affordable railway.

To get involved in the campaign, email birminghamsocialistparty@gmail.com or text/phone 07530 429 441.

Stand firm for socialist policies to stop Tory attacks

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  • Trade unions must organise now to plan action to mobilise workers and young people to defend the NHS, public services, the environment, benefits and workers’ rights against Johnson’s attacks
  • Blame the Blairites. Kick out the pro-capitalist saboteurs. Refound Labour as a mass democratic workers’ party with socialist policies
  • Join the fightback! Join the Socialist Party!

The Tories have won a substantial parliamentary majority. Boris Johnson’s victory speech talked about being a ‘one-nation Conservative’ and promised increased spending on the NHS. This is a lie. When Maggie Thatcher won in 1979 she quoted Frances of Assisi, promising to bring harmony and hope to Britain.

Instead, she ruled ruthlessly and attacked the working class. Johnson will do the same and rule not for the ‘whole nation’ but the billionaires. His manifesto promised an immediate assault on the rights of rail workers to strike. This, combined with the recent brutal anti-democratic court rulings against the postal workers’ union, the CWU, gives a glimpse of the attacks on workers’ rights to come.

But Johnson’s attacks on trade unions and the working class as a whole can be defeated. The seeming strength of Johnson’s government will be shattered by coming events. In 1987 Margaret Thatcher had a majority of 102. Within 12 months the campaign of mass non-payment against the poll tax, led by Militant, now the Socialist Party, had begun. It turned the Iron Lady into iron filings, forcing her resignation in 1990. Today, the Tory party is far weaker than it was then. It is bitterly divided, and Johnson has only been able to win by distancing himself from his own party, using populist rhetoric to falsely claim he is standing up for ‘the people’.

This was a ‘snapshot’, a very ephemeral result, with even Johnson having to acknowledge workers had only lent him their votes. In the immediate period after the election there is bound to be bitter disappointment, even despair, from workers and young people who can see what a Johnson government will mean.

Nonetheless, their anger will find an outlet and mass struggles – like those taking place in France, Chile and many other countries – will come to Britain. The workers’ movement needs an urgent council of war to plan a fight back against Johnson’s attacks, firstly in support of the postal, rail and other workers currently in dispute, and in order to harness the anger and give it an organised form.

A vital part of that resistance is a fight for socialist policies. Already the capitalist politicians and commentators, and the Labour right wing, are lining up to argue that Labour’s poor result was caused by Corbyn’s left-wing manifesto. This is nonsense. In fact, Labour got 10.2 million votes, the second time under Corbyn it has reached over 10 million votes, something that was not achieved by Blair after the 2001 election, or ever by Brown or Miliband.

The majority of policies in Corbyn’s manifesto have overwhelming public support, including the nationalisation it proposed. The Blairites claim a so-called ‘1970s manifesto’ was outdated, but it is their worshipping of the capitalist elite that is out of date.

Corbyn’s policies of a £10-an-hour minimum wage, mass council house building, ending zero-hour contracts, free education and more, would be a real step forward for millions of workers who have suffered a decade of falling living standards.

Corbyn’s manifesto, and above all the enthusiasm a Corbyn-led government would have engendered, terrified the capitalist class, who have moved might and main to prevent Corbyn getting into Number Ten.

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Corbyn speaking in Birmingham during the 2017 election campaign

A vicious campaign of slander against Corbyn was relentlessly conducted by the capitalist media, probably greater than in any election since Labour won in 1945, when Labour was accused of wanting to bring in a Gestapo but introduced the NHS and other reforms.

We should expect nothing less from the mass media, which is mainly owned by billionaires or, in the case of the BBC, is an arm of the capitalist state which has always ultimately defended its interests.

As far back as the 1926 general strike it claimed to be ‘independent’ while banning speeches from the Labour leader, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury – because he was considered too conciliatory. As 1945 showed, however, with a clear fighting programme it is possible to cut across the lies of the capitalist media.

Blairite sabotage

In this election the capitalist class had another important ally in the battle to defeat Corbyn: the Blairites. 15 ex-Labour MPs took out huge adverts in northern papers the day before the election urging people not to vote for Corbyn.

This open sabotage was only one step further than many MPs who stayed inside the Labour Party but openly undermined Corbyn, failing to ever mention him or the manifesto in their leaflets.

Already this election is being compared to Labour’s defeat under Michael Foot in 1983. On that occasion it wasn’t the left manifesto, but the right-wing traitors – the SDP – who left Labour and split the vote, which was the main reason for the defeat. This time their successors, the Blairites, were mostly working to defeat Corbyn from inside the party.

However, it was the compromises that the Labour leadership made with the Blairites that are the central reason for this defeat, above all on Brexit. Swathes of working-class Leave-voting areas saw Labour as a ‘Remain’ party. Even right-wing Sunday Times commentator, Dominic Lawson, recognised this last week, declaring, “Labour’s centrists blew this, not its leftie leader”.

Lawson went on to state the obvious: “It is the centrists, supported by the former Labour leader Tony Blair and his erstwhile spin-doctor Alistair Campbell, who dragged the party from its policy of respecting the result of the 2016 referendum.”

He goes on to point out that Corbyn never supported the EU, but in order to convince pro-EU Labour MPs to join a shadow cabinet reluctantly agreed to campaign for Remain in the referendum, and has made concession after concession ever since.

Rage against system

As the Socialist Party has consistently argued, the working-class vote for Brexit was a cry of rage against everything they had suffered in a decade of austerity. Had Corbyn, as we did, taken a different position in the EU referendum the right-wing Tory nationalists would not have had the space to dominate the Brexit campaign in the way they did.

He should have argued in 2016 for a vote for Brexit on the grounds of opposing the EU bosses’ club – with its pro-privatisation and anti-working class laws, standing instead for a new collaboration of the peoples of Europe on a socialist basis.

Even after this mistake, the 2017 snap election showed how promising to respect the EU referendum, and negotiate a Brexit in workers’ interests, could win working-class Brexit voters. More than a million people who had previously voted Ukip voted Labour in that election.

This time, however, Corbyn’s neutrality, combined with months of seeming to collaborate in parliament with pro-capitalist Remainers – Jo Swinson, Ken Clarke, and co – allowed Johnson to claim he was the only candidate who could “get Brexit done”.

A considerable number of Brexit-voting workers and some Remain voters who were fed up of the Brexit paralysis and just wanted it ‘sorted’, lent their vote to Johnson, often holding their noses to do so. They will be sorely disappointed.

The capitalist class, the majority of whom want to remain as closely aligned to the EU as possible, are hoping against hope that – having won a clear majority – Johnson can now be pressured into negotiating a final deal in their interests.

There are more than 130 Remain Tory backbenchers who can fight for that position. Johnson may do what they want, which will almost certainly mean extending the transition period beyond the end of next year. That would reopen the splits in the Tory party, and shatter the lie that Johnson will ‘get Brexit done’.

However Johnson plays it, his Brexit deal is a vicious pro-big business deal which further undermines workers’ rights. Against the background of growing economic crisis, any illusions that Johnson stands ‘for the people’ will be destroyed by the government’s actions.

In the coming turmoil there will be a burning need for a political vehicle to represent the working class: a mass workers’ party. Labour under Corbyn hasn’t become such a party, rather it was at best ‘two parties in one’: a potential workers’ party around Corbyn and a capitalist Blairite party. Corbyn supporters have to urgently learn the lessons of this defeat.

It was not only on Brexit that concessions to the Blairites undermined Corbyn’s message. During this election campaign there was a policy of not attacking the record of previous Labour governments. This allowed, for example, Johnson to claim Labour were responsible for much of the privatisation in the NHS. Corbyn – instead of attacking the Blairites’ record on PFI and pointing out he voted against it – allowed himself to be dirtied by New Labour’s record.

Across the country, Labour councils under Corbyn have continued implementing austerity, on the spurious grounds that they have ‘no choice’. After 40 years of governments – Tory and New Labour – defending the interests of the capitalist elite, the majority are bound to be cynical about claims of being anti-austerity.

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Birmingham bin and home care workers striking against the pro-austerity Birmingham Labour council

If even one or two Labour councils, supported by Corbyn and McDonnell, had refused to carry out cuts to jobs and public services and started mass council house building, it would have done more to convince workers of Labour’s anti-austerity credentials than a thousand warm words.

Instead, in the West Midlands alone, 20,000 local government workers were made redundant over the last decade, mainly by Labour councils.

Liverpool road

The positive role of anti-cuts councillors is a key lesson of the struggle of Liverpool City Council, in which we played a leading role in the 1980s. By taking on and defeating Thatcher, building 5,000 council houses and creating jobs, we caused a swing to Labour that – had it been repeated on a national scale in the 1987 general election – would have led to a majority Labour government.

The Labour left also made serious mistakes on the national question in Scotland, resulting in Labour being reduced again to just one seat, with the capitalist SNP making gains.

For Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme to be heard in Scotland, Labour had to support the right of the Scottish people to self-determination. Given the dominance of the Tories in Westminster, the demands for independence in Scotland are now likely to grow rapidly.

In the wake of this defeat, the Labour right are already demanding that Corbyn goes immediately. It would be a major mistake for the Corbynistas to retreat in the face of the Blairite onslaught. Instead, they must urgently take the measures that the Socialist Party has been calling for over the last four years.

A workers’ movement conference – of all those trade unions and socialists who want to defend Corbyn’s programme against the Blairites’ attacks – should be immediately called to discuss a programme to transform Labour into a workers’ party with a clear socialist programme.

Democratisation of the party – including restoring the rights of the trade unions, introducing mandatory reselection, and organising on a federal basis with the Socialist Party and others encouraged to affiliate – would be an important step.

The most important measure, however, would be to take a clear and firm position for Labour to be a real anti-austerity party in words and deeds, with no place for MPs and councillors who implement Tory attacks on the working class. Unfortunately, at least on election night, this was not the approach of the Labour left.

They urgently need to halt the retreat, and stand and fight. Even if they do not, the burning need for a mass workers’ party will remain and the task of creating one, in one form or other, will be posed as part of the mighty battles to defeat the Johnson government. The Socialist Party will play a key role in this fight.

Birmingham Socialist Party meeting:

What next to defeat Tory austerity and the fight for socialism

Wednesday 18th December 2019, 7.30pm
Kings Norton Ex Servicemens Club, 1853a Pershore Road, Cotteridge B30 3DJ

West Midlands Trains: guards strike to defend safety-critical role

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Tom Woodcock, RMT union member

On 16 November, senior conductors (guards) at West Midlands Trains took their first day of strike action in defence of their safety-critical role.

In a desperate attempt to end the dispute, management made the RMT transport union reps a last minute offer. They promised to withdraw their original plans to remove key safety responsibilities from the guards’ job description and instead only remove the guards’ door controls and introduce a new system of drivers operating doors to guards’ signals.

However, the reps unanimously rejected this and, respecting the tremendous strike mandate from the members, told the company that the strike is on.

The guards are absolutely determined to win, and can see that any downgrading of safety responsibilities is a dangerous step on a slippery slope towards driver-only operation (DOO), which must be resisted. This was not only demonstrated by the magnificent 89% vote for action, but also the fighting spirit on the picket lines.

Socialist Party members visited pickets at Birmingham New Street, Snow Hill, Coventry, Leamington and Worcester and it was clear that the guards are up for the fight.

In a welcome move, a significant minority of drivers at some depots refused to cross the guards’ picket line. This had an immediate impact on the service and scuppered management’s plans to have scab guards working the trains.

This is a fantastic show of solidarity and if this were to spread to other depots it would tip the balance of forces very quickly in the guards’ favour.

RMT will be striking every Saturday until the end of the year unless the company backs down.

We say:
  • No to DOO – defend the role of the guard on our trains
  • Widen the dispute – drivers should support their brothers and sisters in the senior conductor grade
  • Renationalise the railways and stop profiteering on the backs of vital safety-critical rail workers

University Workers Strike Against Greedy Bosses

Unison members working in catering, cleaning and security held a well supported one day strike at the University of Birmingham on 28 June. They were protesting against the removal of premium payments for weekend and anti social hours and reduction of holiday entitlement by a week. They also expect some staff to commence collecting work materials in their own time instead of the University’s as is currently the case.
In addition, they refuse to become a Living Wage employer unlike many other universities.
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There were well attended and lively picket lines at several entrances and a mood of defiance over the University’s intentions. Carl Chinn, well known local historian and ex-Birmingham University professor, who was himself made redundant by that university attended to show his support

The Vice chancellor, who is currently on a basic salary of £447,000 per year plus an £80,000 bonus, free accommodation and a bullet proof chauffeur driven car has demanded a real terms pay cut for his lowest paid workers. Over 100 senior managers at the University also receive six figure salaries. Unison are demanding an above inflation pay rise.
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Members of other unions on site have already suffered similar attacks and the Socialist Party believes that joint action of all University unions is the most effective way of rolling back these attacks.

Unison are contemplating further strike days but these are not yet confirmed.
South West Birmingham Socialist Party Members

Mental Health Workers Strike

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“If this goes through, things will never be the same again. It’s the beginning of the end,” said one Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust picket as Unite and Unison members began their three-day strike against “privatisation through the back door”.

The action, which started on 24 June at several sites, is against the trust forcing 160 maintenance and facilities workers out of the NHS into a wholly-owned subsidiary, Summer Hill Services Ltd. The trust has repeatedly failed to answer questions over the claimed savings being used to justify the transfer. As one Unison member told the Socialist, it looks like their main saving will be from tax dodging. Publicly-owned NHS bodies have to pay VAT but private ones don’t, a double robbery by the fat cats from our public services.

Penny-pinching won’t stop there though. The transfer would see new staff on worse contracts, probably followed by attacks on current workers, combined with corner cutting and reorganisation that will result in a worse service for patients.

The transfer is set for that start of July. However, regulations have not been followed for ether the required consultation or the TUPE (employment contract transfer) process, which could result in legal action by the unions.

Bob Severn, Birmingham South East Socialist Party

Brum Bin workers defeat City Council

Text from Socialist Party strike Bulletin no.19

Unite and Unison bin workers will receive the £3,500 demanded by members at the start of this dispute in line with the secret payments made to non striking GMB members in 2017.  Also agency staff will have an opportunity to apply for permanent positions.

After numerous days of strike action and an embarrassing failed attempt at a court injunction using Tory anti trade union laws the council has been defeated and humiliated.

Birmingham bin workers have therefore dealt another blow to the Blairite led Birmingham city council, forcing it to completely back down over the ‘bribe’ money paid to GMB members who didn’t take strike action last year.

The secret ‘sweetheart’ deal was made between GMB leadership and the Labour council which saw GMB members receive a cash lump sum directly into their payslip – essentially blacklisting Unite and Unison members.

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THE FUTURE?

From their actions during the strike breaking and use of the Tory anti-union laws and courts to attack its own workforce, the council have shown it doesn’t and never did respect the deal to keep grade 3’s back in 2017. More than ever workers across the council know that the council can’t be trusted!

Their attacks on both council workers and council services stem from their refusal to resist Tory demands for more austerity cuts. So they’re carrying on with them. Despite 8,500 jobs already gone since 2010 – they voted last month for another 1000+ job losses and more cuts to services. It’s clear that we need to be prepared for more attacks on the bin service.

STRENGTHEN THE UNION

The huge, lively picket lines and mass meetings have shown the strength and willingness of members to fight. This can be built upon and made even stronger with a drive for more shop stewards across the depos.

An even stronger and well organised network of stewards across the workforce would make it harder for the city council to attack next time and strengthen any future disputes with an even more powerful rank and file organisation, able to effectively communicate and control action against any future council attacks.

Tory Austerity & the Blairite Labour council’s refusal to resist it – is behind these attacks & it needs to be defeated!

SUPPORT HOMECARE WORKERS    

We should remember the fantastic joint strike day with the homecare workers on the 22nd February that shook the council to its bones. They have been in dispute for over 18 months now to defend their jobs and conditions against the brutal Labour Council that –we believe- wants to get rid of the homecare service and dump it on the profit grabbing private sector.

We urge bin workers to do whatever possible to continue to support & assist the homecare workers!

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 CITY WIDE THREAT—The latest job cuts, attacks and moves towards wholescale privatisation of services is a glimpse of more to come from this Labour council. Instead of letting the council attack one section of workers at a time, Council unions and stewards should prepare for city wide action.

The victory of the bin workers has shown yet again that trade union militancy works! And should be used as an example and inspiration for workers under attack across Birmingham and across the country, that with struggle they can win as well.

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Cuts Cllrs get pay rise!!

In a time where poverty is skyrocketing in our city, the homelessness crisis getting worse everyday on the streets and over a 1000 more council job losses being agreed by ‘Labour’ councillors the council’s independent remuneration panel is proposing these same councillors are awarded a 4% pay rise! 

This would see all 101 Birmingham city councillors receiving a 4% pay boost due to ‘increased workloads and impact of social media’. What about the increased workloads of council employees who keep the streets clean or who look after our kids and elderly relatives. The pay bonanza goes even further for the top leadership of the council with cabinet members seeing big rises to their ‘extra payments’ putting top earner council leader Ian Ward on £69,000 a year! This man saw nothing wrong with viciously attacking bin workers’ terms and conditions or driving the dedicated and inspirational Homecare workers living standards into the dirt.

These proposals have been made on the backdrop of this Blairite ‘Labour’ council voting through an additional £46million of cuts resulting in more attacks on its workforce. The council has just been defeated after its most recent battle against bin workers, which cost citizens an additional £3millon in the use of scab workers! This is on top of the ongoing attacks on the Homecare workers whilst council bosses splash out £12million bringing in consultants to privatise this vital public service.  

The Socialist Party demands that all workers representatives such as councillors and MPs should be on a worker’s wage not a grossly disproportionate salary divorcing them from the day to day struggles of the working class. This was the policy of Militant Labour MP’s Dave Nellist, Pat Wall and Terry Fields. This should go hand in hand with the Unite Union policy of no-cuts budgets and using council reserves and borrowing powers as a short term measure to stop all austerity cuts to council services and to begin a national campaign to defeat this weak Tory government!  

 

No perks, no privileges – we need socialists not sell outs!


 

Militant National Shop Steward Network rally in support of Brum workers under attack

See the video of the event filmed by UNITE West Midlands

Birmingham Bin and Home Care strikers were both in attendance at the Birmingham National Shop Steward’s Network rally – ‘to defend workers from Council attacks!’.

100 Trade unionists and activists met to listen about/discuss current local disputes as well as put forward demands, tactics and ideas on how to build a trade union movement against council cuts to jobs, terms and conditions as well as saving public services. The floor heard inspirational fighting speeches from: Unite convenor and bin striker Dean Smith (picture below), UNISON senior shop steward and home care striker Mandy Buckley, Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett and NSSN Chair Rob Williams, to name a few.

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Suggestions were made during the rally that in order to ensure services and jobs are saved from current or future attacks, UNISON and Unite need to lead an all-out Council strike against the deplorable Labour Council. Current disputes need to link their struggle to the wider issue of fighting back against council austerity policies – this will give all workers a much better chance at saving their jobs completely without any compromises with the bosses. Additionally, putting forward demands on the Cllrs to set no-cuts budgets and to only stand on a worker’s wage will be steps forward to a genuine Council fight back against the Tory austerity agenda.

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Furthermore, Birmingham Labour Council has voted to cut another 1000+ jobs! Cuts which could potentially be made to the bin and home care services and who else knows where. What was agreed by the floor is that while the bins have won their battle, and the home carers are still in theirs – Birmingham Labour Council is set on waging a war on its workers and citizens making them face the brutal reality of the effects of these cuts.

With people literally dying on Birmingham’s streets the unions and Council workers need to go on the offensive more so now than ever – Bin and Home Care workers could be leading the way forward with this fight and inspire their co-workers within the council to join them on the picket line!

Come along to the NSSN National Conference on Saturday 6th July in London!

Hear from fighting trade unionists from around the county and let’s begin the end to these attacks on ordinary people!

International Womens Day Public Meeting

Join Birmingham Socialist Students, Young Socialists and Birmingham Socialist Party as we commemorate the history of International Women’s Day and its link to Socialist Feminism.

Venue: Top floor at The Victoria Pub, John Bright Street, Birmingham City Centre
Date: Wednesday 6th March
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Guest speakers include:

Birmingham Home Care Striker
Birmingham Bin Striker

 

IWD

How did International Women’s Day come about? What is Socialist Feminism? And how are they both linked?

International Women’s Day (IWD) has a rich history of worker’s struggles and has been been used as a tool by working class women to fight for a new society.

So how did such an important day become sidelined towards the end of the 20th century and why is it now coming back on the agenda? How can women and worker’s utilise this day to fight against rising global inequality, exploitation and a capitalist system which is failing the world’s 99%?

This will be a worthwhile discussion for anyone wanting to learn more about IWD, the history of working class women and current battles women and the working class are taking on.

The meeting will also be joined by speakers from the Birmingham Home Care and Bin strike – two current disputes happening side by side against their employer Birmingham Labour Council. The strikers will demonstrate how even though one workforce is predominantly women and the other men, that both their struggles are linked by attacks on their terms, conditions and pay.

Be part of the discussion to see how we can move forward to make sure women and worker’s can win liberation and how socialism plays a key role in this.

So come along to the meeting to discuss, and to see how you can get involved in continuing the struggle to end women’s oppression!

For information on Socialist Feminism read the recent article from Socialism Today!