Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blame capitalism!

By Eric Trevett

YOUNG people entering the labour market have high hopes of getting a good wage in a job with reasonable prospects. But for many these hopes are soon replaced with doubts as to whether they can get a job at all. This particularly affects working class youth; due the policies of successive Tory and Labour governments a range of options has been closed.
Just after the Second World War, between 1945 and 1960 jobs were easy to come by. There was a shortage of labour power in the economy and it was possible to leave a job in the morning and get another before the end of the day. Apprenticeships were plentiful and skilled tradesmen were vital to the economy.
Backed by the trade union movement, living standards rose dramatically and in spite of its right-wing leadership the Labour government was pressed into nationalising industries like coal and rail and attempts to introduce pay freeze policies on workers’ wages were thwarted.
Another important advance was the trade union action that achieved the 40-hour, five-day working week.
The situation is very different today. Capitalism is in profound crisis. The coal mining industry has been destroyed and the de-industrialisation policies of the Tory and right-wing Labour governments have closed literally hundreds of factories up and down the country.
As a result the choice for youngsters today, especially working class youngsters, is much narrower than it has ever been.
The present government’s policy for cuts means that many more jobs are to be lost and a sharp rise in unemployment figures is inevitable.
The Post Office and the railways are now thinking to reduce their labour forces substantially, while the government has indicated it will cut 30,000 jobs from the civil service.
In December 1999 there were 1.2 million claiming unemployment benefits – 4.1 per cent of the workforce. Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics put unemployment at 2.51 million, which is eight per cent of the workforce.
Simultaneously with cutting jobs the Government is adopting tough policies against those unfortunate enough to find themselves unemployed.
Young people today are increasingly worried about their work and future. Those who go to university are tending to end up with huge debts on their shoulders. Many of them find it impossible to find jobs that give them a living wage that will also service their debts.
According to the Independent one in six students now regret going to university at all. A survey by the graduate-recruiting company High Flyers revealed that just over one-third of those leaving university this summer can expect to find a graduate job. Competition is especially fierce as they are up against many students who graduated the previous year who have still not found graduate-level jobs.
Currently there are 300,000 graduates leaving university each year – twice as many as in the 1990s. And even in a good year there are only 150,000 good graduate jobs available. With a policy of cutting back on services there will now be even fewer jobs available.
David Willetts, the Universities Secretary, says the jobs market continues to be very tight for young people.
Working people generally are being expected to pay for their retirement and at the same time are being urged to purchase more to get out of the economic crisis.
As the Government introduces more inflationary policies the purchasing power of wages and benefit payments will fall. But it is rumoured that as well as this there will be actual cuts in wages and pensions and some bourgeois papers have predicted that 50,000 homes will be repossessed this year.
Make no mistake about it; the full scale attack on the living standards of the working people is to be spearheaded by this Tory government, covered with a thin veneer of liberal concern.
Another prime target is the National Health Service, the last bastion of the 1945-51 government’s reforms.
Middle management jobs are also under threat. Sections of people who would not describe themselves as working class will find themselves on the dole. Therefore it will be possible and is essential to involve these sections of workers in the overall campaign of resistance, around the demands of a right to a job and a living wage.
We must never lose sight of the bankers’ responsibility for the present debt. They have received tens of billions of pounds in bail-outs in taxpayers’ money. Following their public apology on television they have been giving themselves hand-outs of millions of pounds in bonuses. No doubt they think this is a very good joke.
We need to be very clear that the joke is very much at our expense and we must use this fact to engender hatred against the bankers and the capitalist system as a whole.
As the campaign of resistance is developed by demonstrations, resolutions, deputations, leafleting and general agitation we have to note that the youth and sections of the working class movement are not equipped ideologically to see the need to support the trade unions and labour movement organisations.
The TUC in cooperation with the National Union of Teachers and other progressive organisations serving the expanse of education should make it possible for trade union members to be invited into classes and seminars of students.
In the localities, trades councils, where they exist, should be encouraged by the TUC to take initiatives in the organised campaign against the cuts and for progressive policies.
The movement as a whole should campaign for the restoration of the Labour Party constitution, the removal of which opened the door to the right-wing governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and their continuation of the Thatcher and Major governments’ privatisation policies. The campaign for the restoration of Clause Four is important because it is part of the campaign for the renationalisation of the economy.
As the Government’s cuts policy is so all-embracing we must help to engage ever wider sections of people in the struggle. Volunteer organisations should be encouraged to make representation for funding for the extra work they are expected to be doing. Pensioners’ organisations have an integral part to play. And indeed all the older activists in the struggle have a duty to help the younger generation to have confidence in the continuing fight.
The Co-op guilds, Women’s Institute and other women’s organisations should be drawn into the struggle against the cuts, which affect not only the working class but wide sections of the middle strata. Churches and their congregations will not be unaffected by the Tory attack on living standards and can be mobilised for progressive policies.
The broadening out of the progressive movement will also lead to greater influence for the peace movement, with its demand for the end of the Trident programme and the removal of nuclear weapons from Britain, as a contribution to a nuclear-free Europe and world. This would entail expelling United States troops from Britain and their nuclear weapons that are stockpiled here. And there will be more pressure behind the demand for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and any other imperialist occupations and an end to imperialist invasions.
Of course the problem is bigger than this Tory attack on living standards; it is basically the capitalist system itself and any ideological struggle, as it involves increasing millions of people, must have socialist consciousness injected into it by the movement.
There is no possibility of getting socialism through bourgeois democracy or without a revolutionary leadership that has the capacity to lead the working class to state power.
It is important that the movement closes ranks around the Marxist-Leninist party. The collapse of the Soviet Union came about because the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other parties, influenced by Khrushchev, abandoned these principles and prepared the way for the counter-revolution led by Gorbachov.
That setback for the working class, nationally and internationally, was not the result of Marxism-Leninism but of opportunism and revisionism.
The only Marxist-Leninist party in Britain is the New Communist Party and its paper, the New Worker has an important role to play in this urgent situation.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sinn Féin: peace process moves forward but much remains to be done

Sean Oliver, Sinn Féin Co-ordinator for England, Scotland and Wales, talks to Theo Russell about the effects of the economic crisis in Ireland and the future of the peace process following the elections in the north and the change of government in London.

Theo Russell: How has the economic crisis affected the north of Ireland in comparison with the Republic?

Sean Oliver: There’s a much larger public sector and state employment in the North than in the south, partly because of the history of the conflict and the lack of investment, so we haven’t been as badly off as the South so far.
The spending cuts just announced include £128 million for the north, with possibly big cuts in health spending which accounts for 40 per cent of the overall Executive budget, so we are going to be hit.

TR: What is Sinn Féin’s strategy for tackling the crisis?

SO: We are attempting to grow the private sector in the North, developing indigenous industries, the social economy and local business people, but we are also saying that what we need is an all-Ireland economy.
At the moment we have two separate economies competing for investment, with 1.5 million people in the north and 4-5 million in the south, two tax systems, and two currencies, which makes things very complex, especially in the border areas.
At the moment we are completely dependent on the block grants from London. In the past the Unionist parties have said no to local taxation powers, with a Sinn Féin motion calling for fiscal powers for the Assembly failing due to unionist opposition.
In the last years of direct rule there was an attempt to introduce water charges, and there has been pressure for privatisation, but this has been ruled out by Conor Murphy, the Sinn Féin Regional Development minister with responsibility for utilities.
We have seen substantial sums invested in infrastructure in the North by the Irish government, and work is ongoing on major improvements to the route linking Dublin and Donegal. The Unionists have always opposed “interference” from Dublin in the north’s politics, but they don’t seem to have any problems when it comes to handing out money.

TR: What’s your assessment of the Westminster election results in the north?

SO: Sinn Féin topped the polls, not for the first time - we also achieved this in the 2009 European elections - and we are also the biggest party in Belfast, in terms of votes.
In South Belfast former Belfast mayor Alex Maskey pulled out of the contest to attempt to maximise nationalist representation by giving a clear run to the SDLP candidate. Many hoped that the SDLP might do the same in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, allowing Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Féin a clear field, but the SDLP didn’t respond.
This episode damaged the SDLP’s image, many SDLP supporters were unhappy, and their vote fell by 50 per cent in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
Michelle Gildernew eventually won the seat for Sinn Féin by four votes, after three recounts – and this was despite all three Unionist parties - the new UUP-Tory alliance (UCU-New Force), DUP, and Traditional Unionist Voice - not standing candidates to give independent Unionist Rodney Connor a free run against her.

TR: How do you see the future of Unionist politics developing after the leaders of both the main parties lost their seats?

SO: There is an ongoing debate among Unionists about re-aligning Unionism in the face of Sinn Féin’s growing electoral success. The DUP had a good result in the election apart from the loss of Peter Robinson’s seat, where Unionist voters rebelled over revelations over his luxury lifestyle, expenses claims and suspect business dealings.
The rejectionist Traditional Unionist Voice led by Jim Allister (which broke away from the DUP after they went into power-sharing with Sinn Féin) did very poorly compared to their 2009 performance, lacking any strong candidates other than their leader, as well as any clear alternative programme, and failed to win a seat.
The DUP had a much more positive campaign, dropping its anti-Sinn Féin rhetoric and offering devolution as the best option on offer, in contrast to the TUV’s negative “doom and gloom” message. After this election hopefully the DUP will feel under less pressure from the rejectionists.
Up to now the DUP hasn’t really prepared it’s constituency for change or consulted its members about change, with Paisley going into devolution in a very sudden, and to some unexpected, way. But now things are very different and they are realising this is the real world.
The loss of the last remaining UUP seat at Westminster was the end of an era. The UUP were the rulers of a one-party state for 50 years, and the bigger unionist party right up to the early 2000s.
North Down MP Sylvia Hermon was previously one of the UUP’s strongest assets. She refused to stand under a Tory banner as her natural leanings were closer to Labour. She stood this time as an independent and was re-elected.

TR: Was the electoral pact between the UUP and the Tories a blunder on David Cameron’s part?

SO: When the ‘Ulster Conservative Unionists - New Force’ came to appointing candidates, almost all of them were UUP and hardly any Conservatives stood in the North.
The Conservatives’ Northern Ireland spokesman, Owen Paterson, presented Tory policies as a “new politics for the UK, with no sectarianism or Orange-Green tribalism”.
But then it was revealed that he had been talking to both the main Unionist parties about unionist unity. The secret talks he organised caused major damage for the Unionist-Tory alliance and he was seen as lining up with the Orange Order and Unionism. (The secret talks led to several prospective Conservative Westminster candidates resigning).

TR: Do you expect any problems with the peace process with the new government in London in place?

SO: Sinn Féin has met with Cameron and Paterson, and has made it very clear that there is no option to change the Good Friday Agreement, an international agreement guaranteed by both the Irish and British governments. Given his role in the ‘secret talks’ debacle with the unionists, Martin McGuinness has commented that Paterson is now on “a steep learning curve”.
After the 2011 Assembly elections there is a strong possibility that Sinn Féin could be entitled to hold the position of First Minister in the Executive. Although the First Minister and Deputy First Minister posts are in reality co-equal, the title is still psychologically important to unionism. In this situation the Unionists may consider the attraction of uniting into a single party, but there would be many obstacles to be cleared on their way to that.

TR: What are Sinn Féin’s priorities for its work in Britain at the moment?

SO: We were very pleased with the success of the London Irish unity conference (on February 20 this year), but we see that as just the beginning of a process of putting Irish unity on the political agenda. We want to follow up on the issues which arose at the conference, as well as to develop our work outside London, and continue working with the Irish community and progressive forces.

TR: How does Sinn Féin see the peace process going forward?

SO: Developing relations with the Unionist community is a major priority, working in the Assembly and Executive and with the Unionist community. The north-south process is still ongoing, and twelve years after the Good Friday Agreement the all-Ireland Parliamentary and Civic Fora still haven’t been set up, so those are also important priorities.

TR: What’s your assessment of the dissident republican groups at the moment?

SO: The dissident groups still have the capacity to carry out armed actions, but they don’t have any significant popular support and haven’t stood candidates in elections since 2007. There are now a plethora of dissident organisations, with a small number of people moving between them. They also have links with anti-social and criminal elements involved in drug dealing.
I also believe that some sections of the British security establishment can’t come to terms with people like Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly being in government, and share the same interest as the ‘dissidents’ in damaging the political institutions. It is widely suspected by many nationalists that some of these groups have been infiltrated to the highest level.
In another development, the INLA and Irish Republican Socialist Party ended their armed campaign last year and also declared support for the peace process and institutions.

TR: What is the current situation regarding crime and policing in the north?

SO: Drugs are a big issue for everyone, while extortion and gangsterism remain big problems in working class Unionist communities. There are more nationalists joining the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland), but, rather than acting as a recruiting sergeant in the nationalist community, Sinn Féin’s position is that the PSNI needs to prove itself.
We are now in also daily contact with the PSNI dealing with issues in local communities, and part of all of this we recognise that they too are on a learning curve, with some in that organisation finding it a new experience to adapt to ‘normal’policingwork.